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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III

209 — The Prime Minister to the New Zealand Minister, Washington2 — [Extract]

The Prime Minister to the New Zealand Minister, Washington2

2 Repeated to the High Commissioner for New Zealand in London. This message is also dated 14 March on other file copies, but messages from both Mr Nash and Brigadier Park give 13 March as its date.

13 March 1942

Reference Mr Nash's telegram [No. 207].

A general appreciation of the defence situation of this Dominion was contained in a telegram addressed by the Chief of the General Staff to the Military Liaison Officer, London, and repeated to you … [on] 28 February last. Though the appreciation given therein was stated as the personal opinion of the Chief of the General Staff, it does in fact represent the views of the Chiefs of the Naval and Air Staffs and is in general concurred in by us.

page 237

2. It is noted that in your telegram no request is made for an appreciation of the naval defence problems, and it is assumed that this omission is due to the fact that naval defence is to a large extent now the responsibility of the United States Navy. It must be emphasised, however, that the most effective insurance against invasion is that given by naval forces, which should with adequate air support intercept any enemy expedition before it reaches New Zealand. Moreover, naval forces with adequate air cover must be the mainstay of our subsequent offensive, for which we should start to prepare now. The preparation of naval bases for the United States Pacific Fleet must therefore receive very high priority. Proposals for Auckland and Suva, including an estimate of the materials required, were furnished to you in a telegram from the New Zealand Naval Board No. 2223Z of 8 March,1 and a message from the Commonwealth Naval Board No. 1438Z of 3 March (amended by 2100 of 4 March) to the British Admiralty Delegation, Washington.2 The defences of Nandi are being investigated by the staffs of comanzac and the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board in collaboration, and proposals are contained in a message from the Commonwealth Naval Board to the British Admiralty Delegation, Washington, 0930Z of 9 March.3 Plans for Tongatabu have not yet been made pending a decision as to whether this will become, as we propose, a United States responsibility.4 As to equipment, the provision of additional auxiliary vessels is particularly urgent, and in this connection my telegram of 19 February [No. 200] refers.

3. In my telegram of 28 February the scale of enemy attack estimated by the Chief of the General Staff was two divisions. We do not consider this excessive. There can be no certainty it will not be exceeded in view of the fact that a greater proportion of the twenty-nine Japanese divisions or more in the South-West Pacific area may, having now completed their first task, be diverted for the attack on this area. The problem must therefore be approached from the point of view of doing the maximum possible to secure both Fiji and New Zealand as bases for a future offensive. The most convenient way of answering the questions on land and air defence which you ask in your telegram is to consider the army and air problems separately. Section II of this message will therefore deal with the army side and Section III with the air. There is an added Section IV giving a brief appreciation of the manpower situation.

1 Not published.

2 Not published.

3 Not published. Listed in detail the requirements recommended for anti-submarine defence at Nandi.

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Section II

4. The strength of the army required to secure the safety of New Zealand is naturally much influenced by the naval situation and by the strength of the New Zealand air forces. The naval situation, even if in our favour, is liable to a complete upset by defeat and cannot at present be regarded as in any way a substitute for local defences. Air defence depends upon quality and number of aircraft, efficiency of air units and the capacity of aerodromes, and does not appear likely to afford a sufficient deterrent against heavy scale attack for a long time. Land forces are therefore of prime importance meanwhile until the naval and air situations develop materially in our favour.

5. Factors of importance in the land defence of New Zealand are:


Isolation of New Zealand from other land, which virtually prevents enemy use of shore-based aircraft during approach and enhances the value of both strong New Zealand air forces and of strong land forces to prevent the enemy securing a footing anywhere in New Zealand.


Elongated shape, lengthy coastline, present incomplete warning system, prevalence of harbours and landing beaches, great distances between vulnerable points, the existence of Cook Strait, limited capacity of main roads, and 3 ft 6 in. gauge railways.

These factors require strong mobile forces in at least seven widely separated areas and local garrisons for secondary ports and sheltered waters in addition to fortress areas. Aerodrome protection is difficult as many are close to the coast and there is much flat land in sparsely populated areas. Thus, the forces required in each island must be considerably superior to likely enemy forces to ensure speedy and effective opposition by at least equal forces and rapid concentrations of superior force….1

8. Your paragraph (c)

Increasing existing companies to battalions and calling up personnel to form garrison battalions.

Raising Maori battalion.

Training and throwing off cadres to man additional coast, medium, field, anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery due to arrive.

Training Home Guard instructors and personnel to man various anti-aircraft equipment and Coast Defence artillery sets.

Training in the Army approximately 6000 Air Force recruits for aerodrome battalions until required in the Air Force….2

1 Detailed estimates of the land forces required for the defence of New Zealand and Fiji, as well as a statement of the forces then available, have been omitted.

2 Proposals for the production of weapons and equipment are omitted.

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9. State of Readiness.

(i) By 30 June: Two-thirds of force complete minimum of six months' continuous training, balance three months. On present indications the equipment situation should then be satisfactory except for 9·2-inch equipments, anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft searchlights, tanks for nine AFV regiments, anti-tank mines, and possible rifles for 100,000 Home Guard. Forces should be well able to undertake active operations. Entrenchments, obstacles and improvements to roads and bridges should be well advanced.

(ii) By 31 December: Forces should be thoroughly fit for any operations….1

1 Details of reinforcements and equipment required from outside sources for the defence of New Zealand and Fiji are omitted.

Section III

11. It is not possible to make a satisfactory statement of immediate and ultimate air requirements for the defence of New Zealand and Fiji. These must be related to a central strategic plan. We cannot intelligently state requirements without knowing strategic intentions. So far we have been requested to prepare for the reception in New Zealand of two hundred heavy bombers and invited to consider preparing for nearly four hundred naval aircraft. These proposals are evidently parts of a plan related to the South-West Pacific. A plan on such a scale is considered essential, and within that plan we estimate that very large air forces would be based in New Zealand and Fiji.

12. The following roles fall to air forces countering enemy invasion:


Reconnaissance of sea areas of approach for which we will be responsible to locate enemy carriers, warships and transports.


To strike at enemy transports during their approach.


To destroy enemy aircraft carriers and otherwise to obtain air ascendancy over enemy carrier-borne aircraft in the area of operations.


To give bomber and reconnaissance support to the Army.


To provide fighter protection over important targets, main ports and aerodromes.

13. The following secondary roles fall to the Air Force in the protection of New Zealand and Fiji against raiders:


Reconnaissance of sea areas other than invasion approach areas.


Escort of shipping convoys.

14. The air forces required for all the above purposes are in excess of available aerodrome accommodation. Numerous excellent aerodromes exist in New Zealand, but these mostly require extension and concreting and the preparation of protected dispersal positions.

page 240

15. As regards land aircraft, the first essential is to supply large quantities of aerodrome construction machinery. We have, you know, sent very large proportions of our construction machinery to the Middle East, Far East and Fiji, and there is now an acute shortage of machinery in New Zealand. Our immediate requirements are given in our telegram of 19 February [No. 200] and have been sanctioned for release from United Kingdom allotments in the USA.

16. If Fiji and New Zealand are to be held and are to become important base areas in future offensive operations, we estimate that we require the following as soon as possible….1

17. Not knowing what might be made available we cannot state our preferences for priority. We desire that we may be informed of the Combined Chiefs of Staffs' intentions and requirements as regards New Zealand and Fiji, and we will immediately recommend what we can undertake and what we require to give effect to these intentions and requirements.

18. At the present time we are prepared to receive and operate in New Zealand and Fiji any number of squadrons which can conceivably be sent here within the next three months. Our immediate requirements to counter an invasion operation were stated in paragraph 3 of my telegram of 19 February 1942. We are prepared to disrupt our Empire Air Training organisation to any extent required for the purpose of accommodating operational squadrons while new aerodromes are being prepared….2

20. We possess at the present time in New Zealand and Fiji 30 Hudsons and 24 Airacobras. Otherwise we have no modern aircraft, although we can and would put into the air four squadrons of ‘Vincents’, seven squadrons of ‘Oxfords’, ‘Harvards’ and ‘Moths’ armed to bomb and fight. But recent experience has shown that obsolete aircraft can achieve very little result in the presence of strong enemy air forces. We have eight air warning sets, four of which are unsuitable for detecting the approach of low-flying aircraft.

21. We recognise that our future success in the Pacific must depend upon regaining control of sea communications, and that when this has been achieved the danger to New Zealand will recede and its importance as a base for offensive operations will increase. In present and in future circumstances we must be powerfully equipped with air forces, but the planning of those air forces must be left to the Combined Chiefs of Staffs and to a Supreme Commander.

1 The Air Force units, aircraft assembly plant and airfield defence equipment required are omitted.

2 Details of the aircraft and equipment which New Zealand was prepared to accept and operate within the next three months are omitted.

page 241

22. All service squadrons in New Zealand and Fiji are in constant readiness. All auxiliary squadrons are available at a few hours' notice….1

1 Paragraphs 23–27 inclusive have been omitted. They discussed air requirements. In Paragraph 27 it was suggested that the major part of the air training done in New Zealand could in future be done in Canada. This would save shipping space, and fewer tankers would be required to carry fuel to New Zealand.

Section IV

28. The following is a brief statement of the manpower position:


sent overseas

Navy 2,074
Air 6,582
Army 52,712
Total 61,368

in new zealand

Navy 3,001
Air 11,280
Army 52,983
Total 67,264
Grand Total 128,632

This total represents 7·6 per cent of the total population and 38 per cent of men within the age groups from which they are drawn. A proportion of the additional 26,500 men to complete the Territorial Force establishment has been balloted and is in process of joining units, while the remainder will be balloted almost immediately. The total mobilised will then be 155,132, leaving a balance of approximately 185,000 in the age group 19 to 45. The bulk of this balance will not be available because of unfitness or postponement for industry.

In addition to the above there is a Home Guard drawn from men between the ages of 16 and 60, with a strength of 100,000, which will be mobilised in the event of attack.