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

211 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

15 March 1942

Following from Prime Minister for Prime Minister:

1. I am very glad to learn from your [No. 210] that you welcome the President's offer and I am telling him so today as the matter is most urgent. I have not yet heard from Australia.

2. You are quite right in supposing that shipping is the stranglehold. We are sending nearly 50,000 men a month from the United Kingdom round the Cape to the East. The five monthly convoys beginning in March carry in these totals three British divisions from the United Kingdom. In addition I have obtained from the President the shipping to carry two additional divisions in May, making five in all from this country. This absolutely exhausts all shipping possibilities from our end for the period in question.

3. It is true these forces will have to be sent according to need, either to the Middle East or to India. We have to fear a German break-through in the Caucasus should the Russian defence weaken. We have also to defend India. Of course, if you or Australia were actually invaded in force we should come to your aid at all costs.

4. We hope, however, to regain our sea power in the Indian Ocean in the next two or three months, and this should enable minor offensive action to be taken by us against the Japanese-conquered islands.

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5. At the same time the United States Fleet is regaining its strength and is already a powerful protection for the Anzac area. It would be a very serious enterprise for the Japanese to start a heavy invasion over the immense distance to New Zealand or Australia. Not only has a landing to be effected but the invasion has to be nourished when set on shore. The Japanese are already completely spread about their conquests. Only nine divisions are left in Japan. Twenty have to be kept opposite Russia in Manchukuo. They have China on their hands. After only three months of war food troubles have already begun in Japan itself. New Zealand or Australia may well be attacked in order to draw large bodies of Allied troops from other quarters, but I doubt very strongly whether anything in the nature of a serious invasion will be attempted. In any case, there is no possibility of any troops reaching you sooner than the American division which is offered, whose departure I will endeavour to hasten in every way.

6. Our great aim must be to regain even a partial initiative, which will make the enemy fearful of every place he holds, instead of our trying to be safe everywhere, for that is utterly impossible.