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

219 — The New Zealand Liaison Officer (London) to the Chief of the General Staff (Wellington)

The New Zealand Liaison Officer (London) to the Chief of the General Staff (Wellington)

27 March 1942 1

Most secret and personal for General Puttick.

1Although dated 28 March on all file copies, this message is later referred to by Brigadier Park as having been sent on the 27th.

The following is a summary of a report by the Chiefs of Staff on the New Zealand Defence Plan, dated 18 March 1942:

The defence of New Zealand is recognised as primarily a naval problem entailing the provision of adequate naval and air forces in the area, and dependent on denying bases to Japan on the eastern and southern coasts of Australia. The report consists of two parts, the first dealing with the South Pacific Islands, including New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa, Fanning Island and French Oceania, the second with New Zealand.

Part 1: south pacific islands

(1) If adequate naval and air forces could operate from the South Pacific Islands and the Australian mainland be held, the invasion of New Zealand is extremely unlikely, although raiding operations against shipping and shore installations in New Zealand are possible.

(2) With the Japanese in possession of the Netherlands East Indies, attack on these Islands becomes almost a certainty.

(3) The scale of attack is assessed at not less than one division, but this could be increased if the Japanese thought it necessary. Naval escort would consist probably of six 8-inch cruisers, three to five aircraft carriers (120 to 240 aircraft) and twenty destroyers, with the addition of one to thirty submarines operating in the area. Simultaneous attacks are possible against more than one group of islands, or alternatively these forces could be concentrated against each group in turn.

(4) The report discusses the responsibility for local defence, naval, army and air, and points out the weakness in regard to Western Samoa.2

page 252

(5) Recommendations on New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa. To achieve as rapidly as possible a reasonable standard of security for these islands the following action should be taken immediately:


The Anzac area should be extended to include the Samoan Group of islands.


The naval forces in the Anzac area should be maintained on the following scale: six 8-inch cruisers, three 6-inch cruisers, one large aircraft carrier, one small aircraft carrier, four armed merchant cruisers, twelve destroyers; reinforcements to effect this cannot be provided from British sources.


The army and air forces in the Islands should be completed to the approved target figures noted in Dominions Office telegram No. 97 dated 6 February 1942 to the New Zealand Government,1 plus one long-range General Reconnaissance squadron and one torpedo or medium bomber squadron for Fiji, and one longe-range General Reconnaissance squadron for New Caledonia. These cannot at present be provided from British sources.


The operation of all air forces based in these Islands should be co-ordinated under the strategic direction of the Commander-in-Chief Anzac Area. A single Air Commander is essential.


The necessary aerodromes should be developed under the direction of the Commander-in-Chief Anzac Area.


The United States of America should be invited to assume the responsibility for the local defence of Western Samoa and to provide such additional measures of defence as are required.


Development of a protected fleet anchorage in the Fiji Group, to be selected by the Commander-in-Chief Anzac Area, should be accelerated, and adequate anti-submarine and mine-sweeping vessels should be provided.


An improved coast-watching and RDF system should be organised.

(6) In regard to Fanning Island and French Oceania, the report recommends that the USA be invited to assume responsibility for the defence of these islands.

Part 2: new zealand

(7) The scale and probability of attack against New Zealand depends on ability to operate adequate naval and air forces from New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa, and denial of these islands to the Japanese.

(8) If we hold secure bases in the Islands and can continue to operate reconnaissance and naval and air striking forces from them, page 253 the naval hazards to large invading forces and the difficulty of refuelling enemy naval escorts would render invasion extremely difficult, if not impracticable. Enemy raiding forces unencumbered by heavy transports and their escorts might reach New Zealand.

(9) If the Island Groups be lost, a full-scale attack on New Zealand is much more possible, but is considered unlikely for the following reasons:


Possession of the South Pacific Islands will place the Japanese across the Allied lines of communication and isolate New Zealand from the United States. This will probably be sufficient for their purposes.


The despatch of a powerful force to New Zealand entails a serious dispersion of Japanese strength and increased maintenance problems.


Moves against bases in the Indian Ocean will inflict greater damage on the Allies, threaten the lines of communication in the Indian Ocean, and be a step towards closing the gap between Germany and Japan.


The United States Fleet flanking the enemy lines of communication to New Zealand is a very real threat to an invasion expedition. This requires protection by a formidable force of capital ships, which the Japanese are most unlikely to risk at such a distance from Japan.

(10) Although arguable that Japan will invade New Zealand with a view to obtaining a powerful bargaining counter in any future negotiations, on balance it is considered the Japanese are more likely initially to direct any major offensive against the west and north rather than attempt an invasion of New Zealand and Australia, with the possible exception of Port Darwin.

(11) In the event of Japan deciding to invade New Zealand, the report estimates she could make available some ten to eleven divisions accompanied by a very large naval force including five aircraft carriers (240 aircraft); she would, however, probably consider six to seven divisions sufficient.

(12) In view of the distance involved, the seizure of a base in New Zealand by the Japanese would be a prerequisite to the successful occupation of the country. It is estimated that the Japanese might use one or two divisions to seize such a base, and the land forces in New Zealand should be designed to defeat such occupation.

(13) To provide sufficient land forces to prevent Japanese occupation once they had established a base in New Zealand would be far beyond the shipping resources of the Allied powers.

(14) If we are unable to operate from Samoa, Fiji and New Caledonia, the probability, scale and scope of raiding operations against page 254 shipping, ports and installations in New Zealand are likely to be increased. Measures taken to meet invasion would also embrace defence against these raids.

(15) The report makes the following recommendations on New Zealand:


The naval forces in the Anzac area should be maintained on the following scale: six 8-inch cruisers, three 6-inch cruisers, one large aircraft carrier, one small aircraft carrier, four armed merchant cruisers, twelve destroyers; sufficient local antisubmarine and minesweeping craft for the ports of Auckland, Wellington, Lyttelton and Dunedin.


The underwater defences of the ports should be completed.


The United States should now be asked to be prepared to move powerful naval forces south in the event of a threat to the Pacific Islands or New Zealand, and to make the necessary arrangements for fuelling in New Zealand and south-east Australian waters.


The military forces (excluding static anti-aircraft and coast defence guns) should comprise: seven brigade groups (including light anti-aircraft, anti-tank, and AFV elements), two light AFV regiments, twenty-three infantry battalions, but the actual target figures to be agreed with the United States Government.


Those troops now stationed in New Zealand who are at present poorly armed should be brought up as early as possible to a full scale of equipment.


The coast defence artillery and anti-aircraft requirements for ports and aerodromes in New Zealand should be provided on a scale to be agreed by the New Zealand Government.


The air forces should be the existing five squadrons comprising: 20 Hudsons, 36 Vincents, 21 Hinds, and a number of training aircraft, augmented by four fighter squadrons (two long-range), one General Reconnaissance squadron (long-range), two torpedo or medium bomber squadrons,1 one bomber reconnaissance or dive-bomber squadron, four transport aircraft. These cannot be provided from British resources at present.


Facilities should be provided in New Zealand for the operation of American heavy bomber squadrons.

(16) Coastwatching and RDF should be organised on the lines of the Williams report.2

1 This section of the text was mutilated in transmission. The above agrees with the printed version of the report.

2 Appreciation on the Defence Requirements of New Zealand in the Event of War with Japan, dated 1 Oct 1941, by General Sir Guy Williams, Military Adviser to the New Zealand Government, May – Nov 1941.