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

220 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the New Zealand Minister, Washington1

page 255

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the New Zealand Minister, Washington1

31 March 1942

1. The War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff have had under consideration a telegram from the New Zealand Liaison Officer, London,2 summarising a report by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff on the New Zealand Defence Plan, dated 18 March 1942, in which the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff regard the defence of New Zealand ‘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’.

2. The Army forces which the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff recommend as sufficient for the defence of New Zealand are practically identical with the forces summarised in the Dominions Office telegram [No. 213], sent to Washington as COS (W) 122, and were agreed upon by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff before they had read the statement of our requirements in the light of the new situation represented in our telegram of 14 [13] March [No. 209]. We have already commented upon the scale of defence forces for New Zealand proposed by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff in our telegram of 24 March [No. 216], in which it was observed that the United Kingdom appreciation did not take full account of the likely scale of attack which might be delivered by the Japanese against New Zealand. The report by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff now under consideration represents that the Japanese might employ ‘ten to eleven divisions, accompanied by a very large naval force including five aircraft carriers (240 aircraft)’ for the conquest of New Zealand, and might employ one or two divisions for the initial purpose of seizing a base in New Zealand. But no corresponding increase of defence forces in New Zealand is recommended by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff.

3. We recognise that our principal security must rest in the ability of the United Nations to maintain dominance at sea in the South-West Pacific. But while sea supremacy remains in dispute, and in view of the fact that at any time as the result of naval action or attrition our sea power might be so weakened as to reduce our security at sea for a prolonged period, we are not content to rely for our defence so fully upon sea power as the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff indicate.

4. The United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff consider that the initial invasion of New Zealand would be undertaken by two divisions and that the

1 Repeated to the New Zealand High Commissioner, London.

2 Brigadier Park cabled General Puttick on 28 March: ‘Would make it clear that the Chiefs of Staff report summarised in my telegram of 27 March was prepared previous to receipt of NZ Government cable [No. 209] dated 13 March.’

page 256 occupation of the country could be undertaken by seven divisions supported by 240 aircraft. These invading forces might effect landings at several widely separated points. Yet they consider that our Army defence is adequate in seven brigade groups and subsidiary formations; and our air defence in five air squadrons (only two of which are partially equipped with modern aircraft) and a number of training aircraft which we now possess, augmented by four fighter squadrons, two [one] General Reconnaissance squadrons, two torpedo [or] medium bomber squadrons, one bomber reconnaissance or dive-bomber squadron, and four transport aircraft.1

5. We are aware that a decision to form a naval base in Auckland (which must take about six months to effect fully) and the movement of American naval forces to that base would bring with it substantial forces of naval aviation, which presumably would be in addition to those recommended by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff. Although this scale of air defence would still fall short of the requirements to meet the scale of attack envisaged by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff, it would come much nearer to our requirements than the recommended provision of Army forces. But these additional air forces cannot be established and operated in the near future, and this makes it all the more necessary that our armed forces should be substantially strengthened at once.

6. You should inquire from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, as to whether they have received the report by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff and, if they have, represent to them in the strongest terms that it does not reflect the view of this War Cabinet and the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff, which has been fully set out in our telegram [No. 209] to you. In particular, you should stress the importance of the early arrival of at least one American division in this country, as indicated in your telegram [No. 218] of 27 March.

7. We recognise the difficulty of increasing the defences of New Zealand sufficiently to ensure our security until Japanese sea power is so effectually reduced or overshadowed as to make the invasion of New Zealand impracticable. Until this position is reached, however, it must be of the greatest interest to Japan to deny to the Allied nations the potentiality of New Zealand as a future main naval and offensive base area. Nothing could be more clearly established by what has happened in the last two months than the absolute necessity of securing main bases by army and air power. The point we wish to establish is that the existence of powerful defence forces in New Zealand is the only safe insurance against a possible calamity which might jeopardise the whole course of the Pacific war by the loss of New Zealand. And we would emphasise, furthermore, that the establishment of strong forces page 257 in New Zealand and the intensive training of all three Services in co-operation are the best means of preparing for future offensive operations in conjunction with complementary offensive operations from Australia. It appears that the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff have overlooked this latter offensive aspect of the present defensive requirements of New Zealand.

8. With regard to Fiji, we feel that the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff have similarly failed to measure the defence requirements there in relation to the anticipated scale of attack and the extent of the area to be defended. In regard to land forces, we consider that at least one additional division is required for the defence of Viti Levu. This would still leave Vanua Levu undefended.

9. It seems to us that the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff, having adequately visualised the very possible dangers to New Zealand and consequently to the Allied strategy in this part of the Pacific, fail to carry the matter to its logical and reasonable conclusion, inasmuch as they set forth defence requirements that cannot be reconciled either with the possible scale of attack or the needs of future offensive operations.