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

222 — 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

31 March 1942

Following for Prime Minister:

Your telegram of 19 February [No. 201].

1. The question of the diversion of two United States pursuit squadrons to New Zealand was referred to the United States Chiefs of Staff at page 259 the same time as our suggestion that no pursuit squadrons should be sent to this country at present. A reply has been received from the Chief of Staff, United States Army, as follows:

‘There appears to be no question that a real need exists for a pursuit squadron in New Zealand. I have had the situation investigated to determine the possibility of complying with this request. I find that other requirements of higher priority render it impossible to furnish these squadrons from the United States, nor does it seem advisable to divert to New Zealand any United States pursuit units now in the Australia ABDA area, considering the greater threat to this area and the weakness of pursuit aviation available there. It is noted that the British are sending planes for two pursuit squadrons to New Zealand. I understand that there is a considerable pool of trained pilots now in Australia for whom no planes exist. I suggest the possibility of utilising these excess pilots for the constitution of two squadrons in New Zealand. I would also suggest the possibility that the necessary pursuit planes might reach New Zealand more promptly by taking them from planes now in the United States and allocated to Great Britain.’

2. We should be only too willing to agree to the suggestion in the last paragraph of the above reply were it not that these aircraft are those we are urgently relying upon to raise the forces in the Middle East and India up to the minimum strength essential for meeting the large-scale threats which are impending in both these areas. American aircraft deliveries are, as you are aware, generally much in arrears, and in addition the totals on which we were depending have been cut since the United States' entry into the war. The shortage of Kittyhawk aircraft in the Middle East is indeed so critical that we cannot, I fear, allot you more than thirty-six of this type and must revise the recent allocations so as to make up with another type the total of ninety short-range fighters which you are expecting.

3. Large numbers of United States aircraft are now assembling in Australia, including those previously allotted to the Dutch. With the transfer of strategic control of the Pacific area to the United States, it will be for the decision of the controlling authority to settle what proportion of disposable air strength in the Pacific area should be utilised in New Zealand. This will be one of the first questions for consideration when the new machinery of control takes effect.

4. We will continue to represent through the Munitions Assignment Board procedure the need for an increased [group mutilated – allocation?] of fighters in order to meet the additional requirements of New Zealand and Australia.

5. As regards the suggestion made by the United States authorities regarding surplus Australian pilots, we assume that if you desire to pursue this suggestion you will approach the Commonwealth Government direct.