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

229 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the New Zealand Minister, Washington

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

27 June 1942

Your telegram of 22 June.

It is unfortunate that enciphering errors this end damaged the sense of paragraph 1 of our [No. 227]. The sentence should have read: page 265 ‘It had been our intention that he should take full advantage of and assume full responsibility for the development and equipment of all our forces’. A misunderstanding by us also requires explanation. We noted from your telegram [No. 177]1 that the New Zealand land and air forces were to remain under the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff. It was not until we met Ghormley that we appreciated that the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff were not responsible to Ghormley for the land defence of New Zealand.2

2. The significance of our paragraph 5 was, on the one hand, that in our view Ghormley should be in a position to order the RNZAF to support naval operations and, on the other hand, that American air forces and anti-aircraft guns in New Zealand should be fully under the operational control of our air defence organisation. These matters, however, are not of first importance since they can no doubt be settled locally.

3. Ghormley's instructions from Nimitz expressly exclude the Air Force in New Zealand. It was McCain's3 directive from Nimitz which did not expressly exclude the New Zealand Air Force. It has been clearly determined, however, that as the New Zealand Air Force is not under Ghormley it is consequently not under McCain, despite the latter's directive, which in this respect was loosely worded.

4. We appreciate King's recognition of our wish to train amphibious forces, but this will not cover the question of the development of the RNZAF as a whole. We feel it imperative to press on with the modernisation and strengthening of the RNZAF, partly, it is true, for the defence of New Zealand, but primarily for supporting amphibious and naval operations and for taking the best advantage of our resources to assist in every way.

2 On the New Zealand Government's suggestion the directive was subsequently amended by the deletion of paragraph 10 (c) (No. 178) and its replacement by the following:

‘Paragraph 10 (c) (1). In the exercise of command over the armed forces which the New Zealand Government has assigned, or may assign, for the local defence of New Zealand, the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff will be the agency through which such local command is exercised.

‘(2) In the exercise of command the “principles of command” as set forth in paragraph 14 of ABC-1 are applicable.

‘(3) With regard to the possible movement of New Zealand forces out of New Zealand territory, the following by the United States Chiefs of Staff to the President is self-explanatory:

“Proposals of the United States Chiefs of Staff (for operations in the Pacific Ocean areas) made to the President as United States Commander-in-Chief are subject to review by him from the standpoint of higher political considerations and to reference by him to the Pacific War Council in Washington when necessary. The interests of the nations whose forces or whose land possessions may be involved in these military operations are further safeguarded by the power each nation retains to refuse the use of its forces for any project which it considers inadvisable.”’

The change was approved by President Roosevelt on 20 September.

3 Vice-Admiral J. S. McCain, USN; commanded all Allied land-based air forces, South Pacific Command, May – Sep 1942.

page 266

5. We need to determine the best means of ensuring that our demands for equipment shall be in accordance with American requirements and that these demands shall be fully supported by those responsible. It may be that the best approach on this matter would be through Dill or Evill.1

6. At the present time the re-equipment of the Air Force is stagnating for lack of any accepted policy. We consider that any demands from us on the basis of defence would fail to impress. We wish to base our demands on our offensive potentialities. For this we have no real basis while the role of the RNZAF is as at present defined, namely, for the land defence of New Zealand, and possibly for partaking in amphibious forces.

7. As regards your final paragraph, we do not see any necessity for unifying the command of the RNZAF under the New Zealand Army. We desire the unification of the Air Forces in the South Pacific area under McCain. The RNZAF should not in our opinion be placed under the GOC New Zealand Army. Army co-operation squadrons only should be placed under Army command at the present time.

8. In brief, we wish to have a forward plan for the RNZAF to equip, say, twenty modern squadrons of the required types by 1943. To make this possible, we desire that the United States should accept responsibility for the equipment and development of the RNZAF, taking full account of its potentialities for training and maintenance. American control could be achieved either by placing the RNZAF under McCain and Ghormley or else direct under Nimitz or even King. You may consider that Dill or Evill would be best placed to represent the professional aspects of this matter and, if they are willing to sponsor it, we will send an appreciation of our requirements for that purpose.

9. You should discourage any inclination of King or Marshall to place the RNZAF wholly under Army command. The Air defence of New Zealand is essentially an Air Force matter, and the future role of the RNZAF should, we consider, be principally aligned to naval operations and consequently under naval command.

1 Air Chief Marshal Sir Douglas Evill, GBE, KCB, DSC, AFC (then Air Marshal D. C. S. Evill); head of Royal Air Force Delegation in Washington, 1942; Vice-Chief of the Air Staff, 1943–46.