Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III
191 — The Governor-General of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
The Governor-General of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
Following from my Prime Minister for Prime Minister:
I feel I must tell you at once that my colleagues and I have been most keenly disappointed by your message to me of 2 December. We all of us realise the United Kingdom's great need of aircraft—indeed it will be within your memory that one of our first actions on the outbreak of the war was to place at the disposal of the British Government the Wellingtons2 then on order for New Zealand which, if only a few had been delivered here, would have relieved us of our present very grave anxieties. We have constantly borne in mind the necessity of taking a large view and of balancing our needs with those elsewhere in the common cause, but we wonder if it is fully realised in the United Kingdom how helpless this Dominion is against attacks from seaward. As you know, the whole of our defence measures were built on the assurance that in time of potential trouble in these waters adequate naval forces would be available. They are not. We make no complaint of this and we have very much welcomed your assurances that, if the worse came to the worst, naval assistance would be forthcoming. But at present local naval forces are far from adequate to protect New Zealand shores and shipping against attack, and it is a page 215 plain fact that at present the New Zealand Air Force possesses not one single aircraft suitable either for reconnaissance or for attack against a raider at any substantial distance from the shores of New Zealand. We believe that we are the only Dominion in this situation, and we are reminded every day of the fact that we would not have been in this situation had we not, voluntarily and unasked, decided to release the Wellingtons for what, in the then existing circumstances, we readily agreed were more urgent requirements elsewhere but which altered conditions seem to us to demand here. The public are becoming restive at the repeated evidence that raiders can visit our shores with impunity, and we anticipate the greatest difficulty in explaining to Parliament at the secret session which will be held next Thursday night why we have allowed ourselves to be placed in this helpless position. I hesitate again to appeal to you after reading your message, but after most earnest consultation with all my colleagues I feel bound to do so and to call to your attention the fact that even a few suitable aircraft—say half a dozen—which would of course be available for reinforcements elsewhere as far as Singapore, should the occasion arise to implement the recommendations of the Singapore Conference, would also, and primarily, enable us to take some effective steps in a situation which we feel will inevitably be repeated from time to time, and thus perhaps enable us to relieve the disheartening effect upon our people of our present obvious helplessness in this matter, which has potentially a most mischievous effect upon the whole of the Dominion's war effort.
Speaking in the name of all His Majesty's Ministers in this Dominion, I do most earnestly request you to have this matter again inquired into and, if it is at all possible to do so, to enable us to acquire at least a limited number of those machines which we feel to be absolutely essential in the present circumstances, and indeed vital to us should the situation worsen, as it may.
I do apologise for troubling you again in this matter—it is only our most urgent conviction of our needs that warrants my doing so.
2 In 1937 the New Zealand Government placed an order with the British Government for thirty Wellington bomber aircraft. The first six of these aircraft were due for delivery to the New Zealand Government about August 1939, and a small New Zealand Air Force unit was training at Marham, Norfolk, for the flight to New Zealand when war broke out in September. This unit was the nucleus of No. 75 (NZ) Squadron, the first Commonwealth squadron to be formed in Bomber Command.