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

253 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs1

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs1

20 December 1941

The following is a telegram addressed on 14 December by Lieutenant-General Short,2 then Commanding General, Hawaii, which has been received by the Chief of the Air Staff3:

‘Completion of base for heavy bombers is imperative. We are rushing completion Christmas. Canton doubtful but planes can hop from Christmas to Fiji. Fiji essential. Strongly recommend your Government take all possible steps for its defence. We will send additional construction equipment for aerodromes as soon as possible and have instructed Sverdrup4 to rush completion. Advise.’

2. A message has been sent in reply by the Chief of the Air Staff giving particulars of the strength of the forces in Fiji, of the dispositions made for the defence of the island, and of the reinforcements being despatched. A summary of this information is given in my immediately following telegram.5

3. The defence of Fiji has assumed a high degree of importance as, with the development of the landing ground at Nandi, it will be a vital link in the United States air reinforcing route. On this account the Japanese can be expected to attach importance to the capture of the island, and they may be able to employ greater forces than were previously anticipated for this purpose in view of their initial successes. In these circumstances His Majesty's Government in New Zealand have been giving urgent consideration to the additional steps which should be taken for defence and are of the opinion that the following are necessary:


Two battalions of infantry in addition to the one now allocated for the defence of the Nandi–Momi area. While it may be possible for His Majesty's Government in New Zealand to provide the additional personnel, which can only be done page 287 at the expense of reinforcements for the 2nd NZEF, they are not in a position to provide all the equipment necessary, particularly anti-tank guns, rifles and light machine guns.


Wire defences should be provided as soon as possible to prevent landing on the beaches in the Nandi–Momi area, but there is a very real difficulty in providing immediately the quantity of wire required for this purpose.


At least one battery of heavy and one of light anti-aircraft guns should be provided for each of the Nandi and Suva areas. His Majesty's Government in New Zealand are despatching the only four 3-inch anti-aircraft guns in New Zealand for the defence of the Nandi aerodrome, and six searchlights.


No fighter aircraft are available for the defence of the island and at least one squadron is essential. There are no fighter squadrons in New Zealand. An MB2 radio-location equipment is being installed at Nandi.


A separate wireless telegraphy installation will be necessary at Nandi to work American aircraft.


The island of Vanua Levu, which is adjacent to Viti Levu, is completely undefended and it is most desirable that some forces be disposed for the defence of this island, mainly to deny it to the Japanese as a base for an attack on Viti Levu.

4. The above is, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government in New Zealand, the provision which should be made as soon as possible to provide reasonable measures of defence for Fiji. His Majesty's Government in New Zealand feel that, in view of the importance of Fiji to the United States, the Government of that country might be approached with a suggestion that they assist in the defence of the territory in the manner suggested above. His Majesty's Government in New Zealand would be very glad to know whether His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom concur in this suggestion, and if they do, they would be glad if they would, as soon as possible, approach the United States authorities concerning the matter and advise them of the issue.

1 Repeated to the Prime Minister of Australia, the Governor of Fiji, and the New Zealand Naval Liaison Officer, Washington, for the information of the Joint Staff Mission.

2 Lt-Gen W. C. Short, US Army; Commanding General, Hawaii, Feb – Dec 1941.

3 Air Commodore R.V. Goddard succeeded Air Commodore Saunders as Chief of the Air Staff on 13 December.

4 Maj-Gen L. J. Sverdrup, US Army; Chief United States Engineer in South-West Pacific, 1942–45.

5 A further telegram from the Prime Minister despatched later on 20 December (but not reproduced here) gave a brief outline of service dispositions for the defence of Fiji and of the reinforcements being sent from New Zealand.