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

258 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs3

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs3

25 December 1941

With reference to your telegrams Nos. 516 and 517 of 21 December4 and my telegram of 20 December [No. 253].

His Majesty's Government in New Zealand have considered the conclusions of the conference of inter-Allied representatives held at Singapore, and for their part fully agree that it is imperative that steps be taken, and urgently, to improve the defences of Malaya in the manner suggested in paragraph 2 of telegram No. 517.5 They

3 Repeated to the Prime Minister of Australia, the Governor of Fiji, the New Zealand Liaison Officer, Washington, for the information of the Joint Staff Mission, and to Mr Churchill in Washington.

5 Paragraph 2 listed the minimum air and land reinforcements required immediately in Malaya.

page 291 regret that for their part they cannot, after the most careful thought, find it possible to provide any direct reinforcements for the defence of Malaya, but they would draw the attention of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to the steps which in their telegram [No. 253] they recommended should be taken for the defence of Fiji, the importance of which as the vital link in the reinforcing route for the United States aircraft for the Far East and in the maintenance of the general strategic position is emphasised by the conference in paragraph 7 of telegram No. 516.1

2. In view of the deterioration of the position in the Pacific, the defence of Fiji has been further reviewed by His Majesty's Government in New Zealand.

3. While it is impossible to forecast the scale of enemy attack, it seems reasonable to assume that the Japanese might well devote at least a division in an attempt to capture Fiji. Moreover, this force might be directed against either Viti Levu or, alternatively, Vanua Levu (which is completely undefended), the latter being employed as an advanced base and a potential aerodrome area. The natural first-line defences of these islands are the surrounding coral reefs, but these are penetrable through channels which are not in normal use and need to be mined, patrolled, and commanded by guns.

4. The land defence problem can be divided into four main areas:


Nandi aerodrome area;


Suva Harbour and aerodrome area;


the potential aerodrome area in the north of Vanua Levu;


Savusavu Bay, an ‘A’ Class anchorage on the south of Vanua Levu.

5. It is considered that the defence of Vanua Levu, although highly important, should not be undertaken until (a) and (b) are more adequately defended.

6. For these two areas in Viti Levu one brigade group each is required and a striking force of one mobile battalion and a force of armoured fighting vehicles. The defence of Vanua Levu will require at least one and probably two battalions of infantry, with adequate anti-tank weapons and a force of AFVs. The forces required for Vanua Levu are now the subject of urgent reconnaissances, but it is considered that in no case will New Zealand be in a position to provide for the defence of this island, in addition to what is necessary for the reinforcement of Viti Levu.

7. As regards the Air Force, it is essential to provide a deterrent to the employment of aircraft carriers and a striking force of at least two

1 Paragraph 7 listed the air and sea lines of communication which the conference considered should be kept open.

page 292 squadrons of reconnaissance bombers is required. The protection of the Nandi aerodrome area and support of air and land operations in this area require a squadron of fighters.

8. One heavy and one light battery of anti-aircraft guns will be required each for the Nandi and Suva areas, and a battery of light anti-aircraft guns for Vanua Levu.

9. A radio-location system adequate to surround the two main islands for the detection of high-flying and low-flying aircraft is also necessary.

10. The foregoing air defence provision does not meet the requirements for air reconnaissance seaward around the islands and extending to the New Hebrides and Tonga groups, nor indeed does it appear possible to provide adequately for such reconnaissance. But it is highly desirable that the Catalina squadron so long expected should now be made available and based at Suva, where the accommodation for it is nearing completion.

11. Nausori aerodrome, on the Suva side, is not adequate for modern aircraft, and it is considered undesirable to extend it because it is in the wet weather area and is beyond the garrisoned defences of Suva. It is considered preferable that a second aerodrome should be provided as soon as possible near to Nandi aerodrome. This would provide for reinforcement. It is considered unwise to concentrate two reconnaissance bomber squadrons, a fighter squadron, and the American reinforcing aircraft for the Far East on the one aerodrome.

12. As regards naval forces, patrol motor-boats are required for the Nandi–Momi area. All suitable local motor-boats have already been taken up for the Suva area. No mines are available from Australia or New Zealand, and it will be necessary to provide a suitable small minelayer with the technical personnel, none of which are available from British sources, in order to lay the mines in close proximity to the reefs.

13. The above are considered to be the minimum essential requirements, and this estimate has been made on the assumption that Japanese naval forces escorting the expedition would not include more than two carriers.

14. Although it will be possible to provide the personnel for the defence of Viti Levu, there is no means of equipping them. A summary of equipment required is contained in my immediately following telegram1 and it is suggested that the assistance of the United States Government might be obtained in providing this equipment, which is urgently necessary. This would include not only the AFVs referred to in paragraph 6, but also the troops required for their operation.

1 Not published.