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

271 — The Prime Minister to the New Zealand Minister, Washington

The Prime Minister to the New Zealand Minister, Washington

17 April 1942

We note the conditions on which Admiral King has been good enough to convey to you the information contained in your telegram No. 143 of 12 April2 and we would be strongly opposed to any step that might hinder or stop the flow of such information. There are, however, certain observations which at once occur to us on reading your telegram, and which at the appropriate time and place must obviously be raised with the American authorities. You may under the circumstances consider it inadvisable to mention them to Admiral King, in which case perhaps you might think it proper to discuss them with Admiral Ghormley on his arrival at Washington. If your judgment is against either course, then obviously these with other similar matters must be amongst those which we will discuss with the Admiral on his arrival here. The observations to which I refer above are as follows:

1. You will not have failed to notice (as in the case of New Caledonia) the disparity between the forces proposed for other Pacific Islands and those contemplated for Fiji. The personnel proposed for the page 301 Samoan Group are in excess of those at present available for the defence of the Fiji Group—if the Air personnel are included, substantially so. But the most remarkable differentiation is in respect of aircraft. You will notice that in the proposals for the Samoan Group the total number of aircraft contemplated is 231. In Fiji there are at present 45, of which only 22 fighters and 10 reconnaissance bombers can be regarded as effective. It is, of course, agreed generally that this air strength is inadequate for the purpose. We have no possibility of increasing it ourselves, nor at the moment does there seem any prospect of increasing it from United Kingdom or, indeed, United States sources, but clearly if 231 aircraft are considered necessary for the defence of the Samoan Group a very substantial increase in aircraft is necessary for the safety of the Fijian Group.

It occurs to us as possible that in the computation of the air strength required the necessities of the Samoan Group are being considered by the United States Naval authorities while those of the Fijian Group have perhaps been the responsibility of the United States Army authorities, and that the disparity in the proposals may perhaps arise from that source. Whatever the cause, it merits the serious consideration of the United States authorities.

2. In connection with the proposal relating to Wallis, it will be noted that only a few weeks ago the views of the United States Government were taken on a proposal of the Free French authorities in the Pacific to take Wallis and Futuna which, though not mentioned in your telegram, is not without importance as a possible enemy base. The conclusion come to at that time—and conveyed by us to the Free French authorities in the Pacific—was that the destruction of the means of radio communication on Wallis would be a useful course, but that an attempt by the Free French Forces to take and hold the island might not be advisable. It is apparent now that the intention is to take and hold Wallis, and we assume that in this matter the Free French authorities have been consulted and are fully aware of the proposals.

3. We have been very much interested in the reference to amphibious forces in your telegram1 and in two very recent messages from your Legation to Service authorities here, which are the first intimations we have had of any such possibility. You may fully assure Admiral King that any forces sent here for the purpose of training for an expedition elsewhere will be welcomed, that we will provide every facility within our power, and that we will of course raise no objection when they page 302 leave on the operations for which they are designed. We would be grateful for any information which you may be able to give us, as and when it is available, as to the size and constitution of this proposed force and, particularly, when it may be expected to arrive, in order that we may have an adequate opportunity of making the necessary preparations.

2 Not published. This message gave details of the American forces and equipment, including aircraft, being provided for the defence of the Samoan Group and other islands. This information was provided by Admiral King on the understanding that it was conveyed to Mr Fraser for his personal knowledge.

1 The passage read: ‘I also discussed the question of amphibious divisions and stated that such troops when in New Zealand would be three parts of the way to the place where they would be required for offensives. King suggested that when the amphibious troops were in New Zealand we might object to them leaving. I replied that whatever agreement we made with regard to any troops which came our way would be kept.’