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

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

The Prime Minister to the New Zealand Minister, Washington

2 May 1942

Your telegram of 29 April.

We have discussed with the Chiefs of Staff the report prepared by the United States Joint Working Committee. The general impression page 311 we gather is that the United States authorities regard the main threat in the Pacific area as one to the chain of islands to the north. This is substantially in accord with our own views, but we cannot disregard the possibility, particularly if they gained a major naval success, that the Japanese might attempt an invasion of New Zealand without previously attacking any of the northern chain of islands.

2. With reference to paragraph 3 (b) it is noted that 13,000 of the amphibious troops in Samoa and Wallis may come to New Zealand before a large offensive undertaking. In view of the reference to two United States divisions in New Zealand in paragraph 10 of the paper, we have assumed, but would be glad to receive confirmation or otherwise of this, that the amphibious force from Samoa is additional to the amphibious division which it is proposed to base on Wellington and the Marlborough Sounds. Confirmation is also desired as to whether the amphibious division is one of the two American divisions mentioned.

3. Paragraph 3 (f) refers to one division of 12,000 troops, and paragraph 10 to the despatch of the remaining New Zealand divisions to Fiji. Firstly, is it intended that this division consist of two or three brigades? Secondly, is any indication given by the Working Committee of the total land forces required for Fiji, or can we assume that they accept the New Zealand estimate? If the latter, this would involve sending two brigades. Thirdly, whatever the answer to this question, the reference to New Zealand divisions (plural) for Fiji in paragraph 10 is obscure. Fourthly, the statement we made earlier that we had three divisions here is approximate. In some cases units are under strength, and if formations were to be withdrawn from here for Fiji this would cause a certain amount of disorganisation and readjustment of dispositions. Further, a large proportion of these men are below the medical standard for overseas service. Fifthly, it would be more economical of shipping and time for United States forces to go to Fiji direct. Troop movement such as two brigades from here would require assembly of shipping, causing delay, and provision of escort which might be difficult.

In all the circumstances we are still of the opinion that the reinforcement required for Fiji should come from the United States.

4. Reference paragraph 5, it is hoped that the underwater defences required at Suva and Nandi will be provided quickly.

5. Reference paragraph 7 (a) and (h), the installation of 6-inch guns at Malolo will mean detachment of infantry to this island. It is assumed that the four anti-aircraft guns will be for anti-aircraft defence of this battery.

6. Reference paragraph 7 (b), it may be possible to secure sufficient untrained labour in Fiji for construction work, but trained personnel page 312 and equipment cannot be provided from New Zealand except at the expense of aerodrome construction and extension, other major defence and military accommodation works, of which there is a large programme. Possibly the United States might provide one constructional unit with all necessary equipment.

7. Paragraph 7 (c) – a hospital is already in course of construction near the Nandi area. Is it intended that an additional one be erected and, if so, will this be a mobile unit to be provided from United States resources?

8. Paragraph 8 (b) – the provision of flat-bottomed barges will be investigated both here and in Fiji.

9. Paragraph 11 – it was never suggested that air forces be sent to Vanua Levu or air facilities developed there. The intention was that land forces should be sent to Vanua Levu until such time as the air forces in Vitu Levu were sufficiently strong to ensure Vanua Levu against invasion. It was then intended that land forces in Vanua Levu would be substantially withdrawn.

10. Paragraph 12 – my immediately following telegram1 gives particulars of the minimum quantities of equipment required to complete establishments in the forces mentioned.

11. Paragraph 16 – we assume, as to which confirmation is desired, that none of the air forces mentioned in paragraph (c) are carrier-borne and that additional facilities and accommodation will be required for operating and maintaining ashore the aircraft disembarked from two carriers when the latter are in harbour.

12. Investigation is being made into the practicability of manning and maintaining from New Zealand resources the air squadrons which it is suggested New Zealand should now form in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. This programme will certainly require substantial assistance in the matter of experienced personnel from elsewhere, presumably the Royal Air Force.

13. Paragraph 17 – it would be appreciated if more details of the type and kind of storage and maintenance facilities required could be submitted in order that a programme could be prepared.

14. You will gather from the above that the main purpose of this message is to inform you of some of our difficulties and doubts. We leave it to your discretion to raise again the question of the despatch of reinforcements from here to Fiji. In any case we are preparing a detailed statement of our position for discussion with Admiral Ghormley immediately he arrives, and a copy will be telegraphed to you as soon as it is prepared early next week.

1 Not published.