Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

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

The Prime Minister to the New Zealand Minister, Washington

6 May 1942

My telegram [No. 278]. Following is the detailed statement of our general views on the defence of Fiji and New Zealand:

A. General Principles:

1. During the defensive period we must accept the penalties of the defensive—uncertainty as to where operations will develop and the consequent necessity, to some degree, of dispersing forces.

2. Clearly it must be decided which places it is essential to hold. In our opinion Australia, New Zealand and Fiji are each of them of first-rate importance and essential to the success of the Allied cause in the Pacific.

B. Fiji:

1. We regard Fiji as a vital link in the defence of seaborne and air traffic across the Pacific Ocean.

page 314

2. We have recognised the importance of Fiji since a very early stage in the war. We have not merely formed and announced our views—we have despatched to Fiji greater forces than we could reasonably be expected to spare, amounting to approximately a quarter of our effective strength at that time.

3. Though our own defences were extremely weak, we have had a brigade group in Fiji since October 1940. This was increased by another brigade group in January 1942, while in equipment we have sent all and more than we could properly spare. It is only necessary, by way of example, to point out that we sent all the anti-aircraft guns, both light and heavy, that we possessed at the time.

4. We agree that Fiji should not be considered as a separate problem and that it is one of a series of mutually supporting islands, but if as we believe it is essential to hold it, then the support by land forces that could be made available from the other island bases is most unlikely, considering the distance involved, to arrive in time if a determined attack is launched against it.

5. We are convinced that the forces available in Fiji are inadequate for its defence against the probable scale of attack. This seems to be agreed by the United States authorities. The question then arises, how are increased forces to be provided? They could come either from New Zealand or from North America. If they are to come from New Zealand this leads to a consideration of the defence of this Dominion.

C. New Zealand:

1. Having regard to New Zealand's elongated shape, its length of coastline, the present incomplete warning system, the prevalence of harbours and landing beaches, the great distances between vulnerable points, the existence of Cook Strait (which in view of the transport available at once virtually halves the force that could be made available at any one point), the limited capacity of the main roads and the 3 ft 6 in. gauge railways, and the extent to which naval and air defences are not as yet available, our Service advisers have expressed the view that six divisions are required to give adequate protection against an estimated scale of attack by one division and one in support at any point in New Zealand, north or south. This scale of attack is regarded as reasonable and may well be substantially exceeded (as the British Chiefs of Staff have pointed out) if the Japanese think the operation worth allocating more of the very substantial forces at their disposal. We must be prepared for widely separated invasions mounted simultaneously.

2. Having regard to the scale of air protection which is or is likely to be available to us, we cannot accept the United States appreciation that four divisions (two New Zealand and two United States) are adequate for the defence of the Dominion against the scale of attack page 315 envisaged in the preceding paragraph. Even if we did agree, however, it should be pointed out:


that the New Zealand troops are as yet both inadequately trained and inadequately equipped;


that the United States divisions will not be here for a considerable period and that some time will no doubt elapse after their arrival before they are in a position to fight;


that one of the United States divisions is intended in due course for operations abroad (though we agree that its removal is unlikely during the defensive period).

3. While it is a fact that for local defence the Dominion has, in addition to its forces overseas, been able to mobilise in New Zealand the equivalent in manpower of three divisions and will shortly mobilise more, a large number of these men (21,500) are required for static roles, e.g., coast and anti-aircraft defence, guards and administration, and the remainder are as yet far from being divisions ready for early operations. Moreover, the establishment proposed for these divisions is seven and not nine brigade groups, two of which will be in the north and two in the south of the North Island and three in the South Island. At the moment they are much below strength and are deficient in many important items of equipment. Not only are they as yet under strength and inadequately trained and equipped, but they include a large number of men who are either under the age (21 years) which at present we have laid down as the minimum for active operations abroad (estimated at 22,500) or are in unsatisfactory medical categories, suitable only for static roles or those not calling for the highest degree of fitness (estimated at 11,700). The flower of New Zealand's manhood is already overseas fighting or ready to fight.

4. New Zealand has sent abroad in all services over 63,000 men, of whom 9564 are dead, missing, or prisoners of war. Only 4000 have returned, and of this 4000 only a small proportion are available for the Armed Forces here or for industry.

5. The strength of the Armed Forces now mobilised in New Zealand is over 84,000 (including 69,000 in the Army, 3000 in the Navy, and 12,000 in the Air Force).

6. This gives a grand total permanently mobilised at present for the purpose of active operations and entirely withdrawn from industry of more than 147,000, which is equivalent to approximately 1 in 11 of the whole population, or 40 per cent of the total manhood between 18 and 45. These are not proposals; they are actually facts. At least a further 30,000 will be required to fill the establishment laid down for New Zealand which, together with reinforcements at the lowest rate (10 per cent) until the end of 1942, will bring the proportion page 316 up to 1 in every 8 of the population, or 52 per cent of the total manhood between the ages of 18 and 45. There are limits to the number that can now be drawn upon and they appear to have been reached.

7. To obtain these men we have long ago abandoned the voluntary principle, which provided 48,655 fit and accepted volunteers for the Army alone, and have called up for service abroad or in New Zealand all single men between the ages of 18 and 45, and all married men, irrespective of the number of their children, up to the age of 31 years.

8. Apart from what can be provided (inevitably a small number) from the combing of exemptions, there are now left for future calling up only those married men between the ages of 31 and 45, estimated to produce some 60,000. From these we have to find the remainder of the New Zealand establishments (at least 30,000) and our reinforcements for the New Zealand Division in the Middle East, for the Division in Fiji, and for our local forces. At the same time we have to maintain a part-time Home Guard of some 60,000 men and to retain our industries at the standard required for the combined war effort, to which we make substantial contributions in raw materials and foodstuffs, and a growing contribution in munitions of war.

D. General:

1. It is essential that we should provide for the defence of New Zealand, not only in our own interests but also for the common cause. For this purpose we consider six full divisions adequately trained and equipped to be the minimum that is required in the present circumstances. We have at the moment only the equivalent in manpower of three divisions, under strength, inadequately trained, inadequately equipped, and in many cases of low medical category.

2. We consider it would be most unwise and dangerous at present to denude the defences of New Zealand further by sending to Fiji the 12,000 men which the United States authorities agree are required. Indeed, in reinforcements to meet normal wastage in Fiji and the extra personnel to man the equipment now arriving and to arrive there, we can already see demands for Fiji during the present year of at least 6000 men, which it would severely tax our resources to find.

3. It may well be that on the arrival and deployment of the contemplated American divisions the position may be easier, though we will still be well below the strength which we consider necessary. But the reinforcement of Fiji is, in our opinion, an urgent and immediate necessity, and whatever may be our potentialities in the future when American help arrives, to provide 12,000 men at the present moment would cripple the defence of this Dominion.

4. December 1942, the date mentioned by the United States authorities for the completion of island garrisons, seems to us for all page 317 practical purposes to be too late. The island chain in the Pacific may well be broken before then.

5. Another factor which we cannot ignore is the fact that any additional men sent from New Zealand to Fiji must be equipped and this would, to that extent, denude the Dominion still further of the exiguous supply of equipment now available here or to be made available in the immediate future.

6. We agree that the American naval screen north of New Zealand and the strengthening of the island bases does add materially to the defence of New Zealand, but even if we could ignore the possibility of a Japanese attempt to bypass these northern defences we cannot disregard the prospect of a naval setback. In the event of a naval reverse, whether the island bases were seized or not, New Zealand would certainly be open to a full-scale attack. It would then be too late to organise reinforcements, and we feel therefore that we must prepare for an attack on New Zealand at least on the scale mentioned above.

7. With the men and equipment available here and the American reinforcements that are coming, we will do all in our power to defend this Dominion and to increase the forces that we can send to Fiji. But even if we were to withdraw our Division from the Middle East, a lengthy period must elapse before its return would enable us to release additional men for Fiji, and we feel that without taking an undue and improper risk to the safety of New Zealand we cannot find all the extra troops now and at once required for Fiji. We urge, therefore, that the possibility of providing these from United States (or perhaps Canadian) sources should be reconsidered. (Ends)

You will observe that this paper is directed solely to land forces. We fully appreciate the difficulty with reference to air forces and what is already being done and in contemplation in respect of sea power.