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

257 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill (Washington)

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill (Washington)

24 December 1941

1. The New Zealand Government have from time to time called attention to the strategic importance of Fiji, not only to New Zealand but to the British Commonwealth and its Allies. In accordance with the page 289 responsibility which we accepted for the defence of that territory, we have, as you perhaps know, had a brigade group of New Zealand troops stationed there for a lengthy period and we have done what lay in our power to strengthen the defences of the territory. Recent events in the Pacific, including the crippling of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour, the loss of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, the violent and successful attacks by the Japanese upon Malaya, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Guam and Wake Island have, in our opinion, increased both the probability of an attack on Fiji and its importance to the general scheme of Allied defence in a degree that can scarcely be exaggerated. If, as indicated by Mr Duff Cooper in his telegrams conveying the recommendations of the recent Singapore Conference1 (which have now been approved by the Chiefs of Staff and his Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom), and as indicated in the recent Chiefs of Staff appreciation of the general situation, it has become essential to reinforce the Far East from America, then the retention of Fiji becomes, in our opinion, absolutely essential, especially as regards reinforcement by air, which, at the moment, would appear to be completely impracticable without that base.

2. As you may perhaps know also, the New Zealand Government, at the suggestion and with the co-operation of the United States, are hastening to the utmost of their power the extension of Nandi aerodrome in Fiji, which is, of course, intended as an essential landing ground for air reinforcements crossing the Pacific from the United States. This aerodrome, unless properly defended, becomes not an asset but a distinct liability, and while the New Zealand Government can and will despatch immediately to Fiji another brigade group of troops, they would regard this reinforcement as inadequate for the task, while they themselves are quite unable to send more. Further, with conditions as they are, the New Zealand Government would be quite unable to equip the troops that they can send. We have already despatched a substantial proportion of our very exiguous air defences to Fiji. We have sent the only (four) heavy anti-aircraft guns and the only (four) Bofors guns which we possess, and we have denuded ourselves, to a degree which causes us the gravest concern for the safety of this Dominion, of such artillery and other equipments as are required in Fiji, but this, despite the risk to the Dominion, is also quite inadequate. A list of the Army deficiencies in New Zealand itself, the supply of

1 Not published. A conference of inter-Allied representatives took place at Singapore on 18 December, at which Mr Duff Cooper acted as the chief New Zealand representative. His report, in two parts (telegrams 516 and 517—not published), outlined the recommendations made by the conference and stressed the ‘urgent and immediate need’ for reinforcements.

page 290 which is urgently required, is set out in my immediately following telegram.1 Lists of naval and air deficiencies will follow as soon as possible.

In two further telegrams addressed today to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, repeated to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, to the Governor of Fiji, to the New Zealand Naval Liaison Officer at Washington for the information of the Joint Staff Mission, and to you, a list of what we consider to be the minimum requirements at Fiji has been set out.2 While I do hesitate to trouble you in the midst of your many preoccupations, I would most strongly urge you to impress upon President Roosevelt the extreme importance of Fiji, not solely or primarily as an outpost of the defence of New Zealand, but as an essential link with the United States in the general Allied scheme of operations in the Pacific and the Far East, and to request him to provide as quickly and as completely as possible the deficiencies set out in the list, as well as the list of New Zealand deficiencies. Early offensive action by the substantial United States Pacific Fleet still available would, of course, immediately assist the general situation, but until the British and United States Fleets are in a position to reassert naval supremacy in the Pacific we are definitely up against a tough proposition in this area. No one here is dismayed and we will overcome our present difficulties, but this matter of equipment both for Fiji and New Zealand we regard as, in the strongest sense of the word, vital, and I do urge you to give it your personal and immediate consideration.

1 Not published.

2 Not published.