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

214 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Governor-General of New Zealand2

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Governor-General of New Zealand2

28 June 1940

In spite of the possible hostility of the United States of America and Russia, the deterrent of the Japanese commitments in China, and our military and economic strength, there are indications that Japan may be contemplating moves to improve her strategic and economic position. While it is not thought that war with Japan is necessarily imminent, the Chiefs of Staff are reviewing Far Eastern strategy.3 Briefly, their views are as follows:

The security of our Imperial interests in the Far East lies ultimately in our ability to control sea communications in the South-Western Pacific, for which purpose an adequate fleet must be based at Singapore. We appreciate your anxiety with regard to the despatch of a fleet to Singapore. However, since our previous assurances in this respect, the whole strategic situation has been radically altered by the defeat of the French. The result of this has been to alter the whole of the balance of naval strength in home waters. Formerly we were prepared to abandon the Eastern Mediterranean, relying on the French fleet in the Western Mediterranean to contain the Italian fleet, and despatch a fleet to the Far East. Now if we move the Mediterranean fleet to the Far East there is nothing to contain the Italian fleet, which will be free to operate in the Atlantic or to reinforce the German fleet in home waters, using bases in North-West France. Therefore, we must retain in European waters sufficient naval forces to match both the German and Italian fleets, and we cannot do this and send a fleet to the Far East. In the meantime, the strategic importance to us of the Far East has increased, both from the point of view of Empire security and to enable us to defeat the enemy by the control of essential commodities at the source.

The Japanese advance in China and Hainan has increased the threat to Malaya, and any further advance into French Indo-China, page 159 Dutch possessions, or Thailand would endanger still more our position at Singapore, the key point in the Far East. We can no longer concentrate on the defence of Singapore Island entirely, because of the increased range of aircraft and the development of aerodromes, particularly in Thailand, but must consider the defence of Malaya as a whole, particularly the security of up-country landing grounds. For this reason, and because we cannot spare a fleet for the Far East at present, it is all the more important that we should do what we can in Malaya to improve our land and air defences.

In its telegram of 13 June1 the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia mentioned the possibility of supplying further land forces. It is considered by the Chiefs of Staff that the urgent movement of one division and two squadrons of aircraft to Malaya is desirable as an added immediate deterrent. They ask particularly whether roughly the equivalent of a division, equipped as fully as possible, could be made available, if necessary drawing on Australia's militia pool of equipment. They realise that these troops could not be equipped up to full Western standards, nor would this be necessary in view of the unlikelihood of the Japanese being able to bring mechanised troops with the latest forms of equipment to attack them. For the time being, at any rate, they consider that employment in Malaya would be in the best interests of the Empire.

If the Commonwealth Government cannot make a whole division available immediately owing to equipment or other difficulties, the Chiefs of Staff recommend movement by brigade groups as they become necessary.

2 Addressed also to the Australian Government.

3 See also Volume III.

1 This telegram from the Prime Minister of Australia to the Dominions Secretary is not published.