Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III
121 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand
The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand
Your telegram of 12 January [No. 117]. Following from Prime Minister for your Prime Minister:
1. I am grateful to you for your telegram. I welcome, as always, the frank expression of your views, with which, in the main, I am much in sympathy, and the well-balanced reasoning with which you have presented them to me.
2. I fully endorse the remarks in your opening paragraphs. The Government and people of New Zealand have always adopted a helpful and realistic attitude to this war, which, beginning in the narrow confines of Europe, has gradually spread over almost the entire world and is now at the doorstep of New Zealand.
3. If you have thought us unmindful of your necessities in the past, although indeed we have never been so, I can assure you that the vast distance in miles which separates London from Wellington will not cause us to be unmindful of you or leave you comfortless in your hour of peril.
4. You will, I am sure, forgive me if in the time at my disposal I do not take up each of your points in detail. From the telegram which you have now received since sending your telegram to me, you will know of the army and air reinforcements which we and America are sending to you.1 The establishment of a new Anzac naval area will, I hope, also be agreeable to you. Moreover, the United States contemplate the despatch at an early date of considerable land and air forces to the Far East area.
5. Nevertheless, you would not expect me to make promises of support which cannot be fulfilled, or of the early redress of a situation in the Far East which must take time to rectify, as rectified it will be.
6. I sense your [reproach at our]2 having been misled by a too complacent expression of military opinion in the past on probable dangers in the Pacific area in general and to New Zealand in particular. But who could have foretold the serious opening setback which the United States Fleet suffered on 7 December, with all that this, and the subsequent losses of our two fine ships, entails? The events of this war have been consistently unpredictable, and not all to our disadvantage. I am not sure that the German General Staff have always page 133 forecast events with unerring accuracy. For example, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic, and the Russian resistance must have shaken Hitler's faith in careful calculation of military appreciations.
7. Turning now to the strategic areas in the Pacific, you suggest that the establishment of the ABDA area under General Wavell is too narrow in conception, and should be extended to cover the whole of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Frankly, I find this idea more attractive in theory than, in my view, it could work out in practice, unless it were possible for the United States Navy Department and the British Admiralty, with the Naval Boards of Australia and New Zealand and of the Dutch Government, to be merged into one large United National Navy Department.
8. As at present arranged, the United States Navy will have control in the Pacific, Anzac and, under General Wavell's general direction, the ABDA areas. This is no rigid line of responsibility and ensures that the predominant Allied naval power in the Pacific, i.e., the United States, exercises naval control in all three areas.
9. In establishing the ABDA area there was no intention to ignore or to starve the other Pacific areas, but to ensure a virile defence, and in due time offence, in the area which must bear the first shock of the attack and, if held, will secure the vital lines of communication to Australia and New Zealand.
10. Our object, and in this I include all the ABDA powers, is to hold Singapore and to build up a fleet in the Pacific which will wrest naval control from the Japanese. All this is being worked out with the greatest despatch and in ceaseless consultation with our American allies.
11. I and my advisers have given much thought to the question of Dominion representation on our war councils, and in this connection I am not referring to the larger question of an Imperial War Cabinet. In considering this we have not been free agents. We have had to take into full account the views of the United States and Dutch Governments. It would be lamentable if, after appointing General Wavell to his great responsibilities, we were at the same time to impose a controlling machine which, by its ponderous workings, would make rapid decisions virtually impossible. I am, however, entirely sympathetic to your feelings that New Zealand should have its rightful place in the framing of major military policy in the Far East. I have therefore suggested to my colleagues that a body should be formed in London, with representatives, on a Ministerial plane, of the Australian, New Zealand and Dutch Governments, to which major [group mutilated – Pacific?] problems, and in particular, problems raised by General Wavell in accordance with his directive, would be referred. I would propose myself to preside over this body. Our view would, of page 134 course, have to be concerted with the President and the United States Staff in Washington. In the Staff sphere it has already been proposed that the service representations of Australia and New Zealand and the Dutch should be given [group mutilated – expression?] in London.
12. I have had a preliminary report from General Wavell, whom I expect to assume supreme command any day now. Whilst acknowledging the gravity of the present situation, he takes a robust view of the final outcome, and I am most anxious he should feel at the outset of his difficult task that he will receive our unstinted and united confidence.
1 Not published.