Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III
273 — The Prime Minister to the New Zealand Minister, Washington — [Extract]
The Prime Minister to the New Zealand Minister, Washington
The following appreciation by the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff on the defence of Fiji has been approved by War Cabinet, who regard the matter as of the utmost importance and urgency. We suggest page 303 that you should discuss it with Admiral Ghormley on his arrival. We leave it to your discretion, having regard to the reconsideration of the defence of Fiji, which we understand is now being undertaken, whether you should also at once discuss it with Admiral King. As you are aware, although the Chiefs of Staff have expressed the view that we need six divisions for the defence of New Zealand, there are at present available in New Zealand the equivalent of three divisions only. It is therefore most undesirable to denude New Zealand of further formations. Nevertheless, having regard to the extreme importance of Fiji to the Allied cause in the Pacific, we have just approved the despatch of a further 2000 troops to Fiji to man American equipment arriving there, and there will be a necessity for a further 4000 during the course of this year.
‘1. The increasing importance of Fiji and the consequent increased risk of early attack requires, in our opinion, that the forces there should be materially increased at the earliest possible date.
‘2. Since the forces in Fiji were raised to their present strength the following developments have occurred:
Allied naval forces have been operating in the vicinity, involving greater use of Fiji for naval purposes, and this will continue.
A new aerodrome (Narewa) is being established in the Nandi area; and Nausori aerodrome, which even now is inadequately defended, is being enlarged. An additional three aerodromes are required by the United States authorities and these must inevitably be outside the existing defended area.
‘3. The present land forces are barely sufficient to hold the two defended areas of Nandi–Momi and Suva, while the air forces located in Fiji are not strong enough to meet the scale of attack which Japan could bring against the island. This is estimated at initially one division supported by strong naval forces, including four carriers, though it could be materially increased. The reinforcements sent to Fiji in December-January may, however, have achieved the important purpose of deterring Japan from an attempt to capture the island with a small force. The larger enemy forces now required for that operation would not only absorb more shipping and escort, but also present a good target for Allied naval and air forces.
‘4. While the threat of Allied naval action must be a strong deterrent against a Japanese attack on Fiji, the naval situation is liable to rapid alteration which may at short notice increase the risk and scale of attack.page 304
‘5. A considerable expansion of the existing air forces in Fiji is necessary for the following reasons:
Apart from naval forces, the defence of the island can best be secured by the maintenance of adequate air forces in Fiji, together with facilities for receiving reinforcing squadrons by air.
The need for strong air anti-submarine patrols to escort shipping to and from the vicinity of Fiji is continually increasing.
While existing aerodromes are capable of operating more aircraft than are at present in Fiji, any major expansion of the air forces such as is considered necessary will require the construction of new aerodromes. This, in turn, necessarily entails an increase in the land forces which must precede commencement of the construction of the new aerodromes to provide adequate ground defence….
‘7. Strategically it is undesirable to lock up strong air forces at every point in the strategic chain of islands across the Pacific. We consider that the principle of mutual reinforcement should be developed in these islands. It is, however, necessary that certain minimum forces should be located at the most vulnerable places so that they can by immediate action attack invading forces in sufficient strength to hamper effectively invading operations while reinforcements are being despatched….
‘9. At the present time both Suva and Nandi are inadequately protected against underwater attack. The necessary underwater defences are still under consideration with the American authorities in Washington. The United States Navy Department are supplying certain equipment. In our opinion adequate arrangements are being made for Suva, but the proposed defences for Nandi are insufficient….1
‘13. The arrival of United States naval, land and air forces in New Zealand will progressively increase the security of New Zealand. As the air forces increase to the point where superiority over the probable scale of enemy air attack is reached, so land forces could be made available for elsewhere, including participation in an Allied offensive.
We recommend that—
The Fiji situation be placed fully before the Commander, South Pacific Area, at the earliest possible moment with the recommendation that United States Forces reinforce Fiji to the extent indicated in paragraph 12.
On the implementation of (a) the construction of additional aerodromes required in Fiji will be commenced.
Arrangements be made for the rapid reinforcement of air forces in Fiji from adjacent areas.’