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14 Memorandum prepared for Delegation to Imperial Conference

MELBOURNE, 8 March 1937



The New Zealand Government has submitted the subject of the
strategical importance of Pacific Islands.


(a) Introduction

Any examination of the strategical value of the Pacific Islands
must start from an estimate of the position in the Pacific after
war has broken out.

The only possible enemy is Japan, and although the disparity of
force in our disfavour will be large at the outset, we shall be in
possession of a first-class and almost impregnable base-Singapore.

Furthermore, it is impossible to conceive of a world situation
such that the United Kingdom would be unable to despatch a large
proportion of the Main Fleet to Eastern Waters in the case of such
a war. Hence, we may expect the balance of forces at the scene of
operations to be levelled up in a comparatively short time.

(b) Importance of Pacific Islands to the Empire

To consider, firstly, the importance of these Islands to

From the point of view of supplies, Borneo is of some importance
for the supply of oil, while Nauru is of the highest importance on
account of the supply of phosphates from that source.

As regards Imperial Communications, Fiji, Norfolk and Fanning
Islands are cable stations, and are therefore of some importance.
The destruction of the cable and instruments at these points would
cause an interruption of some three weeks on this line, causing an
overload on other lines.

From the point of view of warlike operations, none of the Islands
are of very much value to us. Their only use would be as advanced
bases, and for this purpose they are too far from any possible
points of attack to be of value.

The only exceptions to this are the Japanese Mandated Islands,
raids on which might have the effect of forcing a limited degree
of dispersion on the enemy forces.

(c) Importance of Pacific Islands to Japan

An examination of the importance of these Islands from a Japanese
point of view presents a slightly different picture. Several of
them possess good harbours, which would be-if usable-of great
value as advanced bases for attacks on our possessions and trade.
In addition, Borneo would be a valuable source of oil supply for
the Japanese Navy.

The islands under Japanese Mandate are of little importance from
the point of view of trade, but there are several good harbours in
these groups which could be used as advanced bases. What is
probably of high importance, however, is the question of the loss
of Japanese prestige involved in any successful attack on these

To examine in slightly greater detail the use of islands not under
Japanese control as advanced bases for their forces, it may be
said that the further West they are, the better they are. For
example, Borneo, the Solomons, New Guinea and Fiji, all possess
numbers of good harbours, which would serve as bases for large

The remainder of the islands are poor in harbours, although there
are many that a single cruiser could use as a fuelling base.
From the Japanese point of view, however, all these islands,
however great their natural advantages, suffer from one
overwhelming disadvantage. That is their distance from the main
base of supply-Japan. As long as Singapore remains in British
hands and the British Fleet is in being, it will be an
impossibility for Japan to subsist a fleet at such a distance from
home, and the greatest use to which they can put any of the
islands is as bases for cruisers and submarines employed on
commerce destruction. Even so, the area in which they could work
is not one in which our trade is vital.

(d) Conclusion

From the above, it will be seen that the strategical importance of
Pacific Islands is not high, although those under Japanese mandate
are of value to us as points of possible raiding attack, with a
view to forcing dispersion on the enemy.

The trade in phosphates from Nauru is of high importance to
Australia, and every effort should be made to safeguard this, if

It is desired to state that, in this question-as in so many
others-the greatest factor is the Sea Power of the Empire. With
it, the importance of these islands is low-without it, this
importance does not matter, for the enemy can work his will
regardless of geographical situations.


Minister for Defence

[AA : CP 4/3, BUNDLE 1, ITEM 17]

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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