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251 Cranborne to Curtin

Cablegram 207 [1] LONDON, 17 August 1944, 10.45 p.m.


Following for the Prime Minister.

As you are no doubt aware when Sir A. Gaye [2], United Kingdom
member of the British Phosphate Commission was on his visit to the
United States, Southern Dominions and the Pacific in the early
months of this year, he raised with various United States and
British Service Representatives the question of reoccupation of
Nauru and Ocean Island. He reported on his return that he had not
been able to obtain any definite information or assurance about
the plans for such an operation.

2. In view of the importance of phosphate supplies for Australia
and New Zealand from the point of view of the overall food
situation and of advantages from shipping and supply aspects of
enabling the Southern Dominions to draw phosphate rock from this
source, it was decided to ask the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff
to raise the matter with the Combined Chiefs of Staff and to urge
that all possible steps should be taken to reoccupy the Islands as
early as practicable.

3. The Joint Staff Mission were instructed to raise the matter in
Washington accordingly, basing themselves on a memorandum
furnished from London which emphasised the great importance of
food, supply and shipping aspects and direct interest of the
United Kingdom and the United States Governments in this matter.

4. Understand that the matter was discussed at the meeting of the
Combined Chiefs of Staff with Generals Blamey and Puttick [3] on
24th April when the United States side indicated that the
'tremendous importance' of these Islands was realised and that
their recapture was ,on the list'. General Puttick stated that he
had discussed with the United States Commanders concerned and was
satisfied that the islands would be retaken as soon as possible.

5. The situation thus appeared promising but in the absence of any
further information as to the prospective plans, we recently made
further enquiries through the Joint Staff Mission. The latter have
now been informed by the Secretary of the United States Joint
Chiefs of Staff that 'there are no operational plans for the
recapture of these Islands and it is not possible to predict at
this time when they will be reoccupied'.

6. Representations on this subject are, we feel, a matter of some
delicacy since-
(1) Nauru and Ocean Island are in the United States theatre.

(2) The islands have already been by-passed and operations against
them would probably involve recall of men, vessels, and material
from advanced areas.

(3) The configuration of the Islands renders their capture by
assault no easy operation.

(4) The United States authorities may consider that the garrisons
may be 'starved out' or otherwise disposed of without assault on
the islands.

7. A further complication arises from the United States proposal
(which has been communicated to you through the Australian High
Commissioner in London [4]) to approach the Japanese Government
with a view to exchanging Japanese garrisons isolated in the
Central Pacific Area including Nauru and Ocean Island against
corresponding number of Japanese-held United States prisoners of

So long as this proposal is under discussion it seems
impracticable to press the United States authorities further on
the question of operations to recapture these Islands. In the
meantime we are considering whether there is any further action
which we might usefully take if as seems not unlikely this
proposal does not come to anything.

We will communicate with you again on the matter in due course.

1 Addressed to the N.Z. Govt as no. 161.

2 Sir Arthur Gaye, not to be confused with Alfred Gaze, the
Commissioners' General Manager.

3 Lt Gen Edward Puttick, N.Z. Chief of the General Staff and
G.O.C. N.Z. Military Forces.

4 Document 215.

[AA:A989, 43/583/1/1]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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