811.24546/la: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Winant)

4458. The War Department has been giving close study to the question of Pacific air bases and has reached the conclusion that the immediate establishment of an air route between Hawaii and the Philippine Islands, suitable for the movement of heavy bombardment land-type aircraft, is imperative to national defense. The proposed landing bases lie in some instances in British, Australian, New Zealand, Dutch and Free French territory and it is necessary to enlist the aid of those authorities in order to complete the route. The establishment of the proposed route is manifestly of equal importance to them, and it is hoped that their full cooperation will be readily forthcoming.

The proposed route would provide bases at Honolulu; Palmyra Island; Canton Island; Tutuila Island, American Samoa; Viti Levu Island, Fiji; Efate, New Hebrides; New Caledonia; Rockhampton, Australia; Darwin, Australia; Kendari, Celebes or Ambon Island (Ceram); Davao and Manila, P. I., with supplementary or alternate bases at Christmas Island; Solomon Islands; New Britain; Port Moresby, New Guinea; and Tarakan, Borneo. In the primary route the longest overwater flights would be from Honolulu to Palmyra, 1104 statute miles, and from New Caledonia to Rockhampton, 1024 statute miles, which distances are well within the range of comparatively small aircraft.

The War Department in cooperation with the Navy Department has recently completed preliminary surveys indicating the feasibility of such a route. The War Department has also had certain informal discussions on the general question with the British military mission in Washington in connection with the recent B-17 ferry flights, and it is understood that the substance of these discussions has been forwarded to London and to Canberra and Wellington so that these Governments are already informed.

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It is also understood that the matter of Pacific air bases was discussed at the recent meeting between the President and Mr. Churchill.1

Discussions between the War Department and the British military mission have reached a point where it is considered desirable to obtain from the British and other interested Governments a statement of their approval and their desire to cooperate, insofar as concerns their respective territories.

Once agreement is reached in principle the War Department desires blanket permission to communicate with local officials for the purpose of making surveys, separately or jointly with the British or other authorities concerned, or for the entry of the necessary construction parties on selected sites for the establishment of such suitable airdromes as may be jointly decided upon.

Will you please take the matter up with Mr. Eden2 immediately and impress upon him the importance and urgency which this Government attaches to this matter.

The War Department desires the construction of the bases to proceed as speedily as possible and hopes that informal arrangements covering the matter will suffice. It would like the Governments concerned to construct the bases, in their respective territories in accordance with the requirements of American aircraft, but it is willing to provide technical and financial assistance and, where necessary, to carry out the immediate construction.

For your convenient reference the status of the above-mentioned territories, other than American, is as follows: Fiji and Solomon, British; New Hebrides, British-French condominium; New Caledonia, Free French; Port Moresby, Australian Territory of Papua; New Britain, Australian mandated territory of New Guinea; Celebes, Ceram and Tarakan, Netherlands Indies; Canton, administered jointly by United States and Great Britain; Christmas, claimed by both United States and Great Britain. Some time ago, the British Government expressed a desire to construct landing facilities at Christmas “without prejudice to the general question” of sovereignty, and the Department understands that construction has already started.

None of the proposed bases mentioned above lies within New Zealand territory, but it is believed that New Zealand has a definite interest in the project. It is possible, also, that the War Department may desire that supplementary or alternate bases be established in the New Zealand mandated territory of Western Samoa. Moreover, it is understood that New Zealand has recently completed a road building program and now has available a large quantity of road building machinery which might be used in the construction of the bases.

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This telegram is being quoted to Canberra and Wellington, with instructions to take the matter up with the Australian and New Zealand Governments respectively, and to Nouméa with instructions to take it up with the High Commissioner there.

Please repeat to Biddle3 as Department’s Netherlands Series No. 32, 7 p.m., adding “you are instructed to take this matter up immediately with the Netherlands Government”.

  1. Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister.
  2. Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Minister to the Netherlands Government in Exile, at London.