285 Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister, to Mr Winston Churchill, U.K Prime Minister

Cablegram Johcu 18 [1] CANBERRA, 21 January 1942

MOST IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET

Reference Winch 9. [2]

1. The War Cabinet and the Advisory War Council have examined the naval arrangements proposed for the Anzac area in order to bring it more closely into the sphere of operational activity of the United States Pacific Fleet. [3]

2. They agree to the appointment of a United States Flag Officer in command of the forces employed and to be employed in this area, in view of the fact that strategical control of the whole Pacific area is vested in Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet, who is not only responsible for the security of the air ferry route and convoys and supplies between the United States and Australia, but whose forces can alone provide the potential reinforcements for this area.

3. They assume that the United States Government will have no objection to the retention afloat of a British Flag Officer who will work under and in the closest co-operation with the United States Flag Officer in command, and be charged with the Administration of British units and advising on British commitments and base facilities, thus following the principles now established for naval control in the A.B.D.A. area.

4. They agree to the tasks assigned but would stress the fact that the protection of Australian vital oversea and coastal shipping in the area will become the responsibility of the United States Flag Officer, and occasions may arise when these vital interests may necessitate their making some special call on him for provision of protection from the forces assigned to the area. They assume, therefore, he will be directed to co-operate closely with A.C.N.B.

[4] in matters affecting the local naval defence of Australia and the protection of convoys and shipping to and from Australia.

5. They would also point out that under present arrangements, the provision of adequate escorts for convoys to the A.B.D.A. area can only be provided by the force assigned to the Anzac area, and it will be essential to ask for the necessary detachments of cruisers when troop or supply convoys are despatched unless they are furnished by Commander in Chief Eastern Fleet. We also desire to know what is contemplated in regard to the naval protection of the area to the West of the Anzac area and the coast of Western Australia.

6. The reinforcement of Samoa and Fiji by the United States and the recent recommendation that the United States will now undertake the defence of New Caledonia emphasise the necessity for close co-operation between the Pacific Fleet and the naval forces in Anzac area, and for extending the strategic control of the Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet. The denial of these island bases to the Japanese and their use by the Allies will reduce the possibility of attack on the Australian coast and in the Tasman area, as the whole of the Australian naval forces, except local defence forces, will be allocated either to the Anzac or the A.B.D.A. area.

7. The situation developing at Rabaul at the present moment, where an attack of 100 (one hundred) aircraft from carriers has just taken place and a possible landing by heavy ships may be impending, points to much stronger forces being required in the Anzac area than those allocated. The continuance of this southern advance will produce a threat on the flanks of both the line of communication across the Pacific and the land and air route to Darwin from the East coast of Australia.

8. The importance of Australia as a base for American operations has been indicated by the conclusions reached by the President [5] and yourself, and it is also apparent from information of their plans conveyed to us by General Brett [6] and his staff. We hope, however, that the Americans have a full realisation of the fact that their capacity to launch a counter-offensive with land and air forces might be frustrated by inadequate naval strength in this region.

CURTIN

1 Repeated as an unnumbered cablegram to the N.Z. Prime Minister.

2 Document 273.

3 See Advisory War Council minute 679 of 20 January in AA:A2682, vol. 4, and War Cabinet minute 1714 of 20 January in AA:A2673, vol. 10.

4 Australian Commonwealth Naval Board.

5 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

6 Commander, U.S. Army Forces in Australia.

[AA:A3196, 1942, 0.2009]