476 Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister, to Mr Clement Attlee, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 267 [1] CANBERRA, 28 April 1942

MOST SECRET AND PERSONAL MOST IMMEDIATE

For the Prime Minister [2] from the Prime Minister.

1. As you are aware, General MacArthur formally assumed command in the south-west Pacific area on 18th April, when all combat sections of the Australian Defence Forces were assigned to his command.

2. The United States 41st Division has arrived in Australia and there are now approximately 60,000 United States personnel here, of whom 20,000 belong to the Air Corps. An additional division has been assigned to Australia, but it is not known when it will be possible to arrange shipping for its transportation to this country.

3. In regard to naval forces, no advice has been received of any increase or any intention to increase American strength in the south-west Pacific area.

4. Dr. Evatt has informed us of the aircraft allocated to United States forces in Australia which provide for a first-line strength of about 500. [3]

5. The Commander-in-Chief has submitted to the Chief of Staff, Washington, a statement of the equipment required for the Australian land and air forces that exist or can be raised and the dates by which these supplies are required.

6. General MacArthur reports, however, that the forces allotted to him are quite inadequate to carry out the objectives laid down in his directive, and, far from enabling him to prepare for the offensive, they are not sufficient to ensure the security of Australia as a base for offensive operations.

7. To secure Australia as a base, General MacArthur considers that adequate naval and air forces are the primary requirement. In default of these, extensive land forces are necessary.

8. Because there is no immediate prospect of providing the naval and air forces necessary, General MacArthur has represented to me the paramount importance of providing at once additional land forces for Australia. He has asked me to request you to divert to Australia the second British infantry division that will be rounding the Cape during the latter part of April and the beginning of May, and also the armoured division which is to round the Cape one month later. [4] The diversion would be of a temporary nature and these forces would remain in Australia only until such time as the 9th A.I.F. Division and the remainder of the 6th Division are returned.

9. General MacArthur has also represented that the Naval Force in the south-west Pacific is not a balanced one, as it does not possess air striking power. Its value is thus greatly reduced. If an aircraft carrier were provided the force would be able to undertake offensive operations against the Japanese in this area.

Opportunities for this at present frequently arise by reason of the enemy's long and exposed lines of communication. This state of affairs, however, will not continue indefinitely, and it is important that we should take full advantage of the situation before the Japanese are able to consolidate their position.

General MacArthur points out that it is wasteful to operate such an unbalanced force and he urges that an aircraft carrier, even of the smallest type, be allocated to the south-west Pacific in order that the naval force there may operate as a strong offensive unit.

You will recall that it was originally intended to provide an aircraft carrier from the Royal Navy for the Anzac Naval Force.

[5]

10. General MacArthur also states that an additional allocation of shipping on the Australian-American run should be made for a sufficient period to transport immediately the forces and equipment allotted and to build up the strength required. The present amount of 250,000 tons is stated by him to be quite inadequate to complete the requisite defence strength, apart from building, up the strength required for offensive action.

11. I shall be glad if early consideration can be given to these recommendations of the Commander-in-Chief which have the full support of the Australian Government.

CURTIN

1 Repeated to the High Commissioner in the United Kingdom as no 3594 (AA:A3196, 1942, 0.11428).

2 Winston Churchill.

3 See Document 460, paragraph 2 and Document 469, paragraph 9.

4 See Document 447.

5 The aircraft carrier H.M.S. Hermes was originally allotted to the Anzac Area but did not serve there, having been sunk on 9 April off Trincomalee.

[DEFENCE: MP1217, BOX 569, STRATEGICAL POLICY IN SOUTHWEST PACIFIC AREA-WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO AUSTRALIA AS A BASE. FILE NO.1]