81 War Cabinet Submission by Mr John Curtin, 81 Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Co-ordination

Agendum 334/1941 13 October 1941


AIR DEFENCE IN FAR EAST-UNITED STATES PROPOSALS United States Proposals The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs [1], in Cablegram No.

666 of 5th October (copy attached) [2], has advised that the United States authorities consider that the air defence of the area Philippines-Australia-Netherlands East Indies-Singapore would be greatly strengthened if certain operating fields could be made available to the United States forces with necessary supplies and equipment including oil and gasoline, bombs, ammunition and service detachments.

The facilities referred to are desired at Singapore, Rabaul, Port Moresby and Port Darwin, with advanced distribution point facilities at Rockhampton. The United States forces to be stationed at the air fields concerned would be limited to necessary Service detachments, local defence being provided by the British or Dutch authorities, as appropriate.

2. The United Kingdom Government welcome the proposal in principle and ask for early advice as to the attitude of the Commonwealth Government, also whether we would agree to joint discussions with the United States Commanding General in the Far East.

Increasing United States Participation in Pacific Defence 3. These proposals are another instance of increasing United States participation in the defence of the Pacific which, so far as Australia is concerned, has been exemplified:-

(i) By proposals to assist by supplying equipment and technical assistance to make Rabaul a well-defended anchorage for possible use as a base for the American fleet for operation against the Caroline Islands and Japanese lines of communication passing to eastward of Philippines. This is the subject of a separate Agendum (No-333/1941 [3]).

(2) By proposals by the United States Army Aviation authorities to establish a chain of landing grounds suitable for heavy bombers between Honolulu and New Zealand, Australia, Malaya and the Philippines avoiding the mandated area. Information from Australia was requested about New Caledonia, New Hebrides and Solomon Islands as well as Australian aerodromes between Noumea and Darwin. We have undertaken to co-operate in the proposals by making a reconnaissance and survey of sites in the Solomons, New Hebrides and New Caledonia. The New Zealand Government and the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific [4] are also co- operating on similar lines. [5] Plans and charts of the Australian aerodromes between Noumea and Darwin have been passed both to the Australian Minister, Washington, and the United States Commander- in-Chief, Pacific Fleet. [6]

(3) By flights of United States Army aeroplanes in formations of increasing size travelling from Honolulu to the Philippines via Australian territory. The next proposed flight is of 26 aeroplanes leaving Honolulu about 20th October and stopping at Port Moresby and Darwin en route to the Philippines.

It will be noted that, in addition to these matters, there is the wider sphere of American co-operation in the defence of the Pacific, which has been the subject of Conferences at Singapore this year and of recent discussions between the United Kingdom and United States Chiefs of Staff. At the latter, revised plans were drawn up and copies are expected to arrive in Australia shortly.


Views of Chiefs of Staff 4. The Chiefs of Staff recommend that the present proposals of the United States for the use of aerodromes in Australia should be accepted in principle but point out that many details will have to be settled when the plans are to hand.

5. It is not possible at this stage to do more than indicate what commitments are involved so far as Australia is concerned, but on the information available it appears that:-

(a) it is not likely that additional Military forces will be needed other than those already proposed in the scheme for the defence of Rabaul;

(b) slight increases in the length of the runways of the aerodromes at Moresby and Rabaul will be necessary, but this work is already in hand;

(c) if the plans envisage the use of the places named as operational centres, temporary accommodation for personnel and stores will have to be provided.

It is anticipated that the cost of what is involved will not be large.

6. In regard to the proposal that Australia should supply oil, gasoline, bombs and ammunition, it is pointed out by the Chiefs of Staff that it is probable that the oil and gasoline will have to come from America, and further that it is not likely that Australian bombs and ammunition, if otherwise available, would suit United States requirements.

Cablegram to Dominions Office 7. The following cablegram was despatched to the Dominions Office on 11th October (No. 670):-

Your telegram No. 666 of 5th October.

1. The Commonwealth Government welcome the United States proposals in regard to strengthening the air defence of the area Philippines-Australia-Netherlands East Indies-Singapore. They accept the proposals in principle and will do everything necessary to arrange for the facilities required in Australia and its Territories to be made available as soon as possible.

2. It is necessary to point out, however, that it is not likely that the Commonwealth Government will be able to supply such items as oil, gasoline, bombs and ammunition, though they will willingly arrange for the discussion of all matters of detail between Service representatives with a view to the most helpful co- operation.

3. The Commonwealth Government agree to joint discussions with the United States Commanding General in the Far East on the proposals.

4. This telegram has been repeated to the Australian Minister, Washington. [8]

Submission to War Cabinet 8. The proposals of the United States regarding air defence in the Far East as outlined above are submitted for the information of War Cabinet.


1 Lord Cranborne.

2 Not published. On file AA:A2671, 334/1941.

3 On file AA:A2671, 333/1941.

4 Sir Harry Luke.

5 Cranborne had advised the Commonwealth Govt of the U.S.

proposals in cablegram 616 of 9 September (AA:A3195, 1941, 1.17253), repeated to the N.Z. Covt as no. 351. The Commonwealth Govt had replied in cablegram 633 of 26 September (on file AA :

A2937,No. 1. The Pacific. 11 February, 1941 up to outbreak of war with Japan) and the N.Z. Govt had replied in cablegram 393 of 18 September, repeated to the Commonwealth Govt as no. 281 (AA:A3195, 1941, 1.18223).

6 R. G. Casey and Admiral H. E. Kimmel.

7 For a summary of U.K.-U.S. discussions on the naval situation in the Far East see AA: A2671, 376/1941, Annex B.

Arrangements had also been made for exchange of military intelligence between U.K. and Dominions and U.S. officials in the Far East. See Cranborne's cablegram 610 of 2 September (AA:A3195, 1941, 1.16616), repeated to the N.Z. Govt as no. 314; N.Z.

cablegram 374 of 6 September, repeated to the Commonwealth Govt as no. 261 (AA:A3195, 1941, 1.17054); and the Commonwealth Govt's cablegram 611 of 17 September (AA:A3196, 1941, 0.14233).

8 War Cabinet 'noted and confirmed' this reply on is October. On 18 October it agreed to a formal request from the U.S. Govt for co-operation in the provision of air bases at Rabaul, Port Moresby, Rockhampton and Darwin. Further proposals from the U.S.

Govt for use of certain aerodromes to train heavy bombardment personnel, store equipment and establish communication facilities were approved by War Cabinet after reference to the Advisory War Council. See AA:A2680, 126/1941 and AA:A2673, vol. 8, minutes 1399, 1416 and 1429.

[AA:A2671, 334/1941]