49 Curtin to MacArthur

Letter CANBERRA, 27 February 1945

TOP SECRET AND PERSONAL

FUTURE OPERATIONAL USE AND COMMAND OF THE AUSTRALIAN MILITARY FORCES

FUTURE OPERATIONAL COMMAND OF THE R.A.A.F.

With reference to my letter of 15th February [1] relative to the Australian War Effort and the relation of your operational plans to the strength of the Australian Forces, I have now been informed by General Blarney that subsequent messages received from Lieut- General Berryman indicate that the arrangements for the movement of the First Australian Corps are now going ahead, the necessary shipping apparently being available.

2. It was understood, following our discussions last June when your directive of 12th July was issued for the Australian Forces to assume the responsibility for the continued neutralisation of the Japanese in Australian and British territory and Mandates in the Southwest Pacific Area, that two A.I.F. Divisions would be used in the advance to the Philippines. The 7th and 9th Divisions were nominated for this purpose, and the 6th Division was included in the Forces disposed in New Guinea. The only operational formation that it is planned should remain in Australia is a brigade at Darwin, so long as this is necessary for the protection of the naval and air bases there. The remaining strength on the mainland, which includes 60,000 B class men and 20,000 women, is necessary for the maintenance of forces engaged or to be engaged in active operations.

3. General Blarney now states that it is your desire that the 6th Division should also be allotted as a support for the 7th and 9th Divisions in their prospective operations. He has emphasised the small forces which would be left for the tasks in New Guinea and the other Islands, and has pointed out that when the organisation of six divisions was agreed to, it had not been contemplated that the Australian Forces would be actively engaged on operations on several fronts. As the use of a corps of two divisions would alone entail the provision of 30,000 men for base and line of communications units, the proposed use of the 6th Division, together with the position facing the remaining Forces in the islands, would make heavy demands on the capacity of Australian manpower to maintain the Australian Army at strength.

4. I had hoped that by now it would have been possible to associate the Australian forces in greater or lesser strength with the re-conquest of the Philippines, as a reciprocal Australian gesture to the aid which the Commonwealth has received from the United States, as well as military desirability of using the Forces which have been inactive for some time. Their earlier use would also have been the logical preliminary step to the re- adjustment of the Australian manpower position which is indicated to be necessary in my letter of 15th February. However, it is necessary to await advice of your plans in order to determine the stage at which this can be done. In the meantime, I feel that we should adhere to the basis of our previous discussion and limit the Australian component of your spearhead forces to the 7th and 9th Divisions.

5. General Blamey has also mentioned the question of the higher operational control of the Australian Forces. It is understood from him that the original intention was that the First Australian Corps would be commanded by the United States 8th Army and not by the Commander of the Allied Land Forces, but that the latest intention is for it to be under the direct command of General Headquarters.

6. It was laid down in the 1914-18 war that the Australian Forces serving outside Australia should be organised into and operate as a homogeneous formation appropriate to their strength, and that they should be commanded by an Australian Officer. This course was followed in the Middle East in the present war. When the Southwest Pacific Area was established, Commanders of the Allied Naval, Land and Air Forces were appointed in your General Order No. 1 of 18th April 1942. The principle which I have mentioned was achieved by the Royal Australian Navy operating under its own Flag Officer who is responsible to the Commander, Allied Naval Forces. In the case of the Royal Australian Air Force, an R.A.A.F. Command was created for operational control of the R.A.A.F. under an Australian Officer who is responsible to the Commander, Allied Air Forces.

General Blamey was appointed Commander of the Allied Land Forces which provided for the observance of the principle in respect of the command of the Australian Army. I shall be glad, therefore, if you could inform me of the arrangement that is contemplated in regard to the operational control and command of the First Australian Corps in particular, and of the Australian Land Forces in New Guinea and adjacent islands, and of the manner in which it is proposed to ensure the observance of the basic principle I have mentioned.

7. A similar question of principle relating to operational control and command of the R.A.A.F. in the Southwest Pacific Area has also arisen. You will recall from earlier discussions, that the arrangement for operational control by the R.A.A.F. Command and administrative control by the R.A.A.F. Headquarters has never worked satisfactorily. The suggestion for the appointment of Air Marshal Sir Keith Park, now Commander, Allied Air Forces, South East Asia Area, as Air Officer Commanding, R.A.A.F., with operational responsibility to the Commander, Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific Area, which was originally endorsed by you was later abandoned on your advice. [2]

8. As a result of the advance in recent months, Allied Air Headquarters has moved far from Australia, but the R.A.A.F.

Command is still in Brisbane. R.A.A.F. representation on the operational sections of Allied Air Headquarters consists of a small number of lower ranking officers only, and the control of the First Tactical Air Force, R.A.A.F. (our main striking force in the Southwest Pacific Area), passed first to the United States 5th Air Force and later to the 13th Air Force.

9. In order to ensure that the R.A.A.F. takes its rightful place in operations in the Southwest Pacific Area, and to provide the necessary measure of co-operation and control of our field formations and units with Allied Air Headquarters, the Minister for Air has recommended to me [3] that R.A.A.F. Command should move to New Guinea (or other forward base, as operational necessity may require) and take over command of all R.A.A.F.

formations in that and the more advanced areas. In such event, the Air Officer Commanding, R.A.A.F. Command, would be vested with operational and administrative control of all R.A.A.F. formations in the Southwest Pacific Area, outside the mainland of Australia, being responsible to Allied Air Headquarters for operational control and to R.A.A.F. Headquarters for command and administrative matters.

10. The adoption of such a course would also enable the units on the mainland to be placed under the operational control of R.A.A.F. Headquarters, subject to operational responsibility to the Commander, Allied Air Forces. I shall therefore be glad to have your observations on the recommendations of the Minister for Air, in so far as your responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief of the Southwest Pacific Area are concerned.

JOHN CURTIN Minister for Defence

1 Document 37.

2 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. VII, Document 305.

3 In a letter dated 7 February. On file AA:A816, 31/301/479.

[AA:A5954, BOX 2313]