209 Attlee to Chifley and Fraser

Cablegram D1018 LONDON, 11 November 1946, 2.36 p.m.


United Kingdom Government have been reviewing their Military manpower position and this review shows that the commitments of the United Kingdom throughout the World exceed the manpower that the United Kingdom can make available to meet them.

2. The salient feature of our Army manpower position is that since we fixed our rate of demobilisation, new Military commitments have arisen, and certain other commitments which were foreseen, particularly in Venezia Giulia, Italy, Palestine, Burma, the Netherlands East Indies and Greece, have not been reduced at the rate which we previously expected. As a result, there will be 752,000 trained men and women in the Army on 31st December, 1946, against Military requirements for 821,000, leaving a deficit of 69,000. Moreover, in the Army alone, more than 500,000 men will be serving outside the United Kingdom which is I believe a considerably higher figure in relation to the population than that for any other country in the British Commonwealth or the United States.

3. In reviewing the position we have had to bear in mind two undertakings which the United Kingdom Government have given in connection with the scheme for a fixed term of conscript service starting on 1st January, 1947. These undertakings are that every endeavour will be made to ensure:-

First, that all men called up for the Armed Forces before 1st January, 1944 will be released by 31st December, 1947, and Second, that ail conscripts called up before January, 1947, will be released by 31st December, 1948.

We cannot go back upon these pledges which were given in view of the urgent need for reconstruction at home and of the fact that many men had already been serving for long periods overseas.

4. We have reached the conclusion that we must reduce the size of our Military commitments and especially the strength of the Army overseas. Such reduction means that we must take greater risks, some here, but it is necessary to accept this fact, and the dangers can be minimised by careful adjustment of the size of our forces in different areas. The measures which we plan to take include reduction of our forces in Hong Kong, Malaya, the Middle East and Europe (including the Occupation Forces in our zone of Germany). We cannot, however, secure the necessary economy of the manpower from reductions in these areas alone. The only other area from which troops can be moved with minimum risk is Japan. This seems to us to be one of the areas from which the United Kingdom troops can best be spared, as in Germany, Allied control over the country is firmly established and, therefore, a reduction of our Contingent would be unlikely to endanger the common objectives. We have, therefore, felt bound to examine the possibility of the early withdrawal of the United Kingdom Brigade from the British Commonwealth Occupation Force.

5. We are anxious that the joint character of the B.C.O.F. should be preserved and the steps which we have been examining need not in our view impair our partner-ship in this undertaking. The withdrawal of the United Kingdom Brigade would involve about 3,500 men. It would not affect the R.A.F. Contingent of the Commonwealth Air Forces nor the Royal Naval Port Party at Kure. It would not be proposed to withdraw the United Kingdom element either of the Headquarters of the B.C.O.F. or of the Corps Troops. Nor would it be proposed to withdraw the United Kingdom element of the Headquarters of the British Indian Division, nor such United Kingdom Administrative Units as will be required for the continued maintenance of that Division. Subject, therefore, to ... detailed examination on the spot and the views of the Commander-in-Chief, B.C.O.F., we would hope that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom Brigade would not mean that the B.C.O.F. would have to reduce the area it is now occupying. The numbers of the United Kingdom element of the B.C.O.F. remaining in Japan would be about 6,500 and the total numbers of the B.C.O.F. would still be over 30,000.

6. We feel sure that the Commonwealth and New Zealand Governments will appreciate that we have been forced to consider the possibility of this move solely as a result of our manpower difficulties, and that we are doing so with great reluctance. We should, of course, continue to co-operate with other Governments in every possible way in Japan's affairs and we should hope to go on playing our part in the J.C.O.S.A. and other British Commonwealth Organisations as we have done hitherto.

7. As a first step we should be grateful for an early expression of the views of the Commonwealth and New Zealand Governments upon the possibility of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom Brigade. I realise that it may not be easy for you to let me have a quick reply on this matter but I hope that you will find it possible to do so because our manpower difficulties are urgent and if the United Kingdom Brigade is to be withdrawn the sooner this is done the better. Moreover, in that case, the next step would be discussion with the United States Authorities, and it would be very convenient from our point of view, if your reply could be received in time to make it possible for the Foreign Secretary to take the matter up with Mr. Byrnes during the current session of United Nations Organisation in New York.

The MacArthur-Northcott Agreement provides that the British Commonwealth Force may be withdrawn wholly or in part upon agreement between the Governments of the United States and Australia or upon six months notice by either party, and we should certainly hope that, if the United Kingdom Brigade is to be withdrawn, this should be arranged by mutual agreement, rather than under the provision for unilateral six months notice.

It is not improbable that a decision to withdraw the United Kingdom Brigade would lead to a request by the Government of India, who are known to be very anxious to withdraw as many as possible of the Indian troops now outside India, that the Indian Brigade in the British Indian Division should be withdrawn simultaneously with the United Kingdom Brigade if the decision to do so is taken. I am therefore deferring any reference of the matter to the Government of India until I am informed of your views. [1]

1 Fraser informed chifley on 18 November that he saw no objection to the withdrawal.

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