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117 Curtin to MacArthur

Letter CANBERRA, 8 February 1943



1. I have received a message from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom summarising the conclusions of the Casablanca Conference [2] and I am quoting for your most secret and personal information the substance of the advice communicated to me with respect to the decisions relating to the Pacific Theatre and South-West Pacific Area [3]:-

'After Germany is defeated Great Britain will pursue the war against Japan with her maximum available resources by sea, land and air.

2. In the Pacific Theatre operations will continue with the object of maintenance of pressure against Japan, retention of the initiative and attainment of a state of readiness for full scale offensive by the United Nations immediately Germany is defeated.

In the meantime, these operations will be kept within such limits as not to prejudice the capacity of the United Nations to take advantage of any favourable opportunity for an endeavour to defeat Germany in 1943. Subject to this condition, they will include limited offensives in Burma which will be preparatory to the reconquest of that country, building up of United States Forces in China and continuation of United States operations in the South- West Pacific Area.

3. The following are the stated objectives of United States operations in the South-West Pacific Area:-

(a) To keep Japan from further expansion and from consolidating and strengthening her present positions.

(b) To maintain the security of the Midway-Hawaii line and communications to Australia and New Zealand.

(c) To block Japanese approaches to Australia either via Rabaul or from the North West via Malaya.

(d) To secure positions from which to threaten Japanese communications with the Dutch East Indies, to the Philippines and the South China Sea.

The forces available for the operations referred to above will be limited by the necessity for concentrating maximum United States and British Forces against Germany, the primary enemy, but there will be sufficient to ensure that we retain the initiative against the Japanese.' You will note the limitations that are placed on the strength which is to be made available for operations in the South-West Pacific Area.

2. The decisions of the Casablanca Conference, by providing for the defeat of Germany first, re-affirm the policy with respect to global strategy, which was agreed upon in 1942. I shall be glad if you will let me have your observations generally on these decisions, and, in particular, I would ask for your comments on the following:-

(i) (a) Are the forces in the South-West Pacific Area of sufficient strength to achieve the objectives referred to earlier? (b) If not, what additional forces are required? (c) In regard to the objective to block Japanese approaches to Australia from the North West via Malaya, Mr. Shedden recently discussed with you, at my request, the increased enemy activity in Timor. Your advice that it was purely defensive has been noted with interest.

The Government and Advisory War Council have recently discussed reports of large scale Japanese troop movements to the Netherlands East Indies and the threat to North Western Australia which the enemy concentrations in this area involved. [4] Reference was made to the question of our ability to hold North Western Australia in the event of a major Japanese attack, and the strength and availability of the forces that would be required to meet such an attack.

I shall be grateful if you will furnish me with your comments on the aspects that have been raised.

(ii) Part I of Allied Land Forces Weekly Intelligence Summary No.

26 indicates increased Japanese activity in the construction of aerodromes and landing grounds in both the North Western and North Eastern sectors.

Mr. Shedden gave me the following report of a discussion of Japanese intentions which he was instructed to raise with you:-

'General MacArthur said the Japanese were concentrating on strengthening their line extending from Ambon; Timor; Wewak, Madang, Finschhaven, Lae, Salamaua (Northern New Guinea); Gasmata (New Britain); Buin and Faisi (Solomon Islands). These are the outer screen which protect the main base at Rabaul. The Japanese had transferred forces from the Netherlands Indies and the Philippines and the reason why they had not prepared certain of these bases earlier was because they had expected to capture Milne Bay and Port Moresby and establish bases there in the same manner as they had done at Buna. Now that their advance had been stopped and they had lost the landing strips at Buna and their forces in this region, they were determined to hold the remainder of the outer line of their defences, as was indicated by their recent anxiety to reinforce Lae and Salamaua. If they are thrown back from this outer line, Rabaul will become vulnerable to a heavy scale of attack and untenable as a base.'

I shall be glad to know whether any special significance as to offensive intentions is to be drawn from the Intelligence Report.

(iii) Is it a correct statement to say, as stated in the Casablanca decisions on the retention of the initiative against the Japanese, that we do actually possess it, either in the Pacific generally or in the South-West Pacific Area in particular? 3. As you know, I conveyed to the President and Mr. Churchill on 19th January your report on the outstanding military lessons to be learnt from the campaign in Papua and asked for the allocation to the South-West Pacific Area of 1500 additional operational and 500 additional transport aircraft, and also mentioned the need for naval dispositions to give appropriate covering support. [5] I have not yet received a reply to these messages.


1 See Document 108.

2 See cablegrams Z9, Z10 and 154 of 29 January on file AA:MP1217, box 575, Global Strategy, decisions of Casablanca Conference January, 1943.

3 On 2 February the Advisory War Council discussed the conclusions reached at the Casablanca Conference and agreed that: 'It would not be profitable to send cablegrams to President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill challenging the decisions of the Casablanca Conference. The decisions should be viewed as laying down a programme for 1943 and accepted as a pro tem policy.' It was decided, however, to convey the decisions on the Pacific theatre to MacArthur, and to make representations to Roosevelt and Churchill in the light of MacArthur's reply. See Advisory War Council minute 1129 in AA:A2682, vol. 6.

4 See Advisory War Council minute 1132 of 2 February 1943 in AA:A2682, vol. 6.

5 See Document 105.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History