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143 Bruce to Curtin

Cablegram [64A] [1] LONDON, 23 March 1943, 9.30 p.m.


Your telegrams Nos. 38, 39 and 40 of 18th March. [3]

Your recent message to the Prime Minister [4] as well as your message of 19th January to the President and the Prime Minister [5] are now under close examination by the Chiefs of Staff with a view to submitting a draft reply. [My Service Advisers] and I [are] giving all possible support to the case for increased allocation of aircraft to the South-West Pacific that you ask for.

We find that we are confronted with the following arguments:-

(a) your request involves a departure from the agreed strategic policy on Hitler First which Australia has acquiesced in, even if not in entire agreement with it [6];

(b) that the additional allocation asked for of 1,500 operational and 500 transport aircraft represents an increase out of all relation to other theatres of operations and would place in the South-West Pacific an air strength in excess of what is required to give effect to the agreed strategy;

(c) that, contrary to the view expressed in paragraph (6) of your telegram of 19th January, the provision and maintenance of the additional aircraft asked for would impose extensive demands on shipping resources;

(d) that, while the air bases that the Japanese are creating may be sufficient to enable a strength of 1,500 to 2,000 planes to be operated from them, Japan will not be able to provide anything like this number of planes to do so;

(e) that the air strength allotted to the South-West Pacific for 1943 is adequate to meet any threat that may develop against Australia or her territories and to prevent the Japanese improving their position;

(f) that it is not sufficiently clear from General MacArthur's statement in your telegram of 19th January or from your telegrams as to what is the exact method of operations contemplated in the event of additional air strength being provided as to warrant an allocation that would have serious repercussions upon contemplated operations elsewhere;

(g) that, in view of the consistent line taken by the Prime Minister and the Chiefs of Staff in resisting suggestions for a modification of the strategic plan to allow more intensive operations in the Pacific as a whole, they could not now instruct the British representatives on the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee in Washington to support a similar proposal in respect of the South-West Pacific Area.

The above sets out the arguments we are up against, and below I indicate how we are trying to meet them.

With regard to (a), we have admitted that Australia has acquiesced in the broad strategic plans but that in doing so we had not contemplated that the South-West Pacific Area would be so starved of forces as to enable Japan to remain a potential threat to Australia itself and in any event so to consolidate their position north of Australia that the time of their eventual defeat would be prolonged possibly by years.

The attitude here is that the potential threat to Australia is not a serious one; to which we have argued that such an assumption cannot be accepted. In support of such argument, we have pointed out that, in view of the statement at the Casablanca Conference regarding unconditional surrender [7], the Japanese might well undertake a bold or even a desperate adventure in the South-West Pacific, before Germany can be beaten, and while the United Nations' strength is committed elsewhere.

We have pointed out that, if Japan decided on such a course, she would have to act quickly in the face of United Nations' increasing strength and the object would probably be to deprive the United Nations of main facilities for mounting a counter offensive from the South and South-West Pacific Areas.

We have also stressed that, on the basis of broad United Nations strategy, it is essential that Japan should be prevented from driving us further back in the Pacific. This could only be done by engaging in limited offensives for which necessary forces, particularly air, must be available and that only by such forces being available can the Japanese be kept sufficiently engaged to cause a constant drainage on their resources.

The above are only samples of the arguments we are using but in addition we have dug out everything we could from speeches, cables, etc., and in particular I have used strongly your point about 'too little and too late'.

With regard to (b), I am pressing for the latest figures in connection with the estimate of total United Nations production of aircraft during 1943 and the order of battle for all theatres during the same period. So far, the information I have obtained is not very satisfactory.

With regard to production, there is great difficulty in getting figures out of the Americans and past experience has shown that even when obtained they are seldom lived up to (Note-my own impression is that now America is getting into her stride her estimates will be progressively realised).

With regard to the order of battle-difficulty has been experienced in getting information from the Americans but it is hoped that figures will be available in the next two or three weeks.

In view of this lack of definite information, it is difficult to assess the position. The sort of argument that one is met with is that for 1943 the total allocation of transport planes to the United Kingdom for all theatres is 600 and that the allocation of an additional 500 to the South-West Pacific would mean a diminution of this figure to an extent that could not be contemplated in view of the United Kingdom's commitments.

With regard to (c), we have met this argument by pointing out that Australian plans have all been laid on the basis both for air and ground personnel of seventy-three squadrons whereas aircraft for only thirty squadrons are to be provided after [sic] April, 1943.

In reply to the argument that even if this is so, and the greater part of the aircraft can be flown, the provision of petrol, bombs, spares and other equipment would involve a heavy drain on shipping, we have contended that the shipping involved would not be great and the object to be attained is so important as to warrant its employment.

As to (d), on this point it is argued that the total first-line strength that Japan will be in a position to maintain is 1,800 aircraft, of which 850 would have to be retained in Japan and the northern area and some 500 to cover Malaya, Burma, Siam and Indo- China.

From this, it is suggested that any concentration that could be brought into the South-West Pacific Area is a relatively limited one. Against this, we have pointed out that Japan appears to have concentrated on mobility of her Air Force and that, from the number of landing grounds she has established, it would be possible for her to bring about a large concentration in the South-West Pacific, and that, if she decided on a desperate adventure as we have suggested, she might well take a risk and effect such a concentration. This is countered by the statement that the risk would be too great, to which we have pointed out that the Japanese have achieved most of their successes up to date by taking risks.

With regard to (e), in reply to this contention, we have used the argument under (d) and have in addition pointed out that surely the people on the spot are better able to judge this fact and that MacArthur's statement and your telegrams have shown that the view held here is not shared in Australia.

With regard to (f), this point we have had to rather slide over and I shall be obliged if you can give us anything to help us to deal with this argument.

As to (g), on this point we have argued strongly that the cases are not parallel. The suggestions which have been resisted were based on the desirability of an offensive in the Pacific as a whole with new and increased commitments which would have constituted a drain upon allied resources not envisaged in the present strategic plan.

Your proposals are for the provision of [the] force necessary to give effect to the present strategic plan which contemplates the safety of Australia and prevention of the Japanese strengthening and consolidating their position so as to make their eventual defeat more difficult and prolonged.

In this connection we have also used the argument that, in the event of the Japanese embarking on a desperate adventure, it is in the best interests [of the United Nations] as a whole that they should not only be prevented from achieving their objective but that the adventure should be decisively defeated and such losses inflicted on them as would materially affect their power to continue the struggle.

This could only be done if necessary forces particularly in the air were available. We have contended that the chances of Japan adopting a reckless course are sufficient to warrant the provision of ample forces and that one should be prepared to gain full [advantage] from it.

I have cabled at this length to give you as clear a picture of the position here as I can. I shall be obliged for any information, arguments or suggestions that you can send to help my Service Advisers and myself in our discussions.


1 Material in square brackets has been corrected/inserted from Bruce's copy on file AA:M100, March 1943. The copy circulated in Canberra was incorrectly numbered 164.

2 The Prime Minister's Dept inward cablegram register (AA:A3642, 10) gives the date of receipt as 24 March.

3 For cablegrams 38-9 see Document 139, note 1. Cablegram 40 of 18 March (on file AA:M100, March 1943) repeated to Bruce the cablegram published as Document 105.

4 Document 139.

5 Document 105.

6 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. V, Documents 497, 500 and 506.

7 Churchill conveyed to Curtin the assurance on the unconditional surrender of Japan in circular cablegram Z9 cited in Document 117, note 2.

[AA:A2679, 9/1943]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History