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146 Curtin to Bruce

Cablegram 47 CANBERRA, 29 March 1943


Your cablegram 164. [1] I appreciate the report of the action being taken by you to support our case on the lines requested in cablegram No. 38 [2] and the outline of the counter-arguments with which you are being confronted.

2. In regard to the first point that our request involves a departure from the agreed strategic policy of beating Hitler first, in which Australia has acquiesced, War Cabinet strongly disagrees with the view that the Australian Government has expressed any such agreement. [3] As you know, the Government was not aware of the agreement reached on grand strategy between President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill in January 1942 until the text of the document was communicated to us by Dr. Evatt on 28th May [4], during his visit to London immediately after a copy of the document became available to him. The strategy was determined without reference to the Commonwealth Government and the decisions were taken before Singapore fell.

3. You will remember that the situation and needs of the South- West Pacific Area and their relation to global strategy was the subject of messages exchanged between myself, Mr. Churchill and the President in August and September 1942. [5] The answers to our representations were governed by the decisions on basic strategy, which had been taken by Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt in January 1942, and in my statement in the House of Representatives on 10th December 1942, I outlined the position in the following terms:-

'I explained in some detail at the last secret session the exchanges of views that had passed between Mr. Churchill, President Roosevelt and myself on Pacific strategy and the needs of the South-West Pacific Area in particular. Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt were unable to fully accept the views of the Australian Government on Pacific strategy and the provision of the forces and supplies sought. However, they gave certain assurances and practical support, for which the Government is deeply grateful, and it felt bound to accept their conclusions in a spirit of united comradeship.'

4. In the House of Representatives on 24th March, 1943, I reiterated the purport of my previous remarks in the following terms:-

'This is not the first time that it has been declared that what is called the global strategy means the defeat of Hitler first. I have previously intimated to the House that that has become the accepted policy of the major powers and I have said that though this is not comforting to us, in the circumstances there is no other course for countries like China and Australia to take than to play their part in the broad global strategy by fulfilling to the utmost of their capacities the roles assigned to them.'

5. In my message to the President of 16th November 1942, which was repeated to you, I also made the following observations [6]:-

'The decisions on global strategy have been taken by Mr. Churchill and yourself The Commonwealth Government has shown a ready willingness to co-operate in other theatres at considerable risk to the security of Australia. This has been demonstrated by the service overseas of our naval, land and air forces and our continued participation in the Empire Air Training Scheme. The Government considers that the contributions it has made to other theatres entitle it to the assurance that the fullest possible support will be given to the situation in the Pacific. You will recall that the Military Advisers of the Australian Government consider that three further divisions are necessary in the South- West Pacific Area.'

6. I think, therefore, that in expressing our attitude towards the decisions on global strategy, you should negate any implication of acquiescence. The simple fact is that we had no voice in the decision. We were confronted with a fait accompli and we had no alternative but to accept the decisions, much as we disliked them.

7. As my cablegram of 19th January [7] had been based on General MacArthur's statement of the lessons of the New Guinea campaign, I furnished him with a paraphrase of your cablegram. He agreed with your presentation of the case and made the following observations, which I am quoting for your most secret and personal information [8]:-

'Referring to item (f), strategic plan has been prepared and presented to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is the only channel permitted to me by the Governments concerned. It embodies new tactical conceptions and I personally have the fullest confidence in its success if means are given to me for its application.

The situation as a whole represents one of the most common and destructive mistakes prevalent in the handling of military operations-namely speculative estimates by officers thousands of miles away from the scene of action, in preference to actual facts obtained and assessed by experienced soldiers actually on the spot. The present instance has all the appearance of the defence of a predetermined answer which had been decided upon without fully knowing or accurately weighing the realities.

In this connection it might be well to draw attention to the fact that the constant public reiteration of a strategic policy deprecating one of the theatres of war cannot be regarded as other than deplorable. It not only exposes to the enemy the grand strategy which has been determined, but it tends to depress almost to demoralisation the military forces and even the peoples in such an area. History will be the inexorable judge of the soundness or lack of soundness of strategical concepts and can be relied upon to make an accurate assay of responsibilities, but during the operational period of the war, strategic plans should be regarded as a military secret and not expounded in debate.'

8. We cannot but deplore the rigidity with which a decision taken before the fall of Singapore and the Japanese advance further southwards is being applied without regard to the realities of the situation that has since developed. This also is apparently considered a sound reason for brushing aside the opinions of all experienced Commanders on the spot It all savours very much of the attitude adopted towards Australia's representations regarding the defence of Malaya before the outbreak of war with Japan.

9. We also fully endorse the views of General MacArthur that soft- pedalling in regard to ultimate offensive action against Japan, and the time that will elapse before this can be taken, is giving the Japanese an all clear signal that they can concentrate their forces in the South-West Pacific Area to the point of risk in other theatres. They know our strength in this region and that the proclaimed intention is not to increase it. Consequently, they can calculate the margin which they must provide to obtain a superior concentration of force. The statement in Mr. Churchill's broadcast of 21st March about partial demobilization of British and American Forces before Japan is crushed [9] cannot but arouse public misgivings in view of the contributions we have made in other theatres at the risk of our own security. A despatch from Sir Frederic Eggleston reveals that the reaction in Chungking is disturbing and even resentful. [10]

10. With regard to (d), latest Intelligence reports show that, up to the middle of March 1942, the Japanese have concentrated 634 land-based aircraft to the northern arc of islands, extending from Timor and the Celebes to New Guinea, New Britain and the Solomons.

The comparative figure at the end of December 1942 was 438 and at the end of February was 561. The enemy is developing 67 airfields in the arc of islands outside the mainland of Australia, and when these are completed, he would be able to use them for the purpose of operating air forces of a strength of 1,500 to 2,000 aircraft.

It is imperative that we should be able to build up a strength in the South-West Pacific Area sufficient to meet the enemy's growing strength arising from his increasing concentrations.

11. As Dr. Evatt will be leaving for Washington on 5th April, he will be able to support our case in person and by reference to documents. I am informing Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt that he will be in a position to present Australia's view point on the needs of the South-West Pacific Area. [11]


1 Document 143. The copies of this cablegram circulated in Canberra were incorrectly numbered 164 instead of 64A.

2 See Document 139, note 1.

3 This issue was in fact discussed by the Advisory War Council on 26 March. See AA:A2682, vol. 7, minute 1161.

4 See cablegram ET31 of 28 May 1942 on file AA:A4764, 2.

5 See Documents 27-8, 31, 37, 41, 43-4 and 48.

6 See Document 76.

7 Document 105.

8 See teleprinter message BXC315 of 26 March on file Defence:

Special Collection II, bundle 5, Strategical Policy-S.W.P.A., file no. 4, 9/1943.

9 For a report of Churchill's broadcast see the Sydney Morning Herald, 23 March 1943, p. 5. Churchill was quoted as saying that:

'The war against Japan will demand a very different arrangement of our forces from what exists at present. There will certainly be large numbers of British, and also, no doubt, United States, soldiers whom it will not be physically possible to employ across the vast distances and poor communications of the Japanese war.' 10 See Eggleston's cablegram S42 of 27 March on file Defence:

Special Collection II, bundle 8, China file no. 2, situation in China 1 January-31 December 1943. Eggleston subsequently wrote a full dispatch on Chinese reaction to Churchill's speech, commenting that: 'It must be rare for any one speech by a public man to have in it so many things which would give offence to an ally.' See dispatch 77 of 31 March in AA:A4231, Nanking, 1943.

11 See Document 148.

[AA:A3196, FOLDER 1943 OUT MOST SECRET, 0.8667, 0.8703-6]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History