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31 Prime Minister's Department to Dixon

Cablegram 132 CANBERRA, 31 August 1942


The Prime Minister desires you to seek an interview with the President at the earliest possible opportunity and to convey to him the following personal message:-

Dear Mr. President, 1. I desire to submit for your urgent consideration my views on the situation and needs of the South-West Pacific Area, and their relation to the global strategy which Mr. Churchill, yourself and the Combined Chiefs of Staff have constantly under review.

2. We in Australia realise the difficulties that confront you in spreading the limited resources of the United Nations over the various theatres of operations. It is a penalty and peril imposed on the peace loving nations, because the pre-war years were used as a period of preparation for war by our enemies and not by ourselves.

3. I realise the great importance to our cause in sustaining Russian resistance and the need for doing all that is possible to furnish supplies to Russia. Also, in conformity with the discussions between Mr. Churchill, M. Molotov [1] and yourself, and between Mr. Churchill and M. Stalin, it is evident that military relief must be afforded Russia by attacking Germany and Italy in some other theatre, as soon as the necessary strength can be marshalled and used with every prospect of success.

Furthermore, it is only by offensive action and military defeat that Germany and Italy can be brought to terms. These operations will require large forces and supplies.

4. The importance of the Middle East, including the sources of oil supplies in Iraq and Iran, and the need for preventing a conjunction of the Axis and Japan through India, is fully apprehended in Australia. This was demonstrated by the despatch of the Australian Imperial Forces to the Middle East. We realise that this theatre again is one which requires extensive allocations of forces and supplies.

5. The remaining theatre is Eastern Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

China has been undergoing an ordeal for years, but there are great physical difficulties in supplying her needs. The most effective way to render her assistance is to attack Japan where she is most vulnerable. It would appear that Japan has no intention of attacking Siberia for the time being, and intelligence reports show concentrations in the South-West Pacific Area. The principles of Imperial Defence, on which Australia has for years based its defence policy of Empire co-operation and local defence, contemplated that a British fleet based on Singapore would afford a general deterrent to large scale aggression against British possessions in the Eastern hemisphere. The Australian people have gratefully learnt by anxious experience that the American Fleet based on Hawaii has exercised a similar deterrent effect on Japan.

Also that your task forces, with which it has been the privilege of the sadly diminishing Australian navy [2] to serve, have in actions such as the Coral Sea frustrated the attempts of the enemy to extend his southern advance, imperil the line of communication between the United States and Australia, and further threaten the mainland of the Commonwealth.

6. In the absence of knowledge of what is contemplated in the South-West Pacific Area in the general scheme of global strategy, we feel apprehensive regarding the capacity of the Forces assigned to the South-West Pacific Area to ensure the security of Australia as a base. You will realise that so much is dependent on the strength of naval task forces that operate in or near this area, and the continued flow of land and air forces with the necessary aircraft and equipment. We consider it should be a cardinal objective of grand strategy to inflict a decisive defeat on the enemy, in order to throw him back in the first place on to his bases in the mandated islands. For this, superior sea power and ancillary air forces are necessary. I append as Annex 'A' to this note a copy of a cablegram I have despatched to Mr. Churchill on co-operation by the Eastern Fleet in the concentration of a superior naval force in the Pacific. [3] Naval and air strength are vital to the maintenance and reinforcement of land and air forces at Port Moresby and Milne Bay in New Guinea, where there are now nearly two divisions of troops and several squadrons of air forces.

7. In regard to the strength of the air forces in the South-West Pacific Area, I have given the Australian Minister a full statement of our views on the disappointing reply to our long- standing request to be allotted aircraft for an air force of the strength recommended by our advisers. [4] We are most emphatically opposed to the proposal to transfer equipment from the American Air Force squadrons in Australia to the Australian Air Force and withdraw the personnel of the former. We consider that we should be given aircraft to accord with our programme of expansion, as endorsed by the Commander-in-Chief, in stages, and that the American Air Force should be at least maintained at the strength laid down when Dr. Evatt was in Washington. [5]

8. We have two of your splendid American Army Divisions in Australia which, with the Australian forces, are being well trained in their operational roles for either offensive or defensive action. The total number of United States Army and Air Corps troops is 98,000. We are deeply grateful for their presence, but on the general question of the strength necessary for the South-West Pacific Area, I would respectfully point out, Mr.

President, that Australia's capacity to help herself has been limited by the fact that 48,000 men are still serving overseas and our casualties in dead, missing, and prisoners of war total 37,000, or an aggregate of 85,000.

9. Japan has already launched one counter-offensive against the Solomon Islands and has continued her gradual advance along the northern shore of New Guinea, until we now face each other in Milne Bay. It is evident from intelligence reports relating to concentrations in the South-West Pacific Area that Japan intends to wage an intense offensive in this region. We feel, with the superior strength of the United Nations, that there should be no uncertainty about our ability to inflict a decisive defeat on the enemy. In fact, from the aspect of grand strategy, the importance of doing so should be an agreed objective of the first priority. I would commend to the earnest consideration of yourself and your advisers the statement of the position as I see it in the South- West Pacific Area and the vital needs for which provision should be made, if we are not going to run the risk of irreparable damage to our defensive position and our ultimate capacity to defeat Japan.

10. Much as I would like to discuss these matters with you personally, I feel that the threatening dangers of the position in the South-West Pacific Area do not warrant my leaving Australia, nor my absence from my post as Prime Minister, under such critical conditions.

Yours very sincerely,


1 Soviet Foreign Minister.

2 During the preceding ten months the Royal Australian Navy had lost three of its six cruisers (Sydney, Perth and Canberra) and a number of smaller vessels.

3 The cablegram is published as Document 27. A copy was dispatched to Dixon as no. 135 on 1 September (on file AA:A3300, 232).

4 See cablegram SW88 of 25 August on file AA:A3300, 222.

5 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. V, Document 469.

6 Curtin also sent a copy of this message to Churchill with a request that the latter instruct Dill to ensure that adequate forces were allocated to safeguard the defence of Australia and adjacent islands. See cablegrams Johcu 39-40 of 31 August on file Defence: Special Collection II, bundle 5, Strategical Policy- S.W.P.A., file no. 3, 48/1942.

Dixon delivered Curtin's message to Sumner Welles on 31 August for transmission to Roosevelt. On 2 September Roosevelt gave the Pacific War Council a general review of the strategic situation, emphasising the shortage of planes and shipping and suggesting that to attempt more than a holding operation in the South-West Pacific would threaten the vital objectives of keeping the Soviet Union in the war and preventing German and Japanese forces linking up through the Middle East and Indian Ocean. After the meeting Roosevelt told Dixon that he would be replying independently to Curtin, but asked Dixon to send Curtin an account of what he had said to the Council. Roosevelt in fact did not reply to Curtin until 15 September, when he dispatched the letter published in Document 48. See cablegrams S125 of 31 August and S132 of 3 September on the file cited in note 3 and S131 of 3 September on file AA:A3300, 229.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History