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333 Curtin to MacArthur

Letter CANBERRA, 22 November 1943


The splendid progress of your operations has been the subject of some thought on my part and discussion by the Government in relation to your future plans and the area of employment of the Australian Forces which have been assigned to you.

2. As you are aware, the territory of Papua is part of the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Commonwealth Government holds a mandate from the League of Nations for the administration of the former German Colony of New Guinea and the former German islands situated in the Pacific Ocean and lying south of the Equator, other than the islands of West Samoa and the island of Nauru. The mandate for Western Samoa was granted to New Zealand and the mandate for Nauru to the British Empire but is administered by Australia. The 'C' class mandates are in accordance with the following provisions of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League:-

'There are territories, such as Southwest Africa and certain of the South Pacific Islands, which, owing to the sparseness of their population, or their small size, or their remoteness from the centres of civilisation, or their geographical contiguity to the territory of the Mandatory, and other circumstances, can be best administered under the laws of the Mandatory as integral portions of its territory, subject to the safeguards above mentioned in the interests of the indigenous population.' 3. Australia therefore has a special interest in the employment of its own forces in the operations for the ejectment of the enemy from territory under its administration. Furthermore, it is essential, under the terms of your Directive [1], that the Government should be at least broadly aware of your ideas for the employment of the Australian Forces in any areas outside Australia and mandated territory, and of what you may contemplate in regard to operations affecting the latter areas. You will appreciate also that the Government must have regard to the legislative provisions of the Defence (Citizen Military Forces) Act 1943 which defines the limits of employment of the Citizen Forces. [2]

4. Although, by the most complete co-operation on your part, there has never been any need to refer to the documentary basis which governs your relationship to the Australian Government, you will be aware that the position under the set-up in the South-West Pacific Area in regard to consultations on such matters is as follows:-

(i) In amplification of the Directive, Dr. Evatt was furnished with an official memorandum in Washington which stated that it was explanatory of and should be read in conjunction with the Directive of which it thus became part. [3] A copy was enclosed with my letter of 15th April, 1942. [4]

(ii) Clause 2 of the Directive refers to the assignment of forces by the Governments concerned.

(iii) Paragraph 1 of the official memorandum reads as follows:-

'With regard to the possible movement of Australian troops out of Australian Territory, the following by United States Chiefs of Staff to the President is self-explanatory:

"Proposals of United States Chiefs of Staff (for operations in the South-West Pacific Area) made to the President as United States Commander-in-Chief are subject to review by him from the standpoint of higher political considerations and to reference by him to the Pacific War Council in Washington when necessary. The interests of the Nations whose forces or land possessions may be involved in these military operations are further safeguarded by the power each Nation retains to refuse the use of its forces for any project which it considers inadvisable."' (iv) The President, to whom, with Mr. Churchill, the Combined Chiefs are responsible and to whom the United States Chiefs of Staff are solely responsible, has never adopted the practice of referring proposals of the United States Chiefs of Staff for operations in the South-West Pacific Area to the Pacific War Council, as mentioned in (iii). The position has been met by the greatest co-operation on your part with the Australian Government.

5. The effective exercise by the Australian Government of its responsibility to the people of Australia, in respect of the employment of Australian Forces, requires that the Government should be kept informed of proposals formulated for the employment of those forces. It is, of course, highly desirable that such information should be received at an early stage in planning. In view, therefore, of the point of the progress reached in your operations and national considerations which I have outlined, I would greatly appreciate advice of prospective plans in regard to the use of the Australian land forces, in order that the Australian Government may consider their contemplated use.

6. It is, of course, unnecessary for me to add that this request is not prompted by any desire to interfere in any way with your conduct of operations, or to participate in the formulation of plans. The Australian Government has at all times had the utmost confidence in your handling of these matters, and is deeply appreciative of the remarkable results you have achieved with the limited resources at your disposal. My present request arises solely from the responsibility to the Australian people which must be exercised by myself and the Australian Government. [5]


1 For the text of MacArthur's Directive see cablegram S22 of 3 April 1942 on file AA:A3300, 233.

2 The Defence (Citizen Military Forces) Act, which became law on 19 February 1943, provided that troops conscripted into the C.M.F.

could be employed anywhere in a 'South-West Pacific Zone', the boundaries of which were the 110th meridian on the west, the Equator on the north and the 159th meridian on the cast.

Conscripts (as opposed to those who volunteered for overseas service with the A.I.F.) previously had served only in Australia, Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.

3 See Admiral Ernest J. King's letter to Evatt of 10 April 1942 and Evatt's cablegram S37 of 12 April 1942 to Curtin on the file cited in note 1.

4 Not found.

5 MacArthur replied on 24 November that he was 'in complete accord with the general position outlined in your letter' and suggested that he should give Curtin his 'general concept of the campaign' at a meeting between them in Brisbane already arranged for 30 November. MacArthur pointed out, however, that he was 'constantly receiving directives which modify materially my use of the forces here and at the present time am still in doubt as to master decisions with regard to the future. See letter on file Defence:

Special Collection II, Advisory War Council Section file (combined with 65/301/118), Role of the Australian forces in Pacific 1943- 1945.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History