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43 Prime Minister's Department to Dixon

Cablegram 138 [1] CANBERRA, 11 September 1942


The Prime Minister desires you to convey the following personal message to the President as soon as possible:-

Dear Mr. President,

1. In my previous message I submitted for your urgent consideration my views on 'the situation and needs of the South- West Pacific Area. [2]

2. I endeavoured to base my approach on a broadminded and balanced view of world strategy which recognised the pressing requirements of other theatres as well as the South-West Pacific Area.

3. I urged the importance of concentrating a superior naval force to Japan in the Pacific and the vital importance of providing aircraft for the Australian Air Forces programme and maintaining the United States Air Force in the South-West Pacific Area at the strength laid down. Finally, in referring to the military situation in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, I expressed the view that, from the aspect of grand strategy, the importance of inflicting a decisive defeat on the enemy should be an agreed objective of the first priority.

4. I commended to the earnest consideration of yourself and your advisers the statement of the position in the South-West Pacific Area as I see it and the vital needs for which provision should be made. Since then the Government has made a review of the manpower position and has considered a report by the Commander-in-Chief, A.M.F., who is also Commander of the Allied Land Forces. You are probably aware that General Sir Thomas Blamey was Commander of the A.I.F. in the Middle East and returned to Australia with part of his forces early this year. He has been carrying out a reorganisation and redisposition of the Australian Army and after a careful survey of the situation has advised the Government that an additional Army Corps of three divisions is necessary for the defence of Australia as a base under existing conditions.

5. For your information, the present distribution of the Army in Australia is:-

(i) New Guinea Two divisions.

(ii) Northern Territory...... One division.

(iii) Western Australia Two divisions.

(iv) First Army Two divisions (one in Townsville; one South Queensland).

(v) Second Army Two divisions (Sydney-Newcastle[Port] Kembla area).

(vi) In New South Wales and Victoria the First and Second Armoured Divisions are being organised. A third armoured division is to be organised.

(vii) Two American divisions are with the First Army in Queensland.

6. Under a reorganisation at present in hand, certain divisions will be reduced from a three-brigade to a two-brigade basis and this will lead to the reduction of a further division. Thus, the total available Army will be only eight infantry and two armoured divisions by the end of this year with a third armoured division being prepared.

7. In an appreciation submitted by the Australian Chiefs of Staff early this year, which was later endorsed by the Commander-in- Chief, South-West Pacific Area, the Government was advised that 25 divisions are necessary for the defence of Australia if superior naval and air forces are not available. [3]

8. of 1,529,000 men between the ages of 18 and 45, 607,000 have been enlisted in the fighting forces, of whom 48,000 are serving overseas. In addition to the reduction in the number of formations already mentioned, the Government is confronted with the provision of reinforcements for operations in the South-West Pacific Area and for the maintenance of the 9th Division in the Middle East.

9. The Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces has pointed out that geographical factors, such as the long distances between localities and lack of communications in Australia, force a dangerous degree of dispersion of strength owing to the difficulty of transferring large forces rapidly. Furthermore, the spearhead of the enemy's attack is directed against the most northern points, such as New Guinea, and this requires considerable concentrations in the forward areas. Should the United Nations suffer naval losses in the Pacific and thereby be unable to dispose their naval and air forces in sufficient strength to prevent an invasion of Australia, the Commander-in- Chief of the Australian Military. Forces considers that the Japanese would probably by-pass our isolated northern concentrations and attack nearer to the main centres of population in the south. He considers our forces are too thinly spread to meet such a contingency, and places the minimum strength at three divisions more than we possess, including the two American divisions in Australia.

10. In view of the reported strength of Japanese forces in the Rabaul area and the determined resistance being offered in New Guinea there is every reason to believe that they will attempt to oust our forces from Milne Bay and Port Moresby. Continuous fighting in this region and the incidence of tropical diseases will place a heavy strain on our limited strength in Australia without some replacement of the forces withdrawn for service in New Guinea.

11. There is also the maintenance of the 9th A.I.F. Division at strength in the Middle East. The Government realises that it is impossible to withdraw this division at the present time, though under the situation outlined by the Commander-in-Chief, and in accordance with the decision for the return of the whole of the A.I.F. to Australia, its need here is great. The demand for reinforcements at the 'intense activity' rate is 2,544 monthly, and this outflow cannot possibly be met indefinitely without some compensating inflow to Australia. It is appreciated, however, that it would be better to allow this division to remain in the Middle East and meet the need for land forces in the South-West Pacific Area by additional forces from U.S.A.

12. I shall therefore be grateful if, in the review of the situation in the South-West Pacific Area which I have already put forward, you will simultaneously consider these further observations on the need for an increase in the strength of the land forces in this region.

13. The additional requirements of the South-West Pacific Area to enable a decisive blow to be struck against Japan in this region are relatively small in relation to the resources of the United Nations, and do not appear sufficient to have a vital influence in another theatre. On the other hand, the results that can be

achieved, not only in this region but by advantages that would accrue to other theatres, are such that we feel a real opportunity to gain a definite ascendancy over the enemy is being missed. If nothing is done, the Japanese will become more consolidated and the position will grow more difficult for offensive action on our part. The enemy's capacity for further aggressive action will have been strengthened, and if exercised to the full may have disastrous results for us. Finally, Mr. Churchill has pledged the United Kingdom Government that, if Australia is heavily invaded, they will cut their losses in the Mediterranean to come to our aid. The strengthening of the situation now will act as a deterrent to invasion and preclude the possibility of having to fulfil this pledge.

Yours very sincerely,


1 This message was repeated to Churchill the same day. See cablegram Johcu 42 on file Defence: Special Collection II, bundle 5, Strategical Policy-S.W.P.A., file no. 3, 48/1942.

2 See Document 31.

3 See appreciation dated 27 February 1942 in AA:A2671, 96/1942, supplements 1 and 2.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History