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45 Page to Bruce

Cablegram unnumbered CANBERRA, 14 September 1942


Have now been back in Australia four weeks [1] and am giving you my impressions as a background for your work. I find the morale in Australia not nearly as high as in Britain. This is due to a number of causes, the greatest being a general feeling that neither America nor Britain have yet given the aid that the urgency and the importance of the position of Australia and the Pacific warrant.

I have been told that morale was worst after the fall of Singapore, Java and the Philippines, but that the position has been improved by the results of the Coral Sea, Solomons and Midway battles, but the present position of Moresby and New Guinea largely counteracted that. It is also felt that if greater naval and air forces had been available at the Coral Sea battle much more damage would have been done to the Japanese naval forces and transports.

Before I left England the King asked me if I had heard that MacArthur was unfriendly to the British and seemed disturbed about it. I find that MacArthur is very friendly but both he and all other responsible Americans here feel that while Australia is a first class base from which an offensive against Japan must start, and consequently America has a great interest in it, yet, after all, Australia is a vital and integral part of the Empire, therefore Britain should interest herself much more in Australia's defence. If this is not possible to do directly, and all are quite willing to concede that Britain is standing up to her numerous and heavy obligations all over the world in the most wonderful manner, then Churchill should induce Roosevelt, as Commander-in-Chief of

all the American Forces, to give the American assistance that is necessary to secure the immediate defence of Australia and, as opportunity offers, to also dislodge the Jap from the Solomons, New Britain, New Guinea and Timor. This would not only make a future attack on Australia most difficult but would give us a jumping off point for offensive against Japan as soon as we have available for use sufficiently large forces.

Insofar as land forces and equipment are concerned, the forces necessary to take this action are relatively small compared with the forces that will be deployed on other fronts or on any new adventure, say three additional American divisions. The numbers of men of actual reinforcements would roughly approximate those that Australia still has in ex-Australian theatres of war. The aircraft necessary have already been agreed by our technical advisers as being vital for Australia's defence. The American naval forces, which are the forces that it is most imperative should be strengthened, are already in the Pacific and will not be used in the Atlantic nor the Mediterranean anyhow.

The Australian Government, MacArthur and Blamey have, ever since the Japanese onrush was halted, set out in many cables their plan

of campaign. The Solomons offensive made it appear for a few days as if appropriate offensive action was to be taken, but the feeling here now is that though Curtin can make ad misericordiam appeals to the President for this additional aid, the only result of the vain repetition of requests by MacArthur to the Chiefs of Staff would be a snub from them and perhaps supersession.

When I met MacArthur at Manila on the way to London I formed a very high opinion of his comprehensive outlook and clear brain.

What I have seen of his general views on strategy since my return has convinced me that in him we have that very rare military combination which sees fundamentals clearly and can express its views in the simplest and clearest terms. I think either a snub or his supersession would be a very disastrous thing in the direction of the war in the Pacific and to Anglo-American relations ultimately. If Moresby goes wrong the repercussions of failure to send this help will be so great that their effects cannot be foreseen-effects both here in Australia and especially to Anglo- Australian relations. This applies even more so to the suggested withdrawal, even though it may be a temporary one, of substantial units of the British Indian Ocean fleet. The question at issue is really one of the highest policy, as to whether the Pacific is a side-show or whether it is of first class importance. My own opinion is that, except Japan receives a very bad blow at her prestige in 1942, she has a first class chance of rousing Asia against the Anglo-American bloc or even the white races as a whole. This will mean many long years of war in the Pacific in which a war-wearied Europe may take little interest. This being so I feel strongly that this is the psychological moment to test out whether Australia has any voice in determining British war policy or war strategy, and whether any representation we have obtained in the War Cabinet is just a sop thrown to us or really means something. The reaction of some Dominions, according to your cables, makes it look as if we might have difficulty even in getting the actual indispensable equipment which we need as an actual theatre of war. Churchill alone can influence Roosevelt.

You, with the backing of the Australian Government, alone can influence Churchill.

I have felt that Australia, by its decision not to let the 7th Australian Division go to Rangoon, may have committed a well-nigh irretrievable error in world war strategy and delayed assuring itself a commanding voice in Empire policy. England runs the same risk now of making an irretrievable strategical blunder, and if things go badly either in the Atlantic or in the Pacific of perhaps precipitating an Empire political crisis that will leave indelible scars for generations, even after ultimate victory.

Churchill knows, as you do, my intense Empire patriotism, but the sacrifice of the Pacific at this time would test it to the uttermost. Any other adventure agreed on in the Atlantic would take months or even years to succeed. There will be vicissitudes of fortune, unexpected drain on resources that we must yield to- before it begins, it is absolutely imperative in the interests of Empire solidarity as well as in the interests of Australian security that the Pacific position should be secure beyond doubt.

The latest information is that the Japanese fleet in the Southwest Pacific and Mandated Islands area is 7 battleships, 3 aircraft carriers, 12 heavy cruisers, 7 light cruisers, 40 destroyers and over 20 submarines.

If a superior naval force is not concentrated as repeatedly urged by Australia, there is the danger that, should the fortunes of battle go against the Americans and heavy losses be sustained, they might be unable to dispose sufficient forces in the South- West Pacific Area to safeguard Australia against invasion. This makes it doubly important that the strength necessary for the local defence of the Commonwealth as a base should be sent while it is possible to do so. The alternative is the risk of the loss of this base and all this means to the future of the war in the Pacific and its repercussions on the Empire.

If this consideration for the British position in the Pacific cannot be secured by you under the present set-up, in which we are a primary American responsibility, then it seems to me that the position of the present division of world strategy should be revised or its control altered, so as to ensure that somewhere Australia really has some effective voice. I regard this present position as a test whether the Empire will stand together or not.

If nothing can be done about it and the decision in the higher strategical circles is made against us and the whole of the Pacific and Dutch Empire concerned, the heart will largely have been taken out of Australia.

The succession of military failures for three years and constant changes of high command have forced the conviction that the decisions of the Chiefs of Staff are not infallible, and the people will have no confidence in their decision if it is adverse.

The failure to provide these minimum reinforcements, which are relatively insignificant in numbers, cannot materially prejudice the success of any other adventure yet it takes from us the possibility of a limited offensive that can give us breathing space inside Australia and in Australian waters to perfect our Australian efforts for total war. The size of Australia and the necessity of defending very many possible points of danger throws a burden on our transport system, which practically brings chaos into civilian life, while the enemy occupies so many well situated striking points so close to our coast and ocean life-lines. The forced intense Japanese preoccupation in the Pacific may help Russia as much as any other means that is suggested-it undoubtedly will be of great help to China. Regards. [2]

1 See Document 15, note 2.

2 This cablegram was accompanied by a message from Curtin advising Bruce that: 'It follows the general line of representations which the Australian Government has been pursuing for some months and meets with my general approval.' See cablegram 8453 of 14

September on file AA:M100, September 1942.

On 19 September Bruce sent a reply to Page through Curtin summarising the problems of obtaining additional forces for the Pacific on the same lines as in Document 50. See cablegram 156A of 19 September on the file cited above.

[FA:A3196, 1942, 0.24345]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History