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50 Bruce to Curtin

Cablegram 154[A] LONDON, 18 September 1942, 12.15 a.m.


Your telegrams 407 and 408 [1], and two messages to the President.

[2] I have learned tonight unofficially that the President probably replied to you today. [3] If my information is correct as to its contents it is a draft of the Combined Chiefs of Staff very little altered by the President.

The views of the Combined Chiefs of Staff are in line with those of the Prime Minister and the Chiefs of Staff here, in which I have been unable to effect any alteration notwithstanding that I have brought out and amplified all the arguments and points in your cables.

As a background to the President's cable I send you the following broad picture of my experience here.

NAVAL My argument has been that owing to the strength of the Japanese naval forces in the Pacific there is a possibility that a severe reverse might be inflicted upon our naval forces in that arena;

that having superior total naval forces to the Japanese it is folly to risk such a reverse particularly having regard to the disastrous consequences that might follow, e.g. a large scale invasion of Australia which at the worst might result in the loss of our only air base in the Pacific from which a counter-attack against Japan can be staged, and at the best in the diversion of United Kingdom reinforcements for India and the Middle East to Australia, in accordance with Churchill's pledge, thereby greatly endangering our position in these theatres.

The answer to this contention has been (1) that owing to the strength of the United [States] [4] naval forces in the Pacific the danger of the Japanese inflicting a substantial reverse is only a remote one and (2) that an attempt by Japan to stage a full-scale invasion of Australia is unlikely as Japan has not the necessary shipping available for transport of the required forces.

With regard to (1) I have argued as strongly as I can that this is too optimistic a view and further that the consequences in the event of it proving wrong are so serious that no avoidable risk should be taken.

With regard to (2) the argument is based upon the estimate that the maximum force the available Japanese shipping could transport would be eight to ten divisions and that Australia would have an equal number of divisions available and would be able to meet any attempt on this scale.

In reply to this I have argued that Japan having the choice of where to attack would feel that a force of this size would be sufficient having regard to the wide dispersal of our forces and our inability to bring about a sufficient concentration in time.

The arguments on both (1) and (2) have gone backwards and forwards down lines which I need not transmit to you.

Broadly the attitude here is that the United States naval forces are adequate and that any risk involved is a legitimate and reasonable one to take. Based upon this view the decision was arrived at not to reinforce the naval forces in the Pacific and this decision was conveyed to you in Dominions Office telegram 594. [5]

This decision I told you in my telegram 150 I saw little prospect of altering [6] and I gather that it has been adopted by the President in his reply.

AIR I have strenuously argued [the case] for an increase in our air allocation and urged greater support by the United Kingdom representatives in Washington. I have particularly stressed the necessity for greater air strength in view of the decision not to reinforce the naval strength in the Pacific. I have been unable to alter the attitude expressed in the Prime Minister's cable (Dominions Office telegram 588 [7]) and I understand that the President has adopted a similar attitude.

ARMY With regard to the reinforcement of Australia by three further United States divisions, the attitude is that the tonnage required to transport these divisions would be approximately one million tons, that this tonnage clearly could not be provided as a whole and that the divisions could only be got to Australia piecemeal over an extended period.

This being so it is argued that if the naval disaster we visualise eventuated the divisions would not get to Australia in time, if at all. From this it is contended that the allocation of these three divisions plus the necessary shipping would be an unwise diversion of our resources at a time when they are vitally required elsewhere.

GENERAL While every aspect of our case in respect to sea, land and air has been argued in detail the basic strategic policy laid down in W.W.1 [8] has been the governing principle behind the arguments which have been advanced here.

That principle we might have fought successfully when it was arrived at last December if we had known of it at the time. Now it is almost hopeless to get it reversed. Applying that principle it is contended that the diversions we asked for would interfere with the operational plans that are now being undertaken to give effect to the basic strategy of W.W.1 and such diversions would only be justified if they were necessary for the defence of Australia. It is contended that there is no such necessity and I gather that the President has taken this line in his reply to you.

I regret that my efforts have been of so little avail but the difficulty of achieving anything has been considerably increased by the fact that it is consistently contended here that everything possible is being done to help us in Washington but that the final decision as to what is necessary for Australia must be decided by the American Chiefs of Staff and the Combined Chiefs of Staff.


1 Documents 27-8.

2 Curtin had in fact sent three messages to Roosevelt. See Documents 31 and 43 and Document 44, note 8.

3 See Document 48.

4 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from Bruce's copy on file AA:M100, September 1942.

5 Document 41.

6 See Document 41, note 6.

7 Document 37.

8 See Document 13, note 3.


Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History