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126 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM(44) 5th Meeting LONDON, 3 May 1944, 5.30 p.m.



The War Situation-The War Against Japan

Opening the meeting, MR. CHURCHILL suggested that they should continue with the discussion of the war against Japan which had been started earlier in the day. [1] He invited Mr. Curtin to express his views.

MR. CURTIN read a statement [2] setting out Australia's position in relation to the war against Japan.

In the course of MR. CURTIN'S statement, the following points arose for discussion:-

(a) In reply to a question by MR. CHURCHILL as to why no reply had been sent to a comprehensive statement outlining the Australian manpower position, and raising various questions regarding the future balance of the Australian war effort, which had been transmitted to the United Kingdom Government in October 1943 [3], LORD CRANBORNE said that a draft reply had been prepared but its despatch had been delayed pending a decision on questions of major policy regarding the operations to be undertaken by British forces in the war against Japan.

(b) MR. CHURCHILL said that the necessity for the maintenance of a British effort in the Pacific had never been contested.

MR. CURTIN pointed out that the Australian Government were now faced with the necessity for deciding the balance of their effort.

If it were decided that more forces were to be based on Australia then more food must be sent with them or the Australian armed forces must be reduced to provide the manpower necessary to produce the additional food which would be required.

The Australian Government believed in the system of one Commander for one theatre, and as long as that Commander was operating on a directive jointly framed and in the preparation of which they had had a say, they were prepared to support the Commander appointed with all the resources at their disposal. it might not be generally realised that the majority of the men and most of the food for the support of operations in the South-West Pacific had come from Australia.

He made no apologies for asking for American assistance in the days when Australia was seriously threatened. America was the only place from which it was physically possible to obtain the assistance necessary at the time. His appeal had been answered, with the result that a Continent which was an integral part of the British Empire, and was occupied and defended by British people, had been held through a period of grave peril. The acceptance of American help had in no way affected the Australians' deep sense of oneness with the United Kingdom. There was no variation in the outlook of Australians or in their loyalty to His Majesty the King as the unifying symbol of the British Commonwealth. They desired to see the British flag flying in the Far East as dominantly and as early as possible.

He was eager to see the prestige of the British Empire re- established if it had in fact, been disestablished in the Far East, and to see a practical demonstration of the British as a civilising agent. The accelerated American programme suggested that if we waited for the complete defeat of Hitler before providing British forces to participate in the war against Japan, we might be guilty of a serious error of judgment. He did not suggest that any very considerable forces need be sent. The increase in the strength of the British Eastern Fleet would be a practical demonstration of our intention to play our full part in the war against Japan, and he was certain that the Fleet would be able to play an important part in the war. Nevertheless, if we waited until the end of the Hitler war, there was a risk that by the time our forces arrived, the Japanese would have been driven too far away to be reached by forces operating from Australia.

If the Americans wished to send more soldiers to Australia, they would have to be told that this would result in their being provided with less uniforms and less food, and that the deficiency would have to be made up from America. In view of the distances involved and the difficulties of transportation, he felt that it was only wise to make the greatest use of the nearest sources of supply. This would only be possible if the strength of Australia's armed forces were reduced to provide the manpower which would be required. He was not suggesting that Australia should leave others to fight the war. Australians wished to have a say in how the Pacific area was to be managed, and they realised that the extent of their say would be in proportion, not to the amount of wheat, meat or clothes they produced to support the forces of other nations, but to the amount of fighting they did. There was, therefore, a minimum fighting strength below which the Australians would not go. There was also a maximum strength of Australian armed forces beyond which they could not go, and it was the balance between these limits which the Australian Government sought to fix. There were many technical problems involved, and he was most anxious that General Blamey and the Australian naval and air representatives in London should be afforded an opportunity to discuss such problems with the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff, with a view to reaching agreement on the procedure to be followed in the examination of this matter. The decisions taken would inevitably affect the size and nature of both the British and American forces which could be based on Australia. He wished to be perfectly frank with both the United Kingdom and the American Chiefs of Staff, and to inform them fully of any decisions which might be reached by the Australian authorities.

[matter omitted]

1 See AA:A6712, 1944, Top Secret, PMM(44) 4th Meeting.

2 In AA:A6712, 1944, Top Secret, PMM(44)2.

3 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. VI, Document 293.

[AA:A6712, 1944, TOP SECRET]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History