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206 Note by Shedden of Discussions with MacArthur

BRISBANE, 27 June 1944



General MacArthur referred to the discussion which the Prime Minister and I had had with him yesterday and today on the above subject. He said that he had been very disturbed when General Blamey came to him two days ago on his arrival in Brisbane and informed him of the substance of the British ideas for the alteration of the boundaries of the Southwest Pacific Area, for the appointment of a separate Commander of the forces in that area, to whom the Australian Forces would be assigned, and for making the Southwest Pacific Area a theatre of joint responsibility subordinate to the Combined Chiefs of Staff. I mentioned to General MacArthur that Mr. Churchill, in a letter to Mr. Curtin [1], had expressly asked that the United Kingdom's views on the subjects mentioned should not be referred to in his discussions in Washington, and that General Blamey had no authority to mention them to General MacArthur.

2. General MacArthur said that General Blamey appeared to be under the impression that he General MacArthur was aware of the matter, whereas the only advice he had received from Washington was a message from General Marshall about the proposed strengths of the Australian Forces. Upon detecting General MacArthur's unawareness of the proposals, General Blamey had apparently sensed his indiscretion and closed down on the further discussion of them.

Before doing so, General Blamey had revealed an attitude which General MacArthur described as most unsatisfactory. General Blamey had expressed an unawareness of General MacArthur's programme which General MacArthur said he did not believe, because he had furnished it to General Blamey before he left Australia. (It will be recollected that, during the visit abroad, General Blamey used to produce from his wallet a slip of paper on which he had notes of the American timetable). General Blamey had also criticised General MacArthur's plans and had thrown doubts on the availability of the Australian Forces by stating that the divisions would require a long time to bring up to strength, notwithstanding that some of them had been out of action for a prolonged period. General Blamey had stated that he had instructed Lieut-General Berryman [2] to take over the command of the British Forces which might be sent to Australia, and from this, General MacArthur assumed that General Blamey was taking the adoption of the new proposals for granted.

3. General MacArthur said that, after General Blamey had left, he had said to Lieut-General Sutherland, his Chief of Staff, that it was evident that General Blamey, in his discussions in London, had been disloyal to General MacArthur and to the set-up in the Southwest Pacific Area. Since General MacArthur had heard the views expressed by the Prime Minister earlier in the day on the maintenance of the setup in the Southwest Pacific Area and on the use of the A.I.F. in the operations against the Philippines, he would add that General Blamey had also been disloyal to Mr.


4. General MacArthur said that he was convinced that General Blamey supported the proposals for the new area and command because of his personal ambition to become the Commander. (It is interesting to recall my remarks to the Prime Minister abroad that I suspected a similar ambition, because, in the first phase of operations proposed by the United Kingdom Government, the land and air forces were to be all Dominion Forces, and the naval forces would be predominantly British. Furthermore, General Blamey's personal assistant [3] had flown a kite with my assistant [4] regarding the deserving case of General Blamey for promotion to Field Marshal.) 5. General MacArthur also added that it was General Blamey's ambition to become Commander of the whole of the Australian Defence Forces in the same manner that General MacArthur is Commander of all the Naval, Military and Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area. General Blamey had sought General MacArthur's support for the proposal that, to overcome the difficulties between the Chief of the Air Staff (Air Vice-Marshal Jones) and the Officer Commanding, R.A.A.F. (Air Vice-Marshal Bostock), he should be given the command of the R.A.A.F. as well as the Australian Army.

6. General MacArthur said that he was further convinced of General Blamey's disloyalty to the Prime Minister by the derogatory inference to be drawn from a remark by him that 'he could not possibly bear the journey back with the Prime Minister's crowd, and had trumped up reasons to return by air'. I mentioned to General MacArthur that General Blamey had approached the Prime Minister in Washington for permission to return by air, because of his desire to visit Honolulu and New Caledonia for military purposes. I also mentioned the incident on the journey to America, when the Naval Commander of the transport 'Lurline' had to enter a protest against a boisterous party in the ship's doctor's cabin, the liquor for which had been supplied by General Blamey from stocks brought on board contrary to the ship's regulations.

7. General MacArthur, referring to a query raised by me on the previous day as to whether his plan of operations entailed any change in the system of command, said that the position of Commander of the Allied Land Forces had now become a fiction.

General Blamey had refused to associate himself closely with General MacArthur in the same manner as the Commanders of the Allied Naval and Air Forces, and, because of his duties as Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces, he was rarely available when required. Accordingly, General MacArthur had resorted to the system of task force commanders, and intended to take personal charge of the operations against the Philippines. If the position of Commander, Allied Land Forces, fell vacant, General MacArthur said that he would not continue the appointment.

He was willing to make any change which might be desired to accommodate the wishes of the Australian Government in regard to General Blamey and his position.

8. General MacArthur said that he received a larger fan-mail about General Blamey than about anything else. It came from members of the Australian Forces with whom he could not be considered a popular Commander, and he was intensely disliked by most of the senior Staff Corps Officers, except the few who had benefited by promotions and awards. General MacArthur urged that a very close watch be kept of General Blamey's recommendations for promotions and awards, as it was evident that he was surrounding himself with his own special selections, and even when General Blamey might ultimately retire, the Government would find itself saddled with a dynasty of the same type of officer. As an illustration of his view on promotions, General MacArthur said that the promotion of Lieut-General Savige [5] over Major-General Vasey [6] was outrageous. (I have also heard the same opinion [from] a senior Staff Corps General.) I said that a query had been raised in this particular case by the Prime Minister, but as the Minister for the Army had concurred in General Blamey's recommendation, the matter had not been pursued further.

9. In conclusion, General MacArthur said that, following General Blamey's interview with him, he had instructed Lieut-General Sutherland, his Chief of Staff, to prepare a plan for the conduct of operations in the Southwest Pacific Area, by the use of American Forces only, in view of the possibility that the assignment of the Australian Forces to him would be withdrawn. He said that this action was necessary to prevent the occurrence of a disaster and the disruption of his whole programme. An A.I.F.

division was to have been available in September, but he had now been informed that it would not be ready in time. General MacArthur said that, as Commander-in-Chief, he had to be certain of his forces to carry out his plans. He referred to an instruction [7] sent by General Blamey from London to General Northcott, to hold up the advance of Australian troops in the northern coast of New Guinea. General Northcott had protested to General MacArthur that General Blamey did not understand the position. General MacArthur said that this instruction had a new significance for him since his interview with General Blamey, who was apparently intent on holding back the Australian troops for the new command. (It is interesting to recall General Blamey's remarks in London, when referring to General MacArthur's plans and the use of the A.I.F., that we should not be too eager to use our own forces.) 10. Finally, General MacArthur said that he could not see Admiral King and General Marshall agreeing to the proposed change in the Southwest Pacific Area. Admiral King at present had a free hand as a member of the joint Chiefs of Staff, and he would be unlikely to agree to adding to his masters by placing his participation in operations in the Southwest Pacific Area under the Combined Chiefs of Staff. The same view applied to General Marshall. General MacArthur said that any such change would evoke a strong protest by him, and he was certain that there would be a similar reaction on the part of the American and Australian people.

(Special Note: The above observations have special significance when considered in relation to the attached extracts from United Kingdom document C.O.S.(44)(449)(0) [8], and the following points in particular:-

(i) The reference to the anxiety that Australia is ready and anxious to use her forces in offensive action as soon as possible.

(Note: This view could not be based on any statement by the Prime Minister, but was presumably related to an opinion expressed by General Blamey.

The reference to readiness lends colour to General MacArthur's complaint that the use of the forces is being held back from him.) (ii) The British and Dominion Forces will operate together under one command under General MacArthur's supreme direction in the first phase, but this arrangement would be reconsidered at a later date.

(Note: This bears on General MacArthur's opinion that the assignment of the Australian Forces to him and the maintenance of the set-up in the Southwest Pacific Area was not supported in London by General Blamey.) (iii) The use of the Dominion Forces and a British Naval Force for the capture of Amboina and Halmahera.

(Note: This is an intrusion into General MacArthur's line of advance, as Halmahera is his next objective. It would disrupt his plans and postpone his programme.)

1 Document 170.

2 G.O.C. 1 Corps.

3 Major D. W. Dwyer.

4 S. Landau.

5 G.O.C. New Guinea Force.

6 G.0.C. 7 Division until June 1944.

7 Not located.

8 Not located.

[AA:A5954, BOX 3]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History