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254 Churchill to Curtin

Cablegram Winch 5 LONDON, 23 August 1944, 2.10 a.m.


Your Johcu 78 [1] and 81. [2]

I am repeating for your private information, the following telegram despatched by the Chiefs of Staff to Washington, which explains the conclusion reached by the Defence Committee on our strategy for the war against Japan. Begins:-

'As agreed at Sextant Conference, we have devoted prolonged study to the strategy for the war against Japan. We have considered how best our forces can be disposed and what operations they should carry out, taking into account the undertaking given by His Majesty's Government at the Casablanca Conference that on the defeat of Germany we should assist the United States to the utmost of our power in defeating Japan.

2. Several important developments have taken place since I attended the Conference.

(i) The advance of United States forces across the Pacific has been accelerated.

(ii) The Japanese have strongly reinforced Burma and their strength in that country has risen from four and a half to ten divisions.

(iii) The capture of Myitkyina rules out, as was always foreseen, any purely defensive policy in North Burma.

(iv) The likelihood of aggressive action by the Japanese fleet in the Bay of Bengal is now remote.

(v) Progress of the war against Germany on all fronts has been such as to render possible the partial or total collapse of Germany which might free forces from the European theatre in the coming months.

(vi) We now have overwhelming air superiority in South-East Asia theatre.

The following paragraphs contain our proposals in the light of the above developments.

Operations in South-East Asia Theatre 3. The present directive to the South-East Asia Command prescribes as a first task the protection of the air link to China and so far as is possible, support of further construction of the Burma road (which cannot be completely opened until 1946) and of the pipe lines to Yunnan (which are also progressing slowly). In addition, we have, of course, to defend the frontiers of India. We are thus committed to a long drawn out struggle in the jungles and swamps against an enemy who has superior lines of communication to those which we possess. The wastage from sickness and disease amounted during the campaign of 1944 up to 30th June alone to 282,000 in addition to a loss in killed, wounded and missing of approximately 40,000. Clearly, therefore, we should make every effort to liquidate this highly undesirable commitment if it can by any means be done.

4. Admiral Mountbatten has put forward two plans. The first plan (Champion) is to continue to engage the Japanese in North Burma.

This, in our opinion, will merely lead to a continuation of the present unsatisfactory state of affairs and we feel bound to reject it.

5. The second plan (Vanguard), put forward by Admiral Mountbatten is to capture Rangoon by an air-borne operation to be followed by opening of the port of Rangoon and maintenance of the expedition by sea. This plan is now rendered practicable by the large measure of air superiority which we enjoy in this theatre and by the Japanese inability any longer to dispute our sea lines of communication to Rangoon.

6. The capture of Rangoon and Pegu (20 miles distant) will at a stroke sever the enemy's main lines of communication to the interior of Burma by road, river and rail. This will give us the opportunity of liquidating once and for all, under most favourable military conditions, our commitments in Burma by destruction of the Japanese forces.

7. Until such time as the Rangoon operation can be launched it will be essential to contain the Japanese by offensive action South of Myitkyina.

8. The bulk of necessary resources for Rangoon are already available and we now ask the Combined Chiefs of Staff to agree to the above plan in principle and that every effort should be made to provide from our combined resources the balance of the forces required. We propose that General Wedemeyer [3] should proceed to Washington as soon as possible to expound the outline of the plan to United States Chiefs of Staff and to provide them with any local information they may require.

9. We are now building up a strong fleet in the Bay of Bengal, the bulk of which, including our newest battleships, will not be required for the operations outlined above in the South-East Asia theatre. It is our desire in accordance with His Majesty's Government's policy that this fleet should play its full part at the earliest possible moment in the main operations against Japan wherever the greatest naval strength is required and that its strength should be built up as rapidly as possible.

This fleet by mid-1945 could probably comprise four battleships of the King George V class, six fleet carriers, four light fleet carriers, 15 escort carriers, 20 cruisers, 40 escorts and a considerable fleet train, the whole constituting a force which could make a valuable contribution in crucial operations leading to an assault on Japan. This fleet, built up as fast as possible, would operate under United States command.

10. If for any reason, the United States Chiefs of Staff are unable to accept support of a British fleet in the main operations (which is our distinct preference) we should be willing to discuss an alternative. The suggestion we would make in this event is the formation of a British Empire task force under a British Commander consisting of British, Australian and New Zealand land, sea and air forces to operate in the South West Pacific under General MacArthur's supreme command. This alternative, if decided upon, would still enable the British fleet to be well placed to reinforce the United States Pacific Fleet if this should later be desired.

11. We ask for an early expression of the views of the United States Chiefs of Staff on all the above proposals. The urgency is dictated by the need to work out as soon as possible the logistic problems involved, including development of necessary base facilities.'


2. The reaction of the United States Chiefs of Staff have not yet been received.

3. This will let you see how the matter stands at present.

1 Document 212.

2 Document 248.

3 Deputy Chief of Staff, S.E.A.C.

[AA:A5954, BOX 560]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History