Date range
Open the calendar popup.
Open the calendar popup.

82 Note of Conversation between Curtin,

MacArthur and Shedden

CANBERRA, 17 March 1944


General MacArthur said that it was his intention to make a landing in Hollandia which is just across the boundary between British and Dutch New Guinea on the northern coast of the Island. By this means he would by-pass the Japanese Forces at the various points along the northern coast, including Madang and Wewak. Later, operations would be carried out to clear the Japanese entirely from New Guinea.

2. He also proposes to capture the Island of Emirau, in the Matthias group between Rabaul and Truk, from which he would able to cooperate with the American Forces in the Marshall Islands in carrying out an intensive bombardment of Truk. It was intended only to neutralise the use of Truk as a base by the Japanese, and to let it wither away.

3. Parallel with these operations in the Southwest Pacific Area, Admiral Nimitz is to carry out operations for the capture of the Marianas Islands and the Palau Islands.

4. After General MacArthur has cleared New Guinea, it is his intention to capture Halmahera Island which is in the Moluccas to the Northwest of New Guinea and in the line of approach to the Philippine Islands.

5. Lorengau in the Admiralty Islands is to be prepared as a base for the Pacific Fleet, to enable it to give the necessary cover to amphibious operations in the Southwest Pacific Area.

6. General MacArthur said that it might be necessary to capture the Northeastern portion of Timor, in order to deprive the Japanese of their air bases there, and to enable us to use them as protecting cover against attacks from this flank.

7. He stated that it had not yet been decided whether it will be necessary to do the operations against the Islands in the Arafura and Banda Seas which had been previously discussed. Air cover for the convoys from the Australian mainland would have to be provided from carriers which would pass through the Torres Straits. The seas in the vicinity of these Islands were unsuitable for carriers of large draft, and the United States Navy was opposed to using them for operations in this region. If carriers were used, they would be of the smaller type.

8. General MacArthur said the United States Navy had sought the alteration of the boundaries of the Southwest Pacific Area, in order to place within their control the Islands to the North of New Guinea. He had strongly protested against this proposal which threatened to rob him of the fruits of victory which were the result of two years' operations against great odds. He had threatened to resign if such a change were made. It was accordingly decided to leave the boundaries as at present and to approve of the plan which he had outlined, part of which would be conducted by Admiral Nimitz and part by himself There would be close co-ordination between the operations of both areas, in that mutual support would be afforded by one area to the other, according to the agreed plan and timetable.

9. General MacArthur said that the target date for the landing in Mindanao is November, and the Philippines are to be cleared by February, when Formosa will be attacked. He said that if he could get to the Philippines before the Japanese withdrew the part of their fleet on Singapore, he would probably be able to bag these ships. After the capture of the Philippines, the only operations remaining to the Southwest Pacific Area would be the mopping up of the trapped Japanese Forces in the Netherlands East Indies. When that stage was reached, a change in the set-up in the Pacific would no doubt be necessary, but at that point the end would be in sight.

10. As mentioned on earlier occasions, General MacArthur repeated the view that, as the operations moved away from Australia, General Blamey would have to decide whether to go with him, or remain in Australia as Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces. General MacArthur contemplated that the spearhead of his advance to the Philippines would be the three A.I.F.

Divisions and a Paratroop American Division. He envisaged a change in the present system of Commanders of the Allied Naval, Land and Air Forces to one of Task Force Commanders. Australia's Army Corps would, of course, be commanded by an Australian, in accordance with the policy of national commanders for the forces of each country. This appeared to General MacArthur to be somewhat less of a Command than that which had been exercised to date by General Blamey as Commander of the Allied Land Forces. General MacArthur said that possibly the Commander of the Corps might be Lieutenant- General Sir Leslie Morshead [1] or Lieutenant-General Berryman.

[2] Lieutenant-General Berryman who had been a capable Staff Officer, had now demonstrated the qualities of a good Commander and, when things were not going well, he had displayed those tigerish qualities which were so necessary to fight back and overcome the enemy. In contrast with Lieutenant-General Berryman, Lieutenant-General Rowell [3] had been over-impressed by his difficulties and, though he was a good Staff Officer, General MacArthur could never agree to him being given a Command again.

11. Lieutenant-General Morshead had shown that he possessed good soldierly qualities as a Corps Commander, but he was not as experienced as the other Senior Officers in jungle warfare.

General MacArthur had also derived from him the impression that he was content with his record and not anxious for further advancement and the responsibility which it would entail.


A. WASHINGTON ASPECT General MacArthur said that the Prime Minister would find President Roosevelt to be a person with a most pleasing and charming personality, but he wished to warn him that his method in dealing with people of importance was to impress them with a mass of detail and, during the exposition of it, to weave in the essential questions, in order to obtain expressions of agreement.

This method frequently took unawares the persons with whom he was discussing matters and tended to gloss over the full significance of what was being put to them. Having secured agreement to what he wanted, the President instantly sought to nail people to their answers. On the other hand, the President was quite unscrupulous himself in getting away from his own expressions of agreement and repudiating his word if it suited him. General MacArthur said that reports indicated that the President's health was not good. He was reduced to a shell and might collapse at any time. President Roosevelt was dominated by an obsession to be reelected for a fourth term.

2. General Marshall, Chief of the General Staff, was a very well informed and pleasant person, but he really did not have a strategical mind, nor a predominant interest in operations. He was, of course, a strong advocate of the Second Front in Europe.

3. Admiral King, Chief of the Naval Staff, had a hard and unattractive personality. His sole concern was the prestige of the United States Navy which he placed above even the good of the American Nation.

4. General Arnold, Chief of Staff of the Army Air Force, had one sole interest, which was to vindicate the decisive results to be achieved by vertical bombing. His one aim in this war was to support Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris [4] in a plan of operations in Europe along these lines, in an endeavour to prove that the Air Force could win the war.

5. General MacArthur advised the Prime Minister to see and have discussions with the President only during his visit to Washington, and not to confer with the Combined Chiefs of Staff or the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

6. In reply to a request to indicate any manner in which the Prime Minister could assist General MacArthur, he replied that there was none. He explained that the Pacific is a sphere of American strategic responsibility and the representations of General MacArthur himself and the missions of Lieutenant-General Sutherland in the last five months had resulted in a plan being laid down as outlined under Future Operations in the Pacific.

There was nothing that the Prime Minister could do in Washington to further any aspect, and only harm could come by intrusion by the Prime Minister which might be described by those who resented it as an attempt at political interference. General MacArthur gave the following outline of the attitude which the Prime Minister should adopt in his discussions with the President:-

(i) Australia had been in dire peril following the fall of Singapore and the Malay Barrier, and the advance of the Japanese into New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

(ii) The Commonwealth had faced great odds. Unlike Britain, she had not possessed a great fleet or a large air force.

(iii) She had received little help in the critical period and the removal of the threat of invasion had been mainly due to her own efforts and the small assistance which had been forthcoming from the United States.

(iv) The people of Australia and of Eastern Asia, the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies, would be very critical of the manner in which they had been let down. General MacArthur added that, in his opinion, the Philippines could have been held if assistance had been sent, and it was possible for assistance to reach them, notwithstanding the blow the United States Fleet suffered at Pearl Harbour. Had he received help, he could have held much longer in the Philippines.

(v) The resistance offered in the Southwest Pacific Area had not only preserved Australia as a base, but the campaigns which had been waged had drawn considerable Japanese forces to this area and, by reductions in their naval and air strength and shipping, had rendered possible the successful operations by the United States Navy against the Japanese mandated islands. 7. General MacArthur suggested that a statement on these lines be elaborated in a simple manner in one speech only to the American people. He would, of course, add particulars of what Australia had achieved in her war effort. He would also point out that if Australia had been overrun, the west coast of America would have become subject to direct attack. The Japanese would have crossed the South Pacific and established themselves on the west coast of South America.

8. In reply to an enquiry as to when he considered the threat of invasion to Australia had been definitely removed, General MacArthur said that he finally dated this from the Bismarck Sea operation, when the Japanese had been frustrated from landing forces at Morobe which would have threatened our positions at Buna and Gona. if an earlier date were desired on which the pendulum had swung definitely and positively against the Japanese, he would quote the engagement at Gorari, when General Horii [5] was defeated.

B. LONDON ASPECT 9. General MacArthur was informed of the Agenda for the Conference of Prime Ministers in London as given in Dominions Office cablegram D.335 of 5th March. [6] Particular reference was made to item 11 relating to:-

'Questions Arising from the Conduct of the War Against Japan, Including the Provision of Forces from the British Commonwealth for that Purpose'.

10. Reference was also made to Dominions Office cablegram No. 66 of 11th March [7], relative to the conclusions of the Cairo Conference, and Mr. Bruce's cablegram No. 42[A] of 14th March [8] which amplifies it.

11. General MacArthur described these communications as entirely academic. They referred to:-

(i) The despatch of a British Fleet to the Pacific.

(ii) The despatch of two infantry divisions from India to Australia this year.

(iii) The despatch of four divisions from the United Kingdom to Australia to arrive about eight months after Germany's defeat.

(iv) The despatch of 65 [R.A.F.] squadrons to be available in the Pacific some 7-12 months after Germany's defeat.

12. General MacArthur said, in regard to the naval forces, that there was considerable hostility on the part of the United States Navy to the entry of British naval forces into the Pacific, as they considered that they could defeat the Japanese themselves. in regard to the land and air forces, General MacArthur said that he could not imagine Admiral Mountbatten agreeing to the transfer of two divisions from India, but, unless the military and air forces came early, they would arrive too late, in view of the plan and timetable which he had outlined earlier with reference to future operations in the Pacific.

13. General MacArthur said that Mr. Churchill's active interest in future operations in the Pacific was apparently prompted by considerations of Empire politics, in that he felt, with victory in sight, that he must play an active part in the defeat of Japan, as well as Germany. The vital consideration, however, was what British forces could be assigned now. As a soldier, it was his principle never to refuse any aid, and he would recommend Mr.

Curtin to accept anything that was offering. He repeated, however, that the time factor was a vital consideration.

14. The reply to the cablegram [from] the United Kingdom Government should invite attention to the set-up in the Southwest Pacific Area, under which the nations concerned had assigned their forces to operate under the Commander-in-Chief and under the Commanders of the naval, land and air forces, as designated by General MacArthur under his directive. Any British Forces which came into the area should therefore be assigned to operate under the Command system as laid down.

15. In regard to the study of base potentialities in Australia for British Forces, General MacArthur said that he assumed this information could be readily furnished by the Australian Services through the Australian Mission in London, and the views of himself on the operational aspect could be given if desired. Nevertheless, if it were found necessary to send British Service representatives to study this aspect, they should be permitted to pursue their enquiries only on the understanding that they were made [sic] and that any forces would operate within the existing set-up.

(3) THE SECOND FRONT Reference is made to previous observations of General MacArthur on this subject on 17th July, 1942. [9]

2. General MacArthur expressed the view that victory in the whole war is being risked on the success or failure of the Second Front.

We could not now lose the war, but if we fail on the Second Front or if the Germans are able to produce a stalemate, we may not win and would have to accept an inconclusive peace.

3. In the Commander-in-Chief's opinion, the proper course would have been to build up a large British and American Army to take over the southern part of the Russian front. A similar course had been followed in principle in the last war, when the American Forces had been built up behind the British and French front.

4. It might be argued that Marshal Stalin would not agree to this course of action, to which our answer would be that if he did not choose to accept assistance in this form, he could go on alone. If he reached Berlin, he would know that he would be bled white and his influence at the Peace Conference would not be nearly as great. He would not therefore be likely to refuse such a proposal.

5. In regard to the fear that Russia might make a separate peace, General MacArthur said that this was contrary to the realities of the situation. It was Stalin's ambition to dominate the European system, just as it had been that of Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Bismarck, the Kaiser and Hitler. The tradition of Britain has been for centuries to oppose the domination of Europe by any one power and to achieve this by a system of alliances producing a balance of power. This was why, notwithstanding its criticisms of Britain and Europe, the United States could not dissociate itself from the fate of Britain, when threatened by the possibility of some power achieving an overlordship in Europe.

6. In General MacArthur's opinion, President Roosevelt had fallen for Marshal Stalin's guile, but the Commander-in-Chief was not nearly as much convinced that Mr. Churchill was satisfied with the European prospect. Marshal Stalin, by insisting on the Second Front, wished to see the strength of the United States and Britain greatly diminished so that Russia would at least be equal to them as a Great Power, and the predominant power in Europe.

7. General MacArthur stated that it is proposed to employ 44 United States and 16 British Divisions on the Western Front. The Germans at present have available about 40 in France and the Low Countries. By a further shortening of their lines on the Eastern Front, they could produce a total of 70 to 100 divisions for the Western Front. The Germans would also be working on interior lines of communication. It was important to realise that, though the Germans had experienced reverses in Russia, there had been no routs, and the Germans were withdrawing in an orderly and preconceived manner.

8. General MacArthur also expressed doubts about the Higher Command for the Western Front. He knew General Eisenhower [10] well, as the latter had been one of his Staff Officers. He was a politically minded soldier, who had never reached a major military decision in his life. The fighting in North Africa had been done by Generals Alexander, Montgomery and Anderson. [11]

9. General MacArthur said that General Montgomery was a good small Army Commander, but his reputation had been tarnished by the Italian campaign which had been undertaken largely at his instigation. He, too, had expressed political ambitions. General MacArthur also said that there was not that unity in the higher direction which there appeared to be on the surface, because reports which reached him showed that the Air Commanders were convinced that they could force a decision by vertical bombing alone. There was a danger that air strength might be diverted from adequate support of military operations.

10. In regard to the air bombardment of civilians, General MacArthur said that he did not have very great faith in it achieving decisive results. An important contrast had to be noted in the killing of soldiers and the killing of civilians. Soldiers became hardened to it as they became battle trained and experienced. To civilians, it was a new horror which created a burning desire for revenge. Their morale became stiffened, and they were prepared to take it because, ultimately, they hoped that retaliation by their own forces would bring about revenge. He said that this characteristic had been manifested in the bombing of civilians in China, Spain and England. Most important of all, it had to be noted that in the destruction of German cities and the killing of German civilians, the German Army was not being militarily defeated. Their supplies might be hampered and the morale of the civilian population might crack, but it still remained a fact that, if the civilians stuck it out, military defeat had to be inflicted on the enemy forces by actual combat.

1 G.O.C. 2 Army.

2 G.O.C. II Corps.

3 Formerly G.O.C. 1 Corps in New Guinea.

4 C.-in-C. R.A.F. Bomber Command.

5 Maj Gen Tomitaro Horii, commander of the 'South Sea Force' during the Kokoda campaign in 1942.

6 On file AA:A5954, box 646.

7 Document 75.

8 Document 81.

9 See Prime Minister's War Conference, minute 28, 17 July 1942, on file AA:A5954, box 575.

10 Supreme Allied Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, North- West Europe.

11 Respectively G.O.C. 21 Army Group, G.O.C. U.K. 8 Army and G.O.C. U.K. 1 Army in the North African campaign 1942-43.

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

Category: International relations

Topic: History