486 Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram E4 LONDON, 8 May 1942


In reply to your telegram No. 57 [1] I now state my first-hand impressions and conclusions in relation to second front and other matters mentioned in your telegram.

(1) I fully appreciate MacArthur's [2] attitude in relation to the supply of forces sufficient to carry out his objective, but the expression 'minimum forces' to which you refer in paragraph 2 means only that MacArthur is entitled to be supplied at the very least with such forces as are required to carry out the strategical objectives and orders contained in his directive.

(2) In reply to paragraph 3 I have always regarded the directive as being a compromise between an immediate offensive and a purely defensive strategy. You yourself have so explained it and General Brett [3] also has referred to it as 'positive defence'. Danger is that Marshall [4] may resent being pinned down in relation to a future offensive especially in relation to its precise time extent and scope. There should be no objection to MacArthur having a 'show-down' with Washington, but the following has to be remembered:-

(a) MacArthur accepted the directive and the office defined in it.

(b) So did the Australian, United States and British Governments.

(3) Therefore the showdown should be concentrated upon an insistent demand for such forces as in MacArthur's opinion are required to carry out the strategy in the directive.

(4) In regard to the other matters mentioned in your telegram, paragraph 5 (Dominions Office telegram No. 390 [5]) the Prime Minister's [6] promise to divert British divisions has been reported to you. [7] His attitude is against sending the divisions until it is reasonably clear that Japan intends a full-scale invasion. The answer is that prevention is far better than cure.

I am meeting the Prime Minister and Chiefs of Staff on Monday [8] to discuss their views on (1) General strategy of war including any relevant written appreciations.

(2) Security of Australia against invasion.

The latter topic is to cover such questions as (a) Emergency plan for additional air strength.

(b) Directions to Field Marshal Dill [9] as to United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff attitude towards South-West Pacific requisitions.

(c) Canada's possible release from certain commitments.

(d) Naval position.

(e) Return of 9th Division from Middle East.

(5) With regard to the 9th Division my cabled advice was that we should press for the return of this Division [10] but one difficulty is that MacArthur's claims may be adversely affected because his representations as to the 9th Division have been made in London. Your paragraph 7 shows the danger of MacArthur making any representation except through Marshall who is the executive officer under his directive.

(6) On the whole I do not think that it is right to regard the decision to attack Germany in the Spring of next year on the western front as militating against adequate supplies being sent for Australia (see paragraph 4 (a) of Dominions Office Z. 57 [11]).

(7) The great fear both here and in the United States was that, unless Russia's demand for an offensive was satisfied to some extent, she might either be defeated this summer or make a separate peace. It is certain that in such matters Russia will act exclusively in her own interests. Stalin and Litvinov [12] made public statements to which some sort of favourable answer had to be given.

(8) I realise that MacArthur's analysis of the American position in paragraph 10 is substantially correct. As you point out he agrees with the proposals the Curtin Government made twice before Japan entered the war. At the same time we must keep fighting for as large a concentration of forces in the South-West Pacific Area as is required for MacArthur's directive to be carried out. The strategy in the directive is more favourable than a purely defensive strategy and we should therefore insist upon its being made good.

(9) For that reason I doubt whether MacArthur should at present be required to state the forces needed purely for defending Australia. He is certain to receive greater strength if the wider purpose of his directive is adhered to rather than the more limited purpose of defence only. The decisions on the recommendations of MacArthur should soon be available.

The trouble here is that continual propaganda and persuasion are needed to keep the Pacific front from being regarded as a side show. So far as I know few if any public speeches have been made in London to emphasise the vital importance of the Pacific. The authorities both here and in the United States grossly under- estimated Japan's strength and the people who blundered in such a matter find it difficult to face up to the true position.

You will remember I cabled you from Washington pointing out that the western offensive propaganda and decisions might possibly react against us. [13] However providing Macarthur fights hard and he receives strong support from the Government-if necessary by carefully considered public statements-the flow of supplies to Australia could be made reasonably satisfactory.

The position is much better than it was but I think we should be able to improve it further providing MacArthur argues strongly with Marshall and refuses to be satisfied with anything short of those forces which will not only (a) successfully defend Australia but also (b) be able to operate offensively within a reasonable time.

This is his present mandate and it is binding upon all the Governments concerned.


1 Document 483.

2 Allied Supreme Commander in the South-West Pacific Area.

3 Commander, Allied Air Forces in the South-West Pacific Area.

4 Chief of Staff, U.S. Army.

5 Document 477.

6 Winston Churchill.

7 See Document 484.

8 For a report of this meeting see cablegram E5 of 13 May in Flinders University Library: Evatt Papers, cables to and from Dr Evatt, March-May 1942. Evatt took the opportunity to urge that the U.K. Joint Staff Mission in Washington give more active support to MacArthur's requests for additional aircraft.

9 Leader of the U.K. Joint Staff Mission in Washington.

10 See Document 446.

11 See Document 483, note 10.

12 U.S.S.R. Ambassador to the United States. 13 See Document 451, paragraph 5.

[AA:M100, MAY 1942]