497 Memorandum by Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs


On the 13th May, 1942, I received a cable from my Prime Minister [1], which I immediately referred to the British Chiefs of Staff, and which was subsequently circulated to the War Cabinet. That cable set out the viewpoint of the Australian Government, and stated clearly the issues which I put before the Chiefs of Staff at the Meeting on 12th May, and subsequently at the Meeting of the War Cabinet on 21st May, 1942.

2. In discussions which have since taken place in London, it has been made clear to me and to the Australian Government for the first time that the strategy for the conduct of the war by the United Nations remains as it was agreed upon between the Combined Chiefs of Staff in December last, namely, that efforts should be concentrated first upon the defeat of Germany, and subsequently upon the defeat of Japan. In stating this proposition, however, it was laid down (W.W.1. paragraph 18 [2]) that the security of Australia must be maintained, and that points of vantage from which an offensive against Japan can eventually be developed must be secured. This point was reaffirmed in the discussions with Mr.

Hopkins and General Marshall. [3]

3. It was also stated in the aide memoire, which was handed to me by the Chiefs of Staff at the meeting on 12th May (paragraph 15) that:

'apart from our intention of giving Australia all practicable help, we depend on her as a base for the final offensive against Japan.' [4]

4. It is not my purpose in this memorandum to question the main strategical proposition, even though its wisdom may be open to doubt. My desire is to put to the Chiefs of Staff the following plain question are they, or are they not, satisfied that the forces allotted to the South West Pacific area are sufficient to ensure the security of Australia? 5. The facts are known to us all. General MacArthur [5], backed by the Australian Government and their professional advisers, has expressed in the strongest possible terms his opinion that the forces at his disposal are inadequate. This opinion, which applies to sea, land and air forces, has been stated both in London and in Washington. I have been told in London that the matter is primarily one for the United States Chiefs of Staff, in whose sphere of strategic responsibility Australia now lies. I have seen no reasoned statement by the United States Chiefs of Staff containing their views on General MacArthur's appreciation, though, if the tables in L.M.A.B. (42) 17 [6] are regarded as definitive, there seems to be little immediate prospect of receiving the aircraft urgently required to equip existing Australian squadrons. Can the British Chiefs of Staff accept this position? Do they seriously believe that the forces now existing in Australia are sufficient to safeguard that country against a Japanese invasion? 6. The Chiefs of Staff have stated that in their opinion an invasion of Australia is unlikely. What if this opinion is at fault? Similar prognostications have often in the past been wrong.

Australia would, of course, offer the strongest possible resistance, though with the vast length of coast line exposed to the enemy, and the comparatively small forces available to cover it, the Japanese can hardly be prevented from gaining a considerable foot-hold. I cannot too strongly emphasise the grave results of such an occurrence, the full force of which does not seem to have been appreciated over here. I cannot do better than quote from Mr. Curtin's telegram:

'If Japan should move in force against Australia and obtain a foot-hold ....it may be too late to send assistance. Possibly, in the long run, the territory might be recovered, but the country may have been ravaged and the people largely decimated. History would gravely indict such a happening to a nation which sacrificed 60,000 of its men on overseas battlefields in the last war, and, at its peril, has sent its Naval, Military, and Air Forces to fight overseas in this one.' 7. I cannot beleve that, if this situation has been fully appreciated by the British Chiefs of Staff, they will be content to leave the matter in the hands of the U.S. Chiefs of Staff to deal with as they think fit. If Australia is invaded, the Middle East may well crumble through the inevitable diversion of forces which will have to be sent to her assistance, especially having regard to the United Kingdom Government's undertaking to cut its losses in the Middle East and give priority to the defence of Australia against a full-scale invasion. Quite apart, therefore, from the duty which lies upon Great Britain of giving all practicable help to a threatened Dominion, a duty which the Chiefs of Staff, in the Paper which I have already quoted, stated that it was their intention to fulfil, the whole war situation demands that the risk of invasion of Australia shall either be averted or at least minimised. Strength to do this should be made available and a vital base made reasonably secure. In the long run, this policy would probably turn out to be economic as well as expedient.


[AA:A3300, 228]

1 John Curtin. See Document 487 2 At Evatt's request Maj Gen Sir Hastings Ismay (Churchill's Chief of Staff) provided him with a copy of Paper WW1 on 12 May (see Flinders University Library: Evatt Papers, Cables to and from Dr Evatt, March-May 1942). Evatt transmitted the paper to Curtin on 28 May in cablegram ET31 (on file AA:A4764, 2).

3 Adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, respectively. These discussions were summarised in cablegram Z57 of 4 May which is cited in Document 483, note 10.

4 The aide-memoire is published in Document 501.

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

6 Not found on Commonwealth Govt files.

[LONDON], 26 May 1942