161 Minutes of a Conference between Churchill and Curtin

CHEQUERS, 21 May 1944, 3 p.m.

TOP SECRET

PRESENT The Rt. Hon. Winston S. Churchill, M.P., Prime Minister and Minister of Defence (in the Chair) The Rt. Hon. Mr. John Curtin, M.P., Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia The Rt. Hon. The Lord Leathers, Minister of War Transport The Rt. Hon. The Lord Cherwell, Paymaster-General Major General L. C. Hollis (Secretary)

1. RECONNAISSANCE PARTIES FOR AUSTRALIA MR. CURTIN said that arrangements had been made for General Blamey and his Naval and Air colleagues to meet the Chiefs of Staff and the Principal Administrative Officers the following day, Monday 22nd May, to consider the question of sending administrative reconnaissance parties to Australia. He agreed that all the necessary information about the base potentialities of Australia should be made available by the best means possible.

THE PRIME MINISTER said he was quite agreeable to this arrangement.

2. THE AUSTRALIAN WAR EFFORT AND BRITISH COMMONWEALTH FORCES FOR THE FAR EAST MR. CURTIN said that before returning to Australia he wished to obtain a general assessment of what will be the strength of the Australian forces which he should advise his Government to maintain at the end of this year and, say, in August 1945. He referred to a letter which he had addressed to the Prime Minister on the 17th May [1], arising from C.O.S.(44)408(0) of 10th May.

armed forces below which no reduction could be entertained and the production of more food in Australia.

After some discussion the PRIME MINISTER suggested, and Mr. Curtin agreed, that Australia's war effort might be apportioned as follows:-

(a) The maintenance of six divisions for active operations.

(b) The maintenance of the Royal Australian Navy at its present strength plus additions arising from the Australian naval construction programme.

(c) The maintenance of the Royal Australian Air Force at the strength of 53 squadrons to be achieved under the present programme by December 1944. This excludes:-

3 R.A.F. squadrons in Australia 2 N.E.I. " " "

2 Permanent R.A.A.F. squadrons serving overseas R.A.A.F. E.A.T.S. squadrons and personnel serving overseas.

(d) Food for Great Britain (including India) to be exported on the 1944 scale.

MR. CURTIN said that now the threat to Australia had receded, it would probably be possible to effect a reduction in home defence personnel, although the manner in which an overall reduction was effected in the Army, so as to avoid hardship to those soldiers who had been away from their homes for some years, would need careful working out by the Commonwealth Government.

Mr. Curtin also stated that, in the light of the strengths laid down for the Forces, the Commonwealth Government would be able to review the extent and nature of other aspects of the Australian war effort. This would enable it to assess what could be done for the supply and maintenance of British Forces which might be based on Australia, in addition to the present similar commitments for the United States Forces. As demands would exist somewhere for supplies that could be produced, it might be feasible to go ahead with increased production. For example, if increase in food production were not required for United Kingdom Forces, they could be sent to the United Kingdom or the ceilings at present imposed on the United States Forces could be raised to some degree.

THE PRIME MINISTER then outlined the present stage that had been reached in the studies which had been devoted during the past nine months to our strategy for the war against Japan, with particular reference to the employment of British Forces. Referring to paragraph 13(a) of Mr. Curtin's letter of the 17th May, the Prime Minister suggested that Mr. Curtin, with such advisers as he might wish to accompany him, should meet him and the Chiefs of Staff at a conference the following Friday to discuss the general question of our strategy and the employment of our forces in the Far East.

He hoped that by that time some progress would have been made in formulating our own views on the subject, but it would be necessary to discuss these matters ultimately with General Marshall and Admiral King, either in London or Washington.

MR. CURTIN said that his own views were very closely akin to those expressed by the Prime Minister.

IT WAS AGREED:-

(a) That the matter raised in paragraph 13(a) of Mr. Curtin's letter of the 17th May should be discussed at a meeting to be held on Friday morning, the 26th May.

(b) That the Admiralty should be invited to furnish their views on the matter referred to in sub-paragraph 9(a) of Mr. Curtin's letter.

(c) That the Air Ministry should be invited to furnish their views on the matter referred to in sub-paragraph 9(b) of Mr. Curtin's letter.

3. RETURN TO AUSTRALIA OF R.A.A.F. UNITS NOW IN THE U.K.

MR. CURTIN said that he was anxious to start a return flow of Royal Australian Air Force personnel from the U.K. back to Australia. He would prefer that complete units should return.

THE PRIME MINISTER felt certain that this matter could be arranged satisfactorily. The flow could be accelerated if and when the strength of the G.A.F. [3] had been further reduced.

4. AUSTRALIAN MEAT SUPPLIES FOR U.S. FORCES After a short discussion the PAYMASTER-GENERAL undertook to prepare an Aide-Memoire for Mr. Curtin on the above subject.

[AA:A5954, BOX 5]

1 The letter published as Document 153 was attached to these minutes.

2 On file AA:A5954, box 5.

3 German Air Force (i.e. Luftwaffe).

[2] A balance had to be struck between maintaining a limit of