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241 Mr R. G. Casey, Minister to the United States, to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram 1231 WASHINGTON, 29 December 1941, 6.54 p.m.


I have a copy of Churchill's telegram to Prime Minister [1] (sent
via London) regarding unifi[ed] [2] command proposals in the South
West Pacific. I have seen General Marshall (Chief of Staff United
States Army) and General Arnold (Chief of United States Army Air
Staff) on this this morning.

General Marshall is the moving spirit in this unifi[ed] command
proposal with the strong backing of the President. [3]

Marshall tells me that he proposed Wavell as Supreme Commander
with Brett as deputy to Wavell.

Marshall regards urgent achievement of unifi[ed] command as vital
first step. He realises that the present plan may not be perfect
but it is a plan on which he believes the several Governments and
many fighting services involved ought to be able to agree. He has
had to argue at considerable length with United States Navy and
United States Army Air to get them into line on this plan.

I asked about relationship of Commonwealth Government and
Australian fighting services to proposed Supreme Commander. He
said that they were trying to puzzle out workable proposals now
but that clearly some [senior] Australian officer or officers
would need to be on Wavell's staff, but whether in executive or
liaison capacity he could not say.

How New Zealand would fit into the proposals was not yet clear.

Marshall gave me copy of the first draft of the proposed 'letter
of instructions' to the proposed Supreme Commander. This draft is
still under active discussion between British and American war
plan staffs and is still liable to be amended appreciably. Its
form necessitates agreement on its contents and signature by
representatives of Australia, Netherlands East Indies, British and
United States Governments. Draft gives Supreme Commander command
over all sea, land and air forces allotted by respective
governments concerned in the 'South Western Pacific theatre', but
debars him from transferring forces of any one Government from the
territory of that Government except with that Government's

Plan aims at achieving air superiority as soon as possible.

Draft requires Supreme Commander to submit recommendations to
'associated governments' on matters outside of his authority.

Supreme Commander's authority is at present proposed to be limited
as under:

He may not relieve from duty Commander or Subordinate Commanders
of armed forces of A D B U Governments [4] or alter major
tactic[al] organisation of any constituent government's forces.

Each national component of a task force will operate under its
commander. Supreme Commander will not interfere in direct
communication between commanders of national components and their
own governments. Supreme Commander will exercise his authority
through the commanders of constituent forces of A D B U
Governments. Supreme Commander will be directly responsible to the
Government of his own country and communications to and from him
will go through that Government. (Summary 'letter of instructions'
Further telegram follows. [5]

1 John Curtin. See Document 240.

2 Words in square brackets have been corrected from the Washington
copy on file AA:A3300, 101.

3 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

4 Australian-Dutch-British-United States.

5 See cablegram 1237 of 29 December on file AA: A981, War 54. It
reported a meeting between Casey and Field Marshal Sir John Dill,
Leader of the U.K. joint Staff Mission in Washington, to discuss
the unified command proposals.

[AA:A981, WAR 54]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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