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388 Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister, to Mr Clement Attlee, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 166 [1] CANBERRA, 4 March 1942


Following for Prime Minister [2] from Prime Minister.

Reference cablegram No. 169 [3] relative to the extension of the
Anzac Area and the machinery for its control, we have now had an
opportunity of discussing this with a special delegation of
representatives of the New Zealand Government, and their Chiefs of
Staff. The whole matter has been considered as one of urgency in
the light of the rapid deterioration in the strategic situation.

After an exchange of views with the New Zealand Government, the
following conclusions have been unanimously reached by the
Australian Advisory War Council [4]:-

(1) Japanese successes place Australia and New Zealand in danger
of attack. Darwin, Port Moresby, New Caledonia and Fiji are
immediately threatened. Other points of likely attack are the
North-east and Northwest coasts of Australia, the New Hebrides and
Tonga Tabu. The Japanese have decisive air superiority and control
in the seas in the areas in which they are operating especially as
there seems to be no present prospect of such a concentration as
would enable the main Japanese fleet to be defeated.

(2) The loss of Australia and New Zealand would mean the loss of
the only bases for offensive action by the Allied nations against
the Japanese from the Anzac Area. The defensive aspect is, of
course, vital if these bases are to be held.

(3) The basis of our planning must be not only to ensure the
security of Australia and New Zealand, but to use them as areas
from which offensive action will be launched.

(4) The immediate problems which are of great urgency are to
secure the lines of communication from the United States to
Australia and New Zealand and to prevent the southward movement of
the enemy.

We are in agreement with the proposal of the Chiefs of Staff of
the United Kingdom that the Anzac Area should include the mainland
of Australia and we now recommend that it shall embrace:-

(a) The present Anzac Area.

(b) The whole of Australia and its Territories, New Zealand and
the Islands within the boundaries of the present Anzac Area to the
extent not included in (a).

(c) An area to the west and north-west of Australia including
Timor, Ambon, the whole of New Guinea and such sea area within an
agreed distance of the coast of the west of Australia as may
subsequently be determined.

(d) The sea area to the south of Australia.

This extension would involve considerable increased naval
responsibility, and to meet this, it would be necessary for
additional naval forces to be provided to cover this additional

The United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff stated that it is desirable
'that the Supreme Commander of the Anzac Area should receive his
instructions from the same authority as the Commander of the ABDA
Area and that machinery for ensuring that these instructions
represent the views of the United Nations concerned, should be the
same in both cases.'
The original ABDA Command has now been dispersed, but you will be
aware from Cablegram No. 102 [5] that the experiences of the
Commonwealth Government did not indicate that the organisation,
machinery and procedure were satisfactory for coping with the
vital problems with which we are being brought face to face.

Further confirmation of this view was obtained during the final
days of the ABDA regime.

Our views on the machinery required for the higher direction of
the Anzac Area are as follows:-

(i) Governmental Machinery
A United States-United Kingdom-Anzac Council comprising accredited
representatives of the following Governments:-

The United States of America,
United Kingdom,
New Zealand.

The Chairman to be President of the United States of America or
his deputy and the Council to be located in Washington.

The membership might be increased as determined by the Council in
the light of events and experience. Thus Canada would be added if
she were to send forces to the Anzac Area. The Council would be
responsible for the higher policy of the war in the Anzac Area and
would deal with questions of policy and the provision of forces
and supplies.

The proposed Council does not replace the Pacific Council. The
future demarcation of functions and relationship of the two bodies
can be determined by experience and the changing strategical

(ii) Strategical Control
The general strategical control of the Anzac Area would be vested
in the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee at Washington, but to
this Committee should be added for the purpose of Anzac strategy
one naval, one army and one air force officer, from each of the
Dominions, to be appointed by the Governments of Australia and New
Zealand after consultation with the Supreme Commander. This
representative closely approximates the arrangement suggested by
the President [6] for the participation of Australian and New
Zealand service officers in discussions involving their national
interest and collaboration under the ABDA scheme.

(iii) Supreme Commander
The Council or the Governments concerned will appoint a Supreme
Commander preferably a United States Officer who would be subject
to the general strategic direction of the Combined Chiefs of Staff
Committee in Washington, as specially constituted in (ii). The
functions of the Supreme Commander would be:-

(a) To exercise general strategic direction over the land, sea and
air forces allocated to the area.

(b) To allocate within the area the forces and equipment that are
available, subject to the discretion of the Governments concerned
to retain their own troops in their area should the circumstances
in their opinion necessitate it.

The Supreme Commander should be guided by the principle of the
delegation of authority to his commanders. It should be no part of
his duty to control the details of actual operations. The control
of these should be left to the local commanders.

(iv) Commanders of Naval, Military and Air Forces
Under the Supreme Commander and responsible to him there would

(a) A Naval commander of all the naval forces allocated to the
area as at present;

(b) An Army and Air commander for each of the following:-

(i) Australia, its Territories and New Caledonia.

(ii) New Zealand, Fiji and all the Islands, for which New Zealand
is responsible.

A directive in accordance with the general principles embodied in
the one to the Supreme Commander of the ABDA Area would be issued
to the Supreme Commander of the Anzac Area.

(i) The establishment of a Council as suggested is considered
essential from the Governmental aspect to provide for an effective
voice by the Australian and New Zealand Governments in the higher
policy of the war in the Anzac Area, in view of their
responsibilities to the people and Parliaments of these Dominions
for local defence and the fact that the whole of their forces are
being placed under the operational control of the Supreme

(ii) The Council will provide a direct and expeditious means for
prosecuting a vigorous war policy in the Anzac Area and will give
that centralized supervision which is so essential to the conduct
of a war by Allies. Its location at Washington will have a number
of advantages, including greater proximity to the theatre of war.

(iii) The adoption of the foregoing proposals would have the
following additional advantages within the Anzac Area:-

(a) The area would be a workable area and one that would accord
with strategic and administrative requirements both for defensive
and offensive warfare against the enemy.

(b) Within the area there would be unified control of land, sea
and air forces to ensure:-

(i) The most effective distribution of the forces available
according to prevailing conditions.

(ii) The employment of all forces and equipment available
according to a strategical plan that will be based upon the single
aim of defeating the enemy and will not be dependent upon regard
for national boundaries.

(iii) The most effective machinery for allocating the available

(c) The machinery for co-ordination of Allied effort within the
area would be the minimum necessary for effective co-ordination
and a wide measure of responsibility would be accorded to local

(iv) In regard to the Supreme Commander to be appointed by the
Council, the Government would welcome the immediate appointment of
General Brett of the United States Army [7] in view of his
experience as Deputy Supreme Commander of the ABDA Area, the
knowledge he has gathered of Australia and New Zealand
requirements, and the Government and Service contacts he has made.

(v) The Advisory War Council representing all political parties in
Australia regard the whole matter as one of over-riding urgency.

(vi) You will doubtless hear from the Prime Minister of New
Zealand [8] within a matter of hours. Both of us agree that it
will be better for you to consider the proposal and we request you
to recommend its adoption by the President.


1 Repeated to the N.Z. Prime Minister (Peter Fraser) as no. 87. On
8 March a copy was dispatched to the Minister to the United States
with a covering note pointing out that the N.Z. Govt had 'insisted
that the approach for the Australian and New Zealand plan should
be made via London and Churchill, not in Washington'. See
cablegrams 49-50 in Flinders University Library: Evatt Papers,
Attorney-General's Dept file M2, Machinery including Australian-
New Zealand plan.

2 Winston Churchill.

3 Dispatched 8 February (AA:A3195, 1942, 1.4879).

4 At an Advisory War Council meeting in Canberra on 23 February,
attended by J. G. Coates (N.Z. Minister for Armed Forces) and D.

G. Sullivan (N.Z. Minister of Supply), it had been decided that
the Australian and New Zealand Chiefs of Staff would formulate a
common Pacific strategy for the Anzac Area, together with plans
for developing joint action for counteroffensive moves against
Japan (minute 780).

The appreciation drawn up by the Chiefs of Staff was approved in
Melbourne on 28 February by the Advisory War Council and the N.Z.

ministers (minute 801). On 1 March, the Commonwealth Govt sought
the N.Z. Govt's approval of the proposed joint strategy (see
cablegram 81 on the file cited in note 1).

The N.Z. Govt replied On 3 March in cablegram 75 (AA:A3195, 1942,
1.9119) suggesting minor alterations. These were taken into
consideration by the Advisory War Council on 4 March (minute 802)
before cablegram 166 was dispatched. The Advisory War Council
minutes are in AA:A2682, vol. 4.

5 Dispatched 6 February (AA:A3196, 1942, 0.3709)
6 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

7 Commander U.S. Army Forces in Australia.

8 Fraser cabled the U.K. Govt on 6 March expressing support for
Curtin's cablegram. See cablegram 124 (AA:A3195, 1942, 1.9479),
repeated to Curtin as no. 77.

[AA:A816, 14/301/223A]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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