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

Cablegram 208 CANBERRA, 19 March 1942


For the Prime Minister [1] from the Prime Minister.

I am transmitting to you the observations of the Australian Chiefs
of Staff on the appreciation of the situation in the Far East
prepared in March 1942 by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff and
forwarded to the Commonwealth Government through the High
Commissioner for the United Kingdom. [2]

War Cabinet and the Advisory War Council are in agreement with the
views of the Australian Chiefs of Staff. [3] I would ask that very
early consideration be given to the proposals for the adoption of
an offensive naval policy as indicated in paragraphs 5 to 16.


1. Too great an emphasis is laid upon stabilising our present
position rather than taking the initiative from the Japanese. Our
policy should be not merely to strengthen the positions that we
now hold with a view to retaining them, but to attack the enemy
with a view to causing him to withdraw from positions that he has
gained and which afford him opportunities for further advance.

2. The situation in the north east of Australia is a case in
point. In our hands, Rabaul, which is the only good harbour in the
New Britain-New Ireland area, was a base from which the enemy's
strongholds and lines of communication in the Marshall and
Caroline Islands could be threatened; in the enemy's hands, Rabaul
is a base from which he can and does threaten Port Moresby, Fiji,
New Zealand, New Caledonia, and the east coast of Australia. If
our energies were devoted merely to strengthening the areas
threatened by the Japanese from Rabaul, the enemy would be able to
complete his preparations to make Rabaul into a strongly fortified
base from which it would be difficult to dislodge him. It follows
that defensive preparations in the areas threatened must be
accompanied by offensive operations by air and sea designed to
harass the enemy at present and pave the way for an attack to
retake Rabaul. These preliminary attacks would also serve the
purpose of containing the enemy at Rabaul and preventing further
advances to the south.

3. Another case in point is Darwin. To our minds, the loss of the
Netherlands East Indies does not render the holding of Darwin
unimportant. If Darwin were properly defended and bomber aircraft
and submarines based there, attacks could be launched against the
enemy in the Netherlands East Indies which might contain the enemy
in that area and prevent reinforcement elsewhere and would again
prepare the way for an eventual offensive. Darwin is 1,500 miles
nearer the enemy in the Netherlands East Indies than any base in
the south west or the cast of Australia from which attacks could
eventually be launched.

4. We would stress the need for combining offensive operations
with the building up of the forces that are required to undertake
a major offensive. Although we agree that it is unfortunately
necessary to accept risks in the Middle East, we think that such a
policy is justified only if the strength which is made available
by diversions from the Middle East is to be used to undertake
combined offensive operations against Japan. To do this, we
consider that there must be concentrations of land and air forces
both in Australia and in India.

5. We are not in entire agreement with the Naval policy advocated
in the appreciation for two main reasons:-

(1) By dividing the Allied Naval Forces into two entirely separate

one in the Indian Ocean (British) and one in the Pacific (United
we delay the building up of a sufficiently strong force to defeat
the Japanese Fleet at the earliest possible moment.

(Note: The statement in paragraph 10-'Allied Naval Forces in the
Pacific may approach parity with the Japanese by mid-April'-is not
(2) The British Fleet is allocated a purely defensive role in the
Indian Ocean, whilst the United States Pacific Fleet is expected
to carry out offensive roles in the Pacific.

(Note: The same policy was advocated in the A.B.D. conversations
which took place at Singapore, and was criticised by the United
States Naval Staff. [4])
6. We therefore urge most strongly an offensive policy involving
the formation of an allied force of British and United States
naval units of sufficient strength to challenge the Japanese Fleet
at any moment.

7. It is suggested this force should be composed approximately as

9 carriers
15 8 inch cruisers
24 destroyers + as many more as can be arranged 9 fast tankers
(15-18 knots)
Such a force would form a great mobile sea aerodrome, containing
400-500 aircraft with their own fighter cover and warning sets. It
could move about where and when it liked, fuel under the lee of
islands over which it had established air supremacy, and would be
capable of taking on the strongest force that the Japanese could
bring against it.

8. It will be noted that capital ships are not included in the
above force as it is considered that these valuable ships should
be kept well away from the battle area until the battle for air
supremacy at sea has been won.

9. The above force could be conveniently divided into three
tactical units, i.e., two American and one British, each
consisting of:-

3 carriers
5 8 inch cruisers
8 destroyers or more 3 tankers.

Each unit will be entirely self-contained, and trained so that by
itself it forms a most effective striking force.

10. The unit of three carriers is arbitrary and was chosen

(1) Japanese air units have two carriers and therefore one of our
units would be superior to theirs.

(2) It makes a better division of forces as between the United
States and British.

(3) three carriers are a very convenient unit for fighter and
reconnaissance patrols whilst cruising.

(4) Under certain circumstances, it may be advantageous to use the
third carrier non-operationally, in order to carry reserve
aircraft for the remainder.

11. Until the moment for concentration arrives, each tactical unit
would operate in its own theatre and it is hoped that the units in
the Pacific will take every opportunity of attacking Rabaul where
the Japanese are rapidly consolidating themselves and forming a
submarine base.

12. The tactical operation of a combined force of this nature
should be flexible and yet well co-ordinated. The time and place
for effecting a concentration will depend on circumstances, but
the main object must always be borne in mind, i.e. to prepare and
have ready at short notice a force of sufficient strength to
defeat anything the Japanese can bring against it.

13. The most suitable operation for ensuring an engagement with
Japanese naval forces would undoubtedly be raids on Japan, as
advocated in the United Kingdom Appreciation, paragraph 10. Such
raids in carefully selected places would cause panic amongst the
population and inevitably draw Japanese forces in that direction
and thereby relieve the pressure in other parts.

14. An operation of this nature could be satisfactorily carried
out from Pearl Harbour, making use of Midway Island for fuelling.

A full scale rehearsal on Jaluit, Wotje, etc., might well be
carried out before the major operation took place, and thereby
assist in drawing the Japanese fleet in the right direction.

15. It is realised that the withdrawal of part of our forces from
the Indian Ocean will weaken the protection of Ceylon and
important sea communications for a time. The protection of the
west and south west of Australia would also be weakened. This,
however, could be accepted for the ultimate advantage gained by
aggressive action against Japan itself, which would, it is
anticipated, draw off the Japanese forces that are now available
for further attacks.

16. In our opinion, therefore, it is necessary to use such forces
as we have to attack the Japanese, with a view to:-

(1) paving the way for future offensive operations on a large

(2) preventing them from consolidating their present positions;

(3) preventing or hindering any further advances.


1 Winston Churchill.

2 Sir Ronald Cross. Document 386.

3 See AA:A2673, vol. 11, minute 2024 and AA:A2682, vol. 4, minute
845, both of 18 March.

4 The report of the American British Dutch conversations at
Singapore, dated 27 April 1941, was attached as Annex D to a War
Cabinet submission of 14 May 1941. See Documents on Australian
Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. IV, Document 455.

[AA:A2684, 904]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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