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475 Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister, to Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs (in Washington)

Cablegram SW34 CANBERRA, 28 April 1942


Your E.S.17 [1] has been discussed with MacArthur and he is
bitterly disappointed with the meagre assistance promised for the
Southwest Pacific Area for the performance of the tasks imposed on
him by his directive.

2. He points out that the only item of his directive with which he
can comply, either now or in the immediate future, is to route
shipping in the Southwest Pacific Area.

3. The promised 95,000 American air and ground troops and a
firstline American air strength of about 500 aircraft after
deducting squadrons for Fiji and New Caledonia, and the one
Australian pursuit group to which aircraft have already been
allotted, together with the fact that there is no increase in the
naval forces, produce a military situation which MacArthur states
is not (repeat not) only entirely inadequate to carry out the
directive given him but leaves Australia as a base for operations
in such a weak state that any major attack will gravely threaten
the security of the Commonwealth. Far from being able to take
offensive action in accordance with sub-paragraph 4(h) of the
directive the forces will not (repeat not) be sufficient to ensure
an adequate defence of Australia as the main base.

4. MacArthur cabled to Marshall [2] on 24th April a statement of
Ausralian land and air formations and the dates when they may be
expected to be in service and in training and his relative
priorities for the delivery of equipment for same. This is based
on the statement of requirements of equipment put forward in
cablegram No. S.W.21 [3] which he says in confidence he was asked
to reduce to the minimum required. MacArthur has endorsed the
figures originally submitted by the Australian Chiefs of Staft
[4], but has shown the spread of requirements to June 1942,
December 1942 and June 1943.

5. As to the strategic basis of the forces required in the
Southwest Pacific Area, MacArthur says there is no need to go
further than his directive and points out that the authorities who
drew up the directive also determine the disposition of forces and
equipment. He assures me that your fears in paragraphs 10 and 11
of E.S. 17 [5] are quite groundless as his own conclusions as
Commander-in-Chief are reached entirely independently. He points
out that the passages quoted by you as being outdated in the
appreciation of 13th March were clearly expressed as forecasts by
the Chiefs of Staff on the military position at that date. He adds
that the general concept of this appreciation, which was to
indicate the forces required for the defence of the various
regional areas and for Australia as a whole, still has full
validity and his entire endorsement. He says that the same applies
to the appreciation of 4th April [6], but he will base all his own
opinions on his own judgment of the military position and what he
needs to comply with his directive.

6. MacArthur states he has also pointed out to Marshall that, if
the naval forces in the Southwest Pacific could be strengthened by
an aircraft carrier, they would be transformed into a powerful
striking force, as the enemy at present is particularly vulnerable
with many long and weakly protected lines of communication. He has
asked me to seek the allotment of a carrier from the Royal Navy in
accordance with the original promise relating to the composition
of the Anzac Naval Forces, and I have addressed a cablegram to the
United Kingdom Government accordingly. [7] At his request I have
also asked for the diversion to Australia, until the return of the
9th Division and the remainder of the 6th Division, of the
armoured division and an infantry division referred to in your
S.20. [8]

7. Finally, in regard to the situation in the Southwest Pacific
Area, MacArthur states that an additional allocation of shipping
on the Australian-American run should be made for a sufficient
period to transport immediately the forces and equipment allotted,
and to build up the strength required under his directive. The
present amount of 250,000 tons is stated by him to be quite
inadequate to complete the requisite defence strength, apart from
assembling the strength necessary for offensive action.

8. He is of the opinion that Japan will not at present go further
west than Burma. His intelligence sources indicate that Japan is
drawing back some of her strength in forward areas to defend
places which were left uncovered in her quick advance. Her
vulnerability is undergoing a transformation and great
opportunities are passing through the inaction of the United
States Fleet. The main exception to the homeward movement of
certain Japanese forces is a heavy concentration in the Mandated
Islands, which indicates an intention to push southwards either in
the islands to the east of Australia or to Australia. He says that
it is ten times easier to get forces and equipment into Australia
now than it may be in the near future, and the opportunity should
not be lost for ensuring at least that the United Nations can
stand firm in this part of the world. He does not hesitate to say
that we may be left unsupported, as he was in the Philippines, or
any support may be too late, as in the case of Malaya and the

9. MacArthur considers as highly dangerous the many references
which have been or are being made to offensive action against
Japan from Australia as a base, if there is a reluctance or
inability to carry out these intentions which have been referred
to in the many communications since the establishment of the ABDA
Area. MacArthur says that if Japan is not attacked elsewhere we
can certainly look for an attack here. Speaking from the
Australian viewpoint, I think that if we were thrown back on the
defensive against a heavy attack the effect on public morale might
well be disastrous, if it became known that we did not have the
forces considered necessary by the Commander-in-Chief for the
defence of the Commonwealth.

10. The position may therefore be summarised as follows:-

(i) MacArthur has made representations for the equipment required
for bringing to fighting efficiency the land and air forces that
Australia has raised or can raise. It is of vital importance that
this equipment should be supplied in accordance with MacArthur's

(ii) He is disappointed with the contemplated allotment of
American land and air forces.

(iii) Nos. (i) and (ii) are not sufficient for the defence of
Australia as a base, quite apart from building up strength for an

(iv) You should support the earliest possible provision of (i) and
seek a statement of the U.S. naval, land and air forces, together
with the equipment for them which it is proposed to send to
Australia within the next three, six and twelve months. It is
realised that such a programme must necessarily be flexible as
conditions change, but it is essential for a coordinated programme
between the Australian and American Forces that the Government, as
well as MacArthur, should know in order to be able to plan for the
needs of the force which we are able to supply.

(v) You should seek the allotment of a greater tonnage of shipping
to provide as early as possible the forces and equipment allotted
and to build up the strength for offensive action.

(vi) You should support the allotment of an aircraft carrier to
the naval forces of the Southwest Pacific Area.

(vii) You should support the temporary diversion of the British
armoured division and an infantry division to Australia pending
the return of the whole of the A.I.F., if this matter should come
to your notice at Washington through the representations to

(viii) You should seek an appreciation from the Combined Chiefs of
Staff on the total war position in order that the Government and
the Commander-in-Chief may be aware of their conclusions and
intentions relating to the Pacific theatre and the general
strategical basis governing the allotment of forces and equipment
to the various theatres and shipping for their transport.

11. It is the decision of War Cabinet that you remain in
Washington until more definite information has been obtained on
the foregoing matters. [9]


1 Dispatched 23 April. On file AA:A981, War 33, attachment C.

Evatt reiterated in this cablegram his belief that General
MacArthur, when requesting reinforcements, should indicate that
what he was asking for was no more than was necessary to carry out
the strategy laid down in his directive as Allied Supreme
Commander in the South-West Pacific Area. The full text of the
directive is set out in part 4 of Evatt's cablegram S22 of 3/4
April on the file cited above in this note.

2 Chief of Staff, U.S. Army.

3 Dispatched 25 March. On file AA:A981, War 33, i.

4 See the Chiefs of Staff appreciation of 27 February on file
AA:A2671, 96/1942, Supplements 1 and 2.

5 These paragraphs dealt with Evatt's view that MacArthur should
not 'hark back to appreciations which are either outdated by
events or which are in conflict with the binding strategy of the

6 See Document 456.

7 Document 476.

8 Document 454.

9 Evatt replied in cablegram ES2 I that MacArthur's comments had
been noted and that moves were afoot to do everything possible to
advance his requisitions In a letter to President Franklin D.

Roosevelt's adviser Harry L. Hopkins (enclosing copies of
cablegrams SW34, ES17 and ES21), Evatt stated that MacArthur's
assessment of the position, and the assistance necessary, should
be respected and called for Roosevelt's intervention to accelerate
decisions in this regard. Evatt's cablegram ES21 and his letter to
Hopkins, both dispatched on 29 April, are on file AA:A3300, 233.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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