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

Cablegram PM57 CANBERRA, 6 May 1942, 11.55 p.m.


1. Reference your E.S. 21. [1] Action taken has been noted.

2. MacArthur is concerned at the possibility of some
misunderstanding arising through your use of the expression
'minimum forces' in Paragraph 1. If this refers to the statement
of forces and equipment mentioned in Paragraph 4 of S.W. 34 [2]
the latter is the strength of the Australian forces that exist or
can be raised but for which equipment is required to place them on
a war footing. Australia's minimum is the maximum of which she is
capable but is not sufficient for the defence of Australia as a

3. In regard to American forces additional to those already
allotted MacArthur has cabled Marshall [3] asking for the
following, information in regard to his directive and its
(1) The nature and extent of the offensive action contemplated.

(2) The forces to be allotted to him to enable offensive action to
be taken.

(3) The dates on which it is proposed to make such forces
available to him.

4. He seems somewhat disillusioned in regard to his earlier
expectations of support in the South West Pacific Area and his
attitude could be expressed as one of determination to have a
'show-down' with Washington about the precise terms of his
directive and the forces which were to be provided to enable him
to fulfil it. He emphasised that it would be a weak course for him
to allow the President [4] and Mr. Churchill to leave him with a
directive which sounded grand but had no backing behind it.

5. You will be aware of Dominions Office cable No.390 [5]
containing the negative reply to the requests which were made on
MacArthur's recommendation. He rightly says that the nature and
extent of the cooperation between the Australian and United
Kingdom Governments in military assistance is of course nothing to
do with him but in view of his responsibility as Commander in
Chief in the South West Pacific Area for ensuring the security of
Australia as a base for operations he feels impelled to ask the
Government to press for the return of the 9th Division as early as
possible. He has noted that the troops in Ceylon will be relieved
about the end of May, yet strongly recommends that the United
Kingdom Government should also be asked to state a definite time
for the return of the 9th Division. He wishes to point out that it
would be too late to seek the return of these forces with any
assurance that they would reach Australia should Japan decide to
move in force against the Commonwealth. He has repeated his
statement embodied in my cable No. SW.34 of 28th April that the
American forces allotted together with the strength of the
Australian forces will not be sufficient to ensure an adequate
defence of Australia as the main base in the event of a major

6. Blamey [6] concurs with MacArthur's view that the Government
should strongly press for the return of the 9th Division as early
as possible. He has again emphasised the psychological aspect both
to the troops themselves and the public here of those forces being
allowed to remain abroad indefinitely in view of the local defence

7. You will be interested to know for your personal information
that Churchill's reference to reporting our requests to the
President for any further action resulted in MacArthur receiving a
rebuke through Marshall to confine any requests for forces to
General Marshall.

8. MacArthur is very sceptical about the degree of assistance that
will be extended to the South West Pacific Area and he expressed
the opinion that it would be very difficult to get the President
or Mr. Churchill to deviate from the view that all efforts have to
be concentrated on knocking out Germany first. He said he could
not understand the illusion that with the defeat of Germany Japan
would just collapse. She would be in a very strong position either
to resist attack or to bargain at any peace conference. In any
event it was not the quickest way to win the war.

9. The Commander in Chief considers that the reference in
Dominions Office cable No. 382 of 27th April [7] relative to the
inability to carry out large-scale combined operations against the
Malay barrier until Germany has been defeated is also very
significant and confirms his view mentioned in Paragraph 8.

10. MacArthur said that American enthusiasm for his appointment
was not a personal tribute to himself but a manifestation of a
hope that through him offensive action would be taken against the
Japanese in the Pacific. He pointed out that American opinion was
overwhelmingly in favour of such a policy and was not nearly as
enthusiastic for offensive action in Europe. The Commander in
Chief was of the view that the way in which a second front should
be created to assist Russia was by carrying out a vigorous
offensive against Japan. This would give Russia two alternatives.

She could either withdraw some of her best troops from Siberia to
Russia if they were needed to withstand the German offensive or if
she could hold the Germans she could use these forces to eliminate
the Japanese menace to Siberia by striking at Japan from the north
whilst we attacked her from the south and east. He considered this
strategy offered greater potentialities than hammering our heads
against a brick wall in Western Europe as Haig [8] had done in the
last war against the Hindenburg Line. MacArthur was of the view
that the Australian Government's proposals in November 1941 to the
United Kingdom Government for an agreement with Russia for
reciprocal aid in the event of Japan entering the war was a bold
conception of both world and Pacific strategy. [9] Mr. Churchill's
reluctance to approach Russia to enter the war against Japan was
an indication of his determination to stick to his own course of
action without regard to a bolder move which might change the
whole course of the war.

11. The foregoing represents the position we had reached in
discussions here to the receipt of Z.57 through the High
Commissioner of the United Kingdom [10] relative to the creation
of a second front. It is evident from this and the view expressed
in Dominions Office cable No. 382 that the concentration in the
South West Pacific Area of forces for large scale combined
operations against the Japanese is ruled out. The capacity to do
this was one of the essential conditions for taking the strategic
offensive in the Pacific as outlined in Dominions Office cable No.

362. [11] The plans for the concentration of a superior fleet in
the Pacific also appear equally indefinite. We would be glad
therefore to have your first hand impressions of the decisions
relating to a second front and your own conclusions on the
subject. The appreciation of the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the
total war position asked for in S.W. 34 would also enable us to
see the situation in their perspective.

12. If the surmises in Paragraph 11 are correct the predominant
consideration and objective in the South West Pacific Area now is
the security of Australia whether or not it is to be used as a
base for offensive action. I am arranging a further discussion
with MacArthur to obtain his views on a statement of the forces
required for this more limited purpose as distinct from the broad
terms of his directive. If you advise that any idea of an early
large scale offensive from this area has been abandoned we can
then press for the defensive strength that is necessary including
the disposition of the 9th Division. MacArthur urges that the
reinforcement of Australia is a matter of great urgency as naval
action by Japan may soon hinder it. I shall advise you further as
soon as I see MacArthur in Melbourne but desire by end of week
your impressions as asked for in Paragraph 11 after consultation
with Bruce. [12]


1 See Document 475, note 8.

2 Document 475.

3 Chief of Staff, U.S. Army.

4 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

5 Document 477.

6 Commander, Allied Land Forces in the South-West Pacific Area.

7 See Document 467, note 5.

8 U.K. Commander-in-Chief on the Western Front, 1915-18.

9 See Documents 97 and 153.

10 Sir Ronald Cross. Cablegram Z57 of 4 May (on file AA:MP1217,
Box 575, Proposal for a new European front, 1942) reported that
the U.S. Govt regarded the defeat of Germany as the primary object
of the war and considered that the main offensive should be on the
European western front. The U.K. Govt had accepted this view
provided that sufficient forces were allocated to the defence of
the Middle East, India, Australia and the Pacific island bases
linking Australia with the United States.

11 Dispatched 5 April. On file AA:A2937, Far East position 1942.

12 High Commissioner in the United Kingdom. Bruce recorded on 11
May (see note on file AA:M100, May 1942) that: 'Evatt did not
discuss the Prime Minister's cablegram (P.M.57) with me and
notwithstanding the concluding words of the Prime Minister's
telegram-"After consultation with Bruce"-his reply E.4 [Document
486] was sent without speaking to me about it.'

[AA:M100, MAY 1942]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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