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497 Memorandum by Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs


On the 13th May, 1942, I received a cable from my Prime Minister
[1], which I immediately referred to the British Chiefs of Staff,
and which was subsequently circulated to the War Cabinet. That
cable set out the viewpoint of the Australian Government, and
stated clearly the issues which I put before the Chiefs of Staff
at the Meeting on 12th May, and subsequently at the Meeting of the
War Cabinet on 21st May, 1942.

2. In discussions which have since taken place in London, it has
been made clear to me and to the Australian Government for the
first time that the strategy for the conduct of the war by the
United Nations remains as it was agreed upon between the Combined
Chiefs of Staff in December last, namely, that efforts should be
concentrated first upon the defeat of Germany, and subsequently
upon the defeat of Japan. In stating this proposition, however, it
was laid down (W.W.1. paragraph 18 [2]) that the security of
Australia must be maintained, and that points of vantage from
which an offensive against Japan can eventually be developed must
be secured. This point was reaffirmed in the discussions with Mr.

Hopkins and General Marshall. [3]

3. It was also stated in the aide memoire, which was handed to me
by the Chiefs of Staff at the meeting on 12th May (paragraph 15)

'apart from our intention of giving Australia all practicable
help, we depend on her as a base for the final offensive against
Japan.' [4]

4. It is not my purpose in this memorandum to question the main
strategical proposition, even though its wisdom may be open to
doubt. My desire is to put to the Chiefs of Staff the following
plain question are they, or are they not, satisfied that the
forces allotted to the South West Pacific area are sufficient to
ensure the security of Australia?
5. The facts are known to us all. General MacArthur [5], backed by
the Australian Government and their professional advisers, has
expressed in the strongest possible terms his opinion that the
forces at his disposal are inadequate. This opinion, which applies
to sea, land and air forces, has been stated both in London and in
Washington. I have been told in London that the matter is
primarily one for the United States Chiefs of Staff, in whose
sphere of strategic responsibility Australia now lies. I have seen
no reasoned statement by the United States Chiefs of Staff
containing their views on General MacArthur's appreciation,
though, if the tables in L.M.A.B. (42) 17 [6] are regarded as
definitive, there seems to be little immediate prospect of
receiving the aircraft urgently required to equip existing
Australian squadrons. Can the British Chiefs of Staff accept this
position? Do they seriously believe that the forces now existing
in Australia are sufficient to safeguard that country against a
Japanese invasion?
6. The Chiefs of Staff have stated that in their opinion an
invasion of Australia is unlikely. What if this opinion is at
fault? Similar prognostications have often in the past been wrong.

Australia would, of course, offer the strongest possible
resistance, though with the vast length of coast line exposed to
the enemy, and the comparatively small forces available to cover
it, the Japanese can hardly be prevented from gaining a
considerable foot-hold. I cannot too strongly emphasise the grave
results of such an occurrence, the full force of which does not
seem to have been appreciated over here. I cannot do better than
quote from Mr. Curtin's telegram:

'If Japan should move in force against Australia and obtain a
foot-hold may be too late to send assistance. Possibly, in
the long run, the territory might be recovered, but the country
may have been ravaged and the people largely decimated. History
would gravely indict such a happening to a nation which sacrificed
60,000 of its men on overseas battlefields in the last war, and,
at its peril, has sent its Naval, Military, and Air Forces to
fight overseas in this one.'
7. I cannot beleve that, if this situation has been fully
appreciated by the British Chiefs of Staff, they will be content
to leave the matter in the hands of the U.S. Chiefs of Staff to
deal with as they think fit. If Australia is invaded, the Middle
East may well crumble through the inevitable diversion of forces
which will have to be sent to her assistance, especially having
regard to the United Kingdom Government's undertaking to cut its
losses in the Middle East and give priority to the defence of
Australia against a full-scale invasion. Quite apart, therefore,
from the duty which lies upon Great Britain of giving all
practicable help to a threatened Dominion, a duty which the Chiefs
of Staff, in the Paper which I have already quoted, stated that it
was their intention to fulfil, the whole war situation demands
that the risk of invasion of Australia shall either be averted or
at least minimised. Strength to do this should be made available
and a vital base made reasonably secure. In the long run, this
policy would probably turn out to be economic as well as


[AA:A3300, 228]

1 John Curtin. See Document 487
2 At Evatt's request Maj Gen Sir Hastings Ismay (Churchill's Chief
of Staff) provided him with a copy of Paper WW1 on 12 May (see
Flinders University Library: Evatt Papers, Cables to and from Dr
Evatt, March-May 1942). Evatt transmitted the paper to Curtin on
28 May in cablegram ET31 (on file AA:A4764, 2).

3 Adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chief of Staff,
U.S. Army, respectively. These discussions were summarised in
cablegram Z57 of 4 May which is cited in Document 483, note 10.

4 The aide-memoire is published in Document 501.

5 Allied Supreme Commander in the South-West Pacific Area.

6 Not found on Commonwealth Govt files.

[LONDON], 26 May 1942
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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