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148 Curtin to Churchill

Cablegram Johcu 62 (extracts) CANBERRA, [30 March 1943] [1]


With reference to Winch No. 6 [2], I was about to cable you that
Dr. Evatt will be leaving for Washington and London by air on 5th
April and that he will be able to support our case in person and
by reference to documents. I would thank you for the expression of
your desire to discuss with him the vitally important matters
which I have raised with you.

2. There are, however, certain brief comments I would like to make
on the reasons that have been stated by the British Chiefs of
Staff for the views expressed by them.

[Paragraphs 3-8 were essentially similar to paragraphs 2-6 of the
cablegram published as Document 146.]

9. With reference to 3 (a) and (b), our experience of the Japanese
has indicated a definite tendency of your Advisers to under-rate
them as a foe. This under-estimation is not held by the Commanders
in the South-West Pacific Area who have fought them, and we do not
feel that sufficient weight is being attached to their views. The
observations of the British Chiefs of Staff on the Japanese air
force in these sub-paragraphs causes an uneasiness when we recall
the following advice given in April, 1941:-

'The majority of the 450 shore-based aircraft which the Japanese
can marshal against us are of obsolete types, and, as we have
said, we have no reason to believe that Japanese standards are
even comparable with those of the Italians.' [3]

We have learnt from bitter experience that this was a gross
underestimation of Japanese air power.

10. In regard to 3 (c), I understand that the strength of United
States land-based aircraft in the South-West Pacific Area is
approximately 750. The R.A.A.F. has some 700 modern aircraft and
roughly 400 aircraft of obsolescent types, such as Wirraways and
Hudsons, which are to be replaced.

11. I am very disturbed at the delay in delivery of aircraft from
the United States. We were told last August that 397 aircraft were
to be made available to the R.A.A.F. from United States
production, under the plan then approved by the Combined Chiefs of
Staff for expansion to 30 squadrons. [4] Deliveries were to be
spread over a period of about 8 months, so that we expected to
have our quota of 397 aircraft by the end of March, 1943. The
present position is that only 160 aircraft have been shipped. [5]
This delay is most disappointing and is seriously affecting the
operational efficiency of the R.A.A.F. As a result, it has been
necessary completely to revise the development programme. Air
crews which had been trained, and supporting units which had been
formed and equipped in anticipation of receiving these aircraft
allocations, had to be absorbed in other directions, and, as you
will well appreciate, this has acted to the detriment of the
planned development programme.

12. Of the total United States and R.A.A.F. strength in the South-
West Pacific Area, there are at present only about 650 aircraft in
a serviceable condition. The delivery of aircraft spares and
equipment from the United States and also, to a lesser extent,
from United Kingdom production is disappointing and an acute stage
will shortly be reached in respect of the maintenance of certain
of our squadrons, notably Kittyhawks, unless something is done to
remedy the situation. Dr. Evatt will be in a position to discuss
these aspects also.

13. In conclusion, I would refer to the following observations by
me in my most recent review to Parliament [6]:-

'As to the prospects for the future and the duration of the
struggle, I would remind every Australian of the basis on which
Mr. Churchill reached his conclusion that there is nothing to
justify an optimistic view that the end is in sight. He referred
to an enslaved Europe with all its resources at Germany's
disposal. He pointed out that the Eighth Army in Africa had
defeated only a few divisions of Germany's great army. He
mentioned that the U-boat menace is not diminishing, but growing.

So much for the task of defeating Germany, but what about Japan?
She, too, is master of vast territories with large populations and
vital resources for the waging of war. Though she has suffered
certain naval and air losses, her strength is still great. Like
Germany, Japan prepared for this war for years and did not strike
until she was ready to do so and considered the situation
favourable for success. It should not be overlooked that we are
fighting her at places vital to our own security and far removed
from her own final ramparts of defence.'

[14.] The minimum for which we ask is not the establishment of a
bare air superiority over the Japanese, but the provision of such
air power as will enable the Forces in the South-West Pacific Area
to prevent the consolidation of the Japanese in their positions to
the North of Australia and so render reasonably feasible the task
of ultimately defeating them when the war in Europe ends. We still
hope that the decisions of the Casablanca Conference and the
reference to retaining the initiative against Japan contemplate
this. [7]


1 Inserted from the copy repeated to Bruce as no. 49 (on file
AA:M100, March 1943). Curtin also dispatched a message to
Roosevelt which thanked him for his message of 29 March (Document
147), advised him of Evatt's impending departure for Washington
and set out, in similar terms to those published in this Document
and Document 146, the Commonwealth Govt's views on the 'beat
Hitler first' strategy and the need to reinforce the South-West
Pacific Area. See cablegram PW25 of 30 March on file Defence:

Special Collection II, bundle 5, Strategical Policy-S.W.P.A., file
no. 4, 9/1943.

2 Document 145.

3 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. IV,
Document 400, paragraph 8.

4 See Document 28.

5 Dixon reported on 6 April that in fact more progress had been
made in the delivery of aircraft to the R.A.A.F. than Curtin had
realised. The position then was that 257 aircraft had been
shipped, 38 were awaiting shipment and 36 were being prepared for
shipment. See cablegram S72 on the file cited at the end of note

6 Curtin made these observations in the course of a statement to
the House of Representatives on 10 December 1942. See Commonwealth
Parliamentary Debates, vol. 172, p. 1693.

7 See Document 117.

[FA:A3196, 1943, 0.8840-1, 0.8848-55]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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