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Historical documents

333 Curtin to MacArthur

Letter CANBERRA, 22 November 1943


The splendid progress of your operations has been the subject of
some thought on my part and discussion by the Government in
relation to your future plans and the area of employment of the
Australian Forces which have been assigned to you.

2. As you are aware, the territory of Papua is part of the
Commonwealth of Australia, and the Commonwealth Government holds a
mandate from the League of Nations for the administration of the
former German Colony of New Guinea and the former German islands
situated in the Pacific Ocean and lying south of the Equator,
other than the islands of West Samoa and the island of Nauru. The
mandate for Western Samoa was granted to New Zealand and the
mandate for Nauru to the British Empire but is administered by
Australia. The 'C' class mandates are in accordance with the
following provisions of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League:-

'There are territories, such as Southwest Africa and certain of
the South Pacific Islands, which, owing to the sparseness of their
population, or their small size, or their remoteness from the
centres of civilisation, or their geographical contiguity to the
territory of the Mandatory, and other circumstances, can be best
administered under the laws of the Mandatory as integral portions
of its territory, subject to the safeguards above mentioned in the
interests of the indigenous population.'
3. Australia therefore has a special interest in the employment of
its own forces in the operations for the ejectment of the enemy
from territory under its administration. Furthermore, it is
essential, under the terms of your Directive [1], that the
Government should be at least broadly aware of your ideas for the
employment of the Australian Forces in any areas outside Australia
and mandated territory, and of what you may contemplate in regard
to operations affecting the latter areas. You will appreciate also
that the Government must have regard to the legislative provisions
of the Defence (Citizen Military Forces) Act 1943 which defines
the limits of employment of the Citizen Forces. [2]

4. Although, by the most complete co-operation on your part, there
has never been any need to refer to the documentary basis which
governs your relationship to the Australian Government, you will
be aware that the position under the set-up in the South-West
Pacific Area in regard to consultations on such matters is as

(i) In amplification of the Directive, Dr. Evatt was furnished
with an official memorandum in Washington which stated that it was
explanatory of and should be read in conjunction with the
Directive of which it thus became part. [3] A copy was enclosed
with my letter of 15th April, 1942. [4]

(ii) Clause 2 of the Directive refers to the assignment of forces
by the Governments concerned.

(iii) Paragraph 1 of the official memorandum reads as follows:-

'With regard to the possible movement of Australian troops out of
Australian Territory, the following by United States Chiefs of
Staff to the President is self-explanatory:

"Proposals of United States Chiefs of Staff (for operations in the
South-West Pacific Area) made to the President as United States
Commander-in-Chief are subject to review by him from the
standpoint of higher political considerations and to reference by
him to the Pacific War Council in Washington when necessary. The
interests of the Nations whose forces or land possessions may be
involved in these military operations are further safeguarded by
the power each Nation retains to refuse the use of its forces for
any project which it considers inadvisable."'
(iv) The President, to whom, with Mr. Churchill, the Combined
Chiefs are responsible and to whom the United States Chiefs of
Staff are solely responsible, has never adopted the practice of
referring proposals of the United States Chiefs of Staff for
operations in the South-West Pacific Area to the Pacific War
Council, as mentioned in (iii). The position has been met by the
greatest co-operation on your part with the Australian Government.

5. The effective exercise by the Australian Government of its
responsibility to the people of Australia, in respect of the
employment of Australian Forces, requires that the Government
should be kept informed of proposals formulated for the employment
of those forces. It is, of course, highly desirable that such
information should be received at an early stage in planning. In
view, therefore, of the point of the progress reached in your
operations and national considerations which I have outlined, I
would greatly appreciate advice of prospective plans in regard to
the use of the Australian land forces, in order that the
Australian Government may consider their contemplated use.

6. It is, of course, unnecessary for me to add that this request
is not prompted by any desire to interfere in any way with your
conduct of operations, or to participate in the formulation of
plans. The Australian Government has at all times had the utmost
confidence in your handling of these matters, and is deeply
appreciative of the remarkable results you have achieved with the
limited resources at your disposal. My present request arises
solely from the responsibility to the Australian people which must
be exercised by myself and the Australian Government. [5]


1 For the text of MacArthur's Directive see cablegram S22 of 3
April 1942 on file AA:A3300, 233.

2 The Defence (Citizen Military Forces) Act, which became law on
19 February 1943, provided that troops conscripted into the C.M.F.

could be employed anywhere in a 'South-West Pacific Zone', the
boundaries of which were the 110th meridian on the west, the
Equator on the north and the 159th meridian on the cast.

Conscripts (as opposed to those who volunteered for overseas
service with the A.I.F.) previously had served only in Australia,
Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.

3 See Admiral Ernest J. King's letter to Evatt of 10 April 1942
and Evatt's cablegram S37 of 12 April 1942 to Curtin on the file
cited in note 1.

4 Not found.

5 MacArthur replied on 24 November that he was 'in complete accord
with the general position outlined in your letter' and suggested
that he should give Curtin his 'general concept of the campaign'
at a meeting between them in Brisbane already arranged for 30
November. MacArthur pointed out, however, that he was 'constantly
receiving directives which modify materially my use of the forces
here and at the present time am still in doubt as to master
decisions with regard to the future. See letter on file Defence:

Special Collection II, Advisory War Council Section file (combined
with 65/301/118), Role of the Australian forces in Pacific 1943-

PACIFIC 1943-1945]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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