Skip to main content

Historical documents

43 Prime Minister's Department to Dixon

Cablegram 138 [1] CANBERRA, 11 September 1942


The Prime Minister desires you to convey the following personal
message to the President as soon as possible:-

Dear Mr. President,

1. In my previous message I submitted for your urgent
consideration my views on 'the situation and needs of the South-
West Pacific Area. [2]

2. I endeavoured to base my approach on a broadminded and balanced
view of world strategy which recognised the pressing requirements
of other theatres as well as the South-West Pacific Area.

3. I urged the importance of concentrating a superior naval force
to Japan in the Pacific and the vital importance of providing
aircraft for the Australian Air Forces programme and maintaining
the United States Air Force in the South-West Pacific Area at the
strength laid down. Finally, in referring to the military
situation in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, I expressed the
view that, from the aspect of grand strategy, the importance of
inflicting a decisive defeat on the enemy should be an agreed
objective of the first priority.

4. I commended to the earnest consideration of yourself and your
advisers the statement of the position in the South-West Pacific
Area as I see it and the vital needs for which provision should be
made. Since then the Government has made a review of the manpower
position and has considered a report by the Commander-in-Chief,
A.M.F., who is also Commander of the Allied Land Forces. You are
probably aware that General Sir Thomas Blamey was Commander of the
A.I.F. in the Middle East and returned to Australia with part of
his forces early this year. He has been carrying out a
reorganisation and redisposition of the Australian Army and after
a careful survey of the situation has advised the Government that
an additional Army Corps of three divisions is necessary for the
defence of Australia as a base under existing conditions.

5. For your information, the present distribution of the Army in
Australia is:-

(i) New Guinea Two divisions.

(ii) Northern Territory...... One division.

(iii) Western Australia Two divisions.

(iv) First Army Two divisions (one in Townsville; one South

(v) Second Army Two divisions (Sydney-Newcastle[Port] Kembla

(vi) In New South Wales and Victoria the First and Second Armoured
Divisions are being organised. A third armoured division is to be

(vii) Two American divisions are with the First Army in

6. Under a reorganisation at present in hand, certain divisions
will be reduced from a three-brigade to a two-brigade basis and
this will lead to the reduction of a further division. Thus, the
total available Army will be only eight infantry and two armoured
divisions by the end of this year with a third armoured division
being prepared.

7. In an appreciation submitted by the Australian Chiefs of Staff
early this year, which was later endorsed by the Commander-in-
Chief, South-West Pacific Area, the Government was advised that 25
divisions are necessary for the defence of Australia if superior
naval and air forces are not available. [3]

8. of 1,529,000 men between the ages of 18 and 45, 607,000 have
been enlisted in the fighting forces, of whom 48,000 are serving
overseas. In addition to the reduction in the number of formations
already mentioned, the Government is confronted with the provision
of reinforcements for operations in the South-West Pacific Area
and for the maintenance of the 9th Division in the Middle East.

9. The Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces has
pointed out that geographical factors, such as the long distances
between localities and lack of communications in Australia, force
a dangerous degree of dispersion of strength owing to the
difficulty of transferring large forces rapidly. Furthermore, the
spearhead of the enemy's attack is directed against the most
northern points, such as New Guinea, and this requires
considerable concentrations in the forward areas. Should the
United Nations suffer naval losses in the Pacific and thereby be
unable to dispose their naval and air forces in sufficient
strength to prevent an invasion of Australia, the Commander-in-
Chief of the Australian Military. Forces considers that the
Japanese would probably by-pass our isolated northern
concentrations and attack nearer to the main centres of population
in the south. He considers our forces are too thinly spread to
meet such a contingency, and places the minimum strength at three
divisions more than we possess, including the two American
divisions in Australia.

10. In view of the reported strength of Japanese forces in the
Rabaul area and the determined resistance being offered in New
Guinea there is every reason to believe that they will attempt to
oust our forces from Milne Bay and Port Moresby. Continuous
fighting in this region and the incidence of tropical diseases
will place a heavy strain on our limited strength in Australia
without some replacement of the forces withdrawn for service in
New Guinea.

11. There is also the maintenance of the 9th A.I.F. Division at
strength in the Middle East. The Government realises that it is
impossible to withdraw this division at the present time, though
under the situation outlined by the Commander-in-Chief, and in
accordance with the decision for the return of the whole of the
A.I.F. to Australia, its need here is great. The demand for
reinforcements at the 'intense activity' rate is 2,544 monthly,
and this outflow cannot possibly be met indefinitely without some
compensating inflow to Australia. It is appreciated, however, that
it would be better to allow this division to remain in the Middle
East and meet the need for land forces in the South-West Pacific
Area by additional forces from U.S.A.

12. I shall therefore be grateful if, in the review of the
situation in the South-West Pacific Area which I have already put
forward, you will simultaneously consider these further
observations on the need for an increase in the strength of the
land forces in this region.

13. The additional requirements of the South-West Pacific Area to
enable a decisive blow to be struck against Japan in this region
are relatively small in relation to the resources of the United
Nations, and do not appear sufficient to have a vital influence in
another theatre. On the other hand, the results that can be

achieved, not only in this region but by advantages that would
accrue to other theatres, are such that we feel a real opportunity
to gain a definite ascendancy over the enemy is being missed. If
nothing is done, the Japanese will become more consolidated and
the position will grow more difficult for offensive action on our
part. The enemy's capacity for further aggressive action will have
been strengthened, and if exercised to the full may have
disastrous results for us. Finally, Mr. Churchill has pledged the
United Kingdom Government that, if Australia is heavily invaded,
they will cut their losses in the Mediterranean to come to our
aid. The strengthening of the situation now will act as a
deterrent to invasion and preclude the possibility of having to
fulfil this pledge.

Yours very sincerely,


1 This message was repeated to Churchill the same day. See
cablegram Johcu 42 on file Defence: Special Collection II, bundle
5, Strategical Policy-S.W.P.A., file no. 3, 48/1942.

2 See Document 31.

3 See appreciation dated 27 February 1942 in AA:A2671, 96/1942,
supplements 1 and 2.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top