Skip to main content

Historical documents

45 Page to Bruce

Cablegram unnumbered CANBERRA, 14 September 1942


Have now been back in Australia four weeks [1] and am giving you
my impressions as a background for your work. I find the morale in
Australia not nearly as high as in Britain. This is due to a
number of causes, the greatest being a general feeling that
neither America nor Britain have yet given the aid that the
urgency and the importance of the position of Australia and the
Pacific warrant.

I have been told that morale was worst after the fall of
Singapore, Java and the Philippines, but that the position has
been improved by the results of the Coral Sea, Solomons and Midway
battles, but the present position of Moresby and New Guinea
largely counteracted that. It is also felt that if greater naval
and air forces had been available at the Coral Sea battle much
more damage would have been done to the Japanese naval forces and

Before I left England the King asked me if I had heard that
MacArthur was unfriendly to the British and seemed disturbed about
it. I find that MacArthur is very friendly but both he and all
other responsible Americans here feel that while Australia is a
first class base from which an offensive against Japan must start,
and consequently America has a great interest in it, yet, after
all, Australia is a vital and integral part of the Empire,
therefore Britain should interest herself much more in Australia's
defence. If this is not possible to do directly, and all are quite
willing to concede that Britain is standing up to her numerous and
heavy obligations all over the world in the most wonderful manner,
then Churchill should induce Roosevelt, as Commander-in-Chief of

all the American Forces, to give the American assistance that is
necessary to secure the immediate defence of Australia and, as
opportunity offers, to also dislodge the Jap from the Solomons,
New Britain, New Guinea and Timor. This would not only make a
future attack on Australia most difficult but would give us a
jumping off point for offensive against Japan as soon as we have
available for use sufficiently large forces.

Insofar as land forces and equipment are concerned, the forces
necessary to take this action are relatively small compared with
the forces that will be deployed on other fronts or on any new
adventure, say three additional American divisions. The numbers of
men of actual reinforcements would roughly approximate those that
Australia still has in ex-Australian theatres of war. The aircraft
necessary have already been agreed by our technical advisers as
being vital for Australia's defence. The American naval forces,
which are the forces that it is most imperative should be
strengthened, are already in the Pacific and will not be used in
the Atlantic nor the Mediterranean anyhow.

The Australian Government, MacArthur and Blamey have, ever since
the Japanese onrush was halted, set out in many cables their plan

of campaign. The Solomons offensive made it appear for a few days
as if appropriate offensive action was to be taken, but the
feeling here now is that though Curtin can make
ad misericordiam appeals to the President for this additional aid,
the only result of the vain repetition of requests by MacArthur to
the Chiefs of Staff would be a snub from them and perhaps

When I met MacArthur at Manila on the way to London I formed a
very high opinion of his comprehensive outlook and clear brain.

What I have seen of his general views on strategy since my return
has convinced me that in him we have that very rare military
combination which sees fundamentals clearly and can express its
views in the simplest and clearest terms. I think either a snub or
his supersession would be a very disastrous thing in the direction
of the war in the Pacific and to Anglo-American relations
ultimately. If Moresby goes wrong the repercussions of failure to
send this help will be so great that their effects cannot be
foreseen-effects both here in Australia and especially to Anglo-
Australian relations. This applies even more so to the suggested
withdrawal, even though it may be a temporary one, of substantial
units of the British Indian Ocean fleet. The question at issue is
really one of the highest policy, as to whether the Pacific is a
side-show or whether it is of first class importance. My own
opinion is that, except Japan receives a very bad blow at her
prestige in 1942, she has a first class chance of rousing Asia
against the Anglo-American bloc or even the white races as a
whole. This will mean many long years of war in the Pacific in
which a war-wearied Europe may take little interest. This being so
I feel strongly that this is the psychological moment to test out
whether Australia has any voice in determining British war policy
or war strategy, and whether any representation we have obtained
in the War Cabinet is just a sop thrown to us or really means
something. The reaction of some Dominions, according to your
cables, makes it look as if we might have difficulty even in
getting the actual indispensable equipment which we need as an
actual theatre of war. Churchill alone can influence Roosevelt.

You, with the backing of the Australian Government, alone can
influence Churchill.

I have felt that Australia, by its decision not to let the 7th
Australian Division go to Rangoon, may have committed a well-nigh
irretrievable error in world war strategy and delayed assuring
itself a commanding voice in Empire policy. England runs the same
risk now of making an irretrievable strategical blunder, and if
things go badly either in the Atlantic or in the Pacific of
perhaps precipitating an Empire political crisis that will leave
indelible scars for generations, even after ultimate victory.

Churchill knows, as you do, my intense Empire patriotism, but the
sacrifice of the Pacific at this time would test it to the
uttermost. Any other adventure agreed on in the Atlantic would
take months or even years to succeed. There will be vicissitudes
of fortune, unexpected drain on resources that we must yield to-
before it begins, it is absolutely imperative in the interests of
Empire solidarity as well as in the interests of Australian
security that the Pacific position should be secure beyond doubt.

The latest information is that the Japanese fleet in the Southwest
Pacific and Mandated Islands area is 7 battleships, 3 aircraft
carriers, 12 heavy cruisers, 7 light cruisers, 40 destroyers and
over 20 submarines.

If a superior naval force is not concentrated as repeatedly urged
by Australia, there is the danger that, should the fortunes of
battle go against the Americans and heavy losses be sustained,
they might be unable to dispose sufficient forces in the South-
West Pacific Area to safeguard Australia against invasion. This
makes it doubly important that the strength necessary for the
local defence of the Commonwealth as a base should be sent while
it is possible to do so. The alternative is the risk of the loss
of this base and all this means to the future of the war in the
Pacific and its repercussions on the Empire.

If this consideration for the British position in the Pacific
cannot be secured by you under the present set-up, in which we are
a primary American responsibility, then it seems to me that the
position of the present division of world strategy should be
revised or its control altered, so as to ensure that somewhere
Australia really has some effective voice. I regard this present
position as a test whether the Empire will stand together or not.

If nothing can be done about it and the decision in the higher
strategical circles is made against us and the whole of the
Pacific and Dutch Empire concerned, the heart will largely have
been taken out of Australia.

The succession of military failures for three years and constant
changes of high command have forced the conviction that the
decisions of the Chiefs of Staff are not infallible, and the
people will have no confidence in their decision if it is adverse.

The failure to provide these minimum reinforcements, which are
relatively insignificant in numbers, cannot materially prejudice
the success of any other adventure yet it takes from us the
possibility of a limited offensive that can give us breathing
space inside Australia and in Australian waters to perfect our
Australian efforts for total war. The size of Australia and the
necessity of defending very many possible points of danger throws
a burden on our transport system, which practically brings chaos
into civilian life, while the enemy occupies so many well situated
striking points so close to our coast and ocean life-lines. The
forced intense Japanese preoccupation in the Pacific may help
Russia as much as any other means that is suggested-it undoubtedly
will be of great help to China. Regards. [2]

1 See Document 15, note 2.

2 This cablegram was accompanied by a message from Curtin advising
Bruce that: 'It follows the general line of representations which
the Australian Government has been pursuing for some months and
meets with my general approval.' See cablegram 8453 of 14

September on file AA:M100, September 1942.

On 19 September Bruce sent a reply to Page through Curtin
summarising the problems of obtaining additional forces for the
Pacific on the same lines as in Document 50. See cablegram 156A of
19 September on the file cited above.

[FA:A3196, 1942, 0.24345]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top