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47 Note of Secraphone Conversation between MacArthur and Curtin

CANBERRA, 17 September 1942


General MacArthur said he was disturbed at the situation in New
Guinea and his view as to the real reason for the present
unsatisfactory position is the lack of efficiency of the
Australian troops in that theatre.

2. He feels quite convinced that we have superiority in numbers,
but the report this morning is that once again we are withdrawing
[1], although no casualties are reported. As at the beginning, our
troops are constantly pulling back, and this is the cause of the
Commander-in-Chief's uneasiness.

3. The troops are not worn out, being only two days out from Port
Moresby. Their mission has been clearly defined and the report
yesterday was that they were setting up an attack. However, the
report this morning is that they have now withdrawn in order to
secure better co-ordination. The point about this is that the
Japanese have the same troubles as our troops, but they are not
withdrawing. [2]

4. General MacArthur wishes the Prime Minister to understand that
the view he takes is not the view of the Australian Command. They
have the utmost confidence in their ability to deal with the
situation, but General MacArthur, for the reasons given, no longer
has confidence. General MacArthur therefore proposes to do all he
can to meet the situation, and is arranging to despatch American
troops to New Guinea by air or by sea, in order to do everything
possible to stem the attack.

5. General MacArthur feels that should there be complete
penetration, it may necessitate concentrating our forces in New
Guinea for defence, and this is not welcome to him, because he
sees in it a duplication of what took place under Percival in
Malaya. [3]

6. Therefore, General MacArthur says it is his opinion that
General Blamey should proceed to New Guinea and take personal
command, not only to energise the situation, but to save himself,
because, in the event of the situation in New Guinea becoming
really serious, it would be difficult for General Blamey to meet
his responsibility to the Australian public. 7. General MacArthur
points out that he has no authority to direct General Blamey, but
he will advise him that he thinks he should proceed to New Guinea.

8. General MacArthur enquired as to General Blamey's whereabouts
and the Prime Minister advised that he left Canberra at 4 p.m.

today for Melbourne. General MacArthur said he would get in
contact with General Blamey. General MacArthur suggested that the
Prime Minister should speak to General Blamey, but thought he
(General MacArthur) should speak to him first.

9. General MacArthur went on to say that within a week he expects
to have over 40,000 men in New Guinea, and, if they fight, they
should have no trouble in meeting the situation. If they will not
fight, 100,000 would be no good.

10. General MacArthur is confident that General Blamey can right
the position and bring about the change that is necessary.

11. General MacArthur enquired whether the Prime Minister had had
a signal in reply to his recent cables to America. [4]

12. General MacArthur stated that he had had an intimation that as
soon as possible, having regard to other obligations, the United
States are going to give to this theatre 1,000 additional planes,
making a total of 1,500. No date has been fixed for the supply of
those planes, but General MacArthur says this is part of the
psychological change of the men at Washington towards the Pacific
war, and, although Washington has entered into serious commitments
in other theatres, as soon as the flow to England stops, larger
allocations will be made here, and plans for a future push in the
Pacific are now being set up. They are considering the number of
divisions which should be sent here.

13. All this means that we have to hold out until this additional
strength comes, and New Guinea is the place where we should fight
the enemy as things now stand.

14. General MacArthur frankly recognised that his picture is
different from that given by the Australian Command. They feel
sure they have the situation under control, but General MacArthur
is not so sure. General MacArthur acknowledges that the Australian
Command may be right, but he has a feeling of uneasiness.

15. It is not a serious force that the Japanese have pushed across
the mountains, but the fact that a small force can push us back
fills him with concern.

16. General MacArthur said he wished that we had the naval
strength to assist this operation. Great Britain says she cannot
give us naval strength and, after all, it has been agreed that the
United States will be responsible for this area. The United States
rejoinder is that they have other tasks and are doing all they
can. The position is that between the two fleets we are left
without adequate support.

17. It is General MacArthur's view that the position in the
Solomons is not so favourable. Losses have not been given out. The
American forces in the Solomons are now on the defensive as the
Allied Forces are in New Guinea, only that they have the fleet to
support them and we lack such support.

18. On the whole, the problem is one of fending the enemy off for
some months. Support is coming, but the query is will it be too
19. If the Japanese forces turn on New Guinea, it will be a bad
situation, but despite such an eventuality, General MacArthur
considers that we should make our fight in New Guinea.

20. The Prime Minister said that, in view of the advice of General
MacArthur, he would inform General Blamey that he considered he
should go to New Guinea, as suggested. [5]

1 On 16 September Japanese forces advancing over the Kokoda Trail
from Buna had driven Australian forces back to Imita Ridge, some
50 km from Port Moresby. This in fact represented the southernmost
point reached by the Japanese, who were then compelled to retreat
northwards over the Owen Stanley Range.

2 For more detailed discussion of MacArthur's criticism of
Australian forces in New Guinea see D. M. Horner, Crisis of
Command, Australian National University, Canberra, 1978, ch. 7 and
8, and Dudley McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area-First Year,
Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1959, ch. 6 and 7.

3 i.e. the withdrawal from Malaya to Singapore Island.

4 See Documents 31 and 43 and Document 44, note 8. Roosevelt's
reply is published as Document 48.

5 Later the same day Curtin asked Blamey to go to New Guinea and
the latter arrived in Port Moresby on 23 September, subsequently
assuming effective command.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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