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62 Curtin to Churchill

Cablegram 461 [1] CANBERRA, 17 October 1942


1. The Government and the Advisory War Council have given the most
earnest and careful consideration to the replies of President
Roosevelt and yourself in the recent series of cablegrams on:-

(a) the concentration of superior naval strength in the Pacific

(b) the provision of aircraft for the R.A.A.F. [3];

(c) the need for an increase in the land forces in the South-West
Pacific Area. [4]

2. The Government has noted the views of the Combined Chiefs of
Staff on the defence of Australia, communicated in the President's
reply, and is deeply appreciative of the assurances which the
President has given for the fulfilment of commitments of forces,
supplies and equipment for the South-West Pacific Area.

3. The Australian Chiefs of Staff were asked to submit a new
appreciation of the Australian defence position [5] in the light
of the answers received to the representations initiated on their
advice. In the course of this review they have carefully examined
the manpower position and our capacity to meet our vital needs.

The following are their observations in regard to land forces:-

(a) The number required for the present order of battle in
Australia is 541,000. The present strength is 485,000 and it is
estimated that a further 34,000 might be obtained from a further
review of classes 1 to 4 and from women. Class 4 comprises married
men from 35 to 45 years. Class 5, comprising men between the ages
of 45 and 60, has been made available for call-up by the Allied
Works Council. There is thus a deficiency in the war establishment
of 22,000.

(b) The Army's minimum need for replacement of wastage is 7,000 to
8,000 a month, against an estimated monthly intake in the coming
year of 1,100 (youths turning 18). This does not enable existing
army formations to be maintained. Eight infantry battalions have
already been disbanded and absorbed into other units. This has
involved the disbandment of the 10th Division and the absorption
of its units into other formations. A further decrease in the
number of battalions up to a total decrease of eleven battalions
is contemplated.

(c) The Army forces in New Guinea are operating under extreme
tropical conditions that will result in heavy wastage of
personnel. The Ninth Division A.I.F. is also engaged in active
operations, and it will require considerable reinforcements to
maintain it. The provision of these reinforcements will make a
heavy drain upon the manpower resources. Furthermore, the Army is
fulfilling increasing commitments in Australia for coast defence
and antiaircraft personnel for the protection of additional naval
and air bases such as Cockburn Sound, Albany, Townsville and

(d) It is possible that an Army force of a minimum strength of
five divisions will be needed in New Guinea. There are at present
the equivalent of three Australian divisions there. Two American
divisions are available that could be sent there and one of these
is in process of moving to New Guinea. It is not possible to send
to New Guinea any further Australian formations, owing to the
dangerously depleted strength of the forces available for the
defence of the mainland. The Army resources of manpower will be
taxed to the utmost to maintain the formations in New Guinea.

(e) It follows that reinforcements for the Ninth Division in the
Middle East will not be available in the numbers required, and
that, unless the Division returns to Australia, it cannot be
maintained, and it will in a few months cease to be fully
effective fighting unit, whereas it can be built up again in
Australia by the allocation of personnel of other formations being

4. The Government has consulted the Advisory War Council which as
you are aware comprises representatives of the Opposition Parties
and Sir Earle Page as an additional co-opted member. The unanimous
conclusion was that the Government should request the early return
to Australia of the Ninth Division A.I.F., in accordance with the
arrangement in cablegram No. 245 of 14th April [6], when the
Government agreed to the postponement of the return of this
Division until it could be replaced in the Middle East and the
necessary shipping and escort could be made available for its
transportation to Australia. On 16th July in Johcu No. 37 [7], I
outlined the looming difficulties in regard to maintaining the
flow of reinforcements to the Middle East, and on 30th July I
stated in Johcu No. 38 [8] the strategical reasons from the
Australian viewpoint which made it impossible for us at that time
to do more than agree to an extension of the period for the
temporary retention of the Ninth Division in the Middle East. The
Government feel that these reasons have been fully confirmed by
subsequent Japanese action in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
and the outcome of these operations is of the most crucial
importance to the future of Australia.

5. Finally, the Commander-in-Chief, South-West Pacific Area, has
expressed to the Government his apprehension at the growing
shrinkage in Army combat troops consequent upon the reduction in
the number and organisation of Australian divisions. [9] As we
cannot maintain the Ninth Division in the Middle East we are not
agreeable to the Division being broken up by replacement of
wastage from ancillary or other units.

6. I would add that in the manpower review the following position
was noted or conclusions reached in regard to overseas commitments
for naval and air personnel:

(a) Navy. of a total personnel strength of 25,520 approximately
3,000 are serving on Admiralty account outside Australian waters.

The number required for the R.A.N. by 30th June, 1943, is 29,500.

There is no further commitment for manning Royal Navy ships.

(b) Air Force. The present strength of the R.A.A.F. is
approximately 100,000 of whom 12,500 are serving overseas. The
annual planned intake is 17,600 of whom 11,200 are for the Empire
Air Training Scheme. The Government, after review of the matter in
the light of the manpower situation and requirements for the Army,
has agreed to the continued participation by Australia in the
Empire Air Training Scheme to the extent that this may be
practicable, having regard to the total manpower position in
Australia and subject to the maintenance of a regulated inward
flow of Australian air crew with war experience, in order to
provide an experienced nucleus of pilots and aircrew in all
R.A.A.F. units based on Australia.

7. A copy of this message has been forwarded to the President.



1 Sent through the U.K. Dominions Office.

2 Document 41.

3 Document 37.

4 Document 48.

5 Document 53.

6 Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. V, Document

7 Document 7.

8 Document 12.

9 See MacArthur's letter to Curtin of 6 October on file Defence :

Special Collection II, bundle 5, strategical Policy-S.W.P.A., file
no. 3, 48/1942.

10 See cablegrams 151-2 of 17 October on files AA:A4763 and
AA:A3300, 232 respectively.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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