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6 Shedden to Hodgson

Memorandum [CANBERRA], 7 January 1944




With further reference to my letter of 20th December [1] I am

forwarding herewith a copy of a report by the Defence Committee on

the subjects on which information has been sought by you.

2. In view of the urgency with which this information is required

and owing to the absence of the Minister for Defence in Western

Australia, it has not been possible to submit the report to him.

As I have already discussed the subjects with the Minister I am

aware that the report meets with his general approval, subject to

the following special observations on certain passages:-

Fundamental Assumptions

Paragraph 5(a). In regard to the assumption in paragraph 5(a) of

the Defence Committee's report that total reliance should not be

placed on any system of collective security, it is observed that

the establishment of an effective regional collective system in

the Pacific is considered by the Minister to be of vital

importance to Australia. He made this clear in his speech of 14th

December, 1943. [2]

As stated in paragraph 6 of the Defence Committee's report, it is

impracticable for Australia and New Zealand to defend the

Southwest Pacific Area unaided and this has been the experience of

the present war. Australia is in a sphere of American strategic

responsibility and its security has been largely dependent on

American seapower and assistance from United States Land and Air

Forces and supplies which could not have reached this theatre but

for the exercise of such command of the sea.

Bases in the South and Southwest Pacific Areas which must be

controlled by a friendly Power

Paragraph 21. The Minister considers that the establishment of a

base in the Solomon Islands - New Hebrides Area as a joint United

Kingdom - Australian - New Zealand commitment is a matter for

later consideration in the light of subsequent discussions with

the New Zealand and United Kingdom Governments. This principle

also has a bearing on the reciprocal aspect of Australian

participation in the garrisoning of bases such as Singapore which

might later be raised by the United Kingdom Government.

The extent to which Australia will be able to maintain or to

contribute to the maintenance of the base in the Solomon Islands

New Hebrides Area depends upon the future strength of the

Australian Forces. This is related to the effectiveness of the

collective system that may be established and a review of the

principles of Defence which emerge as the result of the experience

of this war. The former cannot yet be determined and the Defence

Committee has an instruction to report upon the latter as soon as

it feels that it is in a position to do so.

Also related to the question of garrisoning bases outside

Australian territory in the post-war period are the limitations

imposed by the Defence Act.

There is also the definitive extent of the responsibility of the

Commonwealth Government for the Local Defence of Australia. In the

light of the experience of this war and the views outlined by the

Defence Committee, the security of Australia can most effectively

be ensured by a defence system founded on an outer screen of bases

in the adjacent islands. The question of the scope of Australian

Local Defence is also linked with the further development of co-

operation in Empire Defence.

3. In connection with your further letter of 31st December [3],

the aspects relating to defence policy are covered by the report

of the Defence Committee. It is added that the Defence Committee

considers that the subject matter of its report should not be

included in the confidential Handbook.

4. Enquiries have been made of this Department by Service

Departments as to the scope of the advice which your Department

desires from them in pursuance of a similar request made to them.

As the Minister for Defence is responsible for Defence Policy and

as matters relating to the activities of the Services included in

the draft agenda may have implications from the aspect of Defence

Policy, it has been arranged that Service Departments will

transmit any information that they may wish to furnish through

this Department. The attendance of any representative of a Service

Department will be at the discretion of the Service Minister

concerned for advice to him on Service aspects not involving

questions of Defence Policy.






The Defence Committee noted the wish of the Minister for De fence

that the Defence Committee should consider what could be done

towards meeting the request of the Department of External Affairs

for information on the following subjects for use in connexion

with the forthcoming conference between Australian and New Zealand

Ministers on the future of the Southwest Pacific Area:-

(1) Bases in the Southwest Pacific Area which must be controlled

by Australia;

(2) Bases in the South and Southwest Pacific Areas which must be

controlled by a friendly power;

(3) Extent to which Australia could maintain bases mentioned under

(1), including consideration of cost, manpower, industrial

potential, etc.;

(4) Mutual defence problems and interests of Australia and New


(5) Desirable forms of mutual assistance as contribution by

Australia and New Zealand towards maintenance of peace and

security (e.g. munitions, aircraft, staff co-operation, supply);

(6) Defence problems connected with civil air transport in South

west and South Pacific Areas;

(7) General view of a desirable international security system in

the Western Pacific.

2. The Defence Committee was informed that the Department of

External Affairs had on enquiry advised that for the purposes of

the foregoing Terms of Reference it was intended:-

(a) that the phrase 'friendly power' in paragraph 2 should be

taken to include the United Kingdom and New Zealand; and

(b) that the phrase 'Western Pacific' in paragraph 7 should be

taken to include the Far East.

The Defence Committee also proceeded on the basis that Australia

should be taken to include Australian Territories and the

Australian Mandated Territories.

3. With reference to the use of phrase 'friendly power' to cover

the United Kingdom and New Zealand, the Defence Committee re

corded its view that it was inappropriate to refer to other

members of the British Commonwealth of Nations as 'friendly

powers' and that such usage would be likely to cause confusion

particularly in connexion with matters of Imperial defence.

4. It was noted that in requesting the Defence Committee to

provide information upon the foregoing matters, the Minister for

De fence has stated that he realized that some of the questions

are dependent upon the effectiveness of any system of collective

security that may be established and on the strength of the forces

to be maintained after the war, and on both of these questions

some guidance from the Government is really necessary in the first

place. The task of preparing this report in connexion with

problems affecting the Pacific Area has demonstrated to the

Defence Committee the force of these observations and it has been

felt that, in the absence of that guidance from the Government and

in the present state of uncertainty, the most that can be done is

to make certain fundamental assumptions and deal with the

questions broadly upon such a basis.


5. The Defence Committee considered that, for the purposes of this

report, it was reasonable to assume:-

(a) that total reliance should not be placed on any system of

collective security;

(b) that no country should accept the risk of relying primarily

for its defence upon the assistance of a foreign power;

(c) that the attack upon the Southwest Pacific Region against

which precautions should be taken is that of some first-class

Asiatic Power;

(d) that the present Japanese Mandated Territories will, after the

war, be under the control of a friendly power.

6. The Defence Committee also concluded that, because the security

of sea communications is vital to the defence of the Southwest

Pacific Region and this can only be secured by powerful naval and

air forces, it is impracticable for Australia and New Zealand to

defend the Area unaided and the best assurance of its security

would be a scheme of Imperial defence formulated and carried out

by the members of the British Commonwealth in co-operation. This,

however, would not be to the exclusion of a wider system of

collective security.


7. Before considering the particular subjects referred to it, the

Defence Committee have thought it necessary to state what they

consider are Australia's primary defence requirements, keeping in

mind the fact that the best defence is a strong and continuous

offensive against the enemy's bases and sea communications. The

selection and position of our bases should, therefore, be such as

to assist offensive action. These primary requirements are:-

(a) Security of sea communications;

(b) Security from invasion; and

(c) Security from long range bombing from adjacent islands and

sporadic raids.

Security of Sea Communications

8. It is obvious that, unless we are able to protect the sea

routes linking Australia with the outside world and so ensure the

arrival of reinforcements and supplies, our local resources would

eventually be exhausted. The operation of our armed forces and

essential industries would be hampered and restricted through lack

of essential requirements such as fuel and we should be in danger

of falling a victim to the enemy.

9. The main ocean supply routes are open to attack by the enemy at

great distances from Australia, e.g. in the middle of the Pacific

or Indian Oceans, or alternatively at focal points near Australia.

Such attacks may be carried out by powerful naval units, raiders,

submarines, and long range bombers, and protection must be

provided against all these dangers. In order to operate the

necessary forces to give this protection, bases are required

strategically placed between the enemy and the shipping routes

where strong naval and air forces can be stationed to give cover

to the lighter forces such as cruisers, aircraft carriers, and

anti-submarine vessels which are required for the protection of

our convoys. Without this cover, our escorts would be driven from

the sea by powerful enemy units and our shipping would be left to

the mercy of the enemy.

10. In this war, the main bases used for this purpose in the

Pacific and Indian Oceans include the following:-

Pacific: Pearl Harbour, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Solomon


Indian: Kilindini, Ceylon.

These bases not only provide a cover for our defensive escorts but

also enable striking forces to attack the enemy's bases and his

lines of communication.

11. The establishment of any operational base would involve the

provision of major defence works, including seaward and fixed

defences, aerodromes, installations for the repair and maintenance

of equipment and reserves of equipment and stores as well as

substantial Navy, Army and Air Forces as a garrison.

Security from Invasion

12. The best means of securing Australia from invasion is by

taking strong offensive action from established and well defended

forward bases. If, however, an enemy were sufficiently powerful to

seize, hold and develop island bases adjacent to Australia from

which an invasion supported by a strong force of land based and

carrier borne aircraft could be launched against the mainland, it

would be beyond our power to prevent a landing in strength at all

points along the 12,000 mile coastline. It would, however, be

possible, by a suitable disposition of our air and land forces and

by well organized air and land transport, to provide a substantial

degree of protection at vital points which would naturally be the

most attractive to the enemy as affording him the opportunity to

gain the quick decision that would be necessary for him before

overseas reinforcements could be brought up. Accordingly, to

provide advanced positions for offensive operations by our naval

and air forces, to prevent the enemy establishing bases in a

suitable position for an invasion force to assemble, and at the

same time to provide our forces with bases to cut across the

enemy's lines of communication, it is considered advisable that

well defended bases should be available from the north-west to the

north-east of Australia. Further, the possession of such bases,

constituting as they would a threat to the enemy's lines of

communication in the event of an attempted invasion, would operate

as a real deterrent to his making such an attempt.

Security from Long Range Bombing and Sporadic Raids

13. It is considered necessary to provide protection against long

range bombing from bases within one thousand miles of Australia's

industrial centres. This can be most effectively done by the

holding of ,strategically placed bases at a considerable distance

from such centres in the neighbourhood of the areas from which

bombing might be possible.

14. Sporadic raids, i.e. bombardment by surface vessels or bombing

by carrier home aircraft and raids of a commando type having as

their main object destruction of installations followed by a quick

withdrawal, could also be countered from such forward bases.

Selection of Bases

15. In the light of these primary defence requirements, it is

considered that it is necessary to choose bases which will, so far

as possible, serve at the one time the several purposes of.-

(a) affording opportunity for offensive action;

(b) facilitating the rapid transfer of the armed forces of the

nations concerned with the defence of the South and Southwest

Pacific regions to permit of concentrations for operational


(c) protecting sea communications;

(d) safeguarding against invasion; and

(e) safeguarding against bombing and sporadic raids.

The bases chosen should provide harbour facilities for naval

forces, a large number of air strips for the operation of strong

air forces, and should be so situated and adapted that they lend

themselves to effective land defence.


16. With the foregoing general considerations in mind, and subject

to more detailed examination by the interested powers of the bases

to be selected, the Defence Committee submits the following views

upon the particular subjects upon which information is sought.

Bases in Southwest Pacific Area which must be controlled by


17. In the north-west, it is considered that although Darwin

should constitute the main base for the defence of Australia and

for offensive operations against enemy bases and lines of

communication, its effectiveness would be greatly enhanced by the

control of an advanced base in an area such as Timor for the

operation of air squadrons in particular. The possession of such a

base would add greatly to the range of offensive naval and air

operations and its denial to the enemy would remove a threat

which, as experience shows, prevents the full use of

Darwin as a naval base and ties down considerable land and air


18. In the north-east, it is considered that, in addition to other

bases in Australian Mandated Territories, a strong naval and air

base protected by an adequate garrison should be established in an

area such as the Admiralty islands. Such a location would be

preferable to Rabaul for a number of reasons, including the


(a) it is the most northerly situation available and, if bypassed,

would constitute a continuous threat to enemy lines of


(b) it has a better harbour available;

(c) there would be no danger to installations from volcanic


(d) it is more easily protected in that it could not be approached

by successive steps along the coast but would have to be directly

assaulted from the sea.

19. It is considered necessary that arrangements should be made

for the establishment and maintenance of such bases and that

action should not be deferred until an emergency arises.

Bases in the South and Southwest Pacific Areas which must be

controlled by a friendly power

20. The Defence Committee considers that in view of the geo

graphical position of the Netherlands East Indies, it is necessary

for the safety of Australia that these Islands should be in the

possession of a friendly power and that strong bases (including a

base at Sourabaya) should be established for their protection to

prevent them being used as stepping stones for an attack upon


21. A base in the Solomon Islands - New Hebrides Area is

considered important to the security of Australia, but in view of

her limited resources, Australia may not be fully able to maintain

this base, having regard to other essential commitments. It is

considered, however, that Australia should contribute to the

maintenance of the base to the fullest possible extent and that

the New Zealand and the United Kingdom Governments should also

contribute. It is also considered that New Zealand should maintain

a base in Fiji.

22. The question of a base in New Caledonia requires special

consideration. A base on the Island would be useful for the

purpose of naval and air operations, but its main importance would

be to deny the use of the Island to an enemy. In the hands of an

enemy, it would constitute a direct threat to Australia's vital

centres. The Defence Committee considers that arrangements should

be made for Australia to have access to facilities in New

Caledonia to ensure that it does not fall into the hands of an


Extent to which Australia could maintain Bases

23. Apart from the naval commitments involved, it is thought that

it should not be beyond the capacity of Australia to maintain the

bases which it is considered must be controlled by Australia. The

naval commitment should be regarded as an Imperial obligation in

which Australia should participate so far as her resources permit,

having regard to the necessity for the maintenance of a balanced

Defence Force. The Defence Committee felt that any consideration

of the detailed questions of what would be involved in cost and

manpower in providing for such bases cannot be undertaken at


Mutual Defence Problems and Interests of Australia and New Zealand

24. The maintenance of the integrity of each country is of vital

concern to the other. In particular, Australia and New Zealand are

mutually concerned with the establishment and maintenance of the

bases previously referred to to the north-east and east of

Australia and to the maintenance by naval and air forces of sea

communications in the Tasman Sea.

Desirable Forms of Mutual Assistance

25. It is considered that in addition to what has been mentioned

previously co-operation between Australia and New Zealand for

defence should be developed along the following lines:-

(a) the organization, equipping, training and exercising the armed

forces under a common doctrine;

(b) joint planning;

(c) interchange of staff,

(d) the co-ordination of policy for the production of munitions,

aircraft, shipping and supply items to ensure the greatest

possible degree of mutual aid consistent with the maintenance of

the policy of self-sufficiency in local production.

Defence Problems connected with Civil Air Transport

26. It is considered that the main problem from the point of view

of defence in the development of air transport in the Southwest

and South Pacific Areas is to ensure that air transport routes are

strategically disposed for defence and can be defended. Even where

such routes are not the most economical, it is considered that

they should be developed at any rate as alternatives. Only

friendly powers should be permitted to conduct air transport

services within these areas.

International Security System in Western Pacific

27. It is considered that in an area stretching from Singapore to

Fiji it is imperative that there should be an effective system of

international security which would involve joint responsibility by

the nations concerned for a coordinated defence plan. Under such a

plan, each participant should undertake definite obligations and

accept responsibility for the defence of a defined area, but such

a division of responsibility should be accompanied by arrangements

for active co-operation including the common use of bases within

the defined areas. So far as Australia and New Zealand are

concerned, the meeting of the naval commitments involved in

defending the areas allotted to them would require to be the

subject of a common Imperial defence policy. It is appreciated

that the foregoing are matters for inter-Governmental discussion

of the Pacific settlement.

1 On file AA:A5954, box 294.

2 At the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party.

3 On the file cited in note 1.

4 This was discussed at Defence Committee meetings of 28 and 31
December 1943
and 5 January 1944.

[AA:A5954, BOX 294]
Last Updated: 2 February 2011
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