Curtin to MacArthur

Letter CANBERRA, 15 February 1945



1. ATTEMPTS TO RECTIFY THE DISEQUILIBRIUM WHICH STILL EXISTS Since my discussions with you in June 1943 [1] regarding the re- balancing of the War Effort as a consequence of your advice of the removal of the threat of invasion to Australia, constant efforts have been made to adjust the disequilibrium that has prevailed. As previously explained, this situation had arisen from the extensive call up of manpower in 1942 for the Forces and to provide for urgent operational works and the diversion of manpower and resources to provide food, supplies and services for the rapidly increasing forces in the Southwest Pacific Area.

In October 1943, War Cabinet directed the release of 20,000 men from the Army and 20,000 persons from Munitions and Aircraft Production. In August 1944, War Cabinet directed the release of a further 30,000 men from the Army and 15,000 from the Air Force.

The Defence Committee has also established regular reviews of the Australian and American programmes for munitions, aircraft and works, to ensure that they do not exceed essential requirements.

Limits have been fixed to the food requirements that can be supplied to the people of Britain and to Allied Forces in the Pacific. Nevertheless, it was reported to a recent meeting of War Cabinet in a review of the present manpower position:-

‘That the commitments at present undertaken in the military, indirect war and civilian aspects of the Australian War Effort are beyond the capacity of our manpower to carry out.’ [2]

2. THE BACKGROUND OF THE PRESENT POSITION The background of the present manpower position may be summarised as follows in regard to the military aspect of the Australian War Effort:-

(i) The arrangement made by me with Mr. Churchill, President Roosevelt and the Combined Chiefs of Staff when I was abroad, for the maintenance of the following strengths:-

(a) In the case of the Army, six divisions and two armoured brigades for active operations.

(b) The Royal Australian Navy to be maintained at its present strength, plus additions arising from the Australian naval construction programme.

(c) The maintenance of the Royal Australian Air Force at the strength of 53 squadrons to be achieved under the present programme.

(ii) On my return, the future strength of the Australian Military Effort was discussed with you in June, when you emphasised the importance of being able to fulfil what we attempted, because of the reliance that must be placed on our contribution in the plans that were being prepared. Greater emphasis was laid by you on the certainty of fulfilment of any promise that we made rather than on the size of the force promised.

I also discussed with you the use of the Australian Forces, and said that the Government and people of Australia were anxious that their forces should be associated with your advance and should be represented in your then impending offensive operations.

(iii) At the meeting of the Advisory War Council on 5th July, the matter having previously been discussed by War Cabinet, it was decided that, in regard to your forthcoming operations against the Philippines, there should be no variation in the existing assignment to you of operational control of the Australian Defence Forces. [3]

(iv) On 12th July, a directive was issued by you for the re- distribution of the land forces in the Southwest Pacific Area, in order to make available forces with which to continue the offensive. The directive provided for:-

(a) The Australian Forces to assume the responsibility for the continued neutralisation of the Japanese in Australian and British territory and Mandates in the Southwest Pacific Area, exclusive of the Admiralties.

(b) The allotment of two A.I.F. divisions for participation in the offensive.

3. THE RELATION OF THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF’S PLANS TO THE STRENGTH OF THE AUSTRALIAN FORCES In its recent review, War Cabinet reached the conclusion that, as you had made your operational plans on the assigned strength of the Australian Forces, it would be impossible to make further reductions in the strength at this stage if your plans are being adhered to, and I was requested by War Cabinet to ascertain if such is the case. [4]

If there has been no variation in your plans, I was asked to consult you regarding the contemplated use of the Australian Forces, with a view to determining the stage at which appropriate reductions can be made and deciding the future strengths which should be maintained. As the war effort is still in a state of disequilibrium, War Cabinet considered that. the earliest opportunity should be taken to rectify it as soon as the operational situation will permit.

However, since War Cabinet reviewed the position, I have been informed by General Blamey [5] that your recent request to Washington for the retention of certain shipping to move the 1st Australian Corps to staging areas in preparation for further operations, has not been accepted. It is understood that this attitude is in accordance with the priority allotted to further operations in the Southwest Pacific Area, after the capture of the Philippines, in relation to the war in Europe.

Elements of the 1st Australian Corps have been on the mainland for periods of up to eighteen months and have taken no part in the war since 1943. You may have gathered from press reports that there has been considerable public criticism of the inactivity of the Australian Land Forces which, in a large degree, has arisen from the members of the Forces themselves, a considerable number of whom have been under arms for four and five years. The prescription for victory laid down for the Australian people has been that they must either fight or work, and my reply to public demands for the easing of restrictions and shortages involving the release of additional men from the Forces has been that the maintenance of the strength of the fighting forces is the first priority.

In view of the great stringency of the manpower position and the heavy pressure that is being brought to bear on the Government to remedy manpower shortages and lift restrictions, I shall be confronted with a difficult situation if so many Australian troops are to be retained in an ineffective role, for it would appear that an all out effort against Japan is unlikely for a considerable period.

It would also seem that when such an effort is mounted, the forces allotted by the respective Allied nations will be much less than the totals now being utilised for the war in the various theatres in Europe and Asia. If these premises are correct, then it would seem that Australia’s allocation of forces should be considerably reduced.

A similar position obtains in the case of the R.A.A.F., my latest information indicating that enemy air forces in the whole of the East Indies area have been greatly reduced, and that the United Nations have overwhelming air superiority. In addition to the R.A.A.F. squadrons assigned to the Southwest Pacific Area, there are 19,000 air personnel serving overseas.

No reduction can be made in the Australian Naval Forces. The squadron has suffered the loss of three out of five cruisers, of which only one has been replaced. In addition, there have been losses of smaller ships, and the Government considers that the strength should be restored, and possibly increased, as one of the most effective ways in which we can maintain a satisfactory fighting effort in the advance against Japan.

4. INDIRECT WAR COMMITMENTS In addition to the maintenance of the manpower strength of the Australian Forces, our other commitments cover the following field:-

To maintain the material needs of the Australian Forces.

To provide an appropriate contribution to the material needs of the United States Forces.

To provide an appropriate contribution to the material needs of the United Kingdom Forces which may he based on Australia.

To provide for the essential needs of the civilian population on standards appropriate to the present stage of the war, and the civilian standards of the countries whose forces will be supplied from Australian sources.

To provide for the maintenance of food exports to the United Kingdom (including India) at the level agreed upon, viz. the 1944 scale.

To provide for the production of such goods as may otherwise be approved for export.

The volume of reciprocal aid for the year ending 30th June is estimated at 110,000,000 and, in addition, War Cabinet has approved of programmes for works and supplies for the Royal Navy totalling 26,186,100 of which 10,700,000 for foodstuffs is a matter of allocation within the United Kingdom 1945 food programme. The manpower required to meet the other additional commitments for the Royal Navy, except works, is stated to be more than offset in an overall sense by reductions in the demands of the Australian and United States Forces. In the case of works, the programme is being met by the deferment of releases from the labour force employed by the Allied Works Council, by the return of workers released for seasonal employment, and by the diversion of labour from less urgent works. However, the nett result is an additional demand on our limited manpower, but, in view of the representations for the despatch of British Naval Forces to the Pacific, which were strongly supported by yourself as Commander- in-Chief of the Southwest Pacific Area, the Government felt bound to co-operate in doing everything possible to contribute towards their needs. I wrote to you recently on the importance of American representation on the Defence Department machinery which deals with the demands of the Australian, American and British Forces.

Finally, it would therefore appear that, after the defeat of Germany, Australia, on the present basis of her effort will be under greater strain in relation to her resources than the other United Nations. She entered the war in 1939. Except for continued participation in the air war in Europe, her military effort since Japan entered the war has been concentrated in the Pacific. She will therefore experience no direct relief on the defeat of Germany, as will the nations fighting in Europe.

5. REQUEST TO COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF, SOUTHWEST PACIFIC AREA I would recall the following extract from the enclosure to my letter of 1st November [6]:-

‘The Government considers it to be a matter of vital importance to the future of Australia and her status at the peace table in regard to the settlement in the Pacific, that her military effort should be concentrated as far as possible in the Pacific and that it should be on a scale to guarantee her an effective voice in the peace settlement.’ I need hardly add that these views are still the Policy of the Government whose immediate aim is to establish a better balance between the direct and indirect aspects of the War Effort. It is felt, however, that if considerations of global strategy are to retard the use of our Forces, it is illogical to keep inactive so large a part of our manpower for so long, when part of it could be making a greater contribution to the Allied War Effort in other directions where our manpower needs are so pressing.

I shall be grateful if you will furnish me with your observations on the various points I have raised in so far as they relate to your responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief of the Southwest Pacific Area, and if you will also let me have your views on the relation of the strength of the Australian Forces to your plans in the Southwest Pacific Area. In view of my previous discussions with Mr. Churchill, President Roosevelt and the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the dimensions of the Australian War Effort, I feet that I should acquaint them with the manpower position with which the Government is confronted, and its views on the course it should follow in the light of the prospective operational position that you will outline to me.

JOHN CURTIN Minister for Defence


1 See ‘Notes on Discussions with C-in-C’, dated 7 June 1943. In AA:A5954, box 2.

2 Report by War Commitments Committee, ‘General Co-ordination of Manpower Reviews’, attached to War Cabinet Agendum 52/1945, 3 February. In AA:A2671, 52/1945.

3 Advisory War Council Minute 1402.

4 Minute 4044, 9 February. See also War Cabinet Agendum 55/1945,14 March (in AA:A2671, 55/1945).

5 See Blamey’s draft of a letter to MacArthur for Curtin’s signature, noting that the request for shipping had been denied, and his covering letter to Shedden, dated 13 February, in AA:A5954, box 570.

6 Memorandum dated 1 November 1943. In AA:A5954, box 650.


[AA:A5954, BOX 570]