Blamey to Shedden



1. With reference to the command of the Australian Military Forces in the field, I think it is desirable that I should put the position, as I see it, for the information of the Prime Minister.

You will recall that, on the establishment of the South West Pacific Area, General MacArthur was appointed Commander-in-Chief and I was appointed Commander, Allied Land Forces. I understand my appointment was made as part of the general agreement for the acceptance of the set up of the command of the SWP Area. Except during the offensive campaign in the field in New Guinea up to the end of 1943, I have never operated as such.

My requests for American officers to establish a joint staff were met with a face saving acceptance that was completely ineffective.

American troops were brought to this country and later an American army command established. At no stage was I given any information as to the proposals for their arrival or the development of the organisation. In fact, General MacArthur took upon himself the functions of Commander, Allied Land Forces and my own functions were limited to command of the Australian Military Forces.

I have never raised this question definitely before, as I was always of the opinion that the Prime Minister and General MacArthur worked in close consultation and the former was fully informed of and acquiesced in the position, in view of para 4 of his letter of 25 April, 1942. [1] I was satisfied therefore to continue my responsibility for the control of the development in administration and operations of the Australian Military Forces.

2. With the forward advance, however, the situation has undergone a further change. It has been, throughout this war, a definitely accepted principle that our Australian national forces should be under the control of our own Australian commanders. Where, on those odd occasions, this restriction has been lifted, it has been very greatly to the detriment of the Australian Army.

In the position which has now arisen, the Australian Army has been sharply divided into two components:

(a) The First Australian Army, which is dealing with the enemy elements left behind in the New Guinea and adjacent islands area.

(b) The First Australian Corps, which has been made available for offensive operations.

GHQ, SWPA asserts its authority to exercise direct control over the First Australian Army and, in a wire received from General Berryman on 20th inst, intends to assume direct control of First Australian Corps for operations now under consideration.

3. In order to ensure an effective Australian command over its own forces, I have transferred my Advanced Headquarters from Brisbane to Hollandia and established a Forward Section, with Lieut-General Berryman as Chief of Staff, at Leyte with GHQ.

It is obvious to me that the intention of GHQ SWPA is to treat my Headquarters as a purely liaison element. You will recall that a wire received from General Berryman last week stated that the staff of GHQ SWPA intended to utilise the First Australian Corps under command of the 8th American Army. I instructed General Berryman to oppose this strongly and to put my views fully and frankly before General Chamberlin [2] with a view to informing General MacArthur.

As a result of these conversations, General Berryman now informs me that First Australian Corps will operate directly under GHQ as already mentioned.

4. With regard to the command of New Guinea area, the position is completely unsatisfactory. GHQ claims to exercise direct command, whereas effective command of the land forces is exercised by myself. This is inevitable but, unfortunately, the means to secure fully effective control are not at my disposal.

In addition to the army command, there is an independent air force command, the control of which is exercised by General Kenney from the Philippines. The command of naval forces is also an independent command as far as New Guinea army command is concerned.

There are also seven New Zealand air squadrons operating in the area which do not operate under the Australian air force command, but under direct control from General Kenney in the Philippines.

Air Vice Marshal Isitt, Chief of the Air Staff of New Zealand, who recently visited here, said he proposed to take this up with General Kenney immediately, and have these placed under Australian command, although General MacArthur informed me personally that the present arrangement was by desire of the Chief of the Air Staff, New Zealand.

The set-up of command in New Guinea is completely unsatisfactory.

It is impossible to secure reasonable attention even to maintenance requirements. For example, over 4,000 personnel due for return to their units have been awaiting shipping for weeks at Townsville.

It would be a long story to give all the details of the difficulties of supply and provision resulting from the fact of distant, and I cannot help but feel not sufficiently interested, control of the First Australian Army.

A sidelight of the question of command of the Australian Military Forces is the objection raised by GHQ, at a fairly recent stage, to Australian corps command. The view given by them at that time was that it was not possible to exercise a corps command in view of the widely distributed fighting areas. Nevertheless, there does exist a complete set-up of 6th and 8th American armies with the respective corps headquarters under their control.

5. It is my view that, unless the authority of the Australian command over Australian national forces is effectively asserted, an undesirable position will arise as far as the Australian troops are concerned, by which they will be distributed under American control and Australian national control of its forces will be greatly weakened.

The insinuation of American control and the elimination of Australian control has been gradual, but I think the time has come when the matter should be faced quite squarely, if the Australian Government and the Australian Higher Command are not to become ciphers in the control of the Australian Military Forces.



1 Paragraph 4 read: ‘My functions as Minister for Defence relate to questions of higher Policy and important subjects, such as the strength and organisation of the Forces and appointments to higher posts, which will be submitted to War Cabinet through me. I am also the link between the Government and Commander-in-Chief, and you, as adviser to the Government on Australian Army Policy, also have direct access to me.’ In AA:A2653, 1942, vol. 2, Miscellaneous 41/1942.

2 MacArthur’s Chief of operations.


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