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Appendix 1: Command Problems, SWPA 1942–1945

In March 1942 the Australian Government agreed eagerly to President Roosevelt’s suggestion that it might nominate General MacArthur as Supreme Commander of all Allied forces in the South-West Pacific Area. The Prime Minister, Mr Curtin, was disappointed, however, to learn, on 3rd April, that his Government was to have no share in deciding the policies and plans which the new commander would be instructed to carry out: the Combined Chiefs of Staff – the British and American Chiefs – were to control the “grand strategic policy” of the SWPA as of other areas; the Joint Chiefs of Staff – the American Chiefs – were to control “operational strategy” in the SWPA The British half of the Combined Chiefs had little direct interest in the new SWPA (as distinct from the SWPA that General Wavell had commanded) and, in practice, MacArthur’s instructions were formulated by the American Joint Chiefs of Staff at Washington.

The appointment of General MacArthur to the new command was politically desirable. If he had been left at Corregidor in Manila Bay he would soon have had to surrender to the Japanese, as his opposite number, General Percival, had had to do in Malaya; and the surrender of so senior a soldier – a former Chief of Staff of the United States Army – would have been a heavy blow to American prestige. (In December the American leaders had insisted that Wavell be appointed to the supreme command in the Far East partly so that an American should not be responsible for the impending disasters.1) If MacArthur had been ordered to escape from the Philippines and thence to go not to Australia but to the United States the blow to national prestige would also have been severe. Also MacArthur was not entirely persona grata with the President, the Chief of Staff (General Marshall), or with the Chief of Naval Operations (Admiral King),2 and his seniority and autocratic disposition were likely to make him a difficult subordinate.

In fact, differences of opinion between Marshall and MacArthur soon appeared. On 18th March, the day after MacArthur’s arrival in Australia, Marshall informed him that, as Supreme Commander, he would be ineligible to command directly any national force. General George H. Brett, an American, would command the Allied air forces; Vice-Admiral Herbert F. Leary, an American, the naval forces; and an Australian the ground forces – at that time by far the strongest component of the Allied forces south of the Indies. MacArthur, on 21st March, proposed, however, to appoint an American to the separate command of the American ground forces; under this arrangement there would have been both an

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Australian and an American army commander under MacArthur’s direct command. Marshall objected, however, pointing out that, the greater part of the land forces being Australian, the combined land forces should be under an Australian “in accordance with the policy developed for combined commands”.3 MacArthur agreed, but arranged that the two land forces should have separate “service” organisations, the American one being directly responsible to him.

It was at this stage that, on 30th March, the Joint Chiefs issued their directive to the Supreme Commander, SWPA4 The Australian Government delayed its approval until it had established its right to control the movement of its troops outside Australian territory and the rights of its commanders to communicate with their own government.

On 18th April MacArthur assumed command – although, with Australian support, he had already, since his arrival, been acting as Supreme Commander. The same day General Blamey, who, on 27th March, had been appointed Commander-in-Chief, Australian Military Forces, became also Commander, Allied Land Forces. Admiral Leary became Commander, Allied Naval Forces; General Brett, Commander, Allied Air Forces. United States Army Forces in Australia, under Major-General Julian F. Barnes, was made responsible for administration and supply of American ground and air forces. The Australian Government assigned to MacArthur all field formations of the Australian Army,5 all naval ships then under Admiral Leary’s command, and all operational units of the air force.

A new difference of opinion now arose between Marshall and MacArthur, again without the Australian Government being aware of it. On 9th April Marshall had proposed to MacArthur that, as with General Wavell’s Allied staff in Java, all the participating nations should be represented on MacArthur’s staff, particularly as his chief of staff and his naval and air commanders would be Americans. The President, he added, wished Dutch and, particularly, Australian officers to be appointed to “a number of the higher positions”. However, on 19th April MacArthur announced a staff on which every senior post was occupied by an American; eight of the heads of sections had served on his staff in the Philippines and had escaped from Corregidor with him and three had been on the staff of Brett’s “United States Army Forces in Australia”. When Marshall questioned this policy MacArthur said that his reasons were that there were no qualified Dutch officers and that the Australians did not have enough staff officers to meet the needs of their rapidly expanding army. “There is no prospect,” he told Marshall on 15th June, “of obtaining

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qualified senior staff officers from the Australians.”6 There were in fact senior Australian officers qualified both by staff college training and recent experience of active service who could have been spared to General Headquarters.7 MacArthur’s statement is indicative either of a wish to avoid forming an Allied Staff or of lack of knowledge of the structure, standards and experience of the Australian Army, possibly of both. A few Australians of middle and junior rank were, however, appointed to GHQ, SWPA, and several specialist branches were staffed mainly by Australians.

At the next level, the staff of Allied Land Forces, when the appointments were announced, turned out to be just as Australian as that of GHQ was American. General Sturdee, who had been Chief of the General Staff in Australia since 1940, became, in effect, the Chief of the Staff of “LHQ”; the big change at Australian Army Headquarters – now LHQ – was the replacement of a number of senior officers who had not been on overseas service in that war by their opposite numbers from AIF Headquarters just returned from Egypt. Concerning his efforts at this time to form an Allied army staff Blamey wrote, in February 1945:

My requests for American officers to establish a joint staff were met with a face-saving acceptance that was completely ineffective.8

General Brett, the Allied Air Force commander, on the other hand organised a joint Allied air staff. His chief of staff was an Australian, the deputy chief and senior air staff officer were Americans; of the nine directors and assistant directors five were Australians and four Americans.

In the new military organisation General Blamey wore two hats just as he had done in the Middle East, when he had been Deputy Commander-in-Chief first under General Wavell and then General Auchinleck, and at the same time had been commander of the AIF, with the right, indeed the duty, of direct communication with both the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army at home. He was now commander of the land forces of MacArthur who received his orders from Washington, and at the same time he was the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces and, as such, the principal military adviser of the Australian Government.9

In April the important principle was established that Blamey would have direct access to the Minister for Defence (who was the Prime

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Minister). In the course of a letter from Curtin to Blamey dated 25th April in which he stated this principle, Curtin wrote:–

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.

I do not propose at this stage to attempt to define my functions as Minister for Defence in detail in respect of the field of general administration. ... The Service Ministers are to be responsible for the administration of Policy as laid down by War Cabinet. In the initial stages there will be ... questions of organisation and principle which should rightly be submitted to me as Minister for Defence, or which may affect the duties and responsibilities of non-Service Ministers and of which I, as Prime Minister, should be aware.

It is therefore my desire, in questions of general administration, that the procedure should be that proposals should first be discussed with the Minister for the Army or between your officers and those of the Army Secretariat. Important questions on which agreement is reached and of which I should be aware as Minister for Defence, should be reported to me or my Department. Where agreement cannot be reached or it is desired to submit the matter for decision or confirmation of a provisional conclusion, a full statement should be forwarded to me. In short, on any administrative questions, I wish to act more in a judicial capacity than an executive one.

Though I have outlined the foregoing procedure relating to questions of administration, I wish it to be clearly understood, nevertheless, that as Minister for Defence I am most directly interested in the efficiency of the whole Army organisation, as well as Policy and associated questions, which are reserved to myself.

This system was likely to create difficulty, particularly between the secretariats concerned, because of the impossibility of defining precisely the subjects on which the Commander-in-Chief should approach the Prime Minister directly. On 12th August 1942 an effort was made to give more precise definition to the arrangement. Curtin wrote to Forde and Blamey:

The Commander-in-Chief AMF, by virtue of his special position, has direct access to the Minister for Defence and, in special cases, he may make written submissions direct to the Minister for Defence, at the same time forwarding a copy direct to the Minister for the Army for information. This method is to be used only in exceptional circumstances. In all other cases, the written submissions of the Commander-in-Chief will be transmitted through the Minister for the Army, who will forward them with any covering comments he may wish to make.

For the first three months of its existence GHQ was situated in Melbourne, near LHQ On 20th July GHQ moved forward to Brisbane. Thereupon Blamey formed an “Advanced LHQ”, under his Deputy Chief of the General Staff, and it moved to Brisbane to keep in touch.

Despite Marshall’s protests MacArthur had achieved the kind of organisation he wished except in one item: he had not achieved a separate command for his American as distinct from his Australian troops.

There being two American divisions in Australia by May 1942, Marshall decided to send out an American corps commander and staff. The VII Corps under Major-General Richardson was first chosen, but Richardson objected to serving under Australian command, and the appointment was given to Lieut-General Eichelberger, of I Corps (which had just before

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been warned that it was to take part in the North African landings). In February 1943, on the heels of this corps headquarters, the headquarters of the Sixth American Army, under Lieut-General Krueger, was sent to Australia, although there were then only three American divisions in the area. Blamey later wrote that “at no stage” was he given “any information as to the proposals [for the arrival of American troops and of the Sixth Army] or the development of the organisation”. Blamey considered that at this stage MacArthur “took upon himself the functions of Commander, Allied Land Forces” and his own functions were limited to command of the Australian Military Forces. This position was arrived at, beyond doubt, on 26th February 1943, when, with the object of placing the Sixth Army, and thus the American corps and divisions, directly under the command of GHQ, the Sixth Army was named “Alamo Force” and given the status of a “task force” under MacArthur’s direct command.10 For this purpose MacArthur reconstituted “United States Army Forces in the Far East” (USAFFE), his command when in the Philippines, with himself as its commander, and orders went directly from USAFFE to the American formations.

Meanwhile the organisation of command within LHQ had become more complex. With the development of the Japanese offensive and the Allied counter-offensive in New Guinea, New Guinea Force, from being less than a divisional command, became, in effect, an army. The titles and times of appointment of the senior commanders in New Guinea are shown in the following table:

Maj-Gen B. M. Morris: 19.5.41 to 31.7.42 (GOC 8th Military District, then New Guinea Force)
Lt-Gen S. F. Rowell: 1.8.42 to 30.9.42 (GOC I Corps)
Lt-Gen E. F. Herring: 1.10.42 to 29.1.43 (GOC I Corps and NGF)
Lt-Gen Sir Iven Mackay: 30.1.43 to 21.5.43 (Temporary GOC NGF and I Corps)
Lt-Gen E. F. Herring: 23.5.43 to 26.8.43 (GOC NGF and I Corps)
Lt-Gen Sir Iven Mackay: 28.8.43 to 19.1.44 (Temporary GOC NGF)
Lt-Gen Sir Leslie Morshead: 21.1.44 to 5.5.44 (GOC NGF)
Lt-Gen S. G. Savige: 6.5.44 to 1.10.44 (GOC NGF)
Lt-Gen V. A. H. Sturdee: 2.10.44 to 30.11.45 (GOC First Army)

Although Major-General C. A. Clowes was appointed to command New Guinea Force on 1st August 1942, New Guinea Force at that stage was a formation junior to I Corps. It seems, according to General Herring’s 1942 posting (“GOC I Corps and NGF”) that New Guinea Force became the senior formation between this and General Mackay’s January 1943 posting (“GOC NGF and I Corps”).

From time to time in the period from September 1942 onwards Blamey maintained his own advanced headquarters in New Guinea, and on 6th November 1942 MacArthur established an Advanced GHQ at Port

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Moresby. By the end of November Port Moresby housed a Supreme Commander with, close by, a Commander Allied Land Forces, and over the mountains a corps commander who controlled only about a division of weary and depleted units.

When recommending changes in appointments of senior commanders consequent upon the removal of General Rowell from command in New Guinea, Blamey recommended to Curtin and MacArthur that Eichelberger be placed in command of II Australian Corps with a mixed American and Australian staff. And in fact Eichelberger for a time commanded the troops in the forward area in Papua with Major-General Berryman as his chief of staff.

Blamey’s awareness of the problem created by his possession of responsibilities both at home and in the field had been illustrated by a recommendation which he made on 24th September 1942 (after the Prime Minister had instructed him to take over command in New Guinea) that the Chief of the General Staff, Lieut-General Northcott, be appointed also Deputy Commander-in-Chief. He contended that it was essential that the Chief of the General Staff should be given executive authority to ensure that the requirements of the forces in New Guinea should be “fully coordinated and supplied”. Blamey pointed out that it was most undesirable that an additional officer should be appointed Deputy; from his experience as Deputy Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East he was convinced that such an appointment was not effective unless it was held by the principal staff officer.

The senior staff officer at Advanced LHQ for most of this and the succeeding period was General Berryman, who was Deputy Chief of the General Staff from September 1942 to January 1944 – though for part of that time he acted in other posts – and Chief of Staff of Advanced LHQ from July 1944 to December 1945. During some of the time when General Mackay was commanding New Guinea Force Berryman filled the appointment of senior staff officer of New Guinea Force. Thus, from the time when GHQ departed from Melbourne in July 1942, Blamey was served by two widely-separated headquarters staffs and two chiefs of staff: General Northcott in Melbourne,11 and, as a rule, General Berryman farther forward. In September 1944, when MacArthur’s headquarters moved to Hollandia, Advanced LHQ threw off a small Forward Echelon, under Berryman, which established itself near GHQ when it moved first to Hollandia and later to Manila. In general these two headquarters corresponded with Blamey’s two roles as Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Army, which was actual, and Commander, Allied Land Forces, which was now only nominal except where Australian forces were concerned. The fact that MacArthur had taken over the role of Commander, Allied Land Forces, was underlined from December 1943 onwards when “Alamo Force” and later the Sixth American Army or the Eighth American Army, operating directly under GHQ, invaded New Britain and

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the Admiralties, and advanced in stages along the New Guinea coast and through the Philippines.

After March 1944 the Australian forces in New Guinea, having completed their main tasks and being in need of rest, were greatly reduced. As mentioned, in July MacArthur issued preliminary orders to Blamey to relieve the American divisions then manning perimeters round bases on Bougainville and New Britain and at Aitape. When these reliefs had been completed I Australian Corps (7th and 9th Divisions) remained available for employment outside New Guinea.

Blamey refused to agree to a plan whereby each of these divisions should be employed separately in the Philippines under American corps commanders, one in November 1944 and the other in January 1945. At length, after much discussion and many changes of plan, it was decided that I Australian Corps should operate as a corps advancing westward through Borneo, and later invade Java.

In the last quarter of 1944, when various plans for employing I Corps in the Philippines were being discussed, it had been proposed to place the corps under the command of the Eighth American Army. In February 1945, after Blamey had been informed of the decision to use the corps in Borneo, it was again proposed to place the corps under the Eighth Army. Blamey protested. Thereupon, on 17th February General Chamberlin, the head of MacArthur’s operations branch, informed General Berryman that in Borneo the Australian corps would be under the direct command of GHQ. In the course of a “frank discussion”, in which Berryman pointed out reasons why Advanced LHQ should continue to command I Corps just as it commanded other parts of the Australian Army, Chamberlin said

that the question was beyond his level and that he could only act on his orders and that he thought General MacArthur would insist on dealing with one commander only and that one of the reasons for changing New Guinea Force to First Australian Army was to enable GHQ to deal direct with First Australian Army.12

At this stage First Australian Army had taken over command of the four Australian divisions in New Guinea and the Solomons, and thus GHQ proposed to remove Blamey, still nominally Commander Allied Land Forces, from the chain of command of all Australian formations fighting outside Australia. Thereupon, on 19th February, Blamey wrote a long letter to the Secretary of the Department of Defence, Sir Frederick Shedden, for the information of the Prime Minister, setting out the stages by which what he described as “the insinuation of American control and the elimination of Australian control” of Australian forces had been achieved and urging that

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.

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Mr Curtin, on 27th February, wrote to MacArthur concerning, among other things, this command problem. He said:

It was laid down in the 1914-18 war that the Australian forces serving outside Australia should be organised into and operate as a homogeneous formation appropriate to their strength, and that they should be commanded by an Australian Officer. This course was followed in the Middle East in the present war. When the South-West Pacific Area was established ... General Blamey was appointed Commander of the Allied Land Forces which provided for the observance of the principle in respect of the command of the Australian Army.

Curtin asked for information about the operational control of I Corps and the Australian forces in New Guinea and about “the manner in which it is proposed to ensure the observance of the basic principle I have mentioned”. In the course of his reply MacArthur wrote, on 5th March:–

With reference to the command organisation, we have followed a fixed pattern since the Lae operation. The Commander-in-Chief exercises personal and direct command of assault forces coordinating the action of three principal subordinates:

(a) Naval forces under the Commander, Allied Naval Forces.

(b) Air forces under the Commander, Allied Air Forces.

(c) Ground forces under a Task Force Commander whose organisation is specifically prescribed according to the operation to be undertaken. These forces may vary from a Regimental Combat Team or Brigade Group to an Army. ... In the forthcoming operation in which assault forces will include Australian troops it is contemplated that the Commander would be an Australian Officer. While General Morshead has been proposed and is entirely acceptable, I am prepared to accept another officer if designated by the Australian authorities. ... It is considered to be impossible, however, from an operational viewpoint, for the officer so designated to be concerned with command of Australian troops in New Guinea and Australia. It is essential that the Task Force Commander remain in the field with his troops and that he have no other duties of any kind. Any other course of action would unquestionably jeopardize the success of the operation and impose a risk that could not be accepted.

No reference was made to the fact that Blamey was nominally the Commander, Allied Land Forces. Blamey met MacArthur on Leyte on 18th March and between them they arranged the compromise that, although I Corps would operate directly under MacArthur’s command, “the necessary administrative functions would be performed by Advanced LHQ from Morotai”; and copies of letters from GHQ to I Corps were to be sent to the Forward Echelon of LHQ

As for First Army, although GHQ had asserted a right to exercise direct command over it, in fact it did not do so, and, indeed, implied criticism of some of the policies it followed.

These ambiguous command arrangements worked reasonably well in practice despite the disagreements on matters of principle revealed in the foregoing recapitulation. Each national army was as a rule given a separate area and this had the useful effect of avoiding the friction that may be produced when forces with different organisations, supply systems, tactical doctrines, and technical vocabularies are mingled. In effect Blamey controlled the Australian military operations in New Guinea throughout, and, in 1942 and most of 1943, the operations of all Allied land forces

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in the field. After late 1943 and until May 1945 MacArthur’s headquarters was somewhat out of touch with the Australian Army (which still comprised about one-third of its strength) and the greater part of that army, consigned mostly to a rearward role, was seriously starved of equipment. MacArthur’s staff argued, by implication, that the Australian Army in New Guinea had only a garrison role and needed only a minimum of ships and heavy equipment.

It remains to consider whether the command structure in the SWPA was faulty and, if it was, in what particulars. It differed radically from those in other theatres of war. Were those differences inevitable? Were they desirable? They produced considerable disagreement and complaint. Was this unavoidable?

In retrospect it seems evident that, from the point of view of military efficiency and smooth cooperation between allies, Roosevelt and Marshall were right when they instructed MacArthur to form a truly Allied staff and MacArthur was wrong to evade this instruction. In other theatres such staffs were formed and they worked smoothly. The existence of a joint staff is essential if the point of view of each national component is to be fairly represented and its needs fairly satisfied. For instance, in 1944 and 1945 when the two armies were operating in widely-separated areas the American Army was generously supplied with equipment and, in particular, ships, while, as mentioned, the First Australian Army was left gravely short of essentials. Under a joint staff this should not happen.

The Supreme Command (wrote Blamey) was naturally more interested in providing the requirements of the whole of the American forces, and was able to bring great pressure to bear on the various Australian authorities. ... The Australian Army ... had to run the gauntlet of many and devious channels, and was always behind the Americans, and in several important matters obtained what it could from the resources of its own country after the Americans had had the pick of the market.

The metaphors were mixed, but the meaning clear.

In addition the existence of a joint staff helps to ensure that the talent and experience possessed by each component is made use of. In 1942 Australians possessed wide tactical and administrative experience gained in recent campaigns against the armies of four nations, and this could have helped at the GHQ level. A proper corollary to a joint GHQ staff would have been the formation, at least for the early phase of the war, of a joint LHQ staff, particularly since one American division was arriving in Australia when LHQ was formed, another was due to arrive in a few weeks, and there was a prospect of larger American forces eventually arriving.

The appointment of an Australian commander of all Allied land forces was appropriate in 1942 and 1943 when Australian formations did nearly all the fighting in the SWPA but it need not follow that the arrangement should have remained unaltered in the second phase, when American forces took over the advance and operated in areas far from New Guinea, yet substantial forces – inevitably Australian – were needed to cope with

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Japanese armies still in New Guinea. At that stage it might have been wise to change over to a similar organisation to that employed in Europe in 1944 when General Eisenhower, as Supreme Commander, directly controlled several Army Groups or Armies. Thus at a suitable time – which would have been some time early in 1944 – MacArthur might have requested that, in the changed circumstances, he should exercise direct control of three land forces: the Australian Army Group under Blamey and the Sixth and Eighth American Armies. Under such an organisation it would, incidentally, have been appropriate and efficient for the I Australian Corps in Borneo – a relatively-isolated area – to have operated under the Australian Army Group commander.

It seems unlikely that such a proposal for reorganisation, frankly placed before the Joint Chiefs and the participating governments in 1944, would have been rejected. As it was, an organisation more or less on these lines was arrived at by GHQ, SWPA by stealth and by the employment of subterfuges that were undignified, and at times absurd (as when the Sixth Army was renamed “Alamo Force” without LHQ, which this ambiguity was intended to outwit, being aware of the purpose of it).13

If GHQ had had its way the Australian Commander-in-Chief would have been removed from the chain of command in the field and made responsible merely for the provision of two “task forces” – First Army and I Corps – serving directly under GHQ. Nothing substantial would have been gained by this arrangement and much would have been lost: notably the existence of a single commander who could advise the Australian Government on all the problems of its army and be answerable to that Government for the manner in which it was employed both at home and in the field.