Chapter 2: Plans and Problems
IN the last quarter of 1944 the Australian Army was still shrinking as a result of Government decisions to reduce the intake of men and women into the Services and direct more workers to industry, and of the consequent arrangement that henceforward Australia would maintain only six infantry divisions and two armoured brigades in action or ready for action in the South-West Pacific. To explore manpower policy so far as it affected that army in this phase, it is necessary to turn back to the middle months of 1944.
In a report submitted to the War Cabinet on 3rd May 1944, the Chief of the General Staff, Lieut-General Northcott, estimated that an Australian army with an establishment of 370,500 supported by five months’ reinforcements (28,000) and with an estimated 33,000 non-effectives would suffice to carry out the commitments allotted to it. At the end of February, he said, the army had contained 464,000 men and women. It was calculated that even if 20,000 men were released to industries that urgently needed them (as the War Cabinet had ordered in October 1943) the force could be maintained at full strength until December 1944 provided that it received 1,500 men and women a month. However, after the War Cabinet had considered this proposal, it gave the army somewhat fewer than 1,500; out of the 3,000 men and 2,000 women allotted to the three Services each month from 1st May the army was to receive only 420 men and 925 women. Normally 4,000, mostly men, were discharged each month for health and other reasons; consequently the army would to some extent have to live on its own fat in the next six months.
On 2nd August Mr Curtin informed General Blamey that he had directed the Defence Committee to make a further review with the object of reducing the army by an additional 30,000 and the air force by 15,000; of this total 20,000 were to be released by 31st December and the remaining 25,000 by 30th June 1945; these reductions were to be additional to normal wastage. In a letter to Blamey accompanying this minute Curtin recalled that Blamey had informed the Combined Chiefs of Staff that the reduction of the army to six divisions would release some 90,000 men.
Blamey replied on 11th August that the 90,000 related to the total net decrease of army strength for the period from 1st October 1943 to 30th June 1945, including allowance for the reduction of the army by that date to a force of six divisions and two armoured brigades. It had been estimated that in that period discharges and other losses would be 107,000 and effective intake 14,600. These estimates were proving accurate in that actual discharges to 30th June 1944, estimated at 60,000, had been 57,136, and effective intake, estimated at 6,500, had been 6,208. If he had to release 30,000 over and above the estimated 92,400 one of the
six infantry divisions Australia had agreed to maintain would have to be disbanded. In addition the army would have to further reduce coast and anti-aircraft defences, and would be unable to maintain many of the services rendered to the navy, air force, American forces and civil population; and there would be “a large deficiency in strength in all field formation units after initial operations”.
During the last two years (he wrote) the combatant organisations have been reduced roughly by half. It is considered that further reductions will greatly reduce the status of Australia and our voice later in important matters of policy.
On 18th September, however, the War Cabinet reduced the army’s monthly intake of women from 925 to 500, the intake of men remaining at 420; the total monthly intake for the three Services was henceforth to be 4,020, including 1,020 women.
Blamey wrote a further letter to Curtin on 26th September in the course of which he said that the estimated shortage at June 1945 was about 26,000, in addition to those needed to refill depleted training depots. He estimated that the air force, on the other hand, was 25,000 above establishment (173,000) and could maintain its strength with no further intake of recruits until November 1946. By June 1945 he would have six divisions in action in malarial areas. It would be necessary to disband one militia division as soon as it could be freed from operations in the islands, but that might not be possible until after June 1945. “The effect will be to reduce the AMF below the six divisions and two armoured brigade groups agreed upon at Washington. In fact I have already been compelled, in the endeavour to have the three AIF divisions ready on time, to order the disbandment of the greater part of one of the two armoured brigade groups, retaining little more than the actual armoured regiments of the group.”1 Looking farther ahead Blamey added:
Even if the CMF division is disbanded when available, there will probably be a period, after the operations at present planned have proceeded for a short time and the AIF Corps has been committed to battle, when it will be so reduced in manpower owing to lack of reinforcements that the scope and duration of its operations will be limited. It will be seen, therefore, that we will probably arrive at the most critical period of the Pacific War with the AMF represented abroad only by much reduced garrisons in the islands immediately to the north and east of Australia.
Finally Blamey suggested that the allotment of manpower to the air force should be related to the number of modern combat aircraft likely to become available to it by the end of 1945 at the latest, that the army’s intake “be increased immediately to not less than 1,850 per month as recommended by the Defence Committee”, and that the application of that figure be retrospective to 1st July 1944.
The War Cabinet decided on 18th October that Blamey’s representations be referred to the Defence Committee for consideration when it made a review, already ordered, of the situation as at 31st December, and directed
that the committee submit its review in two parts: first on the basis of its direction that each month only 3,000 men and 1,020 women would be allotted to the Services; and second on the basis of the release of an additional 40,000 men from the Services as soon as possible.
Blamey again protested strongly. In a letter written to Curtin on 27th October he repeated his earlier contentions and added:
I agree the civil population is short of housing and that there is also a shortage of a number of commodities, some of which are important and some of probably less consequence. The same conditions obtain in Britain and elsewhere to a much greater degree. These countries have accepted the conditions of essential privation and stepped up production in order to preserve their striking power, for they appreciate that by this method, and this method alone, can the enemy finally be brought to his knees. ... The Army deficiency by June 1945 is estimated at 26,000 plus 37,000, total 63,000. During recent weeks references have been made by Ministers to the arduous and difficult times that lie ahead of the armed forces in operations in the very near future. There will be casualties and losses, on what scale nobody knows. One thing, however, is certain. All six divisions and one armoured brigade, with their supporting forces overseas, will be in action. If the Army is to be deficient of 63,000 men as estimated at this vital stage, when the whole of its effective operational strength is employed in operations at one time (which is the maximum effort the Army has been called upon to undertake during the war), then the total force fighting the enemy cannot be adequately supported throughout these operations. The situation is indeed very grave. ...
If the further reduction of 40,000 is decided upon, I have no alternative but to advise the Government to inform General MacArthur that the Australian Army cannot be maintained at the strength allotted and that it will be necessary to reduce the expeditionary force from one army corps of two divisions and essential service elements to one division. This will bring the Australian expeditionary force to approximately the same dimensions as that of New Zealand.
Curtin replied that he appreciated the desire of the three Services to maintain the greatest possible striking force – that was the wish of the Government – but Australian manpower was “totally inadequate to meet all the demands being made upon it for the Services, for high priority industrial purposes, and to make a contribution to the requirements of the Royal Naval force to be based on Australia”. He pointed out that so far no direction that an additional 40,000 be released had been given.
The Defence Committee’s review of the situation as it was at 31st December did not come before the War Cabinet until 9th February, when the Ministers decided to confirm their decision of the previous August to reduce the army by a further 30,000 and the air force by 15,000 before 30th June, but to order no more reductions so long as General MacArthur’s plans for the employment of the Australian forces were adhered to. Mr Curtin would consult MacArthur with a view to determining when further reductions could be made.
A recommendation by the Defence Committee that the intake of the three Services be raised to 4,200 men a month was not approved; it would remain at 3,000. The monthly intake of women would be reduced from 1,020 to 700. However, the distribution of the men among the three Services was revised in a manner far more satisfactory to the army. The army was allotted 1,500 men a month instead of 420 – more than
Northcott had sought in May 1944 – the air force 900 instead of 2,280.2 It was decided that the army’s “organisation for active operations” was not to be reduced below the six divisions and two armoured brigades laid down in July. (As we have seen one of these armoured brigades had already been disbanded, though some of its units remained.) When consulted by Curtin, MacArthur replied that his plans contemplated the use of all the Australian forces assigned to his command, whereupon the War Cabinet agreed that no further steps should be taken to reduce the operational strength of the army until the next phase of operations had ended.3
In April, however, it was decided that 50,000 men should be released from the army and air force by the end of the year in addition to normal wastage, which would probably amount to about 20,000.4
Meanwhile the reduction of the army’s establishment in accordance with the agreement made with Washington in mid-1944 had been proceeding. In 1942 it had maintained twelve divisions; by September 1944 eight; in 1945 only six would remain. Of the thirty-two Australian infantry brigades that had existed in 1942, two (AIF) had been lost in Malaya and three (militia) disbanded in Australia in that year, three disbanded in 1943, and three in 1944; another was to be disbanded in January 1945.5 The reduction between 1st September 1944 and 1st September 1945 is illustrated in the accompanying table, in which it is shown that the reduction in the number of divisional and brigade headquarters was relatively somewhat greater than the reduction in the number of component units.
|Divisions||Armd and Inf Bdes||Inf Bns (excluding Native Bns)||Armd and Cav Regts||Pnr, MG and Parachute Bns||Native Bns|
|1 Sep 1944||8||23||61||9||10||2|
|1 Jan 1945||7||22||59||8||9||3|
|1 May 1945||7||21||59||8||9||4|
|1 Sep 1945||6||19||56||8||9||6|
Did this diminution mean that Australia was not bearing a fair share of the Allied military burden; and did the maintenance of an army of some
400,000 men to support only the equivalent of seven divisions (including the armoured force) indicate that the commanders were wasting men along the lines of communication? It is not this writer’s task to explore the Australian manpower problem of 1944-45 as a whole, but, if the Australian military contribution is examined in isolation, at least this statement can be made in answer to the first question: that in 1945 by maintaining six divisions in the field with their necessary base organisations, 7,000,000 Australians were making a larger contribution of fighting formations, relative to population, than the 130,000,000 Americans or the 45,000,000 people of the United Kingdom even before the defeat of Germany. It seemed certain that by the middle of 1945, when practically all Australian fighting formations would be in the field, the Australian military effort would relatively be far greater than that of any of the Allies.
Early in 1942 the United States leaders had decided to expand the army until, at the end of the year, it included 73 divisions, or about half a division to each million of population; Australia was then maintaining twelve divisions from a population of some 7,000,000. Five of the twelve divisions-6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 1st Armoured – were of volunteers. These volunteers alone produced a larger fighting army in proportion to population than the United States Army when, finally, the number of its divisions reached 89.
Japan was maintaining one division and a quarter to each million of her population excluding the Koreans and Formosans who, like the subject peoples in occupied territories, were nevertheless a useful addition to her manpower. Germany, however, had succeeded in maintaining more than three German divisions to each million of Germans, partly by economy and good organisation, but largely as a result of the employment of subject peoples in civilian war work.6
The second problem – whether the army’s “tail” of base and training establishments was too heavy – caused the Ministers considerable concern. Probably most Ministers and civilian Secretaries and most soldiers in forward areas were convinced that it was too large. The War Cabinet’s opinion is indicated by a decision of 1st May that final authority to approve the establishments of non-operational units or create new ones should rest with the Minister and not the Commander-in-Chief, and that a War Establishments Investigating Committee be re-established, with a civilian chairman, one member nominated by the Commander-in-Chief, and one by the Secretary of the Department of the Army. Similar provisions were applied to the air force and navy.
Was an army which needed 400,000 men to keep seven divisions in the field in fact wasting its resources? Again the subject is technical and elaborate and a complete answer is beyond the scope of this volume. It seems reasonable, however, again to collect some simple comparisons.
In 1940 Mr Churchill, although more learned in military affairs than his colleagues in Australia, had been unable to understand why nearly 3,000,000 men were required to maintain only 34 United Kingdom divisions, plus the overseas garrisons, air defence force and the rest. A division was only 15,500 strong, he argued; its infantry only 6,750. The rifle strength of the 27 British divisions then earmarked for overseas service was therefore only 182,250. What were the remaining two and three-quarter millions doing? In a similar mood to that of the Australian Ministers in 1944, he wrote of “staffs and statics, living well off the nation as heroes in khaki” and declared: “It is necessary ... that at least a million are combed out of the fluff and flummery behind the fighting troops, and made to serve effective military purposes”.7 At that time there were to be some 86,000 men in the British Army to each division-15,500 in the division and some 70,000 outside it.
Whereas, in 1940, the War Office was thus providing one fighting division for each 86,000 men, and in 1944 the American Army needed approximately 64,000 men per division, the Australian Army leaders in 1945 were providing a division to about 57,000 men.8 That is not to say that the army contained no drones, or that increases in some base establishments had not been wangled with the object of obtaining promotion for their senior officers, or that a vigilant investigation of establishments was not desirable and Ministerial anxiety to that extent justified; merely that, as armies went, the Australian wartime army seems to have been managed with reasonable economy.9
Short though it might be of men the army now suffered no lack of basic weapons. Since 1942 these had been pouring from the factories, and yet since 1942, as we have seen, the establishment of the army, and consequently the number of weapons needed, had been greatly reduced. Thus the army now required 368 25-pounder field guns in the fighting formations and 38 in training units, but it possessed 1,516. It needed 530 2-pounder or 6-pounder tank and anti-tank guns in the fighting units, but possessed 1,941. It was manning 68 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns and needed five for training; it had 640. Its units needed 9,438 Brens, and it had 21,139;
123 carriers and had 3,767 – there were few tasks for carriers in island warfare.
In themselves these figures do not convict the army staff of extravagant over-ordering. The order of battle had been reduced by half. In bush warfare fewer heavy weapons were needed than in open warfare and still fewer fighting vehicles and anti-tank guns. The Japanese Navy and Air Force had been broken and consequently the need for anti-aircraft and coast guns had vastly decreased. In short the army possessed the weapons that it would have needed for the large-scale open warfare that it might have been required to undertake in 1942 or early 1943, but it needed only a small proportion of these weapons to arm for jungle warfare the six divisions and the armoured units now committed to battle or ready to embark.
The northward move of MacArthur’s headquarters combined with political considerations mentioned earlier created increasing problems for the Australian Commander-in-Chief. General MacArthur from his headquarters now, in February, on Leyte still directed the Australian forces operating in areas from 1,500 to 2,500 miles distant. Blamey, although nominally Commander-in-Chief, Allied Land Forces, had long since ceased to exert any control over American forces and it soon appeared that GHQ wished to limit his control even over the First Australian Army and I Australian Corps. The difficulties inherent in giving command of the South-West Pacific Area not to an Allied headquarters in the sense in which General Eisenhower’s was an Allied headquarters, but to an all-American headquarters, were soon to become boldly apparent.
One problem which seemed at first to be of minor importance produced somewhat serious consequences within Australia. GHQ largely retained control of news about Australian operations because the correspondents might write only within the limits of the GHQ daily communiqué in the sense that they might not reveal any important fact (such as the opening of a new operation) not yet mentioned in the communiqué. When MacArthur’s headquarters moved forward into the Philippines it was hoped by the Australian staff that he would issue two separate communiqués: one from his advanced headquarters in Leyte about American operations and another from Hollandia about operations in Dutch and Australian New Guinea. On 4th October, however, the Australians learnt that this suggestion would not be adopted.
Through October, November and December no announcement was made in the communiqués that Australian forces were in New Guinea and the Solomons. Probably never in the history of modern war had so large a force, although in action, been hidden from public knowledge for so long. On 4th January its commander, General Sturdee, wrote to Blamey:–
I have been anxiously awaiting some Press announcement that the Australian Army still exists in New Guinea, and it seems that the Australian public must be wondering whether we are still in the war.
By a coincidence, on 5th January, Mr P. C. Spender, a former Minister for the Army, who was visiting New York and was disturbed by the Americans’ lack of knowledge of the part Australia was playing, said to a newspaper that MacArthur’s communiqués were placing Australia’s war effort in a false light. Nothing seemed to be allowed to reach America about the “sizeable and important” operations in which the Australian Army was engaged. This interview was given prominence in the Australian newspapers.
Blamey signalled MacArthur on the 6th suggesting that he should include in his communiqué of two days later a reference to the fact that the Australians had taken over in New Guinea, thus making it possible to release the Australian correspondents’ stories which had been banking up for months. On the 8th the acting Minister for Defence, Mr Forde, wrote to MacArthur to inform him that in November the Australian Newspaper Proprietors’ Association had expressed the opinion that the methods governing the issue of communiqués militated against adequate reporting of the activities of the Australian Services and suggesting the issue of Australian communiqués; but the acting Prime Minister had replied to the proprietors that any change in the arrangement whereby the GHQ communiqué covered all the forces under its command would require the agreement of all the governments who were parties to the agreement setting up the South-West Pacific Command, and the Australian Government did not think it advisable to seek a variation. The acting Minister suggested to MacArthur that the best answer would be “full treatment of the operations of the Australian forces” in his communiques, “supplemented by reports from press correspondents”.
That day, MacArthur signalled Blamey that his communiqué of the 9th would “carry announcement Australian troops as requested by you”. This announcement ran:
Australian forces have relieved United States Army elements along the Solomons axis, in New Britain and British New Guinea. Continuous actions of attrition at all points of contact have been in progress. So far 372 Japanese have been killed, 20 captured and 10 friendly nationals recovered.
As a result of the appearance of this meagre bulletin the newspapers were able to publish the accumulation of reports and photographs from the northern fronts. The news included an official statement that “earlier announcement” of the presence of Australian troops in Bougainville, New Britain, and the Aitape area “was not possible because it involved the replacement of large bodies of American troops”. The published estimates of the strength of the Japanese were: 23,000 in New Guinea, 40,000 in New Britain, and 16,000 on Bougainville. (As mentioned, it was found later that there were actually nearly twice as many in the three areas.)
On the same day Mr Forde announced that “Australian fighting forces” would play a substantial part in the Philippines and Australian naval vessels were in action there, and that he was in touch with General MacArthur about the treatment of Australians in the communiqués.
The newspapers, however, soon ceased to give much prominence to news from Aitape and Bougainville, evidently considering these operations of little interest to Australians compared with the campaigns in Europe and the Philippines. Indeed there had already been indications that the necessity for active operations in the islands might be questioned. As early as 1st November the Sydney Morning Herald, for example, in a leading article commenting on a statement by Blamey that “90,000 disciplined and armed Japanese” between Wewak and Bougainville would have to be “rooted out”, had predicted “mopping up operations on a very formidable scale”; and seemed a little doubtful as to the necessity for employing large forces in these isolated areas rather than against “active centres of enemy power”.
The delayed issue of news about operations in New Guinea brought Blamey into conflict with one of the Ministers. On 17th January the Minister for Information, Mr Calwell,10 told journalists at Canberra that the responsibility for not informing the public about the Australian operations rested with Army Public Relations and not with his department. Blamey came to the defence of his Directorate of Public Relations and on 18th January issued a statement in which he described the process by which the news was released. He concluded:–
It is incredible that these facts and considerations are not known to the Information Minister. I regret the necessity for a public statement on the matter, especially where proper action has been taken to secure the safety of our gallant lads and their American comrades in their passage of perilous waters.
But when a particular section of the army, whose members are serving their country with great fidelity and devotion, is attacked directly from high places, and the basis of such an attack is a direct lie, I would be remiss in my obligations to those under my command if I failed to ensure their public vindication.11
In February the prominence given to news from the New Guinea areas dwindled. Maps were very seldom included and thus such reports as appeared were often obscure; and, whereas in January the GHQ communiqué named all the American divisions on Luzon and whence they had come (mostly from New Guinea), the Australian formations and commanders remained anonymous for weeks and, in most instances, months. It was not until 17th March that the Melbourne Herald, with the help of Army Public Relations, published a comprehensive article, with maps, and described it as “the first complete picture of where Australian troops are in action today”.
For Australia the results of the policies followed by GHQ in the composing of its communiqués had, for three years, been most unhappy. In the years when Australian troops were doing nearly all the land fighting in the area the communiqués had been so phrased that Americans at home were under the impression that it was chiefly their own troops who were engaged; American base troops landed at Finschhafen in 1944, for example, were astonished to find any Australians there. By late-1944 the communiqués, the natural tendency of American correspondents to concentrate on news of their own troops, and the news from Australia that the size of the army was being reduced led to American complaints that Australia was not pulling her weight. This was at a time when the Australian effort was considerably greater, in proportion to population, than the American effort; and the recent reduction of the Australian Army was largely due to the losses suffered in the 18 months to December 1943 when that army had borne practically the whole burden in the South-West Pacific.12
As mentioned earlier, at the beginning of February the role of I Australian Corps had not been finally decided, although it seemed probable that it would undertake a series of operations in Borneo. On 3rd February General MacArthur had sent a telegram to General Marshall to say that it was considered of the utmost importance to recover the oilfields of British and Dutch Borneo as soon as possible to provide readily-accessible oil for the advance to Japan. He planned to use the I Australian Corps for these operations but to bring it to the Hollandia–Morotai area would require 87 shiploads of troops and cargo. He asked for authority to retain for some weeks certain Liberty ships then in his area, and asked for 10 trans-Pacific troopships for this period.
At the conference of Allied leaders at Yalta in the Crimea later in February (when Russia agreed to attack Japan two or three months after the defeat of Germany provided a number of concessions were made to her in the post-war settlement) the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that if invasion of Japan had to be postponed until 1946 because of delays in Europe, operations might be undertaken in 1945 against Hainan, or British Borneo or the Chusan–Ningpo area in China.
Marshall replied to MacArthur’s proposal, however, that no ships could then be made available for the Borneo project, that there was an “unmanageable deficit” in shipping in both the Pacific and Atlantic in the first half of 1945 and no remedy unless the war ended in Europe, and that operations in Borneo would have little immediate effect on the war against Japan.
On 15th February Blamey learnt more details of the new plans for the employment of I Corps. GHQ proposed to use the three AIF divisions in an advance to Borneo with Java as a later objective: first taking Tarakan with a brigade if land-based aircraft were available, but, if carrier aircraft were available, taking Balikpapan with a division. It might then be necessary to take Bandjermasin before an assault on Java by a corps of two divisions. In these operations I Corps was to be under the command of the Eighth American Army. This information came from General Berryman, who on 11th February had established the Forward Echelon of LHQ side by side with GHQ on Leyte.
Blamey instructed Berryman strongly to resist the proposal that I Corps be incorporated in an American Army. On the 17th Berryman sent the following signal to Blamey:–
I had frank discussion with Chamberlin who today received instructions that Morshead would command the Aust task force and would be under the direct command of GHQ and not under 8th Army. I pointed out that anticipated I Aust Corps HQ was not organised to command the AIF but that Adv LHQ was and that if a task force HQ was formed it would be necessary to integrate Adv LHQ and HQ I Aust Corps. I further pointed out that in the proposed series of operations the task force HQ would have to form a forward tactical HQ in Java and a rear HQ in Morotai or Balikpapan to handle administration and other functions so that in effect we would arrive back to our existing organisation. ...
Chamberlin said 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 Aust Army was to enable GHQ to deal direct with First Aust Army.
Thus the plans for the employment of the AIF Corps were still in the melting pot; GHQ intended that it should come forward as a contingent which would be removed from Blamey’s command, and intended also to “deal direct” with First Army. Berryman urged Blamey to visit MacArthur.
At this time a letter (dated 15th February) was on its way from Curtin to MacArthur seeking a definite decision about the part Australia was to play. In it Curtin reviewed earlier decisions in some detail and said:–
I have been informed by General Blamey 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 South-West 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. ...
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. ...
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 programs 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 program.
... 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. ...
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 South-West Pacific Area.
Blamey replied to Berryman’s signal of the 17th that he saw no reason why Australian Headquarters should not command and added:–
Without having discussed this particular case with Aust Govt I feel assured of complete support on this question. Prefer that matter should not have to be pressed to highest level which I am however prepared to do if necessary. Suggest you discuss the matter quite openly with Chamberlin. Feeling that we are being side-tracked is growing strong throughout country.
Meanwhile Curtin’s letter had reached MacArthur and produced swift action. Berryman informed Blamey that GHQ anticipated that from early in March one Liberty ship would berth at Townsville or Cairns daily for 34 days and 8 to 10 troopers would be available over the same period. These should lift the 9th Division and base troops to Morotai by 5th May; and ample shipping should be available to embark the 7th Division and corps troops.
It would seem (wrote Blamey to Shedden on the 19th) that, although Washington refused to allow the retention of ships by General MacArthur, the suggestions contained in the Prime Minister’s letter have promptly produced them out of the hat.
One problem seemed to have been solved; another – the American proposal to the effect that the Australian Commander-in-Chief should have no control over forces in the field – remained. Also on 19th February Blamey wrote to Shedden about it.
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. ... 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 ... intends to assume direct control of First Australian Corps for operations now under consideration. ...
It is obvious to me that the intention of GHQ, SWPA is to treat my headquarters as a purely liaison element. ...
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. ...
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. ... 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.
On 20th February Berryman informed Blamey that, as forecast earlier, GHQ proposed to use the 6th Division in the Borneo operation and a great part of it was expected to begin combat loading at Aitape about 1st April. GHQ proposed that the headquarters of the 11th Division with the 23rd Brigade and the 8th Brigade less a battalion should relieve the 6th Division. This plan would involve taking 5,000 base troops from First Army. Sturdee telegraphed Blamey on the 21st that it would be impossible to maintain the troops in the operational areas if he lost 5,000 base troops.
On the 22nd Blamey signalled Sturdee and Berryman to defer action on the 6th Division until further orders; the matter was under consideration by the Government. And on the 24th, after seeing Curtin, he signalled Sturdee that all instructions requiring him to prepare for the withdrawal of the 6th Division and base troops were cancelled.
It remained to inform MacArthur that the 6th Division was not available. When it is considered that it was at MacArthur’s insistence and against Blamey’s wish that the 6th Division had been committed in New Guinea in the first place, the following letter from Curtin to MacArthur on 27th February seems extremely gentle:–
I have now been informed by General Blamey that ... arrangements for the movement of the First Australian Corps are now going ahead, the necessary shipping apparently being available.
It was understood, following our discussions last June when your directive of 12th July was issued for the Australian Forces to assume the responsibility for the continued neutralisation of the Japanese in Australian and British territory and Mandates in the South-West Pacific Area, that two AIF divisions would be used in the advance to the Philippines. The 7th and 9th Divisions were nominated for this purpose, and the 6th Division was included in the Forces disposed in New Guinea. The only operational formation that it is planned should remain in Australia is a brigade at Darwin, so long as this is necessary for the protection of the naval and air bases there. The remaining strength on the mainland, which includes 60,000 B-class men and 20,000 women, is necessary for the maintenance of forces engaged or to be engaged in active operations.
General Blamey now states that it is your desire that the 6th Division should also be allotted as a support for the 7th and 9th Divisions in their prospective operations. He has emphasised the small forces which would be left for the tasks in New Guinea and the other islands, and has pointed out that when the organisation of six divisions was agreed to, it had not been contemplated that the Australian Forces would be actively engaged on operations on several fronts. As the use of a corps of two divisions would alone entail the provision of 30,000 men for base and line of communications units, the proposed use of the 6th Division, together with the position facing the remaining forces in the islands, would make heavy
demands on the capacity of Australian manpower to maintain the Australian Army at strength. ...
I feel that we should adhere to the basis of our previous discussion and limit the Australian component of your spearhead forces to the 7th and 9th Divisions.
General Blamey has also mentioned the question of the higher operational control of the Australian Forces. It is understood from him that the original intention was that the 1st Australian Corps would be commanded by the United States 8th Army and not by the Commander of the Allied Land Forces, but that the latest intention is for it to be under the direct command of General Headquarters.
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, Commanders of the Allied Naval, Land and Air Forces were appointed in your General Order No. 1 of 18th April 1942. The principle which I have mentioned was achieved by the Royal Australian Navy operating under its own Flag Officer who is responsible to the Commander, Allied Naval Forces. In the case of the Royal Australian Air Force, an RAAF Command was created for operational control of the RAAF under an Australian Officer who is responsible to the Commander, Allied Air Forces. 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. I shall be glad, therefore, if you could inform me of the arrangement that is contemplated in regard to the operational control and command of the First Australian Corps in particular, and of the Australian Land Forces in New Guinea and adjacent islands, and of the manner in which it is proposed to ensure the observance of the basic principle 1 have mentioned.13
That day Berryman had signalled to Blamey:–
Chamberlin has insisted that GHQ will only deal with General Morshead task force comd and will not deal with Adv LHQ so consequently there was no reason for Adv LHQ move to Morotai. ... Efforts by GHQ to bypass Adv LHQ makes planning very difficult and confusing and an early decision is necessary to provide a firm basis for planning. If it is decided that GHQ will only deal with General Morshead during the ops then it will be necessary to integrate part of the staff of Adv LHQ with HQ I Aust Corps.
On 5th March in the course of a reply to Curtin’s letter of 15th February, MacArthur wrote:–
Original plans for the Philippine campaign contemplated the employment of one Australian division in the initial assault on Leyte and one in the Lingayen landing. General Blamey, however, objected to the plan, stating that he could under no circumstances concur in the use of Australian troops unless they operated as a corps under their own corps commander. It was impossible to utilise the entire corps in the initial landing force and it was therefore necessary to amend the plan, constituting the entire force from American divisions. Plans were then prepared with a view to the employment of the Australian Corps for an operation against Aparri on the northern coast of Luzon, immediately preceding our landing at Lingayen Gulf. The developments of the campaign, however, made it possible to move directly against Lingayen, omitting the Aparri operation with consequent material and vital saving in time. It was then planned to use the corps as the final reserve in the drive across the central plains north of Manila, but the enemy weakness which developed in the tactical situation obviated this necessity.
Current plans contemplate the elimination of the Japanese through a series of comparatively small operations in the central and southern parts of the Philippine
archipelago, employing the United States Army troops that are now deployed in forward areas. Concurrently with the later phase of these operations it is proposed to attack Borneo and seize Java by overwater movement. ... For this operation I have planned to use the Australian Corps ... operating according to the practice that has consistently been followed in the South-West Pacific Area, under its own task force commander reporting direct to the Commander-in-Chief. It is estimated that the last phase of this operation, the assault upon Java, can be launched by the end of June. ...
My purpose in projecting this campaign is to restore the Netherlands East Indies authorities to their seat of government as has been done within Australian and United States territory. ... Immediately upon the re-establishment of the Netherlands East Indies government I propose to report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the mission of the South-West Pacific Area has been accomplished and recommend its dissolution. It is contemplated thereafter that there will be a complete reorientation and that the British Empire and the Dutch authorities will collaborate in the complete restoration of their respective territories.
The execution of the plan as above outlined will require not only the full effect of available Australian ground forces, but that of American forces as well. It is proposed to support the Australian ground forces with the RAAF Command, lending such assistance from the United States Army Air Forces as may be required. It is also hoped that the Seventh Fleet, including the Australian Squadron, will be augmented for this operation by the British Pacific Fleet....
The decision conveyed to me in your letter of 27th February 1945 to limit the Australian component of our assault forces to the 7th and 9th Divisions has been noted. I hope you will not eliminate entirely the possibility of using the 6th Division in the operation outlined above if it becomes a reality.
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 and are commanded by an officer of appropriate rank. 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. I consider that the assignment of the Australian Commander should be a matter for determination by the Australians. 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.
In this letter Blamey’s name was directly mentioned only once and his title never.
Thus MacArthur at length expressed in black and white what Blamey had described as the gradual “insinuation of American control and the elimination of Australian control”. It should be remarked, however, that MacArthur’s recollection that “since the Lae operation” he, the Commander-in-Chief, had always exercised direct command of ground forces
under Task Force commanders of various grades was erroneous. So far as the Australian Army was concerned command of its operations had been exercised, and in appropriate detail, by the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Army.
At first glance MacArthur’s wish to transfer the 6th Division from New Guinea to Borneo may appear as inconsistent as Blamey’s opposition to this plan. Six months earlier Blamey had proposed to employ only seven brigades in New Guinea, but MacArthur had insisted on his using twelve. But now, when MacArthur wished to transfer the 6th Division from New Guinea, thus leaving nine brigades there – two more than Blamey had originally wished – Blamey objected, instead of welcoming the belated admission that he had been right in the first place.
In the previous three months, however, the situation had altered. In New Guinea the First Australian Army had become involved in two offensives which were soon to fully tax its strength. At the same time GHQ had been planning operations in Borneo and Java that were likely to be beyond the power of a corps of only two divisions. And, as will be seen, just as GHQ considered it politically inadvisable for Australians to play a leading part in the re-conquest of the Philippines, an American colony, so, evidently, GHQ considered it politically undesirable for American troops to take part in the restoration of Dutch and British control in the Indies.
Blamey travelled to Atherton early in March and went forward to Manila where he met MacArthur on the 14th. The compromise was confirmed that I Australian Corps would operate directly under MacArthur’s command, not under the Eighth American Army, and an agreement was reached that “the necessary administrative functions would be performed by Advanced LHQ from Morotai”. As a result GHQ dealt directly with I Australian Corps and copies of their correspondence were sent to the Forward Echelon of Blamey’s headquarters.
Curtin asked Blamey for his observations on MacArthur’s letter of 5th March, and Blamey offered them on 5th April, in a letter which is significant both as indicating to the Government his intentions in New Guinea, and as revealing the increasing and justified coolness of his attitude towards MacArthur.
With reference to [the] paragraph of General MacArthur’s letter, commencing “Original plans for the Philippine campaign”, the statement made in the first part of the paragraph is true but, I think, not complete. The operation was to have been mounted under an American commander subordinate to General MacArthur and, as the bulk of the troops at that stage were to be Australian, I pointed out that the Australian Corps command and staff were highly trained and were long and well experienced and I saw no reason why it should not be entrusted with this task. The plan as revealed to me required Australians to work in two separate bodies, each under American subordinate commanders.
General MacArthur has always insisted that the difficulties of two different systems of supply made it necessary to ensure that the American and Australian commands should, as far as possible, work independently in the minor field. There was no adequate reason why the Australian corps should not have been employed
as a corps under its own commander, since several American corps were employed under American corps commanders during the operations. ...
I regret that I cannot accept this as a sincere and complete statement of the matter, inasmuch as a whole American corps was brought in ships from the Pacific Ocean Area for these operations and later returned to the Pacific Ocean Area, while the reason given to me why Australian troops could not be moved forward was a lack of shipping.
If it was actually planned to use the Australian corps as a final reserve in the drive across the central plains north of Manila, this was nowhere revealed to me. However, prior to the campaign, General MacArthur stated to me that he would not go into Manila without the Australian corps whom he regarded as essential to deal with the Japanese in that area. I understood that he had informed you in somewhat similar terms.
In spite of the fact that he now claims the enemy weakness obviated the necessity for this, nevertheless very large American forces have been and are being utilised still in this campaign. I would like, however, to bring definitely before your notice that, at Hollandia on my first visit when I proceeded there with the QMG, on the understanding that we were to plan for movement of the Australian Corps from Australia, the American Chief of Staff, General Sutherland, said to me in the presence of General Berryman ... that it was impossible to use the Australian troops in the Philippines for political reasons. General Berryman immediately made a diary note of this statement.
It will therefore be seen that the paragraph of General MacArthur’s letter under notice does not seem to be a full statement of the reasons for the non-use of 1st Australian Corps in the Philippine campaign.
With regard to [the] paragraph of General MacArthur’s letter, dealing with current plans. This is in accordance with the instructions I received from General MacArthur. While in Manila recently, I discussed the matter with him and he has requested me to be present for these operations in view of the complicated nature of the command that has developed by reason of its widespread, amphibious and international nature. I have therefore planned to be present for reference and to ensure that the Australian point of view is properly considered.
There is one feature of the forthcoming operations, however, which it is pertinent to consider. There can be no question about the strategical correctness of the seizure of the Philippines, since this aimed straight at the heart of the Japanese ocean area. The whole of the islands comprising the Philippine group have now been seized, giving us direct command of the South China Sea from the northern point of Luzon to the southern point of Palawan.
It would be the logical and strategically correct sequence in the following operations to move down the western coast of Borneo. This would isolate all Japanese forces in Borneo, give a complete control of the South China Sea and facilitate the approach to Malaya.
Current operations do not, however, contemplate such a move. The proposal is to seize two or three points on the east coast of Borneo and to advance from there into Java.
The present proposals envisage the complete destruction of the Japanese in the Philippines and it is proposed in the operations against Borneo and Java to use, in addition to 1st Australian Corps (7th and 9th Divisions) the 6th Australian Division, which is now engaged in operations on the north-east coast of New Guinea. I pointed out what I considered to be an inconsistency in this policy. It did not appear to me to be logical that the plans should contemplate the complete elimination of the Japanese in the Philippines and the withdrawal of Australian Forces from New Guinea before a similar stage had been reached there.
I raised the question with General MacArthur, who said his conception was that the Philippines would be the base for further movement against the Japanese and it was essential that no Japanese should remain in these islands. I pointed out the fact that the withdrawal of Australians from New Guinea before completion of their task in such clearing up would mean they would have to return to complete it.
General MacArthur’s staff have since informed me that he will make sufficient landing craft available to allow the 6th Division to seize Wewak.
In view of the intention of the American forces to destroy completely the Japanese in the Philippine Islands, it is my considered opinion that further Australian forces should not be withdrawn from New Guinea until such time as Japanese forces on Australian territory are destroyed also. ...
I except from this Rabaul. The Japanese forces in this region have been pressed into a comparatively small area. They are well supplied and apparently strong and I consider any attempt to capture this stronghold should be deferred for the present and we should be satisfied to contain it, since we can do so with lesser strength than the enemy force there. ...
Curtin replied to Blamey on 17th April asking whether he wished to recommend that the Government should make any representation to MacArthur concerning the use of the Australian forces, and whether the operations in the New Guinea area met with MacArthur’s approval.
Blamey replied that he did not recommend any action by the Government about the Borneo operations which had now been approved by the Combined Chiefs. The occupation of Tarakan, Brunei and Labuan was strategically sound since it tended to increase the control of the sea area between Malaya and Japan. The operations in New Guinea had been discussed fully with MacArthur. No specific instructions had been given about them. It was a “proper claim” that the 6th Division’s operations had MacArthur’s approval since they could not be carried out without the allocation by him of the necessary landing craft.
When these discussions opened General Headquarters had already elaborated its outline plan for the employment of I Australian Corps. As first conceived, in February, the OBOE plan as it was named was in six parts. OBOE ONE was to begin on 23rd April when a brigade group of the 6th Division would attack Tarakan Island and enable an airstrip to be established from which aircraft might support the next move (OBOE TWO), which was to be an attack on Balikpapan on 18th May by the 9th Division. Balikpapan would then become an advanced base for OBOE THREE – the occupation on 28th May of Bandjermasin by a brigade group of the 9th Division. (If British carriers were available to support the advance to Java, OBOE THREE was to be omitted.) With air support from Bandjermasin or from British carriers, I Australian Corps, with the 6th and 7th Divisions, two tank battalions and, later, a brigade of the 9th Division, would then undertake the major operation of the series (OBOE FOUR) : the seizure of the Surabaya area opening on 27th June and an advance thence west to Batavia and Bandung and east to Lombok Strait. The fifth phase of the plan provided for the consolidation of the remaining areas of the Netherlands Indies, the sixth for the occupation of the remaining areas of Borneo.
After the decision that the 6th Division should not be used in Borneo the plan was amended to provide for the capture of Tarakan by a brigade group of the 9th and of Balikpapan by the remainder of the division. Thus orders were issued on 22nd February for the move of the 9th Division to the staging base at Morotai, and on 1st March planning teams from I Corps, the 9th Division, and the 1st Base Sub-Area were ordered forward to Morotai.
The staff of the Forward Echelon of Land Headquarters produced a staff study for the Tarakan operation by 11th March and General Headquarters a similar study a week later. With these as a basis the Tarakan operation was discussed at a conference at General Headquarters on 17th March and the Balikpapan operation on 20th March. The target date for Tarakan was now set at 29th April and for Balikpapan at 22nd May. By 21st March General Morshead’s staff had prepared studies for both operations and Morshead went to Morotai on the 22nd to give preliminary instructions to Major-General G. F. Wootten of the 9th Division.
The proposed operations against Borneo had, despite General Marshall’s earlier lack of enthusiasm, won the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in March. It seems that the Joint Chiefs were influenced by a desire to find a separate sphere of operations for the British Pacific Fleet, and by Curtin’s February letter. The capture of Brunei Bay and the Borneo oilfields would give the British Pacific Fleet a base from which to operate northward or westward; yet the recapture of these British and Dutch possessions by American troops when other objectives were available might be resented in America; therefore Australians should be used, particularly as their Prime Minister was threatening further to reduce the Australian Army if it was not more actively employed.
Thus, on 6th April, General Headquarters informed the Australians that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had cancelled the operation against Bandjermasin and Java. It was proposed instead that a further landing should be made at Brunei Bay by the 7th Division less a brigade group.
The corps staff began planning for these operations, and much paper work had been done when, on 17th April, General Headquarters informed Marshall that the 7th Division would make the attack on Balikpapan, and the 9th less a brigade could undertake the Brunei Bay operation (OBOE Six). General Headquarters authorised the movement of the 7th Division from Australia to Morotai, as soon as the 9th had finished its movement thither. It was expected that the 7th less one brigade would be at Morotai by 16th June. The target date for Brunei Bay was now set at 23rd May. Later, however, shipping problems and other factors caused further postponement: Tarakan to 1st May, Brunei Bay to 10th June and Balikpapan finally to 1st July.
In April the Joint Chiefs agreed to the program whereby Tarakan, Brunei Bay and Balikpapan would be attacked in that order. On 13th April the British Chiefs of Staff were informed of the plan. They did not at all like an arrangement which seemed likely to defeat their hard-won agreement that the fleet would take part in the main operations against Japan, which, at this stage, it being assumed that Germany would be defeated by the end of May, would open in October or December. In consequence, on 27th April they informed the Joint Chiefs by telegram that they considered the allocation of resources to the operations against Borneo unjustified: Brunei Bay was too far from Japan, could not be ready before the beginning of 1946, and was a long haul from Australia compared with other possible sites at the same distance from Japan. They considered
it essential for the effective operation of the British Pacific Fleet to obtain an anchorage and facilities much nearer Japan than Brunei Bay, and suggested Subic Bay in the Philippines.
The Joint Chiefs urged that Brunei Bay had advantages for possible future operations in the Netherlands Indies or the South China Sea, but the British Chiefs replied on 24th May:
We consider that to develop Brunei Bay ... would be a waste of the constructional resources at our disposal, especially in view of the fact that the base would not be complete until the end of the year, by which time Singapore may well have been captured.14
Nevertheless the 9th Division was landed in Brunei Bay 17 days later.
In February, March and April the American forces had launched their attacks on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Iwo Jima was defended by some 20,000 Japanese. The Americans put ashore a corps of three divisions of marines – about 82,000 men – and after hard fighting in which about 5,500 Americans were killed, secured the island, which provided a heavy-bomber base only 775 miles from the Japanese mainland.
The expedition against Okinawa was of unparalleled magnitude. The island is 60 miles long and from 2 to 18 miles wide. It was estimated that the defenders numbered about 55,000, including four divisions; in fact there were 77,000, including two divisions, an independent brigade and smaller formations. Against Okinawa the Americans launched the Tenth Army, which included seven divisions and numbered at the outset 183,000 men. Troops were landed on small islands near by on 26th March and on Okinawa proper on 1st April. The invading force had the support of immense naval and air forces and in three months its artillery fired 1,766,000 rounds. The Japanese fought with their usual resolution and in May when the Australians made their first landing in Borneo the long battle was still being fought.
On 6th April the structure of the command in the Pacific had been radically altered. The two prongs of the American advance were now nearing one another, and the main drive would be along a single axis towards the Japanese mainland. In the coming phase the former system whereby each Commander-in-Chief commanded all army, naval and air forces in his area was to be abandoned. General MacArthur now became commander of all American army forces in the Pacific; Admiral Nimitz of all American naval forces. The strategic air force – Twentieth Air Force – would be directly under the Joint Chiefs.
It thus became the more desirable that MacArthur should shed responsibility for the increasingly-remote Japanese-occupied areas to the south and west. Thus on 13th April (the day on which they announced their plans for Borneo) the Joint Chiefs had proposed to the British Chiefs that the whole of the South-West Pacific Area, excluding the Philippines and Hainan, should be included in the South-East Asia Command or as
a separate command as the British Chiefs thought fit. They proposed that the change should be made on 1st July. The British Joint Planning Staff generally favoured the new proposal, and considered it operationally desirable that the area to be detached should form a single command. At this stage the Australian leaders had not been informed of this plan, though it was likely to interest them closely since the only operations being carried on in the area to be transferred were by Australian troops under Australian command.
On 19th April General MacArthur had seen Generals Morshead and Berryman and discussed the coming operations with them. He spoke with enthusiasm about a wish to have the AIF with him in the final operations against Japan, provided it was not decided that it should join the British in capturing Malaya and the Indies.
“He proposed to use the AIF in CORONET [the final phase of the invasion of Japan] and stressed the advantage to our national prestige,” reported Berryman to Blamey. “It was unthinkable that the AIF should be separated from the US Forces after they had been fighting together for three and a half years. If the RAN remains under his command he proposes to hoist his flag in an RAN ship for the OLYMPIC [opening phase of the invasion of Japan] or CORONET operation. ...”
The suggestions in the Australian Press that the AIF were deliberately kept out of the Philippines operations, MacArthur said to Berryman, were not correct. MacArthur then repeated more or less what he had written on this subject in his letter of 5th March – a letter which Blamey, with good reason, had refused to accept “as a sincere and complete statement of the matter”.
It was unfortunate that the history of the relations between GHQ and the Australian Commander-in-Chief should have culminated, with the victory so near, in an exchange of asperities. The causes of this malaise are to be found in the events of the previous three years and in differences of temperament among the principal figures.
GHQ had been formed round MacArthur and the group of staff officers who had emerged with him from the Philippines shocked by the swiftness and severity of their defeat. As has been seen in an earlier volume of this series, this staff throughout 1942 had little confidence in the ability of the forces concentrating in Australia to halt the Japanese advance. Although a skilful, and proper, publicity campaign had given them a high reputation with the American and Australian public, they feared that their standing with Washington was insecure.
The only competent troops this headquarters possessed in the critical months of 1942 had been Australian; and these were commanded generally by leaders of considerably greater experience than those GHQ possessed. The American formations which were sent to the area developed only slowly in skill and confidence and largely failed in their first operations. The war against Japan was two years old before the American divisions were promoted to a major role in the campaign in New Guinea,
by which time Australian troops had thoroughly defeated the Japanese army on the New Guinea mainland, and sufficient ships and landing craft were available for overseas movements and more rapid coastwise advances.
In retrospect it seems that from early in 1944 onwards there was a keen, and understandable, desire at GHQ to organise an all-American drive to the Philippines, and perhaps beyond. To allot to Australian divisions the task of relieving the American forces tied up in New Guinea was proper, and a solution acceptable to both the Australian Government and MacArthur. On the other hand the frequent changes of plans for the employment of the AIF Corps in the Philippines, the eventual decision that it should not participate, the neglect to mention Australian operations in the communiqués, and the sometimes devious and often hurtful manner in which the exclusion of General Blamey from the chain of command was carried out were disappointing to the leaders of an army which for two years had borne the heat and burden of the day.15
However, the discussions of March and April between the Australian Government and General MacArthur clarified a situation that had become ambiguous and embarrassing. It became clear that MacArthur considered the appointment of Commander Allied Land Forces to have lapsed, and that Blamey’s authority should be limited to administrative control of the whole Australian Army and de facto operational control of the forces in the New Guinea territories. MacArthur insisted, however, on exercising direct control over the Australian formation – I Australian Corps – which was to serve in Borneo.
These were workmanlike decisions, although they might have been conveyed to the Australian Government and Commander-in-Chief with greater frankness and tact. There were sound political, psychological and technical reasons why MacArthur, after the end of 1943, should not leave his land forces under an Australian commander. At the opening of the northward drive of 1944 the Australian commanders and staffs had more experience and knowledge than the American, but to leave an Australian at the head of a now-large army in which American formations were in a majority, and during a major offensive, would have involved a loss of prestige that the Americans could not have been expected to incur. In addition, because of wide differences of staff methods, tactical doctrines and equipment, it was desirable to employ both Americans and Australians so far as possible under their own commanders and staffs. It was a very much less difficult problem to integrate corps and divisions from five different nations of the British Commonwealth, as in the Middle East, than to integrate Australian and American formations. United Kingdom, Australian, New Zealand and Indian officers and men were trained and equipped similarly, their doctrines and traditions were similar, and, indeed, many of the leaders had previously served side by side in peace and war.
In spite of the difficulties imposed by the decision of April 1942 to establish a purely American supreme command in Australia to direct, at that time and for long afterwards, predominantly Australian forces, the system had worked effectively, although some friction was inevitable. In the first place, up to about the end of 1943, it was essential that the tactical command in the field should be Australian. In the next phase it was desirable that the tactical command of the northward advance should be American.
A sequel to this change of policy was the creation of what was virtually a new and independent Allied command in the southern part of the South-West Pacific Area. It came into being from October 1944 onwards without benefit of any decision of the Combined Chiefs of Staff or Joint Chiefs of Staff. MacArthur’s insistence that the First Australian Army was directly under his command was not followed up by any effort to influence its operations except in a negative way. In practice it was, after the end of 1944, a rather more independent command than Admiral Halsey’s South Pacific Area had been in the period when General MacArthur had “coordinated” its operations with his own. However, although the strategy and tactics in the New Guinea–Solomons area were now directed solely by the Australian command, it depended for shipping almost entirely on remote and uninterested authorities, with results which will be recorded later.