Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister


"In respect of what occurred when the Japanese struck in the Pacific, it must be remembered that they struck not only at American theatres of influence and responsibility, but also and most heavily at British theatres of responsibility. In the very nature of things this meant not only re-disposition of certain forces, but also changes in command and the setting up of new theatres of responsibility. Mr. Ryan, M.P., knows that the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of Britain conferred immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbour and that decisions were reached by them. I say to the country that no decision reached by the Australian Government was incompatible with the decisions reached by the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of Britain. This country has never been sufficiently strong or sufficiently sure of itself to be able to defend itself by itself. We have had to depend upon not only the strength of Britain, but also the strength of the United States of America, and insofar as it could be given to us, the strength of the Dutch. The use that is being made of Australian fighting men in a world war, and their allocation to various theatres have, of course, been the political responsibility of the governments. I can speak only for this Government, but I can express a view regarding other governments. No government would make a military decision without having before it the best available military advice and information. The advice given to this Government was that the forces available for the defence of Australia when Japan struck, having regard to the absence of sea and air power in this part of the world to deploy against the Japanese, were hopelessly insufficient to ensure the safety of Australia. In those circumstances, and having regard to what Mr. Churchill had said, not only publicly but in communications to the Australian Government, it was very clear that certain Australian forces which, while there was no war in the Pacific, could properly be employed in other parts of the world, had calls on them to return to defend their homeland. I make no apology and I do not think that at this stage I am even called on for an explanation why that was done.

“I say that the assignment of the Australian forces to General MacArthur was made by this Government because, in order to ensure the minimum strength that General MacArthur needed to carry out the directive given to him by five governments, including the Government of Britain, it was necessary that Australian land forces as a whole should be assigned to him. Otherwise, he would not have been able in 1942, and the greater part of 1943, to carry out the directive given by him not only by me, but by me in association with four other heads of governments. This is a collective war, a global war in which you cannot dispose strength in one place unless you take it from somewhere else. The high strategy of the war lays down, not the particular units that shall serve in any one place but the general balance of strength. The changes that the High Command and the five governments would like to make in the disposition of the Allies are frustrated by difficulties which I do not propose to particularize but which I did indicate in broad outline last week, and which are referred to in the Governor-General's Speech."

“I say by way of assurance that the country has some idea of the political and general decisions reached at the Yalta (Crimea) Conference, but, in addition, I have a summary of the immediate military preparations agreed on by the three governments represented at the conference. Two of the three governments represented at the conference are at war with Japan, and I inform the House that the policy of this Government is to fit in with a general programme agreed upon by the United States of America and Britain in fighting the total war.

“The criticisms by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) about despatching Australian troops to Burma or to any other theatre at this juncture are criticisms which may quite reasonably be made, but it is not always practicable to answer them. The Australian Army has certain assignments which must be completed, and I intend that they shall be completed. If they are not, plans which are in the course of being mounted will be frustrated. That is all there is to it.

"The Commonwealth Government should make the most effective use of the man-power of this country. Obviously, that is its duty to the fighting men. But the only was in which the Government can fulfil that duty is by the most direct association and collaboration appearing out high strategy as determined by the heads of Allied governments. I assure the House that that is being done. It is the most certain way in which to terminate the war.

“I do not know whether at this moment I should reveal as to why the plans to use Australian troops in the Philippines were altered. It would be quite simple for me to say that a plan was envisaged for the attack on the Philippines; that the plan involved a series of movements; that the first movement evoked from the enemy a display of strength, and a vain effort to send reinforcements; and that the enemy suffered such severe losses of naval and air power, and of man-power in the first movement against the Philippines as to justify the commander dispensing with some of the proposed intervening movements and making a landing much ahead of schedule, on a certain place. From there, he established air command over another island, enabling him to land upon it and thereby by-pass an area in which the Australian troops were to have operated. Those are facts. The plan was so expeditiously and completely carried out that the plans for the employment of Australian troops were entirely altered. There is no need for me to do more than to give a broad picture of what occurred. Frankly, I have avoided any temptation in this chamber to justify political policy by revealing detailed military plans. The revelation of those plans might give to the enemy a pointer as to what the commander would do in some subsequent similar operation, and I see no need to be so informative to everybody, when I feel confident that average intelligence would enable us to perceive that in this part of the world, with the minimum forces, we have achieved miracles of success.

“We can go down on our knees and render thanks that certain events in which we were embroiled, did not occur earlier than they actually did. For example, I mention the Battle of the Coral Sea. If we had been forced to wage that battle in February or early March, 1942, instead of in May, 1942, it could easily have produced an entirely different result. We owe our success to the fact that the conflict in New Guinea and in the Philippines, which the enemy had to wage, took much longer than he probably expected, and delayed his offensive against us. In view of all the circumstances, I do not feel disposed to refer any further to that matter."