The General and the Prime Minister: Douglas MacArthur and John Curtin: An essay by David Black

US General Douglas MacArthur and Australian prime minister John Curtin first met at Parliament House Canberra on 26 March 1942, six weeks after the fall of Singapore and the subsequent Japanese air raids on Darwin, occupation of Java and the first attacks on New Guinea. In a press statement released on 16 February Curtin had described the fall of Singapore as 'Australia's Dunkirk' which 'opens the battle for Australia'.1 Viewed against this critical background, the March 26 encounter was described by war historian Paul Hasluck as having 'the air from the start of being one of the fateful meetings of history'2 and by two of MacArthur's biographers as laying ' the basis of an enduring friendship'3 in which 'the two men grew to be very close'.4 It was at this time that MacArthur is said to have assured Curtin that 'Mr Prime Minister, you and I will see this thing through together' and 'You take care of the rear and I will take care of the front'.5 In this light, 'their understanding and partnership became one of the major influences on what Australia tried to do during the war'.6

Thus, what began as a 'marriage of convenience' between 'the drab, socialist politician and the colourful, conservative general' developed into a 'close and mutually supportive relationship', a description Curtin biographer David Day7 also applied to Curtin's dealings with Australian military commander General Thomas Blamey. The latter, like MacArthur, was a conservative man whose dealings with dissidents in the interwar years were hardly such as to endear either of them to Curtin's Labor Party colleagues. MacArthur's political affiliations were firmly Republican, to the extent that there was a serious, if short-lived, attempt to bring about his nomination as Republican candidate for the US Presidency in 1944.8 His involvement in the routing of the World War One veterans' Bonus Army in Washington DC in 1932 would certainly have contributed to Democrat President Roosevelt's decision in the mid 1930s to appoint George Marshall ahead of MacArthur as head of the US Army. Nevertheless, it was Roosevelt who on 26 July 1941 had recalled MacArthur from retirement to take command of all American army forces in the Far East, including the previously separate Philippine Army. Commencing immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, MacArthur led the US resistance to the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and, notwithstanding some negative aspects of that campaign, by the time he left the Philippines to come to Australia the flamboyant, larger than life general had 'built himself up into the model of the great American hero'. In this context, and with an eye to enhancing the morale building aspects of MacArthur's arrival in Australia, the US ambassador to Australia was able to announce that Roosevelt had awarded MacArthur the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The contrast could not have been greater with Curtin, the low key, World War One anti-conscription campaigner who had waited until power was thrust upon him and then assumed it with at least a degree of reticence. His private life in his latter years was austere and his public persona reassuring rather than eye catching. A man whose political career had been built around loyalty to his principles and to his party colleagues, Curtin was able nevertheless to bring a vital stability and trustworthiness to the relationship with MacArthur which in so many respects was to become the stuff of legend. Both men were unstinting in their public praise of the other. In March 1944 while speaking at a dinner celebrating the second anniversary of MacArthur's arrival in Australia, Curtin claimed that MacArthur

had exhibited a regard for the rights of this Government and its people, which could not have been exceeded if he had been an officer of our own army.9

For his part MacArthur had referred to Curtin as the 'heart and soul of Australia' and subsequently told Manuel Quezon, President of the embryo Philippines Commonwealth, as the latter prepared to depart from Melbourne to establish a government-in-exile in the United States, that

When I stand at the gates of Manila, I want the President of the Commonwealth at my right hand and the Prime Minister of Australia at my left.10

The decision to send MacArthur to Australia

It is part of the Curtin-MacArthur legend that it was at Curtin's request that MacArthur was appointed to the supreme command which brought him to Australia in March 1942. At best this is only true in a technical sense.

On 26 July 1941 President Roosevelt, having become aware of a Japanese cabinet decision to advance southward, announced the appointment of retired General Douglas MacArthur to take command of all American army forces in the Far East, including the previously separate Philippine Army. At the time, Japan, which had been at war with China for several years, relied heavily on US oil supplies but these became unavailable from August when talks broke down between the two countries. In these circumstances war between the two nations became increasingly inevitable.

During November 1941 MacArthur received substantial reinforcements from the US to help defend the Philippines. On December 7 and 8 the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was accompanied by assaults on Malaya and Thailand and Singapore was bombed. On 10 December the first troops came ashore in the Philippines and by early February 1942, as the situation deteriorated, there were even proposals from Quezon, approved by MacArthur, that the Philippines be given independence and neutralized by agreement between Japan and the US.11 MacArthur himself predicted a disastrous debacle if the campaign continued but Roosevelt ordered that MacArthur should resist for as long as possible, though with the final authority to determine if and when to capitulate.12 It was in this environment that it became increasingly apparent that Australia would ultimately be the prime choice as the alternative US base in the South-West Pacific.

With the fall of Rangoon and Java by the second week in March the Japanese had achieved most of their initial objectives and the first of their battalions were landing in New Guinea. It was in the midst of this crisis at the beginning of March that the Australian Government was said to have proposed that an American be appointed as Supreme Allied Military Commander in the South-West Pacific but the matter had been under discussion since the previous December. At that time, Richard Casey, the Australian minister in Washington, had suggested to Roosevelt that Australia should be seen as requesting the appointment 'in the interests of future harmonious working together'.13 However, it was not until the fall of the Philippines became inevitable that the necessity for Australia as the alternative US base from which to resist the Japanese could no longer be denied and the formal request was made. On 19 March the new command structure became a confirmed strategy with a British general appointed to command the India-Mediterranean area and a joint US-British command structure developed for western Europe.14

In the meantime, in response to instructions from Roosevelt, MacArthur undertook the hazardous journey (see below) from the Philippines to Darwin and from there via Alice Springs and Adelaide to Melbourne, arriving on 21 March. By this time the Australian cabinet, with the backing of the Advisory War Council, had already formally agreed to MacArthur's appointment as the new Supreme Commander. However, the extent of his command was limited by a parallel decision by Roosevelt that a separate South Pacific area including New Zealand was to be placed under naval control with the commander reporting to Admiral Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the whole 'Pacific Ocean Area'. Both Australia and New Zealand protested their being placed in separate areas, a decision which may have been partly due to bitterness towards MacArthur in some quarters in the US Navy.15

MacArthur's arrival in Australia

It was on 22 February, the very day of the most decisive cablegram in the Churchill-Curtin dispute over whether Australian soldiers returning from the Middle East should be diverted to Burma - and two days after Quezon had left the Philippines, that Roosevelt had ordered MacArthur also to leave, initially to proceed to Mindanao and subsequently to Australia. On 11 March, with his wife and child and a number of staff officers, MacArthur embarked on the difficult and dangerous sea voyage to Mindanao in a PT-41 Torpedo Boat (a twenty feet wide and seventy feet long vessel) and subsequently completed the ten hour air flight to Darwin landing on 17 March. After another flight to Alice Springs the party went by train to Adelaide and from there to Melbourne. A crowd of 5000 people and an honor guard of 360 Army engineers were at Melbourne's Spencer Street station on 21 March when MacArthur was officially welcomed by Army Minister Frank Forde. The arrival of a general who had already been directly involved in the military resistance to the Japanese was of great importance. In the words of the American minister to Australia, Nelson Johnson,

It was a stroke of genius sending MacArthur here ... just the thing that was needed to boost a flagging morale.16

In similar vein the Brisbane Courier Mail in a typical editorial referred to MacArthur's arrival as 'the best news Australians have had for many a day'.17

For his part, MacArthur set the scene for future strategic and political disputes when he insisted that

No general can make something out of nothing. My success or failure will depend primarily upon the resources which the respective governments place at my disposal.18

Over the next few days MacArthur established his family and staff at the plush Menzies Hotel which was to serve as military headquarters for his first four months in Australia.

Five days after his arrival in Melbourne MacArthur flew to Canberra for his first meeting with Curtin. At a meeting of the Advisory War Council he expressed the view that the Japanese lacked the strength to invade northern Australia but could well attempt to seize air bases in New Guinea from which to launch attacks on the mainland. Strategically the first task he indicated was to secure Australia and then subsequently to provide a launching pad for a counter stroke to the Philippines.19

At the official banquet in the evening the announcement was made of his Congressional Medal of Honor award. In making this award Roosevelt was clearly seeking to counteract criticism of MacArthur for 'retreating' from the Philippines. The President was also doubtless reacting to the tension which had developed between Australia and Britain over the appointment of Richard Casey, Australia's Minister to Washington, as British Minister of State in the Middle East.20 In concluding his response at the banquet MacArthur told the audience

We shall win or we shall die, and to this end I pledge the full resources of all the mighty power of my country and all the blood of my countrymen.21
Initial directives and role delineation

The initial directives to MacArthur in his new role were to hold 'the key military region of Australia as bases for future offensive action', to check the Japanese advance in his region and to maintain the American position in the Philippines.22 Historians all agree that the directives and the Australian acceptance thereof represented for Australia a 'notable surrender of sovereignty'.23 While Australia would at least initially provide most of the armed forces in the region, and battles in the immediate future would for the most part be in her territory, these troops would be commanded by an American general directed by the US Chiefs of Staff. And this arrangement was to require a close working relationship between a clearly Republican party general and a centre-left Australian politician. MacArthur, for his part, was said to be suspicious of US government policy. However, despite alternative suggestions to the contrary, MacArthur appointed Americans to lead every branch of his staff: indeed, eight of the eleven heads were officers who had come with him from the Philippines.24

Australian General Thomas Blamey was appointed to lead the Allied Land Forces but the Navy and Air Force forces in MacArthur's command area were also under US leadership. Nevertheless, Curtin wrote to MacArthur promising 'every possible support... in naming Australia secure as a base for operations' and from there to 'wrest the initiative from the enemy' and undertake the 'ultimate offensive'.25 However, by 18 April when MacArthur formally assumed his command which embraced all combat units of the Australian defence forces, Curtin had at least succeeded in securing the right of Australian commanders to have access to their own government26 and in amending the terms of the command so that the Australian Government had the ultimate control over the disposition of Australian troops outside of Australian territory.27

At the time of MacArthur's arrival in Australia there were about 25,000 US troops in the country, most of whom had originally been destined to participate in the fighting in the Philippines. For a time at least the paucity of available forces was such that MacArthur was said to have 'lost heart and wanted to give up' and this despite his initial optimistic predictions at the Advisory War Council meeting. Planning nevertheless proceeded apace and by April there were 33,000 American troops, 46000 AIF troops who had returned from the Middle East plus 63000 other AIF men and 280,000 militiamen.28

The defence structure which now emerged, essentially at MacArthur's suggestion, included a new body, the Prime Minister's War Conference, consisting of Curtin, MacArthur (but not Blamey), ministers deemed appropriate for the matters being discussed and Defence Secretary Frederick Shedden as a member as well as secretary, the function he performed in the war cabinet. Effectively this made MacArthur and not an Australian 'Curtin's chief adviser on military matters'.29 In turn, Curtin's prime concern from the outset was to secure an American commitment to an offensive against the Japanese which would entail the US Government giving a high degree of priority to the Pacific war.

The apparent easing of the invasion threat

The Prime Minister's War Conference met three times in April 1942 and late that month MacArthur issued his first directive 'related to a general plan' indicating that the Allied Land Forces had as their initial objective to prevent 'any landing on the north-east coast of Australia or the south-western coast of New Guinea', though at that stage no additional forces were 'sent forward to help carry out these tasks'.30 The initial assumption was that MacArthur's submissions for the troops and equipment he needed to carry out his directives would carry considerable weight in Washington and London. Over the next few weeks, however, MacArthur, Curtin and External Affairs Minister Evatt were all frustrated as it became apparent that the European war was to be given absolute priority and as a consequence there would be no additional reinforcements for the Australian area even as the Japanese threat mounted. In turn, MacArthur at the War Conference meetings now urged Curtin to seek the return of the 9th Division from the Middle East.

Although the Battle of the Coral Sea and the thwarting of an immediate attack on Port Moresby in early May did little more than provide breathing space, the American success at Midway Island led MacArthur, when meeting with Curtin in Melbourne on 11 June to state, somewhat prematurely as it transpired, that 'the security of Australia had now been assured'.31 Paradoxically the apparent easing of the invasion crisis posed problems and Curtin was obliged to do all he could in his public utterances to maintain the commitment of the populace to the war effort by asserting that what had so far occurred was 'by no means decisive'.32

MacArthur moves to Brisbane and the battle for New Guinea, July 1942 to January 1943

On 20 July, seemingly convinced that the invasion threat had dissipated and the war was moving towards an offensive stage, MacArthur shifted his headquarters from the Menzies Hotel in Melbourne to Brisbane. He and most of his staff took up quarters in Lennon's Hotel while working from the eighth floor of the city's largest office building, the AMP building, on the corner of Queen and Edward Streets: most days MacArthur would visit his family at the hotel for lunch.33 Earlier in the month MacArthur had proposed to the Chiefs of Staff that there be an immediate offensive to recapture Rabaul, the islands of New Britain and New Ireland, and then proceed northwards but the Chiefs of Staff gave priority to areas further east including the Solomons.

In any case, on the very day after MacArthur reached Brisbane, the Japanese landed troops at Buna and Gona on the north coast of New Guinea thereby thwarting MacArthur's plans to establish his own bases there for an assault on Rabaul. Even at this stage MacArthur and the Australian military leaders still seem to have failed to appreciate that the Japanese were planning to attack Port Moresby across the Owen Stanley Range via the Kokoda Track.34 This view quickly changed as the Japanese advanced against light resistance and on 29 July captured the important airfield at Kokoda. In mid August, as the situation deteriorated in the Solomons, Curtin met with MacArthur in Brisbane. At this time Curtin was attempting to blunt or silence Opposition criticisms, warning his opponents that they could be divulging information to the enemy and be embarrassing to MacArthur. He subsequently repeated these assertions warnings to a secret session of parliament on 3 September.35

During August as the Japanese continued their advance southwards through New Guinea and also made a landing at Milne Bay, reinforcements were sent from Australia to Port Moresby. However, by mid September, after heavy fighting the Japanese had reached within 25 miles of the Port, while requests for further reinforcements were consistently rebuffed by Roosevelt and Churchill. On 17 September MacArthur urged Curtin to send General Blamey to Port Moresby to relieve the then Commander Lieutenant General Sidney Rowell. The latter was subsequently sent back to Australia and a heated controversy arose between the two Australian generals.36 David Horner has also suggested that having Blamey in New Guinea was a means for MacArthur, even at this stage, of effectively removing Blamey from overall control of the Allied Land forces, thus leaving Blamey responsible only for Australian troops and open to taking responsibility for any possible failure.37 On this issue, Horner insists, Curtin effectively gave way to MacArthur.38 For MacArthur, this was a crisis period and when he phoned Curtin on 16 September MacArthur admitted 'he was seriously worried'. Indeed, in hindsight, one must assume that if Port Moresby had fallen, MacArthur's career would have been over.39

Worrying as the situation appeared at the time, the Japanese front line in mid September proved to be as far south as their supply lines could support while by this time there were nine Allied brigades in New Guinea compared with three in late July.40 In August the Japanese landing at Milne Bay had been repulsed in what is generally regarded as the first significant military land defeat for Japan in the war and on 18 September the Japanese commenced a retreat back to the north coast. Throughout this invasion threat period all Curtin's and MacArthur's appeals for help from the US and Britain had been rebuffed. Even so, in retrospect it can probably be conceded that the Allied High Command were correct in their assessment that a Japanese invasion of Australia could be prevented without sending substantial additional troops from the European frontier.41

On 2 October MacArthur himself visited New Guinea for the first time and the Allied push northwards back along the Kokoda Track got under way though with delays caused by supply difficulties. American troops were also brought in for other lines of advance. By November the threat in the Solomons had been largely overcome and MacArthur had moved his advance base to Port Moresby, shuttling backwards and forwards between Brisbane and New Guinea.42 Even so it took weeks of heavy fighting and significant losses before the Allies were relatively firmly established in Buna and surrounding bases on the New Guinea north coast. Dating from October 1942, Japanese air attacks on Northern Territory airfields had been diminishing in frequency and scale and on 11 January 1943 Curtin felt able to congratulate MacArthur officially on his victory in New Guinea.43

Despite these successes, the Allies, for a variety of reasons, were not yet in a position to launch an attack on Rabaul and instead a 'holding war' continued for the time being. Curtin, did have one immediate success when, despite strong resistance from Churchill and Roosevelt, the Australian 9th Division was able to return from the Middle East in February 1943. However, on the other side of the ledger, Curtin did not even know the time and place of the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 until after it had taken place and he was subsequently critical of the effects of its decisions to give the Pacific War a continuing low priority.44

Curtin and military conscription 1942-1943

From August 1942 onwards45 MacArthur had been urging Curtin to merge the all volunteer AIF and the conscripted militia into one force which could be deployed outside of Australian territory.46 At this stage only 530,000 of the 820,000 strong Australian army forces could be required to serve outside Australian territory. Accordingly, Curtin was persuaded to attempt to modify the law both because the existing situation left the impression of conscripted Americans carrying the main burden of defending Australia and because a continuance of the status quo would limit the role that Australian troops could play in any subsequent advance against the Japanese. Even so, Curtin's stance as a strong anti conscriptionist during World War One meant that it came as a 'bombshell' to his party colleagues when, at the federal Conference of the ALP Melbourne on 16 November 1942, he proposed extending for military purposes the definition of 'Australian territory' to embrace areas declared by the Governor-General as 'territories associated with the defence of Australia'. Led by Arthur Calwell, Curtin's opponents managed to have the issue scheduled for resolution at a special federal conference in January 1943. However, despite constant criticism Curtin held firm and won the day, though the issue in personal terms 'had cost him dearly'.47 As it was, when the enabling legislation came before Parliament his compromises with party colleagues meant a much more limited definition for what constituted Australian territory.48 This in turn led Menzies to describe the measures as not worth 'the toot of a tin whistle' and the Brisbane Telegraph to deplore what it called 'fantastically stupid proposals'.49 In any case the amendment served 'no great practical purpose' since throughout the remainder of the war all fighting outside Australian territory by Australian soldiers was left in the hands of volunteers, except for one force in Dutch New Guinea.50

The next phase - March 1943 - Reallocation of commitments

For a time during the first months of 1943 MacArthur remained concerned about a possible Japanese assault against Australia from the northern and north-west and this at a time when any offensives in the Pacific Area were given a very low priority by the allied High Command.51 In preparing for the next offensive stage MacArthur reorganized his command, confirming what had been de facto occurring for some time by effectively removing Blamey's control over the Allied Land Forces in his area, leaving the American forces effectively under MacArthur's own direct command.52 Historian Gavin Long has suggested this 'virtually separate[d] the Australian and American Armies thus simplifying staff work' and avoiding a situation which would have been 'politically unacceptable in Washington'. This was also a period where manpower shortages due to losses from casualty and diseases were concerning the Australian Government and by April Blamey was suggesting that Australia reduce the size of its armed forces in 'areas remote from the enemy'.53

On 7 June 1943 MacArthur met with Curtin in Sydney and then announced publicly that 'the days of the holding war were over and it was time to commence the offensive against Japan'. In a public statement released three days later Curtin contended 'I do not think the enemy can now invade this country' and that Australia henceforth would be used as a base from which to launch 'both limited and major offensives against Japan'.54 He then went on to assure the public that

My discussions with General MacArthur were marked by the greatest degree of cordiality, as has always been the case. This country can feel very grateful to General MacArthur, who came here at a critical time, and who has applied himself in such a distinguished way to ensuring the security of Australia as a base...

On 30 June a new wave of offensives was launched against various Japanese positions in New Guinea while the Americans also advanced in the Solomons. At the same time, during July the War Cabinet agreed to disband one infantry division within the next six months and perhaps another subsequently.55 Additionally, as the offensives proceeded, Curtin won a landslide election victory on 21 August ensuring his government would have control of both houses of parliament by mid 1944.

In September 1943 a fresh offensive involving Australian troops backed by air and naval forces and some American regiments was launched in New Guinea and Gavan Long has referred to their success by March 1944 in driving the Japanese in 'disorder out of most of mainland New Guinea'.56 As late as October 1943 there had still been more Australian troops than Americans in the combined allied armies in the South West and South Pacific campaigns but even then there were already more actual combat troops among the Americans and as the New Guinea campaign proceeded more rapidly than expected the operational duties of the Australian forces in New Guinea were being slowly taken over by American forces.57 Indeed, by the time Curtin met with MacArthur in Brisbane in November 1943 it was becoming clear that MacArthur's plans, centered on an eventual return to the Philippines, involved using increasingly lower numbers of Australian troops. While in some respects this was in line with Curtin's concern that Australia's war effort needed to be 'rebalanced' to relieve its 'desperate manpower position' Curtin had also to give increasing attention to ensuring that Australia's contribution would be such as to ensure and enhance Australia's role in planning for the postwar world. Strains were clearly developing in the Curtin-MacArthur relationship as the latter planned for the eventual return to the Philippines. Curtin, even before meeting with MacArthur in November, wrote to the latter asking that he (Curtin) be kept at least 'broadly aware of your ideas for the employment of Australian forces in any areas outside Australia and [its] mandated territory'.58

As early as 1 October 1943 a major meeting of the Australian War Cabinet had been held to discuss Australia's future commitments in terms of military forces, levels of food production and its role on the battlefields and in any post-war settlements.59 The war cabinet agreed to release 20,000 men from the armed services and 10,000 from munitions and aircraft industries but with a continued military effort concentrated in the Pacific if necessary at the expense of Australia's commitments in other areas.60

Subsequently in December Blamey issued a policy directive to his senior commanders 'informing them that the operational role of the Australian Military Forces in New Guinea was to be gradually taken over by American forces'.61

MacArthur's return to the Philippines

In March 1944, the second anniversary of his arrival in Australia, MacArthur was invited to a dinner at Parliament at which a knighthood (recommended to the King by Curtin) was bestowed on him. In his speech on that occasion Curtin accepted publicly that his close relationship with MacArthur was coming to an end. As previously indicated, Curtin, in reflecting on the experience of entrusting Australian forces to 'an officer of another country' as had been done in the past with British officers, referred to MacArthur as having

'exhibited a regard for the rights of this Government and its people, which could not have been exceeded if he had been an officer of our own army'.62

MacArthur in turn responded:

The last two years have been momentous ones for Australia. You have faced the greatest peril in your history. With your very life at stake, you have met and overcome the challenge. It was here that the tide of war turned in the Pacific and the mighty wave of invasion rolled back. Two years ago when I landed on your soil I said to the people of the Philippines whence I came - I shall return'. Tonight I repeat those words. I shall return.63
Privately the two men also discussed Curtin's forthcoming visit to Washington with MacArthur asserting that Roosevelt was 'quite unscrupulous... in repudiating his own word if it suits him'64 but was nevertheless the man most important to talk to. As it was, while Curtin had few specific gains to show for his trip to Washington and London, he did, on 2 June, secure the agreement of the joint Chiefs of Staff for Australia to reduce its combat formations in the Australian Army to six divisions and two armoured brigades. On his return to Australia, and after conferring with MacArthur, Curtin informed the Advisory War Council of the decision.65

During this time MacArthur was still working within 'strategic limits' set by the joint Chiefs of Staff, namely to give priority to an advance in the central Pacific towards the Marianas and thence Formosa, a strategy which would develop at the expense of the recapture of the Philippines.66 To avoid his area of command becoming 'a backwater of the war' he had decided to launch an attack on Manus and the nearby island of Los Negros in the Admiralties. He then personally accompanied the successful attacking force on board a cruiser and went ashore briefly on 29 February. With his return to the Philippines considered unlikely before November, an assault on Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea then became the next proposed target and Curtin was informed of these plans at their meeting in March. Interestingly, it was at this time that a short unsuccessful attempt was made by some of MacArthur's supporters in the United States to secure for him the Republican nomination for the 1944 presidential election.

On 21 April MacArthur was himself again in the invasion fleet when it landed at Hollandia and his forces won a series of victories in the surrounding area. Hollandia rapidly developed into a large army and naval base67 and became also the site for the construction of a substantial headquarters for MacArthur. Indeed, 'some rugs, furniture and a bathtub' were flown to the new headquarters from the Brisbane quarters.68 Early in July after welcoming back Curtin from his overseas trip MacArthur flew to Hawaii to meet with the President and other military leaders. There he succeeded after lengthy talks in persuading Roosevelt to authorise the invasion of the Philippines.69 While waiting for final go-ahead in September he again accompanied the troops in an assault on Morotai. Shortly afterwards, US Admiral Nimitz authorised the transfer of additional forces to enable MacArthur to launch the first attack on the Philippines at Leyte. Over the following three weeks he spent the longest time with his wife and son that had been possible since the outbreak of the war and also farewelled Curtin, having a 'final conversation' with him on 30 September. Two weeks later MacArthur flew out to launch the attack on the Philippines. On 20 October 1944, forty-one years to the day since he had first seen Leyte, MacArthur accompanied his forces when they made the landing. On reaching the beach he said simply 'I have returned'.70

Curtin and MacArthur - The last phase

On 3 November 1944, barely a fortnight after MacArthur's return to the Philippines, Curtin suffered a serious heart attack. Despite his ill health he was back at the helm by the end of January 1945 and attended his first War Cabinet meeting since his illness on 2 February. In the weeks that followed he was again especially concerned to secure a meaningful 'liberating role for his troops' with Australia's 'military effort... concentrated as far as possible in the Pacific and... on a scale to guarantee her an effective voice in the peace settlement'.71 There were also increasing tensions resulting from Blamey's concerns that his headquarters 'was to be eliminated from the chain of command'.72 Historians have debated the extent of Curtin's personal involvement in the government process during this period but one would probably accept the word of one biographer that 'his interest in the problems continued but his will was greater than his strength.73 On 21 April he returned to hospital and never again returned to active duty.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding opposition from Blamey and the Joint Chiefs of Staff who considered the operations unnecessary and likely to cause significant casualties, MacArthur eventually proceeded with a three pronged assault on Borneo using Australian troops. Blamey eventually accepted the first two stages but continued to strongly oppose the third, the proposed landing at the oil refinery centre of Balikpapan. This venture, Blamey told Acting Prime Minister Chifley was 'unimportant and should not be undertaken'74 and his proposal for the Australian 7th Division to be withdrawn from the attacking forces was only overruled after a difficult War Cabinet meeting on 22 May.75 In the meantime the European war had ended on 8 May but, although this meant the release of Australian troops from Europe and North Africa, Australia was now committed to having her troops 'more heavily engaged than at any previous time in the war'.76 Even so, on 28 May the War Cabinet decided on the release of 50,000 men from the Army and RAAF by the end of 1945, with one division still remaining available to MacArthur for the invasion of Japan. During this period David Horner has described aspects of MacArthur's correspondence with the Australian government as 'hardly honest' and, while 'technically correct', such as to 'appear to repudiate his promises that AIF divisions would accompany him to Japan'.77

The invasion of Balikpapan, an operation which by that stage seemed 'even less necessary than... when Blamey had proposed its abandonment'78 was launched on 1 July and MacArthur went ashore soon after the landing. Two days later he returned to Manila and on 5 July received the news that Curtin had died. His telegram to Elsie Curtin on the same day referred to her 'noble husband' as 'of the great of the earth'. The victory which Curtin did not live to see, came within weeks. Indeed, before the end of July, when MacArthur was shown the order for the dropping of the first atomic bomb, it was obvious to him that the intended invasion of Japan would never eventuate. On 15 August 1945 the Japanese Emperor officially announced the surrender.



David Black (ed.), In His Own Words: John Curtin's Speeches and Writings, Bentley: Paradigm Books, 1995, p. 198.

Paul Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942-1945, Canberra: The Australian War Memorial, 1970, pp. 158-159.
Geoffrey Perret, Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur, Holbrook MA: Adams Media Corporation for Random House, 1996, p. 285.
William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, Richmond South, Victoria: Hutchinson Group, 1978, p. 286.
Perret, Old Soldiers Never Die, p. 285.
Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942-1945, p. 159.
David Day, John Curtin: A Life, Sydney: Harper Collins, 1999, p. 464.
See, for example, Manchester, American Caesar, pp. 355ff.
Sydney Morning Herald, 18 March 1944 cited in Day, John Curtin: A Life, p. 531.
Manchester, American Caesar, pp. 287-288.
Gavin Long, The Six Years War: Australia in the 1939-45 War, Sydney: The Australian War Memorial and the Australian Government Publishing Service, 1973, p. 151.
Ibid, p. 152.
See Day, John Curtin: A Life, p. 462.
Long, The Six Years War, p. 176.
Ibid., p. 177.
Cited in Perret, Old Soldiers Never Die, p. 284.
Courier Mail, 19 March 1942 cited in David Horner, Inside the War Cabinet: Directing Australia's War Effort, Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1966, p. 111.
Manchester, American Caesar, p. 273.
Long, The Six Years War, p. 184.
Ibid., p. 177.
Ibid., p. 276.
Ibid., p. 181.
Ibid., p. 182.
Day, John Curtin: A life, p. 466 citing a letter from Shedden to MacArthur dated 15 April 1942 and held in the Lloyd Ross Papers at the National Library of Australia.
David Horner, Defence Supremo. Sir Frederick Shedden and the Making of Australian Defence Policy, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1990, p. 146.
Roger Bell, Unequal Allies: Australian-American relations and the Pacific War, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1977, p. 100 cited in Day, John Curtin: A Life, pp. 465-466.
Long, The Six Years War, p. 182.
Horner, Inside the War Cabinet, p. 115.
Long, The Six years War, p. 185.
Day, John Curtin: A Life, p. 475.
Ibid. p. 476, citing a national broadcast by Curtin on 17 June 1942 - A461/7, R4/1/12, National Archives of Australia.
Steve Connolly, 'The man who saved Australia: Douglas MacArthur', The Gold Coast Bulletin, 29 July 2005.
Horner, Inside the War Cabinet, p. 134.
Day, John Curtin: A Life, pp, 478 and 484.
According to Horner (Inside the War Cabinet, p. 148) there had been 'a long-standing antipathy' between Blamey and Rowell dating back to the Greek campaign in April 1941 and Rowell saw Blamey's arrival in New Guinea as a direct reflection on his 'ability to handle the situation'. In this regard, Horner contends that Rowell failed to appreciate the pressure placed on Blamey by MacArthur and the government.
In the words of one Australian Cabinet minister 'Moresby is going to fall. Send Blamey up there and let him fall with it'. (Ibid., p. 146).
Day, John Curtin: A Life, p. 488 and Horner, Inside the War Cabinet, pp. 145-146.
Perret, Old Soldiers Never Die, p. 307.
Long, The Six Years War, p. 224.
Day, John Curtin: A Life, pp. 484-485.
Manchester, American Caesar, p. 307.
Ibid., p. 496. The reference is from teleprinter message Curtin to MacArthur 11 January 1943, JCPML00263/3.
Horner, High Command, p. 247 and Long, The Six Years War, p. 288. The Casablanca Conference, held from 14 to 24 January 1843 and attended by Roosevelt and Churchill (though not Stalin), was the first major war conference between the Allied powers. Its general purpose was to take steps towards planning allied strategy and the requirements for the war to end (this came to include a policy of seeking the unconditional surrender of the enemy powers).
Day, John Curtin: A Life, p. 489.
Long, The Six Years War, p. 295.
Day, John Curtin: A Life, p. 492.
The territory which constituted the South-Western Pacific Zone was defined as lying south of the Equator and between 110 and 159 east longitude thus excluding New Zealand and much of the Dutch East Indies. All the area covered was included in MacArthur's command area.
Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, 173, 4 February 1943, p. 305.; Telegraph, Brisbane, 4 February 1943.
Long, The Six Years War, p. 296.
Ibid., pp. 288-290.

Ibid., p. 289.

Horner, Inside the War Cabinet, p. 152.
Day, John Curtin: A Life, p. 505; Horner, High Command, p. 267.
Ibid., p. 295.
Long, The Six Years War, p. 354.
Ibid., p. 351.
Letter from Curtin to MacArthur, 22 November 1943 cited in Day, John Curtin: A Life, p. 521.
See Horner, Inside the War Cabinet, pp. 150ff.
Ibid., p. 160.
Long, The Six Years War, p. 351.
Sydney Morning Herald, 18 March 1944.
Perret, Old Soldiers Never Die, p. 381.
Ibid., p. 382.
Long, The Six Years War, pp. 402-403.
Ibid., p. 383. The Marianas are a group of tropical islands in the Pacific some three quarters of the way between Hawaii and the Philippines.
Long, The Six Years War, p. 356.
Perret, Old Soldiers Never Die, p. 412.
See ibid., p.403ff.
Ibid., pp. 421-422.
Ibid., p. 464 and David Horner, Defence Supremo: Sir Frederick Shedden and the making of Australian Defence Policy, St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 2000, p. 223.
Ibid., p. 226.
Lloyd Ross, John Curtin: A Biography, South Melbourne: Sun Books, MacMillan of Australia, 1977, p. 377.
Horner, Defence Supremo, p. 229.
See ibid., pp. 229-230.
Long, The Six Years War, p. 447.
Horner, Defence Supremo, p. 228.
Ibid., p. 461.