3-202 To Field Marshal Sir John Dill, May 22, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: May 22, 1942

Subject: World War II

To Field Marshal Sir John Dill

May 22, 1942 [Washington, D.C.]


Dear Sir John:

I am giving below my reactions to the comments made by the British Chiefs of Staff on Mr. Curtin’s message, which you forwarded to me on May 21.1

Paragraph 1. I concur. The G-2 Division, War Department General Staff, believes there is no tangible evidence of a Japanese expedition being prepared against Australia at this time. It is recognized that this situation can change rapidly.2

Paragraph 2. No comment.3

Paragraph 3. I concur. In connection with the land forces in Australia, General Smart made available information received recently from Australia to the effect that Australian ground forces in that area would total approximately 400,000 by June, 1942. We do not consider that ground forces, in addition to those we now plan to send, are necessary. Additional troops from the United States would require increased tonnage. We feel that both the ground and air forces projected for Australia are sufficient for the operations now visualized for that area, if they can be maintained at full strength and deficiencies in munitions supplied. As you know, munitions are now being furnished, partially from England. It is understood that the United Kingdom has allocated 1085 tanks to Australia for this year.4

Paragraph 4. G-2 agrees with the British Chiefs of Staff’s statement as to Japanese ground forces and aircraft immediately available. However, the opinion is expressed that if Japan desires, she can achieve a considerably stronger ground and air concentration against Australia than is indicated in the estimate.5

Paragraph 4 (3) to (6). I concur. The Combined Intelligence Committee in Washington, in a memorandum submitted on May 9, to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, arrives at the same conclusions as the British JIC. In addition, the Combined Intelligence Committee expressed the opinion that war between Russia and Japan this year is probable.6

Paragraph 4 (5). I concur. Our Intelligence feels that a full scale invasion of Australia is unlikely at this time. Furthermore, naval dispositions indicate no immediate intention to cut the lines of communication across the Southwest Pacific, but this is always an enemy capability, dangerous to us.7

Paragraph 4 (7) to (8). I concur.8

My opinion as to the adequacy of the ground and air forces allotted to General MacArthur is expressed in the comments on paragraph 3 above.9 Aircraft carriers in the Southwest Pacific area would be extremely desirable, but it is evident that this is impossible of arrangement at this time. The statement of the British Chiefs of Staff, to the effect that consideration will be given to the dispatch of a British force from the Indian Ocean to cooperate with the United States Pacific Fleet in case of a clearly indicated expedition against Australia, is considered important.

The directive to General MacArthur definitely assigns a defensive mission with the task of preparation for an offensive. This conforms to our basic strategy. To be able to take positive action in any theater, it is necessary to hold forces in defensive theaters to a minimum and, in doing so, to recognize the acceptance of certain calculated risks. The measures General MacArthur advocates would be highly desirable if we were at war with Japan only. In our opinion the Pacific should not be made the principal theater.

Faithfully yours,

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the Operations Division (OPD), Executive File 8, Book 5, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed letter.

1. In a May 14, 1942, message to Roosevelt, Australian Prime Minister Curtin reiterated his views that the major Japanese thrust would occur in the southwest Pacific and that the Allies should go on the offensive in that theater. He asserted that the invasion of Australia was imminent. Under Secretary of State Welles submitted the message to Marshall and King for reply. Meanwhile, Curtin’s message was sent to London, where it engendered a detailed response from the British chiefs, who directed Dill to submit their response to Marshall for his comment. (Curtin to Roosevelt, May 14, 1942, Welles to Marshall, May 16, 1942, and Dill to Marshall, May 16 and 21, 1942, NA/ RG 165 [OCS, Project Decimal File 1941-43, Australia].)

2. The British chiefs believed that Port Moresby was still the major Japanese objective in the region. The disposition of enemy forces, according to the British appraisal, precluded an invasion of Australia. (Comments on cablegram, enclosed in Dill to Marshall, May 21, 1942, ibid.)

3. Curtin wanted a British aircraft carrier—a request that the chiefs of staff rejected. But the British observed that naval units in the Indian Ocean could support the United States Pacific Fleet if the situation warranted. (Ibid.)

4. MacArthur had previously observed that no amount of ground forces could properly defend Australia without air and naval superiority. The British chiefs agreed and saw no reason to meet Curtin’s request for additional ground forces. (Ibid.) Lieutenant General Edward K. Smart was head of the Australian Military Mission to Washington.

5. The British estimated that the Japanese had two divisions and 170 aircraft in the southwest Pacific, could augment those forces with eight divisions and 150 aircraft from other Pacific bases, and could shift three more divisions and an additional 90 airplanes from Burma, if they chose not to invade India. (Ibid.)

6. The British Joint Intelligence Committee listed Japan’s immediate aims as consolidation of its southeast Asian gains, peace with China, cutting of United States-Australia sea communications, and raids in the Indian Ocean with the possible invasion of Ceylon. (Ibid.)

7. The British thought that the greatest strategic advantage to Japan would come from capture of Ceylon—which would expose India to invasion—not an attack on Australia. (Ibid.)

8. Curtin wanted an offensive in the Pacific, which was in opposition to what the British chiefs accepted as Allied strategy. (Ibid.)

9. Dill had written that “the British Chiefs of Staff are very anxious to know your views of General MacArthur’s appreciation and particularly your views on the adequacy of the forces allotted to him to carry out his directive.” (Dill to Marshall, May 21, 1942, ibid.) The Joint Chiefs of Staff directive to MacArthur to conduct a strategic defensive in the southwest Pacific and prepare for offensive operations is enclosed in Marshall and King Memorandum for the President, March 30, 1942, NA/RG 165 (OPD, Exec. 2, Item lb).

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 208-210.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 3-202

Rights: Public Information