DEFENDING THE CHARACTER AND LEADERSHIP OF PRIME MINISTER JOHN CURTIN FROM UNJUSTIFIED SLURS
and website by James Kenneth Bowen (concise CV)
Pacific War historian BA; LLB (University of Queensland.
did not save Australia from any real threat."
An untrue revisionist claim by Dr Peter Stanley of the Australian War Memorial from "He's (not) coming South - the invasion that wasn't".
arguing that there was in fact no invasion
plan, that the Curtin government exaggerated the threat, and that the
enduring consequence of its deception was to skew our understanding of
the reality of the invasion crisis of 1942....There was no (Japanese) invasion; there was never going to be an invasion."
Dr Peter Stanley of the Australian War Memorial speaks dismissively of the Japanese threat to Australia in 1942 and impugns the character and leadership of wartime Prime Minister John Curtin. From Dr Stanley's essay: "He's (not) coming South - the invasion that wasn't" (2002)
Stanley has legitimate arguments in my opinion."
Major General Steve Gower, AO, Director of the Australian War Memorial in an email dated 8 November 2005
Allied successes on the Kokoda Track, at Milne Bay, and on Guadalcanal ensured
the security of Australia...If
Port Moresby had been taken by General Horii's troops advancing over the Kokoda
Track, the whole strategic situation would have been transformed. In that sense,
Kokoda was the most important battle fought by Australians in the Second World
1942 Australia was in great peril. The Allied policy of 'Beat Hitler
First' meant that Australia faced the prospect of a Japanese invasion with only
limited support from the United States."
From "Defending Australia in 1942" by Dr David Horner, Professor of Australian Defence History, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University. Professor Horner exposes Dr Peter Stanley's denigration of Prime Minister John Curtin as being totally unjustified and unfair. The Japanese withdrawal from Guadalcanal in February 1943 signalled the failure and end of the FS Operation directed against Australia.
DID THIS MAN LIE TO AUSTRALIANS ABOUT THE GRAVITY OF THE JAPANESE THREAT TO THEIR COUNTRY IN 1942?
Pacific War historian James Bowen says, "No".
Prime Minister John Curtin
Many Australians revere John Curtin as the man who steered Australia safely through 1942 - the year when Australia was under constant attack from Japan and faced its gravest peril. Curtin died in office just before the end of the war. The relentless stress of war almost certainly contributed to his early death. The present Australian War Memorial bureaucracy headed by Major General Steve Gower would have Australians believe that John Curtin exaggerated the threat from Japan in 1942 for his own political advantage or because he had succumbed to the mental stresses of high office in wartime. Pacific War historian James Bowen argues that the quotes above and below are a small sample of this distortion of Australian history. It will be shown that the preponderance of historical evidence totally refutes the Australian War Memorial's revisionist attack on John Curtin's character and wartime leadership.
Australian War Memorial attacks on the character and leadership of wartime Prime Minister John Curtin lack any sound historical foundation.
Attacks on the leadership and character of respected wartime Prime Minister John Curtin were published in essays by English-born senior Australian War Memorial historian Dr Peter Stanley from 2002 and 2005. A small sample of these attacks appears above and more can be viewed on this website. They were ridiculous slurs that lacked any sound historical foundation, and unfortunately, the attacks were supported by the director of the Australian War Memoria, Major General Steve Gower, who appeared to know as little of Australia's World War II history as Peter Stanley. See quotation by Steve Gower above.
I believe that it is useful for me to mention at the beginning of this repudiation of ridiculous Australian War Memorial attacks on the leadership and character of John Curtin in the abovementioned essays that part of the Commonwealth of Australia was invaded by Japan on 21 July 1942. On this date, Japanese troops waded ashore on the beaches on Buna and Gona on the northern coast of Australia's sovereign Territory of Papua. The Japanese were not landing on a League of Nations Mandate administered by Australia in 1942, but sovereign Australian soil that became part of the Commonwealth of Australia upon the passing of the Papua Act 1905 (C'wealth). It followed as a matter of very clear international law that the bloody fighting against the Japanese on the Kokoda Track in 1942 took place on sovereign Australian soil and to repel a Japanese military invasion of part of the Commonwealth of Australia. This undeniable historical fact makes nonsense of the slurs directed by Peter Stanley against the leadership and character of John Curtin, and arguably, supports a conclusion that historical scholarship at the Australian War Memorial collapsed under Steve Gower and Peter Stanley.
I have shown elsewhere that collapse of historical scholarship at the Australian War Memorial appears to have continued under director Brendan Nelson, and apparenty, without producing concern in the Memorial Council, but it is necessary for me to expose here the attacks on John Curtin by Peter Stanley as utter nonsense.
I have shown in the preceding chapters that Australia was facing grave dangers from Japan throughout 1942, including a determination on the part of Japanese Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo to "throttle Australia into submission" to Japan by means of Operation FS. * After the anticipated Australian surrender, the Japanese prime minister was planning to incorporate Australia as a puppet state into Japan's Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.
* The Japanese plan to sever Australia's lifeline to the United States and compel Australia's surrender to Japan.
I believe that I have also shown in the preceeding chapters that Australian War Memorial historian Dr Peter Stanley has demonstrated in three essays "He's (not) coming South - the invasion that wasn't" (2002), followed by "Threat made manifest" (2005) and "Was there a Battle for Australia" (2006), a failure to appreciate the gravity of the danger faced by Australia from Japan throughout 1942.
This is a sensitive issue for many Australians, and I feel that it is necessary for me to repeat here my views concerning the inadequacy of Dr Peter Stanley's scholarship that were mentioned in the earlier chapter "A Challenge to the Australian War Memorial...".
reading Dr Peter Stanley's three essays on this theme, I formed the view
that his denial of the gravity of the Japanese threat to Australia throughout
1942 (see second quote above and the sample of Dr Stanley's revisionist claims) and his attacks
on the character and leadership of Prime Minister John Curtin
lacked any credible historical foundation and largely stemmed from inadequate
knowledge of the Pacific War, and in particular, a failure by him to appreciate
the grave strategic situation facing Australia throughout 1942.
"I also formed the view that Dr Peter Stanley did not have a sound grasp of the structure and functioning of Japan's military high command and its strategic aims and war planning in 1942 that would enable him to evaluate correctly its hostile plans for Australia."
I could find no evidence of substantial historical research in any of Dr Stanley's three essays that was capable of supporting his revisionist denial of the grave Japanese threat to Australia in 1942 .
Having shown this to be so, it could perhaps be argued that the credibilty of Dr Peter Stanley in regard to this issue has been irretrievably destroyed, and consequently, that it is unnecessary to deal with the credibility of his attacks on the character and wartime leadership of Prime MInister John Curtin. It is true that Dr Stanley chose to resign from the Australian War Memorial in December 2006 and he appears to have abandoned military history as a specialist occupation. However, Dr Stanley's denigration of the character and wartime leadership of Prime Minister John Curtin remains on public record in the three essays mentioned above, and I believe that it is necessary for me to refute that denigration for two reasons.
First, I believe that many Australians share my opinion that Dr Peter Stanley's criticism of John Curtin's character and wartime leadership lacks any credible historical foundation. The slurs on Curtin's character and leadership need to be exposed as lacking justification. The second reason is that Dr Stanley's denial of the gravity of the Japanese threat to Australia in 1942 and his denigration of Prime Minister Curtin appear to have the support of the director of the Australian War Memorial, Major General Steve Gower*, and appear to have the support of the War Memorial council which extended Gower's term as director despite his public support for Dr Stanley's controversial revisionism. * See third quotation above.
I will now mention some of Dr Peter Stanley's criticisms of Prime Minister John Curtin's character and wartime leadership, and demonstrate that each of them lacks any historical foundation.
Dr Peter Stanley claims that wartime Prime Minister John Curtin exaggerated the threat from Japan in 1942 for political gain or because he was unable to cope with the stress of office in wartime.
Dr Stanley uses these words to describe Prime Minister Curtin and his government in his first essay "He's (not) coming South-the invasion that wasn't" (2002):
"Curtin did not save Australia from any real threat."
"I'm arguing that there was in fact no invasion plan, that the Curtin government exaggerated the threat, and that the enduring consequence of its deception was to skew our understanding of the reality of the invasion crisis of 1942."
In his introductory speech to the "Remembering 1942" conference at the Australian War Memorial, 2002, Dr Peter Stanley also said of John Curtin:
is hailed as the 'Saviour of Australia'. He saved Australia from a threat
that was never real, and he knew
it. Curtin was an inspiring leader, but he was also a good politician. He
knew that banging the invasion drum did no harm, and that the Japanese invasion
threat served to motivate the nation."
I believe that these claims by Dr Peter Stanley could fairly be viewed by Australians as unfairly impugning the honesty of Prime Minister John Curtin and his government, especially Stanley's references to "its deception", "a threat that was never real", and "he knew it". However, I believe that I have shown in the earlier chapter "Proving that the Australian War Memorial is promoting a false history of 1942", and the related chapters that expand on important points raised in that earlier chapter, that the danger faced by Australia from Japanese military attack throughout 1942 was both grave and very real, and it follows in my view that the Curtin government did not deceive Australians about the gravity of the threat from Japan.
We have seen in the earlier chapter "Proving that the Australian War Memorial is promoting a false history of 1942" that Japan's plans for Australia in 1942 included forced surrender to Japan by means of isolation from American aid, intensified blockade, bombing, and psychological warfare. After that anticipated surrender, it was intended by Prime Minister Tojo that Australia would become a Japanese puppet state. It is difficult to see how an Australian surrender to Japan could serve Japan's purposes without some form of Japanese occupation or control that would exclude access to Australia by the United States. None of Dr Peter Stanley's three essays on this theme even mention Operation FS, and it appears that Dr Stanley and Major General Steve Gower have no knowledge of this key Japanese strategic plan that shaped the course of the Pacific War in 1942.
Dr Peter Stanley and Major General Steve Gower have never responded to my invitation to explain how forced surrender to Japan by Australia (as contemplated by Operation FS) and incorporation as a puppet state into Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere* are not equivalent to Japanese occupation of Australia. * See earlier chapter.
Dr Stanley suggests that the stress of office may have caused Curtin to become irrational about the threat from Japan
Dr Peter Stanley uses these words to describe Prime Minister Curtin in "He's (not) coming South - the invasion that wasn't" (2002):
"What explains Curtin's anxiety?..In early April (1942) 'Magic' intercepts reached Australia which confirmed that no invasion was contemplated. An actual danger of invasion had never existed and the liklihood diminished through 1942 as Allied victories eroded Japan's offensive capability. Curtin was told as much by London and Washington, and MacArthur, Curtin's principal strategic adviser, consistently advised that it was improbable. Why did Curtin continue to bang the invasion drum?...a deeper answer seems to lurk in Curtin's psyche. Curtin felt the burden of responsibility of his office so gravely that it contributed to his death in 1945. His rejection of advice that invasion was not going to occur, his repeated appeals for reinforcements in secret communications, and his privately dwelling on the prospect suggest that he was unable to accept the reality.... But it would seem rather that it was Curtin's refusal to accept the strategic evaluations of London and Washington that caused his unease. In the event, Churchill and Roosevelt were right and Curtin was wrong." The emphasis is mine.
Dr Stanley appears to be suggesting that pressure of wartime leadership may
have caused Curtin to become irrational and led to his exaggeration of the threat
from Japan in 1942. However, I will show that the
weight of historical evidence proves that Curtin's apprehension was justified
and that Churchill and Roosevelt knowingly exposed Australia to a very real
threat of Japanese invasion at the Arcadia
Conference * in
late December 1941 where they reached agreement that top priority would be given
to the defeat of Germany rather than Japan. This shameful Munich-style betrayal
was intended to be kept secret and it was necessary for Churchill and Roosevelt
to soothe Curtin's fears with lies about Japan's aggressive intentions and capabilities
to cover up their betrayal of Australia, Malaya, the Philippines, and the Dutch
* For more on the Arcadia Conference, see below.
Should the "Magic" intelligence intercepts have reassured Curtin that there was no invasion threat in 1942?
Dr Peter Stanley states:
"In early April (1942) 'Magic' intercepts reached Australia which confirmed that no invasion was contemplated."
I view reference to "Magic" intercepts in the context of an attack on John Curtin by Dr Stanley as irrelevant, misleading, and strongly indicative of his lack of detailed knowledge of the Pacific War. "Magic" was an Allied code-name assigned to intercepts of coded Japanese diplomatic radio traffic. The Japanese military high command was in complete control of Japan's diplomacy from the time of General Hideki Tojo's appointment as Prime Minister on 17 October 1941, and Japan's military leaders often failed to keep the Foreign Ministry informed with regard to their plans for aggression. The US Navy did not conduct crucial naval operations in the Pacific in 1942 by reference to "Magic" intercepts. The US Navy was far more interested in the Japanese naval code JN25 because it provided a far more reliable indication of Japanese naval planning and operations.
Occupation of Australia and its New
Guinea territories was not initially contemplated by Japan's military high command
as part of the First Operational Stage of the Japanese campaign of military
conquest that began with Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.*
The Second Operational Stage was intended to encompass the occupation of Australia's
New Guinea territories, the American Aleutian islands off Alaska, Fiji, Samoa,
and "strategic points in the Australian area".*
Rabaul on the island of New Britain in Australia's New Guinea League Mandate
was included in the First Operational Stage at the urging of one of Japan's
best naval strategists, Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue. Admiral Inoue was commander
of the 4th Fleet, also known as South Seas Force, based at Truk in Japan's Caroline
Islands League Mandate. Inoue was responsible for absorbing and defeating an
expected American counter-offensive against the Japanese-held Marshall and Caroline
island groups, but he warned
the Navy General Staff of the grave danger that Japan would face if the Americans
were allowed to establish bases for their inevitable counter-offensives in Australia,
its New Guinea Territories, and the British Solomon Islands. Inoue urged an
offensive against Australia and the British Solomons to counter this danger.
His arguments were accepted by Japan's Navy General Staff, and ultimately adopted
by Japan's Imperial General Headquarters. See the chapter "Before
Pearl Harbor, Japan targets Australia's New Guinea Territories".
* Richard B. Frank provides an excellent account of Imperial Japanese Navy South Pacific strategies in 1942 in his magisterial work Guadalcanal, (1990) Random House at pages 1-32.
If the "Magic" radio signal intercepts mentioned by Dr Peter Stanley suggested no intention on the part of the Japanese to invade Australia, they had already been shown to be worthless when 5,000 elite Japanese troops stormed ashore at Rabaul on 23 January 1942. The Japanese overwhelmed the small Australian garrison defending Rabaul and initiated the Battle for Australia. The Japanese then began to develop Rabaul into a major base for further military operations against Australia and the United States in the South-West Pacific area. With the advantage of this foothold on Australian-administered territory, the first Japanese air raid on Port Moresby in the Australian Territory of Papua took place on 3 February 1942. On 19 February 1942, Australia's northern port of Darwin suffered two devastating Japanese air raids. The Japanese air raids on Port Moresby and Darwin continued throughout 1942.
If Prime Minister Curtin was shown the "Magic" intercepts in early April 1942, he would very sensibly have treated them as worthless. It appears that Dr Stanley feels obliged to give weight to these worthless "Magic" intercepts in order to support his unsustainable attack on John Curtin's character and wartime leadership.
Further proof that Dr Stanley's
"Magic" intercepts were worthless was provided to Prime Minister Curtin
by US Navy code-breakers throughout April 1942. The brilliant senior US Navy
code-breaker at Station Hypo in Hawaii, Commander Joseph J. Rochefort, was analysing
Japanese Navy JN25 signal traffic throughout April 1942, and by 9 April 1942,
he was able to identify the Japanese code reference "Operation MO"
as being a major Japanese amphibious operation directed to the capture of Port
Moresby in the Australian Territory of Papua in early May 1942.*
At that time, Operation MO meant nothing less than invasion of Australian sovereign
territory. If successful, Operation MO would have denied the Allies their last
bastion on the island of New Guinea. This early warning from code-breakers led
to the Battle
of the Coral Sea, and frustrated Japan's first attempt to implement Operation
FS by severing Australia's lifeline to the United States and forcing its
surrender to Japan.
* See "The Emperor's Codes" by Michael Smith (2000) Bantam Press at page 134.
Dr Peter Stanley claims that Curtin should have accepted advice from London and Washington that Australia faced no danger of Japanese invasion in 1942
In his essay "He's (not) coming South - the invasion that wasn't" (2002), Dr Stanley makes the following claims:
"An actual danger of invasion had never existed....Curtin was told as much by London and Washington.."
"In the event, Churchill and Roosevelt were right and Curtin was wrong."
Dr Stanley is arguing that Prime Minister Curtin's fears for Australia in 1942 should have been soothed by assurances from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Roosevelt that the Japanese had no interest in invading Australia. Dr Stanley claims that events proved that Churchill and Roosevelt were right and Curtin was wrong. He suggests that Curtin was irrational in refusing to accept the soothing assurances given by Churchill and Roosevelt, and attributes that irrationality to the stress of wartime leadership.
As a matter of historical fact, Curtin was right and Dr Peter Stanley is wrong again!
Pacific War historians are aware
of an important fact that appears to have completely escaped Dr Peter Stanley's
knowledge, namely, that Australia's sovereign territory was invaded by Japanese
troops on 21 July 1942 * and that the whole of
the Kokoda Campaign was fought on Australian soil. I have enlarged on this important
fact in the chapter "Proving that
the Australian War Memorial is promoting a false history of 1942".
* When Japanese troops landed at Gona and Buna on the northern coast of Australia's Territory of Papua.
However, it is necessary for me to explain why Curtin was fully justified in ignoring the soothing assurances from Churchill and Roosevelt. These assurances were not only worthless at the time they were given, but have now been shown to be intended to deceive.
John Curtin had to cope with Churchill's reassuring lies and his betrayal of Australia at the Arcadia Conference
Dr Peter Stanley appears to have no understanding of the grim implications for Australia of the Arcadia Conference held in Washington in the last week of December 1941. Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the British and American governments had secretly agreed to give absolute priority to the defeat of Nazi Germany even if Japan entered the war on the side of Germany and Italy and attacked the United States. Two weeks after Pearl Harbor, being fearful that the Japanese attack might compel Roosevelt to alter American war priorities, Winston Churchill travelled to Washington. The British Prime Minister's purpose was to persuade President Roosevelt to adhere to the secret agreement to give priority to defeating Nazi Germany, and not to divert America's vast resources to halting Japanese aggression in the Pacific.
This meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt became known as the Arcadia Conference. At that conference, Churchill and Roosevelt secretly confirmed their war strategy of defeating Germany first. The Europe First war strategy (also known as the Germany First war strategy) effectively abandoned everything west of Hawaii and Midway Atoll to the Japanese, if they wanted to take it. Dr Stanley does not appear to appreciate that this abandonment of the western Pacific to Japan included Australia as well as the Philippines. Saving Australia from Japan was not one of Churchill's priorities immediately following Pearl Harbor. As Churchill saw it, Australia, British Malaya, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies could be recovered from Japanese occupation after Germany had been defeated.
First" war strategy settled at the Arcadia
had to be kept
secret from an American public outraged by Pearl Harbor because it meant abandonment
of the American army in the Philippines to certain defeat at the hands of the
Japanese and lengthy imprisonment of survivors. The Arcadia agreement also had
to be kept secret from Prime Minister Curtin because it meant abandonment of
Australia to the Japanese if they wanted it. The dishonest assurances to Curtin
by Churchill and Roosevelt (mentioned above by Dr Stanley in his attack on Curtin)
were intended to stifle his calls for American military aid.*
Churchill's betrayal of Australia at Arcadia was even more despicable than Roosevelt's
betrayal of his army in the Philippines because Churchill had already stripped
Australia of its trained soldiers and airmen to fight overseas for Britain.
* Dr David Day documents the saga of deception practised on Curtin by Churchill in "The Politics of War" (2003) HarperCollins.
On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating triggered an eruption of indignation in the British press when he accused Winston Churchill of betraying Australia to the Japanese. Perhaps Dr Peter Stanley's self-proclaimed English birth* inhibits him from acknowledging the deadly implications of the Arcadia agreement for Australia's survival and British involvement in that betrayal of Australia. However, the historical evidence support's Paul Keating's accusation of betrayal. * See "Threat made manifest" (2005).
Both Churchill and Roosevelt were less than honest in the assurances they gave Curtin about Japan's aggressive intentions. Fortunately for Australia, Curtin ignored them and he received powerful support from an unlikely source.
The US Navy chief shared John Curtin's belief that Australia faced grave peril from Japan in 1942.
Prime Minister John Curtin's assessment of the gravity of the Japanese threat to Australia in 1942 was shared by the Commander in Chief of the US Navy Admiral Ernest J. King. Admiral King was the brilliant strategist who guided the American Navy to victory in the Pacific War.
Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of the US Navy in 1942
Fortunately for Australia, there was one person at the Arcadia Conference who was secretly intending to defend Australia, the New Guinea mainland, and the Solomon Islands from Japanese occupation. That person was the Commander in Chief US Navy, Admiral Ernest J. King. Admiral King was not motivated by any special affection for Australia but a practical appreciation of the strategic importance of Australia, the New Guinea mainland, and the British Solomons to the United States as bases from which the Americans could launch counter-offensives against Japan. The Japanese were equally aware of the strategic importance of Australia, the New Guinea mainland, and the British Solomons to the Americans, and were determined to place them beyond American reach.
The final wording of the Arcadia
agreement was vague enough to allow the United States to maintain positions
in the Pacific that would "safeguard vital interests". "Vital
interests" were not defined, and Admiral King insisted that the agreement
authorise the seizure of "vantage points" from which an offensive
against Japan could be developed.* Admiral King
did not disclose to Churchill and Roosevelt that he intended to defend Australia,
the New Guinea mainland, and the British Solomons. The Arcadia Conference
ended with both Churchill and Roosevelt mistakenly believing that Admiral
King had agreed to treat the Pacific as a secondary war theatre and pursue
a passive defensive posture until Germany was defeated.
* See Richard B. Frank: "Guadalcanal", (1990) Random House at pages 6-9.
Admiral King considered the danger to Australia from Japan to be so grave in 1942 that he was willing to risk his career and all six of his precious fleet carriers to save Australia from Japanese attack. He lost three of those carriers (Lexington, Hornet, and Wasp) in the direct defence of Australia in 1942 at Coral Sea and Guadalcanal. Yorktown was heavily damaged by a Japanese bomb at Coral Sea, but survived to fight at the Battle of Midway where the tide finally turned against Japan. Saratoga was torpedoed at Guadalcanal, but saved and repaired to fight again.
Prime Minister Curtin and the chiefs of the US Navy fully appreciated that the fate of Australia hung in the balance at Coral Sea, Midway, Kokoda, and Guadalcanal.
I have mentioned in the chapter "He was coming South" that the grave Japanese threat to Australia was not lifted until 7 February 1943 when the Japanese acknowledged defeat in the battle for Guadalcanal and withdrew all of their remaining troops. The Japanese campaign to capture Guadalcanal was Japan's last desperate attempt to implement Operation FS and "throttle Australia into submission" to Japan. If the Japanese had won at Guadalcanal, they would have been well placed to sever Australia's lifeline to the United States and capture Port Moresby. The Japanese would then have been able to tighten Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo's "noose" around Australia and press for its surrender to Japan.
Dr Peter Stanley does not appear
to understand that when the Japanese finally withdrew from Guadalcanal on 7
February 1943, both sides were exhausted. On more than one occasion between
7 August 1942 and 7 February 1943, the Americans came close to defeat at Guadalcanal.
When the sea and land battles finally ended on 7 February 1943, the Americans
had only one carrier (USS Enterprise) left to defend the whole of the
South-West Pacific Area. Although the Japanese had greater naval strength than
the United States at the end of the Guadalcanal Campaign, it was very fortunate
for Australia that they failed to press home their naval superiority by making
a third attempt to capture Port Moresby.
Admiral King's hard won naval victories against the Japanese in the sea approaches to Australia in 1942 and early 1943 provide solid historical backing for Prime Minister John Curtin's assessment of the gravity of the Japanese threat to Australia throughout 1942.
Dr Peter Stanley's revisionist essays suggest that he has no knowledge of these facts that are central to understanding the course of the Pacific War in 1942 and the extent of Australia's peril.
Dr Stanley claims Curtin should have accepted MacArthur's advice that Japanese invasion in 1942 was improbable
Dr Peter Stanley claims:
"MacArthur, Curtin's principal strategic adviser, consistently advised that it (invasion) was improbable."
Dr Stanley is wrong again. As a matter of historical fact, General Douglas MacArthur was not able to give an assurance to Prime Minister Curtin that the danger of a Japanese invasion of the Australian mainland had passed until the major Japanese naval defeat at the Battle of Midway (4-6 June 1942).* On 11 June 1942, in reference to the great American victory at Midway, MacArthur was able to assure Curtin that, "the security of Australia had been secured".* This fact is recorded in Advisory War Council Minute 967, 17 June 1942, vol.5, A2682. * MacArthur's reassurance to Curtin was remarkably short lived! MacArthur's own headquarters were thrown into near panic when the Japanese Army captured Kokoda on 29 July 1942 and then began its drive across the Kokoda Track to capture Port Moresby. Near panic ensued again at MacArthur's headquarters when news of the Japanese night landing at Milne Bay on 25/26 August 1942 reached MacArthur. Milne Bay was the second prong of this very determined Japanese attempt to capture Port Moresby. As the distinguished Pacific War historian, Professor David Horner, has pointed out in "Defending Australia in 1942":
"The Allied successes on the Kokoda Track, at Milne Bay and on Guadalcanal ensured the security of Australia...during 1942 Australia was in great peril."
* See Dr David Horner "Defending Australia in 1942", and especially page 11 and endnotes 49 and 50.
As mentioned above, the grave danger
to Australia was not lifted until the Japanese were defeated on Guadalcanal
in February 1943. The
Japanese withdrawal from Guadalcanal signalled the failure and end of the Operation
To bolster his argument that Prime Minister Curtin's fears of Japanese invasion were irrational, Dr Stanley mentions the two American divisions committed to support Australia in March and April 1942 as if they were a meaningful contribution to Australia's defence against Japan. The facts make nonsense of this claim. The two American divisions were the 32nd and 41st Divisions. In fact, these two divisions were merely a token concession intended to ease Prime Minister Curtin's wholly justified fears of Japanese invasion. The Japanese Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo had already called publicly for Australia's surrender to Japan in January and February 1942. These two American divisions were not regular army but State National Guard divisions. The American reservist troops in both divisions were raw recruits who required intensive training in Australia before achieving basic combat readiness. At MacArthur's insistence, and because the Australian troops were defeating the Japanese on the Kokoda Track, these Americans troops were finally committed to fight the Japanese at Buna and Sanananda in November 1942. Without adequate jungle training, they made little headway against the heavily entrenched Japanese initially and suffered very heavy casualties. When the American troops refused to continue fighting, MacArthur was deeply embarrassed, and had to replace his senior American general in New Guinea. With the support of Australian veteran troops, the Americans finally captured Buna and Sanananda in January 1943.
Prime Minister John Curtin had every right to be concerned for Australia's safety until at least early March 1943 when the Japanese lost 6,000 troops of the Japanese 51st Division to Allied air attack in the Battle of the Bismark Sea. From that time, the Japanese were reduced to defending their conquests on the island of New Guinea.
What does the director of the Australian War Memorial say about this denigration of Prime Minister Curtin?
Major General Steve Gower, AO, director of the Australian War Memorial, is on record as saying in an email to Pacific War historian James Bowen dated 8 November 2005:
Stanley has legitimate arguments in my opinion".
When he wrote these words, Major General Gower appeared to dismiss reported criticism directed at Dr Peter Stanley by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Federal Opposition and to declare his support for Dr Stanley's flawed 1942 revisionism.
In a later email dated 22 December 2005, Major General Gower went on to say:
"..there was no Japanese plan to invade Australia in 1942. This is not a novel view by any means and is very well-documented. Dr Stanley's views are in fact not so divergent from those of many historians that he should be singled out."
When invited by the author to produce any such supportive documentation, together with an offer to publish it on this web-site, Major General Gower failed to reply.
Is an apology justified?
Whether my proofs justify an apology by Major General Steve Gower to Prime Minister John Howard, former Leader of the Federal Opposition Kim Beazley, and the people of Australia, will be a matter for viewers to contemplate. I have expressed my own views in a later chapter.
I believe that I have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, both here and in preceding chapters, that criticism of the wartime leadership of Prime Minister Curtin by Dr Peter Stanley and the Australian War Memorial bureaucracy is completey unjustified.
It is a sad reflection on the Australian War Memorial that its historians cannot lift their game sufficiently to understand the forces that shaped the Pacific War in 1942 and had the potential to affect the course of the war in Europe. Dr Peter Stanley appears to be incapable of understanding that a major American defeat at the Battle of Midway would almost certainly have produced a serious political crisis in the United States for President Roosevelt and forced diversion of substantial American military resources from Europe, Russia and North Africa in order to defend Hawaii from a planned Japanese attack in October 1942. In that situation, Australia would have become expendable