The war was challenging the established power relationships between nations. While in Britain there was shock at the loss of Singapore, an omen for the loss of Empire, in Australia there was a much more pressing realisation – that there was a real threat of invasion of Australia itself.
John Curtin, Australian Prime Minister now signalled a realignment of loyalties. It was a practical response to the reality of the situation – who was best placed to stand beside Australia. From North Africa Australian troops, from the 6th and 7th Divisions, were now pulled back to defend the homeland, Curtin refused to allow Australian troops to be diverted to defend Burma. The 9th Division would continue to distinguish itself in the Desert war – but would not participate when the war returned to the European mainland. Thousands of Australian airmen in the RAF and RAAF would continue the fight against Germany until the end.
In a radio address to America on the 14th March he spelt it out:
[F]acts are stern things. We, the allied nations, were unready. Japan, behind her wall of secrecy, had prepared for war on a scale of which neither we nor you had knowledge. We have all made mistakes, we have all been too slow; we have all shown weakness – all the allied nations. This is not the time to wrangle about who has been most to blame. Now our eyes are open.
The Australian Government has fought for its people. We never regarded the Pacific as a segment of the great struggle. We did not insist that it was the primary theatre of war, but we did say, and events have so far, unhappily, proved us right, that the loss of the Pacific can be disastrous. Who among us, contemplating the future on that day in December last when Japan struck like an assassin at Pearl Harbour at Manila, at Wake and Guam, would have hazarded a guess that by March the enemy would be astride all the south-west Pacific except General MacArthur’s gallant men [in the Philippines], and Australia and New Zealand. But that is the case.
And, realising very swiftly that it would be the case, the Australian Government sought a full and proper recognition of the part the Pacific was playing in the general strategic disposition of the world’s warring forces. It was, therefore, but natural that, within twenty days after Japan’s first treacherous blow, I said on behalf of the Australian Government that we looked to America as the paramount factor on the democracies’ side of the Pacific.
There is no belittling of the Old Country in this outlook. Britain has fought and won in the air the tremendous battle of Britain. Britain has fought, and with your strong help, has won, the equally vital battle of the Atlantic. She has a paramount obligation to supply all possible help to Russia. She cannot, at the same time, go all out in the Pacific. We Australians, with New Zealand, represent Great Britain here in the Pacific – we are her sons – and on us the responsibility falls. I pledge to you my word we will not fail. You, as I have said, must be our leader. We will pull knee to knee with you for every ounce of our weight.
The whole speech can be read, and heard, at ABC.