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The American Command structure in Australia after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 through to the end of January 1942 was very very confused.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Pensacola Convoy was headed to the Philippines to reinforce American forces in that area. General Douglas MacArthur was notified on 12 December 1941 that the troops and supplies in the Pensacola Convoy would be placed at his disposal and that the aircraft in the cargo would be assembled as soon as possible after arrival, and that General Julian Barnes would be instructed to report to him.


Photo:- US Navy Archives #19-N-67932

USS Pensacola (CA 24) on 14 October 1943.. USS Pensacola was the first cruiser the US had built 
in decades and its first heavy cruiser. Her only sister ship was USS Salt Lake City (CA 25).


On 12 December 1941, in General Order No. 1, Brigadier General Julian F. Barnes, the most senior American officer travelling in the Pensacola Convoy assumed command of Task Force, South Pacific TFSP.

Troops in Task Force, South Pacific TFSP were as follows:-


147th Field Artillery: Col. Jenson, Commanding
2nd Battalion, 148th Field Artillery: Lt. Col. Patterson, Commanding
Seventy casual officers: Colonel John A. Robinson, Cav., Commanding.


26th F.A. Brigade Hq. and Hq. Batry: Lt. Col. Albert C. Searls, Commanding.
2nd Battalion, 131st F.A., Ft. Col. Blucher H. Tharp, Commanding.
7th Bombardment Group: Captain Roscoe T. Nichols, in charge.
88th Reconnaisance Squadron.
8th Material Squadron.
453rd Ordnance Company (B Aviation)
3rd Chemical Company (Laboratory)
36th Signal Platoon
Company J, 33rd Q.M. Regiment (Truck)
Company J, 91st Q.M. Battalion (IM)


General Order No. 2, of Dec. 12, 1941 assigned the Staff for Task Force, South Pacific TFSP as follows:-:


Brigadier General Julian F. Barnes, USA, Commander
Col. A. L. P. Johnson, Infantry, Chief of Staff
Major Leo A. Dupre, F.A. G-1 ,
Captain James M. Jonas, G-2
1st Lt. Charles E. Goetz, Asst. G-2
Lt. Col. Ray H. Lewis, F.A. G-3
Major George T. Derby, CE. G-4
Major Abraham G. Silverman Q.M.
Capt. Emil J. Smith, Asst. Q.M.
Capt. C. W. Wilson, Asst. Q.M.
Lt. Manson, Ordnance
Major Littell, Medical
Major Sandoz, C.W.S.
Major J. L. Antz, Signals
Major E. S. Nichols, Air
Capt. W. Farrar, Engineer
Lt. Jesse B. Halprin, Provost Marshall
Lt. W. C. Taggart, Chaplain


The Pensacola Convoy arrived at Suva, Fiji on 13 December 1941 and at 2pm onboard USNT Republic, Brigadier General Julian F. Barnes received a message from General Marshall designating him as commander of U.S. Troops in Australia. Barnes was ordered to report to the Commander, U.S. Land Forces in Far East, Manila for instructions and to prepare the cargo of aircraft for combat and make every effort to get them to the Philippines. The Pensacola Convoy left Suva on 14 December 1941.


Photo:- AWM Negative No. 011550

Major General Julian F. Barnes


On 17 December 1941 the War Plans Division recommended that General Brett, An Air Corps officer, then at a military conference of Allied military leaders in Chunking, would assume command of all American troops and military facilities in Australia, relieving General Barnes, who at that time was in command of Task Force, South Pacific and travelling with the Pensacola Convoy headed for Brisbane, Australia. At that time the suggested title for his proposed command was Commanding General, American Troops in Australia. He was to report to General Douglas MacArthur, the Commanding General, U.S. Army Forces in the Far East USAFFE. General Marshall approved this plan and the War Plans Division sent out messages and directives on 17 December 1941 to put this plan into effect. As part of this plan, pending General Brett's arrival in Australia, Brigadier General Henry Black Claggett, an Air Corps officer on General MacArthur's staff was to be sent to Australia from the Philippines to take temporary commend.


Major General George H. Brett


On 18 December 1941, the U.S. Military Attache, Australia received a message to be delivered to Brigadier General Barnes. The message stated that Major General George H. Brett was expected to arrive in Darwin, in the Northern Territory on 29 December 1941. and that Brett had been designated as Commander of all U.S. Military Troops, and facilities in Australia and directed to establish a services of supply in support of the Philippines. General Claggett had been ordered from the Philippines as Assistant to Brett.

At that time the Philippines was urgently in need of air equipment and ammunition and it was contemplated that other aircraft and such ammunition as they could carry would be unloaded at Brisbane and flown to the Philippines from there.

On 19 December 1941, General Douglas Macarthur cables General Barnes to send the Convoy, less Air Corps elements, to the Philippines by the most expeditious route.

Macarthur cabled Barnes on 19 December 1941 and stated that the immediate movement of the convoy to Darwin would allow the following disposition of Air Corps troops:- 8th Material Squadron, Two Bombardment Squadrons and detachments, Signal Corps and Q.M. disembark at Brisbane for the assembly of aircraft, then to proceed to Townsville and to provide detachments for Cloncurry. The remainder of Air Corps and assigned units S.C. and C.W.S., Ordnance and Q.M. to proceed to Darwin to establish base and furnish detachment for Daley Waters. 88th Reconnaissance Squadron with detachments, Ordnance and S.C. and C.W.S. should be prepared to move to the Philippines. Dispositions may be modified by Senior Air Corps officer for urgent reasons.

A message from General Brereton to General Claggett on 19 December 1941 ordered that all new aircraft be held pending further instructions.

Temporary Headquarters for United States Forces in Australia USFIA was established at Darwin on 19 December 1941. On 21 December 1941, the joint Army-Navy Board in Washington D.C. agreed that General Brett and Rear Admiral Glassford, Commander of Task Force 5, would establish a base at Darwin in cooperation with Australian authorities and would make every effort to establish communications between Luzon and Australia by aircraft, by escorted fast ships, and by small vessels proceeding singly.

On 21 December 1941, British Admiralty, Washington, sent a telegram to Commander Causey, U.S.N. giving instructions to U.S.S. Pensacola from C. in C. Pacific Fleet. After unloading aircraft at Brisbane, the convoy was to proceed inside the Barrier Reef and through the Torres Strait to Darwin. In the vicinity of Torres Strait, escort from U.S. Asiatic Fleet will convoy.

On 21 December 1941 General Barnes received a message from Colonel Van S. Merle-Smith, Military Attache stated that all arrangements had been completed for unloading and erection of aircraft and reloading of additional cargo for the Philippines, and for disembarkation and quartering of personnel.

The Pensacola Convoy arrived in Brisbane on 22 December 1941. The troops disembarked on 23 December 1941 and marched to their camps at Ascot and Doomben Race Tracks which became known as Camp Ascot and Camp Doomben. Upon arrival of the Pensacola convoy in Brisbane, HQ TFSP was abolished by redesignation as Headquarters, United States Forces in Australia (HQ USFIA), effective December 22, 1941, by General Order 4, HQ TFSP, 19 December 1941. General Barnes established his Headquarters for United States Forces in Australia USFIA in Lennons Hotel in George Street, Brisbane. General Barnes reported to the Commanding General, U.S. Army Forces in the Far East USAFFE, General Douglas MacArthur. General H.B. Clagett arrived in Brisbane by air late in the evening on 22 December 1941.

On 24 December 1941, General Barnes, the Commanding General USFIA, pending the arrival of General Brett, received instructions from the War Department that he was authorised to do anything necessary to effect the delivery of arms, equipment and ammunition to the Philippines. Urgent requirements were stated to be air equipment ammunition, mainly .50 cal. The authorisation included the incurring of necessary financial obligations.

Under General Orders No. 5 dated 24 December 1942, Brigadier General Henry B. Claggett assumed command of USFIA. General Barnes then became General Clagett's Chief of Staff.

General Orders No. 6 dated 24 December 1941 constituted Headquarters Detachment, United States Army Forces in Australia USAFIA.

On 25 December 1941, General Barnes received instructions from General Marshall to submit to the War Department at the very earliest time a rough estimate of the types and quantities of organisations and supplies needed to carry out his mission. (Barnes was no longer the Commanding General, Claggett had assumed command the previous day). Organisations, materials and personnel had or would come to Australia and could not be sent quickly to the Islands could be used provided they could be sent to their destination when the opportunity presented itself. All materials and labour could be purchased or hired in Australia as much as possible at that point in time, due to the difficulties of overseas transportation.

General Marshall forwarded the War department's tentative views of the situation in the South Western Pacific as follows:-

The doubt was expressed that the previous plans for staging short range airplanes to Luzon could not be executed. General MacArthur was gradually withdrawing to Bataan and Corregidor, leaving no airfield in his possession except a small one on Corregidor Island. It was possible also that some of the required staging fields to the south of Luzon were either in hands of enemy, or were destroyed.

The program for building up a strong body of U.S. Forces for operations in the Southwest Pacific was to be continued intensively. Approximately 80 heavy bombers, two hundred pursuit planes and fifty two dive bombers had already been allocated and their movement to Australia was to be completed in approximately one month. Hope was expressed that their long-range equipment would be able to render the most valuable assistance in the Philippines and that their entire force would be useful in the support of allied forces at critical points throughout that theater. The purpose was to make the command predominantly air, with the other elements being limited to those needed for the efficient air operations in the security of bases. It was stated that difficulties in water transportation made it imperative that U.S. personnel other than that required in air and base units, be kept at a minimum.

On 26 December 1941, General Claggett cabled Admiral Glassford, the Commander in Chief Asiatic Fleet "Where and when can my representative meet you and your representative for a preliminary conference regarding general plans and joint Army and Navy base." This was in connection with establishing a base at Darwin.

On 27 December 1941, an intercepted message from Brink to Milid via Manila referred to a joint conference by USAFIA and Commander in Chief Asiatic Fleet CINCAF and stated that MacArthur's views as agreed to by the President were that Australia should prepare the main base for offensive operations against the Japanese with the N.E.I. as an advance base.

On 28 December 1941, the Convoy including the "Holbrook" carrying the 147th F.A. and the 148th F.A. less one Battalion and certain equipment, and the "Chaumont" departed Brisbane for the Philippines. The Dutch ship "Bloemfontein" did not sail with the convoy as she had orders from N.E.I. to proceed to Sourabaya.

On 29 December 1941, General Clagett sent a message to the Chief of Staff Washington stating that "Bloemfontein" loaded with essential supplies and one Battalion of Field Artillery was held up because of orders from N.E.I. Claggett advised that he had requested a change of Orders to the N.E.I. and that if approval was not received within 24 hours, the "Bloemfontein" was to be unloaded and released to N.E.I. Departure of airplanes for Philippines was dependent upon essential parts not yet located. All P-40's were held up because no Prestone could be located.

He had travelled from the United States via the United Kingdom, Gibraltar, Malta, and Cairo and was due to return to the United States. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed those plans. Brett then travelled to Rangoon, Burma with Brigadier General Edward H. Alexander where they stayed for 10 days. Brett then departed for Chunking to meet with British General Sir Archibald Wavell, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Brett left China for Australia on 24 December 1941. General Brett arrived in Australia on 31 December 1941 (another source suggested he arrived on 28 December). Brett spent the first part of January 1942 in Darwin, attempting to organise the AAF and Allied operations from there.

On 2 January 1942 General Brett radioed General George Marshall advising that there is little hope of effectively reinforcing the Philippines until a large air base could be established in Darwin in the Northern Territory and a large supply and repair depot could be established in Townsville in north Queensland.

HQ USFIA moved from Brisbane to Melbourne on 3 January 1942, and was abolished by redesignation as Headquarters, United States Army Forces in Australia (HQ USAFIA), by General Order 1, HQ USAFIA, on 5 January 1942 with General Brett as the Commanding General and General Claggett as his Chief of Staff.

On 3 January 1942 General  Brett met with Australian military leaders, advising them that the Allies must adopt a temporary strategy of defense and containment in threatened areas.

General Brett called General Arnold on 5 January 2941 via a scratchy telephone line in Darwin, seeking instructions on how to run the American operations in Australia. Arnold asked Brett if he had a code book to which Brett replied that he did not. This meant that his instructions would then have to be sent via the Military Attache in Melbourne.

On 10 January 1942, General Wavell flew from Singapore to Batavia where he met the officers who were to become staff members of the American British Dutch and Australian Command ABDACOM. These included Lt. Gen. Brett, Admiral Hart, Vice Admiral Helfrich, Lt. Gen. Ter Poorten, Major General Van Oyen, Admiral Palliser and Major General Brereton. Vice Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton and Air Chief Marshall Sir Charles Burnett who were also in Batavia at the time, attended the conference.

On 12 January 1942 General Brett took on the role of Deputy Supreme Commander for the American British Dutch and Australian Command ABDACOM and Major General Brereton took command of USAFIA on the same day.

Headquarters U.S. Army Forces in Australia USAFIA was established in the Repatriation Building, in St. Kilda Road, Melbourne on 24 January 1942.

Brigadier General Patrick Jay Hurley reported to HQ USAFIA in Melbourne on 8 February 1942 as a personal representative of General G. G. Marshall and for the purpose of cooperating with the CG USAFIA, in expediting measures for the organisation and dispatch of supplies to General MacArthur's command in the Philippines.

Major General Brereton was then appointed as the American-British-Dutch-Australian Air Operational Command (ABDAIR) deputy commander on 27 January 1942 and General Barnes then took over as the Commanding General of USAFIA. General Brett then travelled to Lembang, Java where the Commanding General ABDACOM, General Wavell had established his headquarters. The surrender of Singapore on 15 February 1942 disrupted the ABDA Command and General Wavell resigned as Supreme Commander on 25 February 1942 and control of the former ABDA Area reverted to local Commanders.  

Finally when the ABDACOM command dissolved, General Order No. 16 dated 25 February 1942 announced that Lt. Gen. George H. Brett would assume command of USAFIA. General Brett had departed for Australia a few days earlier on 23 February 1942 arriving in Melbourne on 24 February 1942 to take command of all United States forces in Australia. General Barnes became his Chief of Staff and General Lewis Hyde Brereton was in command of all Air Forces. 

Headquarters USAFIA relocated to MacRobertson High School from the Repatriation Building on 23 March 1942.

On 18 April 1942 General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area GHQ SWPA was established at 401 Collins Street, Melbourne. General Order No. 1 dated 18 April 1942 created the following commands:-

General Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief GHQ SWPA

Allied Land Forces, Southwest Pacific Area
    Commander - General Sir Thomas Blamey, KCB, CMG, D30, Australian Army

Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific Area
    Commander - Lt. Gen. George H. Brett, USA

Allied Naval Forces, Southwest Pacific Area
    Commander - Vice Admiral Herbert F. Leary, USA

United States Forces in Philippines
    Commander - Lt. Gen. Jonathon M. Wainwright, USA

United States Forces in Australia
    Commander - Major-General Julian Barnes

As part of the above changes General Barnes replaced General Brett as CG USAFIA on 18 April 1942.

HQ USAFIA was eventually abolished by General Order 17, GHQ SWPA, 20 July 1942, with functions transferred to the newly established Headquarters, United States Army Services of Supply (HQ USASOS).



"Diary - Headquarters, United States Army Forces in Australia"

Records of Headquarters, United States Army Forces, Western Pacific (World War II)

"How Not to Run an Air Force"
by Norman Ashworth

"Airpower Leadership on the Front Line - Lt. Gen. George H. Brett and Combat Command"
by Lieutenant Colonel Douglas A. Cox, USAF

"Air War Pacific Chronology"
by Eric Hammel

"Despatch by the Supreme Commander of the ABDA area to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the Operations in the South-west Pacific 15 January 1942 to 25 February 1942"



I'd like to thank the late Major Bill Bentson for his assistance with this web page.

I'd also like to thank Gus Breyman for his assistance with this web page.


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 Peter Dunn 2015


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This page first produced 12 January 2015

This page last updated 03 February 2016