Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides

The Sinking of HMAS Sydney: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records

The War Cabinet

On 26 September 1939 the Full Cabinet approved the formation of a War Cabinet to deal with the conduct of the war. Although it had originally been intended that the War Cabinet would be an executive subcommittee to the Full Cabinet, as the war progressed the War Cabinet increased in importance and authority, and the main decisions concerning the conduct of the war came to be taken by the War Cabinet, with the larger Full Cabinet left to deal with more peripheral matters.1

The formation of the War Cabinet had been announced by Prime Minister Menzies on 15 September 1939, less than two weeks after the outbreak of war. There had not been a War Cabinet during World War I and the decision to form a War Cabinet on the outbreak of World War II was the result of planning by Defence officials to prepare for the next war.2

In November and December of 1941 the membership of the War Cabinet consisted of eight Australian Government ministers chosen by the Prime Minister. In 1939 the Department of Defence had been separated into four departments – Defence Co-ordination, Army, Navy and Air – and each of these ministers was a member. At the time of HMAS Sydney's loss, the membership of the War Cabinet was:

  • The Rt Hon. John Curtin, Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Co-ordination
  • The Hon. Francis M Forde, Minister for the Army
  • The Hon. Joseph B Chifley, Treasurer
  • The Rt Hon. Herbert Vere Evatt, KC, Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs
  • The Hon. John A Beasley, Minister for Supply and Shipping
  • The Hon. Norman J O Makin, Minister for the Navy and Minister for Munitions
  • The Hon. Arthur S Drakeford, Minister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation
  • The Hon. John J Dedman, Minister for War Organisation of Industry (from 11 December 1941).


Chapter notes | All notes

1 David Horner, Inside the War Cabinet: Directing Australia's War Effort 1939–45, Allen & Unwin in association with Australian Archives, Sydney, 1996, p. 5.

2 ibid, p2


Chapter 4
The Discussions of the War Cabinet and the Advisory War Council