142 Lord Caldecote, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner in Australia

Circular cablegram Z268 LONDON, 27 September 1940, 3.40 a.m.


My telegram of 26th September Circular Z.No.265. [2] Following is message from Prime Minister [3] for Prime Minister's [4] most secret and personal information.

You will have seen from the Secretary of State's message sent through the High Commissioner in telegram of 25th September Circular Z.258 [5] that we decided to break off at Dakar.

Situation there was changed by arrival of French cruisers from Toulon which eluded our naval forces and entered Dakar. There is no doubt that apart from their own fighting power these vessels brought some tough Vichy personnel to grip the garrison and townsfolk and man the batteries effectively. Having deposited this very important contingent at Dakar, French cruisers tried to go to Duala. They were intercepted by the navy and two agreed to return to Casablanca. The other two went back into Dakar. On this serious change it seemed advisable to abandon the enterprise but our Commander on the Spot [6] and General de Gaulle [7] pleaded to be allowed to test defences and morale of garrison on which all depended. We authorised them therefore to act as they thought best. It became clear after second day's operations that resistance of fortress and of French ships including heavy guns of Richelieu was most formidable. Resolution was torpedoed by a submarine and is making her way to Freetown. H.M.S. Cumberland was hit in engine room by a large shell and is now in Bathurst. Both these ships will take some time to repair. H.M.S. Barham and H.M.A.S. Australia were hit without affecting their fighting efficiency. H.M.S. Dragon and H.M.S. Inglefield were slightly damaged. We sunk two French submarines which attacked us capturing crew of one. One destroyer was set on fire by H.M.A.S. Australia.

It seems likely that Richelieu sustained further damage but we have no proof yet. In view of new proportions which operation had assumed Commander on the spot now advised discontinuance. In the circumstances we did not think it right to throw our troops on shore as we might thereby have been tied down and committed to a prolonged operation not against the Germans but against the French. This would have been detrimental politically to de Gaulle and also to our general position with the Vichy Government.

Operation has miscarried through mischance and misfortune of prior arrival of French cruisers and reinforcements. Ships must return soon to the Mediterranean. Troops also have other tasks. We decided to cut loss which is appreciable but should not be viewed out of proportion to scale of events. I am sorry not to have a better tale to tell.

1 The Prime Minister's Dept inward cablegram register (FA:A3642, 1) gave the date of receipt as 27 September.

2 Dispatched 26 September. See file AA:A1608, A41/1/1, xiii.

3 Winston S. Churchill.

4 R. G. Menzies.

5 Document 139.

6 Vice Admiral H. D. Cunningham.

7 Leader of the Free French movement.

[AA:A1608, A41/1/1, xiii]