255 Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister, to Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 43 23 January 1941 [1],

My telegram 649. [2] Overseas force from French Oceania.

In connection with question of raising, training and despatch of men from New Caledonia and Tahiti, the Naval Board expressed the view that due to general weakness of defence position in South Pacific and extreme importance that New Caledonia should not fall into hands of Japan, the despatch of troops from New Caledonia should be discouraged, and that local defence troops should in fact be reinforced.

Communications passing between Sautot [3] and de Gaulle [4] showed that preparations for despatch of first echelon consisting of 600 men, who had been waiting for a considerable period, were well advanced and other information indicated it would cause grave discouragement and discontent if volunteers were prevented from proceeding overseas.

Consequently, matter was referred to Chiefs of Staff for consideration, who have now recommended that on account of strategic importance of New Caledonia, the first action should be to determine exact state of defence arrangements already in being in New Caledonia, and to make plans to co-operate with local defence forces.

For this purpose de Gaulle should be asked to issue instructions to Sauter to enter into Staff conversations immediately with Australian Defence authorities. Instructions should also indicate that conversations should embrace every aspect of defence, including arms and equipment, should take place in New Caledonia, and to this end Commonwealth Government would send Army Officer as soon as Sauter indicates agreement.

Pending outcome of conversations and consideration of resultant report, it is considered desirable that no large contingents should sail from New Caledonia for service overseas with the exception of the first contingent previously referred to.

Commonwealth Government has approved of these recommendations and asks that representations be made accordingly to de Gaulle for the issue of the necessary instructions.

On information we have received from Ballard [5] and conversations with Mansard [6], we are convinced that despatch of a Military Mission is imperative. Nobody seems to have any real knowledge of what de Gaulle's proposal for an overseas force is, where troops are to be used, how they will be equipped, officered, paid or transported. We cannot even obtain advice as to what arms and equipment it is desired Commonwealth Government shall provide.

This is quite apart from requirements of local defence, of which we are also in the dark.

We suggest, with some diffidence, that the piece-meal communications now passing between de Gaulle and Sautot are not leading to a clarification of the present position and that it is essential the whole matter be placed on a proper footing and based on a definite plan without delay.

1 The Prime Minister's Dept outward cablegram register (AA:A3643, 1) gives the date of dispatch, as 22 January.

2 Document 224.

3 Free French Governor of New Caledonia.

4 Leader of the Free French movement.

5 Official Representative in New Caledonia.

6 Formerly Free French Governor of Tahiti. He visited Australia during December 1940 to discuss defence assistance for French Oceania.

[AA:A3196, 1941, 0.852]