335 Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs, to Sir Stafford Cripps

Cablegram unnumbered (draft) CANBERRA, [16 February 1942] [1]

Personal from Evatt for Sir Stafford Cripps alone. [2]

To be decyphered by Stirling. [3]

1. I should like to say how refreshing is your independent outlook on present position. We came into office here in October. Prior to that Commonwealth war preparations had been based on the tacit assumption that Japan would never come in or would be negligible after coming in. There had also been much Foreign Office covert hostility to Russia evidenced by long delay in facing position over Finland, Roumania and Hungary. During Hull-Kurusu talks [4] chances of modus vivendi were obstructed at crucial point by U.K.

demarche: Hull was not prepared to proceed with modus vivendi owing to 'the little support from British Government' (his own phrase). [5] From that moment war became a certainty.

2. Thence forward we have repeatedly warned and pleaded with Churchill about the danger to Singapore and the subsequent threat that Japan would command all the seas. The result was assurances that Singapore could not fall, much rhetoric, a few promises but less performance. We find ourselves cut off from our troops in the Middle East, the flower of our airmen in Britain, and having to suffer rebukes from a section of the Tory press in England supported by our Munich-minded political opponents here whom the country now utterly distrusts and detests.

3. Churchill's references to Australia in his speech' were very ungenerous and are bitterly resented. He implied that we were asking for the return to Australia of the A.I.F. from the Middle East and that he was generously consenting. In fact it was he who suggested such a transfer. He took occasion to praise soldiers and airmen of every nation engaged in the Rommel [7] campaign except Australians. True our A.I.F. was not engaged but our air-force squadrons had performed magnificently. His references to people getting rattled were more applicable to his Tory associates in the U.K. than to the people of this country. He went out of his way to praise Menzies [8] solely in order to make political play against our Prime Minister. [9] Incidentally Menzies privately described Churchill as suffering from a dictatorship complex which approaches megalomania and which habitually compels the military experts to yield.

4. The result of all this has been a growing conviction here that we cannot win this war without great and drastic changes in higher direction. Three recent events, the reduction of Singapore (which Churchill described as impregnable), the collapse in Cyrenaica, and the escape of the battleships from Brest [10], confirm this conviction. Moreover, the reports of the A.I.F. Commander [11] and of our official representatives in Malaya and Singapore have shown a condition of affairs in the Commands which was shocking and must soon be revealed publicly.

5. I am satisfied that the Pacific Council machinery has been deliberately set up by Churchill in order to prevent the countries so closely concerned in the Pacific theatre as Australia and China from meeting in common council to decide upon common policy against Japan. The Council meets in London once a week. The U.S.A.

and China are not on it. Churchill then is supposed to focus divergent views and communicate with U. S.A.-British Chiefs of Staff in Washington. The whole set-up is a preposterous example of side-tracking.

6. I do not know your intentions though I do feel sure you will play a great part at this critical hour. I should like to assure you that as far as possible I should like to help you to destroy complacency and to cooperate now to secure victory and a life worth living for all peoples.

7. These are my confidential views. It is vital that someone in England should realise that we must find greater air support from U.S. and U.K.: we are short in everything because we have poured out our resources to help the common cause everywhere in the world.


1 Inserted from Cripps's reply (Document 339). The original typescript of this draft was extensively altered by Evatt and it is possible that further amendments were made before the cablegram was dispatched.

2 Cripps had formerly been U.K. Ambassador to the U.S.S.R. and on 19 February assumed office as U.K. Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons. In a speech at Bristol on 8 February he had called for a greater war effort and 'a clear lead to the world on peace aims' and advocated the fullest support for the U.S.S.R. on the eastern front. See the Times, 9 February 1942, P.2.

3 External Affairs Officer in London.

4 For detailed information on the talks between the U.S. Secretary of State and the Japanese special envoy to the United States during November 1941 see under Hull in Index of Persons.

5 See Sir Llewellyn Woodward, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War, vol. II, H.M.S.O., London, 1971, p.166, and Document 133.

6 This is presumably a reference to Churchill's speech on 27 January. See House of Commons, Parliamentary Debates, 5th series, vol. 377, col. 614.

7 German Commander-in-Chief in North Africa.

8 United Australia Party M.H.R. for Kooyong, member of the Advisory War Council and Prime Minister 1939-41. He remained a member of the Advisory War Council.

9 John Curtin.

10 On the night of 11-12 February the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen escaped from Brest and sailed up the English Channel to Germany.

11 Maj Gen H. G. Bennett.