366 Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister, to Mr Clement Attlee, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 139 CANBERRA, 213 February 1942


Prime Minister to Prime Minister. [1]

Reference your 241. [2]

In your 233 [3] it was clearly implied that the convoy was not proceeding to the northward. From 241 it appears that you have diverted the convoy towards Rangoon and had treated our approval to this vital diversion as merely a matter of form. By doing so you have established a physical situation which adds to the dangers of the convoy and the responsibility of the consequences of such diversion rests upon you.

2. We have already informed the President [4] of the reasons for our decision and, having regard to the terms of his communications to me [5], we are quite satisfied from his sympathetic reply that he fully understands and appreciates the reasons for our decision.

3. Wavell's message [6] considered by Pacific War Council on Saturday reveals that Java faces imminent invasion. Australia's outer defences are now quickly vanishing and our vulnerability is completely exposed.

4. With A.I.F. troops we sought to save Malaya and Singapore, falling back on Netherlands East Indies. All these northern defences are gone or going. Now you contemplate using the A.I.F.

to save Burma. All this has been done as in Greece without adequate air support.

5. We feel a primary obligation to save Australia not only for itself but to preserve it as a base for the development of the war against Japan. In the circumstances it is quite impossible to reverse a decision which we made with the utmost care and which we have affirmed and re-affirmed.

6. Our Chief of General Staff [7] advises although your 241 refers to the leading division only the fact is that owing to the loading of the flights it is impossible at the present time to separate the two divisions and the destination of all the flights will be governed by that of the first flight. This fact reinforces us in our decision.

1 Winston Churchill.

2 Document 362.

3 Document 352.

4 Franklin D. Roosevelt. See Document 358.

5 See Documents 355 and 363.

6 The message from the Allied Supreme Commander of the A.B.D.A.

Area was forwarded to the Commonwealth Govt on 18 February in U.K.

Dominions Office cablegram 219 (on file AA:A816, 52/302/142).

7 Lt Gen V. A. H. Sturdee.

[AA:A3196, 1942, 0.5424]