373 Sir Earle Page, Special Representative in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram P52 LONDON, 24 February 1942, 9.55 p.m.

MOST IMMEDIATE FOR THE PRIME MINISTER MOST SECRET HIMSELF ALONE

1. Reference your telegram 32 [1], the policy regarding evacuation of Java was carefully considered by the Pacific War Council on two occasions. As advised in my P.43 [2] the following recommendations were made to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Washington as principles to guide Wavell [3]:-

(1) Strenuous resistance should be maintained in Java by forces already available there in order to gain as much time as possible and delay further Japanese offensives.

(2) Non-Dutch troops already in Java should continue fighting alongside the Dutch.

2. On the second occasion, as reported in paragraph 4 of my telegram 1609 [4], the Council recommended considerably more latitude to the Supreme Commander than on the first. It allowed him to evacuate certain classes of personnel immediately and gave an ultimate discretion to the local commanders to decide when shipping must be evacuated to prevent its destruction by air attack and who should go in them.

3. I have been informed to-day by the Chiefs of Staff that telegram No. 70 despatched to Wavell on 22nd February by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, Washington, after approval by the President [5] on behalf of America and by the Prime Minister [6] on behalf of the Pacific Council, reads as follows:-

'All men of fighting units for whom there are arms must continue to fight without thought of evacuation, but air forces which can more usefully operate in battle from bases outside Java and all air personnel for whom there are no aircraft and such troops particularly technicians as cannot contribute to the defence of Java to be withdrawn. With respect to personnel who cannot contribute to the defence, the general policy should be to withdraw United States and Australian personnel to Australia.' 4. It seems quite impossible for the Councils at Washington or here to do more at this point of time or at this distance.

Discretion as to the mode and priority of evacuation has been left to the commanders on the spot and it is assumed that Lavarack [7] will ensure that Australian personnel receive their allocation of any ships available.

5. Your telegram was somewhat mutilated in transmission but am I right in assuming that you did not ask for absolute preference for evacuation of Australians above all other classes and fighting nationals. [8]

PAGE

1 Document 370.

2 Document 341.

3 Allied Supreme Commander of the A.B.D.A. Area.

4 See Document 370, note 1.

5 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

6 Winston Churchill.

7 Commander, I Australian Corps.

8 No reply to this query has been found.

[AA:A3195, 1942, 1.8164]