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

Cablegram 33 CANBERRA, 25 February 1942

MOST IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET

I cannot fail to point out to you that your cablegrams give no impression that the Australian point of view regarding the security of the Commonwealth as the ultimate base to be held in the south-west Pacific has been advocated by you. We have certainly had no comments from you on the special information with which you have been supplied.

2. On 13th February No. 21 [1] raised with you the trend of the position and the ultimate disposition of the A.I.F.

3. On 15th February in No. 24 [2] you were furnished for your guidance with a lengthy statement on the relation of an Australian Expeditionary Force to home defence.

4. On 17th February No. 26 [3] conveyed the decision of the Government on the return of the A.I.F. to Australia.

5. On 18th February, according to your P.43 [4], you subscribed to a recommendation of the Pacific Council for the diversion of the 7th Division to Burma without reservation as to its relation to the home defence position. Your P.44 [5] was an elaboration of this request without any observations on our special aspects.

6. On 18th February No.27 [6] informed you of the probable nature of the reply of the Government and instructed that the convoy should not be committed to Burma. The reply was confirmed in No.

28 of 19th February [7], and No. 29 of the same date [8] amplified the reply and reiterated the reasons for the return of the A.I.F.

to Australia.

7. We were amazed to learn from your P.47 [9] that you had not communicated No. 28 until receipt of further advice and on 20th February No. 30 [10] instructed you to act at once on Nos. 28 and 29.

8. It is noted from your 1637 [11] that it was on 20th February that, in anticipation of approval, the convoy was diverted northwards with the consequence that the convoy has now to refuel at Colombo.

9. Your P.50 [12] repeats for Ceylon the same request made for Burma, which has been dealt with at length. In P.51 [13] there is a statement of views on the importance of holding Ceylon, but nothing about the importance of or capacity to hold Australia.

10. A further reply will be forwarded to you but in the meantime I would put to you the following as personal points of my own:-

(i) Whether it is the defence of Burma or Ceylon there has been no change in the fundamental need for strengthening the local defence of Australia.

(ii) With the collapse of Singapore and the Malay Barrier Australia is laid bare to attack and it is the last main base in the south-west Pacific.

(iii) As the Japanese are now in force in the Netherlands East Indies and Rabaul they are quite as likely to move against Australia as Ceylon, for you indicate in paragraph (2) that there are capital ships available in the Indian Ocean to defend Ceylon.

(iv) Do you consider, if Japan had been an enemy on the outbreak of war, that, with the loss of Singapore and the absence of a capital ship fleet, we would have agreed to send an Expeditionary Force further afield than Malaya and then only with a line of retirement to Australia? (v) In view of our present world-wide weakness vis-a-vis the Axis there are numerous geographical centres where an A.I.F. or any other Division would be useful. From our point of view there is none east of Suez of greater importance than Australia.

(vi) I have the impression, from the cablegrams and actions such as the unauthorised diversion [14], the repetition of the request for the 7th Division through you [15] and references to shipping and convoys, that we are going to have difficulty in getting the A.I.F. back to Australia. That is why I put to you at length the relation of the return of the A.I.F. to local defence and the importance of its security as a base for counter-offensive action against Japan. I want you to press this most strenuously.

11. You will no doubt recall that, owing to method of loading, the three flights of ships which include the 6th and 7th Divisions must all go to the same destination.

CURTIN

1 Document 332.

2 Document 334.

3 See Document 336, note 1.

4 Document 341.

5 Document 342.

6 Document 343.

7 Document 345 8 On file AA:A816, 52/302/142.

9 Document 347.

10 Document 348.

11 Document 368.

12 Document 372.

13 Dispatched 24 February. On the file cited in note 8.

14 See Document 362.

15 See Document 372.

[AA:A3196, 1942, 0.5738]