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

Cablegram P56 LONDON, 27 February 1942, 4.27 p.m.

MOST IMMEDIATE FOR THE PRIME MINISTER MOST SECRET HIMSELF ALONE

Following my P. 54 [1] I desire to comment on the points made in paragraph 10 of your telegram 33 [2] as follows:-

(1) If Ceylon is lost, Australia will need much more strengthening of its local defences than if it is retained.

(2) Australia always lay bare to attack before the collapse of Singapore and the Malay barrier. Australia can be attacked more easily now after the collapse of Singapore, but the probability of attack will be greater if Ceylon and India are lost. Australia's importance as a base has been and is being pressed continuously and is well recognised.

(3) The capital ships will be available to help defend Australia as well as Ceylon if Ceylon is held in force with troops. If Ceylon is defended merely by ships, Ceylon as well as the ships may easily be lost, but even if the ships are retained and Ceylon is lost the ships will have no main Indian Ocean base and their value to Australia and the whole of the war strategy will be very much less.

(4) My views on this question were expressed two years ago very plainly and they have not changed. Now, however, we have to face the facts that our Australian troops are just at the right spot and at the very moment to save a vital link in Australia's outer defences and lines of communication. While they do this important life-saving job for a month an offer is made to Australia to substitute the same number of American troops to take their place.

American forces for Australia's defence.

(5) Everyone agrees that Australia is the main base and must be held. This point is proved beyond question in my P. 54. To hold Australia and use it as a main base, we must be able to get equipment and munitions out by every available route. For that reason not numerous geographical centres but Ceylon, the only refitting and refuelling base in the Indian Ocean, is vital to Australian and Empire defence.

(6) My P. 50 [4] regarding Ceylon made it clear that in view of your decision regarding Burma the British Government was not making any formal request to you for the use temporarily of Australian troops to defend Ceylon. I may say that at 2 a.m. on Thursday morning the Prime Minister woke me to get my opinion of the Governor of Burma's cable for Australian assistance. I told the Prime Minister that you were considering the question of Ceylon-I would raise no other question. In Dominions Office telegram 261 [5] the Prime Minister sent you copies of Dorman- Smith's cables and has replied that the 7th Australian Division is not available for Burma.

2. The question of the supreme importance of the defence of Australia for our own sake and the sake of winning the whole war is appreciated here. Every possible assistance has been given to ensuring the quickest return of our troops under the strongest possible escort even to the detriment of actual fighting theatres.

3. Despite my reference to the shortage of shipping in telegram P.

44 [6] the highest priority has been given to the return of these troops to Australia. The main consideration being discussed in Dominions Office telegram 215 [7] had relationship to cargo.

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[AA:A3195, 1942, 1.8675]

1 Document 378.

2 Document 374.

3 See Document 355.

4 Document 372.

5 Document 376.

6 Document 342.

7 Dispatched 17 February. See Flinders University Library: Evatt Papers, Attorney-General's Dept file A2, Appreciations.

[3] A month later Australia would have both these Australian and