58 Lt Gen Sir Thomas Blamey, Deputy Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East, to Mr A. W. Fadden, Prime Minister

Cablegram GOC 179 CAIRO, 4 September 1941, 7.10 p.m.

MOST SECRET PRIVATE FOR THE PRIME MINISTER FROM GENERAL BLAMEY

Reference my telegram G.O.C. 143 dated 18th July and letter of same date. [1]

The position re Tobruk garrison now is that unnecessary base personnel brought out and the 18th Australian Infantry Brigade relieved. The garrison now besieged for five months. Troops in good heart but decline in physical condition definite.

Relief of the garrison strongly opposed here. I have been asked to agree to relieve British artillery personnel by the 9th Australian Divisional Artillery but have refused, as in my view this would mean that the 9th Australian Division would remain indefinitely.

Although this artillery relief asked for, nevertheless pressed upon me here that general relief of the garrison not possible.

Certain difficulties connected with relief but none that cannot be overcome with the will to do so. This evidenced by the fact that between one-third and one-quarter of the original garrison already secured without serious interference.

Fresh British as well as Dominion formations in the Middle East available for relief, vide my letter. If relief not insisted on now, decline in fighting value of the 9th Division will be considerable and period of recovery correspondingly long.

Further, should the force be attacked with strength and determination after one or two months' further decline, it will not be fit to withstand such attack, and catastrophe is possible.

Argued here that information gives no reason to expect such attack, but the same position existed in Cyrenaica when the force was transferred to Greece and the Germans attacked successfully.

General Auchinleck [2], when in England recently, informed by Prime Minister of the United Kingdom [3] that the latter would make it right with the Australian Government if he did not see fit to relieve the 9th Australian Division.

Following on relief of the 18th Brigade, the remainder will feel that we are letting them down if they are kept much longer in Tobruk, since they know well the general position in the Middle East, and this will further detract from their morale.

In view of the lull in active operations, suggest you should now insist- (a) on the implementation of the conditions agreed to by the United Kingdom Government, upon which the Australian Imperial Force was sent abroad, viz, that it should be at the disposal of the Commander-in-Chief as a single force, and (b) on withdrawal of the 9th Australian Division to effect this.

Unless you take the firmest stand, feel convinced that the 9th Division will be left in Tobruk indefinitely, in spite of my efforts. The position causes me grave concern.

1 Both documents are in Australian War Memorial: Blamey Papers, 33/1.

2 U.K. Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East.

3 Winston Churchill.

[AA:A1608, E45/2/1, v]