37 Churchill to Curtin

Cablegram 588 [1] LONDON, 2 September 1942, 12.45 a.m.


Your No. 408 of 26th August. [3]

I fully share your view of importance of providing sufficient air forces for the defence of Australia and, as I assured you in my message of 6th August [4], our representatives in Washington are doing everything possible to ensure that the interests of Australia are adequately safeguarded. The ideal arrangement would be to provide sufficient aircraft to enable the R.A.A.F. to build up strength adequate for the defence of Australia without any dependence on United States of America assistance. Unfortunately the resources of the United Nations are inadequate for this to be possible and it will clearly be necessary to continue the present arrangements whereby the defence of Australia is conducted by R.A.A.F. and United States air forces in collaboration.

We understand that the plans of the United States Chiefs of Staff provide for a combined strength of over 1,100 aircraft in Australia by 1st April, 1943. This corresponds closely to the 71 squadrons referred to in your telegram. We consider that this should be adequate for the defence of Australia especially when account is taken of another 1,000 aircraft which are to be provided in New Zealand and the South Pacific islands. The proportion which will be R.A.A.F. is for the United States Chiefs of Staff to decide but as you know our representatives have been maintaining maximum pressure to ensure that the R.A.A.F. get a fair share and the proposal to turn over equipment from 10 United States squadrons to the R.A.A.F. is presumably the result of our joint efforts. In the circumstances I am reluctant to intervene with the President in this matter but I can assure you that our representatives in Washington will continue to maintain pressure to see that the R.A.A.F. secure largest possible share of resources in south-west Pacific.

The three Spitfire squadrons were, as you say, a special measure of assistance from the United Kingdom to Australia and so they have always been regarded here. They will enable the R.A.A.F. to be built up more quickly than would otherwise have been possible and will provide you with resources which are independent of American control. In view, however, of the general shortage of air forces throughout the world it is understandable that the American Chiefs of Staff should take account of these squadrons in planning for the provision of air forces in your theatre. I do not think that it is a matter on which we can question their decision.

You mention the scale on which the Americans plan to provide aircraft to replace wastage. I understand that 20 per cent per month is the provisioning rate which they use for their own air forces throughout the world. It is certainly too low for a period of intensive operations but taken as an average over a long period it does not seem unreasonable. We are having to make do with this rate of replacement for our units in Middle East on American types as well as for the United States units in that theatre.

Finally I assure you of my entire sympathy and anxiety to help in any way I can to strengthen Australia's defences. I do not think that the United States Chiefs of Staff are neglecting their responsibilities and I think that we should be justified in relying on the action they are taking to provide air forces in south-west Pacific as being adequate to ensure Australia's defence though admittedly not enough for a strategic offensive.

1 Sent through the U.K. Dominions Office.

2 Corrected from the Prime Minister's Dept inward cablegram register (AA:A3642, 7).

3 Document 28.

4 Document 18.