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12 Curtin to Churchill

Cablegram Johcu 38 CANBERRA, 30 July 1942


With reference to Dominions Office cablegram No. 532 [1], the

Government is appreciative of your own personal acknowledgement in

Part 2 of the difficulties which confront it in this matter.

2. It is frankly disappointed that the review of the Chiefs of

Staff dwells at some length on the strategical position in the

Middle East but does not even mention the position in the Pacific.

We know that we can count on an understanding by you of how

vitally important the Pacific must loom before the Australian

Government in reaching a decision on the disposition of its

limited forces.

3. It can be asserted that since the outbreak of war we have never

received from the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff an appreciation

that has indicated a full realisation of the possibilities of the

situation in the Pacific, either in respect of offensive action by

Japan or offensive action by the United Nations to defeat Japan.

4. Australia has been critically threatened on two occasions-

firstly following the fall of the Malay Barrier, and secondly

following the threatened advance through the Coral Sea. Japan is

now consolidating her position in New Guinea and the Solomon

Islands and has made a landing in Papua which threatens our

important advanced base at Port Moresby, which is vital to the

defence of the north-eastern coast against enemy landings and the

maintenance of the passage through Torres Strait for the supply of


5. It is imperative to force the enemy back to his bases in the

Mandated Islands in the north-east and to drive him out of Timor

in the north-west. The Government desires that the Commander-in-

Chief, South-West Pacific Area, shall have at his disposal for the

defence of his base and for offensive operations in the Pacific

all the Australian Forces it can place at his disposal.

Furthermore, superior seapower and airpower are vital to wrest the

initiative from Japan and are essential to assure the defensive

position in the South-West Pacific Area.

6. For the reasons stated, it is impossible for us to do more than

agree to an extension of the period for the temporary retention of

the 9th Division in the Middle East. As the Commander-in-Chief of

the Australian Military Forces strongly advises against the

breaking up of ancillary units for reinforcements because of the

effect on morale, approval has been given for the despatch of two

months' reinforcements on the average scale of activity, the total

number being 1,989. These, with the 3,203 reinforcements recently

available in the Middle East, will provide a total of 5,192 for 2

1/2 months' reinforcements on the intense scale of activity. The

Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East will therefore need to have

these facts in mind in his use of the Division.

7. The Commander-in-Chief, South-West Pacific Area, has had

assigned to him all the combat naval, land and air forces of the

Commonwealth, but we are gravely concerned about developing the

air strength for which we are capable of providing the personnel

and which our own advisers and the Commander-in-Chief, South-West

Pacific Area, consider the minimum for the defence of Australia.

This arises from the inability to obtain a definite assurance on

the supply of equipment. The Government's willing agreement to the

temporary retention of the 9th Division in the Middle East is

therefore conditional on an assurance being given by the United

Kingdom Government that, in conformity with Ismay's letter to

Evatt [2], its representatives in Washington will be instructed to

do their utmost to ensure the allotment of the aircraft required

for the re-equipment of the R.A.A.F. and the provision, as

personnel is trained and squadrons are organised, of the equipment

required for the programme of a total of 73 squadrons by June,

1943. The case for equipment is supported by the fact that 7,800

trained personnel have been sent overseas under the Empire Air

Training Scheme. It is also desired to raise the question of the

regular allotment to the South-West Pacific Area of Australian

squadrons with operational experience.


1 Document 10.

2 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. V,

Document 502.


Last Updated: 2 February 2011

Category: International relations

Topic: History