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123 Slater to Evatt

Dispatch KU4/43 KUYBYSHEV, 20 February 1943


I have had the honour to report in my despatch No. 5 [1] that (accompanied by Mr. Crawford) I left Kuibyshev on the morning of February 8th for Moscow in order to see MR. MOLOTOV [2] and put before him the desire of the Australian government to send a Military Mission to the U.S. S. R. The journey was a very slow one owing to serious congestion on the railways, due to the pressure of military trains, and I did not arrive in Moscow until the afternoon of the 12th. Mr. Molotov was very busy and was unable to receive me until the 16th. The interview, to which I was accompanied by Prof. Crawford, lasted 35 minutes and was of a friendly and frank character.

2. I said that my Government had welcomed the exchange of diplomatic representatives and that it would welcome the opportunity of supplementing its diplomatic mission by sending a Military Mission to the Soviet Union. From that mission it felt further co-operation between the two countries would result. In the course of the oral representations which I made to Mr.

Molotov, I said that my Government was impressed, as was the entire world, with the achievements of the Red Army and its leaders and that we were actively interested in the possibility of an Australian Military Mission visiting the Soviet Union. I asked also whether, if such a visit were arranged, the following facilities would be made available to it:

(a) To visit various parts of the active fronts.

(b) To confer with Soviet Staff Officers and discuss general matters of Soviet strategy and tactics.

(c) To visit training camps and depots.

(d) To inspect air force depots and units.

3. Continuing my representations to Mr. Molotov I said that my Country was almost completely on a total war footing and I quoted the figures given by our Prime Minister in his broadcast speech of the 24th January 1943. I alluded also to the part we had already taken in the global war by the participation by Australian troops in the first Libyan battle, and in the battles in Greece, Crete and Syria. I also said that Australians had been unconquered in Tobruk for eight months and had taken part in the recent great successes of the British Eighth Army in Libya. Our armies were at the moment fighting to keep the invaders from reaching Australian shores.

4. Once or twice Mr. Molotov interrupted me by asking whether it was not a fact that the Australian troops in their engagements in the Middle East and our fliers at Murmansk were under the direct command of the British Army. I said that this was so but that they were led as separate fighting organisations under the exclusive leadership of Australian officers. These interjections seemed to indicate that he felt that the British Military Mission at present in Moscow could represent the Australian military forces.

5. From the interpreter, (Mr. Molotov speaking in Russian) I gathered his reply to be that as the Australian Army in the Middle East was under the control of the British Army it formed part of that army and was indirectly represented by the British Military Mission at present, and since the outbreak of war, situated in Moscow. I interrupted at this stage and said that although it was correct that our troops in the Middle East formed part of the British Army and command, they were under the direct command of their own officers and that in the early Middle East campaign the Australian Commander-in-Chief, General Blamey, was made deputy commander of the entire British forces.

6. Mr. Molotov then referred to the considerable number of members of the British Military Mission, but I interrupted again, saying that although I had no express information on the matter I would assume that our mission would be a very small one consisting of probably three members and would very likely consist of serving officers in the ranks of the Australian Army at present in the Middle East. I added that I also assumed that the mission would be a visiting and not a standing one.

7. Mr. Molotov then went on to say that the whole of the time and energies of the Soviet Officers and staff were directed to the driving of the invaders from Soviet soil and that the Government had deliberately refrained from taking visiting parties to the fronts. He added that in the recent case of General Hurley (to whose visit I had already referred in the interview) he came as a special envoy of the President of the U.S.A. and for that reason had been afforded wider facilities. Mr. Molotov added that he thought that the engagements of the Australian forces had been chiefly naval and that consequently there was not such a great need for the mission but I immediately corrected this impression by stating that although our navy had been actively engaged in various theatres in which it had suffered great losses, it was our land and air forces which had been engaged far more numerically, and I referred again to the engagements in which they had taken part.

8. Finally Mr. Molotov said that he would discuss this matter with his military advisers and then communicate his decision to me later on. I have reported accordingly in my telegram No. 26. [3]

9. As a matter of comment, it is interesting to note that no reference was made by either of us to the Pacific situation. I had purposely been careful to avoid discussion along these lines and Mr. Molotov did not refer to it either expressly or by implication.

10. I repeat that the discussion was marked by its frankness and fairness throughout, but I am inclined to think that at first Mr.

Molotov's attitude was one of opposition to our request, he taking the view that as there was a British Military Mission already in Russia, and that as we formed part of British military forces, the British Military Mission should be sufficient to represent Australia in the Soviet Union. But, towards the end of the interview, and after the exchange of questions and replies, he appeared to be considerably more favourable to our point of view and finally agreed to discuss the matter with his military advisers. [4]


1 Dated 20 February. In AA:A4231, Moscow, 1943.

2 Soviet Foreign Minister 3 Dispatched 20 February. In FA:A3830, packet inwards 1943 Most Secret, 1.335 to 1.830.

4 On 24 May Officer advised that the Soviet Foreign Ministry had told him the question of a military mission visiting the U.S.S.R.

was still under consideration by the Soviet military authorities.

See cablegram S8 in FA:A3195, 1943, folder, Most Secret inwards master sheets excluding Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs.

[AA:A4231, MOSCOW, 1943]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History