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222 Evatt to Curtin

Cablegram E157 WASHINGTON, 12 June 1943, 6.30 a.m.


(1) I cannot tell you how relieved and proud I am to inform you that I have discharged the sole mission entrusted to me by you in relation to aircraft as stated in your instructions dated 1st April. [1]

(2) In the instructions the duty assigned to me by you was to endeavour to see whether aircraft might be allocated for the development of the R.A.A.F. programme to the full limit of 72 squadrons. (The plan for expansion is sometimes referred to as 'The 73 Squadron Plan' or 'The 71 Squadron Plan'. The figure 72 is most accurate because the proposed expansion was from 45 to 72-an increase of 27 squadrons.) (3) I found upon arrival that the joint United States Chiefs of Staff had regarded the question of allocation of planes to the South-West Pacific Area as being finally and conclusively fixed by their recent decision as conveyed to General MacArthur. [2]

(4) I also confirmed that allocation of large additional aircraft to General MacArthur was additional to the aircraft to be supplied to the R.A.A.F. under the 45 squadron plan.

(5) The view taken was that overall allocations were sufficient for the requirements of South West Pacific.

(6) In spite of these facts, on 22nd April I commenced negotiations on the highest level with the President, emphasising your point that the primary object of our representations was not merely defensive but was to prevent consolidation of the Japanese and inflict on them the greatest possible losses. I applied for equipment for an additional 27 squadrons for the R.A.A.F. in addition to all other commitments. The total aircraft which I specified as unit equipment for the equipment of an additional 27 squadrons amounted to 474 aeroplanes. [3]

(7) On 5th May the President replied to the effect that the existing allocations to Australia provided for full support of the 45 squadron programme, that it was not possible to permit of any revision of allocations and that the recent conference of higher ranking United States Commanders of the Pacific had resulted in decisions materially strengthening the combined air forces in the Pacific theatre. [4]

(8) Discussing his reply with the President, I pointed out to him that expansion of the Australian air squadrons from 45 to 72 called for recruits, training and organisation in accordance with an extended programme; further that this would permit of future deliveries to harmonise with the development of fully trained air personnel in accordance with ordered squadron expansion. I also pointed out that General MacArthur had endorsed the programme and that the R.A.A.F. organisation could be geared to gradual expansion involving the plan.

(9) The United States army authorities who had advised the President to reject the first application had already prepared a letter for the President which would have rejected the second application. Then Mr. Churchill arrived. Discussing the position with Mr. Churchill I said that I had been entrusted by you with this one specific mission and I asked him to give support to the plan of expansion.

(10) I do not propose to tell you by cable the ups and downs of this difficult matter. I had always been hopeful that we would obtain some support from Mr. Churchill. At the same time the United Kingdom Government is extremely anxious to obtain a full performance of commitments which the United States has already made to the United Kingdom in relation to carrying on the air offensive against Northern Europe from Britain and against Southern Europe from Africa. It is sufficient to say that without obtaining an absolute promise from Mr. Churchill I did obtain substantial support from him.

(11) There was no occasion to report the very short proceeding at the last Pacific War Council but on that occasion and on the occasion of Mr. Churchill's attendance at the Council (which were the only two meetings called during the course of my mission in Washington) I introduced the subject with some measure of confidence. I did so because I had been well briefed by Shedden, Drakeford and Jones from your end as well as by Williams who on professional level has been able to render very timely assistance.

(12) Difficulty was almost insuperable. What I was asked to do was the practically impossible task of procuring a reversal of the very recent allocation decision of the United States Chiefs of Staff unanimously concurred in by the British Chiefs of Staff. As in the case of the Spitfires of last year, Portal, who came here with Churchill, was against the application, pointing out truly enough that my application was an indirect way of increasing the overall allocation to the theatre which had been decided upon purely on military grounds.

(13) Portal agreed that the R.A.A.F. should be strengthened but suggested that the United States air force in Australia should be correspondingly reduced. This last suggestion I rejected out of hand because of its obvious and immediate embarrassment to you and the Supreme Command. Churchill said to me on the evening before he left America 'if you can get this approved-and I cannot be sure that you will-you will get it in spite of the military machination [sic] and not because of it'.

(14) I have not cabled you frequently about the position because of uncertainties and disappointments of the negotiations, the hope of one day being often frustrated by adverse reports of the next.

I have never worked so hard or so untiringly on anything in my life. Indeed it is the most difficult job I have ever had. General MacArthur was certain on the day I left Brisbane that the thing could not be done.

(15) Throughout the Churchill-Roosevelt conferences I did my utmost here to obtain a more satisfactory definition of the Pacific strategy. I have no doubt that your representations in Australia on this score, particularly the public statements that were made [5], did have a favourable effect on the authorities here and helped to secure the final decision that henceforth unremitting pressure would be exerted against the Japanese as well as against Hitler and Mussolini. This decision in turn I used in connection with the proposed expansion of the R.A.A.F. squadrons from 45 to 72.

(16) After dozens of encouragements and setbacks, this afternoon (Friday), practically on the eve of my departure for Britain, the President finally approved of the allocation to Australia of approximately 475 planes for the purpose of expanding the R.A.A.F.

during this year and the next. [6] He stated that the contribution of planes was in addition to the previous commitments made by the United States Government to us. The question of the type of plane that will be delivered will be canvassed immediately, and while the exact dates of delivery cannot now be stated delivery will take place as early as strategic requirements permit. Some of the planes, probably dive bombers and fighters, will be sent at once and the whole of the detailed plan will be worked out in the near future at service level. Williams will no doubt communicate with the Minister for Air as to this.

(17) While spares for unit equipment of 475 planes will extend well into 1944 I have every reason to say that deliveries will probably be completed well before the middle of next year though the heavy bomber portion of the programme may be delayed for some time.

(18) I would suggest that you might send a personal message of thanks to the President for his contribution of equipment to Australia with the addition of 475 planes for the purpose of expanding the R.A.A.F. during this year and next, this contribution being in addition to any previous commitment made by the United States Government to the Australian Government.

(19) I think that it is essential and will be most anxious if you make a public statement in Australia [7] that I have fully carried out the mission entrusted to me, that as a result Australia will obtain additional allocation of aeroplanes to permit of a large and programmed expansion of the R.A.A.F. Numbers cannot be mentioned but it could be stated that the expansion will ultimately represent an increase of 60% in front line strength of the R.A.A.F.

(20) I have wired to Hodgson my movements. [8] Coombs and Robinson will accompany me. Burton will remain at Washington to deal with follow up matters. Mary Alice has been slowly progressing despite vile weather at Washington. I am sending her to convalesce in the mountains until I return. [9] Despite her illness she has helped me greatly and the President and others have been very kind to her.

(21) Dixon will arrive on Sunday [10] and I expect to see him before I depart.

1 See Document 151.

2 See Document 147.

3 See Document 164.

4 See Document 173.

5 See Paul Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942-1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1970, pp. 216-19.

6 See Document 210, note 3. Curtin sent a message of thanks to Roosevelt on 15 June, pointing out that the additional 475 aircraft would 'enable the R.A.A.F. to play a full part with their American comrades in the fight against the common foe'. See cablegram 684 on file AA:A3300, 258.

7 In a message of congratulation dispatched to Evatt on 15 June Curtin advised that he thought it would be 'preferable to defer any public announcement at the moment', but would 'arrange for this to be done at the proper time'. See cablegram L1 on file AA:MP1217, box 474, visit abroad of Dr H.V. Evatt ... 1943.

8 See Document 223.

9 Mrs Evatt had become ill in early May and underwent an operation.

10 Dixon was returning to Washington from Australia.

[AA:A4764, 3]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History