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28 Curtin to Churchill

Cablegram 408 [1] CANBERRA, 25 August 1942


When Dr. Evatt was in London he made representations regarding the allocation of aircraft for the 71 squadron programme for the R.A.A.F. in Australia. The programme, as you know, excludes the Sunderland flying boat squadron in the United Kingdom and the fighter squadron in the Middle East. No decision was then reached, as the whole question of aircraft allocation was to be reviewed in Washington. We were informed in July through liaison channels that your Air Staff considered that a force of 71 squadrons was an appropriate one for the defence of Australia.

2. In my cablegram Johcu No. 38 [2], I advised you of our agreement to the extension of the period for the temporary retention of the 9th Division in the Middle East on the understanding that the United Kingdom representatives in Washington would be instructed to do their utmost to ensure the allotment of the aircraft required.

3. In the message which you communicated in Dominions Office cablegram 548 of 6th August [3] you told me of what had been done and you referred to the assurances of the United States Chiefs of Staff that adequate measures would be taken to ensure the safety of Australia and the provision of the necessary equipment.

4. The Government has now received advice from the Australian Minister, Washington, of the aircraft that have been allocated by the combined Chiefs of Staff to the Royal Australian Air Force.


5. Including the present strength an aggregate of 30 R.A.A.F.

squadrons are to be equipped and maintained by April 1943, as follows:-

7 GR [5]/torpedo and 2 Army co-operation squadrons to be equipped and maintained from Australian production of Beaufort and Boomerang respectively.

3 interceptor fighter, 2 long range fighter and 1 fleet co- operation squadron to be maintained from the United Kingdom production of Spitfire, Beaufighter and Walrus.

2 GR bomber, 5 dive bomber, 5 intercept fighter, 2 GR flying boat and 1 land plane transport squadron to be equipped and maintained from United States production of Hudson and Ventura, Vengeance, Kittyhawk, PBY [6] and transport type to be decided.

6. Wastage replacement is to be at the rate of 20 per cent on initial equipment monthly and a total of 397 aircraft are to be made available to be shipped in eight approximate equal monthly consignments.

7. The view of the Australian Air Staff is that the reserve for certain types of aircraft is altogether inadequate and unless actual wastage is replaced regularly each month, a serious position could arise. There would be every likelihood of some of the squadrons being without aircraft sufficient to provide for their continued operation. It is considered that provision should be based on the normal initial equipment and immediate reserve scale plus 50 per cent, subsequent actual wastage to be replaced monthly as it occurs. The adoption of this basis is regarded as essential to ensure the squadrons being maintained up to full operational efficiency under war conditions.

8. The United States Chiefs of Staff have under consideration a proposal for the transfer of aircraft from the United States Air Forces in Australia to the R.A.A.F. in sufficient numbers to equip and maintain at least 10 additional squadrons, with the proposal that American units thereby deprived of aircraft be withdrawn from Australia for use in other theatres as equipment becomes available. [7] They state that it is not possible to provide aircraft for American Air Force units now committed to Australia by April 1st, 1943, and at the same time exceed the 30 R.A.A.F.

squadrons now planned because of aircraft limitations. This proposal is advanced by them with a view to more fully utilizing the existing Australian resources in experienced personnel and in local training organisation and facilities. The Commonwealth Government and General MacArthur are both strongly opposed to any proposal that would have the effect of withdrawing American forces from Australia. The governing consideration is the air strength that is necessary for the South-West Pacific Area, firstly for the defence of Australia as a base and secondly for offensive operations. This strength is an absolute figure irrespective of whether the forces are American or Australian, and it is considered to be quite the wrong approach to make an Australian increase by an American subtraction. It is quite consistent, whilst maintaining that the R.A.A.F. should not be increased or maintained at the expense of the strength of the United States Air Force, that we should press for equipment for the R.A.A.F. to the extent to which personnel can be trained. When the strategical position in regard to the defence of Australia as a base permits, the strength surplus to this need could be used by the Commander- in-Chief for offensive operations.

The Australian Minister, Washington, has been asked to represent this view in Washington. [8]

9. You will note from paragraph 5 above that the allotment includes the three Spitfire squadrons which, in response to representations by Dr. Evatt, were made available at the instance of yourself as a special plan for air support of Australia.

Ismay's letter of 28th May to Dr. Evatt states that these squadrons are over and above any assignment of aircraft which may be made from the United Kingdom or which may be secured for Australia from output of the United States of America. [9] You also stated in the message communicated in Dominions Office cablegram 548 that though Australia was placed in an American sphere of strategic responsibility you did not regard your obligations to do what you could to help Australia as being lessened in any way and you went on to say that practical proof of this was your agreement to despatch, at real sacrifice to yourselves, the three Spitfire squadrons from the United Kingdom as a special contribution to Australia, despite numerous and pressing commitments elsewhere.

10. We are at a loss to understand how, in these circumstances, the representatives of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff on the Combined Chiefs of Staff agreed to the inclusion of the three Spitfire squadrons in the reduced allocation that has been made to us. I am sure that this was never your intention and I should appreciate your support in ensuring that these squadrons are made available on the basis agreed upon with Dr. Evatt.

11. The allocation of aircraft to April 1943, approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, has been made pending consideration of a programme of further expansion to be drawn up by British, United States and Dominion Air representatives for submission to the Combined Chiefs of Staff. It is appreciated that the limiting factor is the availability of aircraft, but our aim is to achieve the re-equipment of certain of our squadrons and the formation of new squadrons on the basis of ultimate expansion to 71 squadrons.

The Australian Minister has been asked to press this view in Washington and we expect the full support of the representatives of the British Chiefs of Staff who, under the terms of Clause 6 of the Arnold Towers Slessor Agreement [10], are to satisfy themselves that Dominion interests are adequately safeguarded.

More-over you yourself at Evatt's instance instructed Dill to support our application for aircraft. [11]

12. Prior to the outbreak of the war the Commonwealth had before it a plan for the provision of 32 squadrons for home defence. The limiting factor was the provision of the necessary aircraft.

Notwithstanding continuous representations for their supply something less than this strength is not to be achieved until April 1943. We feel that we are entitled to assistance in the development of the maximum forces which we are capable of raising.

Our advisers state that, without adequate naval and air support, which at present deters aggression and maintains our communications with overseas sources of supply, these forces would be inadequate for the defence of Australia. The Government considers that the Australian people, who have co-operated in other theatres at considerable loss to their forces and who are still doing so on land, sea and in the air, can rightly claim this degree of reinsurance on which they would have to rely in the event of the temporary or permanent loss of command of the sea by the United Nations. In the last resort, we consider Australia is more vulnerable to invasion than any other part of the Empire but we either lack or have less control over the disposition of the forces essential for our security.

13. I understand that, as a result of the recent discussions in London between the United States and United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff, there has been allocated to the Pacific theatre 25 per cent of the United States Air Forces previously car-marked to be sent to the United Kingdom. [12] These forces were re-allocated for furthering offensive operations in the Pacific. How and where in the Pacific they will be employed is a matter for determination in Washington. We have no knowledge of what is being done, but it seems doubtful from the allocation approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff whether any of these forces are being sent to the South- West Pacific Area where they are needed. The small strength that is being made available does not assure even the defence of Australia as a base. The Government is seriously concerned about the whole position and requests your immediate intervention with the President for the purpose of equipping Australian personnel without any corresponding withdrawal of existing American air strength in this theatre of war.


1 Sent through the U.K. Dominions Office.

2 Document 12.

3 Document 18.

4 See cablegram S104 of 19 August on file AA:A3300, 222.

5 General reconnaissance.

6 Catalina PBY-5 flying boat.

7 See the cablegram cited in note 4.

8 See cablegrams SW87-8 of 25 August on the file cited in note 4.

9 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. V, Document 502.

10 This agreement (signed on 21 June) provided that henceforward U.S. aircraft should be manned by U.S. crews wherever possible.

Clause 6 stated that it was the duty of the U.S. Chiefs of Staff to define the strategic requirements of those Dominions failing within the U.S. sphere of responsibility, but that their conclusions would be referred to the Combined Chiefs of Staff for approval so that the U.K. Chiefs of Staff would have the opportunity of satisfying themselves that Dominion interests were adequately safeguarded. See cablegrams S63-5 of 29 June and 2 and 4 July on file AA:A3300, 221.

11 See the document cited in note 9.

12 See Document 23.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History