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76 Evatt to Dixon

Cablegram 159 CANBERRA, 16 November 1942


Please convey the following message urgently to the President from the Prime Minister:-

Dear President Roosevelt, I have carefully considered the suggestion in your message of 1st November [1] for the retention of the 9th A.I.F. Division in the Middle East and your proposal to send a U.S. Division to Australia from Hawaii conditionally on the right to divert it elsewhere within the South-West and South Pacific Areas.

2. As explained to Mr. Churchill in my message of 17th October which was repeated to you [2], it is impossible for Australia to despatch to the Middle East the reinforcements necessary for the maintenance of the 9th Division, in view of the difficulties already being experienced in maintaining the Australian Army and meeting the heavy wastage from tropical warfare in New Guinea.

Unless the Division returns to Australia, it cannot be maintained, whereas it can be built up again in Australia by the allocation of personnel from other formations which are being disbanded owing to the contraction in the number of our divisions.

3. The attitude of the Australian Government has all along been quite definite and clear regarding the future employment of this Division.

4. After the outbreak of war with Japan, and following a statement generously volunteered by Mr. Churchill that no obstacles would be placed in the way of Australian troops returning to defend their homeland [3], the Government requested that all Australian troops overseas should return to Australia.

5. In March, we allowed two Brigade Groups of the 6th Division to be used in Ceylon on the understanding that the 9th Division would return to Australia as soon as possible. [4] Had these brigades returned directly to Australia we would have been able to strengthen the forces in New Guinea much earlier with battle- trained troops.

6. In April, the Government agreed to the postponement of the return of the 9th Division until it could be replaced in the Middle East. [5]

7. When the Australian Government had every reason to expect the return of the Division in July, it raised no objection to its transfer from Palestine to the Western Desert to help stem the Axis advance. Mr. Churchill was advised that there would be difficulties in the despatch of further reinforcements from Australia and that when the available reserves were exhausted the Division would have to be withdrawn from the line of battle. [6]

8. On 30th July, in a further personal cablegram to Mr. Churchill [7], I stated that it was impossible for the Government to do more than agree to an extension of the period for the temporary retention of the 9th Division in the Middle East. A limit was set to the reinforcements that would be available and it was specifically stated that ancillary units were not to be broken up for use as reinforcements. It was emphasized that the Commander- in-Chief of the Middle East would therefore need to have these facts in mind in his use of the Division.

9. Mr. Churchill, the Australian Representative [in] the United Kingdom War Cabinet and the Commander of the Division have been informed that:-

(a) no further reinforcements for the 9th Division are being despatched from Australia;

(b) the Government is not agreeable to the 9th Division being broken up by replacement of wastage from ancillary and other units;

(c) it is essential that the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, should have regard to this position in his use of the 9th Division. [8]

The Government views the present use of the Division as absolutely governed by the fulfilment of the conditions laid down by it some time ago, and I have told Mr. Churchill that in our plans and dispositions we are relying on the Division being returned in good shape and strength. [9] Now that the situation in the Middle East for which the 9th Division was retained has been cleared up satisfactorily, the Government expects early effect to be given to the understanding reached in April.

10. You might be interested to know that, on the entry of Italy into the war, certain units of the 9th Division, reinforcements and Corps troops were diverted to the United Kingdom, where they were organised into the 9th Division for the defence of Britain against invasion. This Division, which was later transferred to the Middle East and withstood the siege of Tobruk, therefore really became an additional overseas commitment. It was realised at the time that it would probably be beyond our capacity to maintain it and experience has proved this to be the case.

11. The decisions on global strategy have been taken by Mr.

Churchill and yourself The Commonwealth Government has shown a ready willingness to co-operate in other theatres at considerable risk to the security of Australia. This has been demonstrated by the service overseas of our naval, land and air forces and our continued participation in the Empire Air Training Scheme. The Government considers that the contributions it has made to other theatres entitle it to the assurance that the fullest possible support will be given to the situation in the Pacific. You will recall that the Military Advisers of the Australian Government consider that three further divisions are necessary in the South- West Pacific Area. [10] In view of its responsibilities for the local defence of Australia and in the light of the views of its advisers, the Government feels that the maximum strength of the Australian forces should be concentrated in the South-West Pacific Area to meet all the contingencies of the military situation in the Pacific.

12. We are grateful to learn that you are sending to the South or South-West Pacific Area a division from Hawaii. [11] We would be delighted to welcome it to Australia, where it would be an invaluable addition to the two splendid American divisions already here. [12] Yours sincerely,



1 Document 68.

2 See Document 62, note 10.

3 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. v, Document 429.

4 See ibid., Document 385.

5 See ibid., Document 465.

6 See Document 7.

7 Document 12.

8 See Documents 62 and 64.

9 See Document 66.

10 See Document 43.

11 See Document 68.

12 Curtin repeated this cablegram to Churchill on 16 November with the message: 'I shall be glad of your personal assistance in seeing that early effect is given to the return of the 9th Division, in accordance with the understanding reached in April.' He also sent Bruce copies of the telegram received from Roosevelt (Document 68), his reply thereto and his message to Churchill.

Bruce was instructed to 'follow up the action necessary to withdraw the 9th Division and return it to Australia'. Curtin added that it was 'of vital importance that these troops should not become committed to another phase of the campaign which will create difficulties in meeting our request'. See cablegrams Johcu 44-5 and 10494 on file AA:A4763.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History