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83 Curtin to Churchill

Cablegram Johcu 47 [1] CANBERRA, 30 November 1942


I appreciate the motive that prompted you to send this cablegram [2] but frankly I am disappointed with the views you express. I had hoped, particularly in view of the part played by the 9th Division in the recent offensive, that this matter was finally settled. Instead of an intimation that you will not oppose our wishes, I had every expectation that you would actively support our case with the President.

2. The seriousness of the shipping situation is fully understood but Admiral Cunningham was reported in the press of 23rd November as saying that operations in North Africa, by leading to the re- opening of the Mediterranean route, would save two million tons of shipping. On 19th November the Ministry of Economic Warfare announced that between two hundred thousand and three hundred thousand tons of shipping would fall into Allied hands as the result of the landings in North and West Africa. What we seek surely does not mean the difference between success or failure in another theatre. It may in certain circumstances mean everything to us.

3. We are, of course, deeply grateful for the assistance we have received both from the United Kingdom and America in the South- West Pacific Area. Quite candidly, it has not been as much as we had reason to expect, in the light of what our own advisers considered to be necessary, when we agreed to the set-up in the South-West Pacific Area. Under this arrangement we surrendered part of our sovereignty and assigned all our combat forces to the Allied Commander. The Allied Forces are still however predominantly Australian, the land forces, for example, comprising 10 Australian and 2 American divisions.

4. Your suggestion that one of these American divisions might be transferred to the Middle East to compensate for the return of the 9th Division fills me with the gravest misgivings as to the understanding of the needs of the South-West Pacific Area, even for the holding strategy that has been approved.

5. I should be surprised to learn that the return of the 9th Division would have any adverse reaction on the opinion of the American people as to the degree of assistance that should be afforded Australia to defend itself as a base for operations against Japan, particularly in view of the co-operation we have given in other theatres. On the other hand, there is a body of American opinion which thinks that too little has been sent to this area. I have, however, resolutely refused to be drawn into any controversy. The disposition of our own troops is a different question.

6. In an earlier cablegram I mentioned that for reasons of morale the 9th Division cannot be left indefinitely in the Middle East.

[3] The position in regard to reinforcements has also been clearly stated. I notice a public statement by General Smuts on the subject of home leave for his division in North Africa. This question also arose for the A.I.F. in France in the last war and is bound to recur again.

7. I would strongly request that your influence with the President be exerted towards giving effect to the original decision. The question is also arising indirectly in connection with my proposed amendment of the provisions of the Defence Act to enable members of the Militia Forces, as distinct from the A.I.F., to serve outside Australia in the South-West Pacific Area. [4] The strength and disposition of the A.I.F. is a crucial point in connection with this proposal, one of the main aspects of which is that the A.I.F. alone is not sufficient to meet the strategical needs of the commitments accepted by the Australian Government when it agreed to the directive for the Commander of the South-West Pacific Area. It is therefore of cardinal importance that the 9th Division should be in the South-West Pacific Area. It is evident that a public statement on future policy relating to the disposition and employment of the A.I.F. will soon be necessary.

8. As in the case of the 6th and 7th Divisions, the return of the 9th Division is understood to include not only the personnel but also their equipment.


1 Repeated to Bruce on 30 November. See cablegrams 10943-4 on file AA:A4763.

2 See Document 79.

3 See Document 7.

4 The Defence (Citizen Military Forces) Act 1943, which defined the limits of the area in which members of the C.M.F. might be required to serve, became law on 19 February 1943. For further details see Paul Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942-1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1970, pp. 326-53.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History