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87 Evatt to Dixon

Cablegram 166 [1] CANBERRA, 8 December 1942


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

'Dear President Roosevelt, I have received your communication of 2nd December regarding the return of the 9th Division to Australia [2], and I am grateful for your kind message of congratulations on the part played by the 9th Division in the recent victory in the Middle East.

2. I am very glad that you are agreeable to the return of the 9th Division to Australia at the earliest date practicable and I note your obl servations as to the factors which you think should govern the fixation of this date.

3. After the magnificent advance through the most difficult terrain of the Owen Stanley Range, the final stages of clearing the Japanese from this part of New Guinea have proved most difficult. The brigades that went over the mountain track are now so depleted that they are being withdrawn and replaced by other Australian forces.

4. Experience has proved that the wastage in tropical warfare in undeveloped areas is immense. For example, at least one-third of our force at Milne Bay is already infected with malaria. The Buna area is an equally evil one for this disease. [3] Our battle wastage is fairly considerable. The two together may soon place us in what may be a very precarious position. The Japanese have shown a degree of stubbornness in the defence of Buna and Gona which would indicate that they are not going to take their reverses in this area without making the greatest effort to hold on and to come back later. [4]

5. The 6th and 7th Australian Divisions after the Buna operations are completed must have a prolonged rest out of action. They both have a very large number of reinforcements to absorb and a great number of sick to return. There is therefore a pressing need for the services of the 9th Division in this area. It is also required for the subsequent phases of the campaign to drive the Japanese from New Guinea and the adjacent islands.

6. You will recall that in my message of 17th October to Mr.

Churchill, which was repeated to you [5], it was explained that the man-power position necessitated the reduction of the strength of the Australian Army by one division. The Government has since been advised that the demands of warfare in the tropics have made it perfectly clear that we cannot maintain the reduced strength in the field, and the reduction of another division, making two in all, is proposed.

7. Speaking in terms of divisions, our present distribution is as follows, though we have reduced the brigades in several cases from three to two battalions:-

3 divisions in New Guinea (less one brigade); 1 division North Queensland;

1 division Darwin;

1 divisions (less one brigade) and 1 armoured division in Western Australia;

I greatly reduced division and 1 armoured division (now completing) in New South Wales;

I reduced division and 1 armoured division (now completing) in South Queensland.

Practically all these forces are distributed around our perimeter with a very small reserve force in Australia.

8. I feel that you should be aware of the foregoing considerations, which show clearly the pressing need for the services of the 9th Division in the South-West Pacific Area. I note that the movement of the 25th United States Division to the Australian area will be completed before the first of the year. I am very grateful for this. I wish you to know that we shall co- operate in the plan that you have outlined, which, as we see it, does not envisage the utilisation of the 9th Division for any further operations in the Middle East or adjacent areas. We look forward, therefore, to the fulfilment of the understanding that the 9th Division shall be returned to Australia as early as possible in the New Year.

9. We regret that, owing to other demands on shipping, you are unable to arrange for the return of the equipment of the 9th Division. There are certain minimum requirements to ensure the effective employment of the 9th Division in the South-West Pacific Area, and it is requested that arrangements be made for the return of the following:-

(a) All personal equipment.

(b) Weapons: Rifles, pistols, anti-tank rifles, Bren guns, mortars 2-inch and associated stores.

(c) Engineer stores: Hand tools, compressors, pumping sets, electric welding plant complete with trailers required. No bridging equipment required.

(d) Signal Stores: Generating sets and charging sets only.

(e) Workshop equipment: Complete equipment including hand tools.

(Major portion is included with technical vehicles referred to in (f).) (f) Vehicles: Breakdown trucks........ 46 Garage trucks 31 Machinery trucks . 29 Workshop engineers' trucks 2

Trailers, laundry. . 10 All complete with equipment.

I am informed that all of the above items, except vehicles and equipment carried in them, could be stowed in personnel ships. It is estimated that approximately 3,500 tons of shipping space additional to that available in personnel ships will be necessary.

My advisers suggest that the 3,500 tons could be lifted in shipping from Middle East regularly proceeding to Australia, and I should be glad if arrangements could be made for this to be done.


10. I have also forwarded a message to Mr. Churchill informing him of the substance of this message to you. [7]

Yours sincerely,



1 Repeated to Bruce as no, 11228.

2 Document 85.

3 For a detailed medical assessment of the problems faced by the troops in New Guinea and the tropical islands, see Page's report contained in Curtin's cablegram 11417 of 14 December to Bruce (on file AA:A4763). Bruce was instructed to 'make the facts fully understood and fight hard for the views stated'.

4 After a bitterly fought campaign with heavy casualties on both sides Australian and U.S. forces recaptured Gona on 9 December, Buna on 2 January 1943 and Sanananda on 22 January. This completed the expulsion of the Japanese from Papua and permitted the campaign to move northward into New Guinea with the eventual objective of recapturing New Britain and the crucial Japanese stronghold at Rabaul.

5 Document 62.

6 Churchill advised on 20 December that arrangements were being made to ship all the vehicles and materials listed in this paragraph. See cablegram Winch 34 on the file cited in note 3.

7 See cablegram Johcu 50 of 8 December on the file cited in note 3.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History