424 Mr A. W. Fadden, Acting Prime Minister, to Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister (in London)

Cablegram 252 23 April 1941,


In my message No. 235 of 18th April [1] request was made for intended strategic redistribution of the forces in the Middle East. The evacuation of our troops from Greece and our reverses in North Africa may quite probably have an adverse effect on Turkish morale with the danger that Turkey may agree under German pressure to permit the passage of German troops through Turkey so facilitating an attack on Suez and Egypt. We rather apprehend that reliability of the Egyptian Government is of a nature that in the face of great adversity to our arms it would quickly collapse. The effect of a successful attack on Egypt combined with a simultaneous attack in North-West Africa could have the most serious consequences to our position in the Mediterranean. The effect of such possible happenings on Japan would be such that we think it wise to assume that their active participation in the war by southward attack on Singapore, the Netherlands East Indies and ourselves would be almost inevitable.

We appreciate that the United Kingdom has a very formidable problem to face in defence of its own shores and we also realise that the preservation of the integrity of Great Britain is vital to our own defence and security. Our great concern must, however, centre around the defence of Australia and in the possible position outlined above with Japan as our enemy. In that event we do not think it prudent to assume that United States would enter the war on our side at least not immediately.

In Dominions Office cable no. 510 of 23rd December, 1940 [2], a message from Mr. Churchill was embodied stating in effect that if Australia is seriously threatened by invasion there would be no hesitation to compromise or sacrifice the Mediterranean position to come to our assistance. A similar assurance was also contained in Dominions Office No. 262 of 11th August, 1940. [3]

There are two important factors, however, that vitally affect these assurances. Firstly, at the time they were given the situation was very different from that which now exists and secondly the assurances were subject to the important condition the necessity for which we fully appreciate that the defence and security of the Motherland must first be assured. It is also understood that in substance the official United States viewpoint is consistent with this and that the fundamental principle of the United States policy is that the Western Hemisphere is the primary and overriding consideration.

The position as outlined above was discussed this morning frankly and in complete unity in the Advisory War Council and it was unanimously agreed by all members of the Council and supported fully by War Cabinet and the Government that a new appreciation based on the circumstances outlined in this message is of the most supreme importance and that this should not wait until the position is substantially stabilised in the Mediterranean and Middle East as such delay would be fatal in the event of further deterioration of the position there. Such a review would enable us to take stock of our war position in the light of altered outlook and make such decisions as our own local defence requirements may then demand.

We ask for a candid and outspoken appreciation which will provide an outlook shorn of any optimism and which will convey an accurate statement of the assistance that we could definitely rely on rather than hope for in the circumstances outlined.

It must be accepted that the Empire and in particular we in Australia should now have plans in train to meet the contingencies which may be regarded as reasonably proximate. Such contingencies are:-

(a) Turkey and possibly Iran coming under domination and subject to control of Germany.

(b) Air and/or land action by Germany closing Suez.

(c) Action by Germany through Spain and North West Africa successfully closing the Straits of Gibraltar.

(d) The possibility of British Fleet being by such actions contained in the Mediterranean and having to fight its way out.

(e) The effect of any such contingencies on Japan and particularly in relation to the security of Australia.

We think that the overriding necessity is that of having plans prepared in advance as to disposition of naval and land forces against any one or more of such contingencies. [4]

1 Document 407.

2 Document 236.

3 Document 64.

4 This cablegram was repeated to the N.Z. Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, as no. 134.

[AA: A981, WAR 57, i]