208 Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister, to Mr Winston Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister (en route to the United States)

Cablegram Johcu 10 CANBERRA, 20 December 1941

MOST IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET

In continuation of cablegram of 17th December [1], I despatched yesterday the following cablegram to the Commander-in-Chief, Far East [2], as a result of a communication received by the Chief of the General Staff [3] from the G.O.C., A.I.F., Malaya [4]:-

'Army authorities are in receipt of disturbing report from Bennett regarding gravity of position and request by him for despatch of one Australian Division from Middle East. He also refers to inadequate air support.

It is understood that Sturdee has communicated with you regarding this matter. As it is one requiring immediate Government consideration, and, if necessary, urgent representations to the United Kingdom Government, I shall be glad to receive most immediate reply as to military position, the strength of your forces, and measures in hand for reinforcements, if such are required.

It would be appreciated if brief report on military situation could be cabled to me say three times a week or more frequently if developments require it.'

No reply has so far been received from the Commander-in-Chief, but in view of press reports received regarding the progress of the Japanese and the considerable Australian land and air forces in Malaya it is a matter of paramount importance to know precisely the Commander-in-Chief's assessment of the situation and his capacity to meet it.

2. Most disturbing report has been received from the Official Representative of the Commonwealth Government in Singapore regarding unpreparedness of the A.R.P. defence during the raid of 8th December. [5] This together with the aspects referred to in my cablegram of 17th December cannot but give rise to misgivings regarding the effectiveness of machinery for higher directions.

3. The Commonwealth Government has for long pressed the United Kingdom Government on the provision of the strength considered necessary for land, sea and air defence. Now that the actual threat has come and the enemy is making substantial progress on several fronts, we must press for it to be boldly met and hope it will not be attempted by dispositions of a 'penny packet' nature.

4. We are particularly concerned about reports reaching us regarding inadequacy of air strength and anti-aircraft defences.

5. 1 would be glad of your earliest advice of the position and the measures you propose to take. [6]

CURTIN

1 Document 197.

2 Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham.

3 Lt Gen V. A. H. Sturdee.

4 Maj Gen H. G. Bennett.

5 See V. G. Bowden's cablegram 43 of 8 December on file AA:A1608, J39/2/1.

6 Curtin also dispatched a copy of this cablegram, and of the cablegram referred to in note 1, to Sir Earle Page, Special Representative in the United Kingdom, requesting 'all support Bruce and you can give to emphasizing that now attack on Malaya has commenced, we expect measures to be taken for the adequate defence of British interests in the Eastern Hemisphere'. See cablegram 8111 of an December (AA:A3196, 1941, 0.22269).

[AA:A3196, 1941, 0.22268]