231 Mr Winston Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister (in the United States), to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram Winch 12 [WASHINGTON, 25 December 1941] [1]


Your telegram 23rd December [2], received through Mr. Casey.

1. On Japan coming into the war we diverted the 18th British Division which was rounding the Cape in American transports with the President's permission to Bombay and Ceylon and Mr. Roosevelt has now agreed that the leading Brigade in United States transport MOUNT VERNON should proceed direct to Singapore. We cancelled movement of the 17th Indian Division from India to Persia and this Division is now going to Malaya. A week ago I wirelessed from the ship to London to suggest that you recall one Australian Division from Palestine, either into India to replace other troops sent forward or to go direct if it can be arranged to Singapore. We have impressed on the military authorities the importance of not using up forces needed for the defence of Singapore and Johore approaches in attempting to defend the northern part of the Malay Peninsula. They will fall back slowly fighting delaying action and destroying communications.

2. The heavy Naval losses which the United States and we have both sustained give the Japanese power of landing large reinforcements, but we do not share the view expressed in your telegram to Mr.

Casey No. 1106, of 24th December [3], that there is danger of reduction of Singapore fortress which we are determined to defend with the utmost tenacity.

3. You have been told of the air support which is already on the way. It would not be wise to loosen our grip on Rommel [4] and Libya by taking away forces from General Auchinleck [5] against his judgment just when victory is within our grasp. We have instructed the Commanders in Chief in the Middle East [6] to concert a plan for sending fighters and tanks to Singapore immediately the situation in Libya permits. I and the Chiefs of Staff are in close consultation with the President and his Advisers and we have made encouraging progress. Not only are they impressed with the importance of maintaining Singapore but they are anxious to move a continuous flow of troops and aircraft through Australia for relief of the Philippine Islands if that be possible. Should the Philippine Islands fall, the President is agreeable to troops and aircraft being diverted to Singapore. He is also quite willing to send substantial United States forces to Australia where the Americans are anxious to establish important bases for the war against Japan. General Wavell has been placed in command of Burma as well as India, and instructed to feed reinforcements arriving in India to Malaya and Burma fronts. He, like everyone else, recognises the paramount importance of Singapore. General Pownall [7] has now arrived. He is a highly competent army officer.

5. You may count on me doing everything possible to strengthen the whole front from Rangoon to Port Darwin. I am finding co-operation from our American allies. I shall wire more definitely in a day or two.

6. Your telegram 819. [8] Russia.

It was not possible to reach any agreement on post war territorial arrangements with Stalin, but Mr. Eden's [9] conferences ended in goodwill. I do not think it useful or even prudent to press the Russians to get into the war with Japan when they have so much need of their Siberian forces to beat the German army, and when defeats of that army are the dominant military factor in the world war at this moment.

However, as soon as he feels strong enough, I have very little doubt that Stalin will take a stronger line with Japan. I hope that you realise that it would be quite impossible for His Majesty's Government to make a bargain with Stalin involving forcible transferring of large populations against their will into communist spheres.

Articles 2 and 3 of the Atlantic Charter clearly forbid any such acts on our part and by attempting it we should only vitiate the fundamental principles of freedom which are the main impulse of our cause.

From my informal tentative soundings of the President, I am sure that his views would be as strong as mine.

1 This cablegram was dispatched to London on 25 December (see J.

M. A. Gwyer, Grand Strategy, vol. III, part I, HMSO, London, 1964, P. 366). It was retransmitted to Canberra at 1.45 p.m. on 27 December (See AA:A3195, 1941, 1.29719). A copy dated 25 December (on file AA:A3300, 101) was given to R. G. Casey, Minister to the United States.

2 Document 214.

3 See Document 217, note 1.

4 German Commander-in-Chief in North Africa.

5 U.K. Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East.

6 Auchinleck, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham and Air Marshal A. W.


7 Pownall replaced Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham as U.K. Commander-in-Chief in the Far East on 27 December.

8 Document 212.

9 U.K. Foreign Secretary. See Document 212, note 2.

[AA:A3195, 1941, 1.29719]