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

Cablegram Winch 2 [WASHINGTON, 3 January 1942, 4.30 a.m.] [1]


1. Your Johcu number 14. [2]

General Wavell's [3] command area is limited to the fighting zone where active operations are now proceeding. Hence it does not include Australia, New Zealand and communications between the United States and Australia or indeed any other ocean communications. This does not of course mean that these vital regions and communications are to be left without protection so far as our resources admit. In our view the American Navy should assume responsibility for communications to the eastwards including islands right up to the Australian or New Zealand coast.

This is what we are pressing [for]. Admiral King' has just been given full powers over the whole of the American Navy and he has not yet accepted our view. Obviously, if I cannot persuade the Americans to take over, we shall have to fill the gap as best we can but I still hope that our view will be accepted in which case of course any vessels we or you have in that area will come under United States direction while operating there. There never has been any intention [of making a] main allied concentration in the newly defined southwest Pacific theatre and I do not know where you got this from.

2. I [now] sen[d] you the letter of instructions to General Wavell [5] which has been agreed to by the President [6] and the American Chiefs. [A statement upon the Wavell appointment will be made public shortly, and I will see you get it in good time for synchronisation of release.]

3. Your telegram 166 of 29th December. [7] The Staff appreciation to which you refer was prepared in London and, like all documents of this character, constitutes a general survey of the situation rather than final plans for action. It is in any case largely superseded by the appointment of Wavell as Supreme Commander.

Nevertheless I have laid it before the Chiefs of Staff who are with me here and I have no doubt that they will take to heart the various comments you have been good enough to make upon it.

4. Night and day I am labouring here to make the best arrangements possible in your interests and for your safety, having regard to other theatres and other dangers which have to be met from our limited resources. It is only a little while ago that you were most strongly urging the highest state of equipment for the Australian Army in the Middle East. The battle there is still not finished though prospects are good. It would have been folly to spoil Auchinleck's [8] battle by diverting aircraft, tanks etc. to Malay Peninsula at a time when there was no certainty that Japan would enter the war. The eas[ing] up of the Caucas[us] danger through Russian victories and Auchinleck's successes have made possible the considerable reinforcements, at the temporary expense of the Middle East, of which you have been advised and which are also justified because Malaya has now become a war theatre.

5. I have been in close consultation with Casey [9] who has been of great help in presenting your view and anxieties.

6. I also send you in my immediately following telegram [10] a note by the First Sea Lord [11] on the Naval aspect of the Pacific war which, as you will see, is very different from what would have prevailed before the power of the air became so dominant.

1 Material in square brackets has been corrected/inserted from the Washington copy on file AA:A3300, 219. This cablegram was dispatched to London and retransmitted to Canberra at 4.37 a.m. on 4 January (see the copy on file AA:A981, War 54).

2 Document 247.

3 See Document 252, note 4.

4 Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Navy.

5 See cablegram Winch 1 of 4 January on file AA:A981, War 54.

6 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

7 Document 237.

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

9 Minister to the United States.

10 Document 255.

11 Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound.

[AA:A981, WAR 54]