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

Cablegram Winch 6 [WASHINGTON, 8 January I 942, 2.30 P.m.] [1]


Your JOHCU 15. [2]

I fully [sympathise with] your feelings and largely share your views. When Japan attacked U.S.A. and the British Empire immediate war danger confronted Australia. However, the accession of the United States to full war most favourably affect[s] the issue of the final struggle. Indeed it probably decides it. I therefore came here.

2. The first step which the President [3] and I arranged was putting Supreme Commander with adequate representative staff over actual area of operations. This area is defined by General Wavell's [4] command. Into this area we and the United States are trying to press Naval, Air and Military Forces as fa[st] as possible. In our case regard must be paid to other commitments.

3. The second step is the organisation of the approaches. That has not yet been settled, but I have very little doubt that the United States will take over communications between themselves and Australia, taking command of any Australian Naval Forces which you may be willing to place at their disposal. The above course covers the case of New Zealand as well. The staffs are working hard and I hope before I leave to reassure you upon this aspect.

4. There remains of course the defence of Australian soil. This rests primarily with you and I thought you would prefer it to be in the hands of Australian Commander in Chief The United States would be quite willing, I believe, to reinforce your home defence troops with 40 or 50 thousand Americans. The limiting factor is not so much escort as actual shipping. Do you think you are in immediate danger of invasion in force? It is quite true that you may have air attacks but we have had a good dose already in England without mortally harmful results.

5. I contemplated these three commands:

(a) South Western Pacific under Wavell.

(b) Communications between the United States and Australasia under an American Commander, and (c) Defence of the mainland of Australia under your own Commander in Chief.

Surely that is a [reasonable] layout.

6. Now as to machinery of control. The President proposed General Wavell for the south-western Pacific. The exact method by which orders should be transmitted to General Wavell was admittedly not solved by the statement 'an appropriate body'. The British Chiefs of Staff in Washington are at work on this problem. Obviously there are two solutions. First is to locate the whole control in Washington in which case Australia and New Zealand, the Dutch and Great Britain will be represented on the appropriate joint body set up in Washington.

7. Alternative is that orders to the Supreme Commander of South Western Pacific will be transmitted formally and [finally] through Washington. They will embody agreement between me and the President. I or a senior Minister representing His Majesty's Government will be responsible for [collecting in the Staff] as well as Ministerial sphere the views of Australia, New Zealand and the Dutch who will consult together in London. We shall transmit a combined representation to our officers in the joint staff[s] in [Washington] which will certainly receive the utmost consideration from the President before any final decisions are reached.

8. Of the two processes I have no doubt the latter is the better.

Once a Supreme Commander has been appointed, it is hoped he will be given free hand to use all forces given him and not be worried by endless reference to Councils of five states and three [arms]- total fifteen. Nothing would be easier than to set [up] bunches of this kind at various nodal points and nothing would be more paralysing to war direction.

9. The British, Dutch, Australian and New Zealand Governments standing outside this fighting field will not have to give continual orders to the Supreme Commander upon whose staff all will be represented. They will be concerned with [finding] and moving forward reinforcements of every kind. It is only occasionally that any tactical or even local strategical decision will be decided at Washington and then only after fullest consultation in London.

10. One thing is certain. We cannot have [a] control of United States, Great Britain, Australian, New Zealand and Dutch land, air and navy both in London and in Washington.

11. I advise, therefore, subject to your concurrence, the representation of Australia in London where the Dutch Government is and where New Zealand is content to [lie]. You have sent Sir Earle Page as an envoy of the Commonwealth Government. He has been invited to every Cabinet where Australian affairs have been concerned. He will certainly have all the opportunities of presenting Australian views as you propose continuously. However, it is not possible to promise that nothing will ever be said or done which has not previously received full approval after consultation of all five governments concerned. I may have to speak to the President on the telephone in matters of great urgency. These occasions should arise only rarely since the Supreme Commander will be doing the fighting, and there will probably be time to discuss [the] larger strategy and supply issues among ourselves before decisions are reached.

12. I must beg you to realise these matters of organisation where so many partners and factors are involved take time to shape. I hope you will not judge the structure before it is complete.

Believe me, I am thinking of your interest at every moment. Within a week I hope to present you with entire [scheme] which you will be able to criticise or, if you will, reject. I am sure no other method of making a good scheme for your approval could have been formed than the one I have adopted. I hope, therefore, that you will accord me the week for which I ask remembering all operational measures are proceeding at the highest speed and that much has been achieved already.


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 9 p.m. on 9 January (see the copy on file AA:A2937, Far East position 1942).

2 Document 259.

3 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

4 See Document 252, note 4.

[AA:A3195,1942, 1.1112]