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

Cablegram Winch 7 [WASHINGTON, 12 January 1942, 2.10 p.m.] [1]


Your JOHCU 16. [2]

1. I do not see how anyone could expect Malaya to be defended once the Japanese obtained command of the sea and whilst we are fighting for our lives against Germany and Italy. The only vital point is Singapore fortress, and its essential hinterland.

Personally, my anxiety has been lest in fighting rearguard. action down the Peninsula to gain time we should dissipate the force required for the prolonged defence of Singapore. Out of the equivalent of four divisions available for that purpose, one has been lost and another mauled to gain a month or six weeks' time.

Some may think that it would have been better to have come back quicker with less loss.

2. It is clearly our duty to give all support to the decisions of the Supreme Commander. [3] We cannot judge from our distant post whether it is better to fight on the north-western side of the Peninsula at some risk to Mersing or whether all troops should now be withdrawn into the island fortress, [leaving] the naval base to be destroyed. Personally, I believe that Wavell is right and that view is supported by the Chiefs of Staff I feel sure that you will agree with most of this.

3. I have great confidence that your troops will acquit themselves in the highest fashion in the impending battles. So far the Japanese have only had two white battalions and a few gunners against them, the rest being Indian soldiers. Everything is being done to reinforce Singapore and the hinterland. Two convoys bearing the forty-fifth Indian brigade group and its transports have got through and a very critical convoy containing the leading brigade of the British eighteenth division is timed to arrive on 13th January. I am naturally anxious about these 4,500 men going through the Straits of Sunda in a single ship. I hope however that they will arrive in time to take their stand with their Australian brothers. I send you in my immediately following telegram the full details of what [we have] on the move towards this important battlefield with dates of arrival. [4] There is justification in this for Wavell's hope that a counterstroke will be possible in the latter part of February.

4. You are aware no doubt that I have proposed your withdrawal of two Australian divisions from Palestine to the [new] theatre of so much direct interest to Australia. The only limiting factor on their movement will be shipping. We shall have to do our best to replace them from home.

5. I do not accept any censure about Crete and Greece. We are doing our utmost in the mother country to meet [many] perils and onslaughts. We have sunk all party differences and have imposed universal compulsory service not only upon men but women. We have suffered the agonising loss of two of our finest ships which we sent to sustain the Far Eastern (war]. We are organising from reduced forces the utmost further naval aid. In the battle of Libya British and Empire losses to 7th January are reported at 1,200 officers and 16,000 men out of comparatively small force it is possible to maintain in the desert. A heavy battle around Agheila seems to be impending. We have successfully disengaged Tobruk after the previous relief of all of your men who gallantly held it for so long. I hope therefore that you will be considerate in the judgment which you pass upon those to whom Australian lives and fortunes are so dear.

6. I am sending you the text of draft arrangements which we have made with the United States for the defence of the 'Anzac' area.

[5] You will naturally comment, as I did when the Staffs first told me, upon the fact that the United States who will have command will contribute only one heavy or perhaps only one light cruiser. The First Sea Lord [6] is of the opinion and I agree with him that the advantage of persuading the United States to undertake responsibilities for this area as a part of their main Pacific command outweighs such criticism. I have no doubt that this will also be your view. They have a stream of important convoys moving along the route and will no doubt detach other naval forces from time to time. There are still other matters to be settled as between the A.B.D.A. and Anzac areas upon which we are still working. I spent all last night with Mr. Casey [7] who explained to me very fully the views which your Government holds.

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 3.05 a m. on 14 January (see AA:A3195, 1942, 1.1317) 2 Document 266.

3 General Sir Archibald Wavell.

4 See cablegram Winch 8 of 14 January (AA:A3195, 1942, 1.1624).

5 See Document 273.

6 Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound.

7 Minister to the United States. See Document 268.

8 Corrected from the Prime Minister's Dept inward cablegram register (AA:A3642, 4). The original was incorrectly numbered 1.1317.

[AA:A3195, 1942, 1.1[6] [8] 17]