436 Sir Earle Page, Special Representative in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram P74 LONDON, 22 March 1942, 8.02 p.m.

MOST IMMEDIATE TO THE PRIME MINISTER HIMSELF ALONE MOST SECRET

The tone of the comments of your 47 [1] on interchange of American Divisions for Australia with the 9th Australian Division and New Zealand Division for the Middle East makes me fear that this question may not be [considered] [2] entirely on its own merits and from its bearing on the ultimate security of Australia and the quickest way of winning the war as a whole. I will first clear up apparent personal misconceptions and I later will indicate my own approach to this whole problem.

2. Before doing so, however, I would like to point out regarding your paragraph 2 that my telegram P. 64 [3] was sent after hearing Roosevelt's telegram read at War Cabinet. A close perusal of the telegram which has been sent to you in Dom.311 [4] will convince you that my interpretation is correct.

3. Roosevelt's telegram emphasised the necessity for economising in shipping and the continuing security of the Middle East, India and Ceylon. As at least six sentences of his telegram deal with methods of reinforcing Australia, India and the Middle East I am surely justified in saying that there is insistence on the intimate connection between Australia, the Mid[dle] East and the Indian Ocean theatres.

4. Regarding the statement in your paragraph 4 that my information is open to some doubt, I would point out that it is open to no doubt. In paragraphs 4 and 5 of my P. 64 I stated that 'Churchill said that he had been in touch with Roosevelt on the whole question of war strategy, that Roosevelt was seized with the importance of defence of Australia. ... accordingly the President had made the offer which Churchill has telegraphed to you (in D.311)'.

5. It must be obvious from my statement and from Churchill's [cabling] to you the whole text of Roosevelt's telegram in which he includes the sentence that you mention in your paragraph 3 'we also agree that the Australian and New Zealand Divisions now in that region should remain' that Churchill did not conceal his discussions with Roosevelt.

6. The question as to whether [he] should discuss with Roosevelt the use and disposition of Australian and New Zealand troops and the use of American troops in their place is a matter which raises the propriety of prior discussion with the Australian and New Zealand Governments if he has any plan to propose. But this is something quite different from doubting his good faith or my information. It is not suggested that he was not prepared to carry out his undertaking to endeavour to send all the Australian troops back to Australia if you did not approve of any plans he made with Roosevelt. Yesterday I sent you a wire asking for your decision on this matter as the British Chiefs of Staff here were being pressed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington for reply. [5]

7. I am as keenly desirous as anyone can be of seeing in the present crisis all our Australian troops back in Australia if that is practicable. A realistic view must be taken however of the physical facts of the situation. We must act so that we get to Australia both at the earliest date and continuously maximum reinforcements in men, munitions, equipment and aircraft and at the same time have the maximum goodwill in Britain and America.

8. Goodwill is of very great importance to Australia in the making available of equipment of all sorts and in accelerating its despatch. We have at present such goodwill as to induce the British Government to take some guns out of installed active units to supply immediate Australian demands. Goodwill towards the Australian outlook is of great importance when actual Australian Government proposals for the method of conducting the war in our own regions are being considered in the highest councils. Goodwill is especially valuable in determining the allocation of British shipping for which there is such a clamant demand in every part of the world and on which Australian defence must rely. Australia must depend entirely for its reinforcements of men and equipment on overseas sources. The British people have submitted to severe increased rationing in order enable more shipping to be available for war purposes in overseas theatres such as Australia.

9. The goodwill and complete understanding between Roosevelt and Churchill should be capitalised to Australia's advantage. The shipping position is more acute than at any other period of the war and is causing Churchill and Roosevelt more concern than any other problem and any contribution we can make to the easing of this problem will be probably more appreciated now than at any other time.

10. The extension of war activities on such a large scale to the Far East and Australia and the most intensive increase of the U- Boat campaign on the Eastern Coast of America and the Caribbean Sea and in the Atlantic generally have increased the difficulties of the shipping position. In February the shipping losses so far reported were 83 ships totalling nearly 500,000 tons. There is in addition a loss of 158,000 tons of previous months now reported. I would be surprised if a similar addition of tonnage losses has not still to be added to the February figures. The known losses of the first week in March were well over 200,000 tons. This, if continued, would involve a 10 million loss in a year. The Chiefs of Staff report that there are at present over 260 enemy U-Boats operating in the Atlantic and 470 are expected to have been put into service by the end of the year. The 'TIRPITZ' is at large.

The 'GNEISENAU' and 'SCHARNHORST' have escaped from Brest and the Japanese raiders have scarcely got properly going yet. The Middle East campaign depends entirely on reinforcements in men and material around the Cape. If the allies have to defend the Caucasus and obstruct the German offensive against the Russian oil centres in the Spring this is the way in which reinforcements must go. Active fighting in India, Burma, Australia and the Far East generally will entail a much longer haul and the sending of reinforcements on a much bigger scale over this longer haul to cope with Japanese strength than in any other previous theatre of war.

11. The presence of Japanese raiders, submarines and warships in the Pacific and Indian Oceans will entail longer routeings, more scattered diversions and more convoys of all ships, thus reducing the effectiveness of the limited shipping tonnage at our disposal.

12. We will be fortunate to produce from all allied countries this year 8 million tons of new shipping. Britain produced about 1 million tons last year. No matter how successful may be the drive for increased production of supplies, the beneficial influence on strategy in all oversea war theatres of the existence of these supplies will be largely discounted if there is not shipping available to place them in the appropriate position. Under these circumstances it seems to me that the most serious consideration should be given to any suggestion which reduces unnecessary use of shipping and avoidable movement of troops who are already in battle positions at strategic points.

13. Last year our great deficiency was shortage in aeroplanes. I believe this year this shortage will be overcome and that our great deficiency this year will be found to be shortage of shipping. I beg therefore that this aspect may receive the fullest possible consideration before your Government comes to a decision to do anything which may not use our shipping to the best possible advantage. Australia depends entirely on shipping for the conveyance of its produce to market and of its defence reinforcements from overseas. Because of its remoteness the effect of any shipping shortage will be felt most quickly and most acutely.

14. In a rapidly changing war situation decisions must be subject to continuous review. In last few weeks particularly the position has changed so drastically as to necessitate a complete reorientation of outlook in many aspects.

PAGE

1 Document 429.

2 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from the London copy on file AA:A2937, Far East position 1942.

3 Document 402.

4 See Document 428, note 1.

5 Document 434.

[AA:A3195, 1942, 1.11826]