465 Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister, to Mr Clement Attlee, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 245 [1] CANBERRA, 14 April 1942

MOST IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET

The following for the Prime Minister [2] from the Prime Minister.

I. With further reference to My 210 relative to the 9th Division A.I.F. [3] an earlier reply has not been possible owing to need for consultation with the Supreme Commander South-West Pacific Area and the Commander of the Allied Land Forces. [4]

2. The view of the Supreme Commander is that the 9th Division could be allowed to remain in the Middle East if Naval and Air strength were provided as asked for in the appreciation of 3rd April which was prepared by the Australian Chiefs of Staff and the Supreme Commander's representative' and submitted to the Pacific War Council by the High Commissioner on 8th April. He is of the opinion that any agreement to its retention in the Middle East should be conditional on the earliest possible provision of the required Naval and Air strength.

3. The Government has noted the conclusions of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff on the Australian Chiefs of Staff appreciation submitted to Sir Earle Page in cablegram No. 42 [6], to the effect that 'the Allied aim should therefore be to build up the land, air and local naval forces in Australia and New Zealand to a point where they can stand without the immediate support of the United States Fleet, and can ensure that they will not be defeated before the United States Fleet is able to return to sever the enemy's communications with her invading forces'. [7] It has also noted Dominions Office No. 362 [8] containing the reasons of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff against the suggestion of the Australian Chiefs of Staff for the early concentration of an Allied Naval Force of the composition and strength proposed by them for offensive action against Japan.

4. The Government's view is that all Australian troops abroad should be returned to Australia, but it appreciates the difficulties at this stage in giving effect to its wishes in regard to the 9th Division owing to the shipping position which governs both their replacement in the Middle East and transfer here. It is therefore prepared to agree to the postponement of the return of this Division until it can be replaced in the Middle East and the necessary shipping and escort can be made available for its transportation to Australia.

5. The Government desires to draw attention to an important aspect emphasized by General Blamey now that the remainder of the A.I.F.

has returned to Australia or is at Ceylon and due to return later.

As their comrades have returned, the troops of the 9th Division cannot be retained abroad indefinitely without their morale being affected, particularly as they know that the others came back because their homeland is threatened. [9]

6. In regard to the provision of reinforcements from the United States for Australia, we understand from Dr. Evatt that the President said that, broadly speaking, all American Forces in Australia, or to go to Australia in the future, are being despatched unconditionally and without any question of Australia's right to decide the destination of the A.I.F. [10] 7. With reference to your offer to divert the Divisions referred to in Winch Nos. 20 and 21 [11], which has been gratefully acknowledged, our advisers observe that, should Japan be able to launch an invasion on the scale mentioned by you, she would have such command of the sea that it would probably be impossible to reinforce Australia to any great extent by seaborne forces.

CURTIN

1 The text of this cablegram was repeated to the Minister for External Affairs, Dr H. V. Evatt, then in Washington. Curtin also instructed the High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, S. M.

Bruce, to see the Dominions Office copy. See cablegrams PM42 and 3182 of 14 April on file AA:A816, 52/302/142.

2 Winston Churchill.

3 Dispatched 20 March. On file AA:A4763. It advised that a decision on the future of the 9th Division would be made as soon as possible.

4 Generals Douglas MacArthur and Sir Thomas Blamey, whose views were presented to the Advisory War Council on 8 April. After general discussion the Council agreed that these views and those of the Commonwealth Govt (as outlined in paragraph 4) should be communicated to Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. See Advisory War Council minute 894 in AA:A2682, vol. 5, and War Cabinet's endorsement thereof in AA:A2673, vol. 11, minute 2078 5 Lt Gen George H. Brett. A copy of the appreciation is contained in Document 456.

6 Dispatched 12 March. On file AA:A816, 14/301/233.

7 The conclusions of the U.K. Chiefs of Staff are contained in Bruce's cablegram 55[A] of 3 April on the file cited in note 6.

8 Dispatched 5 April. On file AA:A2937, Far East position 1942.

9 Curtin received a cablegram from Bruce on 14 April, quoting the opinion of the U.K. Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East (General Sir Claude Auchinleck) that the uncertainty surrounding the future of the 9th Division was having a damaging effect on troop morale.

See cablegram 67A of 13 April on file AA:M100, April 1942. Bruce also reported these sentiments to Attlee (see Attlee's note of 15 April in PRO:DO 35/1010, iii).

10 See Document 446 and Document 454, paragraph 3.

11 See Document 447.

[AA:A981, WAR 33, ATTACHMENT C]