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

Cablegram 252 [1] CANBERRA, 17 April 1942

IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET

For Prime Minister [2] from Prime Minister.

I wish to let you know with what uneasiness we learnt of the sinking by air attack of the DORSETSHIRE and CORNWALL, which is now followed by the sinking of the HERMES. [3] These unfortunate happenings have been the subject of prolonged and anxious discussion by War Cabinet and Advisory War Council [4], and they raise such vital questions that we feel constrained to ask you for full information as to the cause of them and for an appreciation of the United Kingdom, United States and Japanese position in regard to aircraft carriers, types of aircraft carried and views held as to relative efficiency of the aircraft and personnel. We would also ask for a statement of the United Kingdom's immediate and long-range policy for combating the Japanese naval forces.

2. We share with you the anxiety at the repeated naval losses which have been sustained through lack of air support, and I should be grateful to have information and advice on this vital matter as early as possible. [5]

CURTIN

1 The text of this cablegram was repeated to the Minister for External Affairs, then ill Washington (see cablegram PM47 of 17 April on file AA:A981, War 33, attachment C). Curtin also instructed the High Commissioner in the United Kingdom to see the Dominions Office copy of cablegram 252 (see cablegram 3275 of 17 April on file AA:M100, April 1942).

2 Winston Churchill.

3 See Document 463.

4 See Advisory War Council agendum 30/1942 and minute 903 of 16 April on file AA:A2680, 30/1942. There is no record of this issue having been discussed by War Cabinet.

5 Churchill's reply of 27 April (cablegram 382 on the file cited in note 4) provided an account of the events surrounding the sinkings, together with an appreciation of U.K., U.S. and Japanese naval strengths. In answer to Curtin's request for a long-range naval policy, Churchill replied that the aim was:

'(a) To build up and train the Eastern Fleet with all resources that can be spared. Until then to adopt policy of weaker fleet which is to evade and remain in being while raiding, whenever practicable, enemy lines of communication.

(b) To augment with American assistance shore based air strength in India and Ceylon.

(c) ... when (a) and (b) have been completed ... to adopt offensive policy in Indian Ocean but action against Malaya barrier involving large scale combined operations is beyond our resources until Germany has been defeated'.

Bruce cabled Curtin on 28 April that in his view Churchill's reply 'can hardly be described as reassuring'. See cablegram 77A on file AA:M100, April 1942.

[AA:A2680, 30/1942]