529 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram 86A LONDON, 23 June 1942, 8.45 p.m.

MOST IMMEDIATE FOR PRIME MINISTER PERSONAL

At War Cabinet meeting Libyan position fully discussed and decision reached that in view of seriousness of situation all possible reinforcements should be diverted to Middle East. [1]

During consideration of possible diversions which mainly affect India question of diverting Spitfire Squadrons en route to Australia was raised.

When this issue arose I reminded the Cabinet of the circumstances under which the offer to despatch these Squadrons had been made and the special significance which attached to their presence in Australia. [2] I also emphasised the importance of the maximum insurance of the Australian position in the light of the adverse developments in the Middle East. At the same time I pointed out that I had had no opportunity of consulting my Government and as the proposed diversion was in conflict with the spontaneous and specific offer made to Evatt [3] I felt the United Kingdom Government should approach you directly setting out their reasons rather than that I should communicate with you. This view the War Cabinet concurred in hence Dominions Office telegram No. 871. [4]

The case made in the telegram is a strong one but is not as convincing as that which emerged in the discussions in the War Cabinet.

While I have given no indication here of my view, for your personal information I feel that, having regard to the seriousness of the position, the value the 42 Spitfires will be if they arrive in time, the diversions made from India and the fact that only the machines are being diverted and the personnel and equipment are going on, it would be difficult not to agree to the request.

BRUCE

1 German forces in North Africa began a major advance eastwards on 26 May, capturing Tobruk on 21 June and reaching El Alamein, the last line of Allied defence before the Nile Delta, oil 30 June.

Heavy fighting in early July ensured that El Alamein was held by the Allies.

2 See Document 500, section D, paragraphs 8-14.

3 Minister for External Affairs.

4 See Document 530, note 1.

[AA:M100, JUNE 1942]