64 Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Mr A. W. Fadden, Prime Minister

Cablegram 620 LONDON, 11 September 1941, 5.59 p.m.

MOST IMMEDIATE MOST STRICTLY SECRET AND PERSONAL

Following for the Prime Minister [from Prime Minister] [1]

1. In my immediately following telegram [2] I send you, in its entirety, General Auchinleck's [3] private telegram to me about the relief of Australian troops in Tobruk. I do so in complete confidence in your discretion. General Auchinleck's telegram is the result of prolonged consultation with Naval and Air Commanders in the Middle East.

2. You will see from his telegram that if you insist upon relief of Australians in Tobruk, it is physically impossible for it to be completed in time for you to make the statement you desire to the Commonwealth Parliament by the middle of this month. In fact, only half could be removed during the moonless period of September and the other half would have to be removed during the latter half of October, which is the very time when all preparations for the offensive will be intense and when preparatory work of the Air Force will demand their complete concentration on the enemy's rear areas, dumps and air fields.

In no case could you make any statement to the Commonwealth Parliament, because any suggestion in public that reliefs were to take place might lead to heavy air attacks on Tobruk Harbour and along the coast at the time when your troops would be withdrawing.

If, however, you insisted that Australian troops must be relieved, orders will be issued accordingly irrespective of the cost entailed and injury to future prospects.

I trust, however, that you will weigh very carefully the immense responsibility which you would assume before history by depriving Australia of the glory of holding Tobruk till victory was won, which otherwise by God's help will be theirs for ever.

3. I feel bound again to impress on you the vital importance of maintaining absolute secrecy about future operations or movements of troops which the question of the relief of your forces has compelled the Commander-in-Chief to reveal to us.

1 Winston Churchill. These words have been inserted from the London copy in PRO:DO114/114 2 Cablegram 621 of 11 September (AA:A3195, 1941, 1.17542).

3 U.K. Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East.

[AA:A3195, 1941,1.17541]