35 Curtin to Churchill

Cablegram Johcu 41 CANBERRA, 1 September 1942


I have read with interest the changes you have recently made in Commands in the Middle East and I hope that the greatest possible success will be achieved by the new Commanders. [1]

2. As a considerable body of Australian troops is involved, the matter is not one of indifference to us. Without in any way derogating from the officers who have been appointed, I would like to raise the question of their experience of desert warfare and degree of success in any warfare in comparison with the record of Major-General Sir Leslie Morshead, who so successfully conducted the defence of Tobruk for seven months and has handled his division very capably in recent operations. [2]

3. I understand that shortly after General Ramsden was appointed to the 30th Corps, which then consisted of the 9th Australian Division and a South African division, it was decided that in the

event of General Ramsden becoming a casualty the command of the Corps would revert to General Briggs. The latter officer had only recently been appointed to command an Indian division in the 13th Corps. The command of the 13th Corps was allotted to General Horrocks. This officer commanded a machine gun battalion only in France in 1940, and since that campaign has not served outside the United Kingdom.

4. No Australian Commander has any desire to be appointed to the command of troops of the United Kingdom, except when they may be fighting in the same formations as the Dominion troops, but the senior officers of the A.I.F. have the definite impression throughout their service in the Middle East that Dominion Commanders are ineligible for the command of Army Corps in the Middle East, even when the Corps consists wholly of Dominion divisions.

5. I am sure you will appreciate this frank statement of a situation that has come to my knowledge and my own views thereon.

It would be lamentable if the failure to recognise the claims of proved Dominion Commanders affected the good relations which exist between the senior officers of the Empire Forces.


1 During his visit to Egypt in early August Churchill gained War Cabinet approval for a reorganisation of the Middle East command structure together with a series of transfers among senior officers. Following this reorganisation, General Alexander took over as Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, with General Montgomery commanding the Eighth Army.

2 Following representations from Morshead, Blamey had asked Curtin to express the Commonwealth Govt's concern at the disregard shown for Australian officers in the recent appointments in the Middle East. For further details see Barton Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1966, pp. 612-16.

[FA:A3196, 1942, 0.23328]