92 Chifley to Churchill

Cablegram 133 CANBERRA, 23 May 1945

MOST IMMEDIATE TOP SECRET

1. At a recent conference convened at the request of Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, Commander-in-Chief, British Pacific Fleet, and at which other Ministers directly concerned with the fulfilment of Royal Navy requirements were present, a number of subjects relating to the needs of the Fleet were discussed.

2. The impression was gathered from Admiral Fraser's representations on the matters under discussion that he understood the Commonwealth Government had accepted a commitment to meet needs of the British Pacific Fleet as might from time to time be requested by him in Australia.

3. You have been assured on more than one occasion of our intention to make as full a contribution as practicable to the needs of the United Kingdom forces based on Australia and this we will continue to the utmost of our capacity. We, however, at the same time, considered it only right that you should be aware of the limitation that our own and the overall war effort placed on our ability to assist.

4. The Commonwealth Government considers it a matter of the utmost importance that there should be no misconception of our position lest any misunderstanding should lead to impairment of the effectiveness of the Fleet based on Australia and give rise to the belief that failure on the part of the Commonwealth Government to fulfil its accepted obligations had contributed to this.

5. You will be aware that dating from the Prime Minister's discussions with you in London in May, 1944, the Commonwealth Government has been at pains to point out that the extent of its assistance in meeting the requirements of the British Pacific Fleet could only be gauged after thorough examination by the Australian Government departments concerned and that such examination would have to take fully into account the difficulties which Australia was encountering in rebalancing its war effort in order to alleviate in some degree the strains and stresses which had arisen from the considerable diversion of manpower to the fighting forces and the direct civilian war effort when we were in grave danger.

6. In our communications to the United Kingdom Government (see our cablegrams Nos. 269 dated 16th October, 1944, and 298 dated 7th November, 1944 [1],) we deemed it necessary to emphasise our limited resources; the fact that we were faced with a stringent manpower position in regard to meeting essential commitments; and that to ease the shortage it had been necessary to order direct extensive further releases from the fighting forces. We pointed out the shortage of skilled labour to execute our own ship repairs, advised that there was no prospect of our making any labour contribution towards the request for 5,000 men for repair of Royal Navy ships and asked that further consideration be given to meeting the Royal Navy needs from United Kingdom resources.

These advices were furnished in order to make our position clear and to guard against the Fleet arriving in Australian waters without full knowledge of the degree of our ability to assist.

Since these advices were furnished, our manpower and materials position has further deteriorated.

7. Again, in advising the United Kingdom Government of the result of the examinations made as to the extent Australia was able to assist, we have endeavoured to make it clear that, owing to serious deficiencies in manpower and materials, it would be necessary for the United Kingdom to make a substantial contribution from its own resources in meeting the requirements of the British Pacific Fleet.

8. In November, 1944, when it was feared the Admiralty might not have fully appreciated the seriousness of advices furnished from Australia regarding our limited resources, the Commonwealth Government Accredited Representative in London was advised and requested to explain the position to the United Kingdom authorities. [2] It was felt that the liability to misunderstanding would be best removed and advantages generally accrue by discussion. Mr. Bruce reported that the position had been discussed with First Lord of the Admiralty [3] and responsible officers, and the serious manpower situation stressed.

[4] He further advised that the Admiralty were fully alive to and sympathised with Australia's difficulties.

9. I have been at some length to cover broadly the position as disclosed in our communications with the United Kingdom Government regarding our limited capacity in view of Admiral Fraser's impression, and in order that you may make provision for such needs of the British Pacific Fleet as it is impossible for Australia to provide. You will be aware that commitments have already been approved to the extent of 25 millions for works, supplies and services, and other proposals amounting to several millions are at present being examined. A recent request by Admiral Fraser was for 50 fighter pilots a month and Army signal units for an advanced base. [5] In view of the Australian manpower position, the opinion was expressed by me that, owing to the changed conditions in Europe, the personnel should be brought from the United Kingdom.

10. It is hardly necessary to again state that, whilst emphasising our limited resources in manpower and materials and the difficulties we are faced with in this regard in view of our heavy commitments, we are in no way retracting from the assurances given of assistance to the fullest extent of our capacity. Within such limit we are executing with all possible speed the demands being made upon our resources.

11. A copy of this cablegram has been furnished to Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser.

1 In AA : A5954, box 590. Cablegram 298 was in fact dispatched 9 November 1944.

2 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. VII, Document 339.

3 A.V. Alexander.

4 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. VII, Document 363.

5 The Commonwealth Govt decided that 12 pilots a month should be provided for a period of 4 months, all necessary training being arranged by the Royal Navy. See cablegram 109 to Bruce, dispatched 23 May. In AA : A5954, box 1937.

[AA : A5954, BOX 588]