Skip to main content

Historical documents

131 Mr Winston Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram Winch 6 LONDON, 28 November 1941, 1 a.m.


1. Mr. Evatt, your Minister of External Affairs, is reported as
criticizing in public our not yet having declared war on Finland,
Hungary and Roumania. [1] The question of Finland is very
difficult because a formal declaration of war will bind them to
the Germans, lead to greater pressure on the Russian northern
front, and greatly disturb our friends in Sweden and to a lesser
extent in Norway, whereas by other methods we may induce them
simply to stop fighting and send a large portion of their soldiers
back home. I have had correspondence with Stalin on the point and
have told him that unless there is (Quote) a cessation of military
operations and the de facto exit of Finland from the war
(Unquote), to use his own words, within a fortnight from 21st
November we shall declare war upon Finland. Stalin is satisfied
with this and our relations have become extremely cordial. The
point is now being put in a most severe form by the Foreign Office
to the Finnish Government, and we shall see with what result. If
we have to declare war on Finland, we shall of course do the same
to Hungary and Roumania. The arguments about this also are evenly
balanced, especially in the case of Roumania, which has been made
a catspaw by Germany. I will let you know what happens.

2. It would be a great pity if while these delicate and highly
disputable matters are in the balance, your Ministers should start
criticizing our policy in public. We have never said a word in
public about Australian Government's insistence upon the
withdrawal of all troops from Tobruk, which cost us life and
ships, and added appreciably to General Auchinleck's [2]
difficulties in preparing his offensive; and no one here or I
presume in Australia outside the circles of Government has the
slightest inkling of the distress which we felt. I am sure it is
far better that all these inevitable divergences should be kept
secret, and that we should try so far as possible to understand
each other's difficulties. Surely the sending of the PRINCE OF
WALES into eastern waters in face of the grave misgivings of the
Admiralty about the undoubted risks of a break-out by the TIRPITZ
in the next few weeks should convince you of our wish to act
towards your Government in true comradeship and loyalty.

3. Accept my deepest sympathy in the feared loss of the SYDNEY So
close to Australian shores. [3] We also have had a grievous blow
this week in the loss of the BARHAM, which blew up as a result of
a U-boat torpedo, involving the death of about seven hundred men.

This is being kept strictly secret at present as the enemy do not
seem to know and the event would only encourage Japan.

4. General Auchinleck is in good heart about the battle in Libya,
although it will be hard, long and bloody.


1 See Document 134.

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

3 The cruiser H.M.A.S. Sydney was lost with her entire crew off
the Western Australian coast on 19 November after an action with
the German raider Kormoran. The first news of her loss came when
survivors from Kormoran were picked up on 24 November and it was
confirmed publicly by Curtin on 30 November.

[PRO : PREM 4 50/15]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top