Skip to main content

Historical documents

262 Mr Winston Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister (in the United States), to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram Winch 6 [WASHINGTON, 8 January I 942, 2.30 P.m.] [1]


Your JOHCU 15. [2]

I fully [sympathise with] your feelings and largely share your
views. When Japan attacked U.S.A. and the British Empire immediate
war danger confronted Australia. However, the accession of the
United States to full war most favourably affect[s] the issue of
the final struggle. Indeed it probably decides it. I therefore
came here.

2. The first step which the President [3] and I arranged was
putting Supreme Commander with adequate representative staff over
actual area of operations. This area is defined by General
Wavell's [4] command. Into this area we and the United States are
trying to press Naval, Air and Military Forces as fa[st] as
possible. In our case regard must be paid to other commitments.

3. The second step is the organisation of the approaches. That has
not yet been settled, but I have very little doubt that the United
States will take over communications between themselves and
Australia, taking command of any Australian Naval Forces which you
may be willing to place at their disposal. The above course covers
the case of New Zealand as well. The staffs are working hard and I
hope before I leave to reassure you upon this aspect.

4. There remains of course the defence of Australian soil. This
rests primarily with you and I thought you would prefer it to be
in the hands of Australian Commander in Chief The United States
would be quite willing, I believe, to reinforce your home defence
troops with 40 or 50 thousand Americans. The limiting factor is
not so much escort as actual shipping. Do you think you are in
immediate danger of invasion in force? It is quite true that you
may have air attacks but we have had a good dose already in
England without mortally harmful results.

5. I contemplated these three commands:

(a) South Western Pacific under Wavell.

(b) Communications between the United States and Australasia under
an American Commander, and
(c) Defence of the mainland of Australia under your own Commander
in Chief.

Surely that is a [reasonable] layout.

6. Now as to machinery of control. The President proposed General
Wavell for the south-western Pacific. The exact method by which
orders should be transmitted to General Wavell was admittedly not
solved by the statement 'an appropriate body'. The British Chiefs
of Staff in Washington are at work on this problem. Obviously
there are two solutions. First is to locate the whole control in
Washington in which case Australia and New Zealand, the Dutch and
Great Britain will be represented on the appropriate joint body
set up in Washington.

7. Alternative is that orders to the Supreme Commander of South
Western Pacific will be transmitted formally and [finally] through
Washington. They will embody agreement between me and the
President. I or a senior Minister representing His Majesty's
Government will be responsible for [collecting in the Staff] as
well as Ministerial sphere the views of Australia, New Zealand and
the Dutch who will consult together in London. We shall transmit a
combined representation to our officers in the joint staff[s] in
[Washington] which will certainly receive the utmost consideration
from the President before any final decisions are reached.

8. Of the two processes I have no doubt the latter is the better.

Once a Supreme Commander has been appointed, it is hoped he will
be given free hand to use all forces given him and not be worried
by endless reference to Councils of five states and three [arms]-
total fifteen. Nothing would be easier than to set [up] bunches of
this kind at various nodal points and nothing would be more
paralysing to war direction.

9. The British, Dutch, Australian and New Zealand Governments
standing outside this fighting field will not have to give
continual orders to the Supreme Commander upon whose staff all
will be represented. They will be concerned with [finding] and
moving forward reinforcements of every kind. It is only
occasionally that any tactical or even local strategical decision
will be decided at Washington and then only after fullest
consultation in London.

10. One thing is certain. We cannot have [a] control of United
States, Great Britain, Australian, New Zealand and Dutch land, air
and navy both in London and in Washington.

11. I advise, therefore, subject to your concurrence, the
representation of Australia in London where the Dutch Government
is and where New Zealand is content to [lie]. You have sent Sir
Earle Page as an envoy of the Commonwealth Government. He has been
invited to every Cabinet where Australian affairs have been
concerned. He will certainly have all the opportunities of
presenting Australian views as you propose continuously. However,
it is not possible to promise that nothing will ever be said or
done which has not previously received full approval after
consultation of all five governments concerned. I may have to
speak to the President on the telephone in matters of great
urgency. These occasions should arise only rarely since the
Supreme Commander will be doing the fighting, and there will
probably be time to discuss [the] larger strategy and supply
issues among ourselves before decisions are reached.

12. I must beg you to realise these matters of organisation where
so many partners and factors are involved take time to shape. I
hope you will not judge the structure before it is complete.

Believe me, I am thinking of your interest at every moment. Within
a week I hope to present you with entire [scheme] which you will
be able to criticise or, if you will, reject. I am sure no other
method of making a good scheme for your approval could have been
formed than the one I have adopted. I hope, therefore, that you
will accord me the week for which I ask remembering all
operational measures are proceeding at the highest speed and that
much has been achieved already.


1 Material in square brackets has been corrected/inserted from the
Washington copy on file AA:A3300, 219. This cablegram was
dispatched to London and retransmitted to Canberra at 9 p.m. on 9
January (see the copy on file AA:A2937, Far East position 1942).

2 Document 259.

3 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

4 See Document 252, note 4.

[AA:A3195,1942, 1.1112]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top