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

Cablegram Winch 7 [WASHINGTON, 12 January 1942, 2.10 p.m.] [1]


Your JOHCU 16. [2]

1. I do not see how anyone could expect Malaya to be defended once
the Japanese obtained command of the sea and whilst we are
fighting for our lives against Germany and Italy. The only vital
point is Singapore fortress, and its essential hinterland.

Personally, my anxiety has been lest in fighting rearguard. action
down the Peninsula to gain time we should dissipate the force
required for the prolonged defence of Singapore. Out of the
equivalent of four divisions available for that purpose, one has
been lost and another mauled to gain a month or six weeks' time.

Some may think that it would have been better to have come back
quicker with less loss.

2. It is clearly our duty to give all support to the decisions of
the Supreme Commander. [3] We cannot judge from our distant post
whether it is better to fight on the north-western side of the
Peninsula at some risk to Mersing or whether all troops should now
be withdrawn into the island fortress, [leaving] the naval base to
be destroyed. Personally, I believe that Wavell is right and that
view is supported by the Chiefs of Staff I feel sure that you will
agree with most of this.

3. I have great confidence that your troops will acquit themselves
in the highest fashion in the impending battles. So far the
Japanese have only had two white battalions and a few gunners
against them, the rest being Indian soldiers. Everything is being
done to reinforce Singapore and the hinterland. Two convoys
bearing the forty-fifth Indian brigade group and its transports
have got through and a very critical convoy containing the leading
brigade of the British eighteenth division is timed to arrive on
13th January. I am naturally anxious about these 4,500 men going
through the Straits of Sunda in a single ship. I hope however that
they will arrive in time to take their stand with their Australian
brothers. I send you in my immediately following telegram the full
details of what [we have] on the move towards this important
battlefield with dates of arrival. [4] There is justification in
this for Wavell's hope that a counterstroke will be possible in
the latter part of February.

4. You are aware no doubt that I have proposed your withdrawal of
two Australian divisions from Palestine to the [new] theatre of so
much direct interest to Australia. The only limiting factor on
their movement will be shipping. We shall have to do our best to
replace them from home.

5. I do not accept any censure about Crete and Greece. We are
doing our utmost in the mother country to meet [many] perils and
onslaughts. We have sunk all party differences and have imposed
universal compulsory service not only upon men but women. We have
suffered the agonising loss of two of our finest ships which we
sent to sustain the Far Eastern (war]. We are organising from
reduced forces the utmost further naval aid. In the battle of
Libya British and Empire losses to 7th January are reported at
1,200 officers and 16,000 men out of comparatively small force it
is possible to maintain in the desert. A heavy battle around
Agheila seems to be impending. We have successfully disengaged
Tobruk after the previous relief of all of your men who gallantly
held it for so long. I hope therefore that you will be considerate
in the judgment which you pass upon those to whom Australian lives
and fortunes are so dear.

6. I am sending you the text of draft arrangements which we have
made with the United States for the defence of the 'Anzac' area.

[5] You will naturally comment, as I did when the Staffs first
told me, upon the fact that the United States who will have
command will contribute only one heavy or perhaps only one light
cruiser. The First Sea Lord [6] is of the opinion and I agree with
him that the advantage of persuading the United States to
undertake responsibilities for this area as a part of their main
Pacific command outweighs such criticism. I have no doubt that
this will also be your view. They have a stream of important
convoys moving along the route and will no doubt detach other
naval forces from time to time. There are still other matters to
be settled as between the A.B.D.A. and Anzac areas upon which we
are still working. I spent all last night with Mr. Casey [7] who
explained to me very fully the views which your Government holds.

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 3.05 a m. on
14 January (see AA:A3195, 1942, 1.1317)
2 Document 266.

3 General Sir Archibald Wavell.

4 See cablegram Winch 8 of 14 January (AA:A3195, 1942, 1.1624).

5 See Document 273.

6 Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound.

7 Minister to the United States. See Document 268.

8 Corrected from the Prime Minister's Dept inward cablegram
register (AA:A3642, 4). The original was incorrectly numbered

[AA:A3195, 1942, 1.1[6] [8] 17]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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