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293 Mr V. G. Bowden, Official Representative in Singapore, to Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs

Cablegram 66 (extract) SINGAPORE, 23 January 1942, 1 a.m.


[matter omitted]

10. Fitchett [1] describes the present position of the British
Forces as 'desperate and perhaps irretrievable' and I feel this is

11. General Officer Commanding Malaya [2] is clearly uneasy about
the position. He states that the Japanese being rice-eaters can
live on the country and are organised to move without wheeled
transport which enables them to move freely across the country
without metal roads. (Advance down the east coast to Mersing for
instance has been made entirely by land and the great part without
roads.) Our forces on the other hand must transport all their
supplies and are thus bound to the roads. He stated that Indian
troops have not proved suitable for the conditions of fighting in

12. My conversation with Air Commodore this morning revealed that
only relatively small portion of air reinforcements received [?or]
expected can be regarded as immediately effective because full
complement of crews do not accompany them. Thus although 52
Hurricanes have been received and 32 assembled only 13 are
serviceable today because only 16 crews came with them, some of
which have been lost. The aircraft carrier expected at the end of
the month south bound brings 48 Hurricanes with pilots who will
fly them ashore but ground staff and spare parts for these and
bomber reinforcements flying here from the Middle East will be
following by convoy. Until they arrive these aircraft cannot be
serviced and it will therefore only be possible to use as many as
the personnel already here can cope with. As our needs are
immediate reports received of substantial air reinforcements
arriving thus prove extremely misleading and hopes based thereon
are largely illusory.


1 Official war correspondent attached to the 8th Division, A.I.F.

2 Lt Gen A. E. Percival.

Curtin left Melbourne on 21 January for a holiday in Western
Australia. During his absence the Deputy Prime Minister, F. M.

Forde, presided at War Cabinet meetings and was referred to in
some press reports as the Acting Prime Minister, although some
cablegrams continued to be dispatched under Curtin's name.

Following press and Opposition criticism of his absence from War
Cabinet at such a critical time, Curtin issued a statement on 26
January, revealing that one of the reasons for his visit to Perth
was to carry out a request from the U.K. Admiralty that he discuss
vital defence matters with the Premier of Western Australia. J. C.

Willcock; he returned to Melbourne on 1 February. Almost certainly
among the defence matters Curtin discussed in Perth was an
Admiralty request that commercial shipping be diverted from
Fremantle to allow the port to be used by British capital ships.

See Curtin's unnumbered cablegram of 20 January to Willcock
(AA:A3196, 1942, 0.1881-2).

[AA:A981, WAR 42]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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