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342 Sir Earle Page, Special Representative in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram P44 LONDON, 18 February 1942


In further explanation of my P.43 [1], your telegram 123 [2] and
your telegram 127 [3] together with Wavell's cables which have
been sent to you [4] were fully considered at the War Cabinet and
British Defence Committee meetings held on Monday and at the
Pacific War Council called tonight to deal specially with the
whole strategic position in the Far East, Pacific and Indian
Oceans in the light of recent developments.

(2) A memorandum on shipping difficulties arising in transporting
reinforcements has been cabled by the Dominions Office. [5] The
whole question of the means of making more shipping available is
being still further examined very closely. The general attitude
here is that every possible way of saving shipping space will be
followed in order to make extra tonnage available for military
purposes. This may include severer rationing.

(3) The deterioration of the situation consequent on the fall of
Singapore and the Japanese capture of Sumatra aerodromes raised
questions of immediate and ultimate strategy. On the question of
how Japan would be finally beaten it was unanimously recognised
that Australia and India must be considered as the main bases for
operations against Japan herself irrespective of what Japan is
doing elsewhere. Further, that the road for supplies to China must
be kept open at all costs. Apart from the vital necessity of
keeping China in the war, this was the only area in which land
operations against Japan could be continued at present. Ultimately
the Burma Road and China might be the route through which Japan
could be directly attacked by air.

(4) The immediate issue was whether Java and the N.E.I. could or
should be further reinforced to such a degree as to prevent their
capture. On these aspects Wavell's and your own cables were
carefully studied. Three issues arose:

(i) Whether Java should fight to the end. On this the Dutch said
that they had always taken the offensive view and would fight on
and must still defend Java to the uttermost. They felt that such
fight would not only be beneficial from its moral and
psychological standpoint but would give time to destroy
effectively all resources that might be of advantage to the enemy.

I pointed out the aspect that there were in Java at the present
time representatives of Australian, British, Dutch and American
Forces. The presence of these forces co-operating with the Dutch
in the defence of Java would emphasise the cohesion of allied
forces despite our recent reverses.

(ii) Whether any further reinforcements should be sent into Java
and especially whether Australian reinforcements already on the
water should go. The answer was emphatically no to this as it was
held to be too dangerous a proceeding and it might be impossible
to land convoys and would only be uselessly wasting our manpower
resources. To my mind the attitude of the Dutch Prime Minister [6]
and his colleagues in this regard was magnificent in their
readiness to do what was best in the ultimate interests of the
whole fight even though their own country was really being left to
its own resources.

(iii) What should be the ultimate disposition of reinforcements
that would become available. It was pointed out that the position
in Burma was extremely critical, that a division of well trained
experienced Australian troops which actually was the only body of
troops that could possibly get to Burma in time might be decisive
in keeping Burma Road open, that this was all important from the
point of view of maintaining the means of communication with China
and would undoubtedly keep her in the fight and have a moral
effect quite out of proportion to the number of troops actually
being sent. It also would indicate that the Australians were
taking the widest co-operative attitude towards the war. At the
same time I pointed out the great peril of Australia, the urgent
desire that our Government and people felt that our soldiers
should be at hand to defend their native land, and received an
assurance that they would be relieved as early as possible by
other forces, almost certainly British. The exact date of this
could not be definitely stated [as it was] [7] felt that the next
British Division should also in the main go to reinforce this
critical position. At the same time the Prime Ministers and the
Chief of the Air Staff [9] assured me that arrangements were
already in train for very substantial air reinforcements to this
theatre of war [to which our soldiers] would be sent if the
Australian Government agreed, and I stated that [1] would strongly
recommend, as I am now doing, that you should concur in this
arrangement for the time. I might say that nearly half of the
Sixth Division is ready to embark and will go straight through to
Australia, as [will] the remainder of the Division. Your request
that ultimately the whole of the Australian Corps should return to
Australia was adopted as a principle that would be followed as
fast as it was practicable.

I hope that it will not be long before I am able to give you a
reply to your cable 21 of 14th February. [10]


1 Document 341.

2 See Document 336, note 3.

3 Document 336.

4 See cablegram 01157 of 14 February on file AA:A2671, 106/42,
Appendix B, and U.K. Dominions Office cablegram 219 of 18 February
on file AA:A816, 52/302/142. In cablegram P46 of 18 February (On
file AA:A816, 52/302/142) Page requested Curtin to defer the
decision about the destination of the 7th Division until he had
studied cablegram 219, which had been delayed in transmission.

5 Cablegram 218 of 18 February (AA:A3195, 1942, 1.6234).

6 Dr P. S. Gerbrandy.

7 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from the
London copy on file AA:A2937, Far East position 1942.

8 Winston Churchill.

9 Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal.

10 Dispatched 13 February. Curtin requested information about
Churchill's indication in Document 262, paragraph 4, that the
United States would be willing to reinforce Australian home
defence with 40 000 or 50 000 troops (on file AA:MP1217, Box 554,
Defence of Australia-Appreciation of immediate danger of invasion
in force-January 1942. Reinforcement of Home Defence Force by
U.S.A. Troops).

[AA:A816, 52/302/142]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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