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352 Mr Clement Attlee, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram 233 LONDON, 20 February 1942, 9.13 p.m.


Following for the Prime Minister from the Prime Minister. [1]

I suppose you realise that your leading division [2], the head of
which is sailing south of Colombo to N.E.I. at this moment in our
scanty British and American shipping [(MOUNT VERNON)] [3], is the
only force that can reach Rangoon in time to prevent its loss and
the severance of communication with China. It can begin to
disembark at Rangoon about 26th or 27th. There is nothing else in
the world that can fill the gap.

2. We are all entirely in favour of all Australian troops
returning home to defend their native soil, and we shall help
their transportation in every way. But a vital war emergency
cannot be ignored, and troops en route to other destinations must
be ready to turn aside and take part in a battle. Every effort
would be made to relieve this division at the earliest moment and
send them on to Australia. I do not endorse the United States'
request that you should send your other two divisions [4] to
Burma. They will return home as fast as possible but this one is
needed now, and is the only one that can possibly save the

3. Pray read again your message No. JOHCU 21 [5] in which you said
that the evacuation of Singapore would be 'an inexcusable
betrayal'. Agreeably with your point of view we therefore [put]
the 18th Division and other important reinforcements into
Singapore instead of diverting them to Burma and ordered them to
fight it out to the end. They were lost at Singapore and did not
save it, whereas they could almost certainly have saved Rangoon. I
take full responsibility with my colleagues on the Defence
Committee for this decision; but you also bear a heavy share on
account of your telegram No. JOHCU 21.

4. Your greatest support in this hour of peril must be drawn from
the United States. They alone can bring into Australia the
necessary troops and air forces and they appear ready to do so. As
you know, the President [6] attaches supreme importance to keeping
open the connection with China without which his bombing offensive
against Japan cannot be started and also most grievous results may
follow in Asia if China is cut off from all allied help.

5. I am quite sure that if you refuse to allow your troops to stop
this gap who are actually passing and if in consequence the above
[evils] affecting the whole course of the war follow, a very grave
effect will be produced upon the President and the Washington
circle on whom you are so largely dependent. See especially the
inclination of the United States to move major naval forces from
Hawaii into the Anzac area.

6. We must have an answer immediately, as the leading ships of the
convoy will soon be steaming in the opposite direction from
Rangoon and every day is a day lost. I trust therefore that for
the sake of all interests, and above all your own interests, you
will give most careful consideration to the case I have set before
you. (Ends).

1 Winston Churchill.

2 7th Division.

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

4 6th and 9th Divisions.

5 Document 294.

6 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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