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

Cablegram P50 LONDON, 24 February 1942, 8 p.m.


At War Cabinet last night the rapid deterioration of the
Netherlands East Indies and North Australia position caused
consideration of the vital importance of Ceylon now to the
Empire's war effort in general and to Australia in particular. I
am sending in my following telegram [1] the points made by the
Chiefs of Staff as to its strategic value and the present state of
its defences. From this you will see that the defences of this
vital point are very weak, they having been accorded a lower
priority to Singapore and the Netherlands East Indies.

(2) If Ceylon is attacked in force by Japanese as they can now do
from Singapore by their fleet with transports, they will either
capture Ceylon or they will force the retention at Ceylon of the
few British battleships in the Indian Ocean to defend it and so
prevent them from escorting convoys of troops and essential

(3) There are still over two Australian divisions, quite apart
from the 7th Division, to be transported to Australia, and all
British reinforcements to the Far East to help hold Burma and
India and what can be held of Netherlands East Indies.

(4) All reinforcements to the Middle East proceed through the
Indian Ocean via the Cape of Good Hope and would be in extreme
jeopardy if Japan held Ceylon and her naval forces were operating
from there. All of our reinforcements through Africa and the
Indian Ocean of American and British aircraft would be prevented
[from] coming to Australia as under these circumstances we would
almost certainly lose Cocos Islands and other islands by which our
cable and air communications could be maintained. All Australian-
English shipping around the Cape would be in greater peril than
under the present circumstances and need much more protection.

(5) The difficulties of British reinforcements arriving in Ceylon
in time are all associated with the physical limitations of
shipping and distance. Now that the convoy carrying the Australian
7th Division is to refuel in Colombo, which will take several
days, I would submit for your serious consideration whether the
Australian Government should offer to allow these Australian
troops to remain in Ceylon until at least the 70th British
Division could arrive and get into battle order, which would be a
month or six weeks at the latest.

(6) The question of asking Australia for assistance in this way
was not raised in War Cabinet in view of your decision regarding
Burma, but as these troops are actually on the spot and their
presence there may determine whether we hold Ceylon and so permit
the use of battleships for protection of future convoys and lessen
the danger of transport of our own troops as well as others, I
think that the position from Australia's point of view alone,
quite apart from its general effect on the whole strategy against
Japan, should be carefully weighed.

(7) The Air Force at Ceylon is weak, but there are fighter
reinforcements on the way in aircraft carriers which could reach
Colombo during the first week in March. If decision is taken to
offer to help in this way, America should be pressed to send by
air every available bomber across the Atlantic and Africa to
strengthen the position.

(8) If Ceylon is lost, the difficulties of an offensive against
Japan and of using either India or Australia as a base for that
offensive become very much greater than they otherwise would be.

(9) The offer of this assistance, even though on a temporary
basis, from Australia would relieve the War Cabinet in the United
Kingdom of a pressing anxiety and go far towards maintaining the
united effort which so far has been achieved.


1 Cablegram P51 of 24 February on file AA:A816, 52/302/142.

[AA:A3195, 1942, 1.8161]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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