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

Cablegram P54 LONDON, 27 February 1942, 3.20 a.m.


A perusal of your cable of 26th February [1] makes me fear that
you have either not received or not closely read the appreciation
by Wavell [2] of 16th February and my explanatory telegrams [3] as
in those there is contained a complete answer to your paragraphs 1
to 8.

2. In answer to paragraph 1 I am surprised to find that you could
think that I have not consistently advocated the Australian point
of view as furnished by you and understood by myself My own
personal and family record establishe[s] beyond question that the
security of Australia has always been my first consideration. My
public advocacy during peace time of laying down of two
[Australian] [4] battleships and building of a dock in Sydney, of
the creation of permanent military forces as recommended by
General Squires [5], of [the] bringing into Australia by my
Government fourteen years ago of Sir John Salmond [6], whose
recommendations are still the basis of organisation of our air
force, and my public attitude with regard to the disposition of
Australian forces in war time so that they could be readily
available for Australia's own defence are well known to you. I
need not speak of my devotion in the last five months to
Australia's representation in the War Cabinet overseas.

3. The vital importance of Australia as a base for defence of the
Empire and success against Japan was set out in Wavell's
appreciation of 16th February as communicated to you in Dominions
Office telegram 219 of 18th February vide paragraph 11 where he
said 'Burma and. Australia are absolutely vital for the war
against Japan. The loss of Java though severe blow from every
point of view would not be vital. Efforts should not therefore be
made to reinforce Java which might compromise defence of Burma or
Australia.' Then in paragraph 13 ' It should be possible for
American troops to provide reinforcements to Australia if
required'. This appreciation formed the basis of all discussions
at the Pacific War Council Meeting of 17th February. Their
decision to use Australia and India as offensive bases was clearly
stated in my paragraph 3 of P. 44 'On the question of how Japan
would be finally beaten it was unanimously recognised that
Australia and India must be preserved as the main bases for
operations against Japan herself irrespective of what Japan is
doing elsewhere'.

4. This principle has since always been accepted as the foundation
of all resolutions of the Pacific War Council. To show how
axiomatically it is still regarded I quote from the report of
proceedings of the Pacific War Council of 24th February
communicated to the Combined Chiefs of Staff Washington on 25th
February: 'There was general agreement on the vital importance of
securing Australia, India and Ceylon as bases for an eventual
assumption of the offensive against Japan'.

5. You may take it therefore that my advocacy of Australia being
preserved as a base for an offensive against Japan has been so
successful as to place it beyond argument in Britain.

6. In answer to paragraphs 2, 3 and 4, on 17th February in my
report of the Pacific War Council resolutions P. 43 paragraph 6
reads 'Australia should be told that the Australian Government's
policy of taking the whole of their forces back into the Pacific
area and to Australia would be accepted'. Paragraph 9 reads 'The
remaining Australian division should go as fast as possible back
into the Australian area. The leading elements of the 6th
Australian Division already embarking and will go straight through
to Australia'.

7. In cable P. 44 of 17th February paragraph 4, sub-paragraph 3 in
reporting the discussions I telegraphed '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'. Also from the same sub-paragraph 'I might say
that nearly half of the 6th 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'.

8. That this was accepted by the British Government is shown by
your telegram to Churchill 136 of 22nd February [7] 'It was
suggested by you that two Australian divisions be transferred to
the Pacific theatre and this suggestion was later publicly
expanded by you with the statement that no obstacle would be
placed in the way of the A.I.F. returning to defend their
homeland'. This makes it quite clear that both Great Britain and
the whole of the Pacific War Council agree that the whole of the
Australian forces should go back for the defence of their native

9. In dealing with these questions I made the fullest possible use
of the information supplied in your telegram 24 of 15th February
[8] and in my telegram P. 42 [9] I thanked you for your views and
said that they would be most helpful.

10. With regard to paragraph 5 your reference to the
recommendation of the Pacific Council for the diversion of the 7th
Division to Burma without reservation is contrary to facts. I
subscribed to this recommendation at the Pacific War Council for
the diversion of the 7th Division on the receipt by the Prime
Minister while the Pacific War Council was actually sitting of
your telegram 127 of 17th February [10] which I regarded as
instructions. Sub-paragraph 2 of paragraph 1 reads 'That if
possible all Australian forces now under orders to transfer to the
Far East from the Middle East should be diverted to Australia
[...] they would prefer that all of these forces should be
concentrated in Australia but are mindful of the fact that the
strategic position of Burma may necessitate some reinforcement
there until other troops are available from elsewhere'.

11. When the Pacific War Council was established I begged that
sufficient notice would be given of meetings to permit of any
instructions coming in from our Governments so that if possible
firm decisions could be made in order to save time which
geographical limitations as regards the position of the Combined
Chiefs of Staff and the Supreme Commander of the A.B.D.A. area
waste to such a degree. Accordingly Tuesday was fixed as a regular
day of meeting and I took it for granted that this cable 127 which
you asked me to see specially by your short cable 26 [11] was a
definite instruction to give a recommendation to the Joint Chiefs
of Staff in Washington on this point. If it is not what other
meaning can it have? The view taken by all other members of the
Pacific War Council coincided with my view that these were
instructions but in order to make certain that there was no
ambiguity the resolution of the Council contained in sub-paragraph
7 of paragraph 1 of P. 43 of 17th February was 'The Australian
Government should be asked to agree that the 7th Australian
Division already on the water should go to the most urgent spot at
the moment, which is Burma. This [would be] done in conformity
with the concluding sentence of paragraph 2 of your telegram 127
"Until other troops are available from elsewhere". These are the
only troops that can reach Rangoon in time to make certain that
the Burma Road will be kept open and thereby China kept in the
fight. The position of this convoy makes it imperative that
permission should be given to this course within 24 hours'.

Is not this the only course I could take? Surely your 127 meant
that you left this question open for consideration by the Council
and expected a recommendation which was sent to you. This is quite
contrary to your statement in paragraph 5 of your telegram 33 as
it is obvious that resolution 7 is a resolution with reservations.

12. With regard to your various points that are contained in
paragraphs 4, 6 and 7 I wish to state that each of the telegrams
27, 28 and 29 [12] were brought to the notice of the Chiefs [s] of
Staff immediately on receipt. Telegram 27 referred only to P. 43
and did not indicate that P. 44 which contained reasons for the
recommendation had been considered. Further it was ascertained
that Wavell's appreciation had not been forwarded as arranged.

This was made clear in P. 46 [13] which asked for reconsideration
in the light of P. 44 and Wavell's appreciation. Telegram 28 made
no reference to the fact that P.46 had been received, reference
being only to P. 45 [14] which was only a short telegram asking
for an urgent reply to P. 43. P. 47 was despatched in reply to
point this out drawing attention to the American offer of one
division to Australia stating that telegram 28 was being held
secret until receipt of further advice. Telegram 29 again made no
reference to the receipt of P. 46 or P. 47 but was treated as a
final decision and communicated officially to the British
Government on its receipt.

13. With regard to the actual diversion it is quite clear that
this was not ordered till 36 hours after your telegram 29 had been
communicated officially to Churchill. Churchill in his telegram
249 of 23rd February [15] to you as well as his letter to me takes
full responsibility for this and indicates that it was taken
without my knowledge and apologises for doing so. This almost
makes me feel again as if my telegrams are not being carefully
read. They are prepared carefully and deserve [this] consideration
because I have practically spent 24 hours a day on this job during
the last very anxious four or five weeks.

14. With regard to the second sentence of paragraph 9 you surely
do not wish me to advocate [by cable] with your Government the
importance of holding Australia. In regard to the first sentence
the position of Ceylon to Australia is not analogous with that of
Burma to Australia. Ceylon's position vis a vis Australia is
comparable to that of the Burma Road to China. It is part of [its]
life line. If you so desire I will set out in a subsequent cable
my views on this aspect. I hope to demonstrate that the holding of
Ceylon till naval superiority can be established by British and
American forces will lessen the danger to our Australian convoys,
will shorten appreciably the time in which a successful invasion
of Australia can be attempted by Japan and will hold open what may
well be during the next few months one of the most important lines
of communication for long range aircraft to come to the assistance
of Australia from America and Britain through Africa and the
Indian Ocean. It may well be the only hope of maintaining direct
air communication with Britain. Our troops have been forced to go
to Ceylon to refuel in any case. They might by staying there for a
month permit to land there also without danger British troops who
are coming quickly to take their place and subsequent Australian
troop ships to refuel on their way home.

15. The situation at Darwin obviously makes it impossible for
these homecoming troops to be landed there. Before they can be
available on the Eastern Coast nearly as much time will have
elapsed as the promised American reinforcements would take to come
across the Pacific. In the meantime battleships which are
gradually becoming available in the Indian Ocean would be freed to
participate in the escort of our British and Australian troops
whose safety would be practically assured against great hazards of
limited escort.

16. A leading reason why I have devoted so much thought and
consideration to the establishment of cordial automatically
working machinery of consultation on all planes between Australia
and Britain has been [the] consciousness of the backward state of
Australia's defences and the stupendous task she has to defend her
continent with so few people. Even with many more people than we
have at present in Australia reliance on outside help for machines
of war such as special types of aeroplanes, tanks, etc., machine
tools and equipment and raw materials not produced in Australia
would be inevitable. In the scramble for priority in all these
matters where every applicant for arms and ammunition can make a
good case the maximum goodwill and [the] feeling that there will
always be the utmost co-operation are tremendous assets. Therefore
in consideration of the strategic value of Ceylon to Australia and
Empire communications I hope that regard will also be paid to this

17 I am replying in detail to the points raised in paragraph 10.

18. Knowing you as I do and with your knowledge of my record and
my views and of the [disinterested] service I have given you in
London and your repeated thanks for it I am convinced that the
statements in your telegram 33 of 26th February do not represent
your personal views.


1 Document 374, which was received in London on 26 February.

2 Allied Supreme Commander of the A.B.D.A. Area until 25 February
but now U.K. Commander-in-Chief, India. His appreciation was
contained in U.K. Dominions Office cablegram 219 of 18 February on
file AA:A816, 52/302/142.

3 Documents 341-2 (P43-4), 347 (P47) and 372-3.

4 Material in square brackets has been corrected/inserted from the
London copy on file AA:A2937, Far East position 1942.

5 Maj Gen E. K. Squires, a British army officer, had been
appointed Inspector-General of the Army in June 1938. His report
on the development of the Army was presented to Parliament in
March 1939. It reaffirmed the policy of giving priority to
equipment and to measures intended to defend vital areas against
attack, and advocated the division of Australia into four
commands, which would deal directly with Army Headquarters. This
division was implemented in October 1939.

6 Air Chief Marshal Sir John Salmond, Air Officer Commanding-in-
Chief, Air Defence of Great Britain, had visited Australiain 1928
at the request of the Commonwealth Govt to make recommendations on
the future development of the R.A.A.F.

7 Document 357.

8 Document 334.

9 Dispatched 17 February. On the file cited in note 2.

10 Document 336.

11 Corrected from the London copy on the file cited in note 4.

Cablegram 26 to Page repeated the text of the cablegram published
as Document 336.

12 Documents 343, 345 and cablegram 29 of 19 February (on the file
cited in note 2), which amplified the decision published in
Document 345.

13 Dispatched A February. On the file cited in note 2. It
requested Curtin to defer his final decision on the destination of
the 7th Division until he had received the cablegram cited in note

14 Dispatched 18 February. On the file cited in note 2.

15 Document 367.

[AA:A3195, 1942, 1.8581]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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