Skip to main content

Historical documents

454 Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram S20 WASHINGTON, 2 April 1942, 8.24 p.m.


1. Following is personal cable to myself from Churchill [1] as a
result of my telegram to Bruce [2], of which I previously advised
you. [3]

Churchill's is as follows: Begins.

'[Personal] [4] and most strictly secret. Following on a
suggestion which I heard you had made I have telegraphed Mr.

Curtin [5] telling him second British Infantry Division will be
rounding Cape during latter part of April and early May and that
Eighth Armoured Division will be following one month later. I have
told him that if by that time Australia is being heavily invaded I
should certainly divert either or both of these Divisions to his
aid. This would not apply in case of localised attacks in north or
of mere raids elsewhere but that he could count upon the scheme
should invasion by say eight or ten Japanese divisions occur.

(2) We must be careful not to direct our limited reserves to
theatres where there will be no fighting. No one knows yet whether
Japanese will strike at Australia or India or, even more likely,
South China. They have enough for a considerable operation in any
one of these directions but surely not in all of them at once. I
am by no means convinced that Australia is the chosen target. Once
the enemy shows his hand decisions can be made.

(3) I hold entirely to my promise of August 1940 quoted by you.

This dealt with facts and not with possibilities. However we have
already left the Mediterranean denuded of all heavy ships and
carriers in order to build up a naval force in the Indian Ocean
which is already respectable. Not a day passes when we do not
think of Australia.

(4) It would be a mistake for the Commonwealth Government to
recall 9th Division now. The two brigades you kindly lent us for
Ceylon can come on to you as soon as shipping is found. We have
now got more consolidated there.

(5) It is not possible to divert the whole flow of aviation
production for 6 weeks as you suggest. Ships are loaded, plans are
made and everything is moving to destinations of utmost urgency. I
am trying to see whether more can be done about Bofors, R.D.F. [6]

(6) I hope you will come over here as soon as you can. You will
find us very ready to lay everything before you. I look forward to
meeting you.' Ends.

2. Please let me have urgently any suggestions or comments for use
by me here or later on in London. It is a great satisfaction to
receive Churchill's reaffirmation of the pledge given in August
1940 which I had quoted to Bruce. The pledge is contained in par.

4 of D.O. Tel. 262 Aug. 12th, 1940 [7] and was as follows:

'A final question arises whether Japan having declared war would
attempt to invade Australia or New Zealand with a considerable
army. We think this very unlikely because Japan is firstly
absorbed in China, secondly would be gathering rich prizes in
Dutch East Indies and thirdly would fear very much to send an
important part of her fleet far to southward leaving American
fleet between it and home. If, however, contrary to prudence and
self-interest, Japan set about invading Australia or New Zealand
on a large scale, I have explicit authority of Cabinet to assure
you that we should then cut our losses in the Mediterranean and
proceed to your aid sacrificing every interest except only the
defence position of this island on which all depends.'
3. As to 9th Division subsequent discussions here showed that the
President [8] does not intend to depart from the non-committal
attitude previously advised you. [9] General Marshall [10]
mentioned in conversation with me that he preferred the 9th
Division to remain in the Middle East.

1 The U.K. Prime Minister also gave a copy of this cablegram on 1
April to S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom. See
file AA:M100, April 1942.

2 Document 443.

3 No record of this advice has been found.

4 Corrected from the London copy cited in note 1.

5 See Document 447
6 Radio Direction-Finder.

7 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. IV,
Document 64.

8 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

9 See Document 446, paragraph 4.

10 Chief of Staff, U.S. Army.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top