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

Cablegram 252 [1] CANBERRA, 17 April 1942


For Prime Minister [2] from Prime Minister.

I wish to let you know with what uneasiness we learnt of the
sinking by air attack of the DORSETSHIRE and CORNWALL, which is
now followed by the sinking of the HERMES. [3] These unfortunate
happenings have been the subject of prolonged and anxious
discussion by War Cabinet and Advisory War Council [4], and they
raise such vital questions that we feel constrained to ask you for
full information as to the cause of them and for an appreciation
of the United Kingdom, United States and Japanese position in
regard to aircraft carriers, types of aircraft carried and views
held as to relative efficiency of the aircraft and personnel. We
would also ask for a statement of the United Kingdom's immediate
and long-range policy for combating the Japanese naval forces.

2. We share with you the anxiety at the repeated naval losses
which have been sustained through lack of air support, and I
should be grateful to have information and advice on this vital
matter as early as possible. [5]


1 The text of this cablegram was repeated to the Minister for
External Affairs, then ill Washington (see cablegram PM47 of 17
April on file AA:A981, War 33, attachment C). Curtin also
instructed the High Commissioner in the United Kingdom to see the
Dominions Office copy of cablegram 252 (see cablegram 3275 of 17
April on file AA:M100, April 1942).

2 Winston Churchill.

3 See Document 463.

4 See Advisory War Council agendum 30/1942 and minute 903 of 16
April on file AA:A2680, 30/1942. There is no record of this issue
having been discussed by War Cabinet.

5 Churchill's reply of 27 April (cablegram 382 on the file cited
in note 4) provided an account of the events surrounding the
sinkings, together with an appreciation of U.K., U.S. and Japanese
naval strengths. In answer to Curtin's request for a long-range
naval policy, Churchill replied that the aim was:

'(a) To build up and train the Eastern Fleet with all resources
that can be spared. Until then to adopt policy of weaker fleet
which is to evade and remain in being while raiding, whenever
practicable, enemy lines of communication.

(b) To augment with American assistance shore based air strength
in India and Ceylon.

(c) ... when (a) and (b) have been completed ... to adopt
offensive policy in Indian Ocean but action against Malaya barrier
involving large scale combined operations is beyond our resources
until Germany has been defeated'.

Bruce cabled Curtin on 28 April that in his view Churchill's reply
'can hardly be described as reassuring'. See cablegram 77A on file
AA:M100, April 1942.

[AA:A2680, 30/1942]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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