Skip to main content

Historical documents

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

Cablegram 347 CANBERRA, 25 June 1942


I have received your cablegram of 24th June [1] through the High
Commissioner of the United Kingdom. [2]

2. The Commonwealth Government realizes and shares your anxieties
regarding the position in the Middle East. Our agreement that the
9th Division A.I.F. should remain there until it could be relieved
was a manifestation of our vital interest in the security of this
region, notwithstanding the great need for this division in

3. Your communication has caused me surprise and concern because
the special plan for air support of Australia under which a wing
of three Spitfire squadrons would be shipped to Australia in June
was made at the instance of Mr Churchill between him and the
special representative of the Commonwealth Government, Dr. Evatt
[3], while he was in London. Please see Major-General Ismay's
letter of 28th May. [4]

4. As mentioned to the Prime Minister in Johcu No.33 [5], it was
stated that this practical manifestation of support would do much
to encourage the Australian people, it would make a great
contribution to the security of the Commonwealth and would have a
demoralizing effect on the Japanese Air Force. Japanese fighter
aircraft have displayed superiority in their ability to operate at
higher altitudes and in their manoeuvreability. 5. The action in
the Coral Sea was a temporary deliverance of the Commonwealth from
the immediate threat of invasion. The enemy still possesses great
strength and has the initiative. He also still has his bases in
the nearby islands to the north of Australia. It may therefore be
only a temporary lull in offensive operations in the Southwest
Pacific Area. The Commander-in-Chief [6] has consistently and
strongly represented to the Commonwealth Government the need for
all possible measures to strengthen the defence of Australia,
particularly in the air, while time and opportunity permit.

6. The number of serviceable aircraft in Australia at present is
below initial establishment of the R.A.A.F. and the United States
Air Corps. The additional aspects of initial reserve and wastage
make the picture worse. The provision of the Spitfires is a
necessary reinforcement in strength which will have a stimulating
effect on the morale of our own Air Force.

7. It is stated that if the Spitfires were diverted they would
arrive in the Middle East about 25th July. If the situation is
desperate it would not appear that either from the aspects of time
or numbers they would swing the balance in our favour. On the
other hand they may make all the difference in the defence of
Australia, which is far more remote from the sources of supply.

8. In view of the foregoing, the Commonwealth Government cannot
consent to the proposed diversion of the 42 aircraft and it
requests that other arrangements be made for the reinforcement of
the Middle East. It is to be noted that it is a fortuitous
circumstance that these aircraft are at sea en route to Australia
and, were it otherwise, reinforcement by other means would be


S.W.P.A. FILE NO. 2]

1 See cablegram 871 on file AA:M100, June 1942. It requested that
forty-two Spitfire aircraft which left the United Kingdom for
Australia on 20 June in convoy WS 20 should be offloaded at
Freetown and flown to the Middle East. They would be replaced by
Spitfires due to be dispatched in convoy WS 21 in July.

2 Sir Ronald Cross.

3 Minister for External Affairs.

4 See Document 502.

5 Document 505.

6 General Douglas MacArthur.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top