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531 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram 88A LONDON, 26 June 1942, 8.15 p.m.


Your telegrams Nos. 5772 [1] and 347 [2] to Dominions Office. I
entirely appreciate your point of view and Australia's case is put
with restraint and clarity in your telegram to the Dominions

It is desirable in order to avoid any misunderstanding and
friction with the United Kingdom Government that I should make
clear to you the position here.

The request contained in Dominions Office telegram No. 871 [3] in
no way indicated any alteration in the realisation of Australia's
great needs, to which Evatt's [4] Visit So materially contributed
and [which] is exemplified in the undertakings given in Ismay's
letter of May 28th [5], or a desire to go back on those

The disastrous turn of events in Libya created a situation in
which every avenue had to be explored whereby the position could
be restored. In this exploration the Spitfires en route to
Australia came under review and their diversion was examined on
the same basis as all other possible diversions, e.g. from India,
namely where was the need most urgent in the light of present
circumstances and probable developments of the immediate future.

As a result of the examination on this basis and after full
consideration of the views of the Chiefs of Staff the War Cabinet
came to the conclusion that the situation in the Near East was so
critical and the need of Air reinforcements so great that
Australia should be asked to agree to the 42 Spitfires on their
way to Australia which were the only machines which have been
tropicalised being sent to the Middle East, the personnel and
equipment proceeding to Australia and the machines being replaced
in the following convoy.

In the discussion in the War Cabinet I had to confine myself as
you have done in your telegram to the Dominions Office to the
issue of where the need was greatest as there had been no
suggestion of repudiating the arrangement but that Australia
should be asked in the light of the altered circumstances to agree
to a postponement in the date of implementing it.

In putting our case I stressed strongly the importance of these
Spitfires, limited though they were in number, in the whole scheme
of Australia's defence because of the superior performance of the
Spitfire to anything the Japanese had. I also emphasised strongly
the special significance which attached to their presence in
Australia. I particularly concentrated on the point that they
would not be available in the Middle East until the 25th July and
that that might well be too late in which event their presence in
Australia would be absolutely vital because of the deterioration
of the position in the Middle East.

On this latter point I was countered by the argument that probably
the date of their arrival would be when they would be of the
maximum value. This was based upon the view that the most serious
menace we have to face is the bombing of Egypt, Alexandria and the
Suez Canal in particular; that the staging of such bombing on a
serious scale will take time -a view as to which I have
considerable doubt; and that the presence of first class fighters
to deal with the fighter escorts to the bombers when large scale
attacks eventuate will be the major necessity.

Although I put all the arguments I could think of to support the
case that the common interest would best be served by the
Spitfires going to Australia I was unable to convince the War
Cabinet. Eventually when I saw that I could not alter the Cabinet
view I suggested the course indicated in my telegram No. 86 A [6],
namely-'that as I had had no opportunity of consulting my
Government and as the proposed diversion was in conflict with the
spontaneous and specific offer made to Evatt, I felt the United
Kingdom Government should approach you direct setting out their
I came to the decision to take this course as I felt, in view of
the fact that all the professional advice and views expressed by
Members of the War Cabinet were in the direction that if Australia
would agree the wisest course in the common interest would be for
the Spitfires to be diverted, to continue to oppose the request
being put to Australia would have created the impression that I
was merely sitting in the War Cabinet as an advocate for Australia
irrespective of the merits of the case. To have placed myself in
such a position would unquestionably have weakened my influence in
the War Cabinet and with individual Members in regard to the
higher direction of the war.

I have telegraphed to you at length as I feel this particular case
raises fundamental considerations in regard to our representation
in the War Cabinet. Our objective in having representation in the
War Cabinet is that Australia's interests should be safeguarded,
that her point of view should be fully represented, and that we
should exercise the fullest influence on the higher direction of
the war in its widest aspects.

I appreciate the difficulty of realising this objective but I
believe that with full confidence and understanding between us it
can be achieved.


1 Dispatched 25 June. On file AA:M100, June 1942.

2 Document 530.

3 See Document 530, note 1.

4 Minister for External Affairs.

5 See Document 502.

6 Document 529.

[AA:M100, JUNE 1942]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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