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58 Lt Gen Sir Thomas Blamey, Deputy Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East, to Mr A. W. Fadden, Prime Minister

Cablegram GOC 179 CAIRO, 4 September 1941, 7.10 p.m.


Reference my telegram G.O.C. 143 dated 18th July and letter of
same date. [1]

The position re Tobruk garrison now is that unnecessary base
personnel brought out and the 18th Australian Infantry Brigade
relieved. The garrison now besieged for five months. Troops in
good heart but decline in physical condition definite.

Relief of the garrison strongly opposed here. I have been asked to
agree to relieve British artillery personnel by the 9th Australian
Divisional Artillery but have refused, as in my view this would
mean that the 9th Australian Division would remain indefinitely.

Although this artillery relief asked for, nevertheless pressed
upon me here that general relief of the garrison not possible.

Certain difficulties connected with relief but none that cannot be
overcome with the will to do so. This evidenced by the fact that
between one-third and one-quarter of the original garrison already
secured without serious interference.

Fresh British as well as Dominion formations in the Middle East
available for relief, vide my letter. If relief not insisted on
now, decline in fighting value of the 9th Division will be
considerable and period of recovery correspondingly long.

Further, should the force be attacked with strength and
determination after one or two months' further decline, it will
not be fit to withstand such attack, and catastrophe is possible.

Argued here that information gives no reason to expect such
attack, but the same position existed in Cyrenaica when the force
was transferred to Greece and the Germans attacked successfully.

General Auchinleck [2], when in England recently, informed by
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom [3] that the latter would
make it right with the Australian Government if he did not see fit
to relieve the 9th Australian Division.

Following on relief of the 18th Brigade, the remainder will feel
that we are letting them down if they are kept much longer in
Tobruk, since they know well the general position in the Middle
East, and this will further detract from their morale.

In view of the lull in active operations, suggest you should now
(a) on the implementation of the conditions agreed to by the
United Kingdom Government, upon which the Australian Imperial
Force was sent abroad, viz, that it should be at the disposal of
the Commander-in-Chief as a single force, and
(b) on withdrawal of the 9th Australian Division to effect this.

Unless you take the firmest stand, feel convinced that the 9th
Division will be left in Tobruk indefinitely, in spite of my
efforts. The position causes me grave concern.

1 Both documents are in Australian War Memorial: Blamey Papers,

2 U.K. Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East.

3 Winston Churchill.

[AA:A1608, E45/2/1, v]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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