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Historical documents

10 Churchill to Curtin

Cablegram 532 [1] LONDON, 24 July 1942, 10.12 p.m.


Your JOHCU No. 37. [2]

I send you a minute which has been prepared by the Chiefs of



It had always been our intention to build up a considerable force

in the Levant-Caspian area this summer in order to provide against

the possibility of a break on the Russian southern flank and a

German advance through the Levant or Persia.

2. The extension of the war to the Far East compelled us-

(a) To divert to Malaya and India three British Divisions (the

18th, 5th and 2nd) from the United Kingdom which would otherwise

have been available for the Middle East.

(b) To return from the Middle East to Australia two out of the

three Australian Divisions.

(c) To send the 70th British Division from the Middle East to


(d) To despatch to Burma and Malaya certain British-Indian

formations which were to have gone to Basra.

(e) To retain in India certain other British-Indian formations

which were similarly destined.

3. As a result the Levant-Caspian front is now almost bare and we

entirely depend for the security of these vital regions on the

Russian front holding. We estimate that even if the Russians were

to break, the Germans could not invade Iraq and Persia in great

strength until the spring of 1943; but if there were little or

nothing there to stop them they could push through with small

forces at a much earlier date.

4. Much depends also upon the result of the battle now raging in

Egypt. If we win it may be possible to divert some of the forces

now fighting in the Western Desert to secure the northern front;

but these will be only a fraction of what is required.

5. We ourselves are doing everything we can to reinforce the

Middle East. The 44th Division is just about to arrive; the 51st

Division arrives next month; and the 56th Division is being

prepared for despatch in August. This will probably be followed by

a further armoured division from this country. In addition we are

prepared to move one or even two divisions from India which is now

less threatened.

6. Even however if General Auchinleck wins his battle and all the

above reinforcements reach their destination there will not be a

man too many in the Middle East as a whole. It is our considered

opinion that to withdraw the 9th Australian Division at the

present time or indeed during this year (1942) would endanger the

safety of the vital Abadan oilfields. Without them we cannot hope

to maintain our position in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean.

Some 60 per cent of Australia's oil requirements are supplied from

this source and owing to heavy loss of tankers could not be

brought from elsewhere without the greatest difficulty if at all.

7. Apart from the necessity on strategical grounds for retaining

the well-seasoned 9th Australian Division in the Middle East it

must be remembered that its transportation to Australia, coupled

with the transportation of a division to replace it, would involve

an unjustifiable and dangerous shipping commitment. Minute ends.

Part 2

1. I note the points you make about wastage and the difficulties

you may find in despatching reinforcements from Australia. I very

much hope that you will be able to overcome these difficulties and

keep your fine Division now gaining fresh distinction up to

strength. But should this prove impossible, I suggest that it

would be necessary to fall back upon the expedient of making good

wastage by breaking up ancillary units.

1 Sent through the U.K. Dominions Office.

2 Document 7.


Last Updated: 2 February 2011
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