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28 Curtin to Churchill

Cablegram 408 [1] CANBERRA, 25 August 1942


When Dr. Evatt was in London he made representations regarding the
allocation of aircraft for the 71 squadron programme for the
R.A.A.F. in Australia. The programme, as you know, excludes the
Sunderland flying boat squadron in the United Kingdom and the
fighter squadron in the Middle East. No decision was then reached,
as the whole question of aircraft allocation was to be reviewed in
Washington. We were informed in July through liaison channels that
your Air Staff considered that a force of 71 squadrons was an
appropriate one for the defence of Australia.

2. In my cablegram Johcu No. 38 [2], I advised you of our
agreement to the extension of the period for the temporary
retention of the 9th Division in the Middle East on the
understanding that the United Kingdom representatives in
Washington would be instructed to do their utmost to ensure the
allotment of the aircraft required.

3. In the message which you communicated in Dominions Office
cablegram 548 of 6th August [3] you told me of what had been done
and you referred to the assurances of the United States Chiefs of
Staff that adequate measures would be taken to ensure the safety
of Australia and the provision of the necessary equipment.

4. The Government has now received advice from the Australian
Minister, Washington, of the aircraft that have been allocated by
the combined Chiefs of Staff to the Royal Australian Air Force.


5. Including the present strength an aggregate of 30 R.A.A.F.

squadrons are to be equipped and maintained by April 1943, as

7 GR [5]/torpedo and 2 Army co-operation squadrons to be equipped
and maintained from Australian production of Beaufort and
Boomerang respectively.

3 interceptor fighter, 2 long range fighter and 1 fleet co-
operation squadron to be maintained from the United Kingdom
production of Spitfire, Beaufighter and Walrus.

2 GR bomber, 5 dive bomber, 5 intercept fighter, 2 GR flying boat
and 1 land plane transport squadron to be equipped and maintained
from United States production of Hudson and Ventura, Vengeance,
Kittyhawk, PBY [6] and transport type to be decided.

6. Wastage replacement is to be at the rate of 20 per cent on
initial equipment monthly and a total of 397 aircraft are to be
made available to be shipped in eight approximate equal monthly

7. The view of the Australian Air Staff is that the reserve for
certain types of aircraft is altogether inadequate and unless
actual wastage is replaced regularly each month, a serious
position could arise. There would be every likelihood of some of
the squadrons being without aircraft sufficient to provide for
their continued operation. It is considered that provision should
be based on the normal initial equipment and immediate reserve
scale plus 50 per cent, subsequent actual wastage to be replaced
monthly as it occurs. The adoption of this basis is regarded as
essential to ensure the squadrons being maintained up to full
operational efficiency under war conditions.

8. The United States Chiefs of Staff have under consideration a
proposal for the transfer of aircraft from the United States Air
Forces in Australia to the R.A.A.F. in sufficient numbers to equip
and maintain at least 10 additional squadrons, with the proposal
that American units thereby deprived of aircraft be withdrawn from
Australia for use in other theatres as equipment becomes
available. [7] They state that it is not possible to provide
aircraft for American Air Force units now committed to Australia
by April 1st, 1943, and at the same time exceed the 30 R.A.A.F.

squadrons now planned because of aircraft limitations. This
proposal is advanced by them with a view to more fully utilizing
the existing Australian resources in experienced personnel and in
local training organisation and facilities. The Commonwealth
Government and General MacArthur are both strongly opposed to any
proposal that would have the effect of withdrawing American forces
from Australia. The governing consideration is the air strength
that is necessary for the South-West Pacific Area, firstly for the
defence of Australia as a base and secondly for offensive
operations. This strength is an absolute figure irrespective of
whether the forces are American or Australian, and it is
considered to be quite the wrong approach to make an Australian
increase by an American subtraction. It is quite consistent,
whilst maintaining that the R.A.A.F. should not be increased or
maintained at the expense of the strength of the United States Air
Force, that we should press for equipment for the R.A.A.F. to the
extent to which personnel can be trained. When the strategical
position in regard to the defence of Australia as a base permits,
the strength surplus to this need could be used by the Commander-
in-Chief for offensive operations.

The Australian Minister, Washington, has been asked to represent
this view in Washington. [8]

9. You will note from paragraph 5 above that the allotment
includes the three Spitfire squadrons which, in response to
representations by Dr. Evatt, were made available at the instance
of yourself as a special plan for air support of Australia.

Ismay's letter of 28th May to Dr. Evatt states that these
squadrons are over and above any assignment of aircraft which may
be made from the United Kingdom or which may be secured for
Australia from output of the United States of America. [9] You
also stated in the message communicated in Dominions Office
cablegram 548 that though Australia was placed in an American
sphere of strategic responsibility you did not regard your
obligations to do what you could to help Australia as being
lessened in any way and you went on to say that practical proof of
this was your agreement to despatch, at real sacrifice to
yourselves, the three Spitfire squadrons from the United Kingdom
as a special contribution to Australia, despite numerous and
pressing commitments elsewhere.

10. We are at a loss to understand how, in these circumstances,
the representatives of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff on the
Combined Chiefs of Staff agreed to the inclusion of the three
Spitfire squadrons in the reduced allocation that has been made to
us. I am sure that this was never your intention and I should
appreciate your support in ensuring that these squadrons are made
available on the basis agreed upon with Dr. Evatt.

11. The allocation of aircraft to April 1943, approved by the
Combined Chiefs of Staff, has been made pending consideration of a
programme of further expansion to be drawn up by British, United
States and Dominion Air representatives for submission to the
Combined Chiefs of Staff. It is appreciated that the limiting
factor is the availability of aircraft, but our aim is to achieve
the re-equipment of certain of our squadrons and the formation of
new squadrons on the basis of ultimate expansion to 71 squadrons.

The Australian Minister has been asked to press this view in
Washington and we expect the full support of the representatives
of the British Chiefs of Staff who, under the terms of Clause 6 of
the Arnold Towers Slessor Agreement [10], are to satisfy
themselves that Dominion interests are adequately safeguarded.

More-over you yourself at Evatt's instance instructed Dill to
support our application for aircraft. [11]

12. Prior to the outbreak of the war the Commonwealth had before
it a plan for the provision of 32 squadrons for home defence. The
limiting factor was the provision of the necessary aircraft.

Notwithstanding continuous representations for their supply
something less than this strength is not to be achieved until
April 1943. We feel that we are entitled to assistance in the
development of the maximum forces which we are capable of raising.

Our advisers state that, without adequate naval and air support,
which at present deters aggression and maintains our
communications with overseas sources of supply, these forces would
be inadequate for the defence of Australia. The Government
considers that the Australian people, who have co-operated in
other theatres at considerable loss to their forces and who are
still doing so on land, sea and in the air, can rightly claim this
degree of reinsurance on which they would have to rely in the
event of the temporary or permanent loss of command of the sea by
the United Nations. In the last resort, we consider Australia is
more vulnerable to invasion than any other part of the Empire but
we either lack or have less control over the disposition of the
forces essential for our security.

13. I understand that, as a result of the recent discussions in
London between the United States and United Kingdom Chiefs of
Staff, there has been allocated to the Pacific theatre 25 per cent
of the United States Air Forces previously car-marked to be sent
to the United Kingdom. [12] These forces were re-allocated for
furthering offensive operations in the Pacific. How and where in
the Pacific they will be employed is a matter for determination in
Washington. We have no knowledge of what is being done, but it
seems doubtful from the allocation approved by the Combined Chiefs
of Staff whether any of these forces are being sent to the South-
West Pacific Area where they are needed. The small strength that
is being made available does not assure even the defence of
Australia as a base. The Government is seriously concerned about
the whole position and requests your immediate intervention with
the President for the purpose of equipping Australian personnel
without any corresponding withdrawal of existing American air
strength in this theatre of war.


1 Sent through the U.K. Dominions Office.

2 Document 12.

3 Document 18.

4 See cablegram S104 of 19 August on file AA:A3300, 222.

5 General reconnaissance.

6 Catalina PBY-5 flying boat.

7 See the cablegram cited in note 4.

8 See cablegrams SW87-8 of 25 August on the file cited in note 4.

9 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. V,
Document 502.

10 This agreement (signed on 21 June) provided that henceforward
U.S. aircraft should be manned by U.S. crews wherever possible.

Clause 6 stated that it was the duty of the U.S. Chiefs of Staff
to define the strategic requirements of those Dominions failing
within the U.S. sphere of responsibility, but that their
conclusions would be referred to the Combined Chiefs of Staff for
approval so that the U.K. Chiefs of Staff would have the
opportunity of satisfying themselves that Dominion interests were
adequately safeguarded. See cablegrams S63-5 of 29 June and 2 and
4 July on file AA:A3300, 221.

11 See the document cited in note 9.

12 See Document 23.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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