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35 Curtin to Churchill

Cablegram Johcu 41 CANBERRA, 1 September 1942


I have read with interest the changes you have recently made in
Commands in the Middle East and I hope that the greatest possible
success will be achieved by the new Commanders. [1]

2. As a considerable body of Australian troops is involved, the
matter is not one of indifference to us. Without in any way
derogating from the officers who have been appointed, I would like
to raise the question of their experience of desert warfare and
degree of success in any warfare in comparison with the record of
Major-General Sir Leslie Morshead, who so successfully conducted
the defence of Tobruk for seven months and has handled his
division very capably in recent operations. [2]

3. I understand that shortly after General Ramsden was appointed
to the 30th Corps, which then consisted of the 9th Australian
Division and a South African division, it was decided that in the

event of General Ramsden becoming a casualty the command of the
Corps would revert to General Briggs. The latter officer had only
recently been appointed to command an Indian division in the 13th
Corps. The command of the 13th Corps was allotted to General
Horrocks. This officer commanded a machine gun battalion only in
France in 1940, and since that campaign has not served outside the
United Kingdom.

4. No Australian Commander has any desire to be appointed to the
command of troops of the United Kingdom, except when they may be
fighting in the same formations as the Dominion troops, but the
senior officers of the A.I.F. have the definite impression
throughout their service in the Middle East that Dominion
Commanders are ineligible for the command of Army Corps in the
Middle East, even when the Corps consists wholly of Dominion

5. I am sure you will appreciate this frank statement of a
situation that has come to my knowledge and my own views thereon.

It would be lamentable if the failure to recognise the claims of
proved Dominion Commanders affected the good relations which exist
between the senior officers of the Empire Forces.


1 During his visit to Egypt in early August Churchill gained War
Cabinet approval for a reorganisation of the Middle East command
structure together with a series of transfers among senior
officers. Following this reorganisation, General Alexander took
over as Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, with General Montgomery
commanding the Eighth Army.

2 Following representations from Morshead, Blamey had asked Curtin
to express the Commonwealth Govt's concern at the disregard shown
for Australian officers in the recent appointments in the Middle
East. For further details see Barton Maughan, Tobruk and El
Alamein, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1966, pp. 612-16.

[FA:A3196, 1942, 0.23328]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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