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76 Evatt to Dixon

Cablegram 159 CANBERRA, 16 November 1942

MOST IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET

Please convey the following message urgently to the President from
the Prime Minister:-

Dear President Roosevelt,
I have carefully considered the suggestion in your message of 1st
November [1] for the retention of the 9th A.I.F. Division in the
Middle East and your proposal to send a U.S. Division to Australia
from Hawaii conditionally on the right to divert it elsewhere
within the South-West and South Pacific Areas.

2. As explained to Mr. Churchill in my message of 17th October
which was repeated to you [2], it is impossible for Australia to
despatch to the Middle East the reinforcements necessary for the
maintenance of the 9th Division, in view of the difficulties
already being experienced in maintaining the Australian Army and
meeting the heavy wastage from tropical warfare in New Guinea.

Unless the Division returns to Australia, it cannot be maintained,
whereas it can be built up again in Australia by the allocation of
personnel from other formations which are being disbanded owing to
the contraction in the number of our divisions.

3. The attitude of the Australian Government has all along been
quite definite and clear regarding the future employment of this
Division.

4. After the outbreak of war with Japan, and following a statement
generously volunteered by Mr. Churchill that no obstacles would be
placed in the way of Australian troops returning to defend their
homeland [3], the Government requested that all Australian troops
overseas should return to Australia.

5. In March, we allowed two Brigade Groups of the 6th Division to
be used in Ceylon on the understanding that the 9th Division would
return to Australia as soon as possible. [4] Had these brigades
returned directly to Australia we would have been able to
strengthen the forces in New Guinea much earlier with battle-
trained troops.

6. In April, the Government agreed to the postponement of the
return of the 9th Division until it could be replaced in the
Middle East. [5]

7. When the Australian Government had every reason to expect the
return of the Division in July, it raised no objection to its
transfer from Palestine to the Western Desert to help stem the
Axis advance. Mr. Churchill was advised that there would be
difficulties in the despatch of further reinforcements from
Australia and that when the available reserves were exhausted the
Division would have to be withdrawn from the line of battle. [6]

8. On 30th July, in a further personal cablegram to Mr. Churchill
[7], I stated that it was impossible for the Government to do more
than agree to an extension of the period for the temporary
retention of the 9th Division in the Middle East. A limit was set
to the reinforcements that would be available and it was
specifically stated that ancillary units were not to be broken up
for use as reinforcements. It was emphasized that the Commander-
in-Chief of the Middle East would therefore need to have these
facts in mind in his use of the Division.

9. Mr. Churchill, the Australian Representative [in] the United
Kingdom War Cabinet and the Commander of the Division have been
informed that:-

(a) no further reinforcements for the 9th Division are being
despatched from Australia;

(b) the Government is not agreeable to the 9th Division being
broken up by replacement of wastage from ancillary and other
units;

(c) it is essential that the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East,
should have regard to this position in his use of the 9th
Division. [8]

The Government views the present use of the Division as absolutely
governed by the fulfilment of the conditions laid down by it some
time ago, and I have told Mr. Churchill that in our plans and
dispositions we are relying on the Division being returned in good
shape and strength. [9] Now that the situation in the Middle East
for which the 9th Division was retained has been cleared up
satisfactorily, the Government expects early effect to be given to
the understanding reached in April.

10. You might be interested to know that, on the entry of Italy
into the war, certain units of the 9th Division, reinforcements
and Corps troops were diverted to the United Kingdom, where they
were organised into the 9th Division for the defence of Britain
against invasion. This Division, which was later transferred to
the Middle East and withstood the siege of Tobruk, therefore
really became an additional overseas commitment. It was realised
at the time that it would probably be beyond our capacity to
maintain it and experience has proved this to be the case.

11. The decisions on global strategy have been taken by Mr.

Churchill and yourself The Commonwealth Government has shown a
ready willingness to co-operate in other theatres at considerable
risk to the security of Australia. This has been demonstrated by
the service overseas of our naval, land and air forces and our
continued participation in the Empire Air Training Scheme. The
Government considers that the contributions it has made to other
theatres entitle it to the assurance that the fullest possible
support will be given to the situation in the Pacific. You will
recall that the Military Advisers of the Australian Government
consider that three further divisions are necessary in the South-
West Pacific Area. [10] In view of its responsibilities for the
local defence of Australia and in the light of the views of its
advisers, the Government feels that the maximum strength of the
Australian forces should be concentrated in the South-West Pacific
Area to meet all the contingencies of the military situation in
the Pacific.

12. We are grateful to learn that you are sending to the South or
South-West Pacific Area a division from Hawaii. [11] We would be
delighted to welcome it to Australia, where it would be an
invaluable addition to the two splendid American divisions already
here. [12] Yours sincerely,

JOHN CURTIN

EVATT


1 Document 68.

2 See Document 62, note 10.

3 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. v,
Document 429.

4 See ibid., Document 385.

5 See ibid., Document 465.

6 See Document 7.

7 Document 12.

8 See Documents 62 and 64.

9 See Document 66.

10 See Document 43.

11 See Document 68.

12 Curtin repeated this cablegram to Churchill on 16 November with
the message: 'I shall be glad of your personal assistance in
seeing that early effect is given to the return of the 9th
Division, in accordance with the understanding reached in April.'
He also sent Bruce copies of the telegram received from Roosevelt
(Document 68), his reply thereto and his message to Churchill.

Bruce was instructed to 'follow up the action necessary to
withdraw the 9th Division and return it to Australia'. Curtin
added that it was 'of vital importance that these troops should
not become committed to another phase of the campaign which will
create difficulties in meeting our request'. See cablegrams Johcu
44-5 and 10494 on file AA:A4763.


[AA:A4763]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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