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83 Curtin to Churchill

Cablegram Johcu 47 [1] CANBERRA, 30 November 1942


I appreciate the motive that prompted you to send this cablegram
[2] but frankly I am disappointed with the views you express. I
had hoped, particularly in view of the part played by the 9th
Division in the recent offensive, that this matter was finally
settled. Instead of an intimation that you will not oppose our
wishes, I had every expectation that you would actively support
our case with the President.

2. The seriousness of the shipping situation is fully understood
but Admiral Cunningham was reported in the press of 23rd November
as saying that operations in North Africa, by leading to the re-
opening of the Mediterranean route, would save two million tons of
shipping. On 19th November the Ministry of Economic Warfare
announced that between two hundred thousand and three hundred
thousand tons of shipping would fall into Allied hands as the
result of the landings in North and West Africa. What we seek
surely does not mean the difference between success or failure in
another theatre. It may in certain circumstances mean everything
to us.

3. We are, of course, deeply grateful for the assistance we have
received both from the United Kingdom and America in the South-
West Pacific Area. Quite candidly, it has not been as much as we
had reason to expect, in the light of what our own advisers
considered to be necessary, when we agreed to the set-up in the
South-West Pacific Area. Under this arrangement we surrendered
part of our sovereignty and assigned all our combat forces to the
Allied Commander. The Allied Forces are still however
predominantly Australian, the land forces, for example, comprising
10 Australian and 2 American divisions.

4. Your suggestion that one of these American divisions might be
transferred to the Middle East to compensate for the return of the
9th Division fills me with the gravest misgivings as to the
understanding of the needs of the South-West Pacific Area, even
for the holding strategy that has been approved.

5. I should be surprised to learn that the return of the 9th
Division would have any adverse reaction on the opinion of the
American people as to the degree of assistance that should be
afforded Australia to defend itself as a base for operations
against Japan, particularly in view of the co-operation we have
given in other theatres. On the other hand, there is a body of
American opinion which thinks that too little has been sent to
this area. I have, however, resolutely refused to be drawn into
any controversy. The disposition of our own troops is a different

6. In an earlier cablegram I mentioned that for reasons of morale
the 9th Division cannot be left indefinitely in the Middle East.

[3] The position in regard to reinforcements has also been clearly
stated. I notice a public statement by General Smuts on the
subject of home leave for his division in North Africa. This
question also arose for the A.I.F. in France in the last war and
is bound to recur again.

7. I would strongly request that your influence with the President
be exerted towards giving effect to the original decision. The
question is also arising indirectly in connection with my proposed
amendment of the provisions of the Defence Act to enable members
of the Militia Forces, as distinct from the A.I.F., to serve
outside Australia in the South-West Pacific Area. [4] The strength
and disposition of the A.I.F. is a crucial point in connection
with this proposal, one of the main aspects of which is that the
A.I.F. alone is not sufficient to meet the strategical needs of
the commitments accepted by the Australian Government when it
agreed to the directive for the Commander of the South-West
Pacific Area. It is therefore of cardinal importance that the 9th
Division should be in the South-West Pacific Area. It is evident
that a public statement on future policy relating to the
disposition and employment of the A.I.F. will soon be necessary.

8. As in the case of the 6th and 7th Divisions, the return of the
9th Division is understood to include not only the personnel but
also their equipment.


1 Repeated to Bruce on 30 November. See cablegrams 10943-4 on file

2 See Document 79.

3 See Document 7.

4 The Defence (Citizen Military Forces) Act 1943, which defined
the limits of the area in which members of the C.M.F. might be
required to serve, became law on 19 February 1943. For further
details see Paul Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942-1945,
Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1970, pp. 326-53.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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