Skip to main content

Historical documents

13 Cablegram From Spender to Menzies and Australian Delegation, United Nations

Cablegram, Canberra, 26 July 1950


Korea - Request for Ground Forces
At mid-day to-day, 26th July, there was delivered at External Affairs Office the text of a message from Attlee to Fadden dated 25th instant communicating the decision of the United Kingdom Government to despatch ground forces to Korea. This announcement was to be made in the House of Commons during the debate on defence to-day, and a formal reply to the United Nations Secretary-General was to be made contemporaneously. Steps are being taken by the United Kingdom to pass this message to you through the British Ambassador in Washington.

2. This action by the United Kingdom Government without any attempt to synchronise British and Australian action seems to me to have placed Australia and yourself as Prime Minister in an unenviable and preposterous position. We were specifically requested by United Kingdom through you to hold our hand pending United Kingdom-United States discussions in Washington, and in complying with this request we incurred, in my view, definite domestic and international political risks. We had been told, as my previous telegram forwarded through New York indicates, nothing of the course of the talks in Washington, and when the report of these talks was given to us to-day we were faced with a fait accompli and merely informed that the United Kingdom was announcing its own decision to-day.

3. If the United Kingdom had announced its decision before Australia, I feel you would agree after perusing my earlier telegram through New York, that it would be used against us politically. It would have been suggested that we could not make up our own minds until the United Kingdom gave the lead and as well we would have failed to obtain the favourable reactions from the United States which are so important for our relations with them.

4. This information came to us at a time when you were on the seas and when it was impossible to establish direct communication with you. I cannot believe that we, who have a much greater interest politically in our relationship with the United States in the Pacific, should be beaten to the post in the eyes of that nation and the world.

5. Accordingly, in discussion with Fadden and McBride, (who had received a direct request from MacArthur for ground forces) it was felt that you would not wish this to happen and play into the hands of our political opponents and it was decided that Fadden should make an announcement in the following terms:-

'In response to the appeal of the United Nations, the Australian Government has decided to provide ground troops for use in Korea.

The nature and extent of such forces will be determined after the conclusion of discussions which the Prime Minister will have in the United States'.

This was announced just before the New Zealand Government stated publicly that it was making some ground forces available.

6. Prior to the announcement, I endeavoured to reach you by telephone on the QUEEN MARY. As I was unable to do so, Fadden and I, who have had to act quickly, hope our decision will meet with your approval.

[NAA : A11537 [1]]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top