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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume I

137 — The Prime Minister of Australia to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

The Prime Minister of Australia to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

9 May 1940

With reference to your telegram of 5 May (No. 136), it is suggested that most close contact be maintained on this matter. The following telegram has been sent to the United Kingdom Government:

The appreciation by the Chiefs of Staff contained in your telegram (No. 135) has been fully considered by the War Cabinet, and, in so far as matters calling for immediate decision are concerned, the following are our conclusions and observations:

Route and Destination of Convoy and Escorts

In the present circumstances it is noted that the diversion of convoys US 2 and US 3 is not considered necessary and, subject to later observations, we agree to the convoys adhering to their programmes. In reaching this decision the Commonwealth Government assume that, should war with Italy eventuate after either convoy has entered the Red Sea, the protection provided or readily available will be such as to reasonably ensure the security of the convoys against sea and air attacks whilst en route to their destination. It has been noted that the Chiefs of Staff do not anticipate any serious difficulty in meeting surface or submarine attacks, but consider it inadvisable to expose troop convoys to the risk of air attack from East Africa in the early stages of the war.

In regard to diversion, it is noted that the situation is being watched from day to day, that the Admiralty would issue orders for diversion if the situation should demand it at any time, and that diversion to the United Kingdom is recommended. As immediate action may be a vital factor in the safety of a convoy, we concur in action along these lines, but we desire that any such decision should be communicated forthwith for our information page 105 and concurrence and that we should be kept fully informed on the trend of the situation. In agreeing to diversion via the Cape, the Commonwealth Government again assume that the escort arrangements both to Capetown and thence onward will ensure the security of both [convoys?] in respect of surface craft and submarines.

Equipping and Re-concentration of Australian Imperial Force

With some concern the Commonwealth Government note the statement in your telegram of 30 April (No. 123) that if war with Italy were to break out subsequent to the arrival of the contingents in Egypt there might be considerable difficulty in equipping our troops as the necessary material has to come from United Kingdom sources.

It will be recalled that the High Commissioner, in accordance with cabled directions on 26 January,1 made representations on the situation in the Near East and the Middle East, the possibility of employment of Australian [troops?] on active operations, and the anticipated rate of provision of modern weapons and equipment. In view of the statement quoted we would urge that the utmost expediency be used in fully equipping our troops, the present forecast of which is given as the middle of September.

Should diversion of the convoys to the United Kingdom become necessary the Commonwealth Government stress the importance of re-constituting the whole expeditionary force at the earliest possible moment and note your assurance that this will be done.

Ultimate Theatre of Employment

It is indicated by the Chiefs of Staff that the most likely theatres for the employment of the Australian Imperial Force are the Near East and France. When the training and equipping of the force has reached a stage to enable it to take the field you will no doubt raise this aspect again.

1 Not available.