Monday, January 29, 2018

Churchill tries to bulldoze the Australian government in late September and October 1941

The British prime minister, Mr. Churchill, was determined to get the Australian government to agree not to withdraw their last two brigades from Tobruk during the moonless period in October 1941. Churchill's argument did not really have any firm basis in fact, but it was the principle of the thing that drove him to press the Australians. Churchill sent a telegram to the Australian prime minister, now  Mr. Fadden, telling him that General Auchinleck had wanted to resign over the Australian government's lack of confidence in him. Churchill told the prime minister that he was asking him to not withdraw the two brigades in the interest of comradeship with the British forces. The timing was bad, because Mr. Fadden's government had fallen and the Labour party was assembling a new government at the time that Churchill's telegram had arrived on 30 September 1941.
Mr. Curtin, the leader of the Labour Party was busy forming the new government. Mr. Fadden consulted with him and then answered Churchill's telegram with a refusal to stop the withdrawal. Mr. Fadden told Churchill that it was not the case that the Australian government lacked confidence in General Auchinleck. Churchill then notified Auchinleck of the Australian response.
Mr. Curtin, the new Australian prime minister, responded to yet another message from Churchill, saying that the previous government had considered all the issues when arriving at a decision, and the new government would make no changes. Churchill replied that he regretted the Australian decision, but he notified General Auchinleck to proceed with the relief of the remaining two brigades. Churchill was very unhappy that other issues caused the start of Operation Crusader to be postponed to 18 November 1941.
Churchill then sent a stern note to General Auchinleck complaining about the delay, when there had been some 4-1/2 months since any other major operation. Meanwhile, the Russians were thought to be getting battered severely by the Germans and the British were not doing anything to help, Churchill believed. The Australian governments felt obligated to follow the advice from their senior officer in the Middle East, General Blamey, rather than submit to pressure from Churchill that would have caused them to have to ignore General Blamey.This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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