Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. R. B. Stewart of the Division of European Affairs

Participants: Mr. Alan S. Watt, First Secretary, Australian Legation;
Mr. J. D. Hickerson, European Division;
Mr. R. B. Stewart, European Division.

Mr. Watt of the Australian Legation called at the Department yesterday afternoon at 5:30 and left the attached copy of a message17 (in garbled form) from Canberra relative to the proposed landing bases at New Caledonia.

Mr. Watt was informed that, in view of the extreme urgency which had developed, the Department had requested the Free French Commissioner here in Washington, and he at once agreed, to send a message [Page 584]immediately to the High Commissioner at Nouméa asking him to permit the Australians and Americans to go forward with any construction of air fields which they may be in a position to carry out. Mr. Watt was permitted to read Mr. Atherton’s letter of December 9 to Mr. Adrian Tixer [Tixier], Free French Commissioner, and also telegram no. 48,20 Polish Series, from Biddle reporting that General De Gaulle21 had cabled the Free French High Commissioner of the Pacific, Major Thierry d’Argenlieu, to instruct all the Free French delegates in the Pacific and Far East that the National Committee would take part in the joint defense of the Pacific by all means possible and was placing at the disposal of the Allied forces all facilities which might be rendered by bases in New Hebrides, Tahiti, and New Caledonia.

With regard to the instruction to the Australian Legation urgently to request the United States Authorities to explore the possibility of providing assistance in the defense of New Caledonia, Mr. Watt was informed:

That since New Caledonia is so close to Australia and since any landing there by Japan would obviously constitute an immediate threat to Australia, we must assume that Australia will take responsibility for its defense.
That since our countries are now allies against a common foe, we will naturally do all that may be feasible in all the circumstances to contribute to the protection of New Caledonia. It was emphasized, however, that the immediate and primary responsibility rests with Australia and that we did not know what assistance, if any, on our part would be feasible.

Comment to J. D. H.:

In thinking further about the above I don’t believe we can assume anything about what our Army and Navy may be doing to aid in the defense of New Caledonia. It seems evident from our conversations last week and from Canberra’s telegram to the Australian Legation here that our Army and Navy do not have information on the state of New Caledonia’s defenses. I believe we ought to call somebody’s attention to the fact that according to our latest information Australia had not taken over its defense. The loss of New Caledonia to the Japanese would, of course, constitute a considerable blow in our whole war effort.

10 a.m. Watt has just called to say they sent a telegram last night in the above sense and telling Canberra, in effect, “For God’s sake, act yourselves—quickly.”

  1. Not attached to file copy.
  2. Neither printed.
  3. Gen. Charles de Gaulle, President of the French National Committee in England.