845.48/368: Telegram

The British Prime Minister (Churchill) to President Roosevelt 60


665. The food situation in India and its possible reactions to our joint operations is of serious concern to me. At least 700,000 people died last year as a result of a serious famine which we had in Bengal. There is a good rice crop this year, however, an acute wheat shortage faces us which is further aggravated by the serious damage which has been inflicted on the Indian spring crops by unprecedented storms. Any possible surplus of rice even if it can be taken from the peasants cannot overcome India’s shortage. The problem has been increased by our recent losses in the Bombay explosion.61

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The gravest warnings have been given to me by Wavell62 who is very anxious about our position. If he is to cope with the situation and meet the needs of the United States, British and Indian troops as well as the civil populations particularly in the large cities, he estimates that he will need imports of about one million tons this year. Unless arrangements are made promptly to import wheat requirements, Mountbatten63 considers the situation so serious that he will have to release military cargo space of Southeast Asia Command in favor of wheat and to advise Stilwell64 formally that it will also be necessary that he arrange to curtail American military demands for this purpose.

During the first 9 months of 1944, I have been able to make arrangements for shipping 350,000 tons of wheat to India from Australia by cutting down military shipments and by other means. This is the shortest haul. I see no way of doing more. We have the wheat (in Australia) but we lack the ships. I have had much hesitation in asking you to add to the great assistance you are giving us with shipping but a satisfactory situation in India is of such vital importance to the success of our joint plans against the Japanese that I am impelled to ask you to consider a special allocation of ships to carry wheat to India from Australia without reducing the assistance you are now providing for us, who are at a positive minimum if war efficiency is to be maintained. For some time I have resisted the Viceroy’s request that I ask your help, but with this recent misfortune to the wheat harvest and in view of Mountbatten’s representations, I believe that I am no longer justified in not asking for your aid. Wavell is doing his utmost in India by special measures. I would let you know immediately if he should find that he is able to revise his estimates of his requirements.

  1. Transmitted to the Secretary of State under a White House memorandum of April 30 in which the Secretary was directed by President Roosevelt to prepare a draft reply “after consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
  2. On April 14 two British munitions ships blew up at the Victoria Docks at Bombay, devastating the docks and adjacent areas, causing an estimated loss of 2,000 lives.
  3. Field Marshal Archibald P. Wavell, Viscount Wavell, Viceroy of India since October 1943.
  4. Adm. Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander, South-East Asia Command.
  5. Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, Commander, U.S. Forces in the China–Burma–India Theater.