231 Mr H. V. C. Thorby, Minister for Defence, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Letter MELBOURNE, 20 July 1938

MOST SECRET

With reference to the questions raised by the Minister for External Affairs' in his letter to you of 13th May [2], relating to Singapore, you will recollect that at the Council of Defence meeting of 17th December, 1937, this subject was exhaustively dealt with when an Agendum containing the answers to a series of questions relating to the basis of Empire and Australian Defence Policy which were put, during the Imperial Conference, to the Chiefs of Staff Sub-committee [3], was referred to the Council.

2. One section of the Agendum dealt with British Policy and strategic object in the Far East, in which it was clearly indicated that both in the event of war in the European and in the Eastern theatre, it was the basis of British strategy to establish at Singapore at the earliest possible moment after the outbreak of hostilities a fleet whose strength as a minimum would enable it to act on the defensive and to serve as a strong deterrent against any threat to British interests in the Far East.

3. The document which was then before the Council of Defence contained detailed information on the subject, and clearly indicated that the whole British Defence Policy in the Far East would be directed to ensuring that in the event of hostilities Singapore would be able to hold out.

4. Committee of Imperial Defence Papers 444-C and 463-C [4], to which the Minister refers, deal with the defence of Malaya before relief, and during the discussion of them at the Committee of Imperial Defence, Mr Bruce [5] maintained the viewpoint stressed at the Imperial Conference. The conclusion of the Committee of Imperial Defence was as follows:

(a) That the 'period before relief' for Malaya should be fixed at 70 days, the underlying assumptions on which this period is based being those set out in paragraph 9 of the Memorandum by the Chiefs of Staff Sub-committee (C.I.D. Paper No. 444-C).

(b) That Service Departments should be authorised to build up reserves of stores to the levels recommended by the Oversea Defence Committee in paragraph 20 of their Memorandum (C.I.D.

Paper No. 463-C), subject to the usual arrangements for obtaining Treasury sanction to the expenditure involved.

(c) To recommend that the provision referred to in (b) above should be accorded a very high priority in the programmes of the three Defence Services.

(d) To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies [6] to take the necessary steps to ensure that the reserves recommended for the civil population of Malaya by the Oversea Defence Committee in paragraph 20 of C.I.D. Paper No. 463-C were provided as early as possible.

(e) To take note of the anxiety of the Government of Australia that the reserves referred to in Conclusions (b) and (d) above should be built up at Singapore with the least possible delay, and to welcome the suggestion put forward by the High Commissioner for Australia that Australia's contribution towards Imperial Defence as a whole should be the subject of discussion at the first convenient opportunity between representatives of the United Kingdom and Australian Governments.

5. It will be noted, therefore, that the discussions at the Imperial Conference covered the points raised by the Minister for External Affairs, that the High Commissioner is fully seized with the importance of the subject, and that the Ministers at present in London have been drawn into the discussions. I think therefore that we should await their return to ascertain the latest information on this subject.

H. V. C. THORBY

1 W. M. Hughes.

2 Document 196.

3 See Document 42.

4 Not printed.

5 High Commissioner in London.

6 W. Ormsby-Gore.

[AA : A1608, C51/1/10]