336 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Letter (airmail) LONDON, 2 December 1938

After considerable delays and under constant pressure, I have now received a reply from the First Lord of the Admiralty [1] to my request for an assurance as to the intentions of the United Kingdom Government to base a Capital Ship on the Far East as soon as the Capital Ships of the King George V Class begin to come to hand.

The assurance given in the letter is not very satisfactory, but I do not think there is anything more that can be done about it at the moment. We will have to discuss the question when I am in Australia. For this reason I have sent you the letter by air mail and have not attempted to summarise it in a cable.

S. M. BRUCE

1 Earl Stanhope.

Enclosure

Lord Stanhope, First Lord of the Admiralty, to Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London

Letter (copy) LONDON, 2 December 1938

In your recent conversations with me and the First Sea Lord [1] you spoke about the desire of the Australian Government to have a Capital Ship stationed in one of the Eastern Squadrons. The Admiralty fully appreciates the reason for this proposal.

It is necessary to point out, however, that at the present time the number of Capital Ships which are available for service are considerably below what should be the normal, this position having arisen owing to the necessity for laying up a larger number of ships at one time for reconstruction and large repair than would ordinarily be the case. This course has been adopted deliberately in order that there should be no further delay in carrying out the important work of modernising our old ships.

As you are aware we now have 5 Battleships of the KING GEORGE V Class building, two of which are due to complete in the latter half of 1940 and the other three in the latter half of 1941 or early in 1942. When these ships are commissioned the strength of the Fleet will become much greater, and we shall then be in a better position to spare a ship for service on a distant Station.

By 1942, also, we should have practically completed the reconstruction programme of the older ships which we now have in view.

After giving this matter full consideration in the Admiralty, we have come to the conclusion that a Capital Ship could probably be spared from one of the main Fleets at some date in 1942, although it is impracticable, at this date, to give a definite assurance that this will be done. This ship could then be stationed in the East, but not in China where a single Capital Ship would not add materially to our strength on that Station. On the other hand, were a ship stationed in the East Indies as Flag Ship of that Squadron, she could be free to move about as requisite in Eastern Waters, sometimes visiting Australia or China as might be suitable. Her principal duty, however, would be with the East Indies Squadron, and she would dock and refit at Singapore. In case of war in the East she would become part of the Main Fleet and would then of course be available for any service which might be required. As it is as yet too far away to go into detail as regards the arrangements for the visits referred to above, we think it may be sufficient now to indicate the general intention.

Nor is it advisable at present to select any particular ship for this service. The probability is that a Battle-cruiser would be chosen, but this would depend on circumstances. It is improbable that we should wish to send one of the new ships of the KING GEORGE V Class so far away at an early stage of their commission, unless it was absolutely necessary.

In sending this letter to you, which we hope you and the Government of Australia will consider satisfactory, we would like to stress the great help it would be to H.M. Government, and to the Admiralty, if Australia would undertake to build a Capital Ship in the near future. The cost of one of these ships is in the region of 9,000,000, and it is our wish gradually to replace our older ships, which will necessitate a steady building programme.

Not only would it be of great financial assistance to us were Australia able to bear the cost of a ship, but it would also be most advantageous were she able to man her, even if some assistance in this respect was still needed from our Naval personnel.

In making this proposal we are merely confirming the recommendation made at the Imperial Conference 1937-it is not a new one, and I am sure that I need not stress the great and widespread moral effect that it would have.

In conclusion, it is observed that nothing in this letter in any way modifies what has been said previously to the Australian Government. The Admiralty, however, are not easy at present about the position as regards our Capital Ship strength, and will not be for sometime to come, until we are further advanced with our reconstruction programme.

STANHOPE

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1 Lord Chatfield.

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