177 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, of Meeting of Dominion High Commissioners

LONDON, 26 April 1940

[On 18 April Bruce reported the landing in Norway of substantial numbers of Allied troops in an attempt to counter the German invasion (see cablegram 255 on file AA: A981, Europe 30, ii). It quickly became apparent that the Allies would find it difficult to dislodge the Germans, but at meetings on 22 and 23 April the Supreme War Council nevertheless decided that 'to deprive Germany of iron ore supplied from Sweden should be a main objective of Allied policy, and having regard to the effect which an Allied success in Scandinavia would have on world opinion, the campaign in Norway should be prosecuted with the utmost vigour'. (See cablegram Z60 from U.K. Dominions Secretary to U.K. High Commissioner in Australia, 25 April 1940, on file AA: A1608, I41/1/2.) Narvik as the winter port for the export of Swedish iron ore and Trondheim as the key to control of central Norway and a base for future operations in southern Norway were seen as the two areas the Allies needed to recapture.]

After a full recital of the Naval, Military and Air developments in Norway, the greater part of which are recorded in the D.W.

cables [1] and which it is unnecessary therefore to repeat, Eden [2] told us that the War Cabinet had that morning practically come to the decision that there was no alternative but to evacuate the forces north and south of Trondheim and abandon the attempts to take it.

The reason for this is the inadequacy of the bases at Namsos and Aandalsnes and to [sic] the fact that owing to intensive air bombardment by the Germans the limited facilities at these ports had been practically destroyed.

This created a position which rendered difficult even the supply of the troops already landed and made impossible large scale landings of further troops to reinforce those already there.

The other factor in the situation is that owing to the lack of an air base it is impossible to challenge the German air supremacy at the moment. This creates an almost intolerable position for the troops already operating against Trondheim. This statement was given to us more or less as if it were an ordinary announcement but to my mind it is one of transcending seriousness. I proceeded to outline what I believed its effects would be. These, I suggested, would be of almost incalculable seriousness. To withdraw would be regarded as a major reverse for the Allied cause, and had to be considered from the point of view of its reaction upon our own people; upon the Dominions, and upon neutral opinion throughout the world. To the people of Britain it would come as a tremendous shock particularly having regard to the optimistic statement which had been made, when Hitler embarked upon this adventure, by the Prime Minister [3] and Winston Churchill. [4]

The reaction would be so strong that it might well cause a political crisis of the first magnitude. In the Dominions it could not fail to have the effect of causing grave doubts as to the conduct of the war by the United Kingdom Government.

In all neutral countries it would be regarded as a disastrous reverse and it seemed to me that it would almost inevitably lead to Italy coming into the war, and a slide of all the Balkan and Danubian countries.

I stressed that in all these countries the Allied action in Norway was being taken as a test of the Allies' capacity to do anything effective against the German onward march.

In view of the devastating effect which the withdrawal would have I urged strenuously the matter should be reconsidered and I asked were it not possible even now on a bold naval action to force the position by a frontal attack against Trondheim.

Eden's attitude was that I was rather over-painting the picture of the seriousness of what was contemplated and he held out no hope that the position could be reviewed.

I went on stressing my apprehension with regard to the decision, but it was apparent that we could get nowhere at the High Commissioners meeting that [sic] I eventually abandoned my efforts.

Waterson [5], I think, shared my apprehension, but gave very little support.

1 See file AA: A1608, G41/1/1, ii.

2 U.K. Dominions Secretary.

3 Neville Chamberlain.

4 U.K. First Lord of the Admiralty.

5 South African High Commissioner in London.

[AA: M100, APRIL 1940]