255 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Cablegram 342 LONDON, 20 May 1940


While D.W. gives you full information as it is received here, I feel I should give you the impression I am forming. But it is for you to decide whether you should keep them to yourself or pass them on to your colleagues before they are confirmed or refuted by official information. In considering my views you must bear in mind that the present battle in France is being fought by French and that even the General Staff here is not closely in touch with hour by hour developments. Also that while the High Commissioners receive through the medium of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, who attends all meetings, a summary of information available to and views of War Cabinet this only second-hand and without any opportunity questioning or discussion apart from personal conversations with members of the War Cabinet and of the General Staff.

As a result of this my views may be exaggerated. In view of serious position and gravity of problems that arise if I am right, I feel I should send them to you personally.

While recorded developments in the past 24 hours show no substantial changes, position has apparently deteriorated alarmingly. Seemingly the French First Army in addition to the Ninth Army which was known to be in serious difficulties has been dispersed and serious counter-offensives by either of these armies appear out of the question. Dill's [1] report which now received appears to show that the French reserves which have been brought up insufficient to undertake successful counter-attack on grand scale against the base of the bulge or against other points along the line of the German advance. It appears to be contemplated that the best that can be done is to establish a line east from Amiens to endeavour to prevent penetration further southward. B.E.F. [2] retiring southward to conform with French position and to prevent communications being cut. This retirement contemplated to continue as far as Amiens. This will mean part if not the whole of the Belgian Army being cut off as retirement in conformity with British and French movements could not be successfully achieved owing to length of the arc to be covered. The above movements mean the uncovering of the Channel ports and their occupancy by the Germans in the near future. In view of the seriousness of the position which this would create it would appear worth while taking any measures to stop German advance even if it involved throwing in almost recklessly of French reserves and risking of major part of British Air Force. From conversations I have had it appears that even extreme action of this character would not be effective.

If the Germans reach the Channel ports subsequent developments would probably be an intensive air offensive against the United Kingdom or a drive to capture Paris or both undertaken simultaneously. What could be achieved by offensive against the United Kingdom is a matter for speculation as is effect upon French of the capture of Paris.

I regret having to send you a cable of this character, and reiterate it only expressed my own views. [3]


1 Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

2 British Expeditionary Force.

3 On 21 May 1940 the Commonwealth Govt received through the U.K.

High Commissioner in Australia, Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, an unnumbered cablegram sent by the U.K. Dominions Secretary on 20 May (on file AA: A1608, C41/1/2). This confirmed Bruce's assessment of the seriousness of the situation and also that the Germans were making a powerful drive towards the Channel ports.

[AA: A1608, A41/1/1, ix]