64 Mr A. Eden, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Commonwealth Government

Cablegram 46 LONDON, 17 February 1940, 1.30 a.m.

SECRET

The Commonwealth High Commissioner [1] has communicated to me a copy of your telegram 15th February about censorship arrangements in connection with the arrival of the Australian troops in Egypt [2] and asked if I would telegraph my observations to you. I have gone into the matter with the competent authorities and, in the first instance, I should like to express my regret that these arrangements should have caused embarrassment to you.

2. It seems desirable before commenting in detail upon the specific instances quoted in your telegram to the High Commissioner to state the general principles which naval and military authorities here regard as governing their views on censorship. The policy in this respect as regards the release of information about troop and convoy movements is to deny or at least to delay as long as possible authentic information which is likely to be of military assistance to the enemy and in this connection a distinction is drawn between an official announcement and a report whose accuracy the enemy have no means of verifying.

Hence in this particular case endeavour was made to avoid official announcement on the following points-composition of convoy and escort, state of preparedness of forces, and its exact location.

It is known that the precise strength and preparedness of the allied troops in the Middle East is a matter of concern to the German or even Russian High Commands and it seems most important therefore to deny this information as regards what is a substantial part of the total allied forces available in that area.

3. As regards the 2nd paragraph the original correspondence referred only to official announcement. As the enquiry from the New Zealand Government in their telegram No. 34 of 8th February [3] asked whether specific reference might be made in this to Egypt rather than to the Middle East the reply was confined to this point. No reference was made to the port of disembarkation in the official statement issued here. Mention of Suez was made in the Press despatches released from Egypt to this country and presumably to Australia also. In point of fact Suez was not the only port of disembarkation. The fact that neutral Press agencies succeeded in sending telegrams out of Palestine made it impossible to withhold the information as to the destination of the troops any longer and no time was lost in informing the Commonwealth Government of this change of plans. It is unfortunate that this unforeseen development occurred but in the circumstances there was no alternative but to agree to the release of information and the Commonwealth Government were informed at once in my telegram No.

40 of 13th February. [4]

4. As regards the third paragraph, notification of my visit was communicated to you through the United Kingdom High Commissioner [5] by my telegram of 9th February [6] in which it was stated that news of the visit was being kept in close secret until the actual arrival of the troops in Egypt was made public. It was assumed that after the arrival of the troops had been reported, Press messages referred [sic] to my visit would be released without further delay.

5. As regards paragraph 4 the general rule of concealment of disposition of particular naval forces is designed to prevent the enemy from drawing deductions as to the disposition of forces generally. Moreover reference to the composition of an escort of this kind would help the enemy to assess the composition of escorts on future occasions and give them time to prepare plans.

Hence concealment of the composition of the escort does in fact afford additional security. Advantages from the point of view of public opinion as to announcement of strength of the escort are appreciated but for above reasons it is felt that these are more than compensated by the additional security provided by the secrecy.

6. As regards paragraph 5 there has never been any intention of using the channel of communications between the Admiralty and the Commonwealth Naval Board as a substitute for inter-governmental communication. The fact that my telegram No. 30 of 6th February [7] referred to correspondence between the Admiralty and the Commonwealth Naval Board which arose out of specific enquiry from the latter was due to the desire to save time and expense.

7. Should be grateful if copy of your telegram of 15th February could be communicated to the United Kingdom High Commissioner together with this reply.

1 S. M. Bruce.

2 Document 58.

3 In Series FA: A3195, 1.890.

4 In series FA: A3195, 1.988.

5 Sir Geoffrey Whiskard.

6 In series PA: A3195, 1.922.

7 In series FA: A3195, 1.845.

[FA: A3195, 1.1103]