9 Maj Gen H. L. Ismay, Chief of Staff to U.K. Minister of Defence, to Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London

Letter [LONDON], 4 July 1940


Since our talk yesterday morning, I have now had a look at the

telegram about which we spoke [1], and have discussed the matter

with my Staff. They point out that our inability to send a Fleet

to the Far East in the changed circumstances was emphasised in a

telegram to the Dominions, which was drafted by the Chiefs of

Staff as long ago as the 13th June (see Telegram No. Circular Z

No. 106, paragraph 9). [2]

It is, of course, perfectly true that, before the war, it had

always been our intention to despatch a Fleet to the Far East in

the event of serious trouble with Japan. It was said on various

occasions that if it came to a choice of jeopardising either our

Middle East and Mediterranean interests, or the security of the

Empire in the Far East, we should not hesitate to sacrifice the

former. I do not think anything has occurred to alter our point of

view on this.

At present, however, it is not this choice which confronts us.

Owing to the complete collapse of the French and the elimination

of their fleet, there would be nothing now to prevent the Italian

fleet from leaving the Mediterranean and entering the struggle in

the Atlantic and home waters, basing itself on French ports. The

despatch of a Fleet to the Far East, which would involve the

removal of our capital ships from the Mediterranean, would

therefore not only seriously jeopardise our position in the Middle

East, but would endanger the safety of this country and its vital

communications. This being so, it is clearly necessary for us to

make certain of defeating the immediate danger in home waters,

which is for the moment the decisive point, by concentrating our

forces in this area.

This situation, which we hope will be of short duration, does not

invalidate what was said in paragraph 5 of the Memorandum (Paper

No. D.M.V.(39)4) [3], which the present Prime Minister [4]

circulated to Dominion Ministers last November.

The important passage reads as follows:-

'However, should Japanese encroachment begin, or should Great

Britain pass into a state of war with Japan, the Admiralty would

make such preparatory dispositions as would enable them to offer

timely resistance either to the serious attack upon Singapore or

to the invasion of Australia and New Zealand. These dispositions

would not necessarily take the form of stationing a fleet at

Singapore, but would be of a character to enable the necessary

concentrations to be made to the eastward in ample time to prevent

a disaster.'

The arguments which the Chiefs of Staff would put forward may be

summarily stated as follows: Japan cannot undertake a serious

invasion of Australia so long as:-

(a) The British Fleet (wherever it may be) is in being: and

(b) Singapore is secure.

The first condition still holds good, and it is to ensure the

second condition that the Chiefs of Staff have asked Australia to

send a Division and two Squadrons of aircraft to Malaya.

We could very easily arrange for you to have a discussion with the

Chiefs of Staff on the whole question, if you so desired. In that

event, I feel sure that the discussion would be far more

profitable if you were to let us have a short note on the

particular points which you wished considered.

Alternatively, since the problem is almost exclusively a Naval

one, I wonder if you would not get better value out of a talk with

the First Sea Lord. [5] If you will let me know what you would

like, I will arrange it for you.

I ought to add that the telegram on the position in the Middle

East, which you mentioned in our talk this morning, was completed

by the Chiefs of Staff last night, and has today, I think, been

despatched to the Dominions. [6]


1 Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. III,

Document 459.

2 ibid., Document 376. As deciphered in Canberra the relevant

paragraph was no. 8.

3 In PRO: ADM 1/11062.

4 Winston S. Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty.

5 Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound.

6 Document 8.

[PRO: CAB 21/893]