236 Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Commonwealth Government

Cablegram 510 LONDON, 23 December 1940, 2.50 a.m.


Your telegram 1st December No. 627. [1]

Following for the Prime Minister [2], personal from the Prime Minister [3]- 1. I am most grateful for your promised help at Singapore in respect both of troops and of equipment and ammunition and hope that you will make these available as proposed. If so, we will arrange to relieve your troops in May by equivalent of a Division from India.

2. The danger of Japan going to war with British Empire is in my opinion definitely less than it was in June after the collapse of France. Since then we have beaten off attacks of German Air Force, deterred invader by our ever-growing land strength, and gained a decisive victory in Libya. Since then the Italians have shown their weakness by sea, land and air, and we no longer doubt our ability to defend the delta and canal until or unless Germany makes her way through Turkey, Syria and Palestine. This would be a long term affair. Our position in the Eastern Mediterranean is enormously improved by the possession of Crete, where we are making at Suda Bay a second Scapa, and also by our victories and those of the Greeks, and facilities we now have for building up strong air bases in Greece from which the Italians can be attacked.

3. The naval and military successes in the Mediterranean and our growing advantages there by land, sea and air will not be lost upon Japan. It is quite impossible for our fleet to leave the Mediterranean at the present juncture without throwing away irretrievably all that has been gained there and all prospects for the future. On the other hand, with every weakening of the Italian naval power, the mobility of our Mediterranean fleet [?is] becoming potentially greater, and, should the Italian fleet be knocked out as a factor, and Italy herself broken as a combatant, as she may be, we could send strong naval forces to Singapore without suffering any serious disadvantage. We must try to bear our Eastern anxieties patiently and doggedly until this result is achieved, it always being understood that if Australia is seriously threatened by invasion we should not hesitate to compromise or sacrifice the Mediterranean position for the sake of our kith and kin.

4. Apart from the Mediterranean, the naval strain has considerably increased. When BISMARCK and TIRPITZ join the German fleet, which they may have done already, the Germans will once again be able to form a line of battle. The KING GEORGE V is ready but we do not get PRINCE OF WALES for several months, nor the DUKE OF YORK till mid-summer, nor the ANSON till the end of the year 1941. For the next six months we must keep more concentrated at Scapa Flow than has been necessary so far. The appearance of a raider pocket battleship in the Atlantic has forced us to provide battleship escort again for our convoys and we are forming hunting-groups for raiders in the South Atlantic and if necessary in the Indian Ocean. We have always to consider the possibility of undamaged portion of the French fleet being betrayed by Darlan [4] to Germany.

5. For all these reasons we are at the fullest naval strain I have seen either in this or former war. The only way in which a naval squadron could be found for Singapore would be by ruining the Mediterranean situation. This, I am sure, you would not wish us to do unless or until the Japanese danger becomes far more menacing than at present. I am also persuaded that if Japan should enter into the war, the United States will come in on our side, which will put the naval boot very much on the other leg, and be a deliverance from many perils.

6. As regards air reinforcements for Malaya, the Conference at Singapore recommended the despatch of considerable numbers of aircraft; it is difficult to commit ourselves to precise number of aircraft which we can make available Singapore, and we certainly could not spare flying boats to lie about idle there on the remote chance of a Japanese attack when they ought to be playing their part in the deadly struggle on the North-Western approaches.

Broadly speaking, our policy is to build up as large as possible a fleet, army and air force in the Middle East and keep this in a fluid condition, either to prosecute the war in Libya, Greece and presently Thrace, or reinforce Singapore, should the Japanese attitude change for the worse. In this way foci of the forces will be avoided, and victory will give its own far-reaching protection in many directions.

7. I must tell you finally that we are sending convoys of troops and munitions to the Middle East and we shall have nearly 300,000 men there by February. This again entails heavy escort duties. But great objects are at stake and risks must be run in every quarter of the globe, if we are to emerge from all our dangers as I am sure we shall.

8. I am arranging details as regards shipping and equipment etc.

to be taken up direct between the War Office and Army Headquarters, Melbourne.

With all good wishes.

1 Document 212.

2 R. G. Menzies.

3 Winston S. Churchill.

4 Minister of Marine in French Govt at Vichy.

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