128 War Cabinet Minute 1522

CANBERRA, 26 November 1941


(Previous reference-Minute No. (1499).) [2]

This Agendum submitted by the Prime Minister [3] furnishes a review of the national and political considerations relating to Australian Naval Defence which have been the basis for the development of the Royal Australian Navy, and shows how these considerations are related to the question of the control and disposition of the R.A.N. in a war with Japan, which is the major risk which has governed the development of the strength of the R.A.N.

2. It was decided that if, after having put the facts before the Americans, it is found that the inability to obtain agreement with this view is an obstacle to the fullest British-American co- operation, a formula on the following lines is the very minimum the Commonwealth Government could accept:-

The Commonwealth Government agrees that on the outbreak of war with Japan, ships of the Royal Australian Navy-other than local Defence vessels-shall be placed under the strategic control of the Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet. In agreeing to transfer strategic control of H.M.A. Ships to the Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet, the Commonwealth Government requires that the necessary protection should be given to vital commitments on the Australia Station as defined below:-

(1) Escort of British reinforcements.

(2) Escort of Air Trainees.

(3) Food and supplies and reinforcements to Middle East and Malaya.

(4) Seaborne trade in Australian waters, as this is vital to Australia's war effort.

(5) Any other special commitment.

In regard to the above the Commonwealth Government stipulates that the protection afforded will be not less than that which would be given by Australian Naval Forces if control by the latter had been retained by the Commonwealth.

The above formula is based on that submitted to War Cabinet by the Chief of the Naval Staff [4] (Minute No. (1499)), except for the amendments indicated by underlining [italics].

3. War Cabinet decided that no commitment should be entered into by the Chief of the Naval Staff at the Singapore Conference until he has submitted a report on his discussions to the Commonwealth Government. [5]

1 On file AA : A2671, 390/1941. Disposition and control of the R.A.N. had become an issue because of U.S. disagreement with certain aspects of the report of the American-Dutch-British conversations at Singapore in April. Although U.S. objections had originally centred on the inclusion in the report of recommendations of a political nature, they later concerned, among other things, the ultimate control of Australian naval forces.

U.S. naval staff contended that it was unnecessary to maintain so many Australian and N.Z. cruisers in local waters and that the right of the Commonwealth Naval Board to veto removal of Australian forces from Australian waters made a mockery of the recommendation that the U.K. Commander-in-Chief, China Station, should exercise unified strategical control over employment of all naval forces in the Far Eastern theatre. Agendum 390/1941 argued that the principle underlying the establishment of the R.A.N. had been responsibility for local defence and that although R.A.N.

ships placed at the disposal of the U.K. Govt came under the control of the Admiralty, the Commonwealth Govt had always retained the right to withdraw them by arrangement. The report of the A.D.B. conversations merely enshrined a long-standing principle which should be explained to the U.S. authorities.

2 Dated 17 November. In AA : A2673, vol. 9.

3 John Curtin.

4 Vice-Admiral Sir Guy Royle.

5 This decision, with minor amendments, was endorsed by the Advisory War Council (minute 569) later the same day and conveyed to Royle with agendum 390/1941 as a guide for his discussions at the forthcoming Singapore conference (see the file cited in note 1). Royle reported back on 16 December (see Advisory War Council minute 597 in AA : A2682, vol. 4) that: 'the question of strategical control of Naval Forces had not arisen during the discussions'.

[AA : A2673, VOL. 9]