147 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram 112 LONDON, 1 December 1941, 9.27 p.m.

MOST IMMEDIATE FOR THE PRIME MINISTER MOST SECRET

Page' and I had a long talk with the Prime Minister [2] this morning, based upon the two first paragraphs of your telegram 762 to the Dominions Office [3] and the third last and penultimate paragraphs of your telegram 7509. [4]

We pointed out to him that at War Cabinet meeting which Page attended he had urged the necessity for an understanding as to what we should do in the event of a Japanese attack against Thailand, Netherlands East Indies, Russia or Kunming and the Burma Road. We stressed that no such understanding had yet been arrived at and that the failure to have done so had resulted in the urgent necessity of arriving at a decision as to the action to be taken with regard to the Kra Isthmus without proper time for consideration and involving the danger of misunderstandings.

We urged that this position could not be allowed to continue but that an understanding was necessary as to the course to be followed in the event of any of the four aggressions contemplated being undertaken, and that the first step to this end was that we should know clearly what was the attitude of the United Kingdom Government.

In reply to this the Prime Minister said that he was perfectly prepared to make clear the attitude of the United Kingdom Government. He said that it was to march in line with the United States and read to us his personal message to the President which has been sent to you in Winch telegram. [5]

We then had a long discussion on the whole position in the Far East which went far to clarify the Prime Minister's attitude on the question of general policy to be pursued and defined with precision the United Kingdom Government's attitude with regard to the Kra Peninsula.

On this latter point Dominions Office is cabling you tonight. [6]

With regard to the general position the Prime Minister's attitude is that in the event of Japanese aggression in any of the four contemplated areas we should not anticipate American action but immediately support it. His reason for this is that he feels that American opinion will react favourably to a war which America has entered in defence of her own interests but would be inclined to be antagonistic to the idea of entering a war into which we had already entered and America was coming to our assistance. He admitted, however, that in the event of America not taking action we would have to review the position and take our own decision, probably within a few days, as to whether we would not have to take action irrespective of what the United States was doing. He stressed however that were the attack upon British territory, e.g.

Hong Kong, we would immediately declare war.

In discussion we again put the points that were put by Page to the War Cabinet 7 but stressed to the Prime Minister that we were not at the moment arguing the case as to what the exact policy should be but trying to ensure an understanding being arrived at upon policy prior to the happening of any of the possible eventualities. The Prime Minister expressed his desire that this should be done.

The conversation this morning has done much to clarify the position but we think that it is desirable that you should now send a telegram defining your views as to the form of understanding that should be arrived at.

The basic divergence of opinion as to the policy to be followed is between the point of view held by the Prime Minister as indicated above and the point of view of those who maintain that American co-operation can best be secured in the event of Japanese aggression by the British Empire immediately resisting.

For your personal information this divergence exists in the United Kingdom on the subject, the Prime Minister strongly holding the former view and certain other Ministers the latter. The same divergence also exists among the Dominions, Canada holding the former view and South Africa and New Zealand the latter.

We also think that the conversation has brought home to the Prime Minister the necessity of getting an understanding with the Dominions and also the danger of the policy which he was inclined to pursue of only taking his hurdles as he comes to them.

BRUCE

1 Special Representative in the United Kingdom.

2 Winston Churchill.

3 Document 142.

4 Document 135.

5 See cablegram Winch 7 of 1 December in PRO : DO 114/113. It repeated Churchill's plea to Roosevelt to consider making 'a plain declaration, secret or public as may be thought best, that any further act of aggression by Japan will lead immediately to the gravest consequences'.

6 The dispatch of this cablegram appears to have been delayed by the receipt in London of Lord Halifax's report of his conversation with Roosevelt (see Document 152). See also Document 157.

7 See Document 110.

[AA : A816, 19/304/431]