207 Mr V. G. Bowden, Official Representative in Singapore, to Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs

Cablegram 63 SINGAPORE, 19 December 1941, 8.48 p.m.

FOR MINISTER FOR EXTERNAL AFFAIRS VERY SECRET

My telegram No. 56. [1] Situation.

Unofficial information reaching me continues to point to the air strength here not being adequate for efficient protection or attack. Japanese are using Messerschmidt 109's and 110 E's, pursuit planes of Curtiss Hawk type 4-2D, bombers similar to Dormers also Zero F naval fighters with higher ceiling and greater manoeuvrability than Buffaloes.

My information is that the best fighter available in Malaya is the Buffalo which is a good aircraft at low altitudes but has no ceiling to deal with the Japanese types.

Assume that full details of the types of aircraft in use are available from the Air Intelligence and merely quote the above to demonstrate the necessity of urgent action.

Understand Gordon Bennett [2] has reported fully to the Army regarding the military situation and has expressed his views regarding reinforcements required. I feel strongly that before further Australian troops are committed every possible guarantee should be taken that they will not be abandoned with those already here. In my view real defence strength of Malaya falls far short of previous publicity and I feel assurances should be sought immediately from United Kingdom Government that Malaya will not continue to be regarded as secondary theatre of war and that reinforcements and supplies of modern arms and equipment will be rushed here even at cost of slowing down African offensive.

Am convinced that unless reinforcements of modern aircraft and operationally trained personnel are sent immediately Singapore will before long be in gravest danger.

Penang is already virtually abandoned but although this is widely known here combined headquarters was withholding public announcement fearing the moral effect of this coupled with probability of early announcement of loss of Hong Kong. Following loss of battleships effect of these two announcements on British prestige amongst the Asiatics will be serious but the effect of hiding losses will also undermine confidence. In addition to this valuable fuel for Japanese anti-British propaganda has been provided by the fact that the evacuation of Penang was applied only to the white British subjects and not to Asiatics. This was apparently ordered by military authorities as only practical course but is likely to have grave local repercussions extending as far as India. Understand question of further evacuations on same lines has been discussed by war council and strongly opposed by the Governor [3] in the interests of the native population.

BOWDEN

1 In cablegram 56 of 15 December (on file AA:A1608, J39/2/1) Bowden had reported a lack of confidence in the military situation in Malaya.

2 General Officer Commanding 8th Division A.I.F. See Document 208.

3 Sir Shenton Thomas.

[AA:A3830, 1941, 3539]