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

Cablegram 861 LONDON, 21 December 1941, 4.45 p.m.


Following telegram has been received from Mr. Duff Cooper [1], 21St December, for you:-

Part 1. [2]

Conference of inter-Allied representatives took place Singapore on December 18th. [3] All countries originally suggested were represented with the exception of Chungking, from which no reply to telegram of invitation was received. The Prime Minister of New Zealand [4] authorised me to act as their representative with the assistance of Commander St. Aubyn R.N. who has been working for a long time in New Zealand.

2. General agreement was reached on the matter under discussion.

In the first place it was felt the importance of Singapore to the war in the Far East and to the world war could not be exaggerated.

Its loss would clearly be followed by that of the Netherlands East Indies and would confer on the enemy not only the isolation of Australia and New Zealand from the west, to separate British Far East fleet and American Asiatic fleet, but would also put at his disposal vast oil supplies and practically all rubber supplies of the world. Hardly less serious would be the loss of the Netherlands East Indies which would isolate Singapore and deprive the Allies of a naval base of vital importance. The Philippines are also of first rate importance as an advanced and flanking base for offensive action against the Japanese lines of communications.

3. Our immediate plan is to dispose our combined forces now available in the Far East area so as (a) to keep the enemy as far north in Malaya as possible and hold him in the Philippines (b) to prevent the enemy acquiring territory and particularly aerodromes which will threaten arrival of reinforcements.

4. Our dispositions to implement this are (a) Land forces disposed to hold up the enemy advance to maximum degree possible;

(b) air reconnaissance established as far north as practicable;

(c) naval surface forces: United States [Task] [5] forces in Apia- Sourabaya area; Dutch West Java Sea; British Singapore-Sunda Ocean [sic] and defence of South Malaya and Malacca Straits;

(d) United States and Dutch submarines operating offensively in South China seas and off cast coast of Malaya;

(e) air striking forces operating from Luzon west of Borneo and Eastern Archipelago.

5. Our urgent and immediate need is for reinforcement. We have taken note of steps being taken to provide these, and are agreed that they must be on a scale not only to meet the present scale of attack but also those likely to be put in the field against us. We are also agreed as to the necessity to concentrate our available naval strength to ensure safe passage through the Far Eastern area.

6. We are agreed that plans must include the unloading of convoys at Netherlands East Indian ports should waters further north become unusable, aircraft being flown to destination, troops and stores ferried. It is also agreed that United States convoy at present directed to Brisbane should proceed to Sourabaya for aircraft to be assembled there and flown on to destination decided upon.

7. It is necessary to keep open the following air lines of communication:

(a) Australia-Java-Philippines (b) Middle East-India-Burma-Sumatra-Philippines or Malaya (c) Honolulu-(grp. undec.? New Zealand)-Netherlands East Indies- Philippines-Malaya and following sea lines of communication:

(a) South Africa (India)-Netherlands East Indies-Philippines- Malaya, also Red Sea, Persian Gulf (b) Australia, Netherlands East Indies, Philippines, Malaya, Sunda or Malacca Straits (d) [sic] Australia and New Zealand to North and South America.

8. It is most desirable that the Chinese should be asked to maintain maximum pressure upon the Japanese first in order to contain as many divisions as possible and subsequently to provide bases for long distance bombing attacks on Japan.

9. Any effort of the same nature with objectives on the part of Russia would also plainly prove of the highest value.

10. Finally it was the view of the conference that the situation although serious need not to give rise to undue pessimism provided necessary reinforcements are supplied in available time.

11. Time is the essential factor.

12. A sub-committee of the Conference has outlined immediate plans and its recommendations following in part 2 of this message. [6]

1 U.K. Minister of State for Far Eastern Affairs resident in Singapore.

2 The text of this cablegram as received in Canberra (AA:A3195, 1941, 1.29034) was extensively mutilated in transmission. For the sake of clarity the text published from this point onwards is that of the cablegram (Duchy 89) as received in London from Singapore (with subsequent corrections).

3 Australia was represented at the conference by Maj Gen H. G.

Bennett, Captain J. A. Collins and Group Captain J. P. McCauley.

See Commonwealth Govt's cablegram 807 of 17 December to Cranborne (AA:A3196, 1941, 0.21980).

4 Peter Fraser.

5 Corrected from Cranborne's unnumbered cablegram of 23 December on file AA:A981, War 33, attachment B.

6 See cablegram 862 of 21 December on the file cited in note 5.

[PRO:FO 371/28059]