230 Mr R. G. Casey, Minister to the United States, to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram 1220 WASHINGTON, 27 December 1941, 2.43 a.m.

MOST IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET

Reference Prime Minister's telegram No. 164. [1]

1. I have seen the British Chief of the Air Staff [2] and all other relevant individuals here today and have had communication by telephone with Churchill.

2. The British Chiefs of Staff have stated, and Churchill agrees, that the security of Singapore is of greater importance than any place outside the United Kingdom.

3. Churchill has had a report on Singapore-Malaya position today and he has had many hours with the British Chiefs of Staff today on this subject and is continuing tomorrow morning with his Chiefs of Staff on the same subject. Whatever may have been their errors of judgment in respect of Singapore in the past, they are completely aware of the situation there now, from their own information and from Australia.

4. Churchill and his Chiefs of Staff realise perfectly well the menace to Singapore. Real difficulty is that of providing reinforcements, particularly air reinforcements, early enough to be of real use.

5. I have done everything possible with Churchill and with his Chiefs of Staff and with the Americans. They ask me to suggest where additional air reinforcements can come from, that can be got to Malaya within a reasonable time, [in view of what they state are the following facts.] [3]

6. I am told (in great confidence) that there are no modern aircraft in India and that there are no British aircraft of any consequence closer than the Middle East, other than the American volunteer Air Force in Burma and one Buffalo squadron defending Rangoon. Fighter aircraft (which I believe are the principal necessity in Malaya) cannot be flown from the Middle East into Malaya owing to Japanese control of southern Burma and northern Malaya. There is no British aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean which can get fighter aircraft to Malaya under a month.

7. So far as Americans are concerned, they cannot be induced to risk sending one of their few aircraft carriers from Honolulu to Singapore or even Australia. We have done all possible to this end. Even if they were to do so, I am told it could not get to Queensland coast within fourteen days at earliest.

8. Whilst there is slightest chance of Philippines holding out, President [4] will not give orders for the American aircraft (ex recent convoy at Brisbane) to fly from Darwin direct to East Indies. Their present orders are to fly to Philippines, although it is generally realised here that this is a lost cause. If and when (but not until) this can be publicly realised it may be possible to have an order given for these aircraft to go to Singapore, [where] they can really do some good. Apart from air reinforcements set out my telegram No. 1211 [5] these are the most readily available aircraft reinforcements for Singapore.

9. As regards reinforcements from the Middle East (additional to my telegram No. 1211) tomorrow morning Churchill and his Chiefs of Staff are to discuss possibility of sending additional five squadrons of Blenheims to Singapore by air from Middle East. They would go without spares and without ground personnel and so would represent no more than individual aircraft reinforcements to existing Blenheim squadrons now in Singapore. If it is decided to send them they could probably get to Singapore in about fourteen days.

10. The British Chief of the Air Staff states it is probable that there are about 800 aircraft, including training aircraft, in the Middle East theatre. He states that they are prepared to send all possible aircraft to Singapore and Malaya even to the extent of jeopardising the Libyan and Mediterranean situation, and to the extent of taking a risk an Germany coming through Turkey.

11. The proposal to send four Hurricane squadrons in an aircraft carrier (paragraph 6 my telegram No. 1211) from the Middle East has now largely become a naval question as to whether carrier can be defended on such a voyage.

12. I will continue to do all possible here and would be grateful for suggestions on which I can work.

CASEY

1 Document 226.

2 Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal.

3 inserted from the Washington copy on file AA:A3300, 101.

4 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

5 Document 223.

[AA:A3830, 1941, 3645]