51 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Churchill

[LONDON], 21 September 1942

After the Cabinet I had about 3/4 hour's talk with the Prime Minister. He was quite cordial and friendly when we started and neither he nor I made any reference at that stage to the somewhat crisp correspondence we had been indulging in. [1]

I told him that concurrently with the cablegrams that had been sent to him [2] and the two messages to the President [3], I had received telegrams from my Prime Minister urging me to stress Australia's case with him [4], as he, the Prime Minister, was the only man who could really do anything to help them.

I told him I was sorry that owing to his throat trouble it had not been possible for me to see him sooner as I understood the President had now sent his reply to Australia.

The Prime Minister said he had no knowledge that the reply had gone, and asked me if I knew what was in it. I said as far as I had been able to ascertain the President, in dealing with the question of Naval reinforcements, had referred to his, Winston's,

telegram and endorsed it. [5]

With regard to the AIR I gathered he had urged that the provision of 71 Squadrons by April of next year was adequate to meet the position and that with regard to the three additional American Divisions he had taken the line that shipping could not be provided for their transport. The main idea running through the telegram was that Australia's fears were unfounded owing to the strength of the U.S.A. Naval forces in the Pacific and the lack of the necessary shipping to Japan for the purpose of a full scale invasion of Australia.

I said to the Prime. Minister that I gathered the views that I had outlined as being embodied in the President's telegram were shared by him and by the Chiefs of Staff both here and in Washington, as well as by the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

In view of this, I said, I recognised the difficulty of altering the decision that had been taken but it was my duty to put the case as we saw it and then I put the position to the Prime Minister down the lines of Curtin's various telegrams and messages.

All this the Prime Minister listened to with, for him, surprising patience and attention. When I had put our case, I told the Prime Minister quite frankly the lines I had cabled to Australia both in giving the background to the Prime Minister [6] and in my reply to Page's telegram. [7] I told him that I had grave doubts as to whether the decisions arrived at in Washington last December as to our basic strategy [8] had not been wrong in making so little provision for the offensive in the Pacific. I said, however, that the decision having been taken and the stage being set for 'Torch' [9], it was at the moment impossible to get anything further done with regard to the South-west Pacific. I told him that we would keep on plugging away both here and in Washington to get a greater realisation of the possibilities of the Pacific, and I stressed that immediately the present contemplated operations were over it was essential that the position in the Pacific should be strengthened.

The Prime Minister said that he recognised our anxieties and our right to put our case with all the force we could. He personally, however, could not feel that there was an immediate danger of a full scale operation by the Japanese against Australia and this being the case it was vital we should proceed with our plans against the primary enemy-Germany.

I told the Prime Minister that I had made my case -that I had put the whole position before him and nothing was to be gained by pursuing the argument at this stage, but I emphasised that I would have to continue to press him upon the question.

I then told the Prime Minister that there was another matter about which I wanted to talk to him, and that was that I feared he had an impression that I was in some way antagonistic towards him and opposed to many of his views.

The Prime Minister replied somewhat halfheartedly that he certainly had no such views, but it was pretty clear to me that what I had said did in fact more or less represent what he had in mind.

I then said that I wanted to remove from his mind any such thought. I emphasised to the Prime Minister that my position was a somewhat difficult one but that my whole desire was to be of the maximum help and assistance to him that I could be. I said that this assistance I could best render by expressing to him fully and frankly my views. In doing so I would inevitably at times express opinions that were not very acceptable to him. What I wanted him to understand was that in anything I might say I was not showing any hostility to him. I was convinced that he was absolutely vital to us all in the war. In America and in the U.S.S.R. his prestige and position was such that he really was the British Empire to those countries. I told him frankly that strong as his position was before he went to Russia it was conceivably assailable. That since he had been to Russia and since Stalin now regarded him as the embodiment of Britain, it was unthinkable that he should go. I told him that with regard to his Russian visit I had cabled to my Government saying that I regarded it as a great personal triumph for him and that no other man could have carried out the mission with the same success. [10] I told him that I now wanted to repeat that to him personally as an expression of my own opinion.

I then put it to him that having those feelings I was determined to go on trying to help him even if he ignored all my advice and even if he was discourteous to me personally.

The Prime Minister, again somewhat halfheartedly, said he would never be that, but I think in his own heart he knew perfectly well that he had got very close to extending such treatment to me.

I told the Prime Minister I believed I could render the best service to him by telling him frankly what I thought and felt. But I emphasised to him that however he received whatever I tried to do, it would make no difference to me in attempting to go on helping him unless he made the position absolutely intolerable.

The Prime Minister again took this part of my observations with far less interruption than I have ever experienced from him in the past, and while he did not admit it, I think he was rather surprised to find this was my attitude, because I think he has it in the back of his mind I was very critical of him and rather out to make trouble.

I then said to the Prime Minister that I wanted to talk to him about one specific thing, and that was the question of the AIR in relation to our SEA communications. I told him that I thought the whole question was being looked at from a wrong angle by the Services. As amplifying this I told him I had sat next to Portal

at dinner recently and had taken advantage of the opportunity to have a real heart to heart talk with him on this matter. [11] During the conversation Portal had said to me that the Navy wanted to wrest some of his Lancaster Bombers from him to send to the Indian Ocean-they were not being fitted with A.S.V. [12] and would be useless.

I said that this seemed to me to be an entirely wrong conception because it implied that Portal was regarding Sea communications as if they were a matter primarily of responsibility to the Navy. I said that my view was that the Air was the new and vital weapon and that in a sense both the Army and Navy had got to be made subsidiary to it. If that were the position it meant that there was no question of Navy or Air Force in relation to our sea communications, but solely a question of how best our sea communications could be safeguarded.

The Prime Minister rather demurred at this statement but it was fairly clear that it had not quite struck him in that light before.

We then had some discussion on the question of the Bomber offensive against Germany and the necessity of increasing its intensity, in the course of which discussion the Prime Minister indicated that there were another 10 Bomber Squadrons being formed at the moment, and he hoped to get an additional 10 by the end of the year.

During the conversation I think I made it clear to the Prime Minister that my view is that the Air is the primary weapon and that we have got to proceed with its development to the maximum possible extent. This, I think, was to the Prime Minister a new view on my attitude. I stressed very much that the whole problem should be looked at an the basis of what are the vital things we have got to do, e.g. protect our sea communications and then concentrate all our efforts on the creation of the Air Force, which by its offensive action is going to enable us to win the war.

I stressed to the Prime Minister that it did not seem to me it was a question of making the necessary provision for our sea communications that was going to hurt our air strength, but the creation of terrific air co-operation for our land forces, such as was visualised by the talk of 10 million armed men in the U.S.A.

We had some talk about the way production was uncoordinated in the U.S.A. and from a remark the Prime Minister made I think he is incubating the thought of another trip to Washington.

The discussion we had on this air question was, I think, very useful and my impression is that it sowed a few seeds in the Prime Minister's mind.

During the talk both Trenchard's and Harris' Memoranda [13] came up and I reiterated to the Prime Minister that I welcomed Trenchard's as raising vital issues that had got to be decided.

The Prime Minister again expressed his admiration for Harris' Memorandum, while disassociating himself from all his views, and once more showing a slightly guilty conscience, he referred to the Note to the Cabinet indicating why he had circulated Harris' Memorandum.

In this connection the Prime Minister said he thought he had been a little 'testy' in his letter to me, which gave me the impression I referred to earlier that perhaps his conscience is not completely clear on the question of discourtesy.

Towards the end of the conversation I said to the Prime Minister that I thought I had shown that I was reasonably reliable and discreet, and that if he felt that, it was most desirable that I should be given the fullest information.

The Prime Minister said that he quite agreed that I was discreet and said that I had sent a number of most helpful telegrams to Australia. This clearly referred to the one I showed him with regard to 'Torch' [14] and it was interesting to find that that had stuck in his mind.

At the end of our talk the Prime Minister was most cordial and said he was very grateful to me for what I had said. Just as I was going out of the door I said to him 'Prime Minister, you quite understand that this conversation will in no way restrain me in the frankest expression of my views on any question.' To which he smilingly replied 'Certainly I do.' On the whole I think the conversation was most useful and may progressively bear fruit as a result of my having removed from the Prime Minister's mind the impression that I was hostile and out to be troublesome.

One interesting comment on the conversation is that I have never previously known the Prime Minister to restrain himself so well and listen so attentively.

S.M.B.

1 See file AA:M100, September 1942.

2 Documents 27-8 and 44. See also Documents 31, note 6 and 43, note 1.

3 Curtin had in fact sent three messages to Roosevelt. See Documents 31 and 43 and Document 44, note 8.

4 See cablegrams 7957-8 of 31 August, 8346-7 of 11 September (all on file Defence: Special Collection II, bundle 5, Strategical Policy-S.W.P.A., file no. 3, 48/1942) and Document 38, note 6.

5 Roosevelt's reply and Churchill's earlier cablegram to Curtin are published as Documents 48 and 41.

6 See Documents 20, 23, 36, 38 and 50 and cablegram 150A of 8 September on the file cited in note 1.

7 See Document 45 and note 2 thereto.

8 See Document 13, note 3.

9 The projected Allied landing in French North Africa.

10 See cablegram 141[A] of 27 August (FA:A3195, 1942, 1.34341) 11 See Document 46.

12 Air-to-surface-vessel radar.

13 Churchill had earlier circulated papers by Lord Trenchard (first Marshal of the R.A.F. and formerly Chief of the Air Staff) and Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris defending the role of Bomber Command. On 2 September Bruce had sent Churchill a note criticising Harris's memorandum and on 4 September Churchill had replied, defending his circulation of the paper and adding that although he did not accept Harris's conclusions, he did not think that 'vigorous and well-expressed opinions' did people any harm.

Replying on 7 September, Bruce made it clear that he welcomed Lord Trenchard's paper, which raised 'issues of paramount importance'.

The Bruce-Churchill correspondence is on the file cited in note 1.

14 This was presumably a reference to the cablegram published as Document 9.

[AA:M100, SEPTEMBER 1942]