73 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Cripps

[LONDON], 11 November 1942

I went to see Cripps to ask him about the Sub-Committee of the Cabinet to deal with the question of security of our communications which has been brought into the forefront by the recent heavy sinkings. What I learned from Cripps was not nearly as satisfactory as the story I had heard about it. I have been told that a Sub-Committee of the Cabinet had been appointed with the Prime Minister as Chairman and Cripps as Vice-Chairman. This I had interpreted as meaning that the Prime Minister had adopted the suggestion I had been persistently putting up for months, namely, that the Committee should be formed and he, the Prime Minister, as Minister of Defence, should take the first meeting and then hand it over to another Minister to go ahead in conducting the enquiry with instructions to prepare a report in the shortest possible time. This, however, was not the position as I got it from Cripps.

Cripps said that there had been one meeting to consider the subject, at which the Prime Minister had presided, but they had not got down to practical business but had mainly listened to dissertations on the subject from the Prime Minister. He said that there was a further meeting on Friday next but he felt there was so little chance of progress being made that he had written to the Prime Minister last night suggesting that the Prime Minister should let him get on with investigating the question on the basis of continuous work as against periodic meetings.

Cripps expressed considerable doubt whether the Prime Minister would agree to this.

When I asked him who were the other members of the Committee, his reply was that they were whoever the Prime Minister saw fit to summon. I expressed my view to Cripps that this was a most unsatisfactory position and was merely in line with the general hopeless way in which questions were being dealt with.

Cripps agreed and then opened out on the subject indicating his views as to the hopelessly unsatisfactory way in which business was conducted and stating that there has been no improvement recently. He then told me that he had had a long talk to Smuts in which Smuts while recognising the position as a most intolerable one had urged him most strongly not to resign. From what Cripps told me it appears to me that his conversation with Smuts was extremely like the one I had had with him. [1]

I then told Cripps that I had been having a good deal of trouble and said I had tried to do something with Attlee, but I was afraid he was quite hopeless. [2] With this view Cripps obviously agreed.

He then rather took the line that he did not think I had anything particular to complain of, and stated that he had been at no Cabinet meeting where anything of moment had been discussed that I had not also been present at, for months past. He went so far as to say that the last Cabinet meeting which he was at where anything of real importance in relation to the war had been considered was when the decision in regard to 'Torch' had been taken. [3] Cripps said he had known nothing whatever with regard to the preparations for 'Torch' and expressed considerable anxiety as to whether any plans were in fact prepared for following up 'Torch'.

For once I took the more optimistic line and said to him that I was confident a lot of thinking had been done on the lower level than the Chiefs of Staff. I instanced in support of this view that however unsatisfactory the position may have been at the top there was an almost incredible amount of first class work which had been done in connection with the 'Torch' operation and I was quite, sure that we would find the position rather better with regard to following it up than he, Cripps, thought it was.

I undertook to make a few enquiries to ascertain what had been done without disclosing to Cripps what my source of information would be.

Cripps in this conversation confirmed the view that I have been forming as the result of my relations with him, namely, that he has a first class brain, would be invaluable with his assistance in connection with any specific job, but has not the personality to put anything over with the Prime Minister.

S.M.B.

1 See Bruce's note of a conversation with Smuts on 3 November (on file AA:M100, November 1942).

2 See Document 58 and Bruce's notes of conversations with Attlee on 12 and 30 October (on file AA:M100, October 1942) and 4 November (on the file cited in note 1).

3 Following the U.K. War Cabinet's decision on 22 July that a second front could not be opened up in Western Europe during 1942 it was decided on 24 July to proceed with landings in French North Africa under the code name 'Torch'.

[AA:M100, NOVEMBER 1942]