Mr A. Eden, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner to Australia

Cablegram 191 (extracts) LONDON, 8 September 1939


In accordance with suggestions from the Prime Ministers of Canada and New Zealand, defence authorities here have put forward suggestions as to possibilities of Naval, Army and Air Force co- operation which we should like to see those Dominions affording in the present war.

2. As a result of consultation with Bruce [1] we understand that he is telegraphing to his Government to the effect that he has asked that similar suggestions should be drawn up as regards the Commonwealth and that you will be in a position to communicate details to the Commonwealth authorities. You should accordingly communicate the following outline. [2]

NAVY 3. The following suggestions are based on the assumption that Japan will be neutral.

4. H.M.A.S. Perth has already been under Admiralty orders and it would be appreciated if a second cruiser and 5 R.A.N. Destroyers could also be lent for service other than on Australian Station.

So long as Japan remains neutral it is considered that Australian waters may be regarded as unlikely to suffer submarine attack.

[Matter omitted. This and subsequent omissions referred to details of defence planning outside the concerns of this volume.]

5. The most likely danger to be guarded against on Australian Station under present circumstances is that of attack on shipping by armed raiders. It is considered that two cruisers and H.M.A.S.

Australia (when ready) should prove adequate for this purpose.

6. Proposals put forward previously to Australia with regard to acquiring a capital ship can no longer be considered (? owing to our) immediate requirements.

7. As regards naval personnel we should like to avail ourselves of the services of the following:-

(a) trained naval reserves surplus to Australian requirements to be made available to the Royal Navy.

(b) officers recruited from civil life, viz. trained civil pilots for service in the fleet air arm, and yachtsmen or ex-mercantile marine officers suitable for R.N.V.R. commissions.

(c) telegraphists and signalmen, artificers of all kinds, scientists-electrical and w/t for signal school, and skilled electrical workmen, recruited from civil life.

It would be appreciated if Commonwealth Government could furnish approximate numbers of personnel likely to be immediately available under above categories, and could indicate capacity for increasing the numbers of trained personnel that will become available as the war progresses.

8. It is presumed that Australia will take up and equip two local A.M.C.s in addition to three A.M.C.s now fitting out in Australia and that manning commitments for all these ships can be met locally.

9. It is hoped that Commonwealth Government will be able to meet all requirements for D.E.M.S. staffs at Australian posts and will assist in the provision of gun-layers (D.E.M.S.).

10. It is hoped that Australia will be able to meet requirements in mines and local defence equipment from local sources. It would be of further assistance if Australia could indicate whether she could meet any requirements of New Zealand and eastern parts of the Empire.

11. We should be grateful if the possibility of increasing the facilities of Cockatoo Island for building destroyers and escort vessels may be examined; and if building in private yards of whale catchers and trawlers for local defence may be considered. The extent of the requirements for trawlers is large and cannot yet be estimated.

ARMY 12. Recommendations are based on two alternative hypotheses:-

(a) That Japan is not only neutral but adopting a friendly attitude towards the democratic countries.

(b) That Japan is neutral and reserving her attitude towards democratic countries.

13. Under hypothesis (a) while hoping that war may be of short duration we must prepare for a long war that will call for employment of all our resources. We therefore hope that Australia will exert her full national effort including preparation of her forces with a view to the despatch of an expeditionary force. It is not at present possible to make any suggestion to the Commonwealth Government as to the destination and composition of any expeditionary forces which they may see fit to provide.

14. The Commonwealth Government may like to consider whether they would prefer to relieve United Kingdom units and formations in, say, Singapore, Burma and India as and when brigades become available or whether they would prefer to delay despatch of suitable formations until complete divisions can be made available for a main theatre of war.

[matter omitted]

16. Under hypothesis (b), it might be thought unwise for Australia to despatch an expeditionary force overseas but the Commonwealth Government can assist by holding ready formations at short notice for reinforcement of Singapore, New Zealand, or British and French islands in the Western Pacific. [3]

AIR FORCE 17 At the present time the main weakness of the allies, vis-a-vis Germany, is in respect of their air strength. It is extremely important that we should do everything in our power to reduce this discrepancy as rapidly as possible and we look to the Dominions, whose resources lie outside the range of any German bombers, to ensure that this is achieved.

18. There are three possible ways by which this could be done:-

(a) The direct despatch to Great Britain of complete units of R.A.A.F.

(b) The substitution of Australian for U.K. squadrons overseas e.g. Singapore, thus releasing latter for home service.

(c) The supply of aircraft, material and trained personnel from Dominion resources.

19. Having regard to the requirements of local defence and to the fact that, as a result of delays in the production of certain types of aircraft in England, the squadrons in Australia are still equipped with obsolescent types and cannot reinforce Singapore by air, we do not recommend either (a) or (b) in the preceding paragraph as an immediate course of action.

20. We should however like the proposal in (b) to be carried out as soon as appropriate Australian squadrons have completed their re-equipment. We also suggest that Australian pilots and crews now in England waiting to fly the first Sunderlands to Australia should be allowed to remain, together with their aircraft, at our disposal. This assistance would be most valuable in view of our immediate requirements for trade protection.

21. With regard to proposal (c) we are aware that the Commonwealth Government have drawn up an agreed programme for the expansion of their air force. This was, however, a long term project to be developed in peace and we consider the present situation calls for a change, assuming that the immediate object is now to assist Great Britain in the European theatre.


1 S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London.

2 On 9 September 1939 this cablegram was sent by R.R. Sedgwick, Official Secretary of U.K. High Commission in Australia, to F.

Strahan, Secretary of Prime Minister’s Department, who placed it immediately before the Prime Minister, R.G. Menzies.

3 After discussions between Menzies, G.A. Street, Minister for Defence, F.G. Shedden, Secretary of Defence Department, and the Chiefs of Staff, it was agreed that the Chiefs of Staff should submit considered opinions on the suggestion relating to their respective services, for consideration at the first meeting of War Cabinet. (See Defence: Special Collection 1, SR i/1, box 384, Strategical Appreciation in relation to Empire Co-operation and Local Defence.)


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