Mr S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Cablegram 441 LONDON, 9 September 1939, 11.34 p.m.


In my view, and this I have stressed to all members of the War Cabinet I have been able to see today, the most urgent question for consideration is attitude and method of stating our position in the event of the situation developing down the lines of Ciano’s statement (see Dominions Office telegram No 331, paragraph 7, mediation [1]) which in my opinion is what will happen. I have stated that, in the event of decision being to stand fast and for the French and British to refuse any suggestions of mediation, negotiation or compromise, I have no doubt Australia would support such action. I made it clear, however, that before such a decision was taken and we were asked to support it we would expect that all that such a decision involved would have been exhaustively examined and that the United Kingdom Government would have satisfied itself that the circumstances which would arise could be met.

In order to clarify the issues involved, I have submitted the following questionnaire.

In view of the possibility of early defeat of Poland following points have to be considered:

(1) Is it contemplated that any steps can be taken which would force the Germans to retain in the East forces beyond those necessary to contain Poland and to ensure the neutrality of Rumania? (2) Is an early success by the Germans in Poland likely to influence the Turks to refrain from completing agreements with the United Kingdom and ‘France and to adopt an attitude of strict neutrality? (3) Will an early success by Germany against Poland determine Mussolini to come down on the side of those leaders in Italy who desire that Italy should come into the war taking the German side? (4) How far can the Spaniards’ neutrality be relied on, particularly in view of the Ambassador at Rome’s communication of 8th September, see Stirling’s cable? [2]

(5) How serious is the danger of Japan’s attempting to fish in troubled waters and how far would such a danger be offset by the fact that a move by Japan might lead to United States intervention? (6) In view of the apparent probability that Germany will suffer a relatively small diminution in her man-power and equipment as the result of the Polish campaign, how many divisions is it contemplated that she could transfer to the Western Front? (7) Is it considered that the Maginot Line is impregnable, irrespective of number of German divisions available and the lessons the Polish campaign has taught us as to the power of a strong air force against ground troops and communications in interfering with reinforcements and supplies? (8) Assuming the Maginot Line on the German and French border is impregnable, is it considered probable that the Germans will attempt an attack through the Netherlands and/or Belgium? (9) Assuming an attack through the Netherlands and/or Belgium, how long is it estimated [it] would take the Germans to transfer the necessary number of additional divisions from the Eastern to the Western Front? (10) After such attack develops, how much resistance is it estimated could be offered to it by the Netherlands opening the dykes and flooding the country and by armed resistance and Belgium by armed resistance? (11) How far is it contemplated that Anglo-French assistance could be given in relatively open warfare that would take place in Belgium? (12) Is immediate and extensive action being taken to strengthen the Maginot Line between France and Belgium from the Ardennes to the Coast? (13) Is it estimated that serious operations between Germany and the Anglo-French forces would develop before the winter? If so, have the French and British sufficient divisions plus the necessary co-operation available to hold the Germans? (14) How far would the British forces be sufficient to take such a reasonable proportion of the line of resistance to active German attack as to avoid dissatisfaction on the part of the French as to the share of the burden they were carrying? (15) At what pace is it estimated that British divisions can be equipped to reinforce Anglo-French forces in France? (16) With Italy in, would it be contemplated that any attack would be developed by the French on the French-Italian border? (17) Conversely is it contemplated that any German-Italian attack would be developed against France? (18) How far would the necessity of reinforcing Egypt reduce the number of troops available for France? (19) To what extent would our power to wage economic warfare be diminished by dominating position the Germans will hold in the East enabling them to exercise irresistible pressure on the Danubian countries including unrestricted river transport of supplies? My own impression is that an examination of all the above points plus such others as emerge will be to show an extremely serious and difficult position, but one the United Kingdom and France can and must face with recognition that it means being prepared for a protracted war and that decision will be to stand fast and refuse to entertain any suggestion of mediation or negotiation.

In the event of such a decision, a statement making the position of the United Kingdom clear beyond the possibility of any misunderstanding will probably be made if time permits before any suggestion of mediation or negotiation is made.

At the same time statement of our war aims will also probably be made down lines which would appeal to public opinion in neutral countries particularly the United States.



1 Cablegram B331 from U.K. Dominions Secretary, 8 September 1939, not printed (on file AA:A1608, A41/1/1, iv). Paragraph 7 reported that the ltalian Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, had told Sir Percy Loraine, the U.K. Ambassador to Italy, that when Warsaw fell Hitler would probably ask the United Kingdom and France whether they wished to continue the war, and that refusal of a peace offer would be the direst calamity for Europe.

2 Cablegram 440 Of 9 September 1939 from A.T. Stirling, External Affairs Officer in London, not printed (on file FA:A2937, European Situation). The Ambassador, Sir Percy Loraine, referred-to the forthcoming visit of General Franco to Italy, and the possibility of a joint Italo-Spanish definition of attitudes; he commented that ‘we cannot yet assume that result would be a welcome one’.


[AA:A981, WAR 45B, i]