Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner to Australia, to Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Letter CANBERRA, 30 October 1939


On the 9th September I sent to you a copy of my Government’s telegram No. 191 of the 8th September, containing certain suggestions as to naval, army and air force co-operation in the present war.

As regards paragraph 4 of this telegram, relating to naval co- operation, enquiry was subsequently made of the Commonwealth Government through their High Commissioner in London [2] whether they would be prepared to allow five destroyers of the Royal Australian Navy to proceed to Singapore to replace United Kingdom destroyers and undergo intensive training. The Commonwealth Government agreed to this proposal, adding that owing to the international situation it was contemplated that, should Far Eastern complications arise, all Australian vessels would return forthwith to Australian waters, which is their pre-arranged station in an Eastern war. [3]

The Admiralty have since been in telegraphic communication with the Commonwealth Navy Office as to the possibility of the movement of the Australian destroyers from Singapore to the Mediterranean.

It is understood that the Commonwealth Government would be prepared to agree to such a movement, though with some misgiving, having regard to (a) the dearth of suitable anti-submarine vessels in Australian waters, (b) the possibility of the extension of submarine operations to these waters, and (c) the possibility of serious deterioration in the situation in the Far East as regards both Japan and Russia. [4] In these circumstances I have been requested by my Government to make the following communication to the Commonwealth Government:-

(1) While Germany remains the only enemy, U-boat activity in Australian waters is considered by the United Kingdom authorities to be most unlikely, and the greatest threat to Australian shipping from submarine attack is expected to be in home waters and in the Atlantic. The only form of attack on shipping in Australian waters which the United Kingdom authorities consider probable is by an enemy surface raider.

(2) The Admiralty would accordingly propose the following movements, which they feel would be to mutual advantage:-

(a) the R.A.N. destroyers to be available for service in the Mediterranean;

(b) two C. or D. Class cruisers to be sent to Australia.

(3) As regards (b) in the preceding paragraph, these cruisers are suitable ships for operations against an armed merchant cruiser type of raider and have over one-third greater endurance than V.

and W. Class destroyers. The two cruisers could leave the United Kingdom next month.

(4) Although in the event of Japanese or Soviet intervention it is considered doubtful whether submarines of those countries would be sent to Australian waters, the anxiety of the Commonwealth Government on this account is fully appreciated. In such a contingency, therefore, the R.A.N. destroyers would either be returned or be relieved by ships of the Royal Navy fitted for anti-submarine operations.

My Government would be grateful if they could receive at the earliest possible moment the observations of the Commonwealth Government on the above proposals.



1 Document 214.

2 S.M. Bruce. The request was communicated to Canberra in cablegram 516 from Bruce to Menzies, 2 October 1939, not printed (on file AA: A461, AB 337/1/5).

3 War Cabinet agreed to the proposal on 6 October 1939 (see AA:

A2673, vol. 1, 6 October 1939, Minute 16) and Bruce was advised the same day by an unnumbered cablegram, not printed (on file AA:

A461, AB 337/1/5) 4 See War Cabinet Minute 42, 17 October 1939, on AA: A2673, vol.



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