Mr R.G. Casey, Minister for Supply and Development, to Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Cablegram C4 LONDON, 5 November 1939


Following are the most important matters that have emerged so far:

Germany has 130 Divisions and can probably produce up to 160.

France has 114.

Britain has 5 Divisions in France and will have a total of 10 in France within 6 months. Britain aiming to have a total of 51, from her own and Empire sources. Is organising for productive capacity to equip this number.

France is pressing strongly for additions to British land forces in France. Britain most anxious to increase Empire land forces in France as rapidly as possible in order to hearten the French.

Land figures of 160,000 British troops in France has not impressed the French public, which has been informed that France has mobilised a total of 4 million men. While this figure probably true, it includes, besides 100 Divisions, reserve troops and military guards at innumerable vulnerable points throughout the whole of France.

Strategic point of great consequence made by the Chiefs-of-Staff is that the French frontier which the Germans have to watch is only from Luxemburg to Basle-which is only about 175 miles-whereas the frontier which France and Britain have to watch is from the sea at Dunkirque(?) south-east to Luxemburg and on to Basle-a distance of 400 miles. This is by reason of the fact that the Germans know the Allies will not invade Belgium, whereas the Allies anticipate Germany will do so, This, in effect, enables Germany to concentrate any sector of their own choosing-having 2 to 1 superiority in land forces over the Allies.

Britain and France have welcomed the inactivity on Western Front by reason of the opportunity to press on with the organising of their war measures. In addition, if inactivity continues throughout the Winter, some of the smaller countries may regain the confidence which was shattered by Germany overrunning Poland and may be rallied to the cause. Unless Germany attacks within the next fortnight it is believed there will be no land operations of consequence until the European Spring.

All efforts are being made to be ready for whatever may develop by then.

There is no firm opinion as to whether Germany will go through Holland and/or Belgium. Even if she does, the Maginot Line between Luxemburg and the sea is reasonably well organised. Experience of war in Poland emphasised the absolute necessity to base resistance against the German tactics by closely coordinating intensive attack by land and air forces on strongly fortified line. Allied land forces win not advance ahead of the Maginot Line unless they can occupy similar fortified line in Belgium. It is regarded as absolutely essential that Germany should not break through our line in France-which would be regarded as a calamity and would enable Germans to employ the same tactics as in Poland.

The French Government has recently asked the British Government to consider the question of Allied war aims with a view to announcement.

Chamberlain [1] is reluctant as he does not believe it possible to say anything now that would be other than broad generalisation which would be either obvious or meaningless to the public.

On the way through Paris, the British Embassy told me that the French public reacted strongly against the statement that the Allied aim was confined to the destruction of Hitlerism. Memories of 1870 and 1914 still strong.

I have been asked on several occasions how soon we can get our special division over this side of the world, and I have replied that this depends on the Japanese situation and on the British plans for the reinforcing of Singapore by an adequate force of capital ships. The British Government is in consequence cabling the British Embassies at Tokio and China and Washington in order to have an up-to-date appreciation of the Japanese position-which expected within 10 days. They are also considering the Singapore position and will let us know as soon as possible. I will definitely cable you at once further information regarding Japan and Singapore.

I may say Chiefs-of-Staff, Britain, appreciation is that immediate danger to Australia and New Zealand from Japan is remote, but that even if Japan were to adopt aggressive policy against Allies this would most likely be directed against the Allied interests on the Chinese mainland.

They clearly want us to send a Division as soon as possible, both for added strength that it would provide and also for the moral effect-which they rate highly. Their tentative suggestion is that our Division should go to Egypt or Palestine at the earliest possible moment for training-thus relieving the British Divisions in this area. They would provide equipment such as Bren guns, anti-tank guns, etc. that our Division would lack, but desire that we should bring artillery equipment.

I should also tell you that their hope is that we should despatch a second Division, making an Australian Corps as soon as we can.

Canada is arranging transportation of their first Division to the United Kingdom beginning the first week in December. India is sending a Division to Egypt and a Brigade group to Burma and another to the Persian Gulf.

Air: Germany has two to one numerical superiority over Britain and France in Air Forces. There appears to be reason to believe that British aircraft are superior to German, but German numerical superiority is in doubt and is disappearing. On information so far it appears that the combined British/French aircraft production probably now rather more than German and this is expected to increase in the Allies’ favour.

Practical inactivity of all combatant air forces up to date is apparently due to the desire not being charged with the responsibility of being the first to kill. If one side advances other side will retaliate immediately.

According to German airmen prisoners, they were instructed to bomb only warships at anchor at Rosyth and to avoid the Forth bridge and the vessels at wharves and quays.

Said here that Germans are very anxious about our bombing the Ruhr area in which three-quarters of their vital heavy industries are located. The vulnerability of the Ruhr is thought to be one reason why Germany may hesitate to invade Belgium-distance from England to the Ruhr is much reduced flying over Belgium.

Radio Physics: Long range seaward spotter apparently in activity and successful operation here. But I gather other applications not yet in practical use. More about this later.

Navy: Suggest you get from Navy Office location of British warships. Admiralty believe no German warships are at present moment out of German ports.

Northcott [2] and I are going to France on Thursday evening 9th November, arriving back in London Monday night.


_1 Neville Chamberlain, U.K. Prime Minister.

2 Maj Gen J. Northcott, Deputy Chief of the General Staff and military adviser to Casey.