Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin, First Naval Member, Naval Board, to Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse, U.K. First Sea Lord

Cablegram 1700/14 MELBOURNE, 14 March 1939, 5 p.m.


For your very confidential information. I understand High Commissioner Bruce [1] has informed Australian Cabinet that in his opinion Great Britain will be unable to send capital ship forces to Singapore in event of war with Japanese while at war in Europe. Am vigorously confuting this view as opportunity offers but hope to use it to advocate Australian capital ships. One major difficulty is that possible Australian capital ship not available until 1943. While appreciating fully all the disadvantages and while I have naturally made no such suggestions here, suggest following for your consideration (a) offer of loan of existing capital ship for delivery this year if possible, or next year by which time present shortage will be less acute, on understanding new ship will be purchased when complete.

(b) in making offer at (a) make further offer maintaining another capital ship in eastern waters.

I believe that this offer would greatly encourage purchase of capital ships by Australia.

(c) make proposal that third capital ship be purchased and maintained in eastern waters by combination of other Dominions and Colonies mostly concerned.

Following comments on above proposals are offered (i) arrangements at (a) and/or (c) would relieve financial strain on Great Britain.

(ii) offer if made should emphasise financial burden of Great Britain which is not fully realised here, and should if possible stress substantially increased security for Australia.

(iii) provision of capital ships would probably also result in early provision of Dry Dock.

(iv) Australia to maintain loan capital ship until replaced.

Danger in effect of Bruce’s views lies in Australia turning to military self dependence, which though in my opinion illusory and impossible, is attractive to uninstructed public opinion.


1 S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, then in Australia for consultation.


[PRO : ADM 1/9831]