Department of External Affairs to Mr A.T. Stirling, External Affairs Officer in London

Cablegram 17 29 March 1939,

Reference personal telegram Prime Minister to Lyons 21St. March [1] giving assurance about capital ships based on Singapore in regard to which Minister [2] desires you to obtain amplification and clarification from Horace Wilson. [3]

At Cabinet meeting yesterday Bruce [4] reinforced by view of Admiral Colvin [5] stated opinion that on outbreak of European war and until German pocket battleships were eliminated from high seas it could not be anticipated any capital ships would be sent to Far East, an underlying assumption being that Japan would not automatically engage in war on side of European powers but would delay in opening hostilities.

It will be appreciated that it is imperative from point of view our defence policy and preparations that we should know as definitely as possible what the position is, what is basis for any assumption about Japanese action or delay in participation and the nature of any decision made on this question.

In this latter respect it would rather seem that on broad strategical and political grounds we might have to meet immediate attack from Japan.


1 This refers to Document 46, which would have been received in Canberra on 21 March 1939.

2 W.M. Hughes, Minister for External Affairs.

3 Sir Horace Wilson, adviser to the U.K. Prime Minister.

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

5 Chief of the Naval Staff.


[AA: A981, DEFENCE 59, i]