186 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, of Meeting of Dominion High Commissioners

Extract LONDON, 29 April 1940

ITALY

The latest information is that Mussolini is unlikely to take any immediate action. Two British battleships and French Naval Forces are moving from Gibraltar to Alexandria. The 'Ramilles' is being brought to Gibraltar. Reinforcements are being brought from India to Egypt and certain dispositions are being taken in North Africa.

We had some discussion as to the Allies' attitude in the event of Italy taking action against the Dalmatian coast of Yugo-Slavia.

I had been under the impression that the Allies had definitely come to the conclusion that in these circumstances it would be impossible to do nothing and that they would declare war upon Italy. To my surprise Eden [1] maintained that no definite decision had been taken and that the whole position is still fluid.

I maintained very strongly that this was a vital decision that must be arrived at in anticipation of the event. I pointed out that if we had not arrived at that political decision any counter action would be hopelessly delayed. I pointed out that if we could get a decision by the British Cabinet and agreement with the French on this question within 24 hours after Italy had acted, we should be extremely lucky.

The decision as to what military action had to be taken would involve a further delay after the political decision had been arrived at with the result that probably days would elapse before anything effective could be done. I stressed the urgency of an early decision. [2]

1 U.K. Dominions Secretary.

2 On 1 May 1940 Bruce discussed with Eden a memorandum (printed as Document 197) setting out the arguments for and against an immediate declaration of war on Italy. Eden gave a copy of the memorandum to the U.K. Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, who in turn gave a copy to the French Govt 'for them to ponder'. (See Bruce's note of meeting with Eden on file AA: M100, May 1940 and Halifax's letter to Bruce of 1 May on file AA: M103, January-June 1940.)

[AA: M100, APRIL 1940]