214 Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister, to Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London

Cablegram unnumbered 8 May 1940,


Reference Norwegian position, we were and are naturally disturbed and think effect on prestige most serious but as we had no detailed facts upon which to base opinion we preferred to express none. At the same time feel strongly that authorities in Great Britain open to serious criticism for the handling of the Norwegian news. Even after evacuation had been practically decided upon and notified to us, both B.B.C. and Cable services continued to publish optimistic accounts of Allied victories around Trondheim and Namsos. We did our best to discourage criticism by a statement at this end but this had little effect having regard to nature of broadcasts and cables. Result is that when evacuations publicly announced there was most adverse public reaction and criticism of conduct of war, which has not only gravely shaken belief in B.B.C. official news but has also unnecessarily affected morale.

I want you to inform Government of this and also to emphasise that public want facts and can take them. Should add that B.B.C.

announcement that QUEEN MARY at Capetown when hundreds of thousands of Australians were seeing her daily in Sydney Harbour has had similarly bad effect. Likewise B.B.C. announcement that Australian destroyers at Alexandria, when we have all along suppressed this news at request of Admiralty, puts us in foolish position. [1]

Reference Italy and your telegrams 297 and 298 [2], I have had exhaustive discussion in War Cabinet. [3] Agree with your view and while favouring preserving Mediterranean peace as long as possible would regard prompt action against Italy in the event of Italian attack upon Yugoslavia as essential. Chiefs of Staff appreciation [4] supplied to us is very meagre but if Naval success in Mediterranean could be reasonably anticipated and adequate steps were taken to deal effectively with Italian air forces around Red Sea would anticipate that the intervention of Italy should lead to the loss of Italian Empire in Africa and might, in the long run, turn out to be a great source of weakness to Germany. For us to do nothing in the event of Italian invasion of Yugoslavia would surely be to weaken the spirit of resistance in all the Balkan countries and render Turkish action extremely dubious. With the Balkans absorbed and Turkey out, our whole position in Middle East and down to India would be menaced. Quite convinced that a prompt retaliation upon Italy with hard hitting and no apologies would work wonders in South-eastern Europe and might well tip scale in Spain, the importance of which should not be under-estimated.

Are you satisfied that British diplomacy and intelligence in neutral countries, all of whom should be regarded as potential enemies and as the subject of Nazi activities and infiltration, are sufficiently vigorous? It is difficult for us at this distance to understand why allies should be compelled to make landings at unsuitable places in Norway with inadequate material unless British Intelligence in Norway was hopelessly defective.

Similarly, we still feel that in Southern and South-eastern Europe our activities may be conducted on conventional and genteel lines with insufficient realisation that we are dealing with people who act first and argue afterwards.

I have no sympathy with kind of newspaper manhunt that is now going on in England and think it represents the very kind of hysteria which it is Hitler's strategy to create. But at the same time there is a real criticism of the kind indicated above and it must be recognised if the spirit of our people is to be kept high.


1 This question was discussed by War Cabinet on 7 May 1940. (See AA: A2673, vol. 2, Minute 261.) 2 Documents 197 and 198.

3 See AA: A2673, vol. 2, Minutes 256, 257 (Document 193), 260 (Document 212) and 262.

4 See Document 210.

[AA: A1608, A41/1/1, ix]