359 War Cabinet Minute

Minute 325 MELBOURNE, 11 June 1940

STRATEGICAL APPRECIATION IN RELATION TO EMPIRE CO-OPERATION AND LOCAL DEFENCE

(The three Chiefs of Staff were present for the discussion of this subject).

Consequent upon Italy's entry into the war on 11th June there arose from the Chiefs of Staff's reports a general discussion on the strategical position in the light of the military situation in France and the outlook in the Mediterranean now that Italy is a belligerent.

In response to questions by Ministers, the following is a summary of the main expressions of opinion by the Chiefs of Staff:-

(i) In reply to the Minister for External Affairs [1] the Chief of the Air Staff [2] said that it would be impossible to use the Red Sea until the Italian air forces in the East African colonies had been rendered ineffective. The most likely manner in which this would be carried out would be by the destruction of air bases and petrol dumps and the denial of fuel supplies through the cutting off of importations.

(ii) In reply to an enquiry by the Treasurer [3] as to the naval strategical situation should France be defeated, the Chief of the Naval Staff [4] expressed the view that Britain would, in such event, have to withdraw from the Mediterranean, except for the use that could be made by entry through the eastern end at Port Said.

In the event of France's defeat, the enemy would probably base naval vessels on the French Atlantic ports and, should Spain and Portugal be brought in on the side of Germany and Italy, their ports might be used also. Should the war take such a course an entire recasting of naval strategy to meet the situation would be necessary.

(iii) The Chief of the General Staff [5] stated that, on the present basis of Allied naval strength, the local defence of Australia could be considered secondary to Empire co-operation, and he was of the opinion that the Army could provide a reasonable defence against raids.

The situation in Europe required a readjustment of the balance of the War Programme, with emphasis on the Air effort, as the Chief of the Naval Staff had already stated that Australia was doing all that is possible in the naval sphere. The Chief of the General Staff emphasized, however, that this did not mean there should be any diminution in the military effort of Australia, as troops would still be required and, even if the worst situation came to pass, as indicated by the Chief of the Naval Staff, troops would be necessary for the capture of enemy naval bases in order to deny their use to the enemy. It would also be necessary to ensure the security of our own bases for the full exercise of British naval power.

It was decided by War Cabinet that the Chiefs of Staff should furnish an appreciation of the position from the Australian point of view, along the following lines:-

(i) What new local problems arise as the result of the military situation.

(ii) What local military resources are available for offer to the United Kingdom.

(iii) What new local measures are necessary.

1 John McEwen.

2 Air Marshal Sir Charles Burnett.

3 P. C. Spender.

4 Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin.

5 General Sir Brudenell White.

[AA: A2673, VOL. 2]