9 Maj Gen H. L. Ismay, Chief of Staff to U.K. Minister of Defence, to Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London
Letter [LONDON], 4 July 1940
Since our talk yesterday morning, I have now had a look at the
telegram about which we spoke , and have discussed the matter
with my Staff. They point out that our inability to send a Fleet
to the Far East in the changed circumstances was emphasised in a
telegram to the Dominions, which was drafted by the Chiefs of
Staff as long ago as the 13th June (see Telegram No. Circular Z
No. 106, paragraph 9). 
It is, of course, perfectly true that, before the war, it had
always been our intention to despatch a Fleet to the Far East in
the event of serious trouble with Japan. It was said on various
occasions that if it came to a choice of jeopardising either our
Middle East and Mediterranean interests, or the security of the
Empire in the Far East, we should not hesitate to sacrifice the
former. I do not think anything has occurred to alter our point of
view on this.
At present, however, it is not this choice which confronts us.
Owing to the complete collapse of the French and the elimination
of their fleet, there would be nothing now to prevent the Italian
fleet from leaving the Mediterranean and entering the struggle in
the Atlantic and home waters, basing itself on French ports. The
despatch of a Fleet to the Far East, which would involve the
removal of our capital ships from the Mediterranean, would
therefore not only seriously jeopardise our position in the Middle
East, but would endanger the safety of this country and its vital
communications. This being so, it is clearly necessary for us to
make certain of defeating the immediate danger in home waters,
which is for the moment the decisive point, by concentrating our
forces in this area.
This situation, which we hope will be of short duration, does not
invalidate what was said in paragraph 5 of the Memorandum (Paper
No. D.M.V.(39)4) , which the present Prime Minister 
circulated to Dominion Ministers last November.
The important passage reads as follows:-
'However, should Japanese encroachment begin, or should Great
Britain pass into a state of war with Japan, the Admiralty would
make such preparatory dispositions as would enable them to offer
timely resistance either to the serious attack upon Singapore or
to the invasion of Australia and New Zealand. These dispositions
would not necessarily take the form of stationing a fleet at
Singapore, but would be of a character to enable the necessary
concentrations to be made to the eastward in ample time to prevent
The arguments which the Chiefs of Staff would put forward may be
summarily stated as follows: Japan cannot undertake a serious
invasion of Australia so long as:-
(a) The British Fleet (wherever it may be) is in being: and
(b) Singapore is secure.
The first condition still holds good, and it is to ensure the
second condition that the Chiefs of Staff have asked Australia to
send a Division and two Squadrons of aircraft to Malaya.
We could very easily arrange for you to have a discussion with the
Chiefs of Staff on the whole question, if you so desired. In that
event, I feel sure that the discussion would be far more
profitable if you were to let us have a short note on the
particular points which you wished considered.
Alternatively, since the problem is almost exclusively a Naval
one, I wonder if you would not get better value out of a talk with
the First Sea Lord.  If you will let me know what you would
like, I will arrange it for you.
I ought to add that the telegram on the position in the Middle
East, which you mentioned in our talk this morning, was completed
by the Chiefs of Staff last night, and has today, I think, been
despatched to the Dominions. 
H. L. ISMAY
1 Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. III,
2 ibid., Document 376. As deciphered in Canberra the relevant
paragraph was no. 8.
3 In PRO: ADM 1/11062.
4 Winston S. Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty.
5 Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound.
6 Document 8.
[PRO: CAB 21/893]