177 Mr R. G. Casey, Minister to the United States, to Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister, and to Mr J. McEwen, Minister for External Affairs

Cablegram 324 WASHINGTON, 17 October 1940, 1 a.m.


I saw the President [1] today. He said he wanted to keep 'up his sleeve' for the present proposal to send some United States warships on trip to Australia and elsewhere.

The President said he had called off the normal autumn manoeuvres in the Pacific for the present so that he would have free hand a little later to send any part of the fleet where he wanted, [which] [2] could be called ['manoeuvres'].

Regarding staff conversations the President emphasized the undesirability of anything interpretable as commitment or indeed any publicity regarding collaboration on defence questions.

However he agreed at once with proposal for Commodore Boucher [3] to fly here and he suggested it should be ostensibly to investigate and expedite Australian orders in the United States in respect of Australian naval requirements. If he can get here and have private talks on naval matters of mutual interest without any publicity at all, so much the better. The President desires that he does not arrive here before 5th November.

The President said he had asked the British Ambassador [4] to say to Churchill that he hoped and prayed that no part of the British fleet would get caught and 'bottled up' in the Mediterranean and suggested for their consideration that substantial units (he said 'say up to eight capital ships with some cruisers and a few destroyers') of the British Navy should reinforce Singapore before long. He mentioned the new British battleships that would be commissioned in the next few months and said he could not see that there was much function for capital ships in North Atlantic waters in present circumstances.

He said by January they would have completed fitting of demagnetization equipment to all units of the United States Navy in the Pacific to make them more or less immune from danger from magnetic mines. Ships have been returning to San Diego in batches for the purpose.

The number of supply and ammunition ships from the United States mainland to Hawaii had already been much increased. It is believed that this fact will become known to the Japanese.

The President said he had it in mind, if the British Empire got into war with Japan before the United States, to institute two lines of naval aircraft patrol with the object of keeping informed of all movements of Japanese vessels. The northern of these patrol lines would be roughly on line of present Clipper service Hawaii to Philippines, and southerly patrol would be Hawaii to Samoa from which place he hoped we would carry it on to Australia or New Guinea.

I subsequently called on Colonel Knox, the Secretary of the Navy, who said he would like to have his officers talk privately and confidentially with Boucher.

He also mentioned northern and southern patrol lines ((i) Honolulu-Philippines and (2) Honolulu-Samoa-Fiji-Noumea-Thursday Island-Singapore) with light fast naval craft and aircraft. With reference to the southern line he spoke of Australia patrolling north-west from Noumea and United States north-east from Noumea.

Speaking completely confidentially Knox, whom I have got to know quite well, said there was no doubt in his mind that Roosevelt would win election and that once the election was over many things could and would be done that could not be done now. He is very much on our side and has intense antipathy to Japanese. [1] called on the Secretary of State. [5] He said stopping of shore leave for the Navy was a gesture they were keeping 'on ice.' I gathered there was discussion on whether the United States should cut off silk imports from Japan or recommend their nationals to evacuate the Far East and decided on the latter. Presumably silk sanction is still possibility.

I emphasized fear of Japanese getting [privileges in] Thailand potential[ly] dangerous to Singapore. The Secretary of State said they had found it impossible to get Thailand to heed United States warnings.

Please advise me about Boucher. He might bring all major information about New Zealand as well as Australian air information. I suggest he travel as Mister with no uniform. We would be glad if he would stay with us. I suggest not sending military officer at present. Presumably I can get Goble [6] here if required.


1 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

2 Words in square brackets have been corrected from the Washington copy on file AA:A3300, 38.

3 Second Naval Member, Commonwealth Naval Board.

4 Lord Lothian.

5 Cordell Hull.

6 Liaison Officer to the Empire Air Training Scheme in Canada.

[AA:A1608, A41/1/5, ii]