212 Commonwealth Government to Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 627 1 December 1940,


The Commonwealth Government has considered the report of the Singapore Defence Conference [1] and is gravely concerned at the most serious position revealed in regard to the defence of Malaya and Singapore. We realize of course that the United Kingdom Government also has great interests at stake in the Eastern Hemisphere which are dependent on the security of Singapore as a capital ship base.

2. It is appreciated that the war has to be won in the main theatres of operation but it will be fully understood that the extent of Australian co-operation in overseas theatres is dependent on the Australian public's impression of the degree of local security that exists. It is realized that, with the defection of France and the advance of Japan southwards to Indo- China, the land and air threats to Malaya have greatly increased.

3. However, the advice received by the Commonwealth Government from the United Kingdom Government, particularly during the discussions in London in 1937, regarding the defence of Singapore, had led us to believe that the situation would have been much better. The following extracts from the Notes of Discussions in 1937 [2] summarize the assurances given to us:-

'Our policy was to render Singapore secure from military attack, using the term military in the broadest sense.' 'Our whole defence policy in the Far East was directed towards ensuring that Singapore would hold out.' 4. It would appear to be a sine qua non to American co-operation in the Pacific that Singapore should be as secure as we can make it if we are to expect them to base strong naval forces in that region.

5. In the three Squadrons we have made available for service at Singapore, we have done all we can to help in the air, and in the succeeding paragraphs an outline is given of the additional assistance that can be rendered, but we would urge immediate action to remedy deficiencies in Army and Air Forces both in numbers and equipment, which is all important, in view of inadequacy of Naval Forces.

6. If Imperial strategic considerations call for despatch of Australian troops to Malaya, the Commonwealth Government would be willing to make available a Brigade Group and necessary maintenance troops with modified scale of equipment only, for service in Malaya at an early date as a contribution to the deficiencies in the land forces. It is still considered preferable for Indian troops to be used for the reinforcement of Malaya for the reasons advanced against the despatch of A.I.F. troops to that region, in paragraph 2 of my cable No. 457 of 29th August, 1940.

[3] It is therefore desired that the Brigade Group should only be located in Malaya as a temporary measure whilst completing their training and until such time as the 8th Division A.I.F., of which they are part, can be concentrated in the Middle East, when they should be relieved by Indian troops. The scale of equipment to be supplied from Australia for the Brigade Group will be taken up direct with the War Office.

7. If the United Kingdom Government so desire, the Commonwealth Government will make available for immediate despatch to Malaya the following equipment and ammunition: such items to be additional to present commitments for supply of munitions to the United Kingdom:-

Rifles 2,000 S.A.A. .303 5,000,000 rounds S.A.A. Tracer 100,000 rounds S.A.A. Revolver .455 20,000 rounds Grenades No. 36 5,000 Grenades No. 63 5,000 Wireless sets No. 109 40 The Commonwealth Government are also prepared to make available against the order for A.A. guns for the United Kingdom Government an additional eight 3.7 inch guns. In view of deficiencies in anti-aircraft equipment at Malaya, it is suggested that consideration might be given to the diversion of these guns to Malaya. We also hope to be able to supply 3 inch mortar equipments for Malaya when these are available early in 1941.

8. We are in agreement with the recommendations of the Conference concerning the scheme of air defence, and are prepared to provide the necessary ground facilities within Commonwealth territory as far as is practicable. Aircraft concentrations in the strengths recommended are, however, not possible with aircraft at present available in Australia. The Commonwealth Government, therefore, presses the urgency of early allotment of modern Service types of aircraft required to implement the approved expansion of the R.A.A.F., details of which have already been supplied to the United Kingdom Government, 9. We note that the minimum Naval Forces, excluding local defence forces, required to safeguard essential commitments in Australian waters, in the event of war with Japan, can be provided by the return of the Australian Naval Forces now serving overseas, with the exception that, for troop convoys, a capital ship escort is required in the Indian Ocean. This is on the assumption that the scheme of air defence referred to in paragraph 8 above is proceeded with and adequate Air Forces are provided.

10. It is agreed that the shortage of anti-submarine and minesweeping vessels referred to in Part 3 paragraph 10 of the report could be made up from vessels building in Australia on Admiralty account, if the United Kingdom Government agree to such allocation. With regard to mines and depth charges, Commonwealth Government will render whatever assistance is possible, but this is dependent on creation of increased capacity for production of T.N.T. which is now being undertaken.

11. The financial liability for the measures to be taken by each Government to give effect to the decisions of the Conference should, it is suggested, be a matter for arrangement between the Governments concerned. [4]

1 Dated 31 October. See PRO:ADM 1/11183.

2 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. I, Document 47.

3 Document 84.

4 This cablegram was repeated to Peter Fraser, N.Z. Prime Minister, and to R. G. Casey, Minister to the United States, as nos 80 and 28 respectively. S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London was asked in cablegram 1418 of 1 December (on file AA:A1608, AA27/1/1) to see Cranborne's copy and give all possible support to the representations contained therein.

[AA:A3196, 1940, 0.9503]