282 War Cabinet Submission by Mr A. W. Fadden, Acting Minister for Defence Co-ordination

Agendum 61/1941 11 February 1941

MOST SECRET

SINGAPORE CONFERENCE REPORT-MODIFICATION OF AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND NAVAL DISPOSITIONS

Dispositions proposed in Report of Singapore Defence Conference 1. In the report of the Singapore Defence Conference, 1940, the following observations were made in regard to the Naval Forces required in Australian and New Zealand waters in the event of war with Japan:-

'As regards Australian and New Zealand waters, assuming that air reconnaissance will be available in the focal areas, and that it is probable we shall be informed if Japanese forces pass through the Netherlands East Indies to the westward, the following naval forces are considered necessary:-

(i) South-East Australia Two 8" cruisers, one 6" cruiser.

(ii) South-West Australia Two 6" cruisers.

(iii) New Zealand Two 6" cruisers.

Note: Australian destroyers will be required for troop convoy A/S [1] escorts in Australian and New Zealand waters.

This will leave only one old 6" cruiser and three A.M.Cs. [2] available from Australian and New Zealand forces for convoy and trade protection further afield. No naval forces can be provided for Darwin.' It was stated that- 'the minimum naval forces considered necessary to safeguard our essential commitments in Australian and New Zealand waters can be provided by the return of Australian and New Zealand naval forces now serving overseas, but this is only on the assumption that adequate air forces are maintained in the focal areas, which they are not at present.' 2. No assessment was made by the Conference of the forces that would be required in the Indian Ocean beyond the statement that Capital ship escort for troop convoys would be essential, and that the provision of aircraft was an urgent requirement. The conclusion of the Conference in relation to the Indian Ocean was expressed in the following terms:-

'The position in the Indian Ocean is dependent on the arrival of naval reinforcements from elsewhere, as it will among other things be necessary to replace the Australian and New Zealand ships now on that Station.

The early provision of air forces in the Indian Ocean is essential.'

Modification of dispositions 3. The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs [3], in cablegram No. 50 of 28th January (copy attached-Annex 'A') [4], states that the United Kingdom Government's military advisers, after review of the dispositions of naval forces proposed in the report of the Singapore Defence Conference, have recommended that the Commonwealth and New Zealand Governments be invited to consider the possibility of modification of the proposed dispositions. The main considerations emphasised by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff are as follows:-

(a) They agree with the view of the conference that the possibility of a major expedition against the Commonwealth and New Zealand can be ruled out initially.

(b) They consider that the main defence of the whole British Commonwealth in the Far East is the maintenance of the security of Singapore and of sea communications through the Indian Ocean between that base and the United Kingdom.

Security of sea communications through the Indian Ocean is also vital to the Commonwealth and to New Zealand both as regards maintenance of supplies between the Commonwealth and New Zealand and United Kingdom and the maintenance of Commonwealth and New Zealand forces now serving in the Middle East.

(c) They feel that adoption of a less 'local' allocation of Commonwealth and New Zealand naval forces in the contingency envisaged would facilitate protection of vital communications referred to above.

4. The general views of the United Kingdom Government's military advisers on the report of the Singapore Defence Conference 1940 are embodied in cablegram No. 49 of 28th January, 1941 (copy attached-Annex 'B'). [5]

Recommendation of Chiefs of Staff 5. The Chiefs of Staff have considered the above proposals, and their views are embodied in the attached draft reply which they submit for transmission to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Annex 'C'). [6] 6. The Chiefs of Staff subscribe to the principles set out in paragraph 3 (a) above, but they consider that the implications of paragraphs 3 (b) and 3 (c) have not yet been fully considered by all defence authorities in the Far East, and propose that this should be done at the forthcoming Conference at Singapore. Before the Conference takes place, however, they consider that certain aspects of the Naval strategic plan should be considered by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff, and they put forward important considerations relating, inter alia, to the passage of United States naval forces to Singapore and the necessity of maintaining control of the Tasman Sea area. These are quoted in paragraph 5 of Annex 'C'.

7. The Chiefs of Staff are unable to dissent from the general conclusion of the Singapore Conference on this matter, i.e. that the minimum naval forces considered necessary in Australian and New Zealand waters can be provided only by the return of all Australian and New Zealand naval forces now serving overseas. They consider that the main disposition of these forces should be in the Tasman Sea area, with regular allocation of cruisers for convoy escort, at any rate until U.S.A. has shown her hand.

Submission to War Cabinet 8. The proposals of the United Kingdom Government for modification of naval dispositions envisaged in the report of the Singapore Defence Conference, and the recommendations of the Chiefs of Staff, are submitted for consideration by War Cabinet. [7]

A. W. FADDEN

1 Anti-submarine.

2 Armed merchant cruiser.

3 Lord Cranborne.

4 & 5 Not printed. See AA:A2671, 61/1941.

6 Not printed. See AA:A2671, 61/1941 for the text of Annex C and for War Cabinet Minute 790 of 12 February which contained amendments to the Chiefs of Staff's draft. The cablegram which was finally sent to Cranborne is printed as Document 285.

7 On 30 January Fadden informed R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister, then in Calcutta on his way to London, that he had arranged for Cranborne to send the text of cablegrams 49 and 50 to Cairo for Menzies to see (unnumbered cablegram, AA:A3196, 1941, 0.1190). On 7 February Menzies replied: 'After studying Dominions Office telegrams 49 and 50 I am of the opinion that, after consultation with the Service Ministers, you should advise the Dominions Office to the effect that the Commonwealth Government is prepared to further examine naval dispositions and preparation of plans for additional reinforcements for Singapore in a grave emergency provided that in both cases no commitment is involved and any decision will be taken at the time in the light of circumstances.

The earlier suggestion for Defence talks at Singapore will afford an opportunity for dealing with these questions also.' See unnumbered cablegram on file AA:A1608, AA27/1/1.

[AA:A2671, 61/1941 AND SUPPLEMENT 1]