285 Mr A. W. Fadden, Acting Prime Minister, to Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 87 12 February 1941,

Your cablegram No. 50 of 28th January [1] received through the United Kingdom High Commissioner [2]- Service advisers of His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia have most carefully considered the views put forward in your telegram referring to the Singapore Conference Report.

Part 1 of the Report surveys the problems and puts forward proposed plan to achieve our object. Unfortunately, the naval part of the plan was not completed, as the forces necessary in the Indian Ocean were not assessed (vide paragraphs 22 and 28).

Neither are dispositions of China Squadron shown in this section.

The only specific dispositions are those for Australian and New Zealand waters, and these are given rather baldly in specified areas.

The naval plan, therefore, as far as this report is concerned, is very incomplete, and makes it appear that Australian and New Zealand forces are allocated for certain narrow and closely defined local areas.

2. Further, as no plan for naval protection in the Indian Ocean is shown, it is not possible to compare the relative strengths of forces allocated as between south-western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The only forces mentioned regarding the latter are a battle cruiser and an aircraft carrier.

My Government is greatly concerned as to the naval strength which will be available in the latter area. We realise the difficulties with which you are confronted but would appreciate full statement from your Government as to naval force available there and any action proposed to augment it in event of hostilities with Japan.

It is important we should have as precise a statement as possible in order that we may make our own plans accordingly.

3. Referring to telegram No. 50, the Australian Service advisers subscribe to the principles set out in paragraph (A) but in their opinion the implications of paragraph 1 (B) and 1 (C) have not yet been set out or fully considered by all defence authorities in the Far East.

4. The Australian Chiefs of Staff consider that this should be done as soon as possible, and the forthcoming Conference at Singapore would be a suitable opportunity. Before this Conference, however, it is considered that certain aspects of the naval strategic plan should be put forward and considered by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff, so that the Conference can have all relevant directions and terms of reference before them.

5. The following considerations are therefore put forward by the Australian Chiefs of Staff- (a) South-west Pacific area must be considered as a whole, irrespective of station limits.

(b) Under present conditions, the relief of Singapore depends essentially on United States naval assistance, which must move from the northeastern Pacific to the western Pacific to exercise the necessary pressure.

Great emphasis is laid on the importance of the line of approach to Singapore, i.e. Honolulu, Fiji, Darwin, Singapore. This line is considered to be the most favourable for United States naval reinforcemews. The desirability of preventing the Japanese gaining a foothold across this line, i.e. New Guinea-New Hebrides-New Caledonia-Fiji, and thus making the passage of American reinforcements most hazardous, is a strong argument for the need for adequate naval and air forces in the area and the advisability of strengthening the defences of our existing ports and bases there.

(c) The war effort of Australia and New Zealand has its principal focus in the area of the Tasman Sea, and, if the command of this area is lost, the transport of troops and trade of both Dominions would cease or be reduced to a trickle.

This area is, in fact, an extension of the Indian Ocean routes referred to in your telegram, and one very much more important than, for example, the Fremantle-Colombo route, which could indeed be almost cut out except for troop convoys.

The Australia-New Zealand-Cape route west of Australia is remote from attack.

In a war with Japan, the Tasman Sea area is one very open to attack. With their existing bases in the mandated islands and the numerous potential advance bases further south, there will be little difficulty and every advantage in the Japanese maintaining there constantly a cruiser force, which could well be spared even though the main attack were elsewhere.

In the absence of a British cruiser force adequate to counter them, Australian and New Zealand trade and shipping could be held up indefinitely outside the range of shore based aircraft. Such an enemy force may also be assessed by Japan as a means of containing potential reinforcements in Australia.

(d) The permanent commitments of escorting convoys of reinforcements part way to the Middle East have largely occupied the services of Australian cruisers, and these convoys must continue if the A.I.F. is to be maintained at full strength and equipment.

(e) Conclusion: It is considered that Japanese strategy will aim at maintaining a cruiser force in the Tasman Sea area, possibly backed up by a heavier unit or aircraft carrier, and that this would be part of their main plan in any attack on Malaya or the Dutch East Indies.

In view of the important considerations set out in (a) to (d) above, my Government, after consultation with the Australian Chiefs of Staff, must emphasize the importance of giving effect to the conclusions of the Singapore Conference 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 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.

The Commonwealth Government would be most grateful for the views of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff on these matters prior to the assembling of naval Commanders-in-Chief at Singapore.

1 See AA:A2671, 61/1941, Annex A. The essence of this cablegram is contained in Document 282.

2 Sir Geoffrey Whiskard.

[AA:A3196, 1941, 0.1826]