443 Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister, to Mr A. W. Fadden, Acting Prime Minister

Cablegram M97 LONDON, 2 May 1941, 5.50 p.m.


Received 3 May 1941

Dominions Office telegram 308. [1]

The proposal put forward by Knox [2] and Stimson [3] is of profound importance, particularly having regard to Stimson's view of how the naval movement would be interpreted.

I feel that the entry of the United States into the war as a belligerent transcends in importance to [sic] every other present issue, and we must therefore be very careful not to frustrate the present proposal, unless we are satisfied that there are forthright considerations against it.

My first impression was unfavourable on the view that Japan might be tempted to cash in on a temporary Pacific position. But, on reflection, I think that it imputes to Japan a short-sighted view and that, on that balance, what takes America nearer to war will keep Japan further from it.

The unfavourable factors in the case will be obvious to you, and I need not recite them, but you will have in mind the very strong favourable aspects I have mentioned, together with the other factors, for example- (a) The move would show clearly the determination of the United States to ensure the getting through of vital supplies to the United Kingdom by making the fullest use of her naval authority.

(b) It would be a point[ed] [4] reminder to the Axis powers of 1917, and must also have a marked effect upon the attitude of Vichy, Spain, Portugal and Russia.

(c) It would bring about a re-disposition of naval forces that would enable much quicker release of British battle strength for the Far East in the observance of the Washington and Singapore staff talks, in the event of Japan entering into war.

(d) It would, in the event of the United States taking steps to resist German seizure of North-West Africa, enable much more rapid and definite action to be taken.

Notwithstanding this powerful consideration there is a real element of risk, though on the whole I would think that the move would strengthen the belief in Japan that the United States is determined not to allow the British Empire to be defeated and would come into the war to prevent it.

Your reply should, in my opinion, welcome this notable sign of America's activity, interest and help and should also put forward the idea that America's Pacific Fleet should not be reduced below six capital ships with their [attendant] destroyers and cruisers and a couple of aircraft carriers.

At present, America's nominal capital ship establishment in the Pacific is nine, but she has in effect eleven.

The moral effect of the moving of five capital ships to the Atlantic is very little different from the effect of moving seven, but there is a vital difference between six and four at Hawaii.

The Government here is most anxious not to put a road block on what is designed by Stimson and Knox to be dramatic and helpful, and you might have this in mind in drafting the reply, but, at the same time, our vital interests in the Pacific can be properly and considerably advanced.

1 Document 442.

2 U.S. Secretary of the Navy.

3 U.S. Secretary of War.

4 Words in square brackets have been corrected from Bruce's copy on file AA: M100, May 1941.

[A1608, A41/1/5, iii]