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

Supplement 1 to Agendum 135/1941 14 May 1941



Object of Conference As a result of a recommendation made in the report of the United States-British Staff Conversations at Washington, dated 27th March 1941, a conference was held at Singapore in April 1941 to prepare plans for conducting military operations in the Far East on the basis of Anglo-United States-Dutch co-operation. At the conclusion of the main conference, the opportunity was taken to clear up outstanding points arising out of the Anglo-Dutch-Australian conversations at Singapore in February 1941 (War Cabinet Minute No. 909 [1]). The arrangements for Australian representation at the Conference were approved by War Cabinet in Minute No. 972. [2]

Reports of Singapore Conference and Washington Staff Conversations 2. The Leader of the Australian Delegation to the Conference (Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin [3]) has submitted a memorandum dated 11th May, transmitting the reports of the Singapore Conference and outlining the main features of the plans for the employment and disposition of forces in the Far East and their relation to the conclusions reached at the Washington conversations. The Chiefs of Staff [4] have considered the reports and they are in agreement with the plans outlined therein.

3. The following papers are attached [5]:-

(a) Memorandum dated 11th May from Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin Annex 'A' (b) Report of the Chiefs of Staff dated 14th May Annex 'B' (c) Report of the United States-British Staff Conversations at Washington, dated 27th March 1941 Annex 'C' (d) Report of the American-Dutch-British Conversations at Singapore, dated 27th April 1941 Annex 'D' (e) Summary of the report of the British-Dutch Conversations at Singapore, dated 27th April Annex 'E' Washington Staff Conversations 4. The report of the Washington Staff Conversations sets forth the general strategic principles which should guide the military collaboration of the United States and the British Commonwealth, should the United States be compelled to resort to war.

The principal United States views are summarised in the report of Sir Ragnar Colvin (Annex 'A') as follows:-

(a) Europe and the North American Atlantic Seaboard were the vital areas.

(b) Singapore, while very important, was not in the United States view absolutely vital, and its loss, while undesirable, could be accepted. This view was not accepted by the British Delegation at Washington.

(c) The United States intention was, while maintaining a Naval Force at Hawaii superior to the Japanese, and thus protecting the West American Seaboard and sea communications in the Pacific, to use its Navy principally in the Atlantic, and they would, if necessary, reinforce their Atlantic Fleet from their Pacific Fleet.

(d) They intended to use the United States Pacific Fleet to operate offensively against Japanese Mandated Islands, and Japanese sea communications, and to support British Naval Forces in the South Pacific.

(e) They did not intend to reinforce their Asiatic Fleet.

(f) They expected that the Philippine Islands would not be able to hold out very long against determined Japanese attack, and were anticipating being forced to withdraw from these Islands.

(g) They were prepared to provide sufficient Capital ships for the Atlantic and for Gibraltar as would permit the release from these areas of British Capital ships for reinforcement of the Naval Forces in the Eastern theatre.

5. In a cablegram dated 8th May, No. 340, from the Australian Naval Attache, Washington [6], the following information is furnished:-

'United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff have informed United States authorities that they are in provisional agreement with the report of the recent staff conversations in Washington and that they are submitting the report to His Majesty's Government for approval.' American-Dutch-British Conversations 6. The report of the American-Dutch-British conversations at Singapore is based on the hypothesis of a war between Germany, Italy and Japan on the one hand and the British Empire with its present allies and the United States of America on the other.

Plans for the employment of Naval, Land and Air Forces have been drawn up and are shown in Sections VI (page 12) and VII (page 17) of Annex 'D'. An important section of the report relates to unified Command (page 10 of Annex 'D'), the proposals in respect of which are briefly as follows:-

(a) The British Commander-in-Chief, China, is to exercise unified strategical direction over all the Naval forces of the Associated Powers in the Eastern Theatre (including Australia), except those employed on local defence or operating under the Commander-in- Chief, United States Asiatic Fleet. Part of the United States Asiatic Fleet will, however, come under the Commander-in-Chief China, immediately, and the remainder under his strategic direction when Manila becomes untenable.

(b) The Commander-in-Chief, Far East, is to exercise similar strategic direction of such Air Forces as the Associated Powers may make available. Insofar as Australia is concerned, the Air Forces available will not exceed 2 Bomber Squadrons for the Ambon- Timor area.

Note: This has already been approved by War Cabinet in Minute No.


(c) Operational control will continue to be exercised by the various authorities as at present, except at Ambon where a Combined Headquarters is to be formed (War Cabinet Minute No. 986 [7]) and at Timor, where, as already agreed, land forces are to be under the control of an Australian Commander.

(d) The above arrangements are subject to the right of any Government to withdraw or withhold its forces, provided that prior information of such intention is passed to the strategic Commander concerned.

7. The Chiefs of Staff recommend that the Government approve of the arrangements for unified strategical command as outlined above.

8. Reference is made in paragraph 42 of Annex 'D' to the support to be afforded by United States Naval Forces to British Forces south of the equator. The extent of the support is not defined and the United States delegation to the conference has undertaken to make enquiries. The matter has also been taken through the Australian Naval Attache, Washington. [8] 9. In the list of initial dispositions and functions of Naval forces, one Australian 6-inch cruiser is shown as operating in North Australian waters to escort troop convoys to Ambon, Koepang and Singapore, and is then to be at the disposition of the Commander-in-Chief, China. This is a new commitment resulting from the stationing of Australian Military and Air forces in the Netherlands East Indies, thus being outside the area of Australian Naval Operational control.

British-Dutch Conversations 10. The arrangements set forth in the report of the British-Dutch conversations are made on the assumption of a war between Germany, Italy and Japan on the one hand and the British Empire with our present allies on the other, the United States of America being neutral. The plans follow, broadly, similar lines to those contained in the report of the American-Dutch-British conversations, though, as pointed out in the report of Sir Ragnar Colvin (Annex 'A'), the strain on our forces protecting sea communications will be far greater and the submarine and air forces available for offensive operations will be considerably less.

Submission to War Cabinet 11. The reports of the American-Dutch-British Conversations, and British-Dutch Conversations at Singapore, and of the Washington Staff conversations, together with the memorandum of Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin and the report of the Chiefs of Staff, are submitted for consideration by War Cabinet.


1 In AA: A2673, vol. 6, 22 March 1941.

2 In AA: A2673, Vol. 6, 28 April 1941.

3 Chief of the Naval Staff.

4 Lt Gen V. A. H. Sturder, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett and Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin.

5 Not printed. See AA: A2671, 135/1941, Supplement 1, Annexes A-E.

The conversations reported in Annexes C, D and E were known as A.B.C.i, A.D.B. and B.D. respectively.

6 Commander D. H. Harries. The cablegram is printed as Document 448.

7 In AA: A2673, vol. 6, 28 April 1941.

8 See Document 451.

[AA: A2671, 135/1941]