197 Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister, to Mr Winston Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister

Cablegram [?Johcu 9] [1] CANBERRA, [? 16 December 1941]

MOST SECRET

War Cabinet has been considering a report by Chief of Naval Staff [2] on his recent visit to Singapore.

2. We have no doubt as to your deep feelings at the loss of two splendid ships and a great number of their ship's companies, but the story we have heard fills us with great concern.

3. From out information following would appear clear- (i) (gr. undec.) [3] Though convoys of troopships, particularly during landing operations, are considered to be easy prey to bomber and torpedo aircraft, there does not appear to have been a concentration of striking forces to deal with them.

(ii) The capital ships were sent after these convoys and their escorts without adequate air protection. Cover from land ?? are presumably impossible and no aircraft carrier was present. Aerial reconnaissance did not appear to have established the presence of a Japanese aircraft carrier and (gr. undec.) threat it presented in the absence of such a type of vessel with our ships.

4. We have consistently emphasised need for strengthening air defence Malaya, Mr. Menzies having fully discussed subject during his visit to London. [4] In reviewing again paper COS(41) two hundred and thirty [5] we feel, in the light of recent Japanese achievements at Hawaii and Malaya, that following opinions expressed in paragraphs six to ten inclusive require urgent? (gr.

undec.) revision:-

(a) A strength of 336 aircraft will give a very high (?fair) degree of security in defence of Malaya, Burma and North Borneo.

(b) There is no reason to believe that Japanese standards are even comparable with those of Italians.

There is also a suggestion of complacency, because of experiences in Libya, Malta and Britain and (superiority of) personnel and equipment, that inferiority of numbers can be accepted.

5. It is desired to point out that we have done all we can in making available three squadrons towards the air defence of Malaya and two for Netherlands East Indies.

6. It is evident, if our information is correct, that results of initial testing of defences of Malaya should be carefully scrutinised and strengthening of air defence should be effected as soon as possible. It is pointed out that United States reinforcements hitherto intended for Philippines may well be despatched to Australia as intended under the scheme being developed at outbreak of war with Japan. These could then be pushed up to Singapore, the Netherlands East Indies and adjacent islands as quickly as possible. Also, if the R. class capital ships are to remain east of Suez and we are short of aircraft carriers, the United States might be able to make one available.

It is presumed that these aspects will be discussed at forthcoming Singapore Conference.

7. Finally in view of good performance Fleet Air Arm in cooperation with ships Royal Navy and fact that air coastal command in the U.K. has been brought under Admiralty control, it is suggested that, in view of geographical position Malaya and adjacent islands, an essential corollary to operation of a capital ship fleet (in) those waters, with or without aircraft carriers, is naval control of all land based aircraft except those allotted for army co-operation.

EASTERN SITUATION. ACTION SINCE OUTBREAK OF WAR WITH JAPAN 7 12.41 UP TO FALL OF SINGAPORE 15.2.42]

1 This cablegram was dispatched after consideration of the naval position in the Far East by the Advisory War Council (not War Cabinet) on 16 December (See AA:A2682, vol. 4, minute 597). It was entered in the Prime Minister's Dept outward cablegram register (AA:A3643, 3, Lai 860) late on 16 December as 'Personal [i.e.

Johcu] No. 8', but as the number Johcu 8 had already been used on 13 December (see cablegram on file AA:M100, December 1941) it was presumably intended to be Johcu 9 (see Document 278, paragraph 3).

The cablegram was probably not ciphered and dispatched until early on 17 December, the date cited in later references to it.

2 Vice-Admiral Sir Guy Royle.

3 Group undecipherable.

4 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937 49, vol. IV, Documents 324, 328, 343, 376 and 400.

5 See ibid., Document 400.

[AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL: PAGE COLLECTION, BOX 118A, FILE 2, FAR