221 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram 136 LONDON, 24 December 1941, 10.14 p.m.

IMMEDIATE FOR THE PRIME MINISTER MOST SECRET & PERSONAL

D.O. telegram 872. [1] While the communication set out in this telegram is admittedly only comments by the Chiefs of Staff Committee sent to the Prime Minister [2] in Washington, by whom and where it could be argued the policy is to be determined and decisions taken, I feel that in the comments there is a lack of appreciation of the urgency of providing the immediate requirements set out in part 2 of the telegram from Singapore [3], particularly with regard to air reinforcements.

Paragraph 2 (a) contemplates early provision of 50 single-engined fighters. These, however, are required to complete existing squadrons and their reserves (paragraph 2 of part 2 Singapore). It makes no contribution towards the four additional fighter squadrons plus 100% reserves asked for. The provision of these is an A.1 priority and as they cannot be flown but must be sent by sea immediate action to ship them where days may count should be taken. Under these circumstances the examination (paragraph 3 of 872) should be at once completed and insofar as the necessary forces cannot be provided from the Middle East, the point from which the Far East can be reinforced in the minimum of time, the necessity of the United States providing the balance by immediate shipment should be put up in the strongest terms.

Paragraph 2 (b). This provides for two of the four bomber squadrons asked for with 100% additional reserves in the case of Hudsons. Bombers, unlike fighters, can be flown to the Far East, and the necessity is so great that an additional two squadrons of Blenheims should, in my view, be despatched to the Far East immediately.

Paragraph 3 indicates that the effect of doing so on the Middle East theatre is being examined. I cannot believe that this examination should require much time in view of the fact that aircraft in the Middle East are in the region of 800, and it is difficult to believe that the extraction of two squadrons would have a vital effect in this area, though it well might in the Far East.

Paragraph 2 (c). This is not so important. I cannot, however, accept the attitude with regard to an escort flight of 'cannot be provided'. The question is when it can be provided, and if too late to meet the immediate situation in the Far East then it should fall into the pool I suggest below being formed in Australia. The same would apply to the transport flight, and it also has to be considered in relation to the Middle East if anything was immediately to be done. In this case I can see that possibly the needs of the Middle East are more important than those of the Far East.

With regard to consideration of further reinforcements (paragraph 5 of 872) I am urging that a definite time-table of air reinforcements both from here and the United States, either direct or by replacing of air forces despatched from the Middle East, should be laid down.

I am concentrating on the air because I believe that this is the most important.

In regard to air reinforcements, both immediate and more longranged, I am urging that in view of possible developments in the Far East, Australia should be used as the point through which air reinforcements, so far as practicable, would flow. This would enable them in the light of developments either to be passed on to Malaya, the Netherlands East Indies or the Philippines, or to be retained in Australia for her defence and that of New Zealand in the event of seriously adverse developments.

In regard to the longer term programme, I am stressing Australia's potential for building Beauforts which, being a torpedo-carrying bomber, [is of the] [4] utmost value, [and] should be fully developed. In order to do this, agreement should be reached on the highest plane between the United Kingdom and the United States and immediate instructions despatched for the earliest possible shipment, both from here and the United States, of all your requirements to carry out the maximum programme.

Insofar as you agree with the above views, I suggest the desirability of your conveying them to Washington.

BRUCE

1 Dispatched 23 December. On file AA:A981, War 33, attachment B.

2 Winston Churchill.

3 See cablegram 862 of 21 December on the file cited in note 1.

4 Inserted from Bruce's copy On file AA:M100, December 1941.

[AA:A981, WAR 33, ATTACHMENT B]