461 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, of Conversation with Mr Anthony Eden, U.K. Foreign Secretary

[LONDON], 8 April 1942

After the Pacific War Council meeting I went back to the Foreign Office with Anthony and had about 3/4 hour with him.

The first point I dealt with was in connection with the reports of Japanese battleships in the Indian Ocean. These reports suggested that there were possibly 4 or 5 battleships somewhere south of Ceylon and 2 or 3 battleships somewhere on the east coast of India. If these reports are true it would indicate that the Japanese, in complete contempt of the American Fleet, had moved the greater part of their battle fleet into the Indian Ocean where, if they remained, they would be in a position to play merry hell.

I suggested that if the Japanese had done this it was a god given chance for the Americans, but what disturbed me was that our relations with the Americans did not appear to be sufficiently close and cordial for us to put up the position to them in the flattest terms.

I admitted that the Prime Minister [1] had telegraphed to the President [2], but that that did not seem to me to be dealing with the matter as it should be handled.

Eden expressed his entire agreement that we did not seem to be getting into sufficiently close contact with the Americans but he did not appear to have any idea as to what was the practical step to take in regard to it.

I suggested that advantage should be taken of Hopkins' [3] visit to try and arrive at a better understanding.

I then went on to my second point which was that if the Japanese could with impunity send their battle fleet into the Indian Ocean we not being in a position to send forces that could cope with them, and the Americans not being in a position to create a diversion which would draw them out of the Indian Ocean, a situation would be created where it was difficult to see how reinforcements could be go[t] to India, Burma and the Middle East by sea.

In the event of such a situation arising there was no sense in continuing a flow of convoys down the west coast of Africa, under the whole programme that has been laid down for months ahead, with a view to diversion when they reach the Cape to whatever area was most in danger, if in fact they could not proceed to such an area.

If after careful consideration of the position and the fullest and frankest consultation with the Americans there appeared to be a danger of such a situation as I had visualised arising in the Indian Ocean, surely we had to turn our minds towards the question of whether the creation of a second front in Europe was not the course that we had to pursue and divert the shipping that would have been used for long distance transport of reinforcements to this objective. [4]

I indicated the usual arguments, but I need not go into them, as to the effect upon the German offensive in Russia and their actions in Libya, of the creation of a second front.

With these arguments, rather to my surprise, Eden showed the greatest possible interest and suggested that he had submitted a paper to the Prime Minister down somewhat similar lines, which had been referred to the Chiefs of Staff some three weeks ago, but upon which they had expressed no views up to date.

Eden said that he had little doubt the Chiefs of Staff would be opposed to any such proposal but that Mountbatten [5], with whom he had had a long talk on the subject, was greatly in favour of it. Eden also stressed that he thought something of the sort was necessary from the point of view of the morale of the Army which could not be kept at a satisfactory level unless it was given active employment.

I then raised the whole question of our position on the sea, pressing my views as to the necessity of utilisation of the Air against the Sea. [6] I also outlined to him my views as to the form a modern naval engagement would take, namely the preceding of such engagement by an air battle. I asked if he knew the number of aeroplane carriers we, the Americans and the Japanese had; the types of fighters and bombers they carried and how the efficiency of the respective personnel was regarded.

Eden did not know the answer to any of these questions but told me of an episode when an aeroplane carrier had set out with 40 modern machines, but when it reached the area of operations there were only 7 fit for use-the balance having been smashed up in practice.

I again emphasised the importance of adequate air support for our naval forces and referred to the scheme of cruiser and carrier units outlined in the Australian Chiefs of Staff appreciation. [7] I also told Eden how that scheme had been turned down by the Chiefs of Staff on the basis that cruisers plus aircraft carriers would be out-matched by cruisers plus aircraft carriers plus battle ships. [8] This view of the Chiefs of Staff might be correct but I would not be prepared to accept it without considerable examination and discussion of the position.

I urged Eden to take the matter up with the Prime Minister stressing that to my mind it was the outstanding issue of the war because without control of the seas it would be impossible to carry on operations in the various theatres in which active hostilities were now in progress.


1 Winston Churchill.

2 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

3 Adviser to Roosevelt.

4 Bruce's views were not shared by the Minister for External Affairs, Dr H. V. Evatt. See Document 451, paragraph 5.

5 U.K. Chief of Combined Operations.

6 See cablegrams 62A-66A of 11 April on file AA:M100, April 1942.

They dealt with representations by Bruce for the more effective use of aircraft against enemy warships, particularly in the Far East.

7 See Document 422, paragraph 7.

8 See U.K. Dominions Office cablegram 362 of 5April on file AA:A2937, Far East position 1942.

[AA:M100, APRIL 1942]