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336 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Letter (airmail) LONDON, 2 December 1938

After considerable delays and under constant pressure, I have now
received a reply from the First Lord of the Admiralty [1] to my
request for an assurance as to the intentions of the United
Kingdom Government to base a Capital Ship on the Far East as soon
as the Capital Ships of the King George V Class begin to come to

The assurance given in the letter is not very satisfactory, but I
do not think there is anything more that can be done about it at
the moment. We will have to discuss the question when I am in
Australia. For this reason I have sent you the letter by air mail
and have not attempted to summarise it in a cable.


1 Earl Stanhope.


Lord Stanhope, First Lord of the Admiralty, to Mr S. M. Bruce,
High Commissioner in London

Letter (copy) LONDON, 2 December 1938

In your recent conversations with me and the First Sea Lord [1]
you spoke about the desire of the Australian Government to have a
Capital Ship stationed in one of the Eastern Squadrons. The
Admiralty fully appreciates the reason for this proposal.

It is necessary to point out, however, that at the present time
the number of Capital Ships which are available for service are
considerably below what should be the normal, this position having
arisen owing to the necessity for laying up a larger number of
ships at one time for reconstruction and large repair than would
ordinarily be the case. This course has been adopted deliberately
in order that there should be no further delay in carrying out the
important work of modernising our old ships.

As you are aware we now have 5 Battleships of the KING GEORGE V
Class building, two of which are due to complete in the latter
half of 1940 and the other three in the latter half of 1941 or
early in 1942. When these ships are commissioned the strength of
the Fleet will become much greater, and we shall then be in a
better position to spare a ship for service on a distant Station.

By 1942, also, we should have practically completed the
reconstruction programme of the older ships which we now have in

After giving this matter full consideration in the Admiralty, we
have come to the conclusion that a Capital Ship could probably be
spared from one of the main Fleets at some date in 1942, although
it is impracticable, at this date, to give a definite assurance
that this will be done. This ship could then be stationed in the
East, but not in China where a single Capital Ship would not add
materially to our strength on that Station. On the other hand,
were a ship stationed in the East Indies as Flag Ship of that
Squadron, she could be free to move about as requisite in Eastern
Waters, sometimes visiting Australia or China as might be
suitable. Her principal duty, however, would be with the East
Indies Squadron, and she would dock and refit at Singapore. In
case of war in the East she would become part of the Main Fleet
and would then of course be available for any service which might
be required. As it is as yet too far away to go into detail as
regards the arrangements for the visits referred to above, we
think it may be sufficient now to indicate the general intention.

Nor is it advisable at present to select any particular ship for
this service. The probability is that a Battle-cruiser would be
chosen, but this would depend on circumstances. It is improbable
that we should wish to send one of the new ships of the KING
GEORGE V Class so far away at an early stage of their commission,
unless it was absolutely necessary.

In sending this letter to you, which we hope you and the
Government of Australia will consider satisfactory, we would like
to stress the great help it would be to H.M. Government, and to
the Admiralty, if Australia would undertake to build a Capital
Ship in the near future. The cost of one of these ships is in the
region of 9,000,000, and it is our wish gradually to replace our
older ships, which will necessitate a steady building programme.

Not only would it be of great financial assistance to us were
Australia able to bear the cost of a ship, but it would also be
most advantageous were she able to man her, even if some
assistance in this respect was still needed from our Naval

In making this proposal we are merely confirming the
recommendation made at the Imperial Conference 1937-it is not a
new one, and I am sure that I need not stress the great and
widespread moral effect that it would have.

In conclusion, it is observed that nothing in this letter in any
way modifies what has been said previously to the Australian
Government. The Admiralty, however, are not easy at present about
the position as regards our Capital Ship strength, and will not be
for sometime to come, until we are further advanced with our
reconstruction programme.


[AA : A1608, N51/1/6]

1 Lord Chatfield.

[AA : A1608, N51/1/6]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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