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110 Sir Earle Page, Special Representative in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram P3 LONDON, 14 November 1941, 1.10 a.m.


My telegram [P]2. [2]

In consultation with Bruce [3] I prepared a statement for the
special meeting of the War Cabinet held on November 12th. I set
out below a summary of this statement and in a separate cable I am
sending a report of the discussion on it. [4] Summary begins-
The object of my visit is to give the United Kingdom War Cabinet
at first hand Australian point of view with regard to such
problems arising from the war. Australia's geographical position
renders her position somewhat different from that of the other
Dominions, except New Zealand, owing to difficulties of
communication other than telegraphic and the absence of personal
contacts. Also, our isolated position in the Pacific, with the
special problems involved in that area, demands special

During my visit, I hope to have opportunities of dealing with many
questions of vital concern. On the present occasion I propose to
confine myself to the one question of the position in the Pacific
and the danger arising from Japan's present attitude.

The Pacific and Indian Oceans:

This portion of the British Empire is vital to our future destiny
and prosperity. It is essential that we should keep for ourselves
and deny to the enemy the sources of vital raw material this area
provides. Areas of the Pacific and Indian Ocean portions of the
Empire are three-quarters of the whole, but they hold six-sevenths
of the population and there is double the import and export trade
into and out of [the United Kingdom of remainder of the Empire].

Its products are indispensable to the prosecution of the war to
both Britain and America.

This objective can best be achieved by keeping Japan out of the
war. This can be done-
(a) by being, ourselves, strong; and
(b) by the closest co-operation with the United States of America.

Dealing with (a), Australia recognises the paramount importance of
the defence of the United Kingdom and the necessities of the
situation in the Middle East. We appreciate how limited were our
armaments when we started this war, how magnificent has been the
effort of building them up, how difficult has been the task of
determining the allocation of our limited resources between the
different spheres of our responsibilities. At the same time,
Australia feels that there has not been quite a sufficient
recognition of the importance of the Far East. In saying this I am
not overlooking the recent action in sending a battle squadron,
which Australia greatly appreciates, nor do I overlook all that
has been done-which I recently had an opportunity of seeing at
first hand -with a view to strengthening Singapore.

I feel, however, so vital is it that if we are to deter Japan, we
should increase our air strength even at the expense of the other
theatres. Figures of the Singapore Conference were that 22
squadrons were necessary of which 64 were fighters, 128 bombers,
32 torpedo bombers and 144 general reconnaissance and flying
boats, making a total of 336 or 22 squadrons. [5]

I understand that there are 76 fighters available at present and
44 bombers. Of these, 24 torpedo bombers are of an obsolete type
'Vildebeeste' and there is a shortage of nearly 100 general
reconnaissance planes.

This estimate was a reduced estimate from 582. It is very
important that the 336 aircraft should be immediately available-
first of all because of their value in the nature of a deterrent.

The position we will have to face if even this does not act as a
deterrent shows that a strengthening of the air force would be
equally imperative under those circumstances. [6] Even with this
strength, which may deter a direct attack upon us, we are faced
with four possibilities of Japanese attack on neighbouring nations
on which we must make up our minds. These four instances are:-

(1) Japanese attack on Russia.

In this case we would be forced to [go to] her aid by declaring
war on Japan. Public opinion both in Britian and Australia on this
point would force the issue because we have been building up this
psychology of the necessity of aid to Russia. While we would not
be in a position to give Russia direct aid, the presence of a
strong Air Force in Singapore would enable us to give her indirect
aid by assisting the Chinese to harass the Japanese in China.

(2) Japanese attack on Kunming and the Burma Road.

Chiang Kai-shek's message [7] was regarded as of such importance
by the Prime Minister as to send his own appeal to the President
of the United States of America. [8] You have seen the attitude
adopted by General Smuts in his cable from South Africa and to the
cable on similar lines from Australia. [9] In my view it would be
disastrous if our failure to assist Chiang Kai-shek led to [the
cessation of Chinese resistance to Japan].

I would emphasise again that it is only by strengthening the Air
Force in the Far East that effective help could really be given to

(3) Japanese attack on Netherlands East Indies.

Feeling in Australia is very strong. Some people would be under a
delusion that we could sit by and do nothing in the face of a
Japanese attack on Netherlands East Indies, and I was glad to
learn from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs [10] that
the question of giving an undertaking to the Dutch was being
considered. The reaction in Australia and New Zealand to inaction
by Britain if the Netherlands East Indies were attacked would be
such as to almost break the Empire. In addition the raw materials
that would be given to the Axis partners by their successful
inroads on the Netherlands East Indies would lengthen the war and
cost many hundreds of thousands of lives.

I would stress that the strengthening of the Air Force in
Singapore is the only immediate step we can take in the face of
this possibility now that the very wise action of sending the
battle fleet and basing it at Singapore has been taken.

(4) Japanese invasion of Thailand.

Feeling in Australia [is that] military necessity, quite apart
from political considerations, would almost inevitably force us to
come in should the Japanese go into Thailand, but it is possible
that this case may not be as clear as the first three I have
mentioned. I, myself, have little doubt that we would have to take
action. Here, again, an increase of air strength is the only
practical step to meet this eventuality.

The position therefore is that in these four instances, all of
which are out of our control, we would probably immediately have
to take the field against Japan if she attacked these distant
powers. On the declaration of war even greater forces would be
despatched to Singapore than those necessary now to deter Japan
from aggressive action.

With regard to co-operation with America, I would stress that I
recognise that our policy in the Pacific must be-
(1) to keep Japan out of the war;

(2) that if we are unsuccessful in doing that, we must ensure that
we will have the co-operation of America.

I understand that the United Kingdom Government's policy in giving
effect to these principles is to maintain the closest liaison with
the United States down the lines of ensuring that the United
States will take the lead and that our actions will depend on what
the United States does. I would like to discuss with the War
Cabinet this line of policy towards the United States. Australia
has grave doubts with regard to the United Kingdom Government's
attitude of insisting that the United States must take the lead
and that our actions must be dependent upon what the United States
does. To support this contention I would point out that I have
already shown that in case of an attack by Japan upon Russia,
Kunming, or the Netherlands East Indies, we would inevitably have
to take action irrespective of what America did.

In these circumstances would it not be better to tell America
frankly that this is our position and to put it to them [that]
even if they could give us no undertaking as to what they could do
in such circumstances, which is almost certain to be the case, ask
them at least to give us privately, without any commitments, the
definite tip that they will, as soon as they can, come to our aid?
I realise that this somewhat frank and outspoken approach to the
United States may not be acceptable to the British Government. If
that is so, in my view it is a pity, but I do not believe that it
makes very much difference as America would be forced, in her own
interests, to come to our aid in the event of our being at war
with Japan although we might have to face a certain delay before
this happens. My view on this point is strengthened by what I have
seen as I have come through of the complete change in the outlook
in American Pacific outposts and the work they are doing in
speeding up their defensive and offensive preparations in the
Philippines, Guam, Wake and other islands and in arrangements
(already made) with the British Government and with the Australian
Government to build themselves aerodromes to get their longest
distance bombers on the spot at the earliest possible moment to
help smash any movement of the Japanese fleet.

I have thought that this waiting on America may not help us much
with American public opinion. I am sure that a forthright
statement like the Prime Minister made on Monday has already
helped us tremendously. [11] I As far as American administration
is concerned, there is no doubt that they are quite soundly behind
the Prime Minister and the British Government. They would
recognise the necessity of coming to our aid and would do it just
as fast as public opinion would let them.

If we had taken a resolute and determined line, American public
opinion would be sympathetic with us and the Administration's task
would be facilitated. If, on the other hand, we had stood by in
the face of Japanese aggression, American opinion quite [unjustly]
would be hostile to us and the Administration's task would be made
more difficult. [Reflection of this] attitude in the Army and Navy
can be seen in the conduct of negotiations earlier in the year
when Americans spoke quite frankly about the British simply
protecting the trade routes while not being ready to take the
offensive with their Navy, and the surprise of the American
Admiral that we did not have Singapore ready to repair our
battleships and had to send them on to Pearl Harbour.

The whole case that I wish to make is that I am using every
endeavour to strengthen the air position at Singapore. I urge that
action be taken, not on the basis of thinking what can be done,
but [by a] definite and immediate decision of the War Cabinet to
send a certain number of additional planes and that the decision
be implemented by issuing of instructions that this must be done.

The number at stake is relatively small. The use that they can be
put [to] to help in China, in Netherlands East Indies, in
Singapore, is very great. [We must and we do keep in these
situations even as far away as Australia definite home defence
squadrons, which public opinion forces us to make as adequate and
efficient as possible.] The influence of the action I ask for in
either preventing war or delaying it will have a great effect on
the psychology of Australia towards the war effort. It will
markedly affect the manner in which Australia will be able to
handle its limited man power. This, in its turn, will increase the
number of men available for overseas service, for munitions making
and for food industries and improve substantially Australia's
contribution to the whole of the Empire's war effort.

Summary ends.


1 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from the
London copy on file AA : M103, 1941.

2 Dispatched 14 November. On file AA : A981, Pacific 8, i. It
reported that Page, at a meeting of War Cabinet on 5 November, had
stressed the dangerous situation developing in the Far East and
the need of immediate reinforcements for Singapore.

3 High Commissioner in the United Kingdom.

4 Document 113.

5 The Singapore Defence Conference of October 1940 had recommended
that a minimum of 582 aircraft was necessary to guarantee the
security of Burma and Malaya, but the U.K. Chiefs of Staff had
concluded subsequently that 336 aircraft 'should give a very fair
degree of security' (see cablegram 49 of 28 January on file AA :

A2671, 61/1941). In a paper dated 11 April (see Documents on
Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. IV, Document 400), the
U.K. Chiefs of Staff had provided a breakdown of the types of
aircraft required. In using these figures Page misquoted the
number of bombers, the correct number being 96.

6 Page's views on the reinforcement of Singapore were not shared
by the Minister for External Affairs. Evatt argued that the air
reinforcements requested by Page would not be 'a clear deterrent'
to Japan and that it was 'more important to urge expedited arrival
of capital ships than increase the air strength'. This would 'not
only act as a deterrent, but be a very material factor in
influencing the course of operations, if Japan did in fact attack
in any direction'. Moreover, the withdrawal of ships from the
Middle East would have less effect on vital operations there than
would be the case with aircraft. See 'Comments on Telegrams P2
P6', dated 20 November, on file AA : A981, Pacific 8, ii. The
paper is unsigned, but is identified in Paul Hasluck, The
Government and the People 1939-1941, Australian War Memorial,
Canberra, 1952, P. 549, note 2.

7 See Document 98, note 1.

8 The substance of Winston Churchill's message to Franklin D.

Roosevelt was conveyed to Australia in the cablegram published as
Document 102.

9 See Document 106, note 3
10 Anthony Eden.

11 In a speech on 10 November at the Mansion House Churchill had
vowed that 'Should the United States become involved in war with
Japan the British declaration will follow within the hour'. See
the Times, 11 November 1941, P. 5.


Memorandum by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in the United

[LONDON], 29 November 1941

Page [1] was invited to the War Cabinet the day after his arrival
(October 30th) in England. When I went to see him I found him
preparing notes of what he would say at this meeting. I strongly
advised him not to make any statement but merely to acknowledge
whatever courteous thing Winston said and if invited to make a
statement, indicate that he would prefer to have an opportunity of
talking to the Service Ministers and Chiefs of Staff before doing
so, and ask for an opportunity to be afford[ed] at some later

This advice Page agreed with and at the meeting took this course.

Arrangements were made for him to make his statement on the 12th

On the evening before he was making his statement he came to my
office about 5.00 p.m. and outlined to me what he was going to
say. This statement appeared to me to introduce innumerable
irrelevant matters and not to make the point which was his
objective, namely, the reinforcement of Singapore.

I told Page this and outlined to him what I thought he should say.

He agreed with my suggestions, but to my horror asked that I
should dictate them. Very reluctantly I did so as the job had to
be done in half an hour and I would have liked more time to think
the statement out carefully.

Attached hereto are the notes which I did however dictate and also
a copy of the statement that Page made to the War Cabinet. [2]

S. M. B[RUCE] [AA : M100, NOVEMBER 1941]

1 Special Representative in the United Kingdom.

2 Both documents are on file AA:M100, November 1941

[AA : A981, PACIFIC 8, i]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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