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128 War Cabinet Minute 1522

CANBERRA, 26 November 1941


(Previous reference-Minute No. (1499).) [2]

This Agendum submitted by the Prime Minister [3] furnishes a
review of the national and political considerations relating to
Australian Naval Defence which have been the basis for the
development of the Royal Australian Navy, and shows how these
considerations are related to the question of the control and
disposition of the R.A.N. in a war with Japan, which is the major
risk which has governed the development of the strength of the

2. It was decided that if, after having put the facts before the
Americans, it is found that the inability to obtain agreement with
this view is an obstacle to the fullest British-American co-
operation, a formula on the following lines is the very minimum
the Commonwealth Government could accept:-

The Commonwealth Government agrees that on the outbreak of war
with Japan, ships of the Royal Australian Navy-other than local
Defence vessels-shall be placed under the strategic control of the
Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet. In agreeing to transfer
strategic control of H.M.A. Ships to the Commander-in-Chief,
Eastern Fleet, the Commonwealth Government requires that the
necessary protection should be given to vital commitments on the
Australia Station as defined below:-

(1) Escort of British reinforcements.

(2) Escort of Air Trainees.

(3) Food and supplies and reinforcements to Middle East and

(4) Seaborne trade in Australian waters, as this is vital to
Australia's war effort.

(5) Any other special commitment.

In regard to the above the Commonwealth Government stipulates that
the protection afforded will be not less than that which would be
given by Australian Naval Forces if control by the latter had been
retained by the Commonwealth.

The above formula is based on that submitted to War Cabinet by the
Chief of the Naval Staff [4] (Minute No. (1499)), except for the
amendments indicated by underlining [italics].

3. War Cabinet decided that no commitment should be entered into
by the Chief of the Naval Staff at the Singapore Conference until
he has submitted a report on his discussions to the Commonwealth
Government. [5]

1 On file AA : A2671, 390/1941. Disposition and control of the
R.A.N. had become an issue because of U.S. disagreement with
certain aspects of the report of the American-Dutch-British
conversations at Singapore in April. Although U.S. objections had
originally centred on the inclusion in the report of
recommendations of a political nature, they later concerned, among
other things, the ultimate control of Australian naval forces.

U.S. naval staff contended that it was unnecessary to maintain so
many Australian and N.Z. cruisers in local waters and that the
right of the Commonwealth Naval Board to veto removal of
Australian forces from Australian waters made a mockery of the
recommendation that the U.K. Commander-in-Chief, China Station,
should exercise unified strategical control over employment of all
naval forces in the Far Eastern theatre. Agendum 390/1941 argued
that the principle underlying the establishment of the R.A.N. had
been responsibility for local defence and that although R.A.N.

ships placed at the disposal of the U.K. Govt came under the
control of the Admiralty, the Commonwealth Govt had always
retained the right to withdraw them by arrangement. The report of
the A.D.B. conversations merely enshrined a long-standing
principle which should be explained to the U.S. authorities.

2 Dated 17 November. In AA : A2673, vol. 9.

3 John Curtin.

4 Vice-Admiral Sir Guy Royle.

5 This decision, with minor amendments, was endorsed by the
Advisory War Council (minute 569) later the same day and conveyed
to Royle with agendum 390/1941 as a guide for his discussions at
the forthcoming Singapore conference (see the file cited in note
1). Royle reported back on 16 December (see Advisory War Council
minute 597 in AA : A2682, vol. 4) that: 'the question of
strategical control of Naval Forces had not arisen during the

[AA : A2673, VOL. 9]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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