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Historical documents

197 Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister, to Mr Winston Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister

Cablegram [?Johcu 9] [1] CANBERRA, [? 16 December 1941]


War Cabinet has been considering a report by Chief of Naval Staff
[2] on his recent visit to Singapore.

2. We have no doubt as to your deep feelings at the loss of two
splendid ships and a great number of their ship's companies, but
the story we have heard fills us with great concern.

3. From out information following would appear clear-
(i) (gr. undec.) [3] Though convoys of troopships, particularly
during landing operations, are considered to be easy prey to
bomber and torpedo aircraft, there does not appear to have been a
concentration of striking forces to deal with them.

(ii) The capital ships were sent after these convoys and their
escorts without adequate air protection. Cover from land ?? are
presumably impossible and no aircraft carrier was present. Aerial
reconnaissance did not appear to have established the presence of
a Japanese aircraft carrier and (gr. undec.) threat it presented
in the absence of such a type of vessel with our ships.

4. We have consistently emphasised need for strengthening air
defence Malaya, Mr. Menzies having fully discussed subject during
his visit to London. [4] In reviewing again paper COS(41) two
hundred and thirty [5] we feel, in the light of recent Japanese
achievements at Hawaii and Malaya, that following opinions
expressed in paragraphs six to ten inclusive require urgent? (gr.

undec.) revision:-

(a) A strength of 336 aircraft will give a very high (?fair)
degree of security in defence of Malaya, Burma and North Borneo.

(b) There is no reason to believe that Japanese standards are even
comparable with those of Italians.

There is also a suggestion of complacency, because of experiences
in Libya, Malta and Britain and (superiority of) personnel and
equipment, that inferiority of numbers can be accepted.

5. It is desired to point out that we have done all we can in
making available three squadrons towards the air defence of Malaya
and two for Netherlands East Indies.

6. It is evident, if our information is correct, that results of
initial testing of defences of Malaya should be carefully
scrutinised and strengthening of air defence should be effected as
soon as possible. It is pointed out that United States
reinforcements hitherto intended for Philippines may well be
despatched to Australia as intended under the scheme being
developed at outbreak of war with Japan. These could then be
pushed up to Singapore, the Netherlands East Indies and adjacent
islands as quickly as possible. Also, if the R. class capital
ships are to remain east of Suez and we are short of aircraft
carriers, the United States might be able to make one available.

It is presumed that these aspects will be discussed at forthcoming
Singapore Conference.

7. Finally in view of good performance Fleet Air Arm in
cooperation with ships Royal Navy and fact that air coastal
command in the U.K. has been brought under Admiralty control, it
is suggested that, in view of geographical position Malaya and
adjacent islands, an essential corollary to operation of a capital
ship fleet (in) those waters, with or without aircraft carriers,
is naval control of all land based aircraft except those allotted
for army co-operation.


1 This cablegram was dispatched after consideration of the naval
position in the Far East by the Advisory War Council (not War
Cabinet) on 16 December (See AA:A2682, vol. 4, minute 597). It was
entered in the Prime Minister's Dept outward cablegram register
(AA:A3643, 3, Lai 860) late on 16 December as 'Personal [i.e.

Johcu] No. 8', but as the number Johcu 8 had already been used on
13 December (see cablegram on file AA:M100, December 1941) it was
presumably intended to be Johcu 9 (see Document 278, paragraph 3).

The cablegram was probably not ciphered and dispatched until early
on 17 December, the date cited in later references to it.

2 Vice-Admiral Sir Guy Royle.

3 Group undecipherable.

4 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937 49, vol. IV,
Documents 324, 328, 343, 376 and 400.

5 See ibid., Document 400.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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