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

Cablegram P16 LONDON, 20 December 1941, 7.37 p.m.


Far Eastern situation.

The following are my comments on discussions at the Defence
Committee meeting last night.

At the Defence Committee meeting, which lasted 3 1/2 hours, I
broadly agreed with the general recommendations on the Far East
set out in the report of the Chiefs of Staff, but said that though
they might be all right as a relatively long term policy they did
not meet the immediate position. The vital point at present was to
prevent Singapore capitulating and to save the Dutch East Indies.

This was not merely because Australia would then be open to attack
-which would be a sufficient reason of itself-but because in order
to win the war it was vital to hold Singapore and the Dutch East
Indies. The tenor of the report of the Chiefs of Staff is that
Singapore must be saved, but [their recommendations] [1] seem to
baulk at the immediate means. I pointed out that if Singapore went
out of our hands and this strong British defensive point became a
strong offensive point for Japan I could not see how we would be
able to defeat Japan for years and that if we could recapture any
neighbouring territories we would not be able to use the resources
of these areas while the Japanese held Singapore. It was necessary
to preserve for our own requirements vital raw materials of tin,
rubber and oil to enable us to win the war on every front. I asked
what stocks of these commodities had the United States and Great
Britain and how we could renew our stocks of tin and rubber and
maintain our munitions production if we lost our Far Eastern
possessions. We would then find ourselves in as bad a position in
this regard as Germany is now, and would be much worse off than
Japan. From this point alone preservation of Singapore should
become an A. 1 priority. For that reason I felt that in the report
of the Chiefs of Staff there was not enough emphasis laid on
immediate air reinforcements. We could not after the experience of
Hong Kong any longer rely on previous estimates of the time which
strong points could stand siege.

I would like to see a balanced battle fleet in the Pacific and
Indian Oceans at the earliest possible moment and hoped that they
would come, but if Singapore is to be saved it had to be by air
forces immediately. That air support must come directly from the
Middle East or from America. Our policy should be if necessary to
take from the Middle East for Singapore what could be immediately
physically transferred and to reinforce the Middle East from
Britain as rapidly as possible to maintain the Libya campaign. On
this point the Middle East might possibly be reinforced from

The needs of the Middle East and Far East should be examined
together and an attempt made to see whether we could get fighters
quicker from Britain or America or both across Africa. After a
great deal of arguing, I secured a promise of an additional
Blenheim Squadron to go forward from the Middle East almost

On the fighter position it was obvious that we could only have for
use immediately what was already with the convoy in the Indian
Ocean mentioned in the immediately preceding cable [2] or use
American planes arriving in Brisbane today.

The Chiefs of Staff said that they were diverting fighters on
convoy which was the quickest way of reinforcing Malaya. With
regard to American planes, it was agreed that a request should be
made to America to allow these planes to be used by us in
Singapore fighting as soon as they were assembled. [3] It was felt
that if Casey [4] also made a request in Washington it would
expedite the permission and I urge that this be done immediately.

On the question of bombers, which are as important in Singapore as
fighters, I urged that six squadrons of Blenheims should go at
once and that Middle East squadrons should be filled up from
Britain if this policy will embarrass their Mediterranean
operations, and that every effort should be made to remove all
bottlenecks or blocks on the reinforcement route.

Bombers and fighters could keep the Japanese from getting
possession of Sumatra aerodromes. Once the Japanese get possession
of Sumatra aerodromes they will be able to interfere with our
reinforcements through the Indian Ocean to Singapore. Once they
get possession of North Borneo they can stop us getting material
reinforcements to Singapore through the Sunda Straits. The
presence of British bombers and fighters could force away convoys
that are bringing Japanese reinforcements to smash our men, could
destroy their supply lines, could impede the use of railway
transport, thus limiting the number of divisions they could employ
against our own forces in Singapore, could prevent the Japanese
making effective land or sea attack on Singapore itself, and could
render our own troops much needed air support.

We might only have three or four weeks to save the position and
immediate action might save us five or six years of war.

I pointed out most strongly, on the question of transfer of an
Australian division from the Middle East to Malaya, that on every
occasion up to the present the Australians have been asked to
fight with inadequate air support and that the attitude of the
Australian Government was likely to be very strongly influenced by
British plans for air reinforcement.

I emphasised the deep concern felt by the Australian Government
and people at the insecurity of Singapore through the inadequacy
of air strength and stated that the establishment of forces in the
Far East had never approximated the Chiefs of Staff's
recommendations. I recalled my warnings given from my arrival in
England as to the dangers of being too late after the Japanese
attack if we did not have adequate air support in position. Every
Japanese success made reinforcements more difficult.

The attitude of the Defence Committee on the Whole was that they
were anxious to reinforce in every possible way if we could find
physically practical means of doing so. The Vice-Chief of the Air
Staff' said at the conclusion that he would immediately further
examine the position to ascertain the possibility of expediting
and increasing support promised.


1 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from the
London copy on file AA:M100, December 1941.

2 See cablegram P15 of 20 December on the file cited in note 1.

3 On 21 December, the Naval Attache at the Legation in Washington,
Commander D. H. Harries, reported that the U.K. Joint Staff
Mission in Washington had asked the U.S. Chiefs of Staff to 'issue
immediately orders for the go United States aircraft now arriving
at Brisbane to be sent to Malaya or N.E.I. if they cannot be sent
to Philippines'. See cablegram 1187/Tropic 137 on file AA:A981,
War 33, i.

4 Minister to the United States.

5 Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred Freeman.

[AA:A2680, 143/1941]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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