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5 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Cripps

[LONDON], 13 July 1942

I had nearly an hour with Cripps this morning. I told him that I

had come to see him because of the state of complete frustration

into which I was getting. Cripps interjected at once that I was

not the only person suffering from such a feeling.

I then explained to him what was causing my present attitude. I

said it was caused by two things-the first was that as a member of

the War Cabinet I did not appear to be getting any information or

being consulted about anything and that I was not at all sure that

my position was not the position of the other members of the War

Cabinet-the second was that when one initiated anything nothing

appeared to happen. I instanced on the second point the Note I

sent to the Prime Minister with regard to the Air against the Sea.

[1] I then outlined to Cripps what had happened, including the

report by Slessor and Brind and Portal's rejection of it.

I found that Cripps had been in touch with Slessor and had some

knowledge of what had been happening and he added to my knowledge

the interesting information that Pound and Portal nearly came to

blows when the report was up before the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

I stressed to Cripps that this aspect showed an impossible

position. Nothing was more urgent than to get this question put on

a proper basis and yet all that had been achieved in a month was

to find ourselves at the point from which we had started plus an

intensification of the feeling between the Air Ministry and the


I suggested that this was intolerable and unless we could alter

that state of things we should end up by losing the war. Cripps

agreed and said that his mind had been turning in the direction of

an advisory body to the Minister of Defence, which would consist

of individual members of the three Services who would be

completely divorced from their particular Services. I said that I

quite agreed with that idea provided that in addition to being

advised by this body the Prime Minister would consult regularly

with his War Cabinet. I also suggested that to this body might

well be added a fourth member dealing with questions of scientific

research and new weapons.

I then told Cripps the approach that had been made to me on this

question, outlining to him the discussions with Butler and the

move on to John Anderson. [2]

Cripps agreed that these two questions were of major importance.

He tended to the view, which I think is probably right, that they

have to be dealt with separately, and then gave many examples of

the people who had communicated with him on the scientific side

complaining that the organisation was not working satisfactorily

and in many cases that their own individual services were not

being utilised.

I then urged on Cripps that it was no use our merely sitting there

and discussing the position and coming to the conclusion that

things were not as they should be, we had got to do something to

remedy it.

Cripps agreed with this but stressed the difficulty of handling

the Prime Minister who had such very definite preconceived

notions. In any case Cripps urged that it was necessary to know

exactly what you wanted altered, how you wanted it altered and

that the members of the War Cabinet should be agreed upon the

point. He said that it was no use the War Cabinet approaching the

Prime Minister if everyone had got different ideas; that the Prime

Minister would then play one off against the other and demonstrate

that the situation as it was, was as satisfactory as it could be.

I then reverted to the suggestion of the three military advisers

to be divorced from their respective Services, and said that that

at least would be a start and that if the Prime Minister could be

persuaded to accept that and reasonable consultation with the War

Cabinet could be ensured, the position might gradually be righted.

With this Cripps agreed, but he then showed that his own mind was

becoming worried about the position. He said quite frankly that

there were a considerable number of people in the country who

looked to him to ensure that things were all right and he clearly

was doubtful whether he was quite honouring his obligations to

them. It also came out in the conversation that Cripps has not had

any personal contact with the Prime Minister for some time. From

this I would rather gather that his visit to Chequers when he was

going to raise the question of Duncan and Sinclair, about which he

spoke to me when I last saw him [3], had not materialised. I

judged from the general tone of the conversation, which was very

different from that when we met before, when Cripps indicated that

he was in very close touch with the Prime Minister, that recently

he had been held more at arms length.

The conversation, which had started on the note that unless I

could get my position more satisfactorily dealt with I was

doubtful if I could go on, rather turned at the end in the

direction of Cripps feeling very much the same way in regard to


I judged that Cripps is considerably worried by the position and

is somewhat perplexed as to what line he should take. I think the

one thing which weighs with him very much is that he does not

feel, in taking a definite line, he would get any real support

from the other members of the War Cabinet.

After we had drifted for a little time into the above atmosphere

we came back to the question of what we should attempt to do, and

Cripps then sent for a Memorandum which he said he had not

prepared himself but with which he was in very considerable

agreement. [4] When the Memorandum arrived he gave it to me and

suggested I should glance through it. As it was a fairly long one,

and obviously dealt with the position in some detail, I said that

I was afraid that was not much use to me as I took a little time

to absorb anything. Cripps then suggested that I should take the

Memorandum with me and read it quietly. This I agreed to do and

the conversation then ended.

With regard to the Memorandum, it was a fairly long document and

broadly the proposal it made was down the lines of the three

military advisers divorced from their respective Services, but it

proposed that the Secretary of State for Air, and the Secretary of

State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty should be

abolished, and all their powers be concentrated in a new Minister

for War, who really would be the successor to the Minister for


With regard to the three particular Services it was contemplated

that a Minister should preside over the Navy Board, the Army Board

and the Air Council, but that they should all three be under the

direct control of the Minister for War.

It also contemplated the abolition of the Chiefs of Staff

organisation and the Cabinet Secretariat, the two being merged

into the War Ministry.

This proposal is working in the right direction but to attempt to

bring it all about at one blow seems to me to ignore practical

difficulties. I accordingly sent the Memorandum back to Cripps

with the letter attached hereto. [5]


1 Bruce's note of 16 June to Churchill (on file AA: M100, June

1942) dealt with a matter currently in dispute between the

Admiralty and the Air Ministry, viz. the best use to be made of

long-range aircraft (see J. R. M. Butler, Grand Strategy, vol.

III, part II, HMSO, London, 1964, PP. 533-40). Bruce argued that

resources should be devoted not only to bombing Germany, but to

providing 'effective air action against the sea' and urged 'the

immediate appointment of a small high powered Committee' presided

over by 'a Cabinet Minister not associated with either the Navy or

Air Force' to examine 'how our aerial offensive power against the

sea can be strengthened both on a long-term basis and

immediately'. A portion of the note is quoted in the Second

Enclosure to Document 52. At a meeting of the Chiefs of Staff on

24 June, Portal strongly opposed Bruce's suggestion but it was

agreed that he and Pound should each nominate an officer to review

the general policy for employment of the air forces on the basis

of the priorities laid down by Churchill and Roosevelt at

Washington in December 1941. Accordingly, Rear-Admiral E. J. P.

Brind and Air Vice Marshal J. C. Slessor produced a report on 2

July (not found on Commonwealth Govt files) which supported the

Navy's case.

2 Sir Henry Tizard had approached Bruce to enlist his support for

a plan to co-ordinate matters relating to new weapons and

scientific investigation. R. A. Butler and Sir John Anderson had

also been consulted on the matter. See Bruce's note of a

conversation with Tizard on 8 July (on file AA:M100, July 1942).

3 See Bruce's note of a conversation with Cripps on 2 July (on the

file cited in note 2). Cripps appears to have intended suggesting

to Churchill that Sir Andrew Duncan and Sir Archibald Sinclair be

removed from the War Cabinet.

4 Not found on Commonwealth Govt files.

5 Dated 13 July. On the file cited in note 2.

[AA:M100, JULY 1942]

Last Updated: 2 February 2011
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