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75 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Smuts

[LONDON], 14 November 1942

I went to see Smuts on Friday night. I told him that I had come to
see him with regard to his statement, when receiving the Freedom
of Plymouth, as to the necessity for a concentration upon the
problem of the U-Boat menace and the danger to our communications.

I said this was the subject I had been more interested in than any
other and I trusted before he went away he was going to insist
upon something being done.

I then told him that I had started on this question in January
last and had done what I could with individual members of the War
Cabinet prior to my taking over the job of Australia's
representative in the War Cabinet. I had, however, met with very
little success. Accordingly when I became Australia's
representative, I sent, in June, a Note to the Prime Minister
giving him my views on the subject. [1]

I told Smuts I proposed to leave with him a copy of that Note. I
then told him that, as a result of my Note, which at that stage
was not distributed to the War Cabinet, a considerable flutter was
caused and the Chiefs of Staff were given my Note and instructed
to deal with the matter.

As a result, at the end of July, the Chiefs of Staff had put in a
paper which I had regarded as utterly inadequate and hopelessly
illogical. I had accordingly circulated a reply to the Chiefs of
Staff Note [2] to the members of the War Cabinet, to which I had
annexed the Note I had sent to the Prime Minister in June.

(The printed document embodying my reply to the Chiefs of Staff
and my original Note to the Prime Minister as an Annex, I left
with Smuts and he promised to read them.)
I then gave him the history of the lack of results in the
intervening period up to the point where the Sub-Committee of the
Cabinet, with the Prime Minister as Chairman and Cripps as Vice-
Chairman, had been appointed.

I told Smuts that this had appeared to me to be a solution at
last, in that what had been done was exactly what I had suggested
in my Note. I then told him that my confidence that a solution had
been found had been shaken by a conversation which I had had with
Cripps two nights ago. [3] In that conversation Cripps had told me
that they had had one meeting of this Committee at which nothing
had been done, but the time had been merely taken up by a
dissertation on the subject by the Prime Minister.

Cripps had also told me that there was a further meeting of the
Committee that day, Friday, but I had not yet heard what had

Smuts then told me that he had spoken to the Prime Minister
yesterday morning about this matter and as a result had been asked
to the meeting that day. The meeting I gathered consisted of the
Prime Minister and Cripps with Sinclair and Alexander representing
the Air Force and the Navy.

Smuts told me that at the meeting he had urged the necessity of
this question being dealt with specially and a further meeting was
being held on Wednesday next when the answers to certain questions
which had been posed to the Services were to be produced. I told
Smuts that this was all in the right direction but he had to
recognise that unless he insisted on something being done and done
immediately the matter would drift on.

Smuts said that the Prime Minister had told him that he, the Prime
Minister, had every confidence in the Navy being able to find the
answer. I urged on Smuts that that was a most dangerous point of
view as the Navy alone, owing to modern developments, could not
find the answer. It had to be a combination of sea and air and I
stressed to him that I did not think the matter was being looked
at with sufficient vision. I told him of the Note I had sent to
the Prime Minister urging that the Air was taking too small a
view. [4]

Broadly I did everything I could to bring home to Smuts the
importance of this question, emphasising that in my view now that
the war had taken a more favourable turn this was the major issue
that we were up against.

Smuts said that he entirely agreed and used the expression that
his nose told him that this was where the real danger lay and he
referred to Hitler's recent speech where he, Hitler, had laid such
emphasis upon their U-Boat campaign.

I am hopeful that Smuts will pursue this question but I am a
little afraid of his returning to South Africa before he has
really pinned the Prime Minister down. My own view is that this
matter should be dealt with as the outstanding problem and a
special Commander with his own staff should be put in charge of
what is an actual battle in the same way as Alexander was put to
fight the Battle of Egypt, and Eisenhower the Battle of North


1 See Document 5, note 1.

2 See Document 13.

3 See Document 73.

4 Document 52, Second Enclosure.

[AA:M100, NOVEMBER 1942]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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