Military history

First Lord’s Minutes


First Lord to Secretary and to all Departments.


To avoid confusion, German submarines are always to be described officially as U-boats in all official papers and communiqués.

First Lord to D.N.I. and Secretary.


1. This is an excellent paper and the principles are approved. However, in the first phase (say, September) when losses may be high, it is important that you show that we are killing U-boats. The policy of silence will come down later. The daily bulletin prepared by Captain Macnamara should, when possible, for the first week be shown to the First Lord, but should not be delayed if he is not available. It is of the highest importance that the Admiralty bulletin should maintain its reputation for truthfulness, and the tone should not be forced. The bulletin of today is exactly the right tone.

2. When Parliament is sitting, if there is anything worth telling, bad or good, the First Lord or Parliamentary Secretary will be disposed to make a statement to the House in answer to friendly private-notice questions.

These statements should be concerted with the Parliamentary Secretary, who advises the First Lord on Parliamentary business. Sensational or important episodes will require special attention of the First Lord or First Sea Lord.

3. Lord Stanhope, as Leader of the House of Lords, should always be made acquainted with the substance of any statement to be made in the House of Commons upon the course of the naval war.

Moreover, the First Lord wishes that his Private Secretary should keep Lord Stanhope informed during these early weeks upon matters in which his Lordship may have been interested. He should not be cut off from the course of events at the Admiralty with which he has been so intimately concerned.

First Lord to D.N.I. (Secret.)


What is the position on the west coast of Ireland? Are there any signs of succouring U-boats in Irish creeks or inlets? It would seem that money should be spent to secure a trustworthy body of Irish agents to keep most vigilant watch. Has this been done? Please report.

First Lord to D.C.N.S.


Kindly give me report on progress of Dover barrage, and repeat weekly.

First Lord to Controller.


1. What are we doing about bringing out old merchant ships to replace tonnage losses? How many are there, and where? Kindly supply lists, with tonnage. Arrangements would have to be made to dock and clean all bottoms, otherwise speed will be grievously cut down.

2. I should be glad to receive proposals for acquiring neutral tonnage to the utmost extent.

First Lord to First Sea Lord, Controller and others.


1. It is much too soon to approve additional construction of new cruisers, which cannot be finished for at least two years, even under war conditions. The matter can be considered during the next three months. Now that we are free from all Treaty restrictions, if any cruisers are built they should be of a new type, and capable of dominating the five German 8-inch cruisers now under construction.

2. Ask the D.N.C. at his convenience to give me a legend of a 14,000- or 15,000-ton cruiser carrying 9.2 guns with good armour against 8-inch projectiles, wide radius of action, and superior speed to any existing Deutschland or German 8-inch-gun cruisers. It would be necessary before building such vessels to carry the United States with us.

3. The rest of the programme is approved, as it all bears on U-boat hunting and ought to be ready within the year.

4. I shall be very glad to discuss the general questions of policy involved with the Board.

First Lord to Prime Minister.


It seems most necessary to drill the civil population in completely putting out their private lights, and the course hitherto followed has conduced to this. But surely the great installations of lights controlled from two or three centres are in a different category.

While enforcing the household black-outs, why not let the controllable lighting burn until an air-warning is received? Then when the hooters sound, the whole of these widespread systems of lighting would go out at once together. This would reinforce the air-raid warning, and when the all-clear was sounded, they would all go up together, telling everyone. Immense inconvenience would be removed, and the depressing effect of needless darkness; and as there are at least ten minutes to spare, there would be plenty of time to make the black-out complete.

Unless you have any objection, I should like to circulate this to our colleagues.

First Lord to Controller.


Dates of Completion for Naval Construction: Tabular Statement Prepared by Controller

In peace-time, vessels are built to keep up the strength of the Navy from year to year amid political difficulties. In war-time, a definite tactical object must inspire all construction. If we take the Navies, actual and potential, of Germany and Italy, we can see clearly the exact vessels we have to cope with. Let me therefore have the comparable flotillas of each of these Powers, actual and prospective, up to 1941, so far as they are known. Having regard to the U-boat menace, which must be expected to renew itself on a much larger scale toward the end of 1940, the type of destroyer to be constructed must aim at numbers and celerity of construction rather than size and power. It ought to be possible to design destroyers which can be completed in under a year, in which case fifty at least should be begun forthwith. I am well aware of the need of a proportion of flotilla-leaders and large destroyers capable of ocean service, but the arrival in our Fleets of fifty destroyers of the medium emergency type I am contemplating would liberate all larger vessels for ocean work and for combat.

Let me have the entire picture of our existing destroyer fleet, apart from the additions shown on this paper. Until I have acquainted myself with the destroyer power, I will not try to understand the escort vessels, etc.

First Lord to Controller, D.N.C. and others.


The following ideas might be considered before our meeting at 9.30 Tuesday, September 12:

1. Suspend for a year all work on battleships that cannot come into action before the end of 1941. This decision to be reviewed every six months. Concentrate upon King George V, Prince of Wales, and Duke of York, and also upon Jellicoe if it can be pulled forward into 1941; otherwise suspend.

2. All aircraft carriers should proceed according to accelerated programme.

3. Concentrate on the Didos which can be delivered before the end of 1941. By strong administrative action it should be possible to bring all the present programme within the sacred limit, to wit, ten ships. No new Didos till this problem has been solved.

4. Fijis. Please, No! This policy of scattering over the seas weak cruisers which can neither fight nor flee the German 8-inch 10,000-ton cruisers – of which they will quite soon have five – should be abandoned. The idea of two Fijis fighting an 8-inch-gun cruiser will never come off.1 All experience shows that a cluster of weak ships will not fight one strong one. (Vide the escape of the Goeben across the mouth of the Adriatic, August, 1914.)

5. I was distressed to see that till the end of 1940, i.e., sixteen months, we only receive ten destroyers, and only seven this year, and that there is a gulf of nine months before the subsequent six are delivered. However, we have taken over the six Brazilians which arrive during 1940 and mitigate this position. Let us go forward with all these to the utmost. These ships called “destroyers” have strayed far in design from their original rôle of “torpedo-boat destroyers,” in answer to the French mosquito flotillas of the nineties. They are really small unarmoured cruisers with a far heavier stake in men and money than their capacity to stand the fire of their equals justifies. Nevertheless, for combat and for breasting ocean billows they have an indispensable part to play.

6. Fast escort vessels: I now learn these are really medium destroyers of a thousand tons. The whole of this class should be pressed forward to the utmost.

7. We have also the whale-catcher type – but this is 940 tons, which is a great deal where numbers are required. I doubt whether our dollars will enable us to place 40 of these in the United States. It would be much better to supplement them by a British-built programme of another type.

8. I would ask that a committee of (say) three sea-officers accustomed to flotilla work, plus two technicians, should sit at once to solve the following problems:

An anti-submarine and anti-air vessel which can be built within twelve months in many of the small yards of the country; 100 should be built if the design is approved. The greatest simplicity of armament and equipment must be arrived at, and a constant eye kept upon mass production requirements. The role of these vessels is to liberate the destroyers and fast escort vessels for a wider range of action, and to take over the charge of the Narrow Seas, the Channel, the inshore Western Approaches, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, against submarine attack.

I hazard specifications only to have them vetted and corrected by the committee, viz.:

500 to 600 tons.

16 to 18 knots.

2 cannons around 4-inches according as artillery may come to hand from any quarter, preferably of course firing high angle;


no torpedoes, and only moderate range of action.

These will be deemed the “Cheap and Nasties” (Cheap to us, nasty to the U-boats). These ships, being built for a particular but urgent job, will no doubt be of little value to the Navy when that job is done – but let us get the job done.

9. The submarine programme is approved as they still have a part to play.

I shall be very grateful if you will give me your views on these ideas, point by point, to-morrow night.

First Lord to First Sea Lord, Controller and others.


As it is generally impossible to use the catapult aircraft in the open ocean, but nevertheless they would be a great convenience around the South American continental promontory, the question arises whether landing-grounds or smooth-water inlets cannot be marked down on uninhabited tracts or in the lee of islands, upon which aircraft catapulted from vessels in the neighbourhood could alight, claiming, if discovered, right of asylum. They could then be picked up by the cruiser at convenience. Perhaps this has already been done.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


While I greatly desire the strengthening of this place [Scapa Flow] against A.A. attack, and regard it as a matter of extreme urgency, I consider the scale of eighty 3.7-inch guns goes beyond what is justified, having regard to other heavy needs. It is altogether out of proportion to lock up three regiments of A.A. artillery, etc. (comprising 6,200 men) for the whole war in Scapa. Scapa is no longer the base of the Grand Fleet, but only of three or four principal vessels. Alternative harbours can be used by these. The distance from Germany, 430 miles, is considerable. We must be very careful not to dissipate our strength unduly in passive defence.

I approve, therefore, of the additional sixteenth 3.7-inch as a matter of the highest urgency. But I think they should be erected by the Admiralty to avoid the long delays and heavy charges of the War Office Ordnance Board.

The second twenty equipments should be considered in relation to the needs of Malta, as well as to the aircraft factories in England. This applies still more to the full scale of 3.7-inch guns, numbering forty-four. Their destination can only be considered in relation to the future war need.

The light A.A. guns seem to be excessive, having regard to the heavy pom-pom fire of the Fleet. The searchlights and balloons are most necessary, as are also the two Fighter Squadrons. Do we not require a more powerful R.D.F. station? And should there not be an additional R.D.F. station on the mainland?

In this case the urgency of getting something into position counts far more than making large-scale plans for 1940.

Let me have reduced proposals with estimates of time and money, but without delaying action on the first instalments.

Also a report of the A.A. defences of Malta, and also of Chatham.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


It was very pleasant to see the aircraft carrier Argus in the basin at Portsmouth to-day. The boats of this vessel have been sent to the C.-in-C., Home Fleet, but no doubt they could easily be replaced, and various guns could be mounted. We are told that modern aircraft require a larger deck to fly on and off. In that case, would it not be well to build some aircraft suitable for the ship, as these can be made much quicker than a new aircraft carrier? We ought to commission Argus as soon as possible, observing that the survivors of Courageous are available. Pray consider the steps that should be taken to this end. I am told she is a very strong ship under water, but if not the bulkheads could be shored up or otherwise strengthened.2

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


D.C.N.S. and I were much impressed with the so-called Actaeon net against torpedoes, on which the “Vernon” are keen. This net was introduced at the end of the late war. It is a skirt or petticoat which is only effective when the vessel is in motion. The “Vernon” declare that a vessel can steam eighteen knots with it on. The Laconia is to be tried out with one. The net is of thin wire and large mesh. It should be easy to make in large quantities very quickly. I suggest that this is a matter of the highest urgency and significance. It should be fitted on merchant ships, liners, and also, indeed, above all upon ships of war having solitary missions without destroyer protection. Could not a committee be formed before the week is out which would grip this idea, already so far advanced by the naval authorities, and see whether it cannot be brought into the forefront of our immediate war preparations? If it is right it would require a very large scale application.3

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


The importance of using all available guns capable of firing at aircraft whether on ships in harbour or in the dockyard to resist an air attack should be impressed upon Commanders-in-Chief of Home Ports as well as upon officers at lesser stations. The concerting of the fire of these guns with the regular defences should be arranged. If necessary, the high-angle guns of ships in dry dock should be furnished with crews from the depots, and special arrangements made to supply the electrical power, even though the ship is under heavy repair. There must be many contrivances by which a greater volume of fire could be brought to bear upon attacking aircraft. We must consider the moonlight period ahead of us as one requiring exceptional vigilance. Please consider whether some general exhortations cannot be given.

First Lord to Admiral Somerville and Controller.


Let me have at your earliest convenience the programme of installation of R.D.F. in H.M. ships, showing what has been done up to date, and a forecast of future installations, with dates. Thereafter, let me have a monthly return showing progress. The first monthly return can be November 1.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


A lot of our destroyers and small craft are bumping into one another under the present hard conditions of service. We must be very careful not to damp the ardour of officers in the flotillas by making heavy weather of occasional accidents. They should be encouraged to use their ships with war-time freedom, and should feel they will not be considered guilty of unprofessional conduct, it they have done their best, and something or other happens. I am sure this is already the spirit and your view, but am anxious it should be further inculcated by the Admiralty. There should be no general rule obliging a court martial in every case of damage. The Board should use their power to dispense with this, so long as no negligence or crass stupidity is shown. Errors towards the enemy, [i.e., to fight,] should be most leniently viewed, even if the consequences are not pleasant.

First Lord to First Sea Lord, D.C.N.S. and D.N.I. (For general guidance.) (Most secret.)


1. Mr. Dulanty is thoroughly friendly to England. He was an officer under me in the Ministry of Munitions in 1917/18, but he has no control or authority in Southern Ireland (so-called Eire). He acts as a general smoother, representing everything Irish in the most favourable light. Three-quarters of the people of Southern Ireland are with us, but the implacable, malignant minority can make so much trouble that De Valera dare not do anything to offend them. All this talk about partition and the bitterness that would be healed by a union of Northern and Southern Ireland will amount to nothing. They will not unite at the present time, and we cannot in any circumstances sell the loyalists of Northern Ireland. Will you kindly consider these observations as the basis upon which Admiralty dealings with Southern Ireland should proceed?

2. There seems to be a good deal of evidence, or at any rate suspicion, that the U-boats are being succoured from West of Ireland ports by the malignant section with whom De Valera dare not interfere. And we are debarred from using Berehaven, etc. If the U-boat campaign became more dangerous we should coerce Southern Ireland both about coast watching and the use of Berehaven, etc. However, if it slackens off under our counter-attacks and protective measures, the Cabinet will not be inclined to face the serious issues which forcible measures would entail. It looks therefore as if the present bad situation will continue for the present. But the Admiralty should never cease to formulate through every channel its complaints about it, and I will from time to time bring our grievances before the Cabinet. On no account must we appear to acquiesce in, still less be contented with, the odious treatment we are receiving.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and D.C.N.S.


While anxious not to fetter in any way the discretion of C.-in-C., Home Fleet, I think it might be as well for you to point out that the sending of heavy ships far out into the North Sea will certainly entail bombing attacks from aircraft, and will not draw German warships from their harbours. Although there were no hits on the last occasion, there might easily have been losses disproportionate to the tactical objects in view. This opinion was expressed to me by several Cabinet colleagues.

The first brush between the Fleet and the air has passed off very well, and useful data have been obtained, but we do not want to run unnecessary risks with our important vessels until their A.A. has been worked up to the required standard against aircraft flying 250 miles an hour.4

First Lord to Secretary.


Surely the account you give of all these various disconnected Statistical Branches constitutes the case for a central body which should grip together all Admiralty statistics, and present them to me in a form increasingly simplified and graphic.

I want to know at the end of each week everything we have got, all the people we are employing, the progress of all vessels, works of construction, the progress of all munitions affecting us, the state of our merchant tonnage, together with losses, and numbers of every branch of the R.N. and R.M. The whole should be presented in a small book such as was kept for me by Sir Walter Layton when he was my statistical officer at the Ministry of Munitions in 1917 and 1918. Every week I had this book, which showed the past and the weekly progress, and also drew attention to what was lagging. In an hour or two I was able to cover the whole ground, as I knew exactly what to look for and where.

How do you propose this want of mine should be met?


First Lord to Secretary.


The First Lord’s Statistical Branch should consist of Professor Lindemann, who would do this besides his scientific activities, and a secretary who knows the Admiralty, a statistician, and a confidential typist who is also preferably an accountant. The duties of this branch will be:

1. To present to the First Lord a weekly picture of the progress of all new construction, showing delays from contract dates, though without inquiring into the causes, upon which First Lord will make his own inquiries.

2. To present return of all British or British-controlled merchant ships together with losses under various heads and new construction or acquisition – also forecasts of new deliveries.

(a) during the week,

(b) since the war began;

3. To record the consumption weekly and since war began of all ammunition, torpedoes, oil, etc., together with new deliveries, i.e., weekly and since the war began, monthly or weekly outputs and forecasts.

4. To keep a complete continuous statistical survey of Fleet Air Arm, going not only into aircraft but pilots, guns and equipment of all kinds, and point out all apparent lag.

5. To present a monthly survey of the losses of personnel of all kinds.

6. To keep records of inquiries and any special papers relating to numbers and strength provided by First Lord.

7. To make special inquiries, analysing for First Lord Cabinet Papers and papers from other Departments which have a statistical character, as requested by First Lord.

As soon as the personnel of the department is settled after discussion with Professor Lindemann, who should also advise on any additions to the above list of duties, a Minute must be given to all departments to make the necessary returns to Statistical Branch (to be called “S”) at the times required, and to afford any necessary assistance.

Air Supply

October 16, 1939.

This most interesting paper is encouraging, but it does not touch the question on which the War Cabinet sought information – namely, the disparity between the monthly output of new aircraft, and the number of squadrons composing the first-line air strength of the R.A.F. We were told in 1937 that there would be 1,750 first-line aircraft modernly equipped by April 1, 1938 (see Sir Thomas Inskip’s speeches). However, the House of Commons was content with the statement that this position had in fact been realised by April 1, 1939. We were throughout assured that reserves far above the German scale were the feature of the British system. We now have apparently only about 1,500 first-line aircraft with good reserves ready for action. On mobilisation the 125 squadrons of April 1, 1939, shrank to 96. It is necessary to know how many new squadrons will be fully formed during the months of November, December, January, and February. It is difficult to understand why, with a production of fighting machines which has averaged over seven hundred a month since May, and is now running even higher, only a handful of squadrons have been added to our first-line strength, and why that strength is below what we were assured was so reached in April of this year. One would have thought with outputs so large, and pilots so numerous, we should have been able to add ten or fifteen squadrons a month to our first-line air strength; and no explanation is furnished why this cannot happen. Then squadrons of sixteen each, with one hundred per cent reserves, would only amount to 320 a month, or much less than half the output from the factories. The Cabinet ought to be told what are the limiting factors. They should be told this in full detail. Is it pilots or mechanics or higher ground staff or guns or instruments of any kind? We ought not, surely, to continue in ignorance of the reasons which prevent the heavy outputs of the factories from being translated into a fighting-front of first-line aircraft organised in squadrons. It may be impossible to remedy this, but at any rate we ought to examine it without delay. It is not production that is lagging behind, but the formation of fighting units with their full reserve upon the approved scale.

D.S.R., Controller and Secretary.


I am very much obliged to the Director of Scientific Research for his interesting memorandum [on the Admiralty Research Department], and I entirely agree with the principle that the first stage is the formulation of a felt want by the fighting Service. Once this is clearly defined in terms of simple reality it is nearly always possible for the scientific experts to find a solution. The Services should always be encouraged to explain what it is that hurts or hinders them in any particular branch of their work. For instance, a soldier advancing across No-Man’s-Land is hit by a bullet which prevents his locomotion functioning further. It is no use telling him or his successor to be brave, because that condition has already been satisfied. It is clear however that if a steel plate or other obstacle had stood between the bullet and the soldier, the latter’s powers of locomotion would not have been deranged. The problem therefore becomes how to place a shield in front of the soldier. It then emerges that the shield is too heavy for him to carry, thus locomotion must be imparted to the shield; and how? Hence the tanks. This is of course a simple example.

2. In your list of Branches and Departments very little seems to be allowed for physical investigation, the bulk being concentrated upon application and development. I am therefore very glad to know that the Clarendon Laboratory will be utilised for this purpose, and I shall be dealing with the paper on that subject later in the day.

First Lord to Controller and others.


Requisitioning of Trawlers

I have asked the Minister of Agriculture to bring Mr. Ernest Bevin and his deputation to the Admiralty at 4.15 o’clock tomorrow after they have explored the ground among themselves. Let all be notified and an official letter written to the Ministry of Agriculture inviting them here. I will preside myself.

Meanwhile A.C.N.S., D.T.D. and Controller or Deputy-Controller should, together with Financial Secretary, meet together this evening to work out a plan, the object of which is the Utmost Fish, subject to naval necessity. The immediate loss arising from our requisition should be shared between ports, and the fact that a port has built the best kind of trawlers must not lead to its being the worst sufferer. Side by side with this equalisation process a type of trawler which can be built as quickly as possible, and will serve its purpose, should be given facilities in the shipyards. As soon as these trawlers flow in, they can either be added to the various ports or else be given to the ports from whom the chief requisition has been made, the equalising trawlers being restored after temporary use – this is for local opinion to decide. It is vital to keep the fish trade going, and we must fight for this part of our food supply as hard as we do against the U-boats.5

First Lord to First Sea Lord and D.C.N.S. (Most Secret)


The Turkish situation has sharpened-up. Suppose Turkey wanted us to put a Fleet in the Black Sea sufficiently strong to prevent Russian military pressure upon the Bosphorus or other parts of the Turkish northern coast, and the Cabinet were satisfied that this might either keep Russia from going to war or, if she were at war, prevent her attacking Turkey, can the Force be found? What is the strength of the Russian Black Sea marine, and what would be sufficient to master them? Might this not be an area where British submarines with a few destroyers and a couple of protecting cruisers all based on Turkish ports would be able to give an immense measure of protection? Anyhow, the possibility should be studied in all its military bearings by the Naval Staff, and ways and means of finding and maintaining the Force worked out.

Clearly, if Russia declares war upon us, we must hold the Black Sea.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and Controller.


Before going further into your paper on the Northern Barrage, I should like to know what amounts of explosives are involved, and how these could be provided without hampering the main fire of the Armies. Perhaps the Controller could today discuss this point with Mr. Burgin or the head of his Chemical Department. I do not know what are the limiting factors in this field. I hear predictions that toluene may run short. I presume the output required for the barrage would be far outside the limits of the Admiralty cordite or explosive factories. I suggest that Controller has all this information collected informally, both from the Admiralty and the Ministry of Supply, and that we talk it over on our return.6

First Lord to First Sea Lord.


I should be glad if you would arrange to discuss with the other Chiefs of Staff this morning the question of raid or invasion, having regard to the position of the Fleet and the long dark nights. I frequently combated these ideas in the late war, but now the circumstances do not seem to be altogether the same. I have of course no knowledge of the military arrangements, but it seems to me there ought to be a certain number of mobile columns or organised forces that could be thrown rapidly against any descent. Of course, it may be that the air service will be able to assume full responsibility.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and D.C.N.S.


Pray consider this note which I wrote with the idea of circulating it to the Cabinet.

It is surely not our interest to oppose Russian claims for naval bases in the Baltic. These bases are only needed against Germany, and in the process of taking them a sharp antagonism of Russian and German interests becomes apparent. We should point out to the Finns that the preservation of their country from Russian invasion and conquest is the vital matter, and this will not be affected by Russian bases in the Gulf of Finland or the Gulf of Bothnia. Apart from Germany, Russian naval power in the Baltic could never be formidable to us. It is Germany alone that is the danger and the enemy there. There is, indeed, a common interest between Great Britain and Russia in forbidding as large a part of the Baltic as possible to Germany. It is quite natural that Russia should need to have bases which prevent German aggression in the Baltic Provinces or against Petrograd. If the above reasoning is right, we ought to let the Russians know what our outlook is, while trying to persuade the Finns to make concessions, and Russia to be content with strategic points.

First Lord to D.C.N.S. and Secretary.


Arrange for a stand of arms to be placed in some convenient position in the basement and let officers and able-bodied personnel employed in the Admiralty building have a rifle, a bayonet and ammunition assigned to each. Fifty would be enough. Let this be done in forty-eight hours.

First Lord to General Smuts.

Personal and Private.


Monitor Erebus is ready to sail for Capetown. As you know we have never considered fifteen-inch guns necessary for defence of Capetown, but to please Pirow agreed to lend Erebus until those defences were modernised in view of his fear of attack by Japan. We realise the defences of Capetown remain weak, but the Germans have no battleships, and the only two battle-cruisers they possess, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, would be very unlikely to try to reach South African waters, or if they did so to risk damage far from a friendly dockyard from even weak defences. Should they break out, a major naval operation would ensue, and we shall pursue them wherever they go with our most powerful vessels until they are hunted down. Therefore, it seems to me you are unlikely to have need of this ship. On the other hand, she would be most useful for various purposes in the shallows of the Belgian coast, especially if Holland were attacked. She was indeed built by Fisher and me for this very purpose in 1914. The question is therefore mainly political. Rather than do anything to embarrass you we would do without the ship. But if you let us have her either by re-loan or re-transfer Admiralty will be most grateful, and would, of course, reimburse Union.7

All good wishes.


First Lord to Secretary.


The French have a very complete installation in the country for all the business of their Admiralty, and have already moved there. Our policy is to stay in London until it becomes really impossible, but it follows from this that every effort must be made to bring our alternative installation up to a high level of efficiency.

Pray let me know how it stands, and whether we could in fact shift at a moment’s notice without any break in control. Have the telephones, etc., been laid effectively? Are there underground wires as well as others? Do they connect with exchanges other than London, or are they dependent upon the main London exchange? If so, it is a great danger.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


I am deeply concerned at the immense slowing-down of trade, both in imports and exports, which has resulted from our struggle during the first ten weeks of the war. Unless it can be grappled with and the restriction diminished to, say, twenty per cent of normal, very grave shortage will emerge. The complaints coming in from all the Civil Departments are serious. We shall have failed in our task if we merely substitute delays for sinkings. I frankly admit I had not appreciated this aspect, but in this war we must learn from day to day. We must secretly loosen-up the convoy system (while boasting about it publicly), especially on the outer routes. An intricate study must be made of the restrictions now imposed, and consequent lengthening of voyages, and a higher degree of risk must be accepted. This is possible now that so many of our ships are armed. They can go in smaller parties. Even across the Atlantic we may have to apply this principle to a certain degree. If we could only combine with it a large effective destroyer force, sweeping the Western Approaches as a matter of course instead of providing focal points on which convoys could be directed, we should have more freedom. This is no reversal or stultification of previous policy, which was absolutely necessary at the outset. It is a refinement and development of that policy so that its end shall not be defeated.

First Lord to D.C.N.S.


It appears to me that St. Helena and Ascension must be made effectively secure against seizure by landing parties from, say, a Deutschland. We should look very foolish if we found them in possession of the two 6-inch guns with a supply ship in the harbour. I don’t feel the garrisons there are strong enough.

First Lord to First Sea Lord.


Pray let me have details of the proposed first Canadian convoy. How many ships, which ships, how many men in each ship, what speed will convoy take, escort both A-S and anti-raider? Place of assembly and date of departure should be mentioned verbally.

First Lord to Secretary and A.C.N.S.


Have you made sure that the intake of air to Admiralty basement is secure? Are there alternative intakes in case of the present one being damaged by a bomb? What would happen in the case of fire in the courtyard?

There seem to be heaps of rubbish, timber, and other inflammable material lying about, not only in the courtyard, but in some of the rooms underneath. All unnecessary inflammable material should be removed forthwith.

First Lord to First Sea Lord.


Nothing can be more important in the anti-submarine war than to try to obtain an independent flotilla which could work like a cavalry division on the approaches, without worrying about the traffic or U-boat sinkings, but could systematically search large areas over a wide front. In this way these areas would become untenable to U-boats, and many other advantages would flow from the manoeuvre.8

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


When a sudden emergency, like this magnetic-mine stunt, arises, it is natural that everyone who has any knowledge or authority in the matter should come together, and that a move should be got on in every direction. But do you not think we now want to bring into being a special section for the job, with the best man we can find at the head of it working directly under the Staff and the Board? Such a branch requires several subdivisions, for instance, one lot should be simply collecting and sifting all the evidence we have about these mines from their earliest effort on the west coast and interviewing survivors, etc., so that everything is collected and focused.

The second lot would deal with the experimental side, and the “Vernon” would be a part of this. I am told Admiral Lyster is doing something here; he has a plan of his own which he is working, but it is desirable that a general view should prevail.

The third section is concerned with action in the shape of production, and getting the stuff delivered for the different schemes; while the fourth, which is clearly operational, is already in existence.

It is not suggested that this organisation should be permanent, or that all those who take part in it should be working whole-time. It should be a feature in their daily duties, and all should be directed and concerted from the summit.

Pray consider this, and make out a paper scheme into which all would fit.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


I approve the appointment of Admiral Wake-Walker to concert the magnetic-mine business. But it is necessary that he should have precise functions and instructions. (1) He will assemble all the information available. (2) He will concert and press forward all the experiments, assigning their priority. (3) He will make proposals for the necessary production. (4) He will offer advice to the Naval Staff upon the operational aspect, which nevertheless will proceed independently from hour to hour under the Naval Staff and the C.-in-C., Nore. In all the foregoing he will of course act under the Board.

2. Let me see a chart of duties divided between these various branches, and make it clear that the officers of the various technical Departments in the Admiralty shall be at Admiral Wake-Walker’s service from time to time as may be needed. You will no doubt consult him in making this plan.

3. It is essential that Admiral Drax should be in on all this from the beginning, and also in touch with C.-in-C., Nore, so that he comes into full understanding and operation from December 1.9

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


1. We must arrive at clear ideas about the Swedish iron ore for Germany. Doubt has been thrown on whether it is important to stop this or not. I am informed by M. of E.W. that on the contrary nothing would be more deadly, not only to German war-making capacity but to the life of the country, than to stop for three or even six months this import.

2. The suggestion has been made verbally to me by the Naval Staff that when Lulea freezes we should violate Norwegian neutrality by landing a force, or perhaps stationing a ship in territorial waters at Narvik. I am opposed to both these alternatives.

3. Pray examine and advise upon a proposal to establish a minefield, blocking Norwegian territorial waters at some lonely spot on the coast as far south as convenient. If the Norwegians will do this themselves, well and good. Otherwise a plan must be made for us to do it. Doubt has been thrown upon our ability to maintain the necessary watch on this minefield, or to intercept vessels laden with ore which go outside it. But this is surely ill-founded. The mere fact that we had laid the minefield and were known to be watching and blockading would deter the ore-ships, and the process would not be too onerous for the C.-in-C., Home Fleet. However, let me have your final view.

4. It must be remembered that in addition to the ore-ships, much merchandise valuable to Germany is coming down the Norwegian Leads. A statement was shown me by the D.N.I, that five ore-ships had already, in November, gone from Narvik to Germany, and that empty ships are going up now to receive the ore. What do the M. of E.W. say to this? We must know what the facts are, and have agreement between the Departments.

5. Meanwhile, the Russians have notified us that their gigantic Arctic ice-breaker is almost immediately to come down the Norwegian territorial waters on her way nominally to Kronstadt. But at the same time we hear that the Russians are hiring this icebreaker to Germany to break the ice up to Lulea. If this were done, and no other counter-measures taken, the whole flow of ore into Germany would proceed at its present rate of nearly a million tons a month, thus completely frustrating all our policies. How are we to deal with this? I will make you a suggestion verbally; but meanwhile the Foreign Office must be consulted on the whole position.

First Lord to Secretary.


I notice that in the Air Ministry every room is provided with candles and matches for use in emergency.

Pray take steps immediately to make similar provision in the Admiralty.

First Lord to D.C.N.S. and First Sea Lord.


I should be glad if you would consider whether it is not possible to add a third vessel to the Australasian escorts. Perhaps the Australians will offer another of their cruisers, but if not, cannot we find another 6-inch-gun ship with a catapult? This would leave Ramillies freer to engage the enemy, if an attack should be made by surface ships. It enables also scouting to be done far ahead and to the flanks of the convoy, thus giving ample warning. The transportation of the Australian divisions is an historic episode in Imperial history. An accident would be a disaster. Perhaps one of our detached submarines in the Indian Ocean could also help.


First Lord to Controller and others. (Secret.)


I was much interested in D.C.N.’s remark about the possibility of making a new battleship with the four spare fifteen-inch-gun turrets. Such a vessel would be of the battleship cruiser type, heavily armoured and absolutely proof against air attack. Pray let me have a legend with estimates in money and time. This ship could come in after the King George V batch are finished and before Temeraire and Lion.10

First Lord to Secretary, D.C.N.S. and First Sea Lord.


1. In view of the danger of surprise attacks at a time when the enemy may expect to find us off our guard, there must be no break or holiday period at Christmas or the New Year. The utmost vigilance must be practised at the Admiralty and in all naval ports. On the other hand, it should be possible between now and February 15 to give a week’s leave to almost every officer concerned in staff duties. I am very glad to hear this is being planned at the Admiralty, and it will, I presume, be imitated as far as possible at the naval ports.

2. Every effort should be made to ease the strain upon the destroyer crews. At Devonport I am told admirable arrangements are made to relieve the flotilla complements as they come in from patrols, and that two or three days’ rest in port brings them round in a wonderful manner. Similar arrangements are in force at Rosyth, and Scapa, but I am told that the amenities of Scapa are so much below those of the naval ports that the men are deeply disappointed when their brief spell of rest takes place there. No doubt in some cases this is inevitable, but I trust the whole question will be reviewed with the intention of comforting these crews to the utmost extent that operations will permit.

First Lord to D.C.N.S., Admiral Wake-Walker (to initiate action) and D.S.R.


I suppose you are already looking ahead to a possible change by the enemy from magnetic mines to acoustic or supersonic. Pray let me have a note at your convenience.

First Lord to Secretary, D.C.N.S. and First Sea Lord.


It should be explained to the Foreign Office that the six-mile limit in Italian waters was instituted by the Admiralty as a voluntary and self-denying ordinance at the outset of the war. It was never communicated to the Italians, nor made public to the world. It therefore forms no part of any bargain or agreement. It was simply a convenient guide for British naval authorities at a particular juncture. It has now become onerous, and possibly deeply injurious to the blockade, and in these circumstances the Admiralty would propose as a departmental matter to notify the C.-in-C., Mediterranean, that the three-mile limit only need be observed. They will at the same time renew their injunctions to treat Italian shipping with special leniency, and to avoid causes of friction or complaint with that favoured country.

Let me see draft.


First Lord to Secretary.


Can anything be done to utilise the canal system to ease the transport of coal, north and south? Pray let me have a note on this at my return.

First Lord to First Sea Lord, Controller, D.T.M.,


Rear-Admiral A. H. Walker and Professor Lindemann Operation “Royal Marine”

1. This matter was fully discussed in France with high military authorities, and various arrangements have been made. Captain Fitzgerald and Major Jefferis have seen the necessary people and should now furnish me with reports of their work. The French military men point out that they control the head waters of the Saar and the Moselle, in addition to the Rhine, and that many possibilities are open there. All are convinced that we should not act until a really large supply of the needful is in hand. Not only must the first go-off be on the largest scale at all points, but the daily and weekly supply thereafter must be such as to keep the tension at the highest pitch indefinitely.

2. It is, of course, understood that while all action is to be prepared the final decision rests with the Governments.

3. In all circumstances I am prepared to postpone the date from the February moon to the March moon. Meanwhile, every exertion is to be made to perfect the plan and accumulate the greatest store.

4. A meeting of all concerned will be held in my room on Monday night at 9.30. By this time everyone should be able to report progress and everything should be concerted. I am asking the Secretary of State for Air to be present to hear the reports. These may be individually presented, but those concerned are to consult together in the interval. Above all, any obstacle or cause of undue delay is to be reported, so that the operations can be brought to full readiness as soon as possible. We may be forced to act before the March moon.11

First Lord to Admiral Usborne.


“U.P.” Weapon

Your report dated 12.1.40. Everything seems to be going all right except the bombs, which are the only part of this process not under our control. I note that Messrs. Venner have fallen behind in respect of one component of these. But are you satisfied that the Air Ministry have done their part with the bombs?

Pray let me have a special report on the subject, and also let me know whether I should not write to the Secretary of State for Air, asking to have this part of the business handed over to us like the rest has been. These U.P. experiments are of immense importance. The whole security of H.M. warships and merchant ships may be enhanced by this development. I am counting on you to make sure that all is concerted and brought forward together, and that we shall go into mass production on a large scale at the earliest moment.

I am sorry that the experiments today with the ejection trials were not completed, though I understand from Professor Lindemann that they were in principle satisfactory.

Pray press on with these with the utmost speed.

I think the time is coming when a report of progress should be furnished to the Air Ministry and the War Office, who have entrusted their interests in this matter to me. Perhaps, therefore, you would prepare a compendious statement, showing position to date and future prospects.12

First Lord to First Sea Lord, Controller, D.C.N.S.,

Secretary and A.C.N.S.


The First Lord wishes to congratulate all those concerned in dealing with magnetic mines on the success which has so far been achieved.

First Lord to Controller.


I am very glad to receive your paper on concrete ships. I am not at all satisfied that the idea has been sufficiently explored. Great progress has been made since the last war in ferro-concrete. Quite a different class of workmen and materials would be called into being, and the strain on our ordinary shipbuilding plans proportionately relieved. In these circumstances, I think an effort should be made to make one sea-going ship at once.13

First Lord to Naval Secretary.


Perhaps you will see Mr. Cripps (brother of Sir Stafford Cripps) who had a very good record in the last war and is a brave and able man. There must be many openings in some of our minesweepers.

[ENCLOSURE: Letter from the Hon. Frederick Cripps asking “could he be used for mine-sweeping?”]

First Lord to First Sea Lord.


A.A. Defences of Scapa

Surely it would be better to have a conference as I suggested and talk matters over round a table than that I should have to prepare a paper and raise the matter as a Cabinet issue? The squandering of our strength proceeds in every direction, everyone thinking he is serving the country by playing for safety locally. Our Army is puny as far as the fighting front is concerned; our Air Force is hopelessly inferior to the Germans’; we are not allowed to do anything to stop them receiving their vital supplies of ore; we maintain an attitude of complete passivity, dispersing our forces ever more widely; the Navy demands Scapa and Rosyth both to be kept at the highest point. Do you realise that perhaps we are heading for defeat? I feel I must do my duty, even in small things, in trying to secure effective concentration upon the enemy, and in preventing needless dispersion.

First Lord to First Sea Lord.


Fleet Air Arm – Estimated Cost During the First Twelve Months of the Year

I have been increasingly disquieted about the demand which the Fleet Air Arm involves upon British war-making resources. None the less this estimate is a surprise to me, as I had not conceived how enormous was the charge involved. I have always been a strong advocate of the Fleet Air Arm, in fact I drafted for Sir Thomas Inskip the compromise decision to which he eventually came in 1938. I feel all the more responsible for making sure that the Fleet Air Arm makes a real contribution to the present war in killing and defeating Germans.

2. When some years ago the Fleet Air Arm was being discussed, the speed of carrier-borne and shore-based aircraft was not unequal; but since then the shore-based development has been such as to make it impossible for carrier-borne aircraft to compete with shore-based. This left the Fleet Air Arm the most important duties of reconnaissance in the ocean spaces, of spotting during an action with surface ships and launching torpedo seaplane attacks upon them. However, there are very few surface ships of the enemy, and one can only consider the possible break-out of a German raider or fast battleship as potential targets. Provision must be made for this; but certainly it does not justify anything like this immense expenditure.

3. On the other hand, our air force has fallen far behind that of Germany, and under present conditions the air menace to this Island, its factories, its naval ports and shipping, as well as to the Fleet in harbour, must be considered as the only potentially mortal attack we have to fear and face. I am most anxious therefore to liberate the R.A.F. from all ordinary coastal duties in the Narrow Waters and the North Sea, and to assume this responsibility for the Fleet Air Arm, which then, and then alone, would have a task proportioned to its cost and worthy of its quality.

4. Some time ago the Air Ministry were making their way in the world and were very jealous of their sphere, but now that a prime importance has come to them, equal in many ways to that of the Royal Navy, they are much more tolerant; moreover, they are deeply anxious to increase their own disposable strength. They have recently allowed us to form two shore-based squadrons for the Orkneys, etc., and I believe that, with tact and in the present good atmosphere, this principle might be applied all along the east coast. We have, I suppose, an unequalled class of pilots and observers for such purposes, and the advantage to both Services would be unquestionable.

5. I propose, therefore, in principle for your consideration, that a plan should be drawn up by the Fifth Sea Lord, to save one hundred and one hundred and fifty pilots from the Fleet Air Arm, together with mechanics and administrative staff, in order to form six, seven, or eight shore-based naval squadrons, and that the complements of the aircraft-carriers, especially the unarmoured aircraft-carriers, should be reduced as much as is necessary. For reconnaissance in the outer seas we should have to content ourselves with very small complements. When the armoured carriers are complete, their complement must be considered in the light of the conditions prevailing then in the North Sea. The Fleet Air Arm training schools and other establishments must be rigorously combed to provide these new fighting forces.

6. If the details of this plan are worked out, I would approach the Air Ministry and offer to relieve them of the whole coastal work in Home Waters without adding to the cost to the public. We should make a smaller demand on future deliveries for carrier-borne aircraft and ask in return to be given a supply of fighters or medium bombers, perhaps not at first of the latest type, but good enough for short-range action. We should then take over the whole responsibility as a measure of war emergency, and leave the future spheres of the Department to be settled after the war is over.

Pray let me have your thought upon this.14

First Lord to D.C.N.S., D.N.I. and Secretary.


Thirty years ago I was shown Foreign Office confidential books printed on paper so inflammable that they could be almost immediately destroyed. Since then, all this business has advanced. It would be possible to print books on cellulose nitrate, which would almost explode on being lighted. Existing books could be photographed on to this with great facility. Alternatively, or conjointly, these books could be reduced to tiny proportions and read by a small projecting-apparatus. Let a small committee be formed on this question. Pray propose me names. Professor Lindemann will represent me.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and D.C.N.S.


Pictures have been published in many newspapers of the Australian troops marching through Sydney, etc., before starting for the war. Thus the enemy must know that convoys will be approaching the entrance to the Red Sea and the neighbourhood of Socotra. Although there is no intelligence of any U-boat in the Indian Ocean, how can we be quite sure one has not made its way up from Madagascar, where there was a rumour, to the Red Sea, and been oiled from some Italian or Arabian port? I must say I should feel more comfortable if anti-submarine escort could be provided from the neighbourhood of Socotra. This could be done by sending the destroyer Vendetta from Haifa to rendezvous, say two hundred miles east of Socotra, with the destroyer Westcott, which is already following up the convoy from Singapore. The presence of these two Asdic-fitted destroyers would give complete assurance, and only one of them has to go far out of her way.

Pray let me have a note on this.


First Lord to First Sea Lord.


Legend of Particulars of Third War Emergency Flotilla

Destroyers of 1,650 tons almost amount to small cruisers. These unarmoured vessels with nearly two hundred men on board become as Grenville and Exmouth have shown, a prize and a target for a U-boat in themselves. In this case the destroyers are within ten tons of the flotilla-leader. By steadily increasing the size and cost of destroyers, we transfer them gradually from the class of the hunters to that of the hunted. It is unsound to place so large a human stake in an unarmoured, highly vulnerable vessel. The length of time in building vessels of this class makes it unlikely they will take part in the present war. What we require are larger numbers of smaller vessels more quickly delivered. It will be necessary to keep the number of these very large destroyers at a minimum. The simplified armament and extra endurance are good features.

First Lord to First Sea Lord (with papers) 

D.C.N.S., D.N.I., Controller and Secretary


Japanese Strength – N.I.D. 02242/39

1. It is of the greatest importance to form a true opinion about present and prospective Japanese building. Before I can put this case to the Cabinet, I must be satisfied that there is solid evidence of the ability of Japan to construct a navy superior to the present navies of Britain and the United States, built and building. The financial condition of Japan has lamentably deteriorated. She has for two and a half years been engaged in a most ruinous war in China, between one and one and a half millions of Japanese soldiers have had to be maintained in the field. No decisive progress has been made. On the contrary, it is believed the Chinese are gaining strength. Certainly there is a marked reaction in Japan, and the internal tension is very great.

2. We must look at the kind of statements which are made about their new shipbuilding intentions in the light of these facts. They have to buy a large proportion of their materials for warship construction from over the seas, and this, with the drain of the China war, must greatly affect their foreign exchange. What would be the cost of the programme set out in the First Sea Lord’s table in yen, in sterling, and in dollars? It seems to me that they are going into figures of naval expense never attempted before at a time when their finances are rapidly deteriorating.

3. What is their capacity of steel production? What is their consuming power of steel? If my recollection serves me, the Japanese consuming power of steel is in the neighbourhood of three million tons a year, compared to British fifteen and American fifty-four. Yet such a programme as Japan is said to be embarking on would be, and is, a heavy drain on British or American strength. No doubt the heavy building in America and Britain will impose an additional effort on Japan. Whether they can go the pace is quite another question. I do not feel that mere rumours of ships they are said to have laid down form a sufficient basis. Has Major Morton’s Branch or Committee which studies the military capacities of enemy or potentially enemy countries been consulted?

In short, I am extremely sceptical of the Japanese power to build a fleet equal to the present built and building fleets of either Britain or the United States.

First Lord to First Sea Lord.


In view of yesterday’s Cabinet decision all preparations should be made to carry out the operation referred to as soon as possible.

Pray let me have your proposals.

I consider the matter is most urgent, as it must be linked with the Altmark. The operation being minor and innocent may be called “Wilfred.” 15

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


Let me have an early report on condition of Exeter and time likely for her repairs. Every effort should be made to keep the crew together. If Exeter repairs take more than three or four months, what are the other cruisers coming along in the interval by which Exeter’s crew could be taken on with their present captain? In the Army it would be thought madness to break up a unit like this, and I do not see why the same moral consideration should not affect the Navy too.16

First Lord to Controller and others.


Reclassification of Smaller War Vessels

Director of Plan’s remark that the terms “destroyer has by association come to imply a particular type of vessel whose principal weapon is the torpedo” ignores the whole story of the destroyer, whose chief function was to destroy the torpedo-boat with superior gun-fire. The idea of destruction is not confined to destruction by torpedo; it may equally be expressed by depth-charges or gun-fire.

I agree with First Sea Lord about the needlessness of repeating the word “vessel,” and his wish to simplify all titles to one word.

I should like the word “destroyer” to cover ships formerly described as “fast escort vessels,” which are, in fact, medium destroyers. I do not like the word “whaler,” which is an entire misnomer, as they are not going to catch whales, and I should like to have some suggestions about this. What is, in fact, the distinction between an “escorter,” a “patroller,” and a “whaler” as now specified? It seems most important to arrive at simple conclusions quickly on this subject, and enforce them from March 1 on all commands and departments. Let me see a list of the vessels built and building which will fall in the various categories.17

MARCH, 1940

First Lord to First Sea Lord and Secretary.


A plan should be prepared for a battleship concentration in the Mediterranean (with other craft), supposing trouble should arise in March. I do not expect trouble; but it would be well to have all the combinations surveyed in advance.18

First Lord to First Sea Lord, Controller and others.


After the air attack on the Fleet on September 26, we all thought it most necessary to train the A.A. gunners against faster targets than those hitherto provided. Ideas were suggested by Professor Lindemann, experiments were made, and other ideas for flares, etc., put forward by the “Vernon.” What has happened about all this? Of course the weather has been terribly against it, but I fear there have virtually been no practices in Home Waters at high-speed targets. Five months have passed, and it is very serious if we have not been able to develop an effective system of fast targets, and obtain the necessary machines so that the Fleet can work up.

We must have this now that the weather is improving and the Fleet back at Scapa. An improvement in the gunnery of H.M. ships is of the utmost importance to their safety.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and Controller.


Repairing ships is better than new building. A strong effort should be made to turn this 8,000-ton ship Domala into an effective cargo-carrying bottom immediately she can be seized upon, and repaired in the plainest way for the roughest work.

2. Are we doing enough about salvage? Let me have a return of the vessels now beached on our coasts, and a report on the measures taken to fit them again for sea. The very minimum should be done to them, compatible to life and navigation. There ought to be a tremendous move-on in the salvage and repair departments. The tonnage working on any given day ranks above the rate of new merchant shipbuilding.

First Lord to First Sea Lord.


I think it would be only prudent for you to concert with the French the necessary regroupings of the Allied Fleets, which would be appropriate to a hostile or menacing Italian attitude. Perhaps you will let me know about this on my return.

First Lord to Parliamentary Secretary.


I am very glad you have had a considerable measure of success in your parleys with the trades unions. Be careful about the “Ministry of Labour Training Centres.” As hitherto organised, these have been nothing but quasi-philanthropic institutions to tone-up the unfortunate people in the derelict areas. They have never been organised to make skilled tradesmen out of semi-skilled. In their present condition they are a snare so far as we are concerned. We have got to get competent people to learn new trades. The Minister of Labour has always said that his training centres cannot touch any but the unemployed, meaning thereby the peace-time unemployed. What we have to cater for is a far livelier class who are changing their occupations in consequence of the war.

I think you must rely on training in the dockyards and in special training schools stablished by the Admiralty.

Speak to me about this, as it seems to me to be a serious flaw.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


Now that we are not allowed to interfere with the Norwegian Corridor, would it not be possible to have one or two merchant ships of sufficient speed, specially strengthened in the bows and if possible equipped with a ram? These vessels would carry merchandise and travel up the Leads looking for German ore-ships or any other German merchant vessels, and then ram them by accident. This is only another development of the “Q” ship idea.

First Lord to D.C.N.S., D.N.I. (to initiate action).



Mr. Shinwell declares that in Vigo there are still a number of German merchant ships, many of whose crews are non-German, and among the Germans many non-Nazis. He suggests that with a little money and some organisation it would be possible to get these crews to take the ships to sea, when they could be picked up by our ships, and those who had brought them out suitably rewarded. Is there anything in this?

First Lord to D.C.N.S. and First Sea Lord.


Cutting from D.T. 29.3.40. Twenty Nazi ships get ready to sail – attempts to run the blockade (Amsterdam, Friday). Elster reported at Rotterdam.

The reason why I cut this from the Daily Telegraph and asked my question of the D.N.I. is because an exodus of German ships from Dutch ports might well be a danger-sign in respect of Holland herself. I have no doubt the same thought has occurred to you.

First Lord to Secretary.


War Cabinet Sub-Committee on Reserved Occupations.

Note by Treasury.

While there are nearly 1,500,000 unemployed and no serious drain of casualties from the Army, I propose to resist the disturbance of Admiralty work by movement of men we need from the dockyards. The matter must be settled by Cabinet decision. You should let Sir Horace Wilson know how much I regret I cannot meet his views.

APRIL, 1940

First Lord to Controller.


Where are the facts about the return of the 40 destroyers, which are in hospital, to their duty? And can anything be done to speed up new destroyers, especially those of the 40th Flotilla, by leaving out some of the final improvements and latest additions, which take so much time? The great aim must be to have the maximum numbers during these coming summer months. They can go back to have further treatment when we have a larger margin.

First Lord to First Sea Lord, and others.


While I do not see any adverse change in the Italian situation, I presume that the appropriate Departments of the Admiralty Staff are at work upon, or have already completed, a plan of naval operations in the Mediterranean against Italy, should she force us into war with her. We might be asked for this by the Cabinet, and I should be glad to see it as soon as possible, at any rate during the course of the next four or five days.

First Lord to Controller.


The most intense efforts should be concentrated upon Hood, as we may need all our strength to meet an Italian threat or attack.

Pray let me have a time-table showing when she will be ready for sea.

First Lord to D.C.N.S.


Are there any other Danish islands besides the Faroes which require attention?

Will you also kindly ask the Staff to examine the position at Curaçao, in case Holland should be overrun. The Fourth Sea Lord spoke to me on the oil supplies dependent upon Curaçao Refineries. I should like a short paper upon the subject.

First Lord to Sir James Lithgow.


Weekly Statement of Shipyard Workers, dated 9.IV.40.

This report is much more favourable, and for the first time shows a lift on new merchant construction. Altogether we have added fifteen thousand men since February 1, when we took over. Are you satisfied that all arrangements made by the late Parliamentary Secretary are completed, and working satisfactorily? We shall want another thirty thousand men, and the most strenuous efforts must be made to procure them. Can anything else be done now?

Has not the time arrived when you will be ready with your report for the Cabinet, which I rather hoped to have sent them last week? I should like to be able to have it ready for them next week. Will you kindly let me see it in outline first?

First Lord to D.C.N.S.


One of the branches under your control should make a careful study of Spanish islands, in case Spain should be drawn into a breach of neutrality.

First Lord to Controller, First Sea Lord and Secretary.


Controller’s Minute of April 13 about “Hood” 19

This is a very different story to what was told me when it was proposed to repair this ship at Malta. I was assured that the whole operation would take thirty-five days, and that the ship would never be at more than thirty-five days’ notice, and that only for a short time. When I asked the other day how long it would take to bring Hood back into service, I was told fourteen days. I take it, therefore, she has been above twenty days under repair at present, to which must now be added seventeen days more in April and thirty-one in May – total seventy-eight days – or much more than double what I was told before this vital ship was laid up in this critical period. Pray give me an explanation of this extraordinary change. Moreover, after these seventy-eight days there are to be fourteen days repairing her reserve feed tanks – total, therefore, ninety-two days, or more than three months at the most critical period in the war.

The engineer in charge of the Hood assured me when I was last at Scapa that they had found out the way to nurse her defective condenser tubes so as to get twenty-seven knots, and that there was no reason why she should not remain in commission and carry on for six months.

I much regret not to have been more accurately informed in view of the Italian attitude.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


On the assumption that Narvik falls into our hands in the near future we must consider the uses to which we intend to put it. First we want to make it a convenient oiling-base, where our flotillas acting on the Norwegian coast can refuel at the highest economy. Secondly, we require to ship the masses of ore there to this country in a very active manner.

For these purposes we must have a moderate garrison, say about a thousand Territorial troops. A few efficient A.A. batteries, both high and low ceiling; a well-netted, boomed and perhaps partially mined barrier; and a good supply of oil in tankers. Is there plenty of fresh water?

We must expect sporadic attacks from the air. A few coast-defence guns should be mounted to protect the approaches. The sunken German torpedo boats might perhaps supply some of these. Their salvage and repair must be explored, and the port got working as soon as possible. Some of the working party of Marines now being raised might well be sent to Narvik. There are, I believe, good shops where repairs can be effected. A portion of the staff, I suppose Plans Division, should begin work on this question today and formulate requirements. Our object must be to make Narvik self-supporting and self-defended at the earliest moment after we have it in our power, as we shall want all our stuff lower down the coast. The necessary guns (A.A.) may be taken from A.D.G.B.

First Lord to Civil Lord.



With your experience and connections in the Department, you should now assume the duty of concerting the action to make the Faroes satisfactory for our purposes. D.C.N.S. will supply you with requirements. Pray make a weekly report. We must have an aerodrome and an R.D.F. at the very earliest moment, together with a certain amount of A.A. defence, and a few coast guns. This will be a very tempting base for a raider.

First Lord to Prime Minister.


Commentary on German Report Obtained by the French on Ammunition

It is an error to suppose that an offensive can be maintained merely by the unlimited use of artillery ammunition. The creation of a labyrinth or zone of crater fields becomes itself an obstacle, of great difficulty to the attacking army. The moment must come when the infantry advance into this zone and have to fight hand-to-hand with the defenders. Meanwhile, so far as expenditure of ammunition is concerned, the defence can reserve its power till the enemy’s infantry advance, and thus economise to an enormous extent. There is no truth in the statement that “all great offensives always came to a stop solely because the attacking armies did not have sufficient ammunition.” The impulse of an offensive dies away as the fighting troops become more distant from their point of departure. They thus get ahead of their supplies, whether ammunition or food. The more they have pulverised the intervening ground with their artillery, the more difficult it is to bring supplies of ammunition, even if they have them in their original forward dumps, up to the fighting troops. It is at such moments that the opportunity to deliver the counter-strokes arises.

Altogether this paper, which is most interesting, gives me the impression of being written by someone high up in the Munitions Department of Germany, who naturally thinks in terms only of shell. Shell is very important, and we are not likely to have too much of it, but there is not the slightest reason for supposing that unlimited artillery ammunition can win victory on a great scale in modern war. The transportation of the ammunition to the guns in the various phases of the battle remains, as heretofore, the limiting factor upon the artillery.

First Lord to Admiral Somerville.


Pray give me a short note upon the present position of R.D.F. so far as it concerns the Navy and Coast Defence, showing weak points and anything you wish done to remedy them.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and V.C.N.S.


The reason why I am worrying about these minefields on the approaches to Narvik is that now Warspite has quitted, and we have an uncocked-up ship in Resolution only, this ship might be at a disadvantage in range should Scharnhorst or Gneisenau turn up one fine morning. Perhaps however it is possible to shelter in a fiord so as to avoid long-range fire, and force action at reduced ranges, or perhaps Resolution could be careened. Anyhow, I think it indispensable that we should reach certainty so far as the defence of Narvik from a surface raid is concerned.20

(Action this Day.)

First Lord to First Sea Lord and others.


In view of the bad reports from the Faroes about aircraft or seaplane bases and the fact we must reckon with the Germans all along the Norwegian coast, it seems indispensable that we have a base in Iceland for our flying-boats and for oiling the ships on the Northern Patrol. Let a case be prepared for submission to the Foreign Office. The sooner we let the Icelanders know that this is what we require the better.21

First Lord to Sir James Lithgow and Controller.


These figures of our shipping gains from the German aggression against Norway and Denmark amount roughly to 750 ships, aggregating 3,000,000 tons. The effect of this upon our shipping and shipbuilding position requires to be considered. Clearly, we have obtained an easement we never foresaw when we embarked upon our present programme. I should be glad to know your reaction, and in particular how the latest paper prepared by Sir James Lithgow is affected.


First Lord to First Sea Lord, Second Sea Lord, and



I have just approved the message to the Northern Patrol.

About the Newfoundland fishermen: the boatwork of the Newfoundlanders was an important thing to render this effective in the stormy winter months. These men are the hardiest and most skilful boatmen in rough seas who exist. They long for employment. Please propose me measures at once to raise one thousand R.N.V.R. in Newfoundland; drafting the necessary letter to the Dominions Office and outlining terms and conditions. They have nothing to learn about the sea, but almost immediately some method of training and discipline could be brought into play. In ten days at the outside this should be working in Newfoundland.

First Lord to Second Sea Lord.


In conversation with the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, I have promised to look into the question of providing a theatre and cinema ship for the Home Fleet and Northern Patrol at Scapa.

I think it much more desirable to use a ship than shore facilities. I have in mind the arrangements made for the Grand Fleet during the last war, when S.S. Gurko was used.

The ship should contain a large N.A.A.F.I. shop as well as cinema and theatrical facilities, and possibly could be combined with a refrigerator storage ship.

Pray let me have your plans for implementing this most important adjunct of naval life at Scapa.

First Lord to Second Sea Lord and Secretary. (Secret.)


Leakage of Information

This is a proposal to dismiss from the Royal Navy, without trial, without formulating a charge, or even questioning, a petty officer who is identified with half-a-dozen of the same name by the fact that he has very white teeth, and who is reported to have been at a dinner at some unspecified date at which presumably indiscreet talk occurred. There is no suggestion that he was paid money, or that there was any treasonable intention. I do not find in these papers the slightest evidence that could be adduced before any court against this man, nor does the Director of Public Prosecutions. Yet, without being given any chance of defending himself, he is to be cast from the Service at the outset of a great war, with the kind of suspicion hanging over him for the rest of his life of having been a spy or a traitor.

Such processes cannot be allowed. If it is thought worth while to pursue these not very serious though annoying leakages into the sphere of penal action, the man must plainly be charged with some definite offence known to the Naval Discipline Act and brought before a court martial which can alone pronounce upon his guilt or innocence.

With regard to the dockyard employees and others, against whom the evidence is also vague and flimsy, no such procedure is necessary. It might perhaps be permissible, as a matter of administration, to move them about a little.

First Lord to Secretary.


Let me have a list at once of the branches to which promotion from the lower deck still does not apply. What proportion do these branches bear to the other branches?

First Lord to Second Sea Lord, Parliamentary

Secretary and Secretary.


Will you kindly explain to me the reasons which debar individuals in certain branches from rising by merit to commissioned rank? If a cook may rise, or a steward, why not an electrical artificer or an ordnance rating or a shipwright? If a telegraphist may rise, why not a painter? Apparently there is no difficulty about painters rising in Germany!

First Lord to Secretary.


Admirals of the Fleet

This matter does not require verbal treatment. Kindly draft Minutes f.m.s. [for my signature] to First and Second Sea Lords in the sense of surmounting the difficulties. I am very clear that the Admirals of the Fleet should remain on the Active List like Field-Marshals, and should not be penalised for winning promotion unduly young. You might explain to the Treasury privately that no money is involved. What is the value of being made Admiral of the Fleet if it is only to hoist the Union flag for one day and retire to Cheltenham, writing occasional letters to The Times?

First Lord to Second Sea Lord and others concerned

and Secretary.


There must be no discrimination on grounds of race or colour [in the employment of Indians or Colonial natives in the Royal Navy]. In practice much inconvenience would arise if this theoretical equality had many examples. Each case must be judged on its merits, from the point of view of smooth administration. I cannot see any objection to Indians serving on H.M. ships where they are qualified and needed, or, if their virtues so deserve, rising to be Admirals of the Fleet. But not too many of them, please.

First Lord to First Sea Lord.


I see no reason to suspend these enlistments or bar the Navy door to the Dominions in time of war. Most particularly am I concerned with Newfoundland, about which I have given special directions. The Newfoundlanders are certainly not to be “left to find their own way to this country” from Newfoundland. Care and pains are to be taken to recruit, train and convey to the United Kingdom as many as possible. I hope we shall get one thousand. I understand this is in progress, and let me have a report saying exactly what is being done in Newfoundland.

With regard to the other Dominions, suitable enlistments should be accepted whether for hostilities only or for permanent service. These ratings can be trained at the naval ports in the Dominions: at Sydney, at Halifax and Esquimalt, and at Simonstown. Opportunity will then be given to transport the men in batches to this country or draft them on to His Majesty’s ships visiting the Dominions.

Pray let a scheme on these lines be put forward with a view to surmounting the difficulties.

First Lord to Naval Secretary and others concerned.


“Salmon’s” War Patrol Narrative

I am in entire accord with the Second Sea Lord’s Minute of yesterday. I shall be most willing to concur in the promotion and honours proposed, both to the officers and to the men. I await the proposals of the Sea Lords in respect of the promotion. Naval Secretary should prepare submissions for the Honours to the King, and, if possible, these should be published, both as to officers and men, before the Salmon sails again. Perhaps His Majesty would like himself to see the officer (Lieutenant-Commander Bickford), and conclude the audience by pinning on the D.S.O. Naval Secretary might find out what they think about this at the Palace. It seems probable that similar, though not necessarily the same, awards will be required in the case of the Commander of the Ursula, and here again the crew must participate. Every effort must be made to announce the awards to the men at the same time as the officers. The whole of this should be put through in forty-eight hours at the latest.

First Lord to Fourth Sea Lord.


I am told that the minesweeper men have no badge. If this is so, it must be remedied at once. I have asked Mr. Bracken to call for designs from Sir Kenneth Clark within one week, after which production must begin with the greatest speed, and distribution as the deliveries come to hand.

Special Entry Cadetship.


It seems very difficult to understand why this candidate should have been so decisively rejected in view of his high educational qualifications, his Service connections, and his record as set out by his father in his letter of January 4. One has to be particularly careful that class prejudice does not enter into these decisions, and, unless some better reasons are given to me I shall have to ask my Naval Secretary to interview the boy on my behalf, before assuming responsibility for writing to his father as proposed.

First Lord to Secretary.


Candidate for the Navy Entrance Examination, November, 1939, who failed

I do not at all mind “going behind the opinion of a board duly constituted,” or even changing the board or its chairman if I think injustice has been done. How long is it since this board was re-modelled? I could not help being unfavourably struck with the aspect of the Dartmouth cadets whom I saw marching by the other day. On the other hand I was enormously impressed with the candidates for commission from the ranks who I saw drilling and being trained on the parade-ground at Portsmouth. They were of course much older, but a far finer-looking type.

Not only shall my Naval Secretary see the boy, but I shall hope to have time to see him myself. Who are the naval representatives on the board of selection? Naval officers should be well represented.

Action accordingly.

Let me have a list of the whole board – with the full records of each member and the date of his appointment.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and D.C.N.S.


I should like Salmon to go to Devonport as you suggested as an extra practice submarine for a few months after the severe and distinguished service she has rendered. There would be advantages in having Commander Bickford in the Plans Division of the Admiralty for, say six months, in order to bring them in close and direct contact with the very latest conditions prevailing in Heligoland Bight. This officer seems to me very able, and he has many things today about anti-U-boat warfare which I trust will be gathered at the earliest opportunity.

2. Is there any reason why Ursula should not go, on escort to the Norwegian convoy?

3. There may be other vessels which R.A.S. (Rear Admiral Submarines) would say have also had heavy strain. Perhaps this might be looked into later.

4. If the war were general and everybody engaged to the hilt there would be no need to consider these variations of duty. But considering that the peculiar brunt falls upon very few at the present time, and that nothing is comparable to submarine work amid the minefields and all its increasing dangers, I am strongly of the opinion that we should keep a rotation, shifting boats and crews which have had a particularly hard time, or have distinguished themselves, to easier duties, and letting others have a chance of winning renown. Is there any possibility of arranging a certain number of relief crews for submarines, suitable for the Bight so as to divide the strain among a larger proportion of the personnel? I should like this to be studied.

5. Have the men of the Salmon and Ursula received their medals and honours? The officers have already been decorated. Let special measures be taken to ensure that the men have these rewards before they go to sea again.

First Lord to Second Sea Lord and Fourth Sea Lord.


Backgammon would be a good game for Wardroom, Gunroom, and Warrant Officers’ Mess, and I have no doubt it would amuse the sailors. What happened to the one thousand pounds Lord Rothermere gave me for various kinds of amusements? Is it all expended, and how? I have no doubt I could get some more if necessary. Backgammon is a better game than cards for the circumstances of wartime afloat, because it whiles away twenty minutes or a quarter of an hour, whereas cards are a much longer business.

First Lord to First Sea Lord and Second Sea Lord.


I see charges of looting preferred against our men in the German press. I should not think it necessary to mention this but for the fact that it has come to my notice that the Captain of the Altmark’s watch, chronometer, and Iron Cross were stolen, and are now in the hands of some of the sailors as souvenirs. Anything of this kind must be stopped with the utmost strictness. No souvenir of any value can be preserved without being reported and permission obtained. Personal property of enemies may be confiscated by the State, but never by individuals.

First Lord to Second Sea Lord.


I have seen the three candidates. Considering that these three boys were fifth, eighth, and seventeenth in the educational competitive examination out of more than ninety successful, 320 qualified, and 400 who competed, I see no reason why they should have been described as unfit for the Naval Service. It is quite true that A has a slightly cockney accent, and that the other two are the sons of a chief petty officer and an engineer in the merchant service. But the whole intention of competitive examination is to open the career to ability, irrespective of class or fortune. Generally speaking, in the case of candidates who do exceptionally well in the examination, the presumption should be that they will be accepted. Similarly, those who do very badly in the educational examination may nevertheless in a few cases be fit to serve. But the idea of rejecting boys at the very top of the list, unless some very grave defect presents itself, is wholly contrary to the principles approved by Parliament.

I am sure if the Committee, when they had these boys before them, had known that they were among the cleverest in the whole list, they would not have taken so severe a view and ruled them out altogether on the personal interview. It seems to me that in future the Committee ought to conduct the interview after the examination, and with the results of it before them. Furthermore, it is wrong that a boy should be allowed to sit for examination, with all the stress and anxiety attached to it, when it has already been settled that, even if he is first on the list, he has already been ruled out.

I also feel that there is no need for any mention of a disqualifying standard for interview and record. The Interview Board should also be instructed that they may award different marks to the same candidate for different branches of the Service. It is obvious that a boy may be much more suitable for the Paymaster than the Executive Branch, and the Committee should be able to differentiate accordingly.

There will, of course, be no need for the Interview Committee to see all the candidates. There must be a qualifying educational standard. This is four hundred marks at present, out of a total of 1,350. I notice that all the successful boys in the last examination had well over six hundred marks. Surely it would ease the work of the Interview Committee if the qualifying educational standard were raised?

Pray make me proposals for rearranging the present system so as to achieve the above conditions. Cadetships are to be given in the three cases I have mentioned.

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