ADM 205/3 - First Sea Lord's private correspondence:
Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse and Admiral Sir Dudley Pound 1938 - 1939

Updated 26-Jun-2009

In this section of the site you will find a transcription of Admiralty document ADM 205/3 - First Sea Lord's private correspondence: Admiral
Sir Roger Backhouse and Admiral Sir Dudley Pound 1938 - 1939. The original document is held at The National Archives, Kew, London. The records are Crown Copyright and reproduced here due to copyright waiver or otherwise by kind permission of The National Archives. We would like to thank Peter Beeston for transcribing this document for us. The transcription is not complete at this stage. Further pages will be added as time permits. Help in transcribing documents or converting transcriptions to html is always welcomed. If you are interested in helping with either of these processes please contact us.


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CASE 00361 Volume 3
1939 - 1945
1939 - Part 3


File No. Subject
11. First Sea Lord's Secret Private Correspondence
12. Miscellaneous


1939 - Part 1 - Files 1 to 9 - is contained in Vol. 1

1939 - Part 2 - File No. 10 - is contained in Vol 2.

For full details of contents of these Volumes and subject and nominal index see Vol. .


Case 00261 Vol 3.
File No. 1

First Sea Lord's Secret Private Correspondence


A. October 1938 to June 1939. First Sea Lord - Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse
B. June to December 1939. First Sea Lord - Admiral Sir A. Dudley Pound.



2. S.L.
3. S.L.
4. S.L.
5. S.L.
The attached ?letter? may interest you. Kindly pass on & return ???when read.



H.M.S. "Nelson"
8th October 38

My dear 1st Sea Lord,

Many thanks for your of the 5th & I had no doubt as to your being busy!!

Everyone up here quite appreciated about the de-mobilising by numbers - I should have got the Reservists away a day earlier if only everyone had been just ½ an hour quicker. The "Furious" came in to Scapa whilst the centre of the depression was ?? to us & I told them they had until 2PM to get them all on board - the last load got on board at 3PM & by 3.5PM it was blowing like hell & she could not face the boom & did not get out until next day. - The Reservists, by the way, made a signal thanking everyone in the Fleet for the kindness shown them so think they were quite happy.

We sent down yesterday all the active service ratings (except Resolution & Cornwall) which will ease things a bit for you as regards commissioning new ships etc. - Both Reservists & active service fill ups saw one full calibre firing except for destroyers boiler cleaning.

Personally I very much give the late 1st ???????


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As regards points which have come up in the last fortnight I am sending in each separately and one omnibus copy of the whole thing. I am doing it this way because I understand "Alexandria" which was done in the omnibus fashion took two years to get round the Admiralty.

As an example - I have done a couple of small points to-day viz:-

(i) Arrangements for fuelling submarines at Aberdeen - Director of Stores and 4th Sea Lord deal and

(ii) Bollards necessary at Aberdeen for making the depot ship fast to (the bollards there are for trawlers only) - C.E. in C. And Civil Lord deal.

The real snags which want remedying badly are:-

(i) External communications from Scapa by which I mean

(a) Teleprinter etc., lines to the except on paper in "C.O.C.O.S.!" organization even when the buoy is laid.

(b) Wireless, which has to do with the depot ships and which you already know of.

(ii) Internal communications at Scapa. These are also non-existent except on paper and barring what the Fleet rigged up with the resources we had available. A good example of this is the Hoxa Boom. There is no means of telling them to open the gate when we want to get out!! Whilst there the Fleet rigged up a signal station on Flotta (the old mast is still there but we only had a lean-to as shelter), a telephone line from it to Flotta post office and a telephone line from the post office to the gate vessel, but our under-water telephone line will not last any time.

(iii) Transfer of I.F.Y. D/F to Wick D/F station. I have already written to D.N.I. about this. Note. (i)(a), (ii) and (iii) have to do with the post office.


(iv) Two small ships, each capable of carrying 200 men and their baggage, are required to bring the Reservists, Active-Service make-up ratings and the Army from Scrabster to Scapa. We did it this time with the Minesweepers (the Tugs draw too much water) but if mobilisation and the outbreak of war take place at the same time the minesweepers would not be available. Further, we had luck with the weather bringing them over; but going back, Furious had to take Reservists to Rosyth, the Fleet the active service ratings to Invergordon and a Cruiser the Army to Invergordon. The Army are absolutely dependent on us and number 250 with 60 tons of baggage.

(v) Restriction of navigation Lighting in Time of War. The first list came with Admiralty letter M/H3716/38 of 8th September, and I had it copied (16 sheet) and distributed. On 23rd September an amended and completed list (74 double sheets) arrived in Admiralty letter M/H.6263/38 of 23rd September, but I could not cope with the copying of this and asked Admiralty to supply enough copies for all ships; these never turned up. The Nore Command list also never turned up.


The whole experience, including the bad weather at Scapa, has been invaluable to everyone - to myself for instance, by being faced on 26th September with the fact that every destroyer was due for boiler cleaning and having to make up my mind after listening to the news on the B.B.C. whether to out four or two out of action at a time; to C.S. II in that Walrus aircraft cannot land in the sea at Scapa in a gale; to the Captain of the Resolution in that 15 knots is about the right speed to go through the Hoxa boom gate; not 8 knots; to Commodore (D) in that a fog is a fog even in war time etc., etc. Everyone has been most cheerful and they have all worked hard and well on the numerous extraneous jobs that had to be done. The drifters have been invaluable.

Yours ever,


Charles Forbes




Postal address:-
The British Naval Commander-in-Chief
America & West Indies Station
c/o H.B.M. Consul-General
New York

Telegraphic address:-


"YORK" at sea,
3rd October 1938

My dear Roger,

What a wonderful moment you choose to take over as C.N.S. I am sure none of you predecessors have ever had to get into the chair so quickly.

Looked upon as a test mobilisation I am sure this recent spasm has had value to us all. I am dealing with "lessons learnt" out here and won't bother you with those in this private letter.

Looking back, I wish I had sailed for the Caribbean when the political barometer started to fall whilst I was at San Francisco, September 5th to 14th, but I always had in my mind the undesirability of starting warlike movements too soon, especially in U.S. ports with the publicity and exaggeration that would have followed in the American press.

I hung on and when I received Admiralty signal on 21st September telling me to "proceed on 23rd September (programme date) direct to the Atlantic side of the Station on leaving San Diego", I did no more than to arrange to get away from San Diego at early dawn on 23rd September, and within a few hours, due to the news I was receiving, I was going all out for Panama, a decision, I "with deference" point out, which was taken the day before receipt of Admiralty signal to proceed with all "convenient despatch"!

A point of interest came to my notice at Panama. Local Authority had informed our acting Minister that if hostilities broke out before "York's" arrival, only sufficient fuel - about 200 tons -would be given to enable the ship to reach Kingston. Whilst realising this is the letter of the law I think we might expect more from a benevolent neutral. An enemy ship would have been allowed to fill right up and so obtained tremendous tactical advantage - with probably no intention of sailing for (say) Hamburg, her nearest German port.

A message which emanated from Los Angeles on 29th September, said that "TACOMA" had sailed hurriedly after dark without passengers and with suspected purpose of commerce raiding. This possibly confirms that German ships do carry guns and ammunition in peace time.

I hope further consideration will be given to my original proposed disposition of ships in an emergency so as to provide for immediate cover on the trade routes. I am not criticising the final disposal as ordered by the Admiralty (Admiralty Message 1752/23/9) which I think is better than mine, but feel that, owing to the whole area over which, on this station, ships may be distributed when war breaks out, I should be given the freedom asked for. In this particular case immediate cover was best provided by "ORION" going to Halifax Area and "YORK" to Caribbean, and opportunity could have been taken for re-adjustment if necessary when the other cruisers arrived from U.K. - so as to have the 8" working as a pair and ditto the 6".


Being kept in the dark about R.C.N. Destroyers right up to the last moment is dreadful - I wanted 2 in the West Indies at once, for Trinidad still unprotected and Antigua ordered as routeing port for tankers, and was relying on the other 2 for immediate use in the Halifax area.

However no more or I shall become like a mutual friend of ours who always backed his official correspondence with private letters and telegrams to all and sundry. I hope you haven't worn yourself to a shadow, but you can I am certain rest assured that all of us were happy and confident with you at the helm.

Yours ever,


Vice-Admiral Sir Sydney J Meyrick

When you are next considering future appointments may I suggest Harwood for Commodore of one of the R.N.B.s. He would I am sure fit the bill well and I feel also it would be better for him to get the experience there instead of possibly being sent to another STAFF job on which he has lived for some time. He himself would like to be considered.




Dear First Sea Lord,

In modern times there has always been one Flag Officer in the Mediterranean, in addition to C in C, who had what may be termed a full staff. For many years this Flag Officer was Second in Command of Medn Station and Commander the Medn Battle Squadron. When the Battle Cruisers were sent to the Mediterranean considerable correspondence took place between the then 1SL and my predecessors as to whether the 2nd in Command (with a full staff) should remain in his Battle fleet or be Flag Officer in Command of the Battle Cruiser Squadron. It was finally decided that the Second in Command should be in the Battle Cruisers in order that he might be in Command of all the advanced forces in the Indian Ocean during the passage of the Fleet to the Far East.


This I am sure was undoubtedly the correct decision. With the return of the Battle Cruisers to the Home Fleet we are back in the same position as before they came out to the Mediterranean and it is necessary to decide who should ne 2nd in Command Medn with a full staff.

There is no doubt that one Flag Officer with a full ?staff? is required as he has to carry out the following duties:-

(1) Administration Authority for Aircraft Carriers and attendant destroyers.
(2) Administration Authority for the Fleet Repair ships present in Reserve and Hospital ships.
(3) (1) and (2)include responsibility for G.T.?and S? Training.
(4) To an extent is responsible for orders for G.T. training for all Capital Ships
(5) Responsible for Signal Training Centre.
(6) Responsible for Petty Officers Course.
(7) Responsible for Strategical ?investigation?
(8) President of Committees on important subjects

Taking the seniority of the Flag Officers now on the Station into consideration this appears the alternatives.

(a) To transfer Rear Admiral Layton to Battle Fleet and in Command afloat. Rear Admiral Leatham to take Command of Battle Cruiser Squadron or remain where he is. In the latter case another Flag Officer would be required for Command of the Battle Cruiser Squadron.
(b) Rear Admiral Tovey (the senior Flag Officer afloat after Vice Admiral Kennedy Purvis has gone home) to be Second in Command.

I consider (b) ?impracticable? as RA(D) has already as much as he can do to look after 4 Flotillas, even with his present large staff ad it would be a most retrograde step to give him all the additional duties enumerated at (1) to (7) previously.


The only remaining alternative is to appoint some officer senior to Rear Admiral Tovey in Command of the Battle ?Squadron? and as 2nd in Command Mediterranean. It is possible that T.L. have purposely appointed Rear Admiral Layton to the Battle Cruiser Squadron and would be reluctant to change his appointment. Should this not be the case I should be very glad to have him as 2nd in Command in Mediterranean and I have reason to believe that he would not be adverse to a change of appointment.

Should it be approved to appoint some Flag Officer senior to Rear Admiral Tovey in Command of 1st B.S. then the question of the future of Rear Admiral Leatham arises.

I have as yet seen practically nothing of this officer at sea and even if asked I could not give an opinion as to his suitability for the Command of the Battle Cruisers. Should he be not transferred to Battle Cruisers the question of his retention in 1st B.S. must be considered. I cannot pretend that he would normally have a great deal of work but he would certainly be gaining valuable sea experience and there are many odd jobs that he could be given. It any case I hope it might be possible to retain him in 1st B.S. until the Spanish situation clears up as an additional Flag Officer in Command of various units during more of ??? time to the ?????

Yours sincerely,

Dudley Pound





I have put up a docket proposing that the appointment of Vice-Admiral Commanding 1st Battle Squadron and Second-in-Command, Mediterranean, should be reinstituted and that the appointment of Rear-Admiral 1st Battle Squadron, should be allowed to lapse. In anticipation of this being approved, the following reply to C-in-C, Mediterranean, is proposed:-

"Many thanks for your letter of 31st August telling me your views about the appointment of Second-in-Command when HOOD leaves the Mediterranean. I am fully in agreement with you that we should revert to past practice and reinstitute the appointment of Vice-Admiral Commanding 1st Battle Squadron and Second-in-Command, Mediterranean Fleet.

As regards the appointment of Rear-Admiral. 1st Battle Squadron, I feel that, at present, there really is not sufficient room for two Flag Officers in the 1st Battle Squadron in addition to yourself, and that this appointment should lapse.

I agree that Leyton should remain in the Mediterranean when HOOD comes home, and I will propose to the First Lord that he should be appointed in Command of the 1st Battle Squadron and as Second-in-Command, Mediterranean. I am not proposing that Leatham should go to the Battle Cruisers as I have him in mind for another appointment at a later date.

Layton will I suppose hoist his flag in BARHAM when the change takes place. As regards Leatham remaining on the station in connection with the Spanish situation, I would be prepared to consider this as a temporary measure if, when the time comes, the necessity still exists. Perhaps you would let me know about this later on."


WJ Whitworth

4th October, 1938.




"Many thanks for your letter of 31st August telling me your views about the appointment of Second-in-Command when HOOD leaves the Mediterranean. I am fully in agreement with you that we should revert to past practice and reinstitute the appointment of Vice-Admiral Commanding 1st Battle Squadron and Second-in-Command, Mediterranean Fleet.

As regards the appointment of Rear-Admiral. 1st Battle Squadron, I feel that, at present, there really is not sufficient room for two Flag Officers in the 1st Battle Squadron in addition to yourself, and that this appointment should lapse.

I agree that Leyton should remain in the Mediterranean when HOOD comes home, and I will propose to the First Lord that he should be appointed in Command of the 1st Battle Squadron and as Second-in-Command, Mediterranean. I am not proposing that Leatham should go to the Battle Cruisers as I have him in mind for another appointment at a later date.


Admiral Sir Dudley P.R. Pound, G.C.V.O., K.C.B.



Layton will I suppose hoist his flag in BARHAM when the change takes place. As regards Leatham remaining on the station in connection with the Spanish situation, I would be prepared to consider this as a temporary measure if, when the time comes, the necessity still exists. Perhaps you would let me know about this later on."




5th October 1938

Admiral Sir Charles M. Forbes, K.C.B., D.S.O.

Many thanks for your letter of 26th September.

As you can imagine, we have been having considerable periods of activity and pressure here, and things have been changing from day to day. I daresay some of our messages may have been rather bewildering to you, but I have tried to keep you as fully informed as I could.

The present state of affairs as regards semi-mobilisation is far from satisfactory, but it is the most that could be agreed to at the present time. We felt here that after the various announcements about the Crisis being past, and the decision not to go through with all the details of Mobilisation (such as the taking up and Commissioning of Armed Merchant Cruisers etc.), we could not justifiably keep the Reservists hanging about. Moreover, they, like other people throughout the country, had come to the conclusion that there was no more danger of war, and therefore wished to get back to their homes and their work as soon as possible.



How long the present situation will continue I cannot tell, but I feel sure that no further ease-up will be made until after Parliament adjourns, and possibly not until the German occupation of Sudetenland is completed without fighting breaking out.

I need hardly say that the position as regards the Active Service Ratings, who are now fully mobilised except for some of the lesser services, is most crippling to all Admiralty plans, including the commissioning of new ships, foreign service leave, training, and such like, before long we shall have to ask for some ease-up. The first move would probably be to remove the war complement of Active Service Ratings and get back to normal in that respect.



I quite realized your disability about not having a Depot Ship at Scapa, and we made up our minds to send you both the RESOURCE and the GREENWICH, but, as you know, this has now been stopped. In present circumstances I do not suppose this is of consequence to you.

For much the same reason I did not send French to you, as just when he was about to start the ease-up policy started.

As regards coast defences, the soldiers have been even more anxious to demobilise the Territorials that we were to demobilise the Reservists, and consequently the C.D. personnel have been withdrawn. They are said to be ready to go back again at short notice.

I sent back ESK and EXPRESS to you because I thought they had had enough of mining for the time being, and could easily be converted again if necessary.

I intended to leave RESOLUTION and CORNWALL to the last, but I think that pressure will come to get them reduced again as soon as the official order to demobilise is issued.



I fear that during the last day or two you must have had some heavy gales, and I hope that Scapa has not been too uncomfortable. I am glad that you are now going back to Invergordon where there will be better facilities for short leave and exercises, otherwise people would begin to get bored.

I daresay a good many points have come to your notice during the last weeks that need looking into; they certainly have here. I hope you will let us know about them when things are quieter or normal. We can have a talk about them all later on.

The resignation of the First Lord was not altogether unexpected, but I must say I am sorry as I was getting to know him, and now I shall have to start again. We must give him the credit for sticking to his principles, which he did bravely.



I hope you are keeping fir and that everyone is cheerful. I have no doubt that our Mobilisation has been most successful to the whole Service, even though we have not been able to get the Reserve Fleet ships to sea, as we would have wished.




5th October, 1938

Vice-Admiral T.H. Binney, C.B., D.S.O.

I am thinking of forming a small Committee to go into certain questions concerning the present organisation of the Naval Staff in the Admiralty, and more especially the duties of the A.C.N.S., who, under this organisation, has nothing to do with either operations or plans.

In my opinion, based on the experience of the recent emergency, the organisation is faulty as it throws far too much work on the D.C.N.S., who cannot possibly attend to the important matters if he is constantly being asked to deal with those of less importance.

My idea is that you should be the Chairman of the Committee, with two other members, one probably being Holland and the other a Senior Secretary, probably Barnes. I do not think this enquiry would take very long, and I want to know whether you feel you could undertake it from where you are now. If you are too much occupied with I.D.C. matters you must say so, but I should be very glad to have your assistance if you could manage it. I will go ahead as soon as I get your answer.




6th October, 1938

The Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W.H. Inskip, C.B.E., K.C., M.P.

Dear Minister,

I have made enquiries about the Proclamation, and find that there is no need whatever to cancel it; it can remain in force as long as desired without any inconvenience.

As regards getting the Navy back to normal, we will go into that at once and probably do a good deal with the ships in Home waters, to which the Officers and men could be sent back again quickly in case of necessity. All this could be done quietly.

The position is rather different as regards the officers and men who have been sent to the Mediterranean Fleet, and much as we should like to have them back, I do not feel that this would be within the ruling you gave me on the telephone. I hope, however, that the matter may be raised again perhaps in three or four days' time because it is very important to us on account of getting together crews for new ships, recommissioning, and continuing the expansion of the personnel to suit the re-armament programme.




7th October, 1938

Commander Sir Charles W. Craven, O.B.E., R.N.

I want to let you know very privately that I have been told by a member of the British Mission to Portugal that your firm is not in good odour at Lisbon, and that one of the reasons why this is so is that your agents are said to be Jews, and they are scoffed at and disliked for that reason. No doubt a great deal of this is due to German and Italian influence and propaganda. It is well known that both these countries are doing all they can to undermine British influence in Portugal.

It is right to tell you also that our Mission have a high opinion of your agents, but that does not alter the fact that, because they are Jews, there is prejudice against them, and the Portuguese seem to be very susceptible to prejudice and backstairs influence.

If you would like to talk to me about this, I hope you will do so. I cannot, of course, vouch for what I have said, but can only pass on what I have been told, though I can hardly think I have been told wrongly.



I think that before long, if possible, the Portuguese may wish to spend a considerable sum on re-armament, and this would include a large amount for their Navy, which we would naturally wish should be built in England.

One thing more, I have even heard it said that Leveson, who is the agent you send out, is suspected in Portugal because he also is thought to be a Jew. It appears a man of pure Aryan blood would be more likely to be well received!

I would not write this letter to you if I had not felt I could say what I thought, and that you woud regard it as most personal information.




10th October, 1938

Rear-Admiral A.E. Evans, C.B., O.B.E.

Commander Burrows, who has recently been at Gibraltar for Contraband Control Service duties, has been to see me. He mentioned two things:-

(1) The state of the anti-aircraft defences at Gibraltar.
(2) A suggestion, apparently emanating from Watkins, to make use of a cave in Rosia Bay for Aircraft.

As regards the first, you may feel sure that I know the position quite clearly, and am doing all in my power to get it put right. I had begun to do so before I saw Burrows, but the whole difficulty is production, which is much behind.

With regard to the second, I have not heard of this before, but if there is anything in it I think you should report it officially, so that it may be considered. It sounds to me a bit far fetched, but I woud not necessarily dismiss it on that account. Anyway, you must judge whether it is worth taking up.

I hope Gibraltar is going strong. Believe me, I realise very well indeed that you might be in for a difficult time.

Please give my kind regards to your wife.




10th October, 1938

Admiral Sir Dudley P.R. Pound, G.C.V.O., K.C.B.

I have to thank you for several letters, which I am afraid I have not previously had time to answer. As you can imagine, we have had considerable pressure here, and during the week of the acute crisis it did not stop for one moment. Being plunged into it all after such a short time did not make it any easier from my point of view, but I think on the whole it all worked out as well as could be hoped.

There are some things of course that I am not at all happy about, and one is our present weakness in Destroyers. It is true that the position will have improved a great deal when all the Destroyers now building are completed, but that will not be for some time to come. In the meantime I realise most fully how terribly short of Destroyers you are in the Mediterranean.

I had actually made up my mind to send one of the Reserve Flotillas from home to Gibraltar so as to release your "I's" to rejoin you, but we never quite got to that as the crisis began to ease up.

Another thing that I had not realised so fully before that was that there would be so many requirements for escorting transports, and with two German submarines at, or near Cadiz, I was naturally anxious about the Gibraltar area.

It may interest you to know that we have had fairly authentic reports of three German submarines being off the coast of South America, which makes one think a bit. This information will be useful to us, however, when we come to reconsider disposition.

I have heard various stories about the probability of Italian intervention on the side of Germany, but if words are anything, there can be no doubt that Mussolini intended to support Hitler at once. Some say that the King and the Italian people would not have stood for this, but that is not a presumption which I think it would be safe to accept.

The Mobilisation went off extremely well and was a wonderful experience for everybody. I wish it had taken place a few days earlier, as that would have enabled us to have completed it rather more thoroughly. We felt we could not go on holding our Reserves once the situation had completely eased and it had been stated that the crisis had passed, especially as everyone began to wonder why the Admiralty did not follow the example of the rest of the Country. Also, I am sure that officer and men, called up from Reserve, had lost interest, and the great majority of them wished to get back to civil employment. The men are always suspicious that they may lose their jobs while they are away.

Anyway, the test has provided us with a lot of information and experience which we could not have had otherwise, and we can certainly improve our organisation a great deal in consequence.

In the easing up process I have tried to make it as easy as possible for you and the other Commanders-in-Chief. I hope you have not felt handicapped in this respect. I am daily expecting to hear that the whole time of precaution is over, and that we can withdraw the extra men sent to the Mediterranean. It will take a week or two, however, before we can provide for their transport.

I want to thank you very much for your letter about appointments. It is possible that the subject I wrote about would have been settled before this, but for the crisis and later the resignation of the First Lord. It seems that I shall have to re-open the question with the new First Lord when he appears. I have to thank you for your personal help in this matter, but I am afraid it is still impossible to tell you what the answer will be. My natural wish is that you should go to Portsmouth, as previously arranged, but the date will be a little uncertain. If, however, another crisis were to come up in 1939, I do not think it would be wise for you to leave the Fleet, which you know so well. It depends a good deal on what 1939 brings forth, but you may naturally rely on me to keep you fully informed. In any case, I do not now think there is the least probability of your being relieved before May.

I think a considerable crusade is going to be started at once to speed up our defence measures, and there has been some talk of it already, although most of the Ministers have now gone away for a short holiday. We are already looking into things that could be hurried on, and other steps that could be taken to increase preparedness.

I feel myself that 1939 will be a critical year, as it is most unlikely that Hitler will not have some great scheme he wants to put through. It seems to me that the most likely one is the demand to get hios Colonies back. Judging from what went on in the recent crisis, he is not likely to be easily satisfied unless he gets 99% of his own way - not an easy man to negotiate with.

A great block in our preparations vis a vis Germany is the state of our Air Force by comparison with hers, and I should think it would take at least two years to get into a happier position.

The German Aircraft production is now prodigious - 7002 to 800 machines per month with growing capacity. Unless that power is over-rated, I think we should have a terrific experience here if war broke out. What is more, the A/A gen defences of this country are far behind what they should be. As you know, the A/A defences at Gibraltar, Malta and Aden are woeful. It remains to be seen whether they could be speeded up in the next six months - I shall do my best.




11th October, 1938

Vice-Admiral Sir Percy Noble, K.C.B., C.V.O.

Many thanks for your letter, and for you congratulations and good wishes to me. Since I have received your letter we have both had a fairly strenuous time., but things are now quieting, and I think the Crisis will be ended in a few days.

As you will have realised, it is difficult for us here to appreciate what the Crisis might have led to. The conclusion we arrived at was that, if we had gone to war with Germany, Italy was so far committed that we would have had to anticipate that she would be hostile. The position as regards Japan was different as, although she is not disposed to be friendly towards us nowadays, we thought it improbable that she would enter war against us until she had seen what was happening in Europe, as she was so much committed in the East. Also I do not suppose that she appreciated the possibility of attack by your Submarines on her Transport and Escorting Vessels. Perhaps our expression "potentially hostile" was a bit too strong, although I think it represented a fact. "Potential" might mean a week, or a month, or much longer. There was also the other consideration that it was important not to appear in the East as if we were not ready and able to maintain our position. Although, in the event of war, it might have led to the loss or internment of some of our gun boats, and of a Battalion at Tientsin, this might have had to be accepted had the worst happened, but we felt it to be of much higher importance at the time not to look as if we were turned out.

Goodness knows what the future will be, but, as Hitler appears to need a programme each year, it may be that in 1939 he will make his aim the restoration of the German Colonies.

I am unable to tell you, because I don ot (sic) know, how this would be received, but, if it was done in a blustering way, I cannot think it would be favourably taken byu our people, and in that case anything might happen.

I hope that, if conditions in Europe really improve, we will be able to take a stronger line over the numerous difficulties which we are now having with Japan. I daresay that these are at their worst just now account of the operations against Hancow and those which are about to be started against Canton, as both these involve our interests to so great an extent.

The recent crisis here has revealed, to me at any rate, various weaknesses, amongst which one of the most important is our present shortage of Destroyers, which are wanted everywhere in greater numbers that we can provide. The position will improve next year but even then will not be satisfactory, so I am taking up the question of building a smaller type for escort and anti-submarine work, which will be cheaper to produce and more economical to run.

I am most anxious to hear, in due course, what you think of the M.T.B.'s which are now being assembled at Hong Kong. In the Mediterranean they are not an unqualified success especially at first, chiefly because proper arrangements were not made for spare engines and for maintenance generally. The engines require very much the same method of looking after as do Aircraft engines.

Another thing that I have been anxious about is the provision made for the living accommodation of the crews of these boats. The boats are so small that we cannot expect the men to live on board them. They cannot take exercise and they are always herded together in too small a space. I feel myself that, unless proper accommodation arrangements are made, either on shore, or in a depot ship in other cases, we shall never be able to keep these boats in good running fettle. If we are to have them, and there is no doubt that they have possibilities, we must provide them with the necessary facilities.

I would particularly ask you to consider this matter when you have had enough experience, and would be grateful if you would let me know personally what you think.

Since the Crisis the Commodore, Malaya, has got busy about various matters at Singapore. I would only say that now is the time to ask for what is necessary. Here again I would be glad to have any information you would like to send me, so that I can get a move on more quickly.

I think that is all for the present.

I saw your wife a few days ago and she told me that she was going out to you on the 21st., which I was glad to hear. She said Admiralty House has been turned into a Creche, as a result of the exodus from Shanghai. What a time you must be having!




12th October, 1938

His Excellency Sir Walford H.M. Selby, K.C.M.G., C.B., C.V.O.


My dear Ambassador,

Many thanks for your letter of 4th October.

I must confess that I am rather sorry that H.M.S. HOOD did not go to Lisbon, as it is not often that we have a big ship in the Gibraltar area with nothing particular to do. The visit was not intended to be anything official, but I thought that, as the Germans had been making a good deal of use of Lisbon, it was surely not out of place for us to send a ship there when we felt inclined. After the recent crisis, we thought also that it would not be a bad thing to show that we had this ship about the place.

If I may say so, another thing that I feel is that, as Portugal is our oldest ally, it ought not to be necessary for visiting ships to be made a great deal of fuss of, but that the visit might be taken more of a matter of course. Actually, our ships in the Mediterranean make frequent visits to Italian ports and those of other countries, without any kind of formality; in fact such visits are part of the normal life of the Station, although of course they are arranged through the Embassies. Surely, therefore, it would be a good thing, in the future, to regard visits to Lisbon in much the same light.

I would assure you that the last thing the Navy wants is a lot of formality; everyone is much happier and easier with as little as possible. The less formality the better really ??? the contacts.

I think the Mission's Report and the Chiefs of Staff's report on it will be taken by the C.I.D. in a week or two. I trust it will have a smooth passage. I think we have made a good case, and if our recommendations are approved something tangible should result, although not for all the Portuguese may have hoped for. Somehow or other, I do not think the Portuguese realise what a tremendous power our Fleet has to intervene on their side should we be involved in another war like 1914/1918.

With kind regards to you and Lady Selby.

Yours very sincerely,


(Manuscript postscript)

Very Private

Told that Vickers agents at Lisbon are unpopular with the Portuguese because they are said to be Jews. I wonder if you would let me know what you think about this. I gather they (two brothers) are good chaps & efficient but that is not enough if there is strong prejudice against ?those? of Jewish race. One knows of course that the Germans hate Jews & the Italians too though not so violently.




13th October, 1938

Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W.H. Inskip, C.B.E., K.C., M.P.

Dear Minister,

I have already told you that I am anxious about our Destroyer position now, and in the near future. Although this will improve in the course of the next twelve months with the completion of the two TRIBAL Class Flotillas and the 'J' Class Flotilla of Destroyers, these ships will by no means be sufficient to fill all the gaps in our Destroyer strength.

It is true that two more Flotillas of Destroyers, "K's" and "L's", are also building, but the "K's" will not complete as a Flotilla before about March 1940, and the "L's" until some date about May, 1941.

In the meantime our oldest Destroyers are getting older, and, therefore, less reliable for hard service, which is the lot of every Destroyer in war time. I wish to say, however, that, in my opinion, even when all these new Flotillas are completed, we should be very hard pressed were we at war with Germany and Italy or Germany and Japan, and faced with a determined Submarine campaign, which we must be prepared for. Even if we were at war with Germany alone, we should immediately have to set about increasing our strength in anti-submarine and escort vessels.

2. The modern type of Destroyer is a comparatively large ship and requires a large complement and she is correspondingly expensive to build and maintain. Although this type is needed with the Fleet to keep pace with modern developments, and the intended programme for these Destroyers in the next 3 years is one Flotilla each year, even if we could afford to build them i large numbers in peace, we could not produce them because of the productive capacity for their armaments is limited.

3. I have given consideration to this matter with the assistance of my colleagues in the Admiralty, and we have decided to recommend a new type of vessel, which has most of the characteristics of the Destroyer and is also related to the present type of Escort vessel. She will be considerably smaller and therefore less expensive than any of our modern Destroyers, but will have much better speed than the present Escort vessels. She will, in fact, be suitable for some of the duties of both types, being designed primarily for escort, patrol and anti-submarine work, for which she should be very suitable, besides having a strong anti-Aircraft armament. It is intended to describe her as an Escort Vessel, although different in type to the present ships of that class.

4. I have ascertained that, were authority given now to the Admiralty to proceed with a number of these vessels, eight could be completed in a period of from 12 - 16 months, and two more 2 months later, as the armament required for them can be taken from (the last eleven of the 36) old Destroyers which were to be re-armed under the Class II re-armament scheme. These (eleven) old Destroyers would then continue to be employed with their existing armaments until, possibly, a later date, when new armament for them could be provided.

The new ships would, therefore, be a clear addition to our strength, and they should be completed and in service before some of the "K" Class and any of the "L" Class Destroyers now building.

5. The question has been raised whether these ships come within the existing Naval Treaties as regards exchange of information, etc. The answer is that there must be 4 months' notice of the intention to build them before their keels can be laid down, and notice can be given on 1st January, 1939. The ships can, therefore, be laid down on 1st May, 1939.

Between now and 1st May, 1939, if sanction is given, material can be collected and manufacture of the machinery commenced, so that rapid construction can take place after 1st May. It would, however, in my opinion, be best to get on with the preparations as confidentially as possible although, as already stated, notice will have to be given later to other parties to the Naval Treaties.

I would emphasise again that the type is required, not for Fleet duties, but for the innumerable other duties for which small fast ships are needed, thus also releasing more Destroyers proper for their real functions.

6. If the type is successful and production is satisfactory, it would be desired to order another ten of these ships as soon as the first ten are completed.

7. I recommend most strongly that the Admiralty may be given authority to proceed on the lines I have indicated.




15th October, 1938

Admiral The Honourable Sir Reginald A.R. Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, K.C.B., D.S.O.

I have been reading your letters to the Admiralty on the subject of War plans. I want now to make a proposal to you. Would you be prepared to take on the job of developing your views at the Admiralty, if you were given a small staff of perhaps two others, working quite independently of any Admiralty Department or Division, except in so far as you wished to consult them.

I visualise your being given a temporary appointment for, say, three to four months only for this duty. It would not necessarily require your every day presence in the Admiralty; that would be for you to judge.

I put this to you now quite briefly, but if you like the idea and think you could tackle the subject in the time I have suggested, perhaps you would take an opportunity to come and see me about it, and we could then arrange further.

Would you be so good as to keep this project private for the present.




17th October, 1938

Admiral Sir Edward R.G.R. Evans, K.C.B., D.S.O.

Amongst other matters which have crossed my mind of late, I have been wondering whether we have any organisation and arrangements for the defence of the dockyards and barracks, and other vital points, against low flying aircraft attack.

It was decided by the C.I.D. that all service personnel establishments should be responsible for their own protection against low flying aircraft. I presume that an instruction to this effect will have been sent to you, but I should be interested to know.

Perhaps, when you have time, you will look into this matter generally in your Command and let me know what the situation is and whether we can do more to help. Perhaps you have done all this already, and if so I apologise for bothering you.

One reads, however, of guns and searchlights being mounted on top of some of the buildings in Berlin and other cities, and this makes one wonder whether we are doing anything similar.

There is no urgent hurry to answer this, but I should hate to think you were not being kept busy!

You may like to know that I now have three copies of our report on Dover cruising round the Admiralty, so I hope Dover will be kept well in the picture.



17th October, 1938

Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W.H. Inskip, C.B.E., K.C., M.P.

Dear Minister,

As arranged with you verbally last week, I am sending you a memorandum on the subject of the bases required for the Fleet Air Arm. The memorandum endeavours to show what the requirements are and the reasons for them.

We are now building or completing five new Aircraft Carriers and a sixth is about to be ordered. It is, therefore, most necessary that we should proceed at once with our shore based organisation for the large number of squadrons which are required. In addition, we shall, in future, have a greatly increased training requirement and much of this can only be carried out from shore bases.

Should you desire to discuss the memorandum, or require further information, I am available at any time and would propose to bring with me the Fifth Sea Lord, who is the member of the Board responsible for the Fleet Air Arm.




Paragraph 23
line 1 - After "required", insert "in 1939 (vide paragraph 21)."

Paragraph 26,
line 7 - After "will be required by 1942", insert "This is additional to the new construction bases mentioned in paragraph 23 above, which are for 1939 requirements."

Paragraph 30.
Delete line 3 and substitute - " as between the different aerodromes; omitting from Table 1, however, such of the new construction bases as could not be completed within that time.




18th October, 1938

Admiral Sir Charles M. Forbes, K.C.B., D.S.O.

Thank you very much for your letter and all the information in it. I passed it round so that the other Sea Lords could note quickly some of your deficiencies. The gate arrangements at Scapa seem rather difficult, and if you think they need modifications I hope you will let us know. We are leaving the booms in place for a bit to give them a good try out.

Will you let me know, at your convenience, what your plans are. I hope to see you soon after you come South, as I have a good deal to talk to you about. In particular, I am not at all sure that the arrangement for a continuous Air Patrol across the North Sea is workable all the year round. You know, as well as I do, what the North Sea is like in the winter months. I cannot believe that Aircraft could maintain a daily reconnaissance under bad weather conditions. As ships are not stopped by bad weather, or long nights, to anything like the extent that Aircraft are, we could never be sure that some would not get through unsighted. You will know, of course, that we are greatly behind with the Aircraft programme generally, both R.A.F. and F.A.A., and I have serious doubts whether it is an economical use of the forces at our disposal to lock up such large numbers of Aircraft in the manner now arranged, unless there is some alternative way of making use of them. I think this matter requires some thought and consideration.

You will know, I think, that we have decided to keep both RESOLUTION and CORNWALL in commission for the present, as I do not consider that we can afford to reduce them again until the position as regards Battleships and 8-inch Cruisers is better. In November we shall have, besides the three ships under re-construction, RODNEY, RAMILLIES, REVENGE and REPULSE al at long notice. It is true that they could be brought forward again fairly quickly, but some of them will have new crews who will not be efficient. Much the same applies to the 8-inch Cruisers.

I have told the Second Sea Lord about this arrangement, and he will try to find other accommodation for the boys under training. I have not heard yet what it will be, but I think, probably, a Reserve Cruiser.

You will know that we are making special arrangements for two of the "R" Class Battleships to take candidates for commissioned rank - I hope that will work. We can talk about it when we meet.

There has been a paper through about Navy Week, but as I felt it would be telling you what you already know, I stopped it. It is another matter that I would like to talk to you about.

Yet another is whether it would be desirable to slightly re-arrange the Home Fleet leave periods so as to increase the available tie for training in the summer. If we gave say 10 days' leave to each watch at sea, the Christmas leave period could be correspondingly lengthened. I am not in favour of increasing the summer leave period. As far as I can tell now, there will be nothing to stop you going on with the normal Christmas leave plans, but, if you have not already done so, would you send them up.

After a short respite with nearly all the Ministers on holiday, we are starting again at the rush this week. I expect it will continue all the autumn, especially as we have a big problem in front of us with the Navy Estimates as well.

I hope you are having an easier time and you feel happier about your affairs.

I meant to have told you that I think COURAGEOUS will have to become a Training Carrier during the Spring Cruise, as FURIOUS must be taken in hand for about four months for fitting H/A armament. She should be finished in April. I think the dockyard would like to have her not later than early December. I fancy, however, that there will have to be some re-shuffling of crews also.




18th October, 1938

Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W.H. Inskip, C.B.E., K.C., M.P.

My excuse for writing to you is that there are all sorts of stories about changes in the Cabinet, and there is a rumour here that you are involved. If I may says so, I hope this is incorrect, as there is so much in train and you have always been so helpful to me.

If therefore it is true, would it be too much to ask you to leave a sympathetic note about our Fleet Air Arm Bases for whoever may succeed you, if you could agree to this. It would mean a lot to us I am sure.




18th October, 1938

Admiral The Honourable Sir Reginald A.R. Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, K.C.B., D.S.O.

Thanks for your letter.

It will do quite well if I see you on 31st October, and I will make a note for that afternoon. I suggest 1530 or later if you prefer. Until then I will not do any more about it.

I am very glad, however, to know that you will take it on and I hope it will lead to great things. I shall have to tell the new First Lord about it when he arrives.





20th October 1938


My dear Sir Roger,

Many thanks for you letter of October 12.

Needless to say that I am more than sorry to have occasioned you "regret", but for reasons which seemed sufficient here the visit did not appear propitious at the moment, and I ventured to telegraph that opinion. I the meantime I note what you say as regards future visits of His Majesty's Ships and will endeavour to ensure that your wishes are respected. It certainly will be a good thing if the Portuguese can get into the habit of seeing His Majesty's Ships coming into Lisbon in the ordinary way.

I am really glad to hear you think you can let us have something tangible as a result of the report of the Military Mission, since that should help with the position here, especially if in accordance with the view of the Mission His Majesty's Government can contrive a really substantial contribution to Portuguese rearmament.

I fully appreciate all you say as regards the protection to Portugal of British sea power. Indeed we have all tried to make the most of that for months past, but the Portuguese insist on returning to the point that British sea power could not counter an attack from over the land frontiers. Throughout the recent crisis I am informed on all hands that the Portuguese expected Italian troops to enter Portugal with the support of German aeroplanes. The realized we should have to counter that, but they argued that our counter would come after a foreign occupation of Lisbon as kin the Peninsular War. So far as the Portuguese are concerned they would have had nothing to oppose to an attack from Spain, and Salazar is today coming under great criticism that he left Portugal so defenceless.

To put the position quite shortly we are today dealing with the psychology on the Continent as a whole - and Portugal just now is particularly exposed to continental influence - which has resulted in the recent flight from the Sterling to the Dollar, a psychology dealt with in an article by the Times City Edition, a copy of which I which I enclose in case you have not noticed it. It seems to me the position will require very careful nursing if confidence is to be restored. There is no greater support for successful diplomacy than when London is manifesting its financial strength against the other markets of the world.

As regards Zagury I have made discrete enquiries. Certainly they are Jews and have their enemies and critics here, but I am informed they are very expert agents, and it is for that reason they have been selected by Messrs. Vickers to represent them. In other words I doubt very much any profit would accrue to us by endeavouring to effect a change as regards Messrs. Zagury in present circumstances. It is my belief that here again the trouble is a fundamental one. What irritates the Portuguese is the pressure which is brought to bear on them by representatives of British firms, Zagury among them, to obtain contracts on the basis of prices far above those offered by other Powers, Germany in particular. In return for orders Germany takes Portuguese exports, offers compensation and so on on the basis of her great subsidised effort in support of her political policy. I have represented the whole of this aspect of our problem, it is as much as defence problem as any other, to Hudson, the Minister responsible for the Department of Overseas Trade. He only too fully realises the situation which has arisen, and I have hopes may contrive some means to deal with it.

I am afraid this letter has extended to great length, but I am most anxious to set before you the position as nearly all authorities see it here. There is great Admiralty interest in Portugal, and if that interest is to be properly safeguarded the fundamentals of the problem must be tackled.

I am very glad to have the assistance of Owen. He will undoubtedly be kept busy as a new German Naval Attache is due here, while the German Mission are bursting into magnificent new offices to accommodate their ever increasing personnel.

Believe me,
My dear Sir Roger,
Yours very sincerely,




29th October 1938

Admiral of the Fleet The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Cork and Orrery, G.C.B., G.C.V.O.

You will remember that we have been corresponding about Spickernell, the Lord Mayor.

I have been agitating on his behalf considerably, but I find that he has opponents as well as friends. The opponents seen to be rather formidable. What is said about Spickernell is that he is very vulgar, is inclined to tell rather indecent stories, and even blasphemous ones, in his speeches, and also that he is rather sharp financially.

It was put to me that his was a case where one 'blackball' was enough to prevent him from being, so to speak, elected, as there were so many others who were in all respects #white', and H.M.G. are naturally anxious not to serve out Honours except to people who are really eligible and will not be objected to. It would strengthen my hand if you could let me have your private opinion about what I have written above. I know that Roger Keyes has backed Spickernell, but I do not know about the other M.P.'s.




29th October 1938

Commander Sir Charles W. Craven, C.B.E., Royal Navy

You will remember me writing to you about your Agents in Lisbon, and I said I would let you know if I heard any more.

My information is that, although they are Jews and have their enemies and critics at Lisbon, they are very expert Agents, and there would be no advantage, at present anyhow, in making any change.

I am told that the trouble at Lisbon is fundamental. What irritates the Portuguese is the pressure which is brought to bear on them by representatives of British firms. Zagury among them, to obtain contracts on the basis of prices far above those offered by other powers, Germany in particular. In return for orders Germany takes Portuguese exports, offers compensation and so on the basis of her great subsidised effort in support of her political policy.

I thought it only right that I should tell you this after my previous letter, and I confess that I think this later information is probably more correct, although there is no doubt that there is a sort of general hate everywhere just now. Perhaps this will pass in time.




2nd November, 1938

Admiral Sir Dudley P.R. Pound, G.C.V.O., K.C.B.

I am writing to answer your letter about the Second-in-Command's Flagship. I agree with your views and think the Second-in-Command would be better in one of the "R's".

I am afraid, however, that it will not be possible for Layton to transfer from HOOD to and "R" when HOOD leaves the Station in January. RAMILLIES will not have arrived then and I am not sure exactly when she will, but I hope it may be February. However, RMILLIES is not particularly suitable as a Flagship for the Second-in-Command with a considerable staff, and it may be better to let Layton go to BARHAM for a few months until ROYAL OAK goes out to you. The accommodation in ROYAL OAK should be all right, but I will have this looked into. I suggest that you should let us know what you wish fairly soon so that the matter can then be officially settled. If Leatham has to remain after Layton transfers he could perhaps go to MALAYA for a time, but this would be a matter for you.

I will write again about the other matters you mention.

We are absolutely all out here now on "overhaul of deficiencies" and the pressure is really more considerable than it was during the Crisis, especially as we also have the Estimates kin hand.

I will say, however, that I am sure your arrangements for entertaining and educating the Egyptians must have done a great deal of good and helped enormously to establish really good relationships.




12th November, 1938

Admiral Sir William M. James, K.C.B.

Thanks for your letter.

I hardly need say that I am delighted to hear that you are to take the Navy League affair at Bristol. I cannot see any harm in your doing this as a Serving Officer, provided you keep off politics and political matters which, as you know as well as I do, are outside our horizon in the Navy. Anyhow, if any question arises about it I shall take that view. One might equally say that a Naval Officer was not to speak at a Navy League Dinner in London. Actually, at the present time, the Navy League is doing great work with the Sea Cadets, and I am sure everyone in the country would agree that that is entirely to the good.

I heard that your lecture at London University went off very well, and I shall read it later in the R.U.S.I. Journal with great interest.

I cordially agree that it is a mistake for Naval Officers to talk too much about 'defensive strategy'. If it had not been for some of our great sea victories in the past, the Navy would never have had either its present tradition or the confidence of the country.

We did feel for you very much in the way the Press made "copy" at your time of sadness. I saw a photograph of you in the evening papers, which I thought was absolutely disgraceful from the point of view of ordinary decent humanity.




14th November, 1938

Vice-Admiral Sir Percy L.H. Noble, K.C.B., C.V.O.

I have to thanks you very much for your two letters. We have been much occupied here and I have not had the time to write myself.

I want to tell you, however, that we realise very fully what a difficult situation you were placed in over the West River Gunboats. We did out (sic) best to support you at this end, but finally came to the conclusion that we could do no more and had to leave the matter in your hands. I trust you felt that you had our support as far as it was possible to give it.

There seems some hope now of the position becoming clearer as regards Canton and South China, but it is extremely difficult to appreciated it fully at this distance.

It has struck me too how extremely difficult it is to deal with the Japanese. The Foreign Office do their best through the Ambassador at Tokyo but he, poor man, does not seem to be able to get much change. Truth to tell, it looks as if the war was being run almost entirely be Japanese Officers or Officials on the spot, and that the seldom get instructions from their home Government. As, no doubt, these Officers and Officials take different views of any particular situation, there is no common policy, and therefore we seem to be more of less dependent on the attitude of some particular man who may be quite a junior Officer. I confess I do not see any way of overcoming this, short of brute force, and that is not the policy of this country, at any rate at the present time.

I saw Palliser today, and had a talk with him, which was interesting and useful. He gave me your message and told me the news. I was glad to hear you are very well in spite of your anxieties.

Palliser said he did not at all like the new defence scheme for Hong Kong, and told me the reason. It was done before my time, and I cannot say that I like it either. I sent Palliser over to see D.M.O. & I. At the War Office to have a talk with him about it, and I may hear more. I will at any rate go into it again myself.

The trouble is, of course, than we are now trying to take on more than we are really able to do. There is an immense re-armament programme at home, which is growing rather than diminishing, and we simply cannot produce more than we are doing. Moreover, the Army cannot take on any more commitments. It is short of strength and, as you know, is fully occupied in Palestine. There is also the defence of Egypt to remember. In fact there are not enough soldiers to do all that we might wish. The position as regards Hong Kong is far from easy, much as we might wish to improve it.

Perhaps you would write to me about this some day, either officially, semi-officially or privately - it would help me to know what you think.

I feel myself that it would be a fearful shock to our prestige, and to our interests in general, if we had to let go in China, and I expect you will agree with this. On the other hand we both must realise that there is no limit to what this country can do by itself. It is conceivable, however, that we might get assistance from Australia or New Zealand. I think that is worth thinking of.

I saw your wife a few days before she left, rather in doubt whether to go or not. I told her to go, as I was sure you could look after her whatever happened, and she had a house to go to.

I hope you are fit ,and not over bothered with all your troubles. Let me know if I can do anything for you in any way.




16th November, 1938

Admiral Sir William M. James, K.C.B.

Many thanks for your letter.

I am extremely glad to know that you will accept the appointment of Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, and I hope that before long you will get a letter from the First Lord Offering it to you.

I would like to thank you for your attitude in this matter, and to tell you that it has made a great deal of difference to me. I can, of course, understand your feelings very well, but I honestly think you will have great scope at Portsmouth amongst both officer and men. I am sure it makes a tremendous difference to our Home Ports when we have really live Commanders-in-Chief, who take an active interest in everything that is going on, and especially in the young Navy. I know you are interested in this side of the Service, and I cannot think of anyone who could do the work better.

As regards what you write later in your letter, I have had no thought that you were not doing correctly. You were at perfect liberty to write to the First Lord and to the Naval Secretary, and I have no feeling at all about it. I wrote to you in the first place because I thought I ought to do so, and I told the First Lord I was going to do so.

You will understand that the question has hung fire a good deal here because first of all of the Crisis, and then the resignation of the First Lord. But for this, I would have hoped to get it all settled before you ceased to be a member of the Board.




16th November 1938

Admiral of the Fleet The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Cork and Orrery, G.C.B., G.C.V.O.

I want to tell you that it had now been decided that Pound is to remain in the Mediterranean for another year, that is until about May 1940, when he will presumably become an Admiral of the Fleet. This was arranged with his own consent and he was told at the same time, and agreed, that this would naturally debar him from relieving you at Portsmouth.

It has also been decided that James is to succeed you at Portsmouth. He has been told semi-officially, and has written to say that he will accept.

I want to ask you now what your personal wishes are as regards the date of relief. If you wish to give up your Command earlier than has been arranged, namely July 1939, there will be no difficulty from our point of view, as James is available at any time.

I am, of course, aware that you wrote to the First Lord in January of this year, saying that you would prefer not to remain long after your 65th birthday, and that it was your wish to be relieved in January 1939, is that was suitable to the Board.

I like to say that this is a matter about which we hope you will be quite frank, and that if you would prefer now to remain for your full two years you only have to say so, and you will receive no further letters on the subject from here.




19th November 1938

Admiral of the Fleet The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Cork and Orrery, G.C.B., G.C.V.O.

Many thanks for your letter. As far as I am concerned, and I am sure this will be the First Lord's view also, 30th June 1939 shall be the date. This will suit us perfectly well and there is no reason why it should not be fixed. I will tell the First Lord, and that will enable him to tell James about the dates when he writes to him.

Altogether I now feel much happier about this difficult question.




19th November, 1938

Admiral Sir William M. James, K.C.B.

I am writing to acknowledge your letter of 16th November. I am afraid I cannot do more than that at the present time, as no doubt you will understand.

I will say, however, that I read your letter with much interest and I am sure that, whatever happens, you have much to congratulate yourself upon in what has been accomplished by the Shipping Defence Advisory Committee.




21st November, 1938

Vice-Admiral G.H. D'O. Lyon, C.B.

I want to thank you very much for your assistance with the arrangements for Pirow's visit - it helped tremendously. The attachment of Brooks has been a great success.

I have met Pirow and heard him speak quite frankly. He has not hesitated to explain the South African point of view, and nobody is the worse for knowing it. In general he has been much more accommodating that I expected.

We have got the Simonstown Defence Scheme settled. Pirow was determined to have his 15 - inch guns at Robben Island, which are to be gone on with. I judge it will take at least three years to complete the Scheme, but that did not deter him.

In the meantime he is to have EREBUS to guard Capetown. She is to be refitted, which will take seven or eight months from now, and sent out to South Africa next autumn. We shall, no doubt, have to provide most of the crew to start with, and hat is being looked into. But we told Pirow and Van Ryneveld (who will be able to explain the whole scheme to you) that we cannot spare our officers and men indefinitely. The idea is, therefore, that South Africa should gradually take EREBUS over, after she had produced the requisite personnel. Exactly how this is to be accomplished I do not know, but Pirow and his Officers seemed to be quite sure they could do it.

In any case I think the EREBUS will remain in South Africa indefinitely, as, after the Robben Island defences are completed, Pirow's intention is to send the ship to Durban and possibly elsewhere later. To all intents and purpose, therefore, she becomes South African property, and South Africa is to assume full responsibility for her, so that she should be no charge to us.

You will realise that this is a handsome present on the part of the Admiralty and the British Government, as the ship would cost fully 750, 000 to build, possibly more. I hope time will tell that this action on our part has been a sound move. Think it has - at the present time anyhow.

I gather that EREBUS is to berth at Capetown and she can dock, when necessary, at Durban.

No doubt there will be numerous questions arising out of this arrangement in the course of the next year, and many of these will have to be dealt with by you, especially the detailed arrangements about the manning of the ship. The South Africans know so little about it that they will have to be guided. We hope to find some over-zealous or retired Officers, and possibly some prisoners, for the ship in the first place, and perhaps some of these may be ready to transfer from here to the Cape and become members of the South African Navy; if this could be done it would help matters.

I have tried in the above to tell you broadly what has been going on; sooner of later you will get Admiralty Letters explaining the arrangements in detail.

I want to tell you also that I am doing my best to arrange for the 9.2 inch 15 mountings to be converted gradually into 35. I have rubbed this onto Pirow and his staff. I think they will undertake it in time, but it may be necessary to keep up pressure. As, however, the War Office cannot accelerate the conversation of these mountings any more than they are doing now, the question is not immediate. I told Pirow that he would be much better off with two 9.2 inch guns at Durban than a monitor, and I think he understands this. However, it seems no good in trying to press him too fast, as money is limited and he has to get political agreement before embarking on further expense.

Pirow is now in Germany, and is to see Hitler. He said when he was here that South Africa had no intentions of going up "DSouth West" or of agreeing to Tanganyika being handed back. Whether he will tell Hitler so, I do not know. I hope he will but one cannot always be sure what these politicians say to one another. However, I think he left here with quite sound views.

Goodness knows what is going to happen about the Colonial question generally. There is a strong feeling now amongst many people in this country against giving anything back to Germany, especially after her recent behaviour to the Jews, Austrians and Czechs. It seems impossible to expect present-day Germany to behave decently to anyone who is not a German, and I feel sure that this is the general opinion on this country.

I think, therefore, that 1939 is likely to be a critical year, as our relations with Germany are far from good, in spite of the P.M.'s efforts at Munich, and the German press keeps up an incessant anti-British bombardment.

My feeling here is that it is a great misfortune that we did not start our re-armament two years earlier, even one year would have made a great difference. We shall, however, be in a better position in six months' time than we are today, although we shall still have four Capital Ships laid up and we shall be extremely short of Destroyers and Escort Vessels. I am not happy about this.

I am to see Pirow again when he returns for a day or two in December, before sailing for South Africa. I may get some news then; if so I will tell you what I hear. I honestly believe, however, that he has become more pro-British in his outlook, and has greatly appreciated our readiness to help him, even if he has not got as much as he wanted out of the War Office, for the simple reason that they had not got it to give him.

We are terribly busy at the Admiralty and it is difficult to find time to do all one should.

I hope you are fit and liking the Station. Do write and tell me your news sometimes, so that I may know what you are thinking about.



21st November, 1938.


Thanks for your letter. I understand from the Hydrographer that he has sent you the charts you wanted. I had not heard of your activities in this direction.

I know of course that you are greatly interested in Pacific questions, but I am not quite clear what object you have in mind in obtaining the staff information you ask for.

You will know that the Admiralty have, at various times, made recommendations to Australia about her defence measures, but that these are in general terms, and that Australia is responsible for her own arrangements, both financially and materially.

If you wish to have a talk about this when you happen to be in London, I hope you'll look in on me, but as I have so many outside meetings it would be safest to telephone first.

Sorry to be so brief - and so late - in answering your letter. Carol occupied much of my time last week and I've got behindhand.



Admiral Sir Frederick C. Dreyer, G.B.E., K.C.B.



21st November, 1938.


Many thanks for your letters.

You will have had a message from me about the King's visit to Canada. He is going in the REPULSE, which is being specially fitted out for him and the Queen, and will be escorted by two ships of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron. North is to go in REPULSE and will be in command of the Squadron. I think they leave England on May 8th, and go to Quebec. The subsequent programme has not yet been decided, but I have heard that they will finally depart from Halifax about the middle of June. You will, of course, be told when it is settled.

I had not realised until recently that you could not go to Quebec without being invited by the Canadian Government. I understand that one of the reasons is the question of precedence, which complicates matters. It will therefore be necessary for us to arrange this matter here, so that you should receive a direct invitation from the Canadian Government to be present at T.M.s' arrival. I will see that this is not forgotten at our end. In the meantime do not do anything about it. Perhaps you would let me know what you wish in the matter.

There is another thing that will affect your programme about that time, namely the New York World's Fair. We shall have to send ships there on certain dates - I think 12th and 24th May are the principal ones. It was under consideration to send a Battleship or an Aircraft Carrier, but I do not wish to do this, as ARK ROYAL will not have settled down sufficiently, and the only Battleship would be RODNEY. RODNEY has been re-fitting all the autumn, and I do not wish her to be away from the Fleet next summer. Consequently she will not go unless I am more or less forced to send her.

The position is, therefore, that you will have to provide the ships to be present on 12th May (or whatever the first date is) from your own Squadron. We do not wish the return of YORK to England to be delayed as that would upset the dockyard programme. I think it would be quite sufficient to have two ships at New York on 12th May.

I am now taking action to ascertain whether there would be any objection, from the Royal point of view, to the two escorting cruisers going to New York for the second of the two dates (24th May) - it will depend on when you are required at Quebec.

It was suggested that REPULSE should go to New York too, but I am opposed to this, as she will be a useful Naval advertisement at Quebec and other Canadian ports while T.M. are touring Canada.

I gather it might be inconvenient for you to send some ships of the South American Squadron to New York for the Fair, but we cannot judge about this as well as you can, and there is always some inconvenience in detaching ships for special duties.

I agree with you that I at an unusual time, as we were plunged into a real crisis within three weeks. It was a useful experience to me as well as everyone else, but it has led to a great deal of extra work which, at this time of the year, is difficult to cope with as we are busy with Estimates and all such things. I find that my time is greatly occupied with C.I.D. and C.O.S. work.

There has been a campaign to consider "deficiencies". As far as the Navy is concerned not many new ones came to light, except that we are woefully short of Destroyers. I cannot think how we got into such a state. It will be better in a year's time. We are also terribly short of artificers and signalmen - very seriously so of the latter.

I think we shall have difficulty with our Estimates, to keep within our total, as the Air Force has gone off with an enormous scheme of expansion, which will cost vast sums of money in the next three years. How they got away with it I cannot understand, but the fact is that everyone here got rattled about the German air menace, and still are. The Air Force has, in fact, become a political vote-catcher, and no one dare say no whatever they ask for. Some day there will have to be a re-consideration of the whole of our "defence" policy, or the Services will become unequally balanced, but who is to do that I cannot say, as all the Ministers are over-worked; also it seems almost impossible to find anyone with a sufficiently impartial and judicial mind to be able to tackle such a problem.

I was interested in what you said about your movements at the time of the Crisis. I endeavoured to keep you informed about the situation so that you could judge for yourself what to do. We really cannot do more here at a time of tension when we are only taking preliminary dispositions. On the other hand we did not want to do anything which would look too obviously war-like.

I hope you and your wife are well and enjoying life. I suppose you are continuously busy in your numerous visits.

I send you the enclosed Intelligence Report merely for your information. It should not be copied., and had better be burnt after you've read it.

It is difficult to know how much weight to attach to a Report of this kind, but it is as well that we should know that such things have probably been discussed so that we may not be taken entirely unawares if something of the kind happens. It seems rather far fetched, though feasible with careful organization. Anyhow, I thought I would let you have it. I've sent a copy to Meyrick (sic) also.


Vice-Admiral S.J. Meyrick, K.C.B.



24th November, 1938.


I send you the enclosed Intelligence Report merely for your information. It should not be copied., and had better be burnt.

It is difficult to know how much weight to attach to a Report of this kind, but it is as well that we should know that such things have probably been discussed so that we may not be taken entirely unawares if something of the kind happens. It seems rather far fetched, though feasible with careful organization. Anyhow, I thought I would let you have it. I've sent a copy to Lyon (sic) also.


Vice-Admiral G. H. D'O Lyon, C.B.




24th November, 1938.

Thanks for your letter.

I shall hope to see you in any case on Tuesday evening at our sherry party. I would rather not fix anything more at present as Pound is to be here most of next week and I shall be much occupied with him - probably until Thursday.

I am clearer the week after and could easily fix up a meeting; perhaps you would come to a quiet dinner one night. We can arrange this on Tuesday.





24th November, 1938.


I am sending you this line to tell you broadly what our plans are.

I am sorry not to be able to meet you on arrival, but I happen to have had a rare invitation to shoot on Saturday, and as I do not often get Saturdays away I accepted it some time ago. I would have chucked it had I not had your letter about keeping Saturday and Sunday clear.

Cunningham will meet you on arrival and tell you our plans. We propose to go hard at it starting on Monday and a programme is being made out which I hope will suit you; if not it can easily be altered. I am thinking of getting Forbes up on one or two days, as I think it might be useful to you both.

I shall be back in London before lunch on Sunday. If you would care to come to lunch at 1.p.m. or to supper at 8 p.m. we shall be delighted to see you - entirely domestic, any clothes. My address is:-

32, Sloane Gardens, S.W. 1. Telephone:- Sloane 4700.

We are not in the telephone directory yet. If neither of these times suit you, I can be in at any time if you want to see me.

I am sure that your going to Ataturk's funeral in MALAYA was an extremely good move, and it evidently made a great impression - all this helps a lot.

I fear you must have had a long and tedious journey home by rail, and I hope you will think it has been worth while by the time you have finished here. I think it should be a great help as we can do so much more in consultation.

I hope you will come to dinner at my house on Monday at 8.15 p.m. - dinner jacket. It will not be a large party and all Admiralty people and their ladies. That is as far as I have got now.


Admiral Sir Dudley Pound





24th November, 1938.


When you came to see me about a month ago I promised to let you know whether there was any prospect of finding you another appointment. I have been into this very carefully with Whitworth and am very sorry to have to tell you that there is nothing in sight for you. I fear this will be a great disappointment, but I am sure you would prefer me to be quite honest in what I tell you.

There was at one time a doubt about one or two matters respecting appointments, but these have now been settled. It was conceivable that a vacancy might have been created but this is not now the case. Whatever you may elect to do on this information I hope that, should an emergency arise, we may be able to find something for you suitable to your capacity. I would certainly hope to be able to do this.

Forgive for writing to tell you what I know must be such unpleasant news.

Vice-Admiral Sir Gerald Dickens,
K.C.V.O., C.B., C.M.G.





24th November, 1938.

I am writing a line to you about Honours.

I want to tell you that if, at some period in the future, you consider that any of the Officers, who have been actively occupied on the Yangtsee or West Rivers in connection with very difficult situations that have sometimes arisen, have done specially good work, I hope you will report it.

As you know, C.Bs are given more or less in rotation, and it is uncommon for younger officers to be selected for honour, but I feel there are times when these younger officers have carried great responsibility and that it would be very fitting to recognise it, not of course in a wholesale way, but to those who most merit it.

In the case of Holt, he already has a C.B., but I daresay we could get him a C.M.G. later on if you were to specially recommend him. We should have to get it out of the Foreign Office but that would not be insuperable, and it would be a more special mark than a C.B.E.

I write this to you because I want you to know what is in my mind on the subject, not to ask you to do anything in a hurry. It may be that it is not yet time to do anything, although an opportunity might arise if some particular Officer were being relieved at the end of his appointment, if he were specially deserving.

Vice-Admiral Sir Percy L. H. Noble, K.C.B., C.V.O.







30th November, 1938.


I am writing to you about a subject which I would like you to have in mind should it come to your notice in the course of the next few months.

You may be aware that we have a retired Admiral who is now Director of Ports and Lights in Egypt under the Egyptian Government. The present occupant of the post, Vice-Admiral Sir Gerard Wells by name, has done extremely well in every respect, having been of the greatest assistance to our Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, and also most happy in his relation to the Egyptians. His period of office has already been extended for, I think, two years, but it is now due to expire about next July, unless he is offered yet another extension. I understand that the post is much sought after by the Egyptians for one of themselves, which, I suppose, is natural, thought we doubt whether they have anyone who could fill it really adequately.

You will understand that in these difficult days, when Alexandria as a Naval Base may mean so much to us, it is of the highest importance that the individual occupying this appointment should work in with the Navy, and therefore, if Wells' has to come to an end next summer, we would very much prefer that he should be succeeded by another retired Admiral rather than by an Egyptian. I believe our Ambassador at Cairo knows this, as the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, will no doubt have told him, but I would like you to know too, in case it comes your way.

Should it be necessary to find a retired Admiral, I have no doubt we could produce one who would be in all respects suitable, and we would take great care in selecting him.

I would be grateful if you would keep this at the back of your mind. Do not bother to answer.

The Hon. Sir Alexander Cadogan, K.C.M.G., C.B.





Foreign Office, S.W. 1.


30th January, 1939.



My dear Backhouse,

You will remember that on the 30th November you wrote to Cadogan and subsequently had a few words with me on the telephone about the importance which you attached to the continuance of Gerry Wells as Director-General of Ports and Lighthouses in Egypt or, if this were not possible, to the selection of a British naval officer to succeed him.

I wrote immediately to our Ambassador in Cairo on the subject and now enclose a copy of Lampson's reply, which will, I hope, appear to you eminently satisfactory.

If there is any other point you wish us to pursue in this matter, I count on you to let me hear.

Yours very sincerely,

Lancelot Oliphant

Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse, G.C.B., G.C.V.O., C.M.G.






16th January, 1939

Personal and Confidential.

My dear Lancelot,

I find that I have not yet sent a reply to your Personal and Confidential letter of 5th December, about Admiral Wells; but I have not been inactive on the subject.

Wells is on a yearly contract which expires on 9th August of this year. Early in November I had a letter from the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, drawing attention to the importance of having a British Director-General of Ports and Lighthouses at Alexandria for as long as possible, and, though I had not heard any suggestion that Wells' contract would not be renewed (there has never been any difficulty about renewal in the past), I at once mentioned the matter to Amin Osman as a vital strategic interest, so that, if the idea were ever mooted, he should be able to nip it firmly in the bud. Amin Osman said he would. There was, so far as he knew, no idea of not renewing the contract as usual each year.

Soon after I got your letter of 5th December, I heard from Admiral Wells that Abdul Wahab, the Head of the Coastguards, was intriguing, and that his intrigues might take the form of kicking Wells out to get the post for himself. Consequently, I took an opportunity, on 17th December, when I was discussing another Naval matter with the Prime Minister in the presence of Captain Hotham (Captain of the Fleet, Mediterranean Station) to mention the importance which all of us, and especially the Commander-in-Chief, attached to the continuance of the employment of Wells as head of the Ports and Lights. It was in the interest of both Egypt and ourselves. So far as I knew, there had never been any suggestion of his contract not being renewed. At the same time, it was desirable that the Prime Minister should know how strongly we felt.

The Prime Minister replied at once that we could set our minds at rest. There was no question, and there had never been any question, of Wells' contract not being renewed when it expires. Wells was one of the few Englishmen in regard to whom he could say that. The Egyptian Government were thoroughly aware of the value of his services. In addition to which he had the extra advantage of being thoroughly persona grata with all Egyptians, official and otherwise.

I do not think we need have any fear. The thing has, to my mind, been a "hare" from the start!

Yours ever,

(signed) M. Lampson





30th January, 1939.


Many thanks for your letter of 30th January about wells, and the enclosure. The latter seems to clear the matter up and I am glad to hear that Wells is to stay for the present. I am not sure, however, how much longer he will be willing to remain, and then the question of his successor will arise. I can find out his views on the subject, and when I hear more I will write to you again if necessary.

Sir Lancelot Oliphant, K.C.M.G., C.B.






5th December, 1938.


Many thanks for your information received on Saturday.

I hope you will let me know if you get any more of the same sort, as it might affect our Fleet cruises. We do not want to be caught with the Fleet in an unsuitable place!

Admiral Hugh Sinclair, K.C.B.





8th December, 1938.


You will, I think, have received a copy of a letter from James Somerville, No.1005/E.I.51000 of the 3rd November, which makes certain very drastic proposals as regards the Far Eastern Command. I telegraphed to you and Noble asking if you would forward remarks officially, as the subject is of extreme importance, whether any change is to be made soon or delayed until a more suitable opportunity.

I need not go into great detail about Somerville's letter because the one really important point is the question of the High Command in the Far East in case of war. As you know, this matter has been already considered to some extent in the Admiralty, but nothing very concrete has resulted and the position remains as you now know it to be according to the War Book.

It was, however, recommended by Lord Jellicoe after his Dominions tour that the Supreme Command in the Far East should be entrusted to an Admiral on shore at Singapore, who would in a sense take the place of the Admiralty at home, the Admiralty being so far away that they could not keep in touch with the situation. It was visualised that this Officer would have nothing to do with the ordinary administration of the Fleet, which would have its own C-in-C.

The C-in-C on shore would, however, be responsible for the whole of the intelligence work and necessarily could not be divorced from strategy, as he might have to make decisions about ship movements when the C-in-C of the Fleet was at sea and while W/T silence was in force: in fact he would function in much the same way as the Admiralty functioned in the last war. He would necessarily have to take action when the co-operation of other Cs-in-C, such as C-in-C, Africa and the Australian Naval Board was needed.

The question is complex as it would be of the greatest importance, obviously, that there should be no friction or difficulty between the two senior Admirals. That raises the question of their relative seniority. If the senior one was ashore it might be difficult for the C-in-C afloat; if on the other hand he were with the Fleet the Admiral ashore might hesitate to take action in the absence of the C-in-C afloat, and that might lead to trouble. I feel, myself, that it would be essential to have a senior Admiral at Singapore to run the Base, whether the C-in-C of the Fleet is present or not, and he would require a considerable staff to enable him to function properly.

Perhaps I might put it to you this way: supposing you were the C-in-C afloat under the conditions visualised, what would you wish in the way of an organization ashore, and what function would you propose should be carried out by the Admiral on shore?

I am sorry I was unable to talk to you about this when you were at home, but I have only just seen Somerville's letter, although I knew that one was on the way as I had asked him to send me his views after he had been long enough on the Station to form an opinion.

Perhaps I should say also that I do not consider that, under present conditions, it would be possible for us to consider not having a Naval C-in-C in China, as this would be damaging to our prestige and would not do at all. If we were to create a C-in-C at Singapore it would be an extra appointment and in present circumstances he would have no fleet unless the East Indies Station was under him.

I hope you got back safely and were not very tired after all your labours here. Our consultations were of the greatest value to me and the Staff, and will enable us to think more clearly on some of our problems. I hope you feel that they have been equally useful to you.

As you will have seen, an announcement was made in today's "Times" about you, which I hope meets with your approval. We thought it was much better to let it be known generally, as it stops people wondering.

Admiral Sir A. Dudley P. R. Pound, G.C.V.O., K.C.B.






To C. in C. Mediterranean 446
C. in C. China 438
C. in C. East Indies 421
  Date: 8.11.39

Naval Cypher (D)

From Admiralty

Request your written remarks on letter No. 1005/E.I. 5100 of 3rd November from C. in C. East Indies, more especially as regards his proposals concerning commands.


For Head of M.

N.2 O.S. (N.07313/38)





5th December, 1938.


I enclose a note on the question you asked about docking of the Home Fleet ships prior to a possible move to the East. I think the intention was that the decision would rest principally with the C-in-C, H.F., and that he would report what ships he wished to be docked. If, however, you feel that anything more should be laid down about it, would you write and let me know or send an official letter.

While I am writing about this perhaps you would consider whether any of your ships should be docked before leaving for the Spring Cruise. It is easy enough to dock the smaller ships at Gibraltar, but the heavy ships are the difficulty.

On the subject of ARGUS and her projected visit to the West Indies, I suppose you can spare her from the H.F? Obviously the H.F. is far more important than the West Indies Squadron.

I am afraid a lot of your time was taken up last week, but it was a unique opportunity of having a discussion, and I think we certainly got a great deal of value from it.

I saw Pound off yesterday morning, and he went away in very good form.

Admiral Sir Charles M. Forbes, K.C.B., D.S.O.





N & R to see CNS

H.M.S. Nelson
at Portsmouth.

8th December, 1938.

My dear First Sea Lord,

With reference to your letter of 5th December, 1938.

Para.1 Docking of Home Fleet ships prior to moving East.

This is now quite clear and nothing more need be laid down.

Para.2 It is not considered necessary to dock any ships before proceeding on the Spring Cruise, the Royal Oak is the only ship verging on the six months.

Para.3 Argus can be spared from the Home Fleet this Spring Cruise (I have reported officially to that effect).

Para.4 I got very good value out of the discussions and would not have missed them for anything.

Yours ever,

Charles Forbes

Admiral Sir Roger R.C. Backhouse, G.C.B., G.C.V.O., C.M.G.




at Shanghai.

12th December, 1938.

My dear Roger,

Thank you very much for three letters - the first I will answer very shortly as I am preparing for you some remarks on the M.T.Bs which you asked for.

I answer the third letter at once. It has been in my mind for some time that I should send in some recommendations for honours, both for officers and petty officers and men, but I have waited until I have been long enough out here to be able to give a considered opinion.

Another reason for writing has been that rear Admiral Holt has been isolated from me for so long at Hankow and Holt himself being isolated from his Gunboat Captains, has not been able to make proper recommendations. However, Holt is now about to emerge from the upper river and I can get on with it. I am not going to recommend anything for Holt himself just yet, but there are undoubtedly some officers out here who have done very well indeed.

If I had a free hand at this moment, I would give something to: -

Captain A.F.E. Palliser (my late Chief of Staff who was also with Admiral Little.)
Lieut. Commander W.E.J. Eames (Captain of H.M.S. "SANDPIPER").

When I have been able to get Holt's opinion, I hope in about a month's time to send you a list of deserving officers and men.

There is no doubt that service under present conditions, which entail difficulties with the Japanese etc., do impose a certain strain and particularly is this so in the case of Commanding Officers, who find themselves all alone and have to make decisions which I should be able to make for them if I were there.

Lieutenant J.B. Cox who has been Commanding Officer of "COCKCHAFER" for many months now, has held the fort at Kiukiang in a most admirable manner and I shall recommend him in due course if Holt concurs.

Acting Captain R.A.B. Edwards has been Naval Liaison Officer at Shanghai for some months. He has done exceedingly well in very trying conditions and I hope to recommend him in due course.

Other officers who I shall bring to your notice are: -

Commander H.T. Armstrong, Captain of "CRICKET".
Captain F.C. Flynn, Senior Naval Officer, West River.
Commander G.A.W. Voelcker, Staff Officer (Operations) on my Staff.

Anyhow I will send you as I said before, recommendations both for officers and men, not forgetting clerical and cipher staffs, who I hope, you will be able to recognise.

Thank you very much for your letter. We are all keeping well and cheerful out here, though I wish I could say that I see any finality ahead in what we are trying to do.

I do feel though that we are approaching a parting of the ways, when it will be clear to us whether we get out or go on - personally I am not pessimistic and I think it will gradually solve its own problem.

Yours ever,

Percy Noble

Admiral Sir Roger R.C. Backhouse, GCB, GCVO, CMG,




Postal Address:-
The British Naval Commander-in-Chief,
America and West Indies Station,
C/0 H.B.M. Consul-General,
New York.

Telegraphic Address:

Admiralty House,
12th December, 1938.


My dear Roger,

Thank you very much for your two letters of 21st and 24th November, the latter I have dealt with in accordance with your wishes. I feel I have been pumping in rather a lot of paper lately to the Admiralty, but after the long forced inactivity, I think we should all be grateful if recent occurrences have given us the chance of being more prepared for eventualities.

You mention shortage of destroyers and it is woeful that this should exist. Out here, our shortage of cruisers is daily brought home to me.

The O.D.C. memo. on "Coup de Main" gave me another opportunity of emphasising what I consider is the absolute minimum (6) that we should have on this station at all times.

The Governor tells me there is a proposal to do away with the army at Bermuda and to rely on local defence forces. I am all for encouraging the idea that colonies should take over their own defences, but trust that a nucleus of regulars will be left here until we are satisfied that the base can be properly defended without them.

I too was interested in your remarks about the information sent out during the last crisis. I fully realise the necessity of local action being taken without being too precipitate, but I have come to the conclusion that none of us should over-emphasise the latter, particularly so when we remember how difficult it is, or anyway has been in the past, to get the "Warning Telegram" out betimes.

With regard to the King's visit and New York Fair etc., in your letter you do not mention the San Francisco Exhibition. It would cause a great deal of disappointment on the Pacific side if a cruiser is unable to be present about the end of May (A.I.M. 5745/37 of 10th March and AWI.No.571/36/1/2 of 12th August, 1938) and as the "Orion" should be cruising in these waters next summer, I think it would be desirable to get her away from Bermuda in time to be at San Francisco between 22nd and 29th May and then work her way north to Canadian waters etc.

I am arranging to dock and refit "Exeter" as soon as we return to Bermuda in March in order that she should be free to go to New York 12th to 24th May, but the difficulty of working in the refit of "Ajax", including her repairs to boilers (AWI.No.755/402/5 of 7th November 1938) and self-refit of the floating dock which is unfortunately due next year, are such as to render it very desirable that she should dock and refit in May.

What I would like to suggest for the 8th C.S. in order that I should have something definite to work upon (particularly for the Dockyard) is that approval may be given for:-

(i) "Berwick" to go to Quebec etc., as required in connection with Their Majesties' visit to Canada and to visit New York between 12th and 24th May if the arrangements for the Royal visit permit this.

(ii) "Exeter" to go to New York 12th to 24th May.

(iii) "Orion" to go to San Francisco 22nd to 29th May.

With regard to the absence of ships from South America, the return of the "Ajax" will only have to be delayed until "Orion" can be on her way south again heading for the West Indies. It always is desirable to have a cruiser in the vicinity of the Caribbean during the hurricane season and also to keep a ship handy in case of labour trouble in the islands which has been only too frequent during the recent past.

"Exeter's" absence from South America will be necessitated by her return to the United Kingdom in July.

With regard to your remarks about my going to Quebec, I gathered from MacKenzie King that he anticipated my being at Quebec when the King arrives and I think it would be strange if the Commander-in-Chief of the Station was not present. I do not think there should be any difficulty in settling questions of "precedence" as we all realise that the Royal visit is primarily for the good of the people of Canada.

I quite agree with you that the "Repulse" is best retained in Canadian ports and consider it is most important she should be seen by as many Canadian people as possible in order to keep alive their interest in the Navy.

What I do not want to suggest but I suppose better add, is that IF "Orion" is not to go to San Francisco she can accompany "Exeter" to New York, but this would not be a good start for her Pacific cruise.

I was very glad to see the announcement about Dudley Pound's extension of appointment in the Mediterranean. I think I can see what it means and what it may prevent!

Perhaps C.& O. wrote or spoke to you about it when he wrote me on this subject some time back.

We are still enjoying ourselves thoroughly out here - there is always plenty to interest us.

My affection to you all,

Yours ever,


Sidney Meyrick




12th December, 1938.

Many thanks for your letter and enclosure.

I am glad to know what you told me and will pass it on to the proper person who will, of course, use any information received with great discretion.

I was very pleased to come to the Albert Hall last week and do the easy job you asked me to. I thought it a very good show.

Admiral Mark Kerr, C.B., M.V.O.




Most Secret


I send you the enclosed from Admiral M. Kerr. He spoke to me on the subject a few days ago. There may be something new in it, or there may be not, but you will be able to judge about that. He has an idea that there is a good deal going on in that way with aircraft. On the other hand, it appears that Newall does not think so, and he must surely be in a position to know better.

12th December, 1938.




12th December, 1938.

I saw Best a little while ago and he spoke to me about the South American Division on your Station. He wrote an official letter about it when C-in-C in 1937, recommending that the S.A. Division should be abolished. This was not approved, the answer being sent in A.L. M1407/37.

Some day, when you have time, will you let me know what your opinion is, and whether it really makes much difference to you or to your ships whether the Station is divided, as now, or not. I am quite open-minded about it. The distances on the Station are so great, and there are so many places which might be visited that there do seem to be advantages in having two Divisions. You will remember, no doubt, that many years ago we had no less than three Stations where you now have one, namely Pacific, North America and South America. We have not now the ships available to station in such numbers, although those we have are much larger and much better able to get about quickly, so perhaps it comes to much the same thing.

There is no hurry to answer this.

Vice-Admiral S.J. Meyrick, K.C.B.




12th December, 1938.

Thanks for your letter. I was glad to come to the R.N.S.A. dinner, if you think it really did any good. I am sorry you thought I was a little unkind in saying you were "verbose". I thought you did it all admirably. I am not sure, however, that the general company was not a little too noisy for a white tie party, if I may say so.

Some day I would like to talk to you again about the R.N.S.A. and what could be done to put it on a better footing. What I said in my remarks was true enough. Both at Malta and in the H.F. I used to find it difficult to get enthusiasm about regular sailing races. I think it must be because there is so much else to do, and in the summer the pulling regatta absorbs so much attention. There is, of course, no doubt that there are a certain number of very keen people who will give up time for sailing, but I am afraid this does not apply to the majority. I will have another talk with Baillie-Grohman about it before he goes abroad.

About the M.T.Bs. for South Africa, to be quite honest I do not feel that the Admiralty can recommend these at present. We have recently had the whole question of South African defence in front of us during Pirow's visit, and there is only a certain amount of money and not enough for all that we should recommend to be done. In any case the money is theirs and not ours. They are more interested in coast defences and anti-aircraft guns than anything else at present, and they consider that the Royal Navy can do the rest. They have no personnel to speak of, except R.N.V.R., and do not wish to be involved with complicated weapons such as torpedoes, at least that is my understanding of it.

Besides this, there is a good deal of doubt whether M.T.Bs. are suitable for use in the rough water which is so frequently experienced at the Cape. You will know about that better than I do, but there can be no doubt that M.T.Bs. cannot operate with full efficiency in a rough sea. My own view is that M.T.Bs. are much more suitable for use in smoother waters, such as the Mediterranean, Red Sea and round our coast in fine weather, and there they can be given a definite roll.

In saying what I have do not think I am wishing to detract from the possibilities of M.T.Bs. for a certain kind of operation, especially where distances are comparatively short and the water is smooth.

Vice-Admiral Sir Geoffrey Blake, K.C.B., D.S.O.




Admiralty House
Telephone 7068

Transcriber's Note: This letter in manuscript.


My dear 1st Sea Lord,

I am sorry to worry you with the following but think it should be mentioned in case there is any foundation at all for the story.

On Sunday last I was out at Uppark and there was told of a woman (whom I know) who had just recently come back from Malta and told them J. & M. that all the young officers she had met- she was out there to see a lieutenant - seemed to have their tails down, were saying they had no chance against the Italians, were outnumbered and if they got through one battle couldn't fight a second etc.

The most serious statement was that an "Admiral at Malta" had stated that they had not got the ammunition to fight with, and would have no chance etc. There was a good deal more about being bombed out of existence etc. No A.A. guns and so on.

I merely repeat what I was told and have no belief in it, and cannot credit it.

But if there is any truth at all it seems serious that anyone can express these ideas, and if any officers do repeat such views it must get to the lower deck. D.P. would be the last to hear of it. I am perfectly sure neither Layton, Tovey or Leatham believe anything of the sort, and would not utter it if they did. Ford I do not know. Of course, it may have been one of those bogus Admirals, perhaps the Doctor from Haslar, but outsiders do not discriminate.

I send this to you in case you think it worth taking up. Please do not bother to answer. I told my informant I should pass this on.


(Cork & Orrery)




8th December, 1938.

I enclose a copy of a letter I have received from Cork, for what it is worth. I thought twice about sending it to you but decided that you would sooner have it than not, although there may be nothing in it. People do gossip frightfully, and women are apt to hear scraps of conversation about subjects which they do not understand and to draw all sorts of conclusions.

We know, of course, that the A/A defences are most inadequate, but these will certainly be rectified. If it would do any good by putting more heart into people I would have yet another drive about them. I have already said a great deal on the subject. How I should like to be a dictator for about a month!

Admiral Sir A. Dudley P.R. Pound, G.C.V.O., K.C.B.




Copy of Letter from Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, to First Sea Lord

Admiralty House,

7th December, 1938.

I am sorry to worry you with the following but think it should be mentioned in case there is any foundation at all for the story.

On Sunday last I was out at Uppark and there was told of a woman (whom I know) who had just recently come back from Malta and told them J. & M. that all the young officers she had met- she was out there to see a Lieutenant - seemed to have their tails down, were saying they had no chance against the Italians, were outnumbered and if they got through one battle couldn't fight a second etc.

The most serious statement was that an "Admiral at Malta" had stated that they had not got the ammunition to fight with, and would have no chance etc. There was a good deal more about being bombed out of existence etc. No A.A. guns and so on.

I merely repeat what I was told and have no belief in it, and cannot credit it.

But if there is any truth at all it seems serious that anyone can express these ideas, and if any officers do repeat such views it must get to the lower deck. D.P. would be the last to hear of it. I am perfectly sure neither Layton, Tovey or Leatham believe anything of the sort, and would not utter it if they did.

I send this to you in case you think it worth taking up. Please do not bother to answer. I told my informant I should pass this on.




12th December, 1938.

Thanks for your letter about Malta. I sent some extracts from it to D.P.. I heard much the same thing from another source, which is rather disturbing. I think it is thoroughly bad that the Fleet should always leave Malta when there is a scare, as if they were running away from danger, although actually there may be very good reasons for moving it.

I have been pressing hard for the last two months to get Malta adequately defended, and intend to keep up the pressure until I get it done. I hope this will effect some improvement.

I am sorry to say that there are other bases in much the same state, such as Aden, and Gibraltar is not properly defended either.

I took action at once with the Civil Lord about the postagram you sent about the shelters at Portsmouth. I cordially agree with you that it is lamentable there should be all this delay, but I am afraid it is the same everywhere. Anything connected with money which is not in the Estimates presents great difficulty, as proposals have to be, what is called, "co-ordinated" by some Committee or another. It is a marvellous way of putting things off, and drives me to despair. However, you may rely on me to do all I am able to, and I am sure the Civil lord wishes to get a move on.

I am now expecting a thoroughly good wrangle over the Navy Estimates for 1939, and have no doubt will meet with lots of difficulties.

The powers that be are getting anxious about money and in the meantime, as you know, the Air Force has got away with an immense programme, which will not make it any easier for us or the Army.

Admiral of the Fleet
The Earl of Cork and Orrery, G.C.B., G.C.V.O.






From: C. in C. Mediterranean

Naval Cypher (F)

Addressed: Admiralty, C. in C. Portsmouth


97. For First Sea Lord and C. in C.

Immediately on receipt of your letter I made extensive enquiries and have no hesitation in saying that the reported state of mind of the young officer is entirely without foundation. I hope it may be possible to take immediate steps to prevent the persons in question spreading such a damnable false impression. Am writing, suggesting further action.

Admiralty please pass to C. in C. Portsmouth.


Note: Message passed to C. in C. Portsmouth By Secret Postagram.

1st S.L. RB DCNS Seen




23rd December, 1938.

Thanks for your letter about the Mediterranean "story". D.P. took it rather more seriously than I had expected, although, no doubt, he did not like such rumours going about. I quite agree that nothing more can be done, and it would be futile to try and follow it up in any way.

For your own information I might tell you that, oddly enough, I was shown a letter a few days afterwards from someone else at Malta (a Naval Officer, and not a very junior one), who rather implied the same thing.

I have a feeling that the young Officers of the Fleet do not like the idea of the Fleet leaving Malta in a hurry whenever there is a scare, and it is certainly high time we got the Malta defences into a better state. I am doing everything I can to get this done and am determined to put it through.

Admiral of the Fleet
The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Cork and Orrery, G.C.B., G.C.V.O.




16th December, 1938.

The Civil Lord has given me the enclosed letter and asked me if I could do anything about it. I said I would let you know. I do not think I need say more than the letter contains, except that I am sure that such visits to the Fleet, when possible, do a lot of good, and their effect is much greater than is often realised.

I know, of course, that it is not always practicable to fit them in, and therefore do not want you to think that I am trying to put pressure on. You might tell the C. in C. about it sometime.

Ihope you are well and that the Med. Fleet is flourishing. You know we had to ask you to alter the date of the projected visit to Tunis because of the P.M's visit to Rome. The F.O. thought it might be to significant if the two coincided - the world is in such a touchy state.

Rear-Admiral B. A. Fraser, O.B.E.




Copy of letter from Lieut-Colonel Charles Bridge, C.M.G., D.S.O., M.C., Secretary-General to The British Council, to the Civil Lord.

3, Hanover Street, W. 1.

13th December, 1938.

Dear Llewellin,

Just to confirm our conversation at Channons at luncheon today when you so kindly said you would see what could be done about a matter which was brought to my attention during a visit I recently paid to Budapest. The story is roughly this:-

I was to have met Commander Scholtz, the principal A.D.C. to the Regent, Admiral Horthy, on the last evening I was in Budapest, but owing to an unfortunate misunderstanding, the meeting did not take place. The Legation had informed me that when Captain Frazer (I think this was the officer's name) was Flag Captain of the Mediterranean Fleet he invited Commander Scholtz to spend sometime as his guest on the Flag Ship during the Mediterranean Fleet's summer cruise.

This visit has had admirable results and Commander Scholtz returned to Budapest with a very high opinion of the British navy, which he did not hesitate to communicate to the Regent.

As anything of this sort which we can do in Hungary just now is greatly to the national advantage, I would suggest that, if it were possible arrangements might be made on the next suitable occasion for another invitation to be sent to Commander Scholtz by a Senior Officer of the Mediterranean Fleet. I am afraid it may not be so easy now if the present Flag captain does not happen to know Commander Scholtz.

I merely throw out the suggestion for what it is worth. It is not perhaps quite the time of the year to make it, but if I put it off until later it may be forgotten, so I hope you will forgive me for bothering you with it now.




21st December, 1938.

Thanks for your letter of 16th December. I think there is a great deal in what you say about the defence of Barrow, and I will see what can be done about it.

As you know, however, everyone is now preoccupied with the defences of London, and until more guns become available it will be hard to get any allocated to the more distant part of the country. I think, also, it may be said that although Barrow is a very important place it is not nearly so easily accessible to aircraft as are many other places such as Sheffield and Birmingham, and I doubt if it would be subject to heavy attack unless our defences generally have been shown to be weak. Of course if this should be, no doubt no place of importance will be safe.

I cordially agree, however, that rifle calibre guns are quite useless and more likely to be a danger to other people when bullets come down again.

We are still pursuing the "production capacity" question. It has moved a little but is not yet done with. I will tell you what has happened some day after Christmas if you care to come in. May I say, however, that I am most grateful to you for the information you gave me, which has been most useful.

Many thanks for your good wishes. I send the same to you and Lady Craven. Goodness knows what 1939 may be like, but I can hardly think it will be a restful year. It is something to be thankful for that if we are allowed to continue what we are doing we shall be far stronger at the end of it than we are at the beginning.

Commander Sir Charles W. Craven





(To C. in C. Med. Copy to C. in C. HF)

28th December, 1938.

I sent you a telegram shortly before Christmas about the Spring programme. You will have realised that the political outlook is very uncertain and that there is a feeling that it may become more so and to the extent that we may need to be more prepared for emergency. In these circumstances, I did not think it would be wise to announce a Home Fleet cruise programme right on to March in case we decide to bring the Fleet or part of it home sooner.

There is nothing definite to go on but the times are not normal.

I should hope that after the P.M's visit to Rome we may be a little clearer about the outlook, but this does not follow and there may be other indications in January of what 1939 has in store. I will, of course, keep you as well informed as I am able. Nor do I want to give you an alarmist view of the situation, only that we must not take chances. For this reason we are arranging that HOOD shall not be allowed to go to extended notice after her return and we are stopping LONDON's reconstruction and some other work of a like nature. It is inconvenient but we can't afford to lay up any more important ships now.

I hope NELSON will be able to go to Malta as planned and if she does Charles Forbes will be able to tell you more as I shall see him again before he sails.

We intend, also, to try and speed up our arrangements for manning the Reserve Fleet as the present scheme is too inelastic and entails the use of a Proclamation and of the word Mobilisation which everyone hates. If we can do this, we should be able to take more extensive precautionary measures.

There was a great rush of work before Christmas, principally C.I.D. and C.O.S., but I think this was due largely to all the Ministers wishing to go away for several weeks while Parliament is up.

We have completed our Estimates for 1939 but they have not yet gone to the Treasury or the Cabinet. I foresee a struggle but that is not unusual. Actually I think we have kept within reasonable limits, but the Chancellor is evidently uneasy about finance as such great demands are being made on him by the Air Force and for A.R.P. besides the lesser demands of the Navy and Army, although the latter is badly in need of more money after many years of starvation.

Thank you for your letter about the state of feeling in Malta. I expected you would react strongly. I gather from C. and O. that the "woman" in question has been rebuked, but I do not know who she is and I don't think he does.





28th December, 1938.

I send you herewith a copy of a memorandum which has been prepared recently in the Admiralty on the subject of Australian Naval Defence. I believe that the First Lord is sending another copy semi-officially to Bruce, the High Commissioner for Australia, who is now on leave in that country. I must tell you, however, that the memorandum is not at present official as it has not passed through all the regular channels which would make it so and, therefore, I must ask you to consider it personal. I thought I should send it to you as otherwise you would not be aware of what has been told to Bruce.

I do not think the memorandum differs in any material respect from previous memoranda or papers on the same subject, so I don't suppose you will find anything very new in it.

I have, however, endeavoured to stress the effect of distance on the Australian problem. I don't think it can be realised by the Australian Government what this means in connection with a possible large scale attack by Japan on the Australian continent. I suggest you have only to get a chart and measure off the distances and then consider for yourself what they mean for an expedition and the size of the expedition which would be needed to make any real affect.

I realise of course that Japan might establish an advanced base in one of the islands en route and from there she might move on to New Guinea where, I believe, there are suitable harbours; these also are great undertakings and would present great difficulty even with the present small fleet we have in the East.

One remembers also that in the war Australian troops acquired a great reputation as fighters. I am not aware what troops Australia now possesses or how they are trained and equipped, but assuming that they are all right in these respects, I am sure that Japan would need a large and well equipped army to make any headway if she attempted a landing.

It is true of course that an occasional ship might be sent to the Australian coasts to bombard some particular objective, but after all this would not endanger the safety of Australia however irritating it might be.

I have told you before that 1939 is a bad year for us because of the number of ships we have under reconstruction. In 1940 the position will be much better in every way.

I have had to send this to you by all sea route as the memorandum is too secret for air mail, so I am afraid you won't get it for five or six weeks.

I wish you would write and tell me your views and also what has been going on so to disturb the Australian Ministers.

Vice-Admiral Sir Ragnar M. Colvin, K.B.E., C.B.