The Naval, Military and Air Situation up to 12 noon on November 16, 1939 as reported to the War Cabinet:
1. At the present time, when the U-boat attack on British trade has been reduced to small proportions and heavy attack by surface raiders and aircraft on our sea communications has not yet developed, it is convenient to review the general naval position as it has developed in the opening weeks of the war.
2. The initial distribution of the fleet, in addition to countering German naval action, had to take into account the possibility of a hostile Italy and of an uncertain Japan. The British main fleet was concentrated in the north to prevent the passage of German surface raiders into the Atlantic, and to support the few cruisers that could be spared initially to intercept German shipping and for the operation of contraband control between Iceland and the north of Scotland. A strong fleet was also necessary in the Eastern Mediterranean, and this, coupled with the escort requirements for the move of our land and air forces to the continent, left comparatively small forces available for the protection of trade.
The initial U-boat attack found us, therefore, with our anti-submarine forces greatly reduced by other commitments, and the institution of the convoy system, which was at once set in motion, placed an even greater strain on our light forces. Gradually, with the help of carrier-borne aircraft, the first onslaught of the U-boat was overcome and they were driven to seek their targets further to the westward; but shortage of light craft limited the extent to which escort for convoys could be provided.
3. As the attitude of Italy and Japan clarified, we were able to reduce our forces in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Far East; and, when it became clear that one, if not two, German pocket battleships were operating in the Atlantic, arrangements were made for powerful hunting units to cover the important focal areas of trade in the North and South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
The completion of the movement of the British Expeditionary Force and the Air Striking Force to France made more destroyers available for trade protection. At about the same time armed merchant cruisers and auxiliary forces started to come into service. During this time it became urgently necessary to strengthen the anti-aircraft escorts of the East Coast convoys and to institute Scandinavian convoys, which brought a further heavy demand for destroyers and escort vessels.
The Dominion Governments quickly appreciated the importance of destroyer forces, and took action to make such forces available for the common cause as early as possible.
6. H.M.destroyer Blanche was sunk and H.M.minelaying cruiser Adventure severely damaged by mines off the Tongue Lightship in the Thames estuary.
German Attack on Sea-borne Trade.
10. During the past week in Home Waters four ships have been sunk by mine and two by direct submarine action. Of these, five were British (total tonnage in 11,359) and one Norwegian (1,019 tonnes). These figures, as do last week’s losses, suggests the increasing use of the mine in the attack on trade.
14. A report reach the Admiralty on 16 November of the sinking of the S.S. Africa Shell (700 tons), a small coastal oiler, 150 miles north-east of Lourenco Marques by an enemy raider, a “10,000 ton ship” . No news has been received of the four British ships reported overdue at FreeTown, and it is would seem that this report may be connected with their disappearance.
15. There is almost certainly one pocket battleship at sea and it is considered possible that she may have gone round the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean.
24. At the beginning of the week the Germans were active in the Rhine – Moselle sector, where they carried out numerous local attacks and patrols. …
29.The Soviet Finnish talks have been suspended. The Finns appear determined not to make any concessions prejudicial to their neutrality or independence. Possibly the negotiations will be carried on through normal diplomatic channels, but the Soviet government may procrastinate in the hope that the prolongation of emergency precautions through the winter will prove too great a strain for the finances of Finland and the morale of her people. At present the Finns show no sign of weakening. Foreign journalists who visited the Karelian Isthmus at the end of October were impressed by the efficiency of the Finnish defences and dispositions. The maze of lakes and forests is interlaced with granite anti-tank obstacles. Troops, headquarters and stores are housed in huts made on the spot from pine logs and carefully screened with boughs. An American press photographer with experience in Spain and Abyssinia said he had never seen anything so good as the camouflaging of the Finnish batteries.
Royal Air Falls Operations.
Operations in France.
44. The squadrons of the two Army co-operation wings have continued to photograph the area of the British Expeditionary Force and to report on the camouflage work. When the weather, which has been generally unfavourable, permitted, single aircraft reconnaissance’s have photographed the Siegfried line and the enemy back areas.
45. Fighter aircraft have carried out a total of 63 patrols in the week, but have encountered no enemy aircraft. One Hurricane made a forced landing in Belgium and two others are missing.
See TNA CAB/66/3/29