248 Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner in Australia

Circular cablegram Z8 LONDON, 7 January 1941, 4.19 a.m.


Please give the following message, which is of the highest degree of secrecy, to the Prime Minister [1] for his most secret and personal information. BEGINS- 1. Following is brief summary of recommendations received from the Commander-in-Chief, Far East [2], and of our military advisers' conclusions on these recommendations which have been communicated to the Commander-in-Chief.

2. Commander-in-Chief considers that factors likely to influence Japan to risk war with the British Empire are the serious deterioration of our war situation in Europe, the liquidation of the China war, Russian-Japanese agreement or seizure of control by fanatic(al) [3] in Japan.

Comment-We agree generally but think that Russian Japanese Agreement would not make much difference and that Japan would be unlikely to reduce her present forces in Manchukuo or Korea whatever agreement was reached with the Russians.

3. Policy of firmness necessitates closer relations with China, Netherlands East Indies and Thailand and also- (a) restriction of visas to Japanese to travel in British territory and stricter control of Japanese visiting British ports;

(b) extension of system of prohibited and defence areas;

(c) stricter control of release of war supplies which are now reaching Germany via Japan and Siberia.

Comment-Agree. (a) under active consideration here. Consideration also being given to neutralization of Japanese system of using consular representatives for espionage. Reference (b), action being taken to extend system of prohibited and defence areas to Sarawak and North Borneo. (c) is under constant consideration;

further progress depends on the cooperation of the United States.

4. Commander-in-Chief advises that firmness and confidence and no appeasement would be most likely to prevent war.

Comment-This is the agreed policy of H.M. Government in the United Kingdom.

5. Commander-in-Chief emphasised the importance of close relations with China in order to sustain her resistance to Japan, and recommended organization of mission to join Chiang Kai Shek [4] immediately in the event of war between the British Empire and Japan. Development of communications with China from Burma and preparation of plans for support of China through Burma also urged.

Comment-Military mission (which will probably include an air representative) is being prepared and held in readiness. If despatched this mission would come under Commander-in-Chief Far East. Problem of improving communications between China and Burma is already under detailed investigation. Meanwhile Commander-in- Chief is being invited to give details of his proposals regarding further arrangements for support of China.

6. Commander-in-Chief recommended that our propaganda should aim at convincing Japan that attack on the Netherlands East Indies would mean war with the British Empire and attack on British interests would entail Netherlands East Indies' active intervention. He recommended similar but less definite indication regarding our reaction to aggression against Thailand and pointed out that less rigid attitude of United States to Thailand, particularly with regard to supply of armaments, would increase the latter's powers of resistance to Japanese propaganda or penetration. He raised the question of our policy vis-a-vis Indo- China.

Comment-Propaganda policy in the Far East now under consideration here. The United States Government has been approached regarding relaxation of their present rigid attitude towards Thailand. In this connection see my telegram D.610 of 14th December. [5]

7. Commander-in-Chief reports that in the event of war Japanese would even now be up against difficult proposition before the security of Singapore could be seriously menaced. He suggested the following action for development of local military resources in addition to reinforcements from outside Malaya:-

(a) Calling up of local volunteer forces for two months' training in February and March subject to certain exemptions;

(b) Possible increase in civil armed police and defence corps to supplement protection of vulnerable points, thereby reducing immobilization of troops;

(c) Collection of 18 pounder saluting guns for anti-tank and beach defence;

(d) Increased employment of civil aircraft and personnel and of resources of flying clubs.


8. Commander-in-Chief also recommended:-

(a) provision from India without interfering with formation of new divisions of infantry battalions equipped and trained only sufficiently highly to undertake static duties in defence of aerodromes and vital points and for internal security duties, thus releasing present battalions for mobile role.

(b) that H. M. Government in the Commonwealth of Australia should be requested to provide at least one infantry brigade group from Australia.

(c) provision from Australia and India of artillery personnel to assist in manning 18 pounders referred to in preceding paragraph.

(d) preparation of plan for immediate reinforcement by air and land forces from India in emergency, such plan entailing no commitment.

(e) supply from production in the Commonwealth in the first instance of up to eight 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns and certain other equipment.

Comment-Commander-in-Chief authorized to make direct approach to Government of India regarding (a) and (c) and to H. M. Government in the Commonwealth of Australia regarding (b) and (c). Sub- paragraph (e) has been dealt with in my telegram No. 510 of 23rd December. [6] Reference (d), Commander-in-Chief has been instructed that plan regarding army units from India should be based on acceleration of despatch of a portion of those reinforcements already earmarked for Malaya.

9. Commander-in-Chief has also made certain recommendations as regards replacement and reinforcement of existing resources in aircraft. These recommendations are now under close examination here and until this is complete it is not possible to indicate what action will be taken upon them.

10. Commander-in-Chief advised that political agreement with the Netherlands East Indies Government that aggression against either British or Netherlands East Indies territory would be treated as against both would considerably improve the situation. He added that Netherlands East Indies Chiefs of Staff showed no dismay at small forces we might have available and clear determination to recommend resistance to any aggression against Netherlands East Indies. Although the local Governor might be less steadfast, military would welcome closest co-operation.

Comment-Question of political agreement regarding Japanese aggression is still under consideration.

11. The Commander-in-Chief also emphasized that British-United States co-operation is the most potent single factor in restraining Japan from further aggression. He added that whereas serious deficiencies exist in the Far East, he considers the position probably better than would appear on paper. While there are many difficulties he expressed confidence of overcoming them.

He emphasized that the establishment of military forces further south in Indo-China or their penetration into Thailand would however entail serious deterioration of our situation. ENDS.

1 R. G. Menzies.

2 Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham.

3 Mutilated in transmission.

4 Commander-in-Chief of Chinese armed forces and member of Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang.

5 On file AA:A816, 19/301/1028A.

6 Document 236.

[AA:A1608, A41/1/1, xvii]