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

Circular cablegram Z38 LONDON, 7 February 1941, 1.20 a.m.


Please give the following message to the Prime Minister [1] for his most secret and personal information. BEGINS. Far East.

Evidence is accumulating that the Japanese may already have decided to push on southward even if this means war. Press reports indicate that Japan is using her position as mediator between Thailand and Indo-China to gain (besides a preferential economic position) naval base at Camranh Bay, air bases in southern Indo- China and control of Indo-China customs. There is also reason to suppose that some military agreement with Thailand directed against our territories and the Netherlands East Indies is under consideration.

2. Following are a few 'straws in the wind'.

(a) H.M. Ambassador at Tokyo [2] has reported general feeling among Japanese that crisis in Far East will come within the next few weeks (my Circular telegram D. No. 46 [3]).

(b) Cancellation of sailings of certain Japanese ships to the United States of America and reports of their being commandeered by the Japanese Government. Reports so far received from our naval authorities in Singapore do not confirm that general measures of this kind have been taken.

(c) Continued supply of Japanese munitions to Thailand.

(d) Intercepted telephone conversation between two Japanese at Surabaya and Lawang to the effect that Japanese attack would take place on 10th February. Governor of East Java [4] attaches no undue importance to conversation but thinks that it cannot be disregarded.

(e) Statement by Japanese naval officer to students of the Malay language that the time was very short indeed.

(f) Japanese ship Asaka Maru intended to carry Japanese naval personnel to Berlin for which Japanese have requested safe conduct from us. (Japanese Ministry of Marine admit that Asaka Maru is taking some naval stores as well to Lisbon. We have reason to suspect that Japanese also intend to bring back 3,000 tons of German machinery from Lisbon). The time-table of this ship, however, seems to indicate action not contemplated until mid- March.

(g) Reports from French source in Indo-China of concentrations in Formosa and Hainan.

3. We have moreover received sure indications that on 4th February the Japanese Embassy here were warned to reduce to a minimum contacts with British friends and to be ready to leave London at short notice. On 5th February meeting was called at the Japanese Embassy to discuss supplementary (?) instructions which appear to relate to some scheme of co-operation with Germany advocated by Army Party in Japan.

4. While none of these pointers may be conclusive in themselves they suggest further move is impending.

5. H.M. Ambassador Washington has been instructed to communicate the above in strict confidence to the United States State Department. [5]

6. H.M. Ambassador Tokyo has drawn attention once more to the danger of Japanese squeezing out Singapore through Indo-China and Thailand. The situation in this area is being urgently reviewed in the light of most recent developments and estimate of the position will be sent you as soon as possible. ENDS. [6]

1 A. W. Fadden was Acting Prime Minister.

2 Sir Robert Craigie.

3 Dispatched 31 January. See file AA:A816, 19/304/425, v.

4 C. H. O. van der Plas.

5 For a report of Lord Halifax's conversations in Washington on this subject see Document 292.

6 On 7 February A. S. Watt, First Secretary of the Legation in Washington, cabled to the External Affairs Dept: 'I have seen copy of telegram of 5th February from Eden [U.K. Foreign Secretary] to Halifax stating "evidence is accumulating that Japanese may already have decided to push on southward even if this means war."

Telegram then lists a number of "straws in the wind" and concludes that while these indications are not conclusive "they suggest further movement is impending. " I am assuming you are receiving all such information direct from London and Tokyo.' See cablegram 101 on file AA:A3300, 97.

[AA:A1608, J41/1/7, i]