366 Commonwealth Government to Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 187 27 March 1941,


His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia has considered report of Anglo-Dutch-Australian Conference at Singapore, February, 1941 [1], and submits following observations:-

MUTUAL REINFORCEMENTS 1. The Commonwealth Government will provide Army units to reinforce Ambon and Koepang and also an air striking force at Darwin to operate from advanced bases to be established in collaboration with the Netherlands East Indies Authorities at Ambon and Koepang. R.A.A.F. Units will not be permanently stationed at these localities. Estimate of R.A.A.F. forces available for Darwin-Timor-Ambon area is as shown in report, that is, two Bomber Squadrons and possibly an additional reinforcing Squadron; one of the bomber squadrons, however, consists of Wirraways, the restricted range of which will confine it to the portion of the area in the vicinity of Darwin until an intermediate landing ground is established in the Tanambar Islands which is projected under Dutch plans. This situation will continue until the aircraft position improves.

2. In view of additional commitments elsewhere, two Brigade Groups cannot be provided in Darwin-Ambon-Timor area as estimated in Report. Only one Brigade Group and one Battalion, plus a Battery, are likely to be available for this area. It is proposed to make available a force of approximately 1,200 troops under the Command of a Brigadier for reinforcement of Ambon and a similar number of troops for Koepang. The arrangements agreed to at the conference contemplate that the movement of Australian troops to Ambon and Koepang is not to take place until hostilities with Japan have commenced. From a military point of view there would be every advantage in moving the troops to these localities at once so that they would be in a position to operate effectively at short notice. It is appreciated, however, that such a course would have important political implications and may be regarded by Japan as a provocative act. Commonwealth Government would be glad to know whether United Kingdom Government, after weighing both military and political aspects of proposal, consider that the Netherlands East Indies Government should be asked to consent to the despatch of Australian troops to these localities immediately. Irrespective of arrangements finally decided upon in this respect, it is proposed to arrange, in collaboration with the Netherlands East Indies authorities, for immediate despatch to Ambon and Koepang of equipment, bombs, general stores and supplies for both the Australian troops and R.A.A.F. Units operating in these localities.

3. Conference proposed in paragraph 7 of report that Allied forces at Ambon should be under Dutch control at the outset. Commonwealth Government's view is that in relation to Australian troops this should be interpreted to mean a short transitional period, after which Australian troops would come under Australian control. The forces at Timor are to come under Australian control on the arrival of our units.

4. It is considered that there should be unified command of all troops at Ambon. In view of nature and extent of Australian contribution, it is thought that an Australian Officer should be in command, such arrangements to take place after completion of transitional period referred to above. It is proposed to approach the N.E.I. Government accordingly.

CO-ORDINATING NAVAL PLAN FOR THE FAR EAST 5. Commonwealth Government note that the Conference did not formulate a coordinated naval plan for the Far East. The need for this was emphasised in Commonwealth Government telegrams 87 of 13th February and 97 of 15th February [2], and it is noted from your telegram No. 116 of 23rd February [3] in reply that a re- examination of naval dispositions with a view to producing a complete naval plan was to be made at the Conference. Commonwealth Government are greatly concerned at the failure of the Conference to draw up such a plan, the absence of which is a serious handicap in the organisation of Far Eastern Defence measures.

We would ask therefore that the United Kingdom Government convene a conference as soon as practicable so that a coordinated Naval plan could be completed without further delay. It is considered that this conference should assemble at Singapore. The Commonwealth Government's views as to its scope and points for discussion will be telegraphed in a few days. We would ask that plan of Naval reinforcements east of Suez on a progressive basis, which has been the subject of discussions between the Australian Prime Minister [4] and the Admiralty, be made available to the Conference if practicable.

CAPITAL SHIP ESCORT 6. It is noted that in paragraph 11 (a) of the Report of the conference, it is proposed that capital ship cover be provided for troop convoys in the Indian Ocean. Commonwealth Government consider that this is not sufficient and that capital ship escort should be provided for the larger troop convoys in accordance with the principle agreed to at the 1940 Singapore Defence Conference (see Part 1, paragraph 16 of the Report [5]).

NAVAL FORCES AVAILABLE 7. It is noted that the Conference recommends the return of Australian and New Zealand cruisers to their own Stations when war with Japan becomes imminent or earlier if the ships can be spared from their present dispositions. The Conference considers, however, that the return of Australian destroyers and sloops at present serving in the Mediterranean and Red Sea should be deferred until the Japanese threat becomes more of a reality in Far Eastern focal areas.

8. Commonwealth Government had previously expressed the view in cablegram 87 of 12th February that in the event of war with Japan the whole of our Naval Forces would be required in Australian and New Zealand waters. Whilst opinion is still adhered to, Commonwealth Government are prepared to agree, in view of the shortage of light surface vessels, that the return of Australian destroyers and sloops should remain in abeyance provided it is established that their effectiveness in the role for which they are normally employed is greater in the Mediterranean and Red Sea areas than in the Far Eastern area. In coming to this decision, we are influenced by the part that such vessels have played and may be called upon to play in connection with the activities of Australian and other Empire troops in the Near and Middle East. In the event of war with Japan, however, we would wish the matter to be re-examined in collaboration with the United Kingdom Government and a decision taken in the light of the relative needs of both areas and the most effective theatre of employment of the vessels.

ACT OF WAR BY JAPAN 9. It is recalled that the question of actions by Japan which would constitute an act of war and the steps to be taken to ensure that immediate counter action is taken against her was previously raised in connection with the Anglo-Dutch Conversations in November. Commonwealth Government note the views expressed in your cablegram No. 4 of 3rd January [6], and also the further comments made in your cablegram No. 180 of 21st March. [7] The views of the New Zealand Government contained in cablegram No. 83 of 1st March [8] are also noted.

10. The Commonwealth Government agree that a decision as to what constitutes an act of war by Japan should only be made by all the Governments concerned in the light of the circumstances at the time. Our Service Advisers, however, have emphasised the importance from a military point of view of active steps being taken against Japan immediately, in the contingencies stated in paragraph 24 of the Report, which my Government agree to in principle. The need for urgent action is recognised by the Commonwealth Government and the advice of the United Kingdom Government would be appreciated as to whether a satisfactory procedure could be evolved to ensure that a decision to take such counter measures is given without delay.

11. In regard to the contingencies outlined in paragraph 24 of the Report, more particularly (c)-Movement of Japanese Warships- Commonwealth Government would appreciate the views of the United Kingdom Government as to whether it is considered desirable to notify the Japanese Government of the interpretation which will be placed on the movement of Japanese formations in the area defined.

With regard to paragraph 24(d) we would appreciate your views as to the advisability of notifying the Portuguese Government of the possible interpretation that may be placed on the movement of Japanese Forces into Timor.

The Commonwealth Government also feel that acceptance of the contingency stated in paragraph 24(f) of the Report should be subject to an assurance being given by the United States Government that an attack by Japan on the Philippines would be regarded by them as a casus belli.


Paragraph 10(b) of Report 12. This was discussed by Australian and New Zealand Chiefs of Staff. Commonwealth Government are in entire agreement with comments of Chiefs of Staff, text of which was conveyed to you in New Zealand cablegram No. 109 of 23rd March. [9]


Paragraph 10(c) of the Report 13. This was also discussed by Australian and New Zealand Chiefs of Staff, and Commonwealth Government are in agreement with their views (see para. 4 of New Zealand cablegram No. 109 of 23rd March). Question of defences at Vila is now under consideration by Commonwealth Government.


14. Commonwealth Government consider that each of the Governments concerned should be informed of the progress being made in the execution of plans, and propose to ask the Commander-in-Chief, Far East [10] to arrange for this to be done.

EASTERN GROUP SUPPLY COUNCIL 15. Commonwealth Government is prepared to agree that the N.E.I.

should be brought into the Eastern Group Supply Council and their deficiencies and potentialities for production beyond their own requirements be coordinated by the Eastern Group Supply Council.

LIAISON OFFICERS 16. Commonwealth Government agree to proposed arrangements for the exchange of Liaison Officers between Australia and the Netherlands East Indies. The N.E.I. Naval Liaison Officer [11] has taken up duty in Australia and action is in course for the appointment of Australian Naval and Air Force Liaison Officers to the N.E.I.

Arrangements will be made for the appointment of an Army Liaison Officer on the outbreak of war with Japan.

RE-ASSEMBLY OF CONFERENCE 17. Commonwealth Government agree to the reassembly of the Conference at any time as proposed in the Report, provided that any questions of policy that may arise should be referred, in the first instance, to the Governments concerned, as suggested in your Office telegram No. 180 of 21st March, 1941. [12]

1 See AA:A2671, 109/1941, particularly Annexe C.

2 Documents 285 (in fact dispatched 12 February) and 300.

3 Document 317.

4 R. G. Menzies. See Document 343.

5 For a copy of Part I of the Conference Report see AA:A2671, 254/1940, Annexe 3.

6 Document 244.

7 Document 360.

8 Repeated to the Commonwealth Govt as no. 24: See file AA:A1608, AA27/1/1. The N.Z. Govt's view was that 'while they would accept a decision to declare war on Japan made by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, they are not prepared to agree to local authorities initiating measures which might lead to war without previous reference to London'.

9 Repeated to the Commonwealth Govt as no. 52: see file AA:A1608, AA27/1/1. The relevant paragraph read: 'Capture of a base in the N.E.I. will increase the scale of attack in the Indian Ocean but this will not affect the position in the South-West Pacific. It is considered, however, that the scale of the attack on South-West Pacific trade routes will be in any case greater than that suggested in the Conference Report, commercial raiders operating from bases in Japanese mandated islands. The scale of the attack would be further increased by seizure of an advanced base in islands to the North-East of Australia.' 10 Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham.

11 Commander G. B. Salm.

12 This cablegram was repeated on 27 March to the N.Z. Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, as no. 98, and to the U.K. Commander-in- Chief in the Far East; and on 5 April to the Minister to the United States, R. G. Casey, as no. 32.

[AA:A981, PACIFIC 8, i]