484 War Cabinet Submission by Mr R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Co-ordination

Agendum 195/1941 (extracts) 4 June 1941



1. Paper No. C.O.S. (41) 230 [1] is the answer to a memorandum (see Annex VII thereto [2]) reiterating certain points raised in my brief and during discussions with the United Kingdom Government.

2. This document gives us definite information on certain considerations which have an important bearing on our Local Defence preparations. Even though it may not be very encouraging in certain respects, we certainly know where we stand, the degree to which we must rely on our own efforts, and the necessity for expanding them to the utmost extent.

3. The following is a summary of the main impressions conveyed by the various sections:-

(i) LOCAL DEFENCE OF MALAYA (a) Military Forces- The deficiencies in Annex I are in vital artillery units.

(b) Military Equipment- The main deficiencies, Annex II, are in vital requirements such as anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, small arms ammunition and artillery ammunition.

(c) Air Forces- See Annex III.

Though the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff reduced the strength of aircraft for Burma, Malaya and Borneo from 582 to 336 and stated 'this would give a very fair degree of security' the present strength is 118 including the three Australian Squadrons and it is unlikely the programme will be completed by the end of the year.

(Paragraph 6).

(d) General Remark on (a), (b) and (c)- The remarks in paragraphs 4, 5 and 8 of Paper No. 230 rather indicate a degree of complacency about the defence of the Pacific region. It is now evident that, for too long, we readily accepted the general assurances about the defence of this area. It was only at the November Conference that the Australian representatives discovered the weakness of the local defence position in Malaya.

It is only recently that the real situation in regard to a fleet for the Far East has become apparent.

In regard to the following from paragraph 8:-

'We fully realise that our Air strength in the Far East is below that necessary for reasonable security in the absence of a Fleet, but we do not consider that in the present situation we are running more serious risks there than elsewhere;' other theatres are not devoid of both naval and air protection, as would be the case in a war with Japan, should a re-disposition not be made.

(ii) NAVAL DEFENCE IN THE FAR EAST It will be noted from paragraph ii that the naval review is based upon the assumption that the U.S.A. is neutral. It would be unwise to overlook the worst situation which might arise.

The relief of Singapore under certain contingencies does not look very reassuring from paragraph 9 of Annex IV.

In view of the following comment in paragraph 19 of the main Paper, we must re-insure ourselves against the most unfavourable likelihood by the maximum local defence effort:-

'All we can say is that we should send a battle cruiser and a carrier to the Indian Ocean. Our ability to do more must be judged entirely on the situation at the time.' Though the estimated scale of attack in the Indian Ocean is expected to include one or more capital ships, only capital ship 'cover' is to be provided for our reinforcement convoys. With only one capital ship available in the Indian Ocean, escort by it will result in reduced frequency of sailings. A dilemma may arise between risking convoys or leaving the A.I.F. inadequately supported. (Paragraph 22).

[matter omitted]


In regard to U.S.A. co-operation in deterring Japanese aggression, the United States Secretary of State [3] intimated on 28th April and 3rd May that the United States Government believed that, in present circumstances, any more public declarations would do more harm than good, though the possibility of a declaration at a later stage was not ruled out. (Paragraph 28).

The attitude towards defining an act of war by Japan is stated to be dependent on an assurance of American intervention. If this is not forthcoming, no guarantee can be given that Japanese aggression against the Netherlands East Indies, Portuguese Timor, New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands will be treated automatically as a casus belli. (Paragraph 31). Since the preparation of C.O.S.230 the United Kingdom Government has intimated in Dominions Office cablegram M.93 of 22nd May [4]:-

'We have an interest in any move likely to prejudice the security of the line which runs from Malaya to New Zealand through the Netherlands East Indies and we agree that any attack on any part of that line equally concerns all affected parties, and must be dealt with as an attack on the whole line.' (v) DANGER OF JAPANESE SHORE-BASED AIRCRAFT ATTACK AGAINST AUSTRALIA Assuming the Japanese establish themselves in the Netherlands East Indies, the Chiefs of Staff consider that 'the threat of direct air attack on Australia would not be a serious one'. This view is based on present Japanese air strength and aerodrome facilities.

(Paragraphs 33-35).

In a long war it is not known what changes may take place in these directions, while ultimately the establishment of the Japanese so close to Australia means a grave potential threat to Australia. It is equivalent to the threat to Britain of a Great Power in the Lowlands-'a pistol pointed at the heart of England.' [5]



1 Document 400.

2 Not printed. See Document 400, note 1, for reference to this and all other Annexes mentioned below.

3 Cordell Hull.

4 Document 464.

5 This Agendum was based very closely on a memorandum prepared for Menzies on 14 April by F. G. Shedden, Secretary of the Defence Co- ordination Dept. See file Defence: Special Cullection 1, Box 625, Prime Minister's Visit to United Kingdom, 1941. Paper No. 7A.

Strategical Questions and Objectives in Strength.

For War Cabinet's consideration of this Agendum see War Cabinet Minute 1137 of 10 June in AA: A2673, vol. 7.