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35 Minutes of Meeting to discuss Defence Questions

2 WHITEHALL GARDENS, LONDON, 1 June 1937, 9.30 a.m.



Sir Thomas Inskip, Minister for Co-ordination of Defence (in the Chair) M. J. Savage, Prime Minister of New Zealand Walter Nash, Minister of Finance, New Zealand Admiral of the Fleet Lord Chatfield, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff Field Marshal Sir Cyril J. Deverell, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Malcolm MacDonald, Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs Sir Archdale Parkhill, Minister for Defence, Australia Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Edward L. Ellington, Chief of the Air Staff General Sir William H. Bartholomew, Chief of the General Staff, India Captain T. S. V. Phillips, Director of Plans, Admiralty C. A. Berendsen, Permanent Head of Prime Minister's Department, New Zealand Colonel Sir M. P. A. Hankey (Secretary) Colonel H. L. Ismay (Deputy Secretary) Major V. Dykes (Assistant Secretary) Major L. C. Hollis (Assistant Secretary)

SIR THOMAS INSKIP, in opening the proceedings, said that defence in the Pacific was of vital interest to Australia, New Zealand and India as well as to the United Kingdom. He suggested that as the Meeting had the benefit of the presence of the Chiefs of Staff it would be best to ask Lord Chatfield, the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Sub-committee, to give a general review of the subject. The Chiefs of Staff had received copies of the questions which had been put by the Australian [1] and New Zealand [2] Delegations, and Mr Savage, Sir Archdale Parkhill and General Bartholomew had received a copy of the Far East Appreciation [3] prepared by the Chiefs of Staff. No doubt they had not had time yet to study this long and important document fully, and he would therefore ask Lord Chatfield to deal with the subject on broad lines.

LORD CHATFIELD said he would like to explain the ideas which underlay the two important Papers which the members of Delegations present had seen, namely the Review of Imperial Defence [4] by the Chiefs of Staff and their Far East Appreciation. The Far East Appreciation was only a general strategical appreciation of how a war in the Far East would have to be fought. It did not attempt to go into the detailed disposition of forces-that was a question which would have to be worked out in very much greater detail by each Service concerned.

Lord Chatfield then proceeded to review the general principles underlying our strategical policy in a Pacific war.


He referred first to the various risks to which we were exposed and which the Chiefs of Staff had had to bear in mind in drawing up their plans to meet the contingency of war in the Far East.

These had been mentioned in the Chiefs of Staff Review. In the first place we had two possible enemies, one in Europe and one in the Far East, and a distance of 10,000 miles separated these two possible theatres of war. In between there was Italy, a resentful and ambitious Power. Her strength was only moderate, perhaps, but situated where she was, she possessed great potentialities for causing us inconvenience and damage. In the second place there was the danger of the United Kingdom being drawn into a war in Europe, even though the originating causes of such a war did not directly involve this country. There were, however, two bright spots in the picture so far as the United Kingdom was concerned. One was the Anglo-German Naval Treaty which limited the strength of the German Navy [5], at any rate so long as the Germans observed it; and the other was the co-operation of the Dominions and India.


The responsibilities of Imperial defence were fourfold. In the first place there was the necessity for defending the Mother- country, which would be in the front line in any European war. If the United Kingdom were defeated in such a war, the effect would be the same on the parts of the British Empire in the Far East as if the British Fleet in the Pacific were defeated-the Empire would not be able to hold together any longer in its present form. Next there was our position in the Mediterranean to be considered. He quoted from paragraph 81 of the Chiefs of Staff Review where it was stated that the principle must be recognised 'that no anxieties or risks connected with our interests in the Mediterranean can be allowed to interfere with the despatch of a Fleet to the Far East'. It should be realised that in certain circumstances we might have to give up naval control in the Mediterranean, and in that case Malta and Cyprus might fall. That did not necessarily imply, however, that we should lose our position in the Middle East, since we could despatch reinforcements to those parts by other routes, for example through the Red Sea and Egypt. In any case the Mediterranean position, even if it were lost, could be recovered. If the position in the Pacific were lost, however, it was doubtful if it could ever be recovered. The other two responsibilities of Imperial defence were the defence of the Dominions and Colonies and the defence of Imperial communications on the ocean routes.


Two situations had to be considered: the first a European war, and the second a war in the Pacific. A European war would be an operation demanding the full activities of all three Services, and if all three Services were fully efficient and sufficient we should be able to deal with the situation. A war in the Pacific, however, was of a different nature, since it would be predominantly a naval war. It would not require either air or military forces on a national scale. In a European war economic pressure would be only a contributing factor to our ultimate victory, albeit a very important one. In a Pacific war, however, it was only by economic pressure that victory would be achieved- any idea of an invasion of Japan and her defeat by military action on her own soil was out of the question. The war would be fought at a great distance from a large part of the Empire, only part of which would be affected by it. Except in the Far East, Empire trade would not be interfered with.


Japan, however, could be almost completely isolated by naval action and her national life directly affected. The expansion of Japanese overseas trade meant that she had given a hostage to fortune. Interference with this trade would have fatal consequences for her.

Lord Chatfield referred to the conclusions on the subject of economic pressure on Japan which had been reached in paragraph 31 of the Far East Appreciation, and quoted the following passages:-

'(i) Japan's demands in war will be greatly influenced by the nature of the warfare in which she is involved. The more serious her military commitments and the greater her programme of naval and/or mercantile shipbuilding, the greater will be her expenditure of imported commodities; but if she has previously accumulated large stocks of oil fuel and other war necessities and her expenditure is largely confined to that for naval warfare, she will be able to reduce her imports considerably for a number of months.

(ii) Cessation of trade with the British Empire, together with establishment by us of control over her trade with Europe and South Eastern Asia, will produce a grave dislocation of Japan's economic life, unless replacement supplies can be obtained, mainly from the United States. In this connection, the United States action in banning exports of armament stores to belligerents is of the greatest importance.

(iii) In due course, after existing stocks have been exhausted, a stoppage of the trans-Pacific trade in addition to that with the British Empire would leave the main Japanese industries largely dependent upon imports from Asia, which, in the long run, could not suffice to maintain national life at the requisite level, and would have a direct effect both on Japan's war endurance and her fighting power.

[matter omitted]

(vi) Early decisive effects from economic pressure can only be attained by carrying the war into the China and Japan seas, though the virtual stoppage of the trans-Pacific trade in addition to that with Europe and the British Empire would ultimately achieve the same result, save in the unlikely circumstance of the U.S.S.R.

freely supplying Japan from Vladivostok. Failing a stoppage of the short sea trade routes, it is doubtful if economic pressure upon Japan would achieve decisive results in under two years.'

These led up to the wider deductions in paragraph 105:-

'(a) We must rely primarily upon the exercise of economic pressure to defeat Japan. We cannot expect a decision by the above method in under two years, and this period may, in the event, be considerably longer.

(b) The only apparent means of forcing an earlier decision would be by a successful fleet action. Japan, however, by holding back her fleet, can deny us this opportunity, unless and until she is forced to accept action as the only alternative to defeat by economic pressure.

(c) The war will make full demands on our naval resources, but will not require the employment of army or air forces on a national scale.'


The circumstances under which a war in the Far East would break out had to be borne in mind. Japan was very unlikely to go to war with us, unless the United Kingdom was already involved in Europe.

In such circumstances Japan might do two things. She might carry out acts of aggression against China, who would probably appeal to us for assistance. The decision as to whether we should provide this assistance would of course be a political one. On the other hand, Japan might make a direct attack on the British Empire if she thought that we were deeply involved elsewhere and that, in consequence, the balance of risk was in her favour.


Lord Chatfield then proceeded to explain the general policy which should govern the conduct of a war with Japan, and quoted from paragraphs 110 to 114 of the Far East Appreciation:-

'110. The basis of our strategy lies in the establishment of our Fleet at Singapore at the earliest possible moment after the outbreak of hostilities. Our own security and our ability to bring pressure to bear upon Japan are equally dependent on this action.

It is, therefore, of paramount importance that the Singapore base should be available on the arrival of our Fleet. To ensure this reinforcements must be moved to Singapore and the security of their routes safe-guarded upon any state of tension developing.

In addition, all measures necessary for the protection of the Suez Canal and for the security of our defended ports and our air and other routes to the Far East must be put into operation.'

He drew particular attention to the emphasis that was placed on the vital importance of the principle of the establishment of our Fleet at Singapore at the earliest possible moment after the outbreak of hostilities. With regard to the movement of reinforcements for Singapore, it would be wise, if we were at war with Germany, to move reinforcements to Singapore as early as possible before the Japanese came in against us as well. It might be difficult to move such reinforcements later on.

With regard to our communications in the Far East, the Appreciation read as follows:-

'111. Before the arrival of our fleet at Singapore we should, where necessary, rely on evasion for the security of our commerce, and upon local defences for the security of our ports and territories, coupled with operations against the raiders by the forces immediately available. Once our main fleet is in the Far East we should rely on its presence to give adequate security to our communications.'

Once the British Fleet arrived at Singapore, the whole strategic situation in the Far East would be changed and new conditions would have supervened.

With regard to Hong Kong-

'Although our situation at Hong Kong is inherently weak, we should, as long as our policy is to hold the fortress, take any opportunity to reinforce the garrison during a period of strained relations, but not at the expense of reinforcements considered necessary for the security of Singapore' (Para. 112).

[matter omitted]

Hong Kong was only an outpost, although an important outpost, whereas the security of Singapore was absolutely vital to our position in the Far East. This was the great difference between the two ports.

Lord Chatfield then quoted the following paragraphs dealing with the situation after the arrival of the Fleet at Singapore, the attitude of China and the exercise of economic pressure against Japan:-

'Although we cannot foretell what the situation will be when the British Fleet arrives at Singapore, it is clear that, so long as Hong Kong is still holding out, the Fleet will be required to go forward either to reinforce or to evacuate the garrison. The decision as to which course of action is to be adopted must be made at the time in the light of all information then available (Para. 112).

113. The attitude of China will be an important factor in this situation, and we must, from the outset, take all possible steps to encourage the Chinese in active hostility to Japan. At the same time, we must so restrict our action in China as to avoid any liability of becoming involved in major land and air operations.

114. We must primarily rely upon the exercise of economic pressure to enable us to defeat Japan. With our Fleet based at Singapore or at any base further north, the restrictions which we could impose on Japanese trade give good prospects of breaking Japanese powers of resistance in the course of two years, provided that at the same time we can sever her trans-Pacific trade. To this end, in addition to our naval operations, we should do all that is possible to enlist the sympathy and assistance of America.'


Lord Chatfield next dealt with the time factor and quoted from paragraph 43 of the Far East Appreciation which states:-

'On Japan's side the time factor assumes the greatest importance in relation to the operations which they might hope to carry out prior to the arrival of the British Fleet, e.g., possible attempts to capture Singapore and/or Hong Kong.'

The assumptions underlying the calculations of the time factor for the arrival of the British Fleet at Singapore were explained in the two preceding paragraphs of the Appreciation. In addition to the passage time for the Fleet, either via the Mediterranean or via the Cape, 10 days had to be allowed for the necessary preparatory measures such as docking, fuelling and storing the Fleet prior to its sailing for the Far East. 15 days had also to be added for possible delays due to weather and for re-fuelling en route. The net result was that the Fleet might not arrive at Singapore before either 53 or 70 days after the order to sail, according as to whether it proceeded via the Suez Canal, or the Cape. These times made no allowance for delay in giving the orders to the Fleet to sail, due to political or other factors.


These other factors would largely depend upon the naval situation obtaining at the time that war with Japan broke out. In the best case, war with Japan might not start until we had fully developed our naval resources and while the Germans, on the other hand, were maintaining a defensive attitude. In the worst case, we might not have had time fully to develop our naval resources, and the Germans for their part might have assumed a vigorous offensive against our trade in the Atlantic.

If we were at war with Germany before hostilities broke out with Japan, our naval forces might be widely dispersed in the Atlantic.

The German Navy was imbued with the offensive spirit and realised the mistakes they had made in the last war by keeping their High Seas Fleet on the defensive. They saw that it would have been better to have attacked our shipping in the Atlantic, even at the risk of losing their Fleet, instead of having it ignominiously sunk at Scapa Flow in the end. We had therefore to work on the possibility of Germany sending her three 'Deutschlands' and her battle cruisers against our Atlantic trade. Our capital ships might, therefore, be engaged in chasing the Germans in the Atlantic or conveying our merchant shipping. We hoped in such circumstances that we should have the French with us and the support of their battle cruisers. We might reciprocate by employing some of our capital ships for conveying French forces from Africa. In any case some considerable time might elapse before the Fleet could start for the Far East.

Another important factor to be considered in this connection was the year that war broke out, since this would determine the allocation of our naval forces to Europe and the Far East respectively. At a certain period from the spring of 1938 to the summer of 1939 some of our capital ships would be laid up for modernisation. This process, which ought to have been carried out long ago, could no longer be delayed. The 'Valiant' and 'Renown' were now laid up for two years undergoing modernisation, and the 'Queen Elizabeth' would shortly be in the same state. The risk of laying up these three ships at the present time was a big one, but we had to face it. 1939 was the date to which we were working in all our defensive preparations and it seemed best therefore to go ahead now, and have such of our 15 capital ships as we intended to modernise, finished by that time.

It would thus be realised that both the strength of the fleet which would be sent and the time which would elapse before it arrived at Singapore must vary with political and strategical factors. The whole basis of our strategy, however, lay in the establishment of our fleet at Singapore at the earliest possible moment after the outbreak of hostilities.


The general conclusions of the Chiefs of Staff on the defence of Singapore were contained in paragraph 229 of their Far Eastern Appreciation, which reads as follows:-

'(a) In considering the security of Singapore, we must allow for 70 days elapsing between the first Japanese act of war and the arrival of the British Main Fleet (assuming that the orders for the Fleet to sail are given concurrently with the first Japanese act of war). This makes no allowance for circumstances which might postpone the issue of orders for the Fleet to proceed to the Far East.'

Lord Chatfield pointed out that the 70 days made no allowance for the political and strategical factors of which he had just spoken.

'(b) During this period early information of any Japanese expedition is the first essential of the defence. In view of the weakness of the Naval forces which the Commander-in-Chief, Far East, will have at his disposal on the outbreak of war, and the desirability of maintaining our cruiser strength intact until concentration with the Main Fleet can be effected, we must rely mainly upon air forces for long-range reconnaissance of any Japanese expedition which may approach Singapore during the period before relief.

(c) Air forces and submarines provide the only weapons with which we can make sustained attacks against the Japanese expedition before it comes within range of the fixed defences. Destroyers may also be able to carry out night attacks.

(d) Reserves of war material and food in Singapore are at present held for 60 days and, with the exception of aircraft bombs and certain R.A.F. technical stores, are generally up to the authorised scale. If the arrival of the Fleet were delayed appreciably beyond 60 days and Japan had successfully initiated major operations on the outbreak of war, the powers of resistance of the garrison would deteriorate rapidly in the third month.'

The question of increasing the number of days' reserves maintained in Singapore to more than 60 days was now under consideration.

'(e) It seems unlikely that the Japanese will employ a major expedition in deliberate operations against Singapore, even if they anticipate 60 to 70 days' delay in the arrival of the British main fleet. We cannot, however, definitely exclude the possibility of operations of this character. If we have been unable to reinforce Singapore, the likelihood of the Japanese being successful would be greatly increased and we, therefore, stress the necessity for the early despatch of reinforcements. If these reinforcements have arrived, we confidently anticipate that the fortress will hold out until the arrival of the British Fleet.'

Lord Chatfield again stressed the importance of the early reinforcement of Singapore. If we were ever at war with Germany and at the same time in a state of strained relations with Japan it would only be prudent to increase immediately our reserves both at Singapore and Hong Kong.

'(f) A surprise attack aiming at the capture of the fortress by a coup de main may be attempted. If they could achieve complete surprise, the Japanese would have some prospect of success, but the possibility of complete surprise seems somewhat slight. If we obtained any warning at all of liability to attack, our garrison should be able to defeat it.

(g) Even although our 15-inch guns will not be ready for action, our coast defences, assisted by the 15-inch guns of H.M.S.

'Terror', will afford considerable protection against naval bombardment. Smallscale landing raids might achieve a minor measure of success, but are unlikely seriously to damage our base facilities. Our A.A. defences at Singapore will still be weak. If the Japanese accept serious risks to their carriers they can deliver a heavy scale of air attack, which might achieve a certain degree of success, though their sea-borne air attacks could not be sustained. It is very unlikely that shore-based air attacks could be made except as part of successful major operations.

(h) With the arrival of the British Fleet the Japanese will either have to abandon their expedition or fight a fleet action. Provided that the naval repair facilities at Singapore can still be used by our ships, our Fleet would be at a great advantage compared with that of Japan, which could have no repair facilities nearer than its home waters.'


Lord Chatfield then drew attention to the differences between our conduct of a single-handed war with Japan, and of a war with both Germany and Japan simultaneously. These were explained in paragraphs 117 to 121 of the Far Eastern Appreciation.

117. Our policy for a war against Japan would remain unchanged except in the following respects:-

118. During the period immediately following the outbreak of war with Germany and before the outbreak of war with Japan, we should immediately avail ourselves of the opportunity of carrying out preparatory measures in the Far East without interference by Japan.

119. At Singapore we should, during this period, not only put into effect the existing reinforcement plans, but should also increase the reserves of supplies to the maximum extent possible.

120. We should concentrate our outlying battalions from North China at Hong Kong, but should send there no further reinforcements except those necessary to enable the existing fixed defences to be manned adequately. We should also increase the reserves of supplies at Hong Kong. Although we cannot, in this case, rely on our fleet being able either to reinforce or to evacuate our garrison at Hong Kong once war has broken out with Japan, our policy would still be to hold Hong Kong as an outpost for as long as possible.

121. Once war with Japan has broken out, our policy must be governed by the consideration that, until the issue with Germany has been settled, we cannot count on being able to support anything more than a defensive policy in the Far East. Economic pressure would remain the essential feature of this policy, but owing to the heavier demands on our naval forces its action is bound to be slower.'

With reference to the statement that 'we cannot count on being able to support anything more than a defensive policy in the Far East', Lord Chatfield explained that, in an Appreciation of this kind, it was necessary to adopt a conservative attitude and not to be over-sanguine. It must be remembered that in such a war, although in Europe we should, in combination with the French, possess naval superiority, in the Far East we should only have equality with the Japanese.

The implications of a simultaneous war with Germany and Japan as affecting the situation in the Singapore area were explained in Paragraph 327 of the Far East Appreciation. This paragraph pointed out that, as regards the heavy-ship strength of the Fleet that we could send to the Far East, at various times during the next two years, we should be alternately superior and inferior to the Japanese by one heavy ship; it went on to say that'We can regard our Fleet, however, even when inferior in numbers by one heavy ship, as at least equivalent in fighting value to the Japanese Fleet, but we have no margin for contingencies.' Lord Chatfield emphasized that the whole policy for the conduct of the war would not be changed by a superiority or inferiority of a single ship.

The overwhelming factor in war was efficiency; but this was not a factor which could be accurately assessed. An inferior force, if more efficient, could win; and the British Navy had every reason to think that they were more efficient and could win even with inferior forces, as they had often done in the past. At the same time, in an Appreciation of this kind, it was only prudent to base calculations on numerical strengths. Further, if the enemy knew that one had a numerically inferior force, the knowledge might incite him to aggression, whereas numerical superiority provided the greatest possible deterrent. If we found ourselves inferior to the Japanese in the Pacific, we should have to feel our way carefully at first and judge of the efficiency of the Japanese by their conduct in cruiser and destroyer actions in the early stages of the war. We should then be able to gauge the extent of the risks which it was safe to take against them.

As regards economic pressure on Japan in a simultaneous war with Japan and Germany, Paragraph 342 of the Far East Appreciation stated:-

'342. When at war with both Germany and Japan, our operations as regards trade would fall into the following order of priority:

defence of our own trade against attack by Germany; attack on Japanese trade. While the above operations may to a large extent be combined, it appears probable that under the conditions we are now considering the degree of economic pressure that we can bring to bear upon Japan may be appreciably reduced, particularly as regards action against the trans-Pacific trade. An embargo by America of supplies of war materials to Japan would, therefore, be of the greatest assistance to us, especially if unaccompanied by an effective embargo against ourselves.'


Lord Chatfield then dealt with the problem of Hong Kong. As he had already explained, Hong Kong was different from Singapore in that it was only an outpost, and the duty of an outpost was to give warning of attack and to delay the enemy. Hong Kong, however, was very vulnerable at present. We had been limited by the provisions of Article XIX of the Washington Treaty in respect of its defences. This Treaty had lapsed at the beginning of 1937, but we had not yet had time to do anything about strengthening the defences to any great extent. It was necessary to allow for go days elapsing between the first Japanese act of war and the arrival of the British Fleet at Hong Kong-at the earliest the Fleet could not reach Hong Kong before 40 days. He quoted from paragraph 307 of the Far East Appreciation as follows:-

'(c) There is no means by which the garrison of Hong Kong can be reinforced, once war has broken out with Japan, until the arrival of our main fleet.

[matter omitted]

(e) The present weakness of our fixed and A.A. defences, and lack of defending aircraft render the base facilities open to attack by naval bombardment as well as sea-borne and shore-based air attack.

Even if other naval requirements do not permit the Japanese to employ a heavy scale of naval bombardment, the damage which could be inflicted by carrier-borne and shore-based air attack during the period of six weeks which will probably elapse before the arrival of the British Fleet, will probably be sufficient to make it virtually useless as a repair base, and might deprive us of the great proportion of reserves of material held at Hong Kong.

Once the fleet was in the vicinity of Hong Kong, no further naval bombardment need be feared, and carrier-borne attacks would be unlikely. By that time, however, the Japanese could have built up their shore-based air strength in South China to an extent which would enable them still to maintain a heavy scale of air attack upon the base.

In [the] view of the Air Staff, Hong Kong is not tenable or usable as a base, if the circumstances are such that the Japanese can bring the major proportion of their metropolitan air force against it.

(f) If, after the arrival of the British fleet at Singapore, Hong Kong has not been attacked, our fleet could escort army and air reinforcements forward. We should then aim to use Hong Kong as a base for our main fleet and, pending war experience of air attack we should attempt to stage operations designed to bring about action with Japanese naval forces.

(g) If Hong Kong has fallen, there can be no question of hasty operations for its recapture.

(h) In a situation between these two extremes, in which our garrison at Hong Kong is still holding out in spite of Japanese attacks, our fleet can, pending war experience of air attack, undertake operations in the northern part of the South China Sea, with the object of cutting the communications of the Japanese investing forces, while our garrison, duly reinforced, continues to hold its ground.

(i) In the last resort, the evacuation of the garrison under cover of our fleet, would be the only alternative.

(j) The decision as to which course will be adopted can only be taken when all the circumstances are known.'

The conclusions which the Chiefs of Staff had reached on the question of Hong Kong were set out in paragraphs 127 to 130, which read as follows:-

'127. We have concluded that there can be no question of evacuating Hong Kong on the eve or on the outbreak of war with Germany. The advantages of evacuation in the latter circumstances are summarised as follows:-

"By evacuation we should cut our losses, avoid the danger of being led into commitments on land in South China, and deny to the Japanese the chance of reducing the superior strength of our fleet by attrition. Moreover, the force of our economic pressure on Japan would not materially be reduced."

128. There is much force in this argument, the more so at the present time, when both the garrison and the defences at the fortress are inadequate, and when the prospects of the defence being unsuccessful-with the consequent loss of prestige involved- are probable.

129. On the other hand, the evacuation of an important fortress on the outbreak of war would itself entail a very serious loss of prestige, not only in the Far East, but throughout the world; and might influence other potentially hostile Powers to form an exaggerated idea of the weakness of our position, and to throw in their lot against us.

130. Moreover we could not hand over Hong Kong intact to the Japanese; and it would be necessary before evacuation, to arrange for the deliberate destruction of all the facilities and defences of the Fortress.'

Lord Chatfield said that he hoped this broad survey of the problem of a war in the Pacific would be of some assistance to the Dominion representatives present. He suggested that, as there was still some time available, he might clear off one or two of the questions which had been put by the New Zealand and Australian Delegations.


(1) Possibility of maintaining a fleet permanently in the Far East

He referred first to the question raised by New Zealand as to why it was not possible to maintain in peace time a naval force in the Far East sufficient to contain the Japanese Fleet. This question had often been considered in the past, and at certain periods we had in fact kept a Fleet in the Pacific; but it was not easy to do so under modern conditions.

The first great difficulty was a political one. We should have to send a force equal in strength to the Japanese Fleet, since to divide our forces, which were limited particularly as regards heavy ship strength, and run the risk of their defeat in detail should war break out, would be most unwise. But to send a Fleet equal to the Japanese out to the Pacific at the present moment would be a most challenging act from the diplomatic point of view.

The next difficulty was administrative. We should have to maintain two-thirds of our Battle Fleet in the Pacific, and that would mean a very much greater proportion of the Navy being permanently on foreign service. Already personnel did two commissions out of three on foreign service, and, if so large a force was maintained in the Far East, the proportion of foreign service would rise probably to four commissions out of five. Moreover, Singapore would have to be greatly expanded and made equivalent to, say, Portsmouth and Devonport in combination. This would involve a huge expense and involve closing dockyards at home.

It was therefore considered better to keep the Battle Fleet in European waters. We must have a fleet at home ready for a European war, which might break out more suddenly than any war in the Pacific. Moreover, the general public in the United Kingdom might not look at all favourably on the permanent retention of their Navy at such a distance from home waters, and there would certain[ly] be an outcry if the majority of our capital ships were in the Far East when a European war broke out.

To sum up, therefore, from the strategical point of view it was advisable to retain the major portion of our Fleet in European waters in peace. If the Fleet were stationed in peace in the Far East and hostilities suddenly broke out in Europe, the situation might be far more serious than if we had retained the Fleet in Europe and war broke out first in the Far East.

(2) Use of New Zealand cruisers in a Far East war

Lord Chatfield then dealt with Question No. 7 on the Questionnaire submitted by the New Zealand Delegation enquiring what part was intended to be played by the New Zealand cruisers on the outbreak of hostilities in the Far East. He explained that his remarks on the subject of the New Zealand cruisers would also apply to those of Australia. The greatest danger from raids would be in the period before the British arrived at Singapore. The primary role of both the New Zealand and the Australian Navies during this period would, therefore, be local protection in their territorial waters. It had been suggested by the First Lord of the Admiralty that Dominions might consider the possibility of building and maintaining capital ships. If this suggestion were adopted, the ship would be used for local defence in the Southern Pacific. A capital ship backing the cruiser forces already in those waters would be a very powerful deterrent to the Japanese as had been the 'Australia' in 1914. On the arrival of the Main Fleet at Singapore, this capital ship might either join up with it or remain in southern waters, depending on the situation. With regard to Dominion cruisers, it was by no means to be assumed that they would be moved from Australian and New Zealand waters when the Main Fleet arrived at Singapore-on the contrary it might be necessary to despatch more cruisers from the British Fleet to those waters. Circumstances would dictate what was the best thing to do.


After a short discussion on procedure, Lord Chatfield suggested that, as there was still some time available, he might say something about the risks of Japanese invasion of Australia. He read the draft prepared by the Joint Planning Committee, but emphasized that it had not yet received the approval of the Chiefs of Staff Sub-committee. This draft pointed out the extreme difficulty and consequent unlikelihood of the Japanese carrying out such an operation unless the British Fleet had been defeated in the Pacific.

Lord Chatfield observed that it was difficult to define the size of a raid-it might be anything from a few men landing in a boat to destroy a wireless station to a landing of much greater strength as a diversion to draw off forces from elsewhere. In any case it could have no real effect other than annoyance. A raid was essentially a cut-and-run affair, and local forces and fixed defences provide a very strong deterrent against such operations.

SIR THOMAS INSKIP said that the answers to the other questions submitted by the Australian and New Zealand Delegations would be in the form of a Paper which the Delegations could take with them when they returned home. [6]

MR SAVAGE said he would appreciate being able to take the answers with him, as it was not permitted to take the Far East Appreciation out of the country. It would be realised that he had to discuss these questions with others in New Zealand. Lord Chatfield had explained the strategical situation in very clear terms, and he was very grateful to him. The New Zealand Government wished to know the best way to play their part in the defence of the Empire. They wanted to spend their money intelligently and to preserve a proper balance between the three Services. It was a great help to them to have an appreciation of the dangers to which they were subject in, certain circumstances.

SIR THOMAS INSKIP inquired whether after the Delegations had received the answers of the Chiefs of Staff to their questions they would like to have another meeting of the same kind.

SIR MAURICE HANKEY said he had in mind the possibility of holding another meeting early in the following week.

SIR ARCHDALE PARKHILL said that the arrangement would suit him very well if he could get the answers to his questions by the end of the present week. He would like to have a chance of studying the answers first and then to have a meeting to clear up any doubtful points.

SIR THOMAS INSKIP suggested that if the morning of Monday, 7th June, was convenient a further meeting should be held then. He assumed that the answers by the Chiefs of Staff to the Australian and New Zealand questions would be issued to them by the evening of Friday, 4th June. He would ask General Sir William Bartholomew to say something at the next meeting on the part which India could play in the despatch of reinforcements to Singapore.

LORD CHATFIELD expressed the hope that Mr Savage and Sir Archdale Parkhill would cross-examine the Chiefs of Staff on their Appreciation, and criticise the views which had been put forward.

Such criticism would be of the greatest assistance to the Chiefs of Staff.

SIR THOMAS INSKIP, MR SAVAGE and SIR ARCHDALE PARKHILL expressed their warmest thanks to Lord Chatfield for the very clear exposition of the problems in the Pacific, which he had given them at the meeting.


It was agreed:-

(a) To invite the Chiefs of Staff to ensure that their replies to the questions submitted by the Australian and New Zealand Delegations should be issued to them not later than the evening of Friday, 4th June.

(b) That a further meeting should be held at 3.00 p.m. on Monday 7th June, at which the discussion would be resumed. [7]

1 Document 20.

2 Not printed.

3 Not printed.

4 Not printed.

5 Signed on 18 June 1935; Germany undertook to limit the German fleet to 35 per cent of the strength of the British fleet.

6 Document 42.

7 Minutes not printed (see Defence: Special Collection 1, SR 2/2, box 197).

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History