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

Cablegram 263 LONDON, 11 August 1940, 10.10 p.m.


My following telegram Circular Z.214 [1] contains a full summary of appreciation by Chiefs of Staff of the situation in the Far East.

2. I should be grateful if you would communicate it immediately to the Prime Minister [2] for his most secret and personal information. In doing so you should explain that appreciation is based on the following important assumptions:-

(1) that the military situation in other theatres (i.e. in Europe and in the Middle East) will not change in our favour to any marked degree in the immediate future. For the present therefore we shall have to retain a fleet in Eastern Mediterranean;

(2) that the attitude of the United States remains as at present i.e. that we can rely upon a measure of economic and material support but cannot anticipate active United States co-operation;

(3) that we should go to war with Japan if she attacks the Netherlands East Indies and provided the Dutch resisted.

3. The third assumption above is arbitrary and in fact the question whether we should or should not go to war with Japan in the event of Japanese aggression against the Netherlands East Indies is now receiving further consideration by the Chiefs of Staff. As assumption (3) has far reaching effect on the whole appreciation passages to which it particularly applies are prefaced by the words '(Assumption (3) begins)' and end with the words '(Assumption (3) ends)'.

4. We fully appreciate strategic disadvantages of a failure to take up Japanese challenge in such circumstances and the main point for further examination is whether our limited resources in the Far East in combination with Dutch resources available in the Netherlands East Indies would justify our taking action in the event of a Japanese attack on the Netherlands East Indies which would lead us into war with Japan. If our joint resources would justify such action it would clearly be to our advantage to accept the consequences of war with Japan in attempt to dispute a Japanese occupation of the Netherlands East Indies. If not it remains to be considered what would be the consequences of an endeavour to avoid war with Japan on this issue. The assumption adopted on this question in the appreciation viz. that we should go to war on this issue should not of course be regarded as in any way prejudging the political decision. Please inform the Prime Minister that we should be glad to receive any views which he may wish to express on this question.

5. In the light of the third assumption above it would be logical that the appreciation should recommend immediate staff conversations with the Dutch in the Far East in order to concert a combined defence plan. As the Prime Minister will see from the appreciation the Chiefs of Staff have had this in mind but consider it would be inadvisable to initiate such conversations until we have strengthened our position in Malaya and are able to offer effective military assistance to the Dutch. Here again we should welcome any views which the Prime Minister may wish to put forward. If it is decided that such staff conversations should be held with the Dutch it would be of the greatest assistance if the Commonwealth Government would agree to send service representatives to take part in them when the time arrives. I should be glad if you would invite the Prime Minister to consider this suggestion which is also being made to the Prime Minister of New Zealand. [3]

6. It will be seen from paragraph 34 of the appreciation that an attempt has been made to assess on the basis of such information as is at the Chiefs of Staff's disposal the scale of a possible Japanese attack on Australia and New Zealand. No suggestion on the other hand has been included in the appreciation as to defensive arrangements which would be required locally to meet such an attack. His Majesty's Governments in the Commonwealth of Australia and in New Zealand will however wish to consider the matter in detail in the light of Chiefs of Staff estimated scale of attack if they find themselves in agreement with the appreciation generally.

7. In paragraph 50 of the appreciation certain conclusions are drawn as to garrison required in Malaya in addition to troops already there. I should be glad if you would inform the Prime Minister that in the present circumstances it is impossible for us to provide even one division from the United Kingdom or the Middle East and that in view of existing commitments India cannot assist in this respect. In my telegram No. 228 of 28th June [4] the Commonwealth Government were asked to consider the immediate despatch of a division to Malaya but as you will recall in their telegrams of 3rd, 24th and 31st July Nos. 346 [5], 384 [6] and 400 [7] they indicated that they felt unable to reach a definite conclusion on the matter until they have been fully informed of the Far Eastern situation as a whole. Please therefore inform the Prime Minister that we earnestly hope that in view of the importance and urgency of the problem the Commonwealth Government will now again consider the possibility of early despatch of such a force to Singapore with equipment provided so far as possible from Australian sources.

8. You should mention that in connection with paragraph 34 of the appreciation His Majesty's Government in New Zealand had already decided to send at once a brigade group to Fiji the present garrison of which consists of the equivalent of one company and one battery for coast defence found by the Fijian defence force (mixed European and Fijian).

1 Document 66.

2 R. G. Menzies 3 Peter Fraser.

4 Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. III, Document 459.

5 Document 5.

6 Document 33.

7 On file AA:CP290/6, 47.

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