104 Advisory War Council Minute 560

Extract CANBERRA, 7 November 1941



INTRODUCTORY The Prime Minister [2] welcomed Mr. Duff Cooper to the meeting of the Advisory War Council. He asked Mr. Cooper to give a general talk on the Far Eastern situation and any other war development that he considered appropriate.

MR. DUFF COOPER'S MISSION 2. Mr. Duff Cooper stated that his mission to the Far East arose out of the appointment of Mr. Oliver Lyttelton as Minister in the Middle East. Mr. Lyttelton had been sent to Cairo to deal with the numerous political questions that were arising, such as the administration of occupied territories, relations with Vichy French and Free French in Syria, disposal of Italian prisoners, etc. These had hitherto been handled by the Commander-in-Chief, but they did not properly come within his sphere. The Minister in the Middle East presides over a War Council, representative of the three Commanders-in-Chief (Navy, Army and Air), the British Ambassador at Cairo, the High Commissioner for Palestine and the Governor of Aden. Mr. Duff Cooper had no personal knowledge of how the Council was working, but from correspondence which he had had with Mr. Lyttelton, he believed that it was functioning very well.

3. The adoption of similar machinery in the Far East had been recommended by the Commander-in-Chief, Far East [3], but the problem was much more difficult than in the Middle East and, following upon consideration of the matter by the British War Cabinet, it was decided to send Mr. Duff Cooper to the Far East to enquire and report as to the arrangements for improvement of the machinery for inter-Governmental consultation and co-operation in the Far East.

PROBLEM OF ORGANISATION FOR FAR EAST 4. The problem in the Far East involved co-ordination of activities in the sphere of foreign relations, colonial relations, India Office and the Dominions Office. There were Ambassadors in China and Japan, a Minister in Thailand, Consuls-General at Saigon, Manila and Batavia. All these report to the Foreign Office. In the sphere of colonial relations, we had Governors in the Straits Settlements and Hong Kong, who report to the Colonial Office, while the Governor in Burma reports to the India Office.

There were also the Dominions, who directed their own affairs, their relations with the United Kingdom being through the machinery of the Dominions Office.

In addition to the four United Kingdom Departments indicated above (i.e. Foreign Office, Colonial Office, India Office and Dominions Office), there were also the following:-

The Ministry of Information had set up a bureau in the Far East;

The Ministry of Economic Warfare had representatives at Singapore;

The Ministry of War Transport had a representative at Hong Kong;

The Treasury have appointed a Financial Commissioner to the Far East who is located at Shanghai.

All have separate channels of communication to Whitehall.

There is no representative of the Foreign Office at Singapore.

Many political and diplomatic problems, e.g. relations with Vichy French in Indo-China, oil for Thailand, had been entrusted to the Commander-in-Chief, China, but matters of this nature were outside his scope.

CONSTITUTION OF COUNCIL IN FAR EAST 5. This was the problem which confronted him. He had originally in mind the setting up of a Council in the Pacific, representative of the various countries and interests involved, but, after review of the position he came to the conclusion that such a Council in peace-time would be cumbersome and slow-moving and would prove more of a hindrance than a help. The main considerations which influenced him were:-

(a) The nature and extent of the representation that would be necessary, e.g. it would be necessary for the representative of the Commonwealth to have many advisers. This would apply also to other countries.

(b) If Australia were represented, Canada, South Africa, India, Burma and New Zealand would demand representation.

(c) If India were represented this would involve the problem of whether their representative should be a European or an Indian and, if the latter, there was involved the further question of the party he was to represent. Similar difficulties arose in regard to Burma.

6. Such a Council would not help the conduct of the war. The primary need is for co-ordination with our allies rather than among ourselves. An Empire Council with representatives of our allies, however, would not work.

7. For all these reasons he had come to the conclusion that it was inadvisable to set up a Council in peace-time.

ORGANISATION PROPOSED 8. It was apparent from the above that some machinery to effect coordination and control in the Far East was necessary.

There was already in existence a Defence Council at Singapore representative of the three Services and of the civil administration, which fills the present needs. It did not meet very often, about six times a year. So it was clear that the necessity for a Council in peace-time was not very great. In time of war, however, the position would be different, and in order to enable the Council to function effectively, it was necessary to take certain preparatory action prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

9. Mr. Duff Cooper's view was that the Chairman or President of the Council should be appointed now and that he should be provided with a small staff. He would prepare himself for the work to be carried out by travelling around China, Netherlands East Indies, the Philippines and other countries concerned, and thus obtaining a knowledge of their problems. He should obtain a background of Indian problems and keep in touch with Australia.

Whilst preparing himself, he could serve as a coordinator between the United Kingdom authorities in the Far East and Whitehall. He should be consulted on very important and urgent problems that arose and he should have authority to take decisions.

He would need a principal assistant as he himself would be primarily a traveller, since personal contact was better than correspondence. It was necessary, therefore, that the second in command should be a man of high standing, and Mr. Duff Cooper considered that he should be an Australian. The Chairman of the Council should be the United Kingdom representative, in view of his relations with the United Kingdom Government and as it was necessary that he should know the mind of the British War Cabinet.

10. The Chairman or President of the Council would have no authority over the Commander-in-Chief, Far East, who is responsible for military decisions, but it would, of course, be necessary for him to keep in close touch with the Commander-in- Chief. If he differed from the Commander-in-Chief on any matter, he could make representations to the United Kingdom Government.

This is similar to the practice in the Middle East. The whole object of the arrangement was to avoid delay in dealing with major problems. Nevertheless, no major decisions would be taken without consultation with the Governments concerned.

11. The above is the substance of the preliminary recommendations which he had made to the United Kingdom Government. He had made it clear in his report that they were conditional on discussions with the Commonwealth Government. His report should arrive in England by about 21st November.

12. The Prime Minister said that he did not think that the Council would be of much assistance. Better results could be expected if a member of the British War Cabinet were appointed to Singapore and he thought it would be preferable if Mr. Duff Cooper remained and had sole authority. It was necessary, however, that the United Kingdom Minister's reports should be submitted to the Dominions Governments simultaneously with advice to the United Kingdom Government. Decision as to what constitutes an act of war could not be left to anyone who has not the confidence of the Governments concerned. The Minister should, therefore, have a responsibility to the Dominion Governments as well as to the United Kingdom Government.

13. Mr. Menzies [4] said that the general attitude of the Foreign Office to the Far East was intensely wooden and there was a pressing need for someone of the highest authority to be in the Far East.

14. Mr. Duff Cooper said that he thought the Council should be ad hoc and that its constitution should not be laid down.

In reply to an enquiry by the Minister for External Affairs [5], he said that the Commander-in-Chief, on his own authority, made representations in regard to the supply of arms and equipment for Malaya. In time of war the authority of the Minister to the Far East would give added weight to any such representations, as he would have direct access to the British War Cabinet.

15. The Minister for Supply and Development [6] said that the question of the equipment of the forces in the Far East was important. It was necessary that there should be a complete appreciation of the needs of the forces in the whole area. It would be difficult, for example, to reconcile the supply of equipment by Australia to the Eastern Group if equipment for our own troops was lacking.

16. Mr. Duff Cooper, in reply to an enquiry by Mr. Hughes [7], said that it was not proposed to set up the Council before war breaks out, but only to appoint a Chairman or President. As to defining the limits of Japanese expansion, if we had to draw a line then it would need to be the present one, since if we drew a line beyond the present one the Japanese are certain to move within those limits.

NETHERLANDS EAST INDIES 17. The main objection to giving a specific guarantee of assistance to the Netherlands East Indies came from the Admiralty.

Their view, which was supported by Mr. Churchill, was based on the fundamental consideration that the Admiralty should have the sole say in deciding the lines of naval strategy that were best calculated to win the war, which was the best help we could give the Dutch. If Japan attacked the Netherlands East Indies, it might be advantageous for us to delay an attack on Japan for a few weeks to enable us to make our naval dispositions and to arrange for the protection of shipping. The value of these weeks might be inestimable. Mr. Duff Cooper thought, however, that public opinion would force a decision to go to the assistance of the Netherlands East Indies at once in the event of attack by Japan.

18. The Prime Minister considered that if a battle fleet were established at Singapore it would be difficult for us to refrain from going to the assistance of the Netherlands East Indies immediately on the outbreak of war. it was necessary, however, for our strategy to be related to the state of affairs existing at the time of the Japanese attack and up to the present we had hesitated to give a guarantee to the Netherlands East Indies. It seemed to him that if we had adequate naval and air forces we should do all that we could to prevent the Japanese from consolidating their position. Our views are conditioned by two things. Firstly, we are not prepared to bluff the Japanese, unless adequate naval forces are available. Secondly, United States co-operation was essential in any challenge which we would make to Japan. Until recently the United Kingdom Government had not been able to station a capital ship force at Singapore, but information had recently been received that this was shortly to be undertaken. This altered the whole position.

19. Mr. Spender [8] expressed the view that Netherlands East Indies resistance would weaken if we did not accept an attack on her as a casus belli. It was essential that there should be a complete understanding between the A.B.C.D. Powers [9] and that they should present a united front to Japan, so that she would not be able to attack them one by one on the lines of what Germany had been able to do in Europe.

20. The Minister for External Affairs asked what were the real plans of the United Kingdom Government in relation to Far Eastern and Pacific defence.

Mr. Duff Cooper said that it had always been the intention of the United Kingdom Government to reinforce the Far East and they were prepared to abandon the Mediterranean altogether if this were necessary in order to hold Singapore.

Mr. Hughes thought that the abandonment of the Mediterranean was a very remote possibility. He doubted if public opinion in the United Kingdom would ever support this. His view was that such a policy did not have a firm basis and ignored the foundations of the Imperial structure which had roots in the Mediterranean as well as in the Far East.

21. Mr. McEwen [10] said that the evacuation of the Mediterranean would be a tremendous undertaking. Such a policy had little relation to the realities of the situation. He was profoundly shocked to hear that the United Kingdom War Cabinet might delay warlike operations in the defence of the Netherlands East Indies for three or four weeks. The position of the Netherlands East Indies in relation to Australia was similar to the Channel Ports in relation to England, and he felt that to delay operations in order to save a few ships was unjustified. He asked that the Commonwealth Government should make a vigorous protest against this.

22. Mr. Duff Cooper said that the Commonwealth Government was aware of the reasons for the United Kingdom Government delay in ratifying the staff conversations with the Netherlands East Indies. He thought that the Commonwealth Government should not raise the issue on moral grounds. If the Japanese would gain more by an attack on the Netherlands East Indies, then our strategy would be altered accordingly. It was never contemplated that we should not go to the assistance of the Netherlands East Indies.

The question of when this should be done was a purely strategic one.

23. The Prime Minister referred to Dominions Office cablegram M.295 of 6th September [11], in which the attitude of the United Kingdom Government towards the Netherlands East Indies is stated in the following terms:-

'They consider themselves to have already assumed the duty of safeguarding and restoring the possessions and rights of the Netherlands to the best of their ability during the war and at the peace. It follows, therefore, that an attack upon the Netherlands East Indies would lead them to do the utmost in their power to this end. His Majesty's Government must however remain the sole judge of what action or military measures on their part are practical and likely to achieve the common purpose.

He added that this cablegram was received prior to the advent of his Government.

24. Mr. Menzies said he was disturbed at the tendency to theorise about the inevitable. If the Japanese attacked the Netherlands East Indies, public opinion would demand that we should go to her support. He could not see the U.S.A. remaining neutral in the event of war with Japan. The notion of the Admiralty to delay action was something that existed in an unreal world. The course to be followed will not be decided on strategic grounds, but by the force of an irresistible public opinion.

25. The Prime Minister said that the action to be taken would be on the basis of a political decision, and he referred to the recent arrangements made between the United Kingdom Government and the Dominion Governments to expedite the machinery for inter- Governmental consultation. [12] The Commonwealth Government felt it imperative that there should be a strong battleship force at Singapore. This was the core of the whole problem and the essential factor in determining the limits of our action. He felt it inevitable that we should go to war if Japan attacked the Netherlands East Indies or Russia. It was the firm conviction of all Parties in Australia that the Far Eastern Powers should co- operate to the fullest extent. They should not permit a situation to develop which would enable Japan to attack them one by one.

26. Mr. Duff Cooper, in replying to Mr. Spender, said that he did not agree that the United Kingdom Government was unconcerned about the defence of Singapore.

Mr. Menzies said that Mr. Churchill had always told him of the importance which he attached to the defence of Singapore, but Mr.

Menzies doubted if Mr. Churchill was, in fact, fully seized with its vital significance.

JAPANESE ATTACK ON RUSSIA 27. The Prime Minister referred to the previous discussions by War Cabinet (Minute 1464) [13] and the Advisory War Council (Minute 555) [14] in regard to the issue of a warning to Japan that any attack by her on Russia would be resisted by force by the British Commonwealth, irrespective of the attitude of the United States.

The New Zealand Government, in cablegram 338 of 31st October [15], expressed the view that it would be unwise to make a declaration on these lines until the views of the United States had been obtained. The Prime Minister said that if a Japanese attack on Russia would involve war with the British Commonwealth, and they were all agreed that it would, then we should inform the Japanese.

The Commonwealth Government had accordingly advised the United Kingdom Government of the views of War Cabinet and Advisory War Council.

28. Cablegram 714 of 4th November to the Dominions Office [16] was read to the Council, which noted and endorsed the action taken.

Mr. Duff Cooper said he agreed with the attitude of the Commonwealth Government.

[matter omitted]

1 U.K. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, then in the Far East.

See Document 75, note 1.

2 John Curtin.

3 Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham.

4 United Australia Party M.H.R. for Kooyong.

5 Dr H. V. Evatt.

6 J. A. Beasley.

7 United Australia Party M.H.R. for North Sydney.

8 United Australia Party M.H.R. for Warringah.

9 See Document 44, note 9.

10 Country Party M.H.R. for Indi.

11 On file AA : A1608, B41/1/9, i.

12 See Document 84, part 13, Document 86 and files AA : A2671, 337/1941 and AA : A3300, 99.

13 Dated 30 October. In AA : A2673, vol. 9.

14 Dated 30 October. In AA : A2682, vol. 3.

15 On file AA : A816, 19/304/430.

16 Document 97.

[AA : A2680, 134/1941]