395 Sir Frederic Eggleston, Minister to China, to Sir Earle Page, Special Representative in the United Kingdom

Letter CHUNGKING, 7 March 1942

One would gather from Churchill's speeches, and statements by Mr.

Curtin [1], that there is a considerable difference of opinion between the two Governments as to the strategy and conduct of the war in the Pacific. This appears to be confirmed by confidential cables from Canberra but my information is neither full nor up-to- date and I am not sure that I have the proper story.

Differences of opinion appear to have arisen on three points-one, the dominant strategy to be applied to the Pacific, another, the reinforcements to Australia, and lastly, the representation of Australia in the bodies conducting the war. The last is a matter which you know of and is not in my sphere but the other points touch matters which affect my area and which I have closely studied for years. I hope, therefore, that it will not be regarded as out-of-place if I write you direct on these matters. I think it desirable that each should know what the other is thinking. I am sending a copy of this letter to the Minister in Canberra. [2]

The following appear to be the main points:

(a) The view has been definitely put forward that the best policy is to concentrate on Germany and if this means that losses will occur in the Pacific they can be recovered at leisure when victory is secured over Germany. This is the old 'blue water' theory of naval strategy and I have personal knowledge of the fact that it has been held by Churchill, Alexander [3] has enunciated it, and it may still be governing Allied strategy. I believe it to be completely fallacious as applied to the Pacific and I put my views in the statement 'A' annexed, which I showed to Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, former British Ambassador here, who told me that he entirely agreed with me.

(b) Australia's claim for reinforcements. I hold that, owing to the way in which the war has been fought, Australia has an unanswerable claim for reinforcements at once. Australian personnel and munitions have been sent abroad and they would be invaluable in Australia now. I have also put this in the form of a summarised statement 'B' which I enclose. What the actual position as to these reinforcements is, I am unable to say but the reinforcements to Malaya and Burma have been grossly inadequate and not on the scale that Churchill led us to expect in his speech. In the last few days the Dutch had to meet Japanese fleet and troopships with no assistance whatever except American submarines. Planes have been sent to Java but obviously are not sufficient to obtain air superiority. I can quite understand the Australian Government being very alarmed at the prospect of being treated in the same way and I feel very indignant at the tendency in some quarters to treat them as squealers.

It is all nonsense to say that Britain and America cannot spare anything. The whole question is one of priorities, reserves and risk. The nett balance of resources with the Allies is very much greater since the United States came in. A moderate amount of specialised assistance is what is needed to make up for the deficiencies created by the fact that Australia has been producing for a common scheme which has broken down. I know that there is one factor that I have been unable to estimate and that is the claim of Russia-but it would be a strange thing to allow Australia to fall that Russia may live-and besides, it is mainly a question of reserves held.

Of course Britain wants to pile up reserves. Every responsible military leader wants reserves and the sky is the limit. The question is a just distribution of risk, (see article in 'Times' of March 5th, 1942). It must be remembered that though Australia in the long run cannot stand without Britain, neither can Britain stand without the Empire. Without it she would be an over- populated, isolated island with the occasional friendship and fortuitous support of the United States.

Possibly you could send me information as to the position regarding this vital matter and any other information you think important. It could be sent addressed to this Legation and put in the bag sent by the Foreign Office to the British Embassy here. I think these exchanges are valuable and indeed necessary.

As to Australian representation: so far as I can see, Churchill is less generous than Lloyd George [4] was but I do not think that direct contact with the United States will necessarily improve the position. The thing is to hammer our case direct to the British Government. I have some experience of American psychology and Americans invariably re-act unfavourably to direct appeals to them. We want to show Britain and the United States that the Pacific is irretrievable if Australia is lost. India and Australia are the only bases left for a comeback and both are essential.


1 Prime Minister.

2 Dr H. V. Evatt. The copy is on file AA:A981, External Affairs Dept 169.

3 U.K. First Lord of the Admiralty.

4 U.K. Prime Minister 1916-22.


Memoranda by Sir Frederic Eggleston


1. The doctrine that the main enemy should be defeated in the principal theatre of war, and that other theatres can meanwhile be let go and recovered after a victory, was mainly a doctrine of naval strategy, and as such has been revived by the First Lord of the Admiralty in England, and the Minister for the Navy in the U.S.A.' It has only been valid in short periods of British history, where victory over opposing navies would give command of the seas generally, and in particular when the only fleets that could be brought against the British Fleet were on the western littoral of Europe. Germany proved its fallacy by refusing to fight a decisive battle in the North Sea, thus immobilising the British Fleet in that ocean.

2. It is entirely fallacious as applied to the present situation.

It might even be suggested that the strongest opposing fleet in the world today should be sought out and defeated; i.e., the Japanese Fleet, and then the fleets moved back to the Atlantic to clear up the situation there. This illustrates the fallacy because defeat of Japan would not ease the Allied task in the Atlantic. By the same token, defeat of Germany would not enable the Allies to reverse a fait accompli consolidated by Japan in the Pacific. In other words, if the conquest by Japan of the territories in south- east Asia reaches a certain stage of completion it may be final and irretrievable.

3. My reasons for this statement are:-

(a) The bases or potential bases from which an attack can be launched on Japan have been rapidly and drastically diminished, until only three are left, i.e., Singapore, Java and Burma. [2]

(b) Successful attack on Japan requires the possession of fully- equipped bases within striking distance of Japan. Views as to the required distance vary, but it would be agreed that neither Honolulu nor any part of Australia has any value except as an ultimate base.

(c) China is an excellent base for hitting at Japan, but owing to the inadequate equipment and organisation, it must be built up, and, if Burma goes, it can only be used with great difficulty as a base of attack.

(d) If, therefore, Java, Singapore and Burma fall, the Allies have no pied-a-terre in the effective strategic area around Japan from which to strike.

(e) Even if we retain them, a large amount of organisation will be required before they are effective, and the holding by Japan of so much of the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Malaya and New Guinea makes such equipment and organisation and the reinforcement of Allied forces there exceedingly difficult.

(f) The same considerations (absence of bases, etc.), make it practically impossible for the Allies to reduce Japan by blockade;

partly because that requires bases and partly because the economic resources of the conquered territories make Japan self-sufficient except in one respect, (that is, petrol), for which she has almost certainly made provision. It is surprising, however, that so little enterprise has been shown in harassing the enemy by tactics similar to those employed by Germany in the Atlantic.

(g) One would have thought that Japan's long lines of communication would have made her very vulnerable, [and] if the Allied fleets could operate effectively, the whole structure would crumble; but it is doubtful if they could challenge the Japanese to a battle for supremacy, because such a battle would have to be fought so much nearer the Japanese bases than our own that Japan would have an immense advantage. I do not know whether, if the Allies concentrated the whole of their fleets into the Pacific, they could challenge the Japanese fleet.

4. Other considerations are:-

(a) The economic value of the area commanded by Japan is so great that Japan will blockade the Allies rather than the reverse. This applies even if a scorched earth policy is carried out. About 60 percent of the world's supply of rubber comes from Java and Malaya, and about the same proportion of tin.

(b) At present no effort is being made by the Allies against Germany which can be considered an attempt to get a final decision; yet in the entirely defensive war on the Atlantic it is apparently intended that the whole of the Allied naval striking power should be concentrated-a margin of about thirty to three. It is difficult to see how the Atlantic sea strength can turn from a defensive state to the offensive. The present surplus of striking power of the Allies on land, sea and in the air is concentrated in North Africa, conquering deserts. The idea that North Africa supplies a base for a decisive blow against Europe is somewhat illusory. The war will probably end by exhaustion; but the one chance of a decisive blow for victory is by the building-up of a huge surplus of forces, especially on the land and in the air.

This is so far distant that the provision, from a growing body of supplies, of reinforcements to save the Far East and its vast economic power is the proper policy.

5 Political considerations are important:-

(a) If Britain is victorious, after a long titanic struggle, the British people may not be willing to spend several more years in recovering empires in the East.

(b) If China drives the Japanese out of their own territory, she may not be willing to help European empires to recover lost property in south-east Asia and the adjoining seas.

(c) Australia has sent large forces-air, land and sea-abroad, and equipped them at the expense of her own defences, relying on the undertaking of the British Government that an adequate force would be sent to Singapore and that if the crisis arose, the Far East would be given priority to the Middle East. She regards the Alexander policy as a definite breach of faith.

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1 Colonel Franklin Knox.

2 In a marginal note Eggleston pointed out that this sentence had been written about 20 January.


1. Australia has up to the present time loyally accepted the scheme of Pacific Defence adopted by the British Authorities and urged on her by British advisers employed by her in her three services. This was based on the view that Singapore was an impregnable bastion-and that everything would be done in the way of naval, air and military support to enable it to achieve that purpose.

2. Acting on this assumption Australia organised her production in a common Empire scheme. She produced munitions and equipment of the type which was needed at other points, e.g. she produced bombing aeroplanes instead of fighters and postponed the construction of tanks in the interest of munitions required overseas. She did the same with her manpower, incorporated the flower of her fighting forces into the A.I.F., sent 4 divisions overseas, joined in the Empire Air Training Scheme in pursuance of which 10,000 air force personnel have been sent abroad, and her fleet has been mainly used in the Mediterranean.

3. In this effort her power to defend herself from direct attack has been gravely compromised. The things necessary for home defence have not been made nor obtained and at times the most fundamental necessities such as small arms ammunition have been reduced to alarmingly meagre proportions. Australia has conscription and training for home defence but this organisation has been considerably impaired by the provision of personnel for A.I.F. and other overseas forces.

4. The possibility of a landing in Australia cannot be regarded as unlikely. A landing at Darwin is most probable and landings in more vital points on the east and west coasts are far less remote than an invasion of Britain. In the circumstances above described, the difficulty of meeting these is extensive. Landings could be made and air bases established and thus, with superiority in the air, advances could be made. Australia would resist these by all means in her power and by adopting a scorched earth policy could make the Japanese advance a slow process and in this way it may be hoped that the most important parts of the continent would be protected until help, which we assume would then be forthcoming, arrived. Australia's expert advisers are, however, most alarmed at the possibilities.

5. Japanese landings could be made impossible by a moderate amount of naval activity to supplement that of the Australian Navy which has now only three cruisers and smaller craft. Command of the sea is not necessary to enable communications to be attacked. What has alarmed Australia is that after the sinking of the two battleships there has been no British naval activity near Malaya and only one or two spasms of American naval activity which, by the way, have been highly successful. Australians, therefore, fear that there will not be sufficient naval force to prevent landings or the supplying of landed forces.

6. Resistance to advance after landings must depend on getting air superiority which will not be possible unless we get reinforcements of fighter planes. I should say that 10 squadrons would be necessary or 200 planes. Resistance would be greatly strengthened by 100 tanks. These are more important than the return of the A.I.F. though one can easily see that there will be a universal demand for this force. The difficulties in the way of this are transport but as the British Government asked for the A.I.F. to go to Burma, these difficulties cannot be regarded as insurmountable.

7. It is suggested that in the circumstances above set out, Australia's claim to at least the above re-inforcements is unanswerable and Australian Ministers resent intensely that this appeal has been hailed in London and Washington as squealing. In fact, the failure to send on the promised reinforcements to Burma from Britain, India and U.S.A. shows that each of these countries is considering its own defence first, which Australia has, unfortunately, neglected to do.

8. The phase of the war at present is one of defence. It has not yet passed to the offensive and it cannot do so until the munitions to be provided by America are available. While it is in the defensive stage, each part of the Empire inhabited by large bodies of the British race is entitled to share in the materials available for defence even if some risks are run by others. This would be so unless it were decided that it was impossible to defend any particular part without risking the lot. This stage cannot have been reached now because the nett result of American participation in the war is a vast accretion of actual and potential strength, especially in the Atlantic. The only other ground for depriving Australia of a share in the materials for defence would be the possibility that concentrations would enable a final victory which would bring the war nearer to an end. This is certainly not in sight.

9. Australia is now the only remaining base in the Pacific near enough to the vital theatre of war from which the war in the Pacific can be won. If it is lost, victory for Japan is inevitable and final. I always understood that this was recognised by the British Military Authorities.

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