44 Advisory War Council Minute 466

Extract MELBOURNE, 14 August 1941

FAR EASTERN SITUATION The Prime Minister [1] referred to the abandonment of his Australian tour as the result of a decision taken by him on Sunday, 10th August, to summon a meeting of the Full Cabinet in Melbourne on Monday, 11th August, for the purpose of reviewing the Far Eastern situation and determining the policy which should be adopted if Japan should invade Thailand.

2. The Prime Minister said that the discussions were due to an exchange of views between the Governments of the various parts of the Empire on the attitude to be adopted towards Japanese aggression against Thailand. The Prime Minister said it had been proposed that a declaration should be made to Japan by the British Empire or, preferably, by the British Empire and the United States. He emphasized the importance of maintaining the highest degree of secrecy regarding the exchanges of views that had taken place. The discussions of Full Cabinet had been directed to forming a view to be expressed to the other Dominion Governments.

The conclusions of the Commonwealth Government were:-

(i) If a squadron of capital ships could be sent early to Singapore that would have a deterrent effect on Japan. The preoccupation of the British naval forces in the Battle of the Atlantic appeared to preclude this.

(ii) In regard to Thailand, it was considered that Japan should be told that an attack by Japan could not be disregarded by us. It was essential that this view should be accepted by the British Empire and by the United States. [2]

3. The Prime Minister explained that the reasons supporting the conclusion referred to in (ii) were:-

(a) To remain indifferent to further action by Japan would only encourage her in further acts of aggression.

(b) The occupation of Thailand by Japan would be the first step towards:-

(i) Securing bases from which to attack the Burma Road, and thereby strangle China's further resistance;

(ii) Obtaining a better position from which to attack Singapore.

The crux of this aspect appeared to be the answer to the question whether Japan would be in a stronger position to attack Singapore if she occupied Thailand than if she did not. The views of the Commander-in-Chief of the Far East [3] and the Australian Chiefs of Staff [4] agreed that the threat to Singapore would be greater if Japan were allowed to occupy Thailand. If that were her next objective it would be better to oppose her in Thailand rather than wait until she had been allowed to consolidate her position.

The Prime Minister stated that agreement with the U.S.A. was important, but if the concurrence of that country could not be obtained, the British Empire should make this statement alone.

4. Dr. Evatt [5] enquired whether this meant that if Japan attacked Thailand Australia would go to war. The Prime Minister replied that such was the case.

5. Dr. Evatt further enquired whether the British Empire would go to war without the U.S.A. The Prime Minister replied that the answer was yes, provided that the U.S.A. did not object.

6. The Prime Minister stated that he had received advice from the New Zealand Government that they did not consider that we should act without a survey of our capacity to carry out what we contemplated doing. [6]

7. The Prime Minister continued that Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt had been conferring and a joint public statement was to be made. The Australian Government had emphasized to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom the importance of the Far East, and urged that it should not be regarded as something subsidiary, but of vital importance in the moves that are taking place in the international situation. It was hoped that the talk between Mr.

Churchill and President Roosevelt would clarify this and lay down a firm and common course of action between the British Empire and the U.S.A. The Prime Minister said that statements were to be made by the Prime Minister and President on:-

(i) War aims;

(ii) Proposed neutralisation of Thailand and the withdrawal of Japan from Indo-China. There had been diplomatic exchanges between the U.S.A. and Japan on these, but Japan had included unacceptable conditions in her reply.

8. There then ensued a discussion as to the reasons for summoning the Full Cabinet and the abandonment of the Prime Minister's tour.

9. Mr. Curtin [7], who had been in consultation with the Prime Minister regarding the situation during the Full Cabinet deliberations, outlined his interview with the Japanese Ministers and the intimidatory attitude of the latter regarding the necessity for Japan to take the opportunity to break the A.B.C.D.

Powers. [9] Mr. Curtin urged on the Prime Minister the importance of locating a capital ship fleet at Singapore or a U.S.A. fleet in the Philippines, and urged that it would be unwise to make any threat to Japan without the power to carry it out. The Prime Minister agreed with this, unless such a course would influence U.S.A. towards a firmer stand.

10. The Prime Minister read the telegram which had been despatched to the United Kingdom Government on Monday, 11th August, as the result of the Full Cabinet deliberations. [10] Dr. Evatt observed that the Full Cabinet had taken decisions which threatened war with Japan and there had been no consultation with the Council.

11. Mr. Beasley [11] said that the action of the Government had destroyed the value of the Council.

12. Mr. Forde [12] protested against the manner in which the Council had been treated in this matter.

13. Mr. Makin [13] was of the view that the Council should have been summoned.

14. Mr. Curtin said that the cablegram stated the views that had been put forward by non-Government members of the Council over a period. Japan should not be given easy access to places which would make further advances possible. It was essential that capital ships should be based on Singapore.

15. DECISION It was agreed that, except in cases of overwhelming urgency, the Advisory War Council should be consulted before any decision or communication was made by the Government which may involve the Commonwealth in war against any other country.

[matter omitted]

1 R. G. Menzies.

2 See Document 39.

3 Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popliam.

4 Lt Gen V. A. H. Sturdee, Vice-Admiral Sir Guy Royle and Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett.

5 Labor Party M.H.R. for Barton.

6 See cablegram 228 of 14 August on file AA : A1608, A41/1/6, vi.

7 Leader of the Opposition.

8 Tatsuo Kawai.

9 The usage 'A.B.C.D.' may have originated with the Japanese.

According to Sir John Latham (Minister to Japan) the Japanese Foreign Minister (Admiral Teijiro Toyoda) and the Japanese press believed that the Americans, British, Chinese and Dutch were linked together in 'military understandings' which constituted a form of encirclement of Japan. See Latham's dispatch S-68 of 28 July on file AA:A981, Japan 185B, ii and Document 70 'A.B.C.D.' did in fact bear a close resemblance to the initials by which the secret Washington and Singapore conferences held in the first four months of 1941 were known to the participants: A.B.C.1 (American- British conversations in Washington); A.D.A. (Anglo-Dutch Australian); and A.D.B. (American-Dutch-British).

10 Document 39 11 Labor Party M.H.R. for West Sydney.

12 Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

13 Labor Party M.H.R. for Hindmarsh.

[AA: A2682, VOL. 3]