537 Sir Frederic Eggleston, Minister to China, to Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs
Letter CHUNGKING, 30 June 1942
In my last diplomatic bag No.23 of 24th June, I included two despatches, one on the fall of Burma and its consequences' and the other on the fighting in China.  I should like in this letter to stress certain conclusions which I believe are suggested by these despatches and to set out my chief anxieties about the progress and conduct of the war in this theatre.
The two great anxieties which haunt me are whether or not the organisations for controlling the conduct of the war are adequate to their task and secondly, whether those in control of Allied destinies are sufficiently seized with the importance of this theatre and determined to pursue a definite policy there. It is only in the last few weeks that I have acquired a coherent account of the actual arrangements for the conduct of the war. I have had this from a long letter which Page  sent me and from the Prime Minister's telegram No. SC.12.  It is encouraging to learn that Australia is now so well placed, with a properly defined area for which she is responsible, definite relations with the war councils in London and Washington and some freedom and initiative. It is, I know, generally agreed that we have to thank your Government and in no small measure your own efforts in London and Washington for this happy issue out of our misfortunes. The people of Australia should be deeply grateful for this major achievement which is quite as important to them as many divisions.
At the same time, I feel the gravest doubts as to whether the Far East generally is as well situated. Australia's realism and intensity have vindicated themselves but there is little sign of these qualities in the countries here. Put in its simplest terms, it is vital for the future of Australia and the peace of the world for us to defeat Japan. China and Siberia are the only bases from which Japan can be directly attacked and the only places from which we can defeat Japan unless we rely on the slow process of attrition. This view has been in my mind as I have no doubt it has been in yours.
The important point is to realise that the campaign in the Far East has not been a 'magnificent delaying action' but a failure which makes every problem of Empire defence more difficult. I will not labour this but my summary of the position is first, that the plans on which the Far Eastern Defence Policy was based were inadequate and full of miscalculations; second, that the strengths contemplated in these plans were not in position and third, that though these plans were for delaying actions until reinforcements arrived, no adequate reinforcements did arrive. If this is so, then it is sufficient cause for enquiry but in case it is suggested that such enquiry would be academic because owing to commitments elsewhere it was impossible to spare any greater strength, I would reply that the great lack -the main result of the miscalculations-was in planes. Britain sent abroad in 1941, according to official announcements, 9600 planes and the areas to which these planes were sent and the reserves retained in Britain were simply representative of the judgment of the General Staff as to the relative importance of the various theatres of war. Nor do I think it can be urged that shipping was the limiting factor for not all planes are shipped and I do not think it can be said that a vulnerable point should be starved of the vital equipment simply because the voyage is longer. Less vulnerable points must receive less. The number of planes necessary to save Burma and Malaya was a small proportion of the above total.
I quite agree that before the Battle of Britain was won or before British industry had begun to produce surpluses we were forced to gamble on Japan doing nothing. Had the Japanese struck we might have had to say 'Kismet' and accepted the situation. But from May 1941 to May 1942 no serious attacks were made on Britain and no major offensive was undertaken by her except in Libya and I see no reason to justify any failure to implement the Far Eastern Defence Policy in which we had been asked to co-operate. I am convinced from my conversations with leaders like Brooke-Popham  and Layton  and others that they believed it was possible for them to fight the delaying actions they contemplated and that they would receive reinforcements in time.
Now these miscalculations are the result of some weakness in the war control somewhere and if they are continued the chance of winning the war may be gravely compromised. Australia is so vitally interested that she can relax no effort to remedy matters.
The defects are chiefly defects of spirit, purpose and intelligence which are more dangerous than defects of organisation.
You may think it unnecessary for me to recur to these matters after you have had an opportunity of dealing with them direct and have read my observations in the various telegrams I have sent but I feel that it is difficult to convey the full story in this way and would like to put my views in a more systematic form. Perhaps the easiest way to examine this problem would be by the four following questions:-
1. Is there sufficient intelligent interest in London and Washington regarding the problems of the Far East? 2. Is not the duplication between the Chiefs-of-Staff Committees in London and Washington a defect leading to delay in decisions? 3. Is sufficient responsibility devolved on the man on the spot? 4. Is not the present arrangement for the control of India, Burma and China anomalous? 1. The clearest evidence of the lack of intelligent interest in the Far East is contained in the matters I have already discussed.
Singapore was left to be defended on the basis that the Malayan jungle was impenetrable. Burma was left without plans at all although, as Clark Kerr  told me, the need for some scheme of defence had been pointed out to the British Government for years past. It is argued now that the prior claims of other theatres made it necessary to starve Burma. But when one counts the planes we lost in Malaya and Burma because of attempts to throw them into the balance against Japan when the battle was already lost, one cannot help reflecting how much they might have done if they had been sent before the battle began. If one asks why they were not sent in time, the only explanation appears to be that no one was taking an intelligent and anticipatory interest in the Far East.
Perhaps the best illustration of the lack of concentration on the Far Eastern theatre is the failure of the Staff to re-act to the various developments in the Pacific conflict. There was no adequate re-action after the Japanese occupation of Indo-China. A staff officer from Singapore tells me that he does not believe there was any new appreciation of the position by the General Staff after that event. There was a complete failure to re-act to the developments in the Malayan campaign and the evidences of the weakness of the British through air inferiority. After this was clear and Singapore was immobilised as a naval base, reinforcements were poured in to be taken prisoner. On the other hand, no preparations were made to defend Burma and there was no effective recognition that the strategic situation of Burma required that it should be held at all costs. It seems to have been treated as just another area of land to be defended if possible.
I suppose the re-action to the occupation of Indo-China was the sending of the battleships to Singapore but this simply illustrates the other phase of the work of the staffs, for that vast and expensive naval base never had the minimum of air strength which would have enabled it to be used for the purpose for which it was built and the sending of battleships there without air protection was either based on a false appreciation or none at all.
There is nobody here who would not agree that through preoccupation with other problems there has been a lack of attention to the problems of the Far East but that may be attributed to an inability to see anyone's woes but one's own. But I do not believe one can dismiss the accusation as easily as that.
Let me give a few examples of this inertia on Far Eastern problems. The British Government warned all British nationals in February 1941 that they would be well advised to leave the Far East. By the time I reached Chungking late in October, preparations for evacuation were being pressed on with the greatest possible speed, which could only have been justified if the danger to their lives was a grave one. Yet, during the first week in December when anxiety was at its height, both the Colonial Secretary at Hongkong  and the Air Officer Commanding were changed and new men took charge. The lack of serious interest in Far Eastern affairs of the British is illustrated by the attitude of a large proportion of the Public Servants in the Services of Hongkong, Malaya and Burma. Notwithstanding the work of some able men, it cannot be said that the Services as a whole have been successful in any of the racial problems which have become important in the war. They neither knew nor trusted the various groups and completely failed to enlist their support.
Let me take another example. Has any Far Eastern policy of the British Government, based on a careful consideration of the demographic, economic and geographic factors involved, ever been thought out? I remember Menzies  describing after his trip to London last year how he had had a conference with Cadogan who was at that time Permanent Under Secretary. Menzies' story was that he asked Cadogan to begin the Conference by describing Britain's Far Eastern policy and Cadogan, looking pained and astonished, admitted that he did not really know what the Government's Far Eastern policy was.  I do not know whether any British official here has ever thought of asking for a definition of such a policy but I have never heard of such a request having been made or such a definition having been given. The absence of such principles affects many details of policy. It is customary here to assume that we regard the continuance of Chinese resistance as vital to the Allied war effort but there has never been any evidence that London has ever asked itself whether or not this is a true proposition and if so, what can be done to keep China a belligerent or if not, what will be the effect of China's secession from the Allied cause. To my certain knowledge, a request submitted by the Embassy and Military Mission here that a gesture should be made to China to counteract the growing loss of British prestige, and that two squadrons of planes should be sent here, remained unanswered from February till a few days ago when we were left to infer from an interview between the Secretary of State  I and the Chinese Ambassador  that the suggestion had been rejected.
Soon after his arrival here, the present head of the British Military Mission  telegraphed asking for instructions as to the general policy as regards China and in particular what was to be done about such problems as relations between China, Burma and India. He asked whether the Chungking Military Council was to be regarded as window dressing to give Chiang Kai-shek  'face' or was it expected to become a genuine military planning body. He put the former question to the War Office during the third week in March and to the best of my belief it has not been answered.
Similarly, the British Ambassador  telegraphed in May urging the adoption of a a constructive policy for the settlement of outstanding problems in China. Naturally, this has remained unanswered too. In this case, part of the telegram sent by the Ambassador here could be [sic] sent to Washington. The reference of the responsibility to somebody else was quite prompt and when Washington's reply was received, it was at once passed on to Chungking. The bulk of this telegram and of another which was sent as a result of a succeeding conference at the Embassy was entirely ignored and, I have no doubt, will remain so.
Part of the trouble is fundamental, but part seems traceable to this lack of interest in the Far East. I am told that the Far Eastern section of the Foreign Office is only a shadow of its former self. The Foreign Office today must be three or four times as large as at any previous period of its history but the Far Eastern section which should be one of the most vital is in the charge of junior and unimpressive figures who are either uninterested or incapable of making their views heard.
This is admirably reflected in the Weekly Political Intelligence Summary produced by the Foreign Office. The space devoted to the Far East roughly equals that given to the Balkans. Thailand, Indo- China or occupied China are not mentioned. The comments are jejune and trivial. China is often dismissed in four lines and the whole production clearly suggests that the situation in this theatre is of little import.
So far as China is concerned, no doubt the Embassy is to blame but the Ministry of Economic Warfare, the Ministry of Information and various other organisations which provide covers for political intelligence work have an infinite number of spare parts collecting information. This information if pooled with that received by the War Office and the Air Ministry should enable a detailed picture to be drawn of conditions in this area but there is not the slightest evidence that this is done, nor can I find anyone who has ever seen such an appreciation.
Much of the trouble arises from the failure to make strong representations. The feeling persists that when one is in a post which commands little sympathy in London, the less one says the better. Better far to give assurances that everything is really all right and hope that the march of events will straighten out the tangle. British officials have had long experience of frustration, of having their recommendations turned down and their eagerness snubbed and they soon came to the conclusion that it does not pay to complain, to make vigorous and earnest pleas, to give the unpleasant facts of a military situation or to ask for reinforcements to redeem it.
When one asks why this should be, one returns again and again to the plain fact that London is not interested in the Far East.
Perhaps I have reiterated this melancholy proposition ad nauseam but it is a vital fact and one which I believe Australia can redeem. We at least are keenly interested in this theatre. Our very existence is bound up in it and so long as we have a voice in the Councils of the Empire, I believe we should be forever laying stress on its importance. British political leaders do not appear- to realise that Britain has lost the prestige by which she governed in the Far East in the past. They still make statements of a vague, non-committal and avuncular character in which shallow compliments are extended to do duty in substitution for concrete action. These people must be made to realise that the old days are gone and the only things that count are actions. They must see that vast new forces have been released in the Far East which will not subside quietly after the war. There is more in the future of civilisation than the defeat of Germany. London must realise this and no one is in a better position to bring home that realisation than Australia.
2. and 3. I have gone into the first question in such detail that I must pass rather more quickly over the questions of co- ordination and remote control. Obviously, the ideal solution is a unified command devolving responsibility to a chain of subordinate commands. I realise the tremendous drawbacks and difficulties of this solution as things stand at present, but I cannot see why the broad powers vouchsafed to MacArthur  could not be given in other spheres.
Judging from reports which I have had from the Netherlands Military Attache  on conversations which he had with Wavell