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35 Minutes of Meeting to discuss Defence Questions

2 WHITEHALL GARDENS, LONDON, 1 June 1937, 9.30 a.m.



Sir Thomas Inskip, Minister for Co-ordination of Defence (in the
M. J. Savage, Prime Minister of New Zealand
Walter Nash, Minister of Finance, New Zealand
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Chatfield, First Sea Lord and Chief of
Naval Staff
Field Marshal Sir Cyril J. Deverell, Chief of the Imperial General
Malcolm MacDonald, Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
Sir Archdale Parkhill, Minister for Defence, Australia
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Edward L. Ellington, Chief of
the Air Staff
General Sir William H. Bartholomew, Chief of the General Staff,
Captain T. S. V. Phillips, Director of Plans, Admiralty
C. A. Berendsen, Permanent Head of Prime Minister's Department,
New Zealand
Colonel Sir M. P. A. Hankey (Secretary)
Colonel H. L. Ismay (Deputy Secretary)
Major V. Dykes (Assistant Secretary)
Major L. C. Hollis (Assistant Secretary)

SIR THOMAS INSKIP, in opening the proceedings, said that defence
in the Pacific was of vital interest to Australia, New Zealand and
India as well as to the United Kingdom. He suggested that as the
Meeting had the benefit of the presence of the Chiefs of Staff it
would be best to ask Lord Chatfield, the Chairman of the Chiefs of
Staff Sub-committee, to give a general review of the subject. The
Chiefs of Staff had received copies of the questions which had
been put by the Australian [1] and New Zealand [2] Delegations,
and Mr Savage, Sir Archdale Parkhill and General Bartholomew had
received a copy of the Far East Appreciation [3] prepared by the
Chiefs of Staff. No doubt they had not had time yet to study this
long and important document fully, and he would therefore ask Lord
Chatfield to deal with the subject on broad lines.

LORD CHATFIELD said he would like to explain the ideas which
underlay the two important Papers which the members of Delegations
present had seen, namely the Review of Imperial Defence [4] by the
Chiefs of Staff and their Far East Appreciation. The Far East
Appreciation was only a general strategical appreciation of how a
war in the Far East would have to be fought. It did not attempt to
go into the detailed disposition of forces-that was a question
which would have to be worked out in very much greater detail by
each Service concerned.

Lord Chatfield then proceeded to review the general principles
underlying our strategical policy in a Pacific war.


He referred first to the various risks to which we were exposed
and which the Chiefs of Staff had had to bear in mind in drawing
up their plans to meet the contingency of war in the Far East.

These had been mentioned in the Chiefs of Staff Review. In the
first place we had two possible enemies, one in Europe and one in
the Far East, and a distance of 10,000 miles separated these two
possible theatres of war. In between there was Italy, a resentful
and ambitious Power. Her strength was only moderate, perhaps, but
situated where she was, she possessed great potentialities for
causing us inconvenience and damage. In the second place there was
the danger of the United Kingdom being drawn into a war in Europe,
even though the originating causes of such a war did not directly
involve this country. There were, however, two bright spots in the
picture so far as the United Kingdom was concerned. One was the
Anglo-German Naval Treaty which limited the strength of the German
Navy [5], at any rate so long as the Germans observed it; and the
other was the co-operation of the Dominions and India.


The responsibilities of Imperial defence were fourfold. In the
first place there was the necessity for defending the Mother-
country, which would be in the front line in any European war. If
the United Kingdom were defeated in such a war, the effect would
be the same on the parts of the British Empire in the Far East as
if the British Fleet in the Pacific were defeated-the Empire would
not be able to hold together any longer in its present form. Next
there was our position in the Mediterranean to be considered. He
quoted from paragraph 81 of the Chiefs of Staff Review where it
was stated that the principle must be recognised 'that no
anxieties or risks connected with our interests in the
Mediterranean can be allowed to interfere with the despatch of a
Fleet to the Far East'. It should be realised that in certain
circumstances we might have to give up naval control in the
Mediterranean, and in that case Malta and Cyprus might fall. That
did not necessarily imply, however, that we should lose our
position in the Middle East, since we could despatch
reinforcements to those parts by other routes, for example through
the Red Sea and Egypt. In any case the Mediterranean position,
even if it were lost, could be recovered. If the position in the
Pacific were lost, however, it was doubtful if it could ever be
recovered. The other two responsibilities of Imperial defence were
the defence of the Dominions and Colonies and the defence of
Imperial communications on the ocean routes.


Two situations had to be considered: the first a European war, and
the second a war in the Pacific. A European war would be an
operation demanding the full activities of all three Services, and
if all three Services were fully efficient and sufficient we
should be able to deal with the situation. A war in the Pacific,
however, was of a different nature, since it would be
predominantly a naval war. It would not require either air or
military forces on a national scale. In a European war economic
pressure would be only a contributing factor to our ultimate
victory, albeit a very important one. In a Pacific war, however,
it was only by economic pressure that victory would be achieved-
any idea of an invasion of Japan and her defeat by military action
on her own soil was out of the question. The war would be fought
at a great distance from a large part of the Empire, only part of
which would be affected by it. Except in the Far East, Empire
trade would not be interfered with.


Japan, however, could be almost completely isolated by naval
action and her national life directly affected. The expansion of
Japanese overseas trade meant that she had given a hostage to
fortune. Interference with this trade would have fatal
consequences for her.

Lord Chatfield referred to the conclusions on the subject of
economic pressure on Japan which had been reached in paragraph 31
of the Far East Appreciation, and quoted the following passages:-

'(i) Japan's demands in war will be greatly influenced by the
nature of the warfare in which she is involved. The more serious
her military commitments and the greater her programme of naval
and/or mercantile shipbuilding, the greater will be her
expenditure of imported commodities; but if she has previously
accumulated large stocks of oil fuel and other war necessities and
her expenditure is largely confined to that for naval warfare, she
will be able to reduce her imports considerably for a number of

(ii) Cessation of trade with the British Empire, together with
establishment by us of control over her trade with Europe and
South Eastern Asia, will produce a grave dislocation of Japan's
economic life, unless replacement supplies can be obtained, mainly
from the United States. In this connection, the United States
action in banning exports of armament stores to belligerents is of
the greatest importance.

(iii) In due course, after existing stocks have been exhausted, a
stoppage of the trans-Pacific trade in addition to that with the
British Empire would leave the main Japanese industries largely
dependent upon imports from Asia, which, in the long run, could
not suffice to maintain national life at the requisite level, and
would have a direct effect both on Japan's war endurance and her
fighting power.

[matter omitted]

(vi) Early decisive effects from economic pressure can only be
attained by carrying the war into the China and Japan seas, though
the virtual stoppage of the trans-Pacific trade in addition to
that with Europe and the British Empire would ultimately achieve
the same result, save in the unlikely circumstance of the U.S.S.R.

freely supplying Japan from Vladivostok. Failing a stoppage of the
short sea trade routes, it is doubtful if economic pressure upon
Japan would achieve decisive results in under two years.'

These led up to the wider deductions in paragraph 105:-

'(a) We must rely primarily upon the exercise of economic pressure
to defeat Japan. We cannot expect a decision by the above method
in under two years, and this period may, in the event, be
considerably longer.

(b) The only apparent means of forcing an earlier decision would
be by a successful fleet action. Japan, however, by holding back
her fleet, can deny us this opportunity, unless and until she is
forced to accept action as the only alternative to defeat by
economic pressure.

(c) The war will make full demands on our naval resources, but
will not require the employment of army or air forces on a
national scale.'


The circumstances under which a war in the Far East would break
out had to be borne in mind. Japan was very unlikely to go to war
with us, unless the United Kingdom was already involved in Europe.

In such circumstances Japan might do two things. She might carry
out acts of aggression against China, who would probably appeal to
us for assistance. The decision as to whether we should provide
this assistance would of course be a political one. On the other
hand, Japan might make a direct attack on the British Empire if
she thought that we were deeply involved elsewhere and that, in
consequence, the balance of risk was in her favour.


Lord Chatfield then proceeded to explain the general policy which
should govern the conduct of a war with Japan, and quoted from
paragraphs 110 to 114 of the Far East Appreciation:-

'110. The basis of our strategy lies in the establishment of our
Fleet at Singapore at the earliest possible moment after the
outbreak of hostilities. Our own security and our ability to bring
pressure to bear upon Japan are equally dependent on this action.

It is, therefore, of paramount importance that the Singapore base
should be available on the arrival of our Fleet. To ensure this
reinforcements must be moved to Singapore and the security of
their routes safe-guarded upon any state of tension developing.

In addition, all measures necessary for the protection of the Suez
Canal and for the security of our defended ports and our air and
other routes to the Far East must be put into operation.'

He drew particular attention to the emphasis that was placed on
the vital importance of the principle of the establishment of our
Fleet at Singapore at the earliest possible moment after the
outbreak of hostilities. With regard to the movement of
reinforcements for Singapore, it would be wise, if we were at war
with Germany, to move reinforcements to Singapore as early as
possible before the Japanese came in against us as well. It might
be difficult to move such reinforcements later on.

With regard to our communications in the Far East, the
Appreciation read as follows:-

'111. Before the arrival of our fleet at Singapore we should,
where necessary, rely on evasion for the security of our commerce,
and upon local defences for the security of our ports and
territories, coupled with operations against the raiders by the
forces immediately available. Once our main fleet is in the Far
East we should rely on its presence to give adequate security to
our communications.'

Once the British Fleet arrived at Singapore, the whole strategic
situation in the Far East would be changed and new conditions
would have supervened.

With regard to Hong Kong-

'Although our situation at Hong Kong is inherently weak, we
should, as long as our policy is to hold the fortress, take any
opportunity to reinforce the garrison during a period of strained
relations, but not at the expense of reinforcements considered
necessary for the security of Singapore' (Para. 112).

[matter omitted]

Hong Kong was only an outpost, although an important outpost,
whereas the security of Singapore was absolutely vital to our
position in the Far East. This was the great difference between
the two ports.

Lord Chatfield then quoted the following paragraphs dealing with
the situation after the arrival of the Fleet at Singapore, the
attitude of China and the exercise of economic pressure against

'Although we cannot foretell what the situation will be when the
British Fleet arrives at Singapore, it is clear that, so long as
Hong Kong is still holding out, the Fleet will be required to go
forward either to reinforce or to evacuate the garrison. The
decision as to which course of action is to be adopted must be
made at the time in the light of all information then available
(Para. 112).

113. The attitude of China will be an important factor in this
situation, and we must, from the outset, take all possible steps
to encourage the Chinese in active hostility to Japan. At the same
time, we must so restrict our action in China as to avoid any
liability of becoming involved in major land and air operations.

114. We must primarily rely upon the exercise of economic pressure
to enable us to defeat Japan. With our Fleet based at Singapore or
at any base further north, the restrictions which we could impose
on Japanese trade give good prospects of breaking Japanese powers
of resistance in the course of two years, provided that at the
same time we can sever her trans-Pacific trade. To this end, in
addition to our naval operations, we should do all that is
possible to enlist the sympathy and assistance of America.'


Lord Chatfield next dealt with the time factor and quoted from
paragraph 43 of the Far East Appreciation which states:-

'On Japan's side the time factor assumes the greatest importance
in relation to the operations which they might hope to carry out
prior to the arrival of the British Fleet, e.g., possible attempts
to capture Singapore and/or Hong Kong.'

The assumptions underlying the calculations of the time factor for
the arrival of the British Fleet at Singapore were explained in
the two preceding paragraphs of the Appreciation. In addition to
the passage time for the Fleet, either via the Mediterranean or
via the Cape, 10 days had to be allowed for the necessary
preparatory measures such as docking, fuelling and storing the
Fleet prior to its sailing for the Far East. 15 days had also to
be added for possible delays due to weather and for re-fuelling en
route. The net result was that the Fleet might not arrive at
Singapore before either 53 or 70 days after the order to sail,
according as to whether it proceeded via the Suez Canal, or the
Cape. These times made no allowance for delay in giving the orders
to the Fleet to sail, due to political or other factors.


These other factors would largely depend upon the naval situation
obtaining at the time that war with Japan broke out. In the best
case, war with Japan might not start until we had fully developed
our naval resources and while the Germans, on the other hand, were
maintaining a defensive attitude. In the worst case, we might not
have had time fully to develop our naval resources, and the
Germans for their part might have assumed a vigorous offensive
against our trade in the Atlantic.

If we were at war with Germany before hostilities broke out with
Japan, our naval forces might be widely dispersed in the Atlantic.

The German Navy was imbued with the offensive spirit and realised
the mistakes they had made in the last war by keeping their High
Seas Fleet on the defensive. They saw that it would have been
better to have attacked our shipping in the Atlantic, even at the
risk of losing their Fleet, instead of having it ignominiously
sunk at Scapa Flow in the end. We had therefore to work on the
possibility of Germany sending her three 'Deutschlands' and her
battle cruisers against our Atlantic trade. Our capital ships
might, therefore, be engaged in chasing the Germans in the
Atlantic or conveying our merchant shipping. We hoped in such
circumstances that we should have the French with us and the
support of their battle cruisers. We might reciprocate by
employing some of our capital ships for conveying French forces
from Africa. In any case some considerable time might elapse
before the Fleet could start for the Far East.

Another important factor to be considered in this connection was
the year that war broke out, since this would determine the
allocation of our naval forces to Europe and the Far East
respectively. At a certain period from the spring of 1938 to the
summer of 1939 some of our capital ships would be laid up for
modernisation. This process, which ought to have been carried out
long ago, could no longer be delayed. The 'Valiant' and 'Renown'
were now laid up for two years undergoing modernisation, and the
'Queen Elizabeth' would shortly be in the same state. The risk of
laying up these three ships at the present time was a big one, but
we had to face it. 1939 was the date to which we were working in
all our defensive preparations and it seemed best therefore to go
ahead now, and have such of our 15 capital ships as we intended to
modernise, finished by that time.

It would thus be realised that both the strength of the fleet
which would be sent and the time which would elapse before it
arrived at Singapore must vary with political and strategical
factors. The whole basis of our strategy, however, lay in the
establishment of our fleet at Singapore at the earliest possible
moment after the outbreak of hostilities.


The general conclusions of the Chiefs of Staff on the defence of
Singapore were contained in paragraph 229 of their Far Eastern
Appreciation, which reads as follows:-

'(a) In considering the security of Singapore, we must allow for
70 days elapsing between the first Japanese act of war and the
arrival of the British Main Fleet (assuming that the orders for
the Fleet to sail are given concurrently with the first Japanese
act of war). This makes no allowance for circumstances which might
postpone the issue of orders for the Fleet to proceed to the Far

Lord Chatfield pointed out that the 70 days made no allowance for
the political and strategical factors of which he had just spoken.

'(b) During this period early information of any Japanese
expedition is the first essential of the defence. In view of the
weakness of the Naval forces which the Commander-in-Chief, Far
East, will have at his disposal on the outbreak of war, and the
desirability of maintaining our cruiser strength intact until
concentration with the Main Fleet can be effected, we must rely
mainly upon air forces for long-range reconnaissance of any
Japanese expedition which may approach Singapore during the period
before relief.

(c) Air forces and submarines provide the only weapons with which
we can make sustained attacks against the Japanese expedition
before it comes within range of the fixed defences. Destroyers may
also be able to carry out night attacks.

(d) Reserves of war material and food in Singapore are at present
held for 60 days and, with the exception of aircraft bombs and
certain R.A.F. technical stores, are generally up to the
authorised scale. If the arrival of the Fleet were delayed
appreciably beyond 60 days and Japan had successfully initiated
major operations on the outbreak of war, the powers of resistance
of the garrison would deteriorate rapidly in the third month.'

The question of increasing the number of days' reserves maintained
in Singapore to more than 60 days was now under consideration.

'(e) It seems unlikely that the Japanese will employ a major
expedition in deliberate operations against Singapore, even if
they anticipate 60 to 70 days' delay in the arrival of the British
main fleet. We cannot, however, definitely exclude the possibility
of operations of this character. If we have been unable to
reinforce Singapore, the likelihood of the Japanese being
successful would be greatly increased and we, therefore, stress
the necessity for the early despatch of reinforcements. If these
reinforcements have arrived, we confidently anticipate that the
fortress will hold out until the arrival of the British Fleet.'

Lord Chatfield again stressed the importance of the early
reinforcement of Singapore. If we were ever at war with Germany
and at the same time in a state of strained relations with Japan
it would only be prudent to increase immediately our reserves both
at Singapore and Hong Kong.

'(f) A surprise attack aiming at the capture of the fortress by a
coup de main may be attempted. If they could achieve complete
surprise, the Japanese would have some prospect of success, but
the possibility of complete surprise seems somewhat slight. If we
obtained any warning at all of liability to attack, our garrison
should be able to defeat it.

(g) Even although our 15-inch guns will not be ready for action,
our coast defences, assisted by the 15-inch guns of H.M.S.

'Terror', will afford considerable protection against naval
bombardment. Smallscale landing raids might achieve a minor
measure of success, but are unlikely seriously to damage our base
facilities. Our A.A. defences at Singapore will still be weak. If
the Japanese accept serious risks to their carriers they can
deliver a heavy scale of air attack, which might achieve a certain
degree of success, though their sea-borne air attacks could not be
sustained. It is very unlikely that shore-based air attacks could
be made except as part of successful major operations.

(h) With the arrival of the British Fleet the Japanese will either
have to abandon their expedition or fight a fleet action. Provided
that the naval repair facilities at Singapore can still be used by
our ships, our Fleet would be at a great advantage compared with
that of Japan, which could have no repair facilities nearer than
its home waters.'


Lord Chatfield then drew attention to the differences between our
conduct of a single-handed war with Japan, and of a war with both
Germany and Japan simultaneously. These were explained in
paragraphs 117 to 121 of the Far Eastern Appreciation.

117. Our policy for a war against Japan would remain unchanged
except in the following respects:-

118. During the period immediately following the outbreak of war
with Germany and before the outbreak of war with Japan, we should
immediately avail ourselves of the opportunity of carrying out
preparatory measures in the Far East without interference by

119. At Singapore we should, during this period, not only put into
effect the existing reinforcement plans, but should also increase
the reserves of supplies to the maximum extent possible.

120. We should concentrate our outlying battalions from North
China at Hong Kong, but should send there no further
reinforcements except those necessary to enable the existing fixed
defences to be manned adequately. We should also increase the
reserves of supplies at Hong Kong. Although we cannot, in this
case, rely on our fleet being able either to reinforce or to
evacuate our garrison at Hong Kong once war has broken out with
Japan, our policy would still be to hold Hong Kong as an outpost
for as long as possible.

121. Once war with Japan has broken out, our policy must be
governed by the consideration that, until the issue with Germany
has been settled, we cannot count on being able to support
anything more than a defensive policy in the Far East. Economic
pressure would remain the essential feature of this policy, but
owing to the heavier demands on our naval forces its action is
bound to be slower.'

With reference to the statement that 'we cannot count on being
able to support anything more than a defensive policy in the Far
East', Lord Chatfield explained that, in an Appreciation of this
kind, it was necessary to adopt a conservative attitude and not to
be over-sanguine. It must be remembered that in such a war,
although in Europe we should, in combination with the French,
possess naval superiority, in the Far East we should only have
equality with the Japanese.

The implications of a simultaneous war with Germany and Japan as
affecting the situation in the Singapore area were explained in
Paragraph 327 of the Far East Appreciation. This paragraph pointed
out that, as regards the heavy-ship strength of the Fleet that we
could send to the Far East, at various times during the next two
years, we should be alternately superior and inferior to the
Japanese by one heavy ship; it went on to say that'We can regard
our Fleet, however, even when inferior in numbers by one heavy
ship, as at least equivalent in fighting value to the Japanese
Fleet, but we have no margin for contingencies.' Lord Chatfield
emphasized that the whole policy for the conduct of the war would
not be changed by a superiority or inferiority of a single ship.

The overwhelming factor in war was efficiency; but this was not a
factor which could be accurately assessed. An inferior force, if
more efficient, could win; and the British Navy had every reason
to think that they were more efficient and could win even with
inferior forces, as they had often done in the past. At the same
time, in an Appreciation of this kind, it was only prudent to base
calculations on numerical strengths. Further, if the enemy knew
that one had a numerically inferior force, the knowledge might
incite him to aggression, whereas numerical superiority provided
the greatest possible deterrent. If we found ourselves inferior to
the Japanese in the Pacific, we should have to feel our way
carefully at first and judge of the efficiency of the Japanese by
their conduct in cruiser and destroyer actions in the early stages
of the war. We should then be able to gauge the extent of the
risks which it was safe to take against them.

As regards economic pressure on Japan in a simultaneous war with
Japan and Germany, Paragraph 342 of the Far East Appreciation

'342. When at war with both Germany and Japan, our operations as
regards trade would fall into the following order of priority:

defence of our own trade against attack by Germany; attack on
Japanese trade. While the above operations may to a large extent
be combined, it appears probable that under the conditions we are
now considering the degree of economic pressure that we can bring
to bear upon Japan may be appreciably reduced, particularly as
regards action against the trans-Pacific trade. An embargo by
America of supplies of war materials to Japan would, therefore, be
of the greatest assistance to us, especially if unaccompanied by
an effective embargo against ourselves.'


Lord Chatfield then dealt with the problem of Hong Kong. As he had
already explained, Hong Kong was different from Singapore in that
it was only an outpost, and the duty of an outpost was to give
warning of attack and to delay the enemy. Hong Kong, however, was
very vulnerable at present. We had been limited by the provisions
of Article XIX of the Washington Treaty in respect of its
defences. This Treaty had lapsed at the beginning of 1937, but we
had not yet had time to do anything about strengthening the
defences to any great extent. It was necessary to allow for go
days elapsing between the first Japanese act of war and the
arrival of the British Fleet at Hong Kong-at the earliest the
Fleet could not reach Hong Kong before 40 days. He quoted from
paragraph 307 of the Far East Appreciation as follows:-

'(c) There is no means by which the garrison of Hong Kong can be
reinforced, once war has broken out with Japan, until the arrival
of our main fleet.

[matter omitted]

(e) The present weakness of our fixed and A.A. defences, and lack
of defending aircraft render the base facilities open to attack by
naval bombardment as well as sea-borne and shore-based air attack.

Even if other naval requirements do not permit the Japanese to
employ a heavy scale of naval bombardment, the damage which could
be inflicted by carrier-borne and shore-based air attack during
the period of six weeks which will probably elapse before the
arrival of the British Fleet, will probably be sufficient to make
it virtually useless as a repair base, and might deprive us of the
great proportion of reserves of material held at Hong Kong.

Once the fleet was in the vicinity of Hong Kong, no further naval
bombardment need be feared, and carrier-borne attacks would be
unlikely. By that time, however, the Japanese could have built up
their shore-based air strength in South China to an extent which
would enable them still to maintain a heavy scale of air attack
upon the base.

In [the] view of the Air Staff, Hong Kong is not tenable or usable
as a base, if the circumstances are such that the Japanese can
bring the major proportion of their metropolitan air force against

(f) If, after the arrival of the British fleet at Singapore, Hong
Kong has not been attacked, our fleet could escort army and air
reinforcements forward. We should then aim to use Hong Kong as a
base for our main fleet and, pending war experience of air attack
we should attempt to stage operations designed to bring about
action with Japanese naval forces.

(g) If Hong Kong has fallen, there can be no question of hasty
operations for its recapture.

(h) In a situation between these two extremes, in which our
garrison at Hong Kong is still holding out in spite of Japanese
attacks, our fleet can, pending war experience of air attack,
undertake operations in the northern part of the South China Sea,
with the object of cutting the communications of the Japanese
investing forces, while our garrison, duly reinforced, continues
to hold its ground.

(i) In the last resort, the evacuation of the garrison under cover
of our fleet, would be the only alternative.

(j) The decision as to which course will be adopted can only be
taken when all the circumstances are known.'

The conclusions which the Chiefs of Staff had reached on the
question of Hong Kong were set out in paragraphs 127 to 130, which
read as follows:-

'127. We have concluded that there can be no question of
evacuating Hong Kong on the eve or on the outbreak of war with
Germany. The advantages of evacuation in the latter circumstances
are summarised as follows:-

"By evacuation we should cut our losses, avoid the danger of being
led into commitments on land in South China, and deny to the
Japanese the chance of reducing the superior strength of our fleet
by attrition. Moreover, the force of our economic pressure on
Japan would not materially be reduced."

128. There is much force in this argument, the more so at the
present time, when both the garrison and the defences at the
fortress are inadequate, and when the prospects of the defence
being unsuccessful-with the consequent loss of prestige involved-
are probable.

129. On the other hand, the evacuation of an important fortress on
the outbreak of war would itself entail a very serious loss of
prestige, not only in the Far East, but throughout the world; and
might influence other potentially hostile Powers to form an
exaggerated idea of the weakness of our position, and to throw in
their lot against us.

130. Moreover we could not hand over Hong Kong intact to the
Japanese; and it would be necessary before evacuation, to arrange
for the deliberate destruction of all the facilities and defences
of the Fortress.'

Lord Chatfield said that he hoped this broad survey of the problem
of a war in the Pacific would be of some assistance to the
Dominion representatives present. He suggested that, as there was
still some time available, he might clear off one or two of the
questions which had been put by the New Zealand and Australian


(1) Possibility of maintaining a fleet permanently in the Far East

He referred first to the question raised by New Zealand as to why
it was not possible to maintain in peace time a naval force in the
Far East sufficient to contain the Japanese Fleet. This question
had often been considered in the past, and at certain periods we
had in fact kept a Fleet in the Pacific; but it was not easy to do
so under modern conditions.

The first great difficulty was a political one. We should have to
send a force equal in strength to the Japanese Fleet, since to
divide our forces, which were limited particularly as regards
heavy ship strength, and run the risk of their defeat in detail
should war break out, would be most unwise. But to send a Fleet
equal to the Japanese out to the Pacific at the present moment
would be a most challenging act from the diplomatic point of view.

The next difficulty was administrative. We should have to maintain
two-thirds of our Battle Fleet in the Pacific, and that would mean
a very much greater proportion of the Navy being permanently on
foreign service. Already personnel did two commissions out of
three on foreign service, and, if so large a force was maintained
in the Far East, the proportion of foreign service would rise
probably to four commissions out of five. Moreover, Singapore
would have to be greatly expanded and made equivalent to, say,
Portsmouth and Devonport in combination. This would involve a huge
expense and involve closing dockyards at home.

It was therefore considered better to keep the Battle Fleet in
European waters. We must have a fleet at home ready for a European
war, which might break out more suddenly than any war in the
Pacific. Moreover, the general public in the United Kingdom might
not look at all favourably on the permanent retention of their
Navy at such a distance from home waters, and there would
certain[ly] be an outcry if the majority of our capital ships were
in the Far East when a European war broke out.

To sum up, therefore, from the strategical point of view it was
advisable to retain the major portion of our Fleet in European
waters in peace. If the Fleet were stationed in peace in the Far
East and hostilities suddenly broke out in Europe, the situation
might be far more serious than if we had retained the Fleet in
Europe and war broke out first in the Far East.

(2) Use of New Zealand cruisers in a Far East war

Lord Chatfield then dealt with Question No. 7 on the Questionnaire
submitted by the New Zealand Delegation enquiring what part was
intended to be played by the New Zealand cruisers on the outbreak
of hostilities in the Far East. He explained that his remarks on
the subject of the New Zealand cruisers would also apply to those
of Australia. The greatest danger from raids would be in the
period before the British arrived at Singapore. The primary role
of both the New Zealand and the Australian Navies during this
period would, therefore, be local protection in their territorial
waters. It had been suggested by the First Lord of the Admiralty
that Dominions might consider the possibility of building and
maintaining capital ships. If this suggestion were adopted, the
ship would be used for local defence in the Southern Pacific. A
capital ship backing the cruiser forces already in those waters
would be a very powerful deterrent to the Japanese as had been the
'Australia' in 1914. On the arrival of the Main Fleet at
Singapore, this capital ship might either join up with it or
remain in southern waters, depending on the situation. With regard
to Dominion cruisers, it was by no means to be assumed that they
would be moved from Australian and New Zealand waters when the
Main Fleet arrived at Singapore-on the contrary it might be
necessary to despatch more cruisers from the British Fleet to
those waters. Circumstances would dictate what was the best thing
to do.


After a short discussion on procedure, Lord Chatfield suggested
that, as there was still some time available, he might say
something about the risks of Japanese invasion of Australia. He
read the draft prepared by the Joint Planning Committee, but
emphasized that it had not yet received the approval of the Chiefs
of Staff Sub-committee. This draft pointed out the extreme
difficulty and consequent unlikelihood of the Japanese carrying
out such an operation unless the British Fleet had been defeated
in the Pacific.

Lord Chatfield observed that it was difficult to define the size
of a raid-it might be anything from a few men landing in a boat to
destroy a wireless station to a landing of much greater strength
as a diversion to draw off forces from elsewhere. In any case it
could have no real effect other than annoyance. A raid was
essentially a cut-and-run affair, and local forces and fixed
defences provide a very strong deterrent against such operations.

SIR THOMAS INSKIP said that the answers to the other questions
submitted by the Australian and New Zealand Delegations would be
in the form of a Paper which the Delegations could take with them
when they returned home. [6]

MR SAVAGE said he would appreciate being able to take the answers
with him, as it was not permitted to take the Far East
Appreciation out of the country. It would be realised that he had
to discuss these questions with others in New Zealand. Lord
Chatfield had explained the strategical situation in very clear
terms, and he was very grateful to him. The New Zealand Government
wished to know the best way to play their part in the defence of
the Empire. They wanted to spend their money intelligently and to
preserve a proper balance between the three Services. It was a
great help to them to have an appreciation of the dangers to which
they were subject in, certain circumstances.

SIR THOMAS INSKIP inquired whether after the Delegations had
received the answers of the Chiefs of Staff to their questions
they would like to have another meeting of the same kind.

SIR MAURICE HANKEY said he had in mind the possibility of holding
another meeting early in the following week.

SIR ARCHDALE PARKHILL said that the arrangement would suit him
very well if he could get the answers to his questions by the end
of the present week. He would like to have a chance of studying
the answers first and then to have a meeting to clear up any
doubtful points.

SIR THOMAS INSKIP suggested that if the morning of Monday, 7th
June, was convenient a further meeting should be held then. He
assumed that the answers by the Chiefs of Staff to the Australian
and New Zealand questions would be issued to them by the evening
of Friday, 4th June. He would ask General Sir William Bartholomew
to say something at the next meeting on the part which India could
play in the despatch of reinforcements to Singapore.

LORD CHATFIELD expressed the hope that Mr Savage and Sir Archdale
Parkhill would cross-examine the Chiefs of Staff on their
Appreciation, and criticise the views which had been put forward.

Such criticism would be of the greatest assistance to the Chiefs
of Staff.

their warmest thanks to Lord Chatfield for the very clear
exposition of the problems in the Pacific, which he had given them
at the meeting.


It was agreed:-

(a) To invite the Chiefs of Staff to ensure that their replies to
the questions submitted by the Australian and New Zealand
Delegations should be issued to them not later than the evening of
Friday, 4th June.

(b) That a further meeting should be held at 3.00 p.m. on Monday
7th June, at which the discussion would be resumed. [7]

1 Document 20.

2 Not printed.

3 Not printed.

4 Not printed.

5 Signed on 18 June 1935; Germany undertook to limit the German
fleet to 35 per cent of the strength of the British fleet.

6 Document 42.

7 Minutes not printed (see Defence: Special Collection 1, SR 2/2,
box 197).

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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