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104 Advisory War Council Minute 560

Extract CANBERRA, 7 November 1941



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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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