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21 Advisory War Council Minute 431

SYDNEY, 29 July 1941

The Prime Minister [2] traversed the review by the Department of
External Affairs dated 2[8]th July and a general discussion arose
on the section relating to the Far East, in view of Japan's recent
move into Indo-China.

2. The Prime Minister referred to the main features of his
discussions in London with the United Kingdom Government on
Japanese relations in which he had suggested the drawing of a
chalk line to indicate the limit of Japan's southern advance and
the exertion of every endeavour to secure the fullest degree of
American support to the limit of warlike operations. [3] 3. The
Prime Minister added that the Commonwealth Government appreciated
the difficulty, for constitutional reasons, in securing a
guarantee of armed support from the United States. The Americans
objected to taking [a] decision now which might govern their
future course of action and involve them in war. It had been
strongly emphasized to the United Kingdom Government that, in
notifying the United States of the economic measures being taken
by the British Empire, it should be intimated that the possible
consequences of such action, both for ourselves and for the
Netherlands East Indies, [were] realized and we assumed that the
United States Government also realized them. From the discussion
that would arise on this basis an indication of the United States'
attitude should certainly be given, and its nature would, in all
probability, constitute the satisfactory understanding which the
Commonwealth Government felt to be essential. If the Americans'
step by step method led them to the inevitability of war, they
would not baulk at war if, in their own judgment, it was
unavoidable. [4]

4. Dr. Evatt [5] enquired as to the extent of the sanctions being
imposed and the Prime Minister conveyed that they were being
worked out in consultation with the United States. Mr. Beasley [6]
asked if the Commonwealth Government had received further
knowledge of the Far Eastern situation and the course of action
from the United Kingdom Government. The Prime Minister replied
that such was not the case.

5. Mr. Forde [7] thought that the course of policy being followed
by the United States would enable them to 'walk out' of the
resulting situation when they wanted to, but the Minister for the
Arrays considered that, having regard to constitutional and
political considerations in America, the method being followed by
the Administration was the one which they thought best for
ensuring the solidarity of public opinion behind their decision,
and for presenting to public opinion a fait accompli, which by
other means it might be difficult to attain.

6. The Attorney-General [9] referred to the varieties of opinion
which were to be obtained in America, according to the
geographical distribution of the population, each group of which
had its own particular outlook.

7. Mr. Beasley said that if the Commonwealth Government was
receiving all the information that the United Kingdom Government
was obtaining, nothing more could be done. The Prime Minister
replied that such was the position.

8. Dr. Evatt enquired as to the extent to which the import and
export licences would go. The Prime Minister explained that they
were being worked out, the view of the Government being that we
should move together with the United Kingdom and the U.S.A.

9. Mr. Beasley enquired what advices were being received from the
Australian Minister at Tokyo [10], but the Prime Minister said
that little information was coming to hand, as the position with
the Japanese Government was being handled by the British
Ambassador [11] and full advice was being received from him
through the Dominions Office.

10. Mr. Makin [12] asked whether steps had been taken to increase
the strength of the British Fleet in the Far East. The Prime
Minister referred to the result of the Staff Conversations between
the British and American naval authorities regarding the re-
disposition of forces in the event of war with Japan. [13] The
Minister for the Army was of the view that pressure should be
exerted for the movement of capital ships to the Far East. The
Prime Minister said that the plans provided that immediately on
the commencement of hostilities with Japan a capital ship and
aircraft carrier would be moved into the Indian Ocean.

11. Dr. Evatt feared that there was danger of the same situation
arising in connection with economic sanctions as had occurred with
Italy. He had a doubt about the wisdom of indefinite curtailment
which appeared to be indicated by American policy, as this
savoured of a pinpricking policy.

12. The Prime Minister said that this aspect had been the subject
of representations to the United Kingdom Government, who agreed
with the correctness of avoiding such a policy, but it was
important to ensure that they did not employ such methods. In his
opinion, economic embargoes should have three objectives:-

(i) All-embracing and crippling in their effect;

(ii) Of sufficient extent to prevent supplies filtering through to

(iii) Of sufficient extent to prevent Japan building up stocks of
important war materials.

There was no doubt that in the past the policy of the Ministry of
Economic Warfare had been uncertain, as exemplified in the case of
export of wool to Japan, which had been restricted below her own
essential requirements.

13. The Minister for the Army said that in the decisions taken
regarding economic sanctions there was urgent need for
crystallizing details. It appeared that, after Japan's occupation
of Indo-China, her next objective would be Thailand and the Burma
Road. It was evident she was acting in concert with Germany. As to
the steps to be taken, he observed:-

(i) That we did not wish to add to our enemies at this stage of
our struggle with Germany and Italy;

(ii) That we have not the military capacity to do so.

Our aim should be to get the U.S.A. 'on side' in the same manner
as the Netherlands East Indies.

14. Mr. Makin pointed out that the appointment of a Commander-in-
Chief of the Philippines indicated that the U.S.A. realized the
possibility of having to resort to force.

15. Mr. Forde again observed that we were being borne along by the
tide of events without any undertaking as to what the U.S.A. would
do, and the Prime Minister observed that the U.S.A. have always
stopped short of any such undertaking.

16. Mr. Beasley raised the question of whether we should continue
to send more troops out of Australia, and enquired whether our
naval forces should be left in the Mediterranean.

17. The Prime Minister referred to Cablegram No.430 of 10th July
to the Dominions Office [14], bringing to the notice of the United
Kingdom Government the understanding that, on the threat of war in
the Far East, R.A.N. ships in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean
would be so disposed as to enable them quickly to return to
Australian waters. An interim reply had been received from the
United Kingdom Government, saying that this matter was receiving
consideration, and a reminder is to be sent. [15] The Prime
Minister also referred to the Anglo-American Staff Talks, which
provided for a re-disposition of naval forces by the transfer of
American capital ships from the Pacific to the Atlantic, to enable
British capital ships to be based on Singapore.

18. Mr. Makin considered that we should act as though the United
States were not prepared to participate in warlike operations. The
Prime Minister pointed out that the Royal Navy was fully engaged
in the Battle of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and if Japan,
only by threat, could cause a subtraction from the forces in this
region, this would be a great help to the Axis Powers, by the
diversion of British naval strength.

19. Mr. Forde observed that, with the U.S.A. out of the struggle,
we could not keep an enemy out of Australia.

20. The Minister for the Army, in referring to Mr. Forde's comment
and the earlier one by Mr. Beasley regarding the despatch of
further forces abroad, made the following observations:-

(i) 8th Division, A.I.F. One brigade is at Darwin. The focal point
in the Far East is the security of Malaya. Japan's policy is to
persuade us against the need for sending additional troops to
Malaya. A brigade of the 8th Division was already there and a
further one was about to go.

(ii) Home Defence. 35,000 Home Defence Forces had been called up
for full-time duty, including detachments at places such as
Thursday Island and Rabaul. The new training programme for the
Militia had been announced, but he did not consider that full
mobilisation was desirable.

(iii) The A.I.F. in the Middle East. Reinforcements only are being
sent to the Middle East to maintain the strength of the forces
already there.

21. Mr. Beasley said that it had been reported in the press that
the Germans transferred their forces from Libya. He enquired
whether there had been any easing of the situation at Tobruk, or
whether there was anything more that ought to be done. The Prime
Minister read cablegram No. 85257 of 25th July from the Commander-
in-Chief, Middle East [16], reporting that the situation in the
Western Desert was all quiet and the indications were that the
enemy was not repeating any offensive action at present. The
Minister for the Army added that the position was such that there
was no possibility of getting our troops out of the Middle East
because of any lessening of the threat in this region.

22. Mr. Beasley stated that a large number of troops [were] being
retained in the United Kingdom and the invasion threat was not so
grave in view of the Russian conflict. In the disposition of
Australian troops Australia should be considered first. Such a
policy would involve the replacement of Australians in the Middle
East and, in view of the influence of the Russian position, a re-
orientation of the focal point of the struggle appeared to be
taking place.

23. The Attorney-General said the danger in the Middle East was
greater some time ago than now. Nevertheless, the Middle East was
the gateway for a German advance into Egypt and Asia, and had to
be held. In any further southward movement by Japan, she had in
the first place to capture or neutralise Singapore.

24. Mr. Forde observed that Singapore was like an empty garage,
and considered the position to be very grave now that Japan had
started to move south. He enquired whether the Government had
considered the request of the Leader of the Opposition [17] for
the assembly of Parliament to review the position and the
industrial situation. It would then be possible for the Government
to take members into its confidence.

25. The Minister for the Army enquired what more could be done by
Parliament, and what purpose its assembly would serve.

26. Mr. Beasley said that a stalemate position had arisen in the
Middle East, and Britain was 'sitting tight' on a large number of
men. The Minister for the Army replied that it was essential to
build up in the Middle East for Germany's renewed effort after the
Russian campaign, and we should not take any forces away from this
region. He thought that a new appreciation should be sought from
the G.O.C., A.I.F. [18], as to the position in the Middle East now
that Syria had been occupied and the Russo-German conflict had

1 AA : A2680, 102/1941. It contained the review referred to in the
first paragraph.

2 R. G. Menzies.

3 Menzies and F.G.Shedden, Secretary of the Defence Co-ordination
Dept, both had discussions with U.K. authorities during March and
April. See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol.

IV, Document 347, note 8; Document 376; Document 399 and
enclosure; and Document 400
4 The Commonwealth Govt had conveyed these views in the cablegram
published as Document 16.

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

6 Labor Party M.H.R. for West Sydney.

7 Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

8 P. C. Spender.

9 W. M. Hughes.

10 Sir John Latham.

11 Sir Robert Craigie.

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

13 See Document 18, note 5.

14 Document 3.

15 The U.K. Govt's interim reply (cablegram 472. of 11 July) and
the Commonwealth Govt's reminder (cablegram 491 of 31 July) are on
file AA : A1608, A41/1/1, xxiii.

16 General Sir Claude Auchinleck's cablegram is on file Defence :

MP1217, Box 585, Strategical position in the Middle East. May to
November, 1941.

17 John Curtin.

18 Lt Gen Sir Thomas Blamey.

[AA : A2682, VOL. 2]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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