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44 Advisory War Council Minute 466

Extract MELBOURNE, 14 August 1941

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

(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.

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]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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