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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. [2] 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 [3] sent me and from the Prime
Minister's telegram No. SC.12. [4] 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 [5] and
Layton [6] 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

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 [7] 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

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 [8] 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 [9] 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. [10] 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 [11] I and the Chinese Ambassador [12] that the suggestion
had been rejected.

Soon after his arrival here, the present head of the British
Military Mission [13] 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 [14] '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 [15] 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 [16] could not be given in
other spheres.

Judging from reports which I have had from the Netherlands
Military Attache [17] on conversations which he had with Wavell

are tremendous. Unless there is immediate agreement between the
two Chiefs-of-Staff Committees, an exchange of plans may go on
almost indefinitely. I cannot say precisely how this affects the
Far East but it would appear that major strategic decisions on
this area are canvassed about between London and Washington in the
same fashion. When you add to this what I have set out under 'I'
you have a state of affairs which has proved quite disastrous for
the Far East. Surely it must be possible to devolve the
responsibility for making decisions. The Chiefs-of-Staff in London
have their deputies in Washington and it seems reasonable that in
matters concerning a certain area, they might be given
responsibility. The same difficulties arise over questions of
supplies where apparently the same duplication arises.

As to remote control, General van Temmen's experience in India
seems to indicate a remarkable unwillingness to give the Indian
Staff responsibility or initiative. They are tied hand and foot to
a complicated machine with a variety of drivers of whom the
principal ones are the Viceroy [19], the Secretary of State for
India [20] and the British War Cabinet. If Wavell or whoever had
the command were given the same scope and responsibility as
MacArthur, something more effective might be done for India's

4. India and Burma I know now are under the exclusive control of
Britain but China is under the control of the Chinese Staff
assisted by the Chungking Military Council with the United States,
Britain, China and the Netherlands East Indies represented. These
three areas cannot be separated strategically. An additional
complication is that India is dependent on the United States for
supplies and although it might be an advantage to have individual
responsibility for India this is cancelled because of the other
source of supply. The position of the Chungking Military Council
is simply absurd. The members report separately to their
individual governments. There is no co-operation which is as much
the fault of the Chinese as anybody. The Dutch Military Attache
recently attempted to have a General Staff appointed but although
most of the members favoured this, it was postponed until General
Stilwell's [21] return. The feeling has now turned against it.

General Stilwell is Chief-of-Staff to General Chiang Kai-shek
which satisfies both the Chinese and Americans and I see no future
for general co-operation in which the British are concerned.

I am, of course, aware that it is extraordinarily difficult to
secure a perfect war machine through the co-operation of allies
far separated from one another and holding different points of
view. It was not achieved during the last war until the decision
was made to hand over the Supreme Command to Marshal Foch. [22]
But the anomalies and weaknesses can be remedied if they are

I may say that my concern in this matter is not caused through any
excess of sympathy for China. General Chiang Kai-shek is, I
believe, a statesman who realises the value of co-operation and
will make any commitment or sacrifice to achieve it. But the
Chinese as a whole are noncooperative in spirit and unenterprising
from the military point of view. That a nation of 450 million
cannot protect itself against 80 million Japanese is due simply to
the lack of cohesion, co-ordination and civic sense of the Chinese
people. The point, however, that we must always remember, is the
strategic value of China in winning the war with Japan.


[AA:A4144, 608 (1942-3)]

1 Dispatch 29 of 22 June is on file AA:A981, War 49, iii.

2 Dispatch 30 of 23 June is on file AA:A981, China 114B, vi.

3 Special Representative in the united Kingdom until 30 March.

Page's letter of 2 May is on file AA:A4144, 400.

4 John Curtin's cablegram of 19 June is on file AA:A4764, 1.

5 U.K. Commander-in-Chief in the Far East until 27 December 1941.

6 U.K. Commander-in-Chief, Ceylon. Eggleston had met Layton in
Singapore in September 1941 when the latter was U.K. Commander-in-
Chief, China.

7 U.K. Ambassador to China until 4 February 1942.

8 N. L. Smith was succeeded by F. C. Gimson.

9 Then Prime Minister.

10 For the record of this meeting at the U.K. Foreign Office on 26
February 1941 see Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49,
vol. IV, Document 324.

11 Anthony Eden, U.K. Foreign Secretary.

12 Dr V. K. Wellington Koo.

13 Maj Gen J. C. Bruce.

14 Chinese Prime Minister.

15 Sir Horace Seymour.

16 Allied Supreme Commander in the South-West Pacific Area.

17 Mai Gen L. Th. van Temmen.

18 U.K. Commander-in-Chief, India.

19 Lord Linlithgow.

20 L. S. Amery.

21 Commander of U.S. Forces in China.

22 Supreme Generalissimo of the Allied Armies on the Western Front
in 1918.

[18], delays in reaching decisions between London and Washington
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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