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84 Advisory War Council Minute 533

Extracts MELBOURNE, 16 October 1941


The Prime Minister [2], in welcoming Sir Robert Brooke Popham,
expressed the Government's appreciation of the opportunity for
discussion with him on the matters relating to the Far East which
were of vital importance to Australia. He invited Sir Robert to
give a review of the situation in the Far East in respect of-
Foreign situation;

Strategical Position;

Military plans and preparedness.

Sir Robert Brooke-Popham said that the important aspect from the
strategical point of view was that the whole area comprising
Burma, Malaya, Netherlands East Indies, Australia, New Zealand and
the Philippines comprised one strategical area. The defence of one
affected the others and this is now fully realised by the
countries concerned.

U.S.A. is definitely out to defend the Philippines and the
Netherlands East Indies are fully determined to defend their own
territory and to cooperate in the defence of Malaya, for which
they would perhaps provide four squadrons. They had established
forward aerodrome[s] and fuelling bases as far north as Borneo.

Japan complains of encirclement, but by her advances northward
into Manchuria, westward into China and southward into Indo-China,
she was encircling herself.

The measures taken recently to increase the strength of the forces
in the Far East were outlined as follows:-

(1) Malaya is growing from strength to strength. In the last six
weeks another brigade had arrived from Australia and one from
India. A further anti-tank regiment and A[nti-]A[ircraftj units
were on the way from England.

The strength of the air forces was improving and there were now
five single-seater fighter squadrons equipped with new aircraft.

There is a shortage of torpedo bombers, for which reliance was
placed on Australian production of Beauforts.

(ii) Burma is being strengthened with a view to its being capable
of defending itself on the land.

(iii) Hong Kong is being reinforced by two Canadian battalions,
which will increase the strength from four to six battalions.

Following the strengthening of the military forces, another
fighter squadron can now be sent to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong and the Philippines form a pincers which could be
brought into operation if Japan comes south.

(iv) Naval Forces. The strength had shown little improvement since
February, but a strong force of capital ships was to be placed in
the Indian Ocean by the beginning of next year.

Sir Robert Brooke-Popham stated that all indications suggest that
Japan had temporarily diverted her attention from the south to the
north, as it is thought that Russia's preoccupation in the war
with Germany presents an opportunity for action to rid Japan of
the Russian threat from Vladivostock.

It would take some time for Japan to re-concentrate for a move
southwards, and for the next three months she would not be able to
undertake a large-scale attack in the south.

This gives us time to increase our defences and to perfect our

Japan had about 35,000 troops in Indo-China which were required
for occupation of the country. A larger force would be necessary
for the invasion of Thailand. It was possible that Japan planned
to invade Thailand and work down through the Kra Isthmus for an
attack on Malaya, in conjunction with a sea-borne attack from

In reply to Mr. McEwen [3], Sir Robert Brooke-Popham said that,
while the Russian threat to Japan in the north remained, the
maximum number of aircraft she could provide for operations in the
south was about 500, not all of which were modern types. But her
principal limitation in the south was the lack of adequate
aerodromes, and she was taking steps to enlarge aerodromes in

The present limitations in regard to aerodromes restrict the
availability of aircraft for operational use to 250. Our existing
air forces could cope with any aircraft the Japanese could base on
their present aerodromes during the next three months.

Our fighters were of the Buffalo type, which are superior to the
Japanese and well suited for the work in Malaya, but there is a
shortage of long-range bombers. A programme of expansion of air
strength has been drawn up to match Japanese aerodrome expansion.

A specific schedule of deliveries had not yet been determined, but
a definite number of aircraft has been promised by the United
Kingdom authorities in 1942. This includes 170 additional fighter
aircraft which would be an improvement on the Buffalo type. At the
present time Japan had superiority in numbers, but not in quality.

[matter omitted]

The Prime Minister referred to the expansion programme of 336
aircraft for Burma, Malaya and Borneo, adopted by the United
Kingdom Chiefs of Staff in April last, when the strength was 118
aircraft. It was stated then that it was unlikely that the
programme would be completed by the end of this year. Sir Robert
Brooke-Popham said that there were about 180 aircraft in hand at
the present time.

Seven Catalina aircraft are on hand, but more are required. These
aircraft are used for reconnaissance in the Indian Ocean. They are
based on Ceylon and operate as far as the cast coast of Africa.

The Prime Minister observed that the vital deficiencies which were
indicated last April, when Mr. Menzies [4] was in England,
appeared to be still outstanding. This was probably due to a
general shortage and is linked up with the soundness or otherwise
of the view as to whether Japan will move in the north before
turning her attention again to the south.

Australia could only provide greater assistance in equipment at
the expense of our forces in the Middle East and our commitments
to New Zealand, Netherlands East Indies and United Kingdom. We
have already supplied four squadrons, which is one-third of the
air strength, in addition to military forces and equipment.

Sir Robert Brooke-Popham said that the supply of equipment shows
steady and continuous improvement, but he expected a substantial
increase in aircraft next year. He was at present working out a
programme of requirements and would ask the United Kingdom for a
definite schedule of deliveries.

The Prime Minister thought that the overtaking of arrears in
equipment since last April had not been as effective as might have
been hoped for. He was not unmindful of the volume of the demands
on United Kingdom and the adjustments in programmes involved in
meeting Russian requirements, but considered that the urgent needs
of the Far East should be represented strongly to the United
Kingdom authorities.

Sir Robert Brooke-Popham said that he had made all representations
short of resigning. He felt that the United Kingdom Chiefs of
Staff were not neglecting the Far East and that probably they have
made a fair allocation from the resources available.

The Prime Minister stated that important factors which should help
to counter-balance deficiencies in equipment were the Canadian
Government's interest in Hong Kong and the United States' decision
to defend the Philippines.

The infiltration of Japanese into Thailand is assisting our cause,
as their conduct is resented by the Thailanders. Thailand,
however, fears Japan and her attitude is largely influenced by our

British assistance to Thailand in the form of material and air
forces, although desirable, was not possible at present. Their
main needs were air forces and anti-tank guns.

Japan has a Consulate at Dilli with a staff of sixteen. They have
taken over the best house in Dilli for the purpose. If no counter-
measures are taken, they will establish themselves at Dilli and
perhaps stage a demonstration against the Consulate, to be
followed by pressure on the Portuguese to allow the entry of two
or three companies of Japanese troops.

Sir Robert Brooke-Popham suggested the following steps might be
taken to counteract Japanese influence:-

(i) Establishment of an Australian Consulate at Dilli;

(ii) Development of oil concessions in Portuguese Timor and the
despatch of Australian oil prospectors for the purpose;

(iii) Despatch of an Australian force to Koepang.

The Prime Minister read War Cabinet Minute No. (1401) [5] relating
to the assistance to be provided by Australian forces in the
defence of Portuguese Timor, and the representations to be made to
the Dutch regarding the movement of Australian Army and Air units
to Ambon and Koepang before the outbreak of hostilities with

The appointment of an Australian Consul was being considered by
the Minister for External Affairs. [6]

In regard to oil concessions, Mr. McEwen suggested that enquiries
be made as to the progress that has been achieved in the
development of oil concessions in Portuguese Timor which were
formerly held by an Australian concern, but were later taken over
by British, Dutch and U.S.A. interests. He also suggested that
consideration be given to the provision of economic aid to
Portuguese Timor by undertaking the purchase of commodities,
particularly coffee, on the lines of the assistance rendered to
New Caledonia. The Minister for External Affairs intimated that
consideration would be given to these matters.

Sir Robert Brooke-Popham said that the United Kingdom Government
had not at that date taken any definite decision on the action to
be taken in the event of a Japanese attack on Russia. He did not
think they would go to war with Japan without the aid of the
United States, but he understood that advice on the United Kingdom
attitude would shortly be furnished by the Dominions Office.

As to the nature of the military measures which might be taken, he
thought the most effective course would be firstly to provide
assistance to China to enable her to carry out attacks on Japanese
communications and to strengthen her air forces. A project is in
mind for helping China in both these directions, but many
assumptions are involved and the position is too uncertain to
define the circumstances under which air forces would be sent to

The United States could help by creating a diversion with an
attack on Formosa. Militarily we were not in a position to attack
Japan without the support of the United States.

As regards the defence of the Burma Road, U.S.A. were now making
large shipments of equipment to Rangoon, and an American mission
had been sent to China to report on the organisation of the road
on the Chinese side of the frontier.

Sir Robert Brooke-Popham thought that Japan would not risk war
with the British Empire and United States by attacking the Burma
section of the road, but she would attack the Chinese section.

There were rumours of preparations by Japan for this move in the
form of the provision of additional aerodromes and movements of

Since February last the A.D.B. conversations [7] had been
concluded and as a result Commanders were now clear on the
measures to be taken on the outbreak of hostilities, but the
decision to take military action rests with the United Kingdom
Government. Short of resisting an attack on British territory or
shipping, he must await the instructions of the United Kingdom

The Prime Minister read War Cabinet Minute No. (1402) [8],
relating to the United Kingdom Government's proposals for
expediting the machinery of inter-Governmental consultation in the
event of a move by Japan necessitating active military counter-

Sir Robert Brooke-Popham said that the defence of Hong Kong had
greatly improved as a result of the decision to provide two
Canadian battalions. He would keep in mind a suggestion by Mr.

Spender [9] that Canada might be invited to send a brigade to Hong
Kong and one to Malaya.

The Prime Minister thanked Sir Robert Brooke-Popham for his
informative discussion.

1 Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham.

2 John Curtin.

3 Country Party M.H.R. for Indi.

4 Then Prime Minister.

5 In AA : A2673, vol. 8, 15 October 1941. See also Document 85.

6 Dr H. V. Evatt.

7 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. IV,
Document 455, note 5.

8 In AA : A2673, vol. 8, 15 October 1941 See also Document 86.

9 United Australia Party M.H.R. for Warringah.

[AA : A2682, VOL. 3]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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