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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III

Appendix IV — Appreciation by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff on the Situation in the Far East, August 1940 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)

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Appendix IV
Appreciation by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff on the Situation in the Far East, August 1940

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)

12 August 1940

Circular telegram.

The following is the summary referred to in my message:1

1. The Far Eastern situation was considered in 1937 on the assumptions that:


Any threat to our interests would be seaborne; and that


We could send to the Far East within three months a fleet of sufficient strength to protect the Dominions and India and give cover to our communications in the Indian Ocean.

2. The Japanese advance into Southern China and Hainan, the development of communications and aerodromes in Thailand, the situation in Indo-China resulting from the French collapse, and the increased range of aircraft would now enable Japan to develop an overland threat to Malaya, against which even the arrival of the Fleet would only partially guard.

At the same time, the collapse of France, the development of a direct threat to the United Kingdom, and the necessity of retaining in European waters a fleet of sufficient strength to match both the German and Italian fleets have made it temporarily impossible for us to despatch a fleet to the Far East. Neither of the two above-mentioned assumptions is therefore now tenable and the defence problem has been reviewed in this light.

General Considerations

3. Japan's ultimate aims are the exclusion of Western influence from the Far East and the control of raw materials in that area. These could not be secured without the capture of Singapore, which will always be a potential threat to her southward expansion so long as the British Fleet remains in being in any part of the world.

Japan's immediate aim is likely to be the exclusion of British influence from China and Hong Kong.

4. We are advised that Japan is determined to bring the China war to an end. There have been reports of indirect peace discussions, but there is no reason to suppose that they have produced any result. Even if they did, the termination of the war would bring no early economic relief to Japan. On the other hand, with the closing of one after another of the arms page 541 routes into China, the capacity of China to resist is hampered. The war in China cannot therefore be relied on to provide a serious deterrent to Japanese activity elsewhere, though the value of Chinese resistance as a deterrent would be increased if the Burma Road were to be reopened for military supplies.

5. Fear of Russian action will compel Japan to retain certain forces at home and in Manchuria despite the present Russian preoccupation in Europe. She knows that, if she were in difficulties, Russia would take advantage of the situation.

6. An attempt on the formidable Singapore defences would involve a combined operation of the first magnitude, and Japan must also reckon on the possibility of the collaboration with us of the substantial Dutch forces in the Netherlands East Indies against any southward threat.

On the other hand, the forces in Malaya are still far short of requirements, particularly aircraft; and Japan must know that, in the present circumstances, we could not send an adequate fleet to the Far East.

7. Japan may gamble on the United States not resorting to armed opposition, provided that no direct action is taken against United States citizens or possessions, and on the probability that the United States fleet would be kept in the Atlantic if our position in Europe should deteriorate. Though the defended base of Manila is not comparable with Singapore, and United States sea communications with the Philippines are more vulnerable than our communications with Singapore, nevertheless Manila lies on the line of Japanese advance to the south and the Japanese cannot be certain that the United States would not intervene and send the fleet to the Philippines.

8. The knowledge that further aggression might lead to the rupture of trade relations with the United States and the United Kingdom must have considerable influence, and the United States has already made clear her interest in the status quo in the Netherlands East Indies.

On the long-term view, Japan cannot stand the strain of a break with the British Empire and the Americas, upon whom she depends for markets and essential raw materials. Only if she could rapidly gain complete control of raw materials, especially the oil, rubber and tin of Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies, would she have a chance of withstanding British and American economic pressure. The recent restriction placed by the United States Government on the export of petroleum products and, in particular, the embargo on aviation spirit, may influence Japan in the direction of seizing alternative sources of supply in the Netherlands East Indies.

9. Japan may argue that any main advance on her part should be postponed until the outcome of affairs in Europe is clearer, and that, if Germany succeeded, she could achieve her aims quickly and without risk. Although direct attack upon Singapore cannot be ruled out, it would appear more likely that Japanese steps in the near future will be limited to local military action without resort to a formal declaration of war in the hope of evading the far-reaching effects of war with the British Empire and possibly the United States. This would enable Japan to limit her action and ‘save face’ if local results or wider reactions were unfavourable.

10. To sum up, it appears that, until the issue in Europe becomes clearer, Japan will probably confine her attempt to the elimination of British influence from China and Hong Kong to the greatest possible extent without incurring a rupture with the United States and the British Empire.

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11. Our own commitments in Europe are so great that our policy must be directed towards avoiding an open clash with Japan. It is doubtful whether piecemeal concessions will have more than a temporarily alleviating effect, to be followed after an interval by further demands.

It is most desirable that a wide settlement in the Far East—including economic concessions to Japan—should be concluded as early as possible. The immediate possibility of such a settlement is doubtful, but every effort should be made to this end.

12. Failing a general settlement on satisfactory terms, we should play for time, cede nothing until we must, and build up our defences as soon as we can. (Assumption 3 begins.) One aim of our policy should be ultimately to secure full military co-operation with the Dutch. This is dealt with further in telegrams which follow. (Assumption 3 ends.)1

1 Assumption 3 in the Chiefs of Staff appreciation—as explained in telegram No. 12—was that the United Kingdom ‘should go to war with Japan if she attacked the Netherlands East Indies and provided that the Dutch resisted.’

Defence Problems

13. Our Far Eastern interests are the security of:


Australia and New Zealand.


Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies. Both contain essential raw materials, the control of which at the source is now extremely important. Japanese occupation of either would directly threaten the security of Singapore.


Burma, also of importance on account of its oil resources and in connection with the sea and air communications with Singapore.


Trade routes in the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Western Pacific (north of Australia), and also in the seas east and south of Australia, including the trans-Pacific routes.


The China trade. Considerable British capital is in the China trade, but this trade represents only 2 per cent of total British trade and its cessation would not affect our ability to continue the war.


Hong Kong, which is an all-important commercial harbour and naval harbour and the focus of British interests in China, although its value has already been considerably curtailed by Japanese action in China.


Shanghai, which is important mainly in connection with the China trade. The retention of the British garrison is largely a question of prestige.

14. The territorial integrity of Australia and New Zealand depends primarily on the control of the sea communications to them. A similar consideration governs the security of the British colonies in the Far East. The foundation of our strategy in the Far East is, therefore, still to base on Singapore a fleet strong enough to provide cover for our communications in the Indian Ocean and South-Western Pacific, and to frustrate any large expeditions which the Japanese may attempt against Australia, New Zealand, or Far Eastern possessions. Until, however, we have defeated Germany and Italy or have drastically reduced their naval strength, we should be forced, in the event of Japanese aggression, to attempt to defend our Far Eastern interests without an adequate fleet.

15. In the absence of a fleet, we could not in such circumstances prevent some damage to our interests in the Far East. Our object would, therefore, page 543 have to be to limit the extent of the damage and, in the last resort, to retain a footing from which we could eventually retrieve our position when stronger forces become available.

16. Japan could make the following forces available for new adventures:


Naval—10 battleships, 3 to 7 aircraft-carriers with the necessary cruiser and destroyer forces.


Military—6 to 10 divisions. Japan could make this force, and the shipping required for its transport and maintenance, available without having to carry out any serious withdrawal from her position in China.


Air—Up to 75 fighters and 206 bombers, carrier-borne. Once Japan had established herself ashore, she could dispose of the following shore-based aircraft: Between 8 and 10 squadrons of fighters, similar numbers of light bombers and of heavy bombers, and 4 to 6 squadrons of reconnaissance aircraft, giving a total of 28 to 36 squadrons or 336 to 432 aircraft. These forces are clearly large enough to give Japan a very wide choice of objectives.

17. The first course open to the Japanese would be direct attack on British possessions. In this event, her main effort would probably be directed ultimately towards the capture of Singapore, which would be necessary to secure her position permanently. In view of the traditional Japanese method of step by step advance, it is thought that her first action would be attack on our garrisons in China, including attack on, or at least blockade of, Hong Kong, all without declaration of war. The tempo and extent of her subsequent actions would be conditioned by the ease and success of these operations and their wider reactions; it is even possible that, if reactions were unfavourable, no further adventures would take place.

18. Assume, however, the worst case, in which Japan proceeded with the object of dominating the whole of the Far East. She would have ample naval strength, beyond that required for attack on Malaya, to attack British trade. Our China trade, except for the little that might be carried in neutral ships, would cease on the outbreak of war, and our trade through the Indian Ocean with Australia and New Zealand and across the Pacific would be exposed to the threat of Japanese action.

19. Apart from attacks on trade, no serious threat to Australia or New Zealand would be likely until Japan had consolidated her position at Singapore. Even then, it is unlikely that the Japanese would attempt to invade Australia or New Zealand, at least until they had consolidated their position in China and the Far East, which would take a very considerable time. This argument is expanded later.

20. The strain on Japan of war with the British Empire would be very great, even in the absence of the British Fleet, and probably Japan would hesitate to undertake this unless she felt certain that the United Kingdom was so heavily committed in Europe as to be unable to resist her aggression, or until she had liquidated the China campaign. It is, however, highly important to be prepared for an assault against Singapore and, by increasing our defences, to deter Japanese aggression.

21. The second course open to the Japanese would be penetration of Indo-China or Thailand, which would provide bases for an attack on Malaya and secure substantial rice supplies. Attack on Indo-China or Thailand would not be a formidable undertaking as Japanese action need only extend to seizing bases and aerodromes and controlling focal points in these countries. page 544 It might be effected without the United States breaking off economic relations. We could not effectively assist in the defence of Indo-China or Thailand and it is most unlikely that the Thai Government would oppose Japanese penetration by force, while the French forces in Indo-China could not prevent Japanese occupation of ports and railways. If Indo-China became hostile to us, it is conceivable that Japan might be granted bases in that country.

22. Japanese penetration of Thailand would enable them to establish shore bases for aircraft within range of Singapore, Penang, the Malacca Straits and the Rangoon oil refineries, organise a base for land advance beyond Malaya from the north, interfere with the air-mail route to India and Malaya, and possibly establish an advanced base for submarines and light craft at the northern entrance to the Malacca Straits.

23. The above action would therefore threaten Singapore and make the defence of Burma and Malaya far more difficult. Nevertheless, it would not seriously endanger our vital sea communications, and therefore under present conditions we should not be justified in going to war. For similar reasons we should not under present conditions go to war in the event of Japanese attack on Indo-China. Nevertheless, taking into account the probable reluctance of Japan to make an open breach with the British Empire and the United States, this does not preclude in both the above cases (penetration of Indo-China and Thailand respectively) unobtrusive measures of an economic character designed to retard the Japanese advance by playing on their uneasiness. It is important to try as far as we can to prevent Japan from gaining unhampered one position after another which would increasingly threaten the security of Malaya and our communications with Australia and New Zealand.

24. The third possible course would be attack on the Netherlands East Indies, which would be a more formidable undertaking for Japan than an advance into Indo-China or Thailand. Nevertheless it would probably not involve excessive military effort, especially if undertaken by stages, and occupation would not only provide Japan with an advanced base for a subsequent attack on Singapore but would secure oil and other urgently required raw materials. The possibility of the Japanese seizing Portuguese Timor as a first step to the above action is considered [group mutilated–remote?]. The security of the Netherlands East Indies would be considerably improved if the Dutch could be persuaded to agree to reorganising their defences in co-operation with us.

25. The above course is in a different category from the first and second courses considered above, since if Japan established herself in the Netherlands East Indies, our whole defence system would be most gravely compromised, our vital sea communications and base at Singapore would be endangered, and the air route to Singapore and the Commonwealth would be threatened. The security of the Netherlands East Indies is therefore an essential British interest, second only to the integrity of Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and their defence is an important part of our Far Eastern defence plans. The establishment of a Japanese foothold in these islands would be so serious that, under normal conditions, the question of war with Japan to prevent it would arise. In the present circumstances, however, we could not prevent it by force, even with the full collaboration of the Dutch. The combination of British and Dutch opposition would, however, be a considerable problem for Japan. (Assumption 3 begins.) Every effort should therefore be made to induce the Dutch to resist any page 545 territorial demands, and we should offer them all possible support, including both military and economic action against Japan. This should be done without the formal declaration of war, since the presentation of a bold front to Japanese demands might cause Japan to draw back. (Assumption 3 ends.)

26. The fourth Japanese course would be the seizure of the Philippines. This would remove the threat to Japanese sea communications to the south which the United States fleet base at Manila provides. It would also afford Japan a suitable advanced base for naval forces and a useful air route from Formosa to Borneo. As, however, this course would involve Japan in war with the United States, and the Philippines would not be of great economic importance to Japan, its adoption is unlikely.

It would appear that, unless Japan is driven to extreme measures by her extremists or tempted by our apparent weakness, she will try to avoid war with the British Empire and the United States, and endeavour to achieve her aims by stages which she might hope would not involve her openly in war. Of these, the move against the Netherlands East Indies would afford greater economic and strategic advantages than the advance into Indo-China or Thailand, but, in Japanese eyes, these might be offset by the prospect of antagonising the United States, even if the consequences were confined to the economic sphere. Moreover, should United States hostility develop, Japan's lines of communication to the Netherlands East Indies would be threatened from the Philippines. Since the Dutch are our Allies, Japan must also assume that attack on the Netherlands East Indies might well involve her in war with us.

27. Therefore, while we must be prepared for sudden attack on the Netherlands East Indies or Singapore, the most probable Japanese first move would be into Indo-China or Thailand, possibly followed later by attack on the Dutch East Indies, if conditions at the time were judged favourable for such action, rather than attack on Singapore itself.

28. Our untenable position in North China in the event of war with Japan has already been recognised by the decision to withdraw our garrisons at Peking, Tientsin and Shanghai.

29. Our position at Hong Kong is different, as this is a British colony. On the one hand, Hong Kong is not vital and the garrison could not long withstand a Japanese attack. Moreover, even with a strong fleet in the Far East, Hong Kong could probably not be held with its present defences now that the Japanese are established on the mainland, and could certainly not be used as an advanced naval base. If, therefore, a general settlement could be negotiated in the Far East, the demilitarisation of Hong Kong with the best obtainable quid pro quo would be in our military interests. Without such a settlement, however, demilitarisation is impossible on account of the loss of prestige which such a course would involve. In the event of war, therefore, Hong Kong must be regarded as an outpost and held as long as possible, but we should be unable to reinforce or relieve it, and militarily our position in the Far East would be stronger without this unsatisfactory commitment.

30. Strategy in the Event of War in the Far East in the Absence of the Fleet.

The sea communications most likely to be threatened are:


Indian Ocean (including the west coast of Australia).


The South China Sea and the Western Pacific (north of Australia).


Seas east and south of Australia, including the trans-Pacific routes.

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31. As regards (a), the main routes from the United Kingdom to the Middle East, India, the East Indies, Australia and New Zealand pass through the Indian Ocean, which would therefore be the most important area for Japanese action. Although the Malacca Straits might be denied to Japanese naval forces, these forces might use many other passages through the Netherlands East Indies for operations against our Indian Ocean trade and our lines of communication to the Middle East through the Red Sea. Although distances from Japan are great, there are several potential fuelling bases in the Indian Ocean. A force of enemy cruisers, particularly if supported by one or more heavy ships, would provide a most serious threat to our trade, since we could not spare adequate naval forces, either for operations in focal areas or, as would more probably be necessary, for the escort of convoys. Our communications with Malaya would be precarious but not necessarily completely severed. (Assumption 3 begins.) Our ability to use the Dutch islands and to establish depot ships there would act as a deterrent but would not prohibit Japanese access to the Indian Ocean. Such action would assist the maintenance of our communications with the Commonwealth and New Zealand. Dutch co-operation would be essential. (Assumption 3 ends.)

32. As regards (b), we could not maintain our sea communications to the north of the Malayan Archipelago (Assumption 3 begins) but could maintain local traffic within the Archipelago to a limited extent given Dutch co-operation. (Assumption 3 ends.)

33. As regards (c), the trans-Pacific trade routes are important in connection with supplies from America to Australia, New Zealand and the Far East, as well as providing alternative communications with the United Kingdom which would increase in importance if difficulties on the Cape route became acute. These routes are also essential to the economic life of the Commonwealth and New Zealand. Although distances from Japan are considerable, the Japanese (if not deterred by fear of United States action) could establish advanced fuelling bases in the South Sea Islands to facilitate operations in the South-West Pacific. The wide scope for evasive routing would provide a high degree of security for trans-Pacific trade, except in the neighbourhood of the western terminals. Routing, practicable to some extent, and the use of inshore routes would also provide some degree of protection for Australian and New Zealand trade. The danger of attack would be greatest in the approaches to ports, for which local air and naval protection would be required.

34. As regards the defence of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific islands, as previously stated, no serious threat to the territorial integrity of Australia or New Zealand would be likely to arise at least until Japan had consolidated her position in China and the Far East, which would take a considerable period. A Japanese major expedition to Australia or New Zealand would be an extremely hazardous operation so long as Singapore remained available to us as a base for the Fleet in being on the flank of their long lines of communication. Moreover, the protection of the lines of communication of an expedition of any considerable size over the distance involved would impose a very heavy drain on Japanese naval forces, as every important convoy has to be protected against the maximum scale of attack which we could bring to bear at our own selected moment and would probably therefore require escort by heavy ships. The scale of attack on Australia or New Zealand would be likely, therefore, to be limited to cruiser raids, possibly combined with a light scale of seaborne page 547 air attack against ports. The Japanese might decide to establish advanced fuelling bases in the South-West Pacific islands to facilitate such operations. There are innumerable potential bases in these islands which could not all be defended against Japanese attack, but their most likely objective would be the capture of a harbour with base facilities, particularly Suva. Suva is also useful as a potential advanced base for air forces.

35. As regards the defence of Malaya, the following are the factors affecting this problem in the absence of the Fleet:


The necessity for preventing the establishment of shore-bases for aircraft within close range of Singapore base.


Even if the Japanese had not previously established themselves in Thailand they would be more likely to attempt a landing up-country in Malaya and then operate southward, under cover of shore-bases for aircraft, than to risk direct assault on Singapore Island.


The rice-growing country, on which the native population partly depends, and most Government storage cereals are in the north.


The necessity for establishing the maximum possible food reserves for the garrison and for the civil population. Though our sea communications with Malaya might be precarious, it would be extremely difficult for the Japanese to blockade the Malayan Peninsula completely, and we should expect to get supplies intermittently to our forces, though not necessarily through Port Singapore.

The above factors emphasise the necessity for holding the whole of Malaya rather than concentrating on the defence of Singapore Island. This clearly involves larger land and air forces than when the problem was merely the defence of Singapore Island.

36. As regards the defence of Burma, the occupation of Thailand would enable the Japanese to attack from the air key points such as the Rangoon oil refineries and aerodromes on the Burmese section of the Singapore air route. Japanese invasion of Burma territory is a more distant threat, except in the extreme south, where she could capture aerodromes such as Victoria Point and Mergui. Establishment of air forces at bases such as Lashio, Rangoon and Tavoy, and the provision of additional troops and air defences would be desirable, but the defence of Malaya must have precedence over Burma, and the provision of such forces can only be the long-term project. On the shorter view, the problem is to limit the Japanese threat with the resources likely to be available. The air route between Singapore and Rangoon must be kept open. Burma aerodromes as far south as Tavoy, and in Malaya as far north as Alor Star, must therefore be held. If the aerodromes at Lashio, Rangoon and Tavoy are developed, stocked and defended, it may be possible to move air forces from Malaya or India to assist Burma in dealing with a sudden threat from the north. The aerodromes at Victoria Point and Mergui would be prepared for demolition to ensure that the Japanese could not use them. Both long- and short-term problems of the defence of Burma will be reviewed by the Governments of India and Burma in consultation with the Air Officer Commanding in the Far East.1

37. (Assumption 3 begins.) Defence of the Netherlands East Indies is important for the denial to the Japanese of the use of naval and air bases. page 548 Control over the channels through the Netherlands Islands could be exercised by air and light naval forces based on one of the following alternative lines:


Northern line of islands from Singapore to New Guinea, or


Southern line from SumatraJava to Port Darwin.

We could do little to dispute the passage of these channels with the forces at present available. The co-operation of the Dutch would improve the position, but the measure of control would still be very limited. Which line of defence to adopt could only be decided by the local Commanders. To deny bases, invasion must be prevented, which would entail attacks on the expedition during its approach, as the Dutch military forces are limited and mainly concentrated in Java. With our naval numerical inferiority, the best form of defence would be shore-bases for air forces in conjunction with submarines, light naval forces and mines. (Assumption 3 ends.) The establishment of a British air base in North Borneo to give our air forces greater mobility is our long-term aim, but this will take time, and resources which we do not at present possess. It is desirable for such action to be part of a general settlement with the Japanese. (Assumption 3 begins.) Meanwhile there would be no alternative to relying initially for the defence of this area on the operation of air forces from Dutch bases, of which there are several already established on both lines of defence. (Assumption 3 ends.) The Japanese might seize the Portuguese half of Timor as a first step, but owing to the absence of air or naval bases in this part and the risk that it might lead to war with us, such action appears unlikely.

38. (Assumption 3 begins.) The whole of the defence problem in the Far East would be greatly facilitated if we were certain of Dutch co-operation and could concert plans with them. Our aim should be a scheme of defence ensuring full mutual support, pooling of resources, and arrangements for the rapid movement of troops to threatened points. The Dutch would probably agree to prepare detailed plans for the defence of the Netherlands East Indies, though they might hesitate to assist us in the event of Japanese attack on British territory alone. With our present limited resources in the Far East we could not offer the Dutch any effective military support against Japanese military aggression. It is not therefore recommended that Staff conversations should be held with the Dutch immediately. It is most important, however, that plans should be concerted with the Dutch as soon as we have improved our own position in Malaya. Meanwhile our Commanders in the Far East should consider the problem of combined Anglo-Dutch defence plans, so that conversations may take place immediately the opportunity arises. (Assumption 3 ends.)

39. If the Japanese attacked Malaya without attacking the Netherlands East Indies, it is conceivable that Dutch co-operation would be withheld. We should then be faced with a gap in our defensive system and our sea communications in the Indian Ocean would be more seriously threatened. It should, however, still be possible, even without Dutch collaboration, to get some supplies into Malaya intermittently, but in such circumstances our difficulties in the Far East would be greatly increased.

40. Conclusions. In the absence of a capital ship fleet we could not fully secure our vital interests in the Far East. The problem is therefore the best disposition possible to secure the most important military interests without the cover which a capital ship fleet would provide. If, in addition to defending Malaya, we could deny to the Japanese the establishment of page 549 bases in the Netherlands East Indies, and if the movement of their naval forces through the line of these islands could be impeded, the security of our interests would be considerably improved. Our ultimate aim therefore should be to secure the full military co-operation of the Dutch. In the absence of full Dutch co-operation we should concentrate on Malaya.

1 Air Marshal Sir John Babington, KCB, CBE, DSO; AOC Far East 1938–41.

Defence Requirements and Possibilities of Meeting Them

41. Our policy in the Far East until the fleet again becomes available is to rely primarily on air power in conjunction with such military forces as can be made available. Land forces are also essential for the close defence of naval and air bases, for internal security, and for dealing with such enemy land forces as might succeed in gaining a footing in Malaya and British Borneo despite our air action. The air forces required are outlined below. Their provision must be the long-term programme; and, until they can be provided, their absence must be met as far as possible by the provision of additional land forces.

42. (Assumption 3 begins.) Our ultimate aim to secure the full military co-operation of the Dutch is of the utmost importance for the denial of bases to the enemy and to enable us to exert some measure of control over the channels through Southern Celebes, thus reducing the threat to our Indian Ocean trade and improving communications with Australia and New Zealand, whilst not entirely relying on Dutch forces to assist in the defence of Malaya itself. (Assumption 3 ends.) In assessing our requirements, therefore, Dutch collaboration has not been taken into account. Our requirements are not thereby substantially affected, since, even if the Dutch were co-operating with us, the enemy might carry out diversions against the Netherlands East Indies, thereby containing Dutch forces at a critical time.

43. An exact estimate of the strength and disposition of the air forces required must depend on appreciation by the United Kingdom Commanders in the Far East in collaboration with the Commonwealth and New Zealand defence authorities. Following is a general indication based on the necessity to meet Japanese attacks in Malaya from Indo-China or Thailand, while at the same time leaving sufficient forces to deal with the possibility of seaborne invasion on the coast of Malaya or attack on Singapore Island itself. It also includes provision for air forces for trade protection in the focal areas of the Indian Ocean….1

44. This is a very substantial addition to any previous programme, but in previous estimates:


The movement of a Battle Fleet to the Far East has always been assumed, and our air requirements, both in the Indian Ocean and in Borneo, were not therefore so great.


The situation in which the Japanese have virtually overrun South China, and Indo-China and Thailand had become potential bases for Japanese air forces, was not considered.


The necessity of defending British Borneo was not considered.

Moreover, experience has shown that it is unsound to rely upon reinforcements from India and Iraq. The above is the minimum we should aim at to afford a reasonable degree of air protection to our vital interests in the Far East and the Indian Ocean in the absence of a Battle Fleet. Some considerable time must elapse before the above requirements can be met from

1 Details omitted. The total estimate was 336 first-line aircraft.

page 550 United Kingdom, Australian and New Zealand resources. The date must depend largely upon the progress of the war in Europe, on the rate at which our production of aircraft and personnel can be sustained, and on the supply of aircraft from the United States of America. Subject to these considerations, our aim will be to complete the above programme by the end of 1941, and as soon as possible, and at any rate by the end of 1940, to reinforce the Far Eastern Command by at least two fighter and two General Reconnaissance land-plane squadrons, and to re-equip and bring up to establishment the existing squadrons.

45. Meanwhile, the air forces in Malaya provided by the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth comprise:

  • Bombers—3 squadrons, 36 aircraft.

  • Torpedo Bombers—2 squadrons, 24 aircraft, obsolete type.

  • GR Land Planes—2 squadrons, 24 aircraft.

  • GR Flying Boats—1 squadron, 4 aircraft, obsolete type.

  • Total: 88 first-line aircraft.

(Assumption 3 begins.)

Dutch air forces now in the Netherlands East Indies comprise:

  • Bombers—9 squadrons, 81 aircraft.

  • Fighters—2 squadrons, 24 aircraft.

  • Bombers for reconnaissance—1 squadron, 12 aircraft.

  • Flying Boats—1 squadron, 27 aircraft.

  • Total: 144 first-line aircraft.

The Dutch expansion programme will add another 42 fighters about January 1941, and in 1941 a further 48 fighters, 98 bombers and 18 reconnaissance aircraft, bringing the Dutch totals to 346 [350?] first-line aircraft. While these will be a valuable addition to the defence of our common interests in the Far East against Japanese attack, they can in no way make up for the totally inadequate strength of our own air forces in Malaya. (Assumption 3 ends.)

46. Until our very serious deficiency in air strength in the Far East is at least reduced, we can only hope to provide a deterrent to attack and concentrate on the defence of the foremost of our vital interests, mainly Singapore. Under present conditions and in the immediate future, we cannot hope to secure the defence of British Borneo. For the present, therefore, it is necessary to make plans for the destruction of the oil and the air facilities. Ultimately we should establish defended bases for the operation of air forces referred to in paragraph 43 (c)1 at Kuching and Jesselton. Only very limited air forces could at present be made available to assist in the protection of trade in the Indian Ocean. On special occasions aircraft could be diverted from other tasks to cover the passage of convoys. (Assumption 3 begins.) Nevertheless the situation is not so black as it may appear. The British and Dutch Air Forces between them now dispose of more than 200 aircraft of a quality equal, and in some respects superior, to those of Japan. Experience has shown that to venture a seaborne expedition within range of modern air forces involves grave risks, so that even with our present air forces direct attack on Singapore would be a very formidable undertaking. Until, however, a standard of air defence approximating more closely to our estimated requirements can be obtained, everything possible must be done to increase our land forces in Malaya. When

1 Omitted—for the defence of British Borneo.

page 551 our defence position has improved and it becomes possible to undertake Staff conversations with the Dutch, they should be pressed to station some of their units in Borneo, to improve the aerodromes in the islands, and to provide certain additional anti-aircraft defence troops for their security. The development of air routes within the Netherlands East Indies, and between the Commonwealth and Singapore, for reinforcement purposes is an essential factor for the general defence of the whole area. (Assumption 3 ends.)

47. As regards land forces, a review of the position regarding the defence of Burma by the Governments of India and Burma is likely to disclose the necessity for extra troops and anti-aircraft equipment, particularly for the defence of air bases.

48. Although bases will eventually be required for four shore-based squadrons in British Borneo, and these bases will require troops and antiaircraft defences for their protection, some time must elapse before the aerodromes can be completed.

49. (Assumption 3 begins.) As it will be necessary to rely for some time on the operation of air forces from Dutch bases for the defence of the Dutch East Indies, the security of these bases is of considerable interest to us. The provision of the necessary troops must be a matter for the Dutch, who have a total of two divisions in Java and fourteen garrison battalions at outlying stations. Tarakan, Balik Papan, Macassar and Amboina each have a garrison battalion. The troops are not thought to be of high quality but are reasonably well equipped, except for a serious lack of anti-aircraft guns. Such guns as are available are in Java. The Dutch should be pressed during the Staff conversations to increase their garrisons at certain of the more important air bases. (Assumption 3 ends.)

50. The minimum garrison required in Malaya to hold the whole country and to safeguard the aerodromes required for the operations of our air forces is the equivalent of six brigades with ancillary troops, provided that the air forces mentioned in paragraph [43] are made available. Apart from coast defence and anti-aircraft troops, the present garrison of Malaya comprises nine battalions and corps troops. Until the additional air forces referred to in paragraph 43 can be stationed in the Far East, the reconnaissance and striking forces available to deal with invasion or seaborne attack are seriously inadequate. The absence of these air forces will involve an increase in the existing land forces by an amount which the General Officer Commanding1 estimated as equivalent to three divisions and attached troops. This figure could be progressively reduced as air reinforcements are increased. Since the GOC's estimate was made, the air forces in Malaya have already been increased by one squadron, and it is hoped to provide four additional squadrons by the end of 1940. Apart from the possibility of an Australian division going to Singapore (which is under separate consideration) it may be possible to make further forces available for the reinforcement of Malaya from some other source at a later date. Preparations are therefore being made in Malaya to receive, ultimately, two reinforcing divisions.

51. The provision of anti-aircraft guns for Singapore is much below the approved scale, and anti-aircraft requirements for air bases in Malaya, British Borneo and the Netherlands East Indies will need careful examination. It is not possible to state at this stage exactly what the total requirements will be.

1 Lt-Gen Sir Lionel Bond, KBE, CB; GOC Malaya, Aug 1939–May 1941.

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52. Naval forces now on China, Australia and New Zealand stations are:

  • One 8-inch cruiser.

  • Two modern 6-inch cruisers.

  • Four old 6-inch cruisers.

  • Six armed merchant cruisers.

  • Five old destroyers.

  • Three anti-submarine escorts.

  • Eight motor-torpedo boats.

These are entirely inadequate for war in the Far East.

The Dutch forces in the Far East are:

  • Two cruisers.

  • Seven destroyers.

  • Sixteen submarines.

Until the naval situation in European waters is materially improved, it may be necessary to face a serious threat to our Far Eastern trade, as fully adequate forces for its protection could not be made available in the event of determined action against it by Japanese forces, particularly if they used heavy ships. Everything possible will be done by the United Kingdom Government to press on with future naval construction programmes to the maximum extent possible; this is a long-term project and no naval building programme has ever allowed for a war in which the British Empire alone would be fighting Germany, Italy and Japan. Our best hope of being able to supply naval forces for the Far East in the near future lies in early and successful action against Italian naval forces in the Mediterranean, which we are doing everything possible to bring about.