O ne of the major reasons for Menzies’ trip to Britain was to impress upon the British the importance of reinforcing Singapore’s defences. Late in 1940 Australian and New Zealand officers met with British officers in Singapore to discuss the precarious state of Far Eastern defences in the light of Japan’s southward advancement through Indo-China. The meeting agreed: there were serious deficiencies in Singapore’s military, air and naval strength. Churchill dismissed the idea that Singapore would succumb to a land-based attack; Menzies wanted to visit Churchill personally to discuss the matter.

After reaching Darwin on 26 January, Menzies flew to the Netherlands East Indies and Singapore. Discussions with government and military leaders in Singapore reinforced Menzies’ belief that the issue of Japanese aggression in the Far East must be taken seriously and urgently. 1

The new Japanese Minister to Australia, Mr Kawai, presents Letters of Credence to the Governor-General, Lord Gowrie on 14 March, 1941.

London, England

Several conclusions must be drawn from our talk after dinner:

  1. We are, in the Far East, grievously short of aircraft. Three squadrons of fighters, even Gladiators, would have a great deterrent effect upon Japan.

  2. The army problem is principally one of material, though a turned-over Australian Brigade Group would be “most helpful”.

  3. The absence of naval craft must encourage the Japanese.

  4. If Japan is to take over Thailand and moves down the Malay Peninsula, we should push forward to a point already selected, even if it does mean a breach of neutrality.

  5. This Far Eastern problem must be taken seriously and urgently. (I at once sent instructions to Australia that three-cornered staff talks should occur at Singapore at once, so that results may be cabled to us in London).

  6. Brooke-Popham 2 is I gather active and a disciplinarian. He must ginger up these other people, who have a more garrison outlook. Why the devil these generals and people should be ignorant of and not interested in the broad principles of international strategy I cannot understand. All the talk on those aspects was by myself, with Shedden feeding me with material.

  7. We must as soon as possible tell Japan “where she gets off”. Appeasement is no good. The peg must be driven in somewhere. I must make a great effort in London to clarify this position. Why cannot one squadron of fighters be sent out from N. Africa? Why cannot some positive commitment be entered into regarding naval reinforcement of Singapore? At this stage, misty generalisations will please and sustain the Japanese, and nobody else.

We must as soon as possible tell Japan “where she gets off”. Appeasement is no good. The peg must be driven in somewhere.

London, England

Curious interview with British & Australian press. Some noodle thinks my speech 3 about the Pacific was “appeasement”.

What a perversion. What a tyranny over inferior minds words and phrases exercise! I must be careful not to say “Good day” to my neighbour. Our true policy vis á vis Japan is firmness & friendliness: the two are not inconsistent.

Curious interview with British & Australian press. Some noodle thinks my speech about the Pacific was appeasement.

‘United Fighting Mad Australia’. Poster from World War II.

London, England

To the Admiralty, where A. V. Alexander 4 certainly impresses as knowing his Department thoroughly. I emphasise the uselessness of rhetorical phrases such as “cutting our losses in the Mediterranean and proceeding to your assistance”. A. V. agrees. They are to give me a realistic statement of—

(a) What ships can come East in the near future

(b) What ships could come East if war with Japan broke out.

The real truth, which we are all beginning to see, is that air reinforcement to Singapore and the Far East is the great deterrent (apart from USA) to Japan. The Jap is reported here a bad airman. Even on the naval side, the Second Sea Lord (Phillips) said British fleet would be happy to attack with only 60% of the Japanese force! The Japanese experience in China seems to point to a similar state of affairs in the Army!

The real truth...is that air reinforcement to Singapore and the Far East is the great deterrent (apart from USA) to Japan.

New York, USA

Roosevelt was in bed recovering from a touch of gastritis. He looks older and more tired, but my hour with him, with fair give and take of conversation, was most vigorous. He (and Hull) agreed that we all ought to tell Japan where she gets off, but each of them stops short of actually instructing the USA Ambassador to do so. But, I am left in no doubt (without words) that America will not stand by & see Australia attacked. I plead for reality about N.E.I. 4 and Singapore.

Don’t think Pacific will be denuded of USA naval forces.

  1. Singapore At Singapore, Menzies was both disappointed in the quality of British commanders and appalled to find that Malaya and Singapore were virtually defenceless. There were no major naval units and the army and air force were poorly equipped—the situation was even worse than he’d previously believed.

  2. Appeasement Menzies was referring to a speech he gave on 3 March calling for peace in the Pacific, which, though well received in Britain, was greeted with some suspicion back in Australia. The Advisory War Council in Australia had caused some alarm among the public by speaking of the deteriorating position in the Pacific. Menzies’ speech, in which he said that war in the Pacific was not inevitable, seemed to contradict the War Council and to some, suggested a policy of appeasement towards Japan.

  3. Albert Victor Alexander A British Labour and Co-operative politician. He was three times First Lord of the Admiralty, including from 1940-45, and then Minister of Defence under Clement Attlee’s Labour Government of 1949-51.

  4. N.E.I. Netherlands East Indies, now Indonesia. The name of the colonies set up by the Dutch East India Company, which came under administration of the Netherlands during the 19th century. Following the surrender of Japan at the end of the Second World War, Indonesia declared her independence.

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Menzies on War