Part I: The Road to War

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Chapter 1: The Japanese Dilemma

The Japanese, an island people who had lived apart from the rest of the world until they were forced into contact with it in the eighteen-fifties, went to war with China in 1894 and defeated her. In 1905 they defeated Russia; in 1910 they annexed Korea. After the world war of 1914-18 Japan was given a mandate over the Mariana, Caroline and Marshall Islands, former German colonies.1 In 1922 at the Washington Conference the United States prevailed upon the five principal naval Powers to agree to the following limits on naval strength in ships of the larger classes: U.S.A., 525,000 tons; Britain and her Dominions, 525,000; Japan, 315,000; France and Italy, each 175,000. Japan, stimulated by her successes and not spent, as were the European nations, by heavy efforts in the war, was at first unwilling to accept naval inferiority. She reluctantly agreed to the ratio when the corollary was added that, in effect, the United States would not further develop any naval base west of Hawaii, nor would Britain east of Singapore.

As an outcome of granting Japan a mandate over islands of the western Pacific (despite Australian reluctance2) and granting Australia a mandate over the former German colony of New Guinea, the limits of Australian and Japanese territory were now only 285 miles apart.3 The dilemma in which Australia became increasingly involved had been clearly stated in the House of Representatives by the Australian Prime Minister, Mr Hughes, upon his return from the Imperial Conference of 1921.

For us (he said) the Pacific problem is for all practical purposes the problem of Japan. Here is a nation of nearly 70 millions of people, crowded together in narrow islands; its population is increasing rapidly, and is already pressing on the margin of subsistence. She wants both room for her increasing millions of population, and markets for her manufactured goods. And she wants these very badly indeed. America and Australia say to her millions “Ye cannot enter in”. Japan, then, is faced with the great problem which has bred wars since time began. For when the tribes and nations of the past outgrew the resources of their own territory they moved on and on, hacking their way to the fertile pastures of their neighbours. But where are the overflowing millions of Japanese to find room? Not in Australia; not in America. Well, where, then? ...

These 70,000,000 Japanese cannot possibly live, except as a manufacturing nation. Their position is analogous to that of Great Britain. To a manufacturing nation,

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overseas markets are essential to its very existence. Japan sees across a narrow strip of water 400,000,000 Chinese gradually awakening to an appreciation of Western methods, and she sees in China the natural market for her goods. She feels that her geographical circumstances give her a special right to the exploitation of the Chinese markets. But other countries want the market too, and so comes the demand for the “Open Door”. ...

This is the problem of the Pacific – the modern riddle of the Sphinx, for which we must find an answer. ... Talk about disarmament is idle unless the causes of naval armaments are removed.4

The Western Powers nevertheless continued their efforts to widen the naval disarmament agreements. At the same time ultra-nationalist groups in Japan increased in power and vehemence. In protest against the moderation of the Japanese Government, a fanatic shot and fatally injured the Prime Minister, Mr Hamaguchi, in 1930. In the following six years nine other Japanese leaders were assassinated.

In 1931 the Japanese War Minister, General Ugaki, who had been seriously ill for some months, resigned. His place was taken by General Jiro Minami, who until December 1930 had been Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in Korea, and who regarded Japanese territorial expansion as a matter of urgency. Baron Wakatsuki, the new Prime Minister, was a believer in parliamentary influence; but Japan’s political system was so constructed that the Cabinet’s responsibility was to the Emperor rather than to Parliament. Further, the armed forces were able in effect not only to act independently of or even without the knowledge of the Cabinet, but to force the resignation of a Cabinet with which they were at odds.5 Little critical public opinion existed in Japan; the army was practically exempt from democratic control, and popular support almost automatically attached to decisions which could be ascribed to the Emperor. Thus, when important policies were to be implemented, conferences were held in the presence of the Emperor so that he might be identified with them. His prestige was protected, however, by the convention that Ministers and not the Emperor were responsible for the results of these policies.

Such by-passing of Parliamentary control behind a facade of democracy was facilitated by Shintoism, the national religion, which fostered devotion to the Emperor. Further, the concept of national leaders being responsible to the people, and they for the actions of their leaders, was as yet strange to the mass of Japanese people, and their wishes had little real bearing upon these actions. Between the show of democracy in Japan and its reality lay, therefore, a great gulf. Indeed, it was not to be expected

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that its reality would have been assimilated in so brief a period of parliamentary institutions, by a nation with a background of centuries of subjection to feudal rule. This political childhood made the people readily susceptible to direction and deception from above, and to that most dangerous of all national delusions of grandeur – a sense of divine mission, inherent in the Japanese expansionist outlook.

In these circumstances, on the pretext that Chinese had torn up a section of the south Manchurian railway line which Japan controlled, the Japanese Kwantung Army, in September 1931, occupied strategic centres in the Mukden area, and fighting broke out with Chinese units.6 This was a blow not only at China, but at the whole system of collective security represented by the League of Nations. It was a blow also at the liberal forces in Japan which had been holding in check those who sought in foreign adventure a solution of Japan’s problems and satisfaction of personal ambitions. The effect was a resounding victory for militarism, which thenceforward committed Japan more and more deeply to aggression. In the same year, and in view of the worsening situation in the Far East,7 a national coalition government in the United Kingdom, with Mr Ramsay MacDonald at its head, gave the “all clear” signal for hitherto delayed expenditure on a British naval base at Singapore. This project had been bitterly opposed in both the British press and Parliament, largely on the ground that it would imperil friendly relations with Japan. Prophetic comment, from a strategic point of view, came from General Sir Ian Hamilton, leader of the Allied land forces during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. He did not doubt that Singapore could be held, he said, unless “we ourselves put a half-way house and then – half-garrisoning it, as is our wont – make a present of it to the wrong people”.8

Defying the League of Nations, Japan gained control of the whole of Manchuria in 1931 and 1932, and there set up a puppet state known as Manchukuo. In January 1932, after anti-Japanese riots in Shanghai, Japan landed troops there and fighting occurred between this force and the Chinese army round Shanghai until May. From Manchuria her troops attacked the northern provinces of China inside the Great Wall, and forced China to cede control of the province of Jehol, adjoining Manchuria. In 1932 Japan gave notice of her intention to resign from the League and in December 1934 of her intention to abandon the Washington Treaty; by her military adventures she violated other obligations she had entered into for the preservation of peace. Although invited in January 1935 to join in a new treaty for limitation of naval armaments, she declined to do so when she was unsuccessful in demanding naval parity and a common upper limit of construction. Nevertheless, Japan found Germany willing

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to accept her signature in 1936 to what was known as the Anti-Comintern Pact, ostensibly aimed against communism. Had this been its only aspect, the pact might have gained other signatories – America, for example, whose attitude to Japan was conditioned in part by Japan’s value as a counter to the spread of communism in Asia, and especially in China. But in the circumstances of the time the pact suggested a rapprochement between the German and Japanese forms of aggressive nationalism, thus offering merely an alternative danger to the status quo.

Strength was given to Japan’s expansionist influences not only by considerations of national prestige. With a population of 320 to the square mile, Japan was in difficult economic straits when she faced the world depression of 1929 onward. Her big industrial interests were naturally allied to such polices as would gain for them greater access to raw materials and markets. History – including America’s – provided attractive examples of imperialist expansion.9

The endeavours of German socialists to readjust the economy of their country by peaceful action had been unimpressive, and a renewed trend towards the smash-grab course of foreign conquest was apparent in the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Fear of Russia, this time as a Soviet state, had revived in Japan. Fear of the growth of communism in Japan itself strengthened the alliance between Japanese industrialists and militarists. In fact, extreme nationalism throve on opposition to communism, so that, in time (wrote a Japanese observer) “all liberal thought came to be classed as communistic – therefore criminal – and the nationalists soon tabbed Western culture and democracy as the same kind of enemy”; and “the entire school system became one more means of spreading the doctrine of reaction”.10

In the face of such factors, Japan’s principal moderating influences were a small group of liberal statesmen and parliamentary institutions which had been grafted on to an autocratic system of government but forty years before. It was “certainly arguable that, had outside influences not intervened, and had the Japanese nation been given one more decade in which to wax in political wisdom the cause of representative government in Japan might just have turned the corner. A focal point would thus have existed round which liberals and progressives could have rallied in order to resist the attack on free institutions which the army and the reactionaries were now about to launch “;11 but as things were, Japan was drifting to the most fateful turning-point in her history.

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Meanwhile Australia’s increasing trade with Japan had drawn her closer to the centre of a stage on which Japan, Great Britain, the United States and China were the leading players. The course of events in this sphere illustrated the growing conflict between Australia’s trade interests in the Pacific and her relations with Great Britain. During the world economic depression, Japan’s increasing demands for Australian foodstuffs and raw materials when other markets were contracting were a factor in cushioning the effects of the depression upon Australian primary industry. By 1935- 36, the balance in Australia’s favour of her trade with Japan amounted to more than one-third of the sum Australia needed annually to pay interest upon the heavy indebtedness she had incurred to other countries. The influx of Japanese goods to Australia, and undependable Japanese commercial methods, caused misgivings among Australian manufacturers and importers; but the cheapness of Japanese goods helped Australians with small incomes to make ends meet while they were either struggling against the depression or recovering from it. Politically the Labour party appeared to be content with that fact, while a section of Australian commercial interests welcomed the growth of such trade relationships.

“The industrialisation of Japan,” said a report published by the Bank of New South Wales in 1934, “promises to bring with it great possibilities for the development of markets for Australian foodstuffs and raw materials. ... Australia needs markets for her primary products. The great potential markets for those products are the Far Eastern countries. Of these countries, China is at present the largest buyer of our wool, but if Japanese living standards are allowed to improve, there is a possibility of selling more foodstuffs to Japan in the future.” After asking whether Australia had not reached “a point where her policy should be broadened to permit of the harmonisation of the changes which are occurring in the Far East with her own economic needs”, the report questioned the wisdom of attempting to make the British Empire a self-sufficient economic unit. It added that “in the face of the rapid growth of Japanese industry, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that any survey of the rational ends of Australian trade policy in the circumstances of today must offer a more prominent place to interchange of goods with the East than it has occupied in the past”.12

This trend of affairs was less palatable to English manufacturers, particularly when in 1935 Japan displaced Great Britain as the largest supplier of textiles to Australia; and in March 1936 a Manchester Trade Delegation visited Australia to seek means whereby the situation could be remedied. Nevertheless, the Australian public was taken by surprise when, on 22nd May 1936, the Government announced its decision to divert a portion of Australia’s import trade “with the object of increasing our exports of primary produce, expanding secondary industry and bringing about a considerable increase of rural and industrial development”.13 This decision

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would be implemented by a licensing system which would provide a tight control over importation of certain goods; and higher customs duties. Although this policy was aimed by no means exclusively at Japanese goods, it did in fact deal a severe blow at trade with Japan, more especially as duties on textiles other than those from the United Kingdom were raised, and British textiles were given a higher degree of preference than hitherto. The decision followed confidential and unsuccessful negotiations between representatives of the Australian and Japanese Governments for a trade agreement. The negotiations had come at a time when “credit difficulties had filled the public mind of Japan with an almost feverish sense of the urgency of making overseas sales ... such that they could brook no curb in markets where the size of their purchases appeared to give the commanding word”. Each government was “acutely conscious of its own country’s difficulties, but dimly conscious of those of the other”.14

Had economic factors only been involved, the outcome of the negotiations might have been different; but uneasiness was now being felt in political and military quarters in Australia about the international situation, and especially about Japan’s actions in Manchuria. By the end of the year a compromise agreement was reached under which limits were placed upon the trade in wool and textiles between Australia and Japan. In the meantime, however, Australia had contributed to the fear on which Japan’s expansionists were able to play that she was being excluded from the world’s markets, and might be deprived of means of existence as an industrial nation.15


Australia and New Zealand had pressed for a British fleet to be stationed in the Far East in peacetime, but the British Government, at an Imperial Conference in 1937, re-affirmed its policy of stationing its fleet in European waters, with the proviso that units would be sent to threatened areas elsewhere as necessary. It was argued in favour of this policy that Japan would be unlikely to risk war with the British Commonwealth unless the latter became involved in war in Europe; and that the greater the concentration of British sea power in that sphere, the less would be the likelihood of such a war, and consequently of attack by Japan. The assurance was given, however, that in the event of war with Japan a fleet would be sent to the Far East to protect the sea routes to India, Australia and New Zealand; and that, even if war were concurrent in Europe and the Far East, a fleet would be sent to contain the Japanese. The Singapore base would have to withstand any attack before the fleet could arrive – a period estimated at from seventy to ninety days. British policy towards Japan was re-affirmed as the maintenance of friendly relations, short of sacrificing British interests either in China or Hong Kong.

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The trend of Japanese policy and actions had been closely watched by the leaders of Britain’s armed forces, and they did not fail to give warning of its danger. In a review by the Chiefs of Staff Committee presented to the Imperial Conference, the view was expressed that Japan was aiming at hegemony in the East just as was Germany in Europe. The committee underlined Mr Hughes’ earlier reference to “the riddle of the Sphinx” by stating that Japan would have difficulty in supporting much longer her rapidly increasing population and was, moreover, singularly deficient in those raw materials necessary for industrial development along modern lines. Intense competition in foreign trade, enhanced by the cheapness of Japanese labour, had been countered in parts of the British Empire and other countries by various measures designed to limit an expansion of Japanese exports. This reduced Japan’s power to purchase the raw materials on which her essential manufactures depended. The solution of this problem was the principal objective of Japanese policy, and the solution favoured was the creation of a more self-sufficient empire and the paramountcy of Japan in the Far East. There was very little doubt that Japan would seize the opportunity afforded by a European war, in which Britain was involved, to further her expansionist schemes.

After reviewing possible British and Japanese strategy in such an event, the committee concluded: “The Singapore defences are nearing completion, but they alone do not secure our strategic position in the East. The dispatch of a fleet to the Far East remains the operation upon which the security of the eastern half of the Empire depends.” At the time, it was estimated that Britain, while keeping a force in home waters capable of meeting the requirements of a war with Germany, would be able to send to the Far East a fleet approximately equal to that of Japan; and that such a fleet should suffice to protect trade in the East and prevent Japan from undertaking any major operations against India, Australia, New Zealand, or Borneo.

This contention had long been challenged by leaders of thought in the Australian Army. In 1926 Lieut-Colonel Wynter16 examined the theory in a lecture to the United Services Institute of Melbourne which was to influence greatly the doctrines and later the policies of Australian Army staffs.17 He said that “Australia could not, as a matter of practical policy, avoid giving her first consideration to the problem of her own security”. Australia would rely primarily on naval defence only if the Imperial Navy was strong enough to provide for the naval defence of Australia and at the same time provide for the defence of all other Imperial interests; and if the Imperial authorities would be willing, in any circumstances, to detach a sufficient naval force to ensure naval superiority in the western Pacific. He said that it was a reasonable assumption that if war broke out with “a Pacific Power” it would be at a time when

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Britain was involved in war in Europe. He questioned whether in such a situation Britain could or would detach a sufficient naval force to the Far East.

Henceforward the attitude of the leading thinkers in the Australian Army towards British assurances that an adequate fleet would be sent to Singapore at the critical time was (bluntly stated) : “We do not doubt that you are sincere in your beliefs but, frankly, we do not think you will be able to do it.”

Wynter’s conclusions were that Australia should prepare to defend her own vital south-eastern area against invasion, and should develop a fleet base in Australia as an alternative to Singapore. Later writers developed this argument, pointing particularly to the vulnerability of Singapore to attack from the landward side.18 Some of these conclusions were echoed in the Australian Parliament by the Labour party, which urged that Australia prepare to repel invasion of her own soil, chiefly by building her air strength and enlarging her capacity to manufacture munitions for her citizen army. If an Eastern first-class power sought an abrogation of a basic Australian policy, such as her immigration policy (declared the Labour leader, Mr Curtin, in the Australian House of Representatives in November 1936), “it would most likely do so when Great Britain was involved or threatened to be involved in a European war. Would the British Government dare to authorise the dispatch of any substantial part of the fleet to the East to help Australia? The dependence of Australia upon the competence, let alone the readiness, of British statesmen to send forces to our aid is too dangerous a hazard upon which to found Australian defence policy.”

On the Government side of the House, Mr Hughes also argued against reliance upon the British Navy, and declared that the aeroplane came to Australia as “a gift from the gods” as a means of resisting invasion. The Government, however, continued to rely principally upon cooperation with the British Navy to safeguard Australia, and generally to concur in the overall plan of Imperial defence evolved by the British authorities.


In these circumstances it would have been wise of the Australian Services to have developed Far Eastern Intelligence branches and to have sought experience on which to base tactical doctrines that could be applied in a war against Japan. It was likely that the United Kingdom would be so preoccupied with preparations for European, African and

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Indian operations that study of Far Eastern conditions would be given low priority by her leaders.

As early as 1917 military requirements had resulted in a systematic study of the Japanese language and history being initiated in Australia. In that year Mr James Murdoch,19 who had spent many years in Japan and had written a comprehensive history of that country, was appointed lecturer in Japanese at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. It was arranged that eight suitable cadets should undertake a course in Japanese, and Murdoch held classes for a number of the staff including two officers, Captains Broadbent20 and Capes,21 who graduated in 1914 and had recently been invalided home from the AIF. In 1919 Murdoch was appointed first Professor of Japanese at the University of Sydney, and a Japanese citizen replaced him as lecturer at Duntroon.22

Meanwhile, in 1919 a “Pacific Branch” was established within the Prime Minister’s Department under Major Piesse,23 a lawyer who had acted as Director of Intelligence at Army Headquarters in the previous three years. In the following year the Government sent to Tokyo for a two-years language course, by attachment to the British Embassy, Captains Broadbent and Capes. In the same year, an officer who had also served in the AIF and subsequently on the General Staff of the 2nd Military District, Captain Longfield Lloyd,24 was appointed to the Pacific Branch. All three had already undertaken a course of Oriental studies and each had some knowledge of the Japanese language. Broadbent again visited Japan in 1923 with the Australian relief ship dispatched after the Japanese earthquake in that year, “his knowledge of the Japanese language and customs proving invaluable”.25 Later two Australian naval officers and a civil official of the Department of the Navy were also sent to Tokyo for language study.26

Oriental studies were not maintained with much energy in the army and the public service. Piesse left the Pacific Branch in 1923; Broadbent

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instructed in Japanese at Duntroon for three years until, in 1926, he – and also later Capes – resigned from the service. In the next eight years no effort was made to maintain Australian officers in Japan. However, after the dispatch to Japan in 1934 of a mission with Mr John Latham27 as leader and Longfield Lloyd as adviser, Longfield Lloyd in 1935 was appointed Australian Trade Commissioner in Japan (the designation being broadened later to Australian Government Commissioner). Piesse in that year wrote a well-informed study of defence against Japan already mentioned.28 Broadbent will reappear later in this history.

Thus, in the ‘thirties, only meagre measures had been taken by the Army to gain knowledge of the Japanese language and to acquire first-hand experience of Japan and the Far East generally. In the field of tactics no effort appears to have been made to gain experience of and develop doctrines about the kind of tropical bush warfare that was likely to occur in a conflict with Japan. Valuable experience might have been gained by attachment of officers to British garrisons in tropical Africa or Burma, by sending observers to China, or by exercises in suitable areas of Australia or New Guinea.


In July 1937 there occurred at the Marco Polo bridge, Peking, another military “incident”. Japan thereupon engaged in a major though undeclared war with China, biting deeply into Chinese territory, but meeting with stubborn resistance. The signatories of a Nine-Power Treaty29 except Japan, who refused to attend, met in Brussels in November to determine what course they should take in the face of this perilous situation, but failed to reach agreement for firm collective action by which Japan might have been restrained.

Affronts to British and American interests and feelings were frequent in the course of the struggle. Among them were the shelling by a Japanese battery of the British and American gunboats on the Yangtse Kiang in December 1937, followed by the bombing and sinking by Japanese planes of the American gunboat Panay. Alleging that Chinese terrorists and currency smugglers were being harboured there, the Japanese, early in 1939, imposed a blockade of the British Concession area in Tientsin. Men and women were subjected to search at the exits, some were stripped, and it was clear that the Japanese sought to make life in the Concession, for British people in particular, so intolerable that control would be surrendered to the Japanese or to the puppet Chinese authorities. Faced with the threat of war in Europe, Britain finally agreed to a settlement of the Tientsin issue.

Such incidents, and barbarous conduct by Japanese troops in China, hardened British and American opinion against Japan. They also made

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it apparent that because of her ambitions to establish a sphere of influence in which she could command the raw materials necessary to sustain and increase her strength, she was becoming increasingly reckless of war with Britain and the United States. By the end of October 1938, Japanese troops had landed at Bias Bay, 35 miles north-east of Hong Kong, and occupied Canton to the west, thus largely nullifying the value of Hong Kong as a base, and placing themselves in a position to subject it to swift and probably successful assault. In February 1939 Japanese troops occupied the island of Hainan, within easy striking distance of Indo-China.

Although she had studiously avoided a showdown with the Japanese in China, the United States gave notice in July 1939 that her commercial treaty with Japan would be abrogated; and increased her economic aid to China. Between 1931 and 1939, however, Japan had nearly doubled her industrial production, with a marked emphasis upon metals and engineering. Her military budget had risen from 29.4 to 71.7 per cent of total expenditure. With consequent heavy burdens upon her people, her economy was being dedicated to the gamble of war, on a scale affecting the whole future of the Far East and the Pacific. The weakness of her war potential lay chiefly in the fact that her home production of natural and synthetic oil amounted to only some 10 per cent of her annual requirements. Of her oil imports, about 80 per cent came from the United States and 10 per cent from the Netherlands East Indies.30 She had built up a stock of 51 million barrels; but if she were to engage in war on the scale necessary to blast her way to the resources she coveted, she would have to ensure means of replenishing her storage tanks.

As Europe drifted to war, increasing attention was given by Australia to her relations with other countries in the Pacific Ocean area. The Prime Minister, Mr Menzies, explained in May 1939 that Australia’s

primary responsibilities are around the fringes of the Pacific Ocean and because my colleagues and I realise that is so, we have decided to press on with all activity with a new Pacific policy, a policy which will not merely consist of making pious statements about our desires and friendships with Canada or the United States; but which will exhibit itself in a positive policy, the setting up of real machinery for the cultivation of friendship with those countries and putting that friendship on a permanent basis. ... We make no contribution in Australia to the peace of the Pacific by sporadic, hostile action in relation to Japan. ... I hope that we in Australia, small though we may be in point of numbers, will be able to make a real contribution to the world’s peace by making a real contribution to the peace of the Pacific Ocean.31

Little time remained, however, for such a policy to take effect; and the trend of events yielded little ground for hope that it might succeed.

As both Germany and Japan became increasingly aggressive, United States strategists saw that the problem facing them was not merely the defence of American soil. From May 1939 onward, they began to formulate what became known as the “Rainbow” series of basic war plans

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contemplating war against more than one enemy, in more than one theatre. These plans were in fact a logical outcome of the naval limitation agreements under which naval supremacy, formerly possessed by Great Britain, was now shared with the United States. Sharing of power meant sharing of responsibility. In the event of the British fleet becoming involved in war in Europe, the American fleet would have a weightier role in the Far East; and defeat of Britain by another power or powers might leave the United States outmatched in naval strength. Thus the plans contemplated hemisphere defence, including dispatch of American forces overseas, and cooperation with Great Britain and France. They paved the way for Anglo-American staff talks which occurred in 1940; for by then the system of collective security erected after the war of 1914-1918 had finally crumbled away, and given place to a new world conflict.