Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_significance of P

What was the significance of Pearl Harbor?

Source 3

A telegram from the Australian Prime Minister Arthur Fadden to Churchill, 4 September 1941


➜ CHAR 20/42A/59-60

Simplified Transcript

In an earlier telegram I told you that Australia supports the proposed plans of the USA and UK to act against Japan if Japan ignores warnings to stop its current expansion.

We are very heartened by the news that the British have more battleships than the Japanese and are planning to send some of them to the Indian Ocean. We are grateful for your reassurance and support in the event that we are threatened. You will understand that people here are worried about the threat to their home. The lack of any British or American fleet near Singapore has caused unease. This had affected our ability to recruit men to fight overseas.

Original Transcript

4 In an earlier telegram I have expressed the Commonwealth Government’s concurrence in the line of action proposed by the United Kingdom Government to support the United States Government if its warning to Japan is disregarded by the continuance of its expansion policy.

5 Your statement on the growth of British battleship strength and the improved position vis-a-vis the enemy, together with the possibility in the near future of placing capital ships in the Indian Ocean is extremely heartening. We are deeply sensible of your assurance of support if danger should threaten us. No one will understand more fully than yourself that, when a threat comes closely home, local security is the predominant thought in the minds of most people. The southward move by Japan and the absence of a British or American fleet at or near Singapore has aroused a feeling of uneasiness in the minds of many people here, and these factors have undoubtedly had an adverse effect on recruiting for service overseas. FADDEN. Ends.

What is this source?

This source was a coded telegram from the Australian Prime Minister to the British Prime Minister in September 1941.

Background to this source

By September 1941 relations between Britain and the USA and Japan had deteriorated. Japan had consolidated its empire in China. It was also building up its armed forces, particularly its navy. At the same time Britain was facing a direct threat a result of Hitler’s victories in Europe. Hitler had effectively conquered all of Western Europe apart from Britain and he had a pact of neutrality in the East. At this point the USA was not involved in the war although it was sending huge amounts of aid to Britain. Fadden had only been Prime Minister of Australia for a week when he sent this telegram to Churchill: at the time Australians were not pleased that the British Government had used Australian forces in the Middle East and Greece.

Additional information

Britain and the US were concerned about Japan’s expansion and had warned Japan to end its policy of building up an empire and building up its armed forces. They imposed severe economic sanctions, banning exports of steel, oil and coal to Japan in an attempt to cripple Japan’s economy. However, by September 1941 it was very clear that Japan did not intend to back down and most observers expected some kind of war, particularly since Japan and Germany had made an alliance back in 1938.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating the significance of Pearl Harbor. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level: details, facts and figures

  1. What is Australia’s view of British and US policy towards Japan?
  2. What are British and US attitudes towards Japan?
  3. How does Australia feel about British battleship numbers?
  4. What factors are worrying Australians?

Deeper level: inferences and using the source as evidence

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
Australia is feeling threatened by Japan

Japan has grown more aggressive since 1939

British forces are stretched

Australia feels well supported by the British Government.

Australia feels that its forces are needed for its own self-defence.

 Download table (PDF)
 Download table (Word document)

Need help interpreting the source?

  • This telegram is a very useful source to historians. As an encrypted message it is almost certainly a fair and accurate reflection of the fears of Australia at this time.
  • This in turn makes it useful in assessing the levels of tension and concern caused by Japan’s actions in Asia and the Pacific.

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

 Source 4

 Back to sources page

 Back to investigation page