ABSTRACT

In May 1942 India could barely sustain and defend herself, let alone support any serious counter-o ensive against the Japanese. Nevertheless, on 23 June that year, the COS in London authorized and directed the development of India as the strategic base for future operations in South-East Asia. is was partly due to American pressure to reopen an overland link to China and partly because, at that stage, despite India’s obvious weaknesses, there appeared to be no viable alternative. Precisely because of India’s problems the decision was reconsidered repeatedly throughout the rest of the year and 1943, with alternative options being sought in Australia and East Africa. e Australian option, in particular, was much favoured by the British 220 Military Mission, which toured the Paci c and South-East Asia theatres in late 1943, learning from the Americans, Australians and New Zealanders the recipe for their successes against the Japanese at a time when Britain and India were still failing badly.1 e mission was led by one Major General ‘Tubby’ Lethbridge, who was so taken by what he saw of the American way of warfare that he later accepted demotion to Brigadier in order to become Slim’s principal operational sta o cer in the 14th Army and thus be able to put the main lessons into practice. At the time of 220 Military Mission’s tour a body of opinion in the British War Cabinet, led by Churchill, still sought to apply the main British e ort against the Japanese in the Paci c whilst standing on the defensive in India. ey were motivated largely by aspirations to recover the Far East Empire and be ‘in at the kill’ of Japan. However American antipathy to British imperial designs and pressure to expand the China link, along with the realization of Australia’s limited capacity as a potential base caused the British ‘Paci c strategy’ to be discarded in favour of pressing on in South-East Asia. Only in the nal phase of the war did the British get involved in the Paci c when a British eet joined the Americans there. us the decision to establish the strategic base in India to support operations in South-East Asia was never changed. In fact it became ever more rmly entrenched as India’s security and capacity to support operations gradually developed, while the disadvantages

of the alternatives, principally their limited potential base capacity and distance from the South-East Asia front, became ever more apparent.