the Australian government started to re-focus on Australia itself. Many politicians rightly believed that the Axis victory in Europe would stimulate further Japanese aggression in the Far East and that Australia itself might be threatened. With so many of its army abroad, many felt that this would also stimulate Japanese aggression. A joint-approach was made to America by Britain and Australia for the US to send a fleet to the British naval base at Singapore. It was hoped that such a gesture would make it clear to the Japanese that any action by them would be met with an aggressive reaction. No such naval force was sent to Singapore.
Another idea to stop Japanese aggression was to greatly increase the military power the Australians had in Malaya. This would require troops from the 6th Division to be removed from the Middle East and sent to the Far East. However, at this time, Italy was expanding aggressively in the Mediterranean region and all the men from the 6th Division were needed where they were based. In August 1940, the Australian government received an assurance from Winston Churchill that any threat to Australia or New Zealand would result in the Mediterranean Fleet being sent to the Far East immediately.
The declining situation in the Far East led to a meeting in October 1940 of military representatives from Australia, Burma, India and New Zealand. They met in Singapore. They all agreed that the defence of Malaya was vital if any Japanese aggression was to be halted. The Australians wanted the Indian Army to take the responsibility for defending Malaya while the Australians would provide a naval force for the region. It became obvious to many that Singapore had the potential to be an Achilles heel for the Allies. It would be an obvious target for the Japanese but its power had been built around the navy and not land and air defences. In late 1940, its vulnerability to a land attack was a major fear for many, even if few thought that the Japanese could come down the Malayan Peninsula. In December 1940, an Australian brigade was sent to Malaya. The plan was that an Indian brigade should replace it in May 1941.
The Australian 6th Division saw action in the deserts of North Africa from December 1940 on. They also fought in the Greek campaign and their stand at Thermopylae allowed a relatively successful Allied evacuation to take place. The Australian 7th Division successfully occupied Vichy Syria.
“Thus Australia’s expeditionary force to the Middle East had been of incalculable value in saving the Middle East from Axis domination during the first six months of 1941.Throughout March 1941 Australian intelligence intercepted cables sent by the Japanese government to Japanese firms based in Australia. These recommended that as many personnel as possible should be sent back to Japan. These cables convinced many in the Australian government that an attack in the Far East was imminent. There was a general concern that too much of Australia’s military was based too far away to defend Australia.
Clashes also occurred with senior British commanders in Singapore. Air Chief Marshall Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, c-in-c in the Far East, claimed that talk of Singapore’s downfall was “defeatist”. Even Churchill referred to Singapore as a fortress – much to the concern of military figures in Australia who held the opposite viewpoint. To complicate matters more, America stated that though the loss of Singapore would be unfortunate, it would not be a vital loss.
It was in 1941, that relations between Canberra and London became strained. In particular, the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, believed that Churchill was fully focused on Europe and not what was happening in the Far East. On June 10th, 1941, Menzies reported to his government after meeting with Churchill:
"Mr. Churchill had no conception of the British Dominions as separate entities and the more distant the problem from the heart of the Empire the less he thought about it."