The Anglo-Japanese alliance and the outbreak of war August–December 1914

  • Peter Lowe


Before August 1914 Japan was recognised as a power growing in strength and vigour but hampered by her financial weakness. The British military attaché in Tokyo prepared a report in January 1914, which concluded that Japan’s position as a world power was likely to decline rather than develop, owing to the scarcity of domestic loan capital and the difficulty of securing foreign loans; further the Russian recovery from the war of 1904–5, exemplified in the double-tracking of the Trans-Siberian railway and the recent Russian interest in Outer Mongolia, would confront Japan with a renewed threat to her advance on the Asian continent.1 It appeared that although Britain was experiencing friction with her ally in the Yangtze Valley in 1913–14, she could afford to stand firm as the Anglo-Japanese alliance was as vital to Japan as to Britain.2 The coming of war in Europe in August 1914 altered the situation in the Far East drastically, for the continuance of peace in Europe was a fundamental presupposition of such forecasts of Japan’s future development. War meant that the powers which had hitherto dominated the Far East were all involved in the European conflict, with the exceptions of Japan and the United States. Japan was technically involved in the European war but in reality her activities were limited almost entirely to the Far East and Pacific.


Japanese Government Japanese Occupation Chinese Territory Grey Paper Home Water 
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    See Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill II (1967) for a lengthy discussion of Churchill’s views on naval policy.Google Scholar
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    H.C. Deb. 17 May 1914, LIX, 1931–4. Churchill tacitly admitted the weakness of his policy in his memoirs. Note the following passage from The World Crisis, 5 vols (1923–1931) I 286–7. ‘The keynote of all the Admiralty dispositions at the outbreak of war was to be as strong as possible in home waters in order to fight a decisive battle with the whole German Navy. To this end the foreign stations were cut down to the absolute minimum necessary to face the individual ships abroad in each theatre. The Fleet was weak in fast light cruisers and the whole of my administration had been occupied in building as many of them as possible. … The principle of first things first, and of concentrating in a decisive theatre against the enemy’s main power, had governed everything and had led to delay in meeting an important and well recognized subsidiary requirement. The inconvenience in other parts of the globe had to be faced. It was serious.’ See also A. J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow II (1965) Ch. VI.Google Scholar
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    The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, XI, ‘Australia During the War’ by Ernest Scott (Sydney, 1936) 224, 763. The Colonial Office stated this ‘was a great and urgent Imperial service’. Information of interest is sometimes contained in the volumes of this official history since they were based on the official Australian archives. See also W. R. Louis, ‘Australia and the German colonies in the Pacific, 1914–1919’, in JMH XXXVIII (1966) 407–21.Google Scholar
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    Harcourt to Munro Ferguson, 6 Dec 1914, Harcourt Papers, CO., 1910–15, box no. 1. Sir John Anderson, the permanent under-secretary at the Colonial Office, minuted on Harcourt’s draft: ‘I fear it will be an impossible task to reconcile Australia to seeing the Japanese frontier moved halfway across the Pacific. Japan is the one power they distrust and fear and their conscription Law and Fleet w[oul]d never have materialised but for the Japanese spectre.’ However, Munro Ferguson reported in May 1915 that the prime minister, Fisher, ‘anticipated no effective opposition to continued occupation by Japanese of islands North of Line when question is raised at end of war’, cited Louis, JMH XXXVIII 410. See also, W. R. Louis, Great Britain and Germany’s Lost Colonies, 1914–1919 (Oxford, 1967) pp. 38–48.Google Scholar
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    Greene discussed Motono in a letter to Langley, ‘As to Petrograd, I have little doubt that Baron Motono has been playing a lone hand throughout, both in regard to the rifles [statements that Japan could easily supply rifles to Russia] and the Alliance questions, and that he ignored Baron Kato’s views and statements to the representatives of the Allies in both matters.’ Greene added that he once queried Kato on Motono’s position, ‘Baron Kato in reply told me to pay no attention to what Motono might say or do: he was ailing in health and “finished” and would not go back to Petrograd. In fact he spoke in a contemptuous tone of him, and this struck me at the time.… My idea is that Motono had made up his mind that Baron Kato, who … is rightly or wrongly very unpopular with his own compatriots, was not a man who need be reckoned with as a political factor in the future, and the antipathy between the two men was mutual. Moreover, Motono’s brother owns a newspaper here which is hostile to Kato’s party, and he has attacked Kato freely all along the line.’ Greene to Langley, 9 Sep 1915, Alston Papers, F.O. 800/246. The reference to Motono’s attitude when he became foreign minister is taken from a summary, prepared by the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence (1914–18), Milner Papers, box no. 120, Bodleian Library, Oxford. See also Richard Ullman, Anglo-Soviet Relations, 1917–1921, 1 Intervention and the War (Princeton, 1961) 89, 105, 108.Google Scholar

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© Peter Lowe 1969

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  • Peter Lowe

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