CAB 56, Committee of Imperial Defence: Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee: Minutes and Memoranda (JIC, JIC(S), JIC(A)), 1936-1939
The records in series CAB 56 were created by the first incarnation of the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee (JIC) which met between July 1936 and August 1939. Reporting directly to the Committee of Imperial Defence, Britain’s highest military body, the JIC was the first inter-service body specifically created to handle intelligence-related issues. The first full meeting of the JIC took place on July 7, 1936 at which its terms of reference were agreed as:
- the assessment and co-ordination of intelligence received from abroad;
- the co-ordination of any intelligence data which might be required by the Chiefs of Staff;
- the consideration of any further measures which might be thought necessary in order to improve the efficient working of the intelligence organization of the country as a whole.
Between July 1936 and August 1939, the JIC was composed of the deputy directors of intelligence of the three services, frequently with a representative from the Industrial Intelligence Centre and, from November 1938, with representation from the Foreign Office. On the outbreak of war in September 1939, the Committee of Imperial Defence was dissolved, but the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee continued as one of the principal subordinate bodies of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. This series contains the minutes and papers of the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee (June 1936 to August 1939), the minutes and papers of the Sub-Committee on Air Warfare in Spain (1937-1938), and the minutes and papers of the Sub-Committee on Air Warfare (1938-1939).
Initially, meetings of the JIC were held monthly at either Whitehall Gardens or Richmond Terrace but increased in frequency as war approached. The minutes of these meetings are found in CAB 56/1 and show that attention was focused on the military build-up taking place in Germany and Japan. At its second meeting on September 29, 1936, the JIC considered a sixty-page assessment (JIC 6) prepared by the Joint Planners on the situation in the Far East and the implications for the defense of Singapore and Hong Kong. The paper, which can be found in CAB 56/2, assumed that the British government would receive little or no knowledge of preliminary preparations and that “it will be quite possible for the Japanese to embark their troops and for the convoy to sail before any declaration of war”. The paper further acknowledged that Japanese forces would be able to capture Singapore if they launched a surprise attack on the island and that the Hong Kong garrison could not be reinforced if Japan launched a concerted attack.
At its eighth meeting in April 1937, the JIC examined a paper on Nazi and fascist party organizations and activities within Britain and the Empire. There was apprehension that German and Italian fascist organizations in the U.K. were being systematically developed and that the growth of their respective youth movements “may reach dangerous proportions”. Moreover, if war were declared without any precautionary stage there was concern that acts of sabotage might be carried out “on a considerable scale and with most serious results” with aerodromes and railway junctions the expected targets. If sufficient warning was available it was considered essential that known fascists and their sympathizers be interned or compelled to leave the country immediately and that the Security Service should continue to monitor fascist organizations and key individuals.
One of the most extensive of the JIC’s pre-war activities stemmed from the formation in May 1937 of a sub-committee to collate the intelligence about air warfare coming from Spain during its civil war (1936-1939), with reports prepared on anti-aircraft defense and the effect of air attack against shipping, oil installations, and land forces. The reports and papers of the committee (JIC(S)) are found in CAB 56/5. A particular concern was the scale of air attack that could be mounted against England in the event of war with Germany. The consequences were contained in a report (JIC 47) discussed by the JIC at its twelfth meeting on December 15, 1937 and located in CAB 56/3. The conclusions were stark. If war with Germany were to break out in 1939, the weight of attack would be so great (estimated at 3,500 tons of bombs dropped in the first 24 hours), that “it would be impossible to prevent heavy casualties and destruction of property.” The Sub-Committee on Air Warfare in Spain was later replaced with a standing committee on Air Warfare (JIC(A)) with its terms of reference extended to include information from the Chinese theatre of war. The papers of this new committee, which include a forty-five-page report on the overall effectiveness of air attack against industry, are found in CAB 56/6.
In any future war, the defense of the Middle East was considered crucial to British strategy. The issue was discussed at the 21st meeting of the JIC in January 1939 when a paper entitled The attitude of the Arab World to Great Britain with reference to the Palestine Conference (JIC 83) was circulated for discussion. The paper examined the allegiance of Arab nations in the event of a European war and concluded that “the Arab attitude would be dictated by expediency and by the prospect of furthering their own ends”. It was also contended that the Arabs would only side with Germany if Britain showed signs of weakness. The last meeting of the JIC before the declaration of war took place on Saturday August 26, 1939 when the JIC was tasked with coordinating the preparation of missions to Poland, Romania, and Turkey. It was also agreed that daily meetings should continue “so long as departments remain located in London or the suburbs.” The final record in this series (CAB 56/7) contains a short internal history of the JIC’s pre-war activities produced in 1974. The wartime records of the JIC can be found in record series CAB 81, War Cabinet and Cabinet: Committees and Sub-committees of the Chiefs of Staff Committee: Minutes and Papers, 1939-47.
Dr. Stephen Twigge, Head of Modern Collections, The National Archives, UK