The Allies’ chances of winning were thin, and the victory lay further away than he (Mr. Churchill) could have imagined. The enormous productive capacity of the United States, on which the lend-lease programme (the Act stated that the U.S. government could lend or lease, rather than sell war, supplies to any nation deemed vital to the defense of the United States) had scarcely begun to draw, would, when fully mobilized, outbuild the factories of its enemies and allies combined. Its workforce reserves would suffice to create the strongest navy and air force in the world and an army sufficient to fight decisive battles in Europe and Asia. However, industrial and military mobilization would, even at an American pace of urgency, take many months to alter the balance of power.
In the meantime, Japan was on the rampage, and the two hundred divisions of the German army were regrouping for an all-out summer offensive directed toward Russia’s oil fields.
In December, Japan shifted the focus of its attack in the Pacific from the American fleet to the territorial possessions of the European powers in South-East Asia. The Philippines, an American protectorate, were invaded. So was British Malaya.
On its coast on Dec 10, Japanese aircraft based in Indo-China sank the battle cruiser Repulse and the battleship Prince of Wales, which Churchill had voyaged four months earlier to Placentia Bay. Churchill was deeply affected. ‘Poor Tom Phillips,’ he lamented; the admiral had gone down with his ship. Worse was to follow. British positions in Malaya were successively penetrated or outflanked. By early February 1942, the Japanese stood at the gates of Singapore, Malaya’s excellent trading city.
After perfunctory resistance, it surrendered to the enemy, whose defenders outnumbered it. The neighbouring Netherlands East Indies swiftly crumbled. So too did the British defences in Burma. Only in the Philippines was resistance prolonged) and thereby, May the American garrison had reached the end of its tether. As spring turned to summer in the Pacific, Japan was establishing a strategic perimeter that touched the borders of British India and the approaches to Australia and embraced most of the ocean’s western islands.
Only America’s retention of Hawaii, just too far distant for Japan to risk attempting a second Pearl Harbor, and a few outposts such as Midway, offered any basing facilities for a counteroffensive.
Source: Winston Churchill by John Keegan