Theres only two easy things in this mans army; signing up and collecting the mail.
Or so my old Sergeant Major used to say; collecting the mail being a play on The Last Post which is our version of Taps and so a euphemism for an Honourable Discharge in the Field. A right font of wisdom was old Arthur White, and while I can vouch for first point and general tone of his sentiment, Ill have to ask him about the second when I see him again, Arthur having found out the hard way if there was any truth to it.
In writing all this down and trying to suit it to the general and international reader, Ive found things I take for granted some of the hardest to explain, especially the fundamentals like the different usages of the same title for very different things, or why logic seems to play so little part in naming organizations. I say seems because if youre on the inside, seeing the whole picture and knowing how it works, then it all makes perfect sense.
So this first chapter is intended to give a bit of an over view of the Australian Army in the 1950s. If you can get your head around all this, the rest of it should come easy and my repeated explanations later on when I expand on the different topics will probably be a bit frustrating. In which case sorry, but as I said at the start, nothings easy, and once is enough. Im not writing all this out again.
Federation and the Colonial Period
Nothing starts from a vacuum, and the Army I joined in 1955 was as much a product of its history as any more recent influences, if not more so. Before Federation (1/1/1901) each of the colonies had run their own defence, mostly these were based on the Volunteer system as was current in Britain at the time. Part time voluntary service, usually unpaid, with the Government providing the arms and ammunition but everything else as often came from public subscription as the Government Stores. With federation, defence was one of the major aspects of governance the Federal Government took over from the erstwhile Colonies now States. The framers of our constitution who also played a key role in the early Federal system had taken more than a sideways glance at the Swiss for a bit of inspiration (or so Im told), this was certainly the case in defence.
The Army of the newest country on earth was to be its armed and trained citizens called to defend their homeland in times of war, but with only a cadre of full-time or Permanent Forces to provide a core of specialists to support the part-time Militia. It wasnt a new idea by any means, not only had the Swiss been doing it for centauries, America had started with the same system and at the time we were fighting a hard little war against the Boers who practiced the method to very good effect.
Another important aspect of this part-time force was the Cadet Corps which were an integral part of most Colonial education systems. Our Army wasnt to be conscripted on the Continental System, with young men serving a period with the colours before taking up their part-time role. But without this period of regular service to provide a foundation of training, the only way to try and get a proficient force was to start erm off young. The school Cadets gave the youth a bit of square bashing, Musketry Drill, marksmanship, camp life and even Military Communications (flags, Morse and such) in some of the better Corp. The Commonwealth (Federal) Government took over much of the responsibility for the Cadet Corps with the Colonial forces, and by 1912 or so the system was set and running. Cadets started at around 12 then moved up to the militia when they were old enough, Militia service was at different times compulsory or voluntary, but in either case it wasnt unpopular; being seen as a civic responsibility, manly and all the rest of it. Both the Cadets and CMF (Citizens Military Force) also had a large social aspect, which in those pre radio days was far more important than it is now. Being in the CMF was to be a part of the full flow of the community.
The catch being that the CMF was specifically for the defence of Australia. Unlike a French or German conscript the CMF didnt serve at the pleasure of the Government, rather they were doing the Government the service of assisting in the defence of the nation in both peace and war. This is an important and very influential distinction. Some international critics hold the position that a draftee or conscript from other nations in the two world wars paid a higher price for their freedom, as once in the forces he (or she) was sent where ever they might be needed, where in contrast; an Australian in the CMF was under no obligation to serve outside Australian territory.
Theyre wrong. The obligation to serve the nation was the same, but where a Briton or American might serve in peace or not as they chose, an Australian did not have that option. In wartime the price of that choice for the conscript was paid by a lack of choice in how they might serve. The Australian government respected the obligations and duty done in peace time by offering their citizens a choice in war. The obligation and choice were the same, only the timing of the choice was different.
In short, Australians as citizens were under an obligation to defend their homes in the national sense, not anyone elses. If the Government chose to make such a commitment, then they were free to raise a force for the purpose, but not to legally coerce any of their citizens into help them.
This resulted in the creation of the two AIFs (Australian Imperial Forces/s) to serve in both the world wars. Enlistment was voluntary and sufficient citizens chose to back up their Governments commitment to fill a Corp by the end of the war. There was a move to introduce conscription in WWI, but it failed, and it should be noted that the main motivation for the attempt was to expand the army and increase its commitments in mid war, not because the flow of recruits dried up to an unsustainable level.
So there you have it, two types of army; one a temporary and volunteer, raised to meet a current crisis; the other a national service with the long term purpose of defending the country.
All this changed dramatically after WWII, driven by a number of factors that Ill go into later. Suffice it to say that the CMF continues in a similar fashion today, but it is an integrated part of a standing Army that represents the most startling result of WWII on Australian defence.
The Standing Army and CMF share a common command and administrative structure, and in theory the old ban of CMF units operating beyond Australias territory no longer applies. Instead the concord between Government and people is retained on an individual level, National Service is still compulsory as it was during WWII, but the additional obligation to serve AGP (At the Governments Pleasure) is still one a citizen must volunteer to undertake.
On its establishment, the main purpose of the standing Army, today called the Australian Regular Army but generally known as the mob, was seen as the defence of Australia at home in a similar way to the CMF, but it was recognized that war had moved on from men with bayonets, the new ways needed a more professional approach with more depth than a purely part-time force could provide. Thus the ARAs purpose was two fold, firstly to expand on the old Permanent Forces cadre in keeping the CMF up to scratch; and secondly in the event of war the ARA was to buy the time needed to get the CMF mobilized. In the past wed always been granted a period of grace to raise an AIF, Australia being only a minor player on the wrong side of the world, the war had always waited for us to go it, but this wasnt the situation the country found itself in after the Second World War, and in the future an aggressor might not have the decency to wait while we pulled our trousers up. The fact that such a fully paid professional force would also be available to the Government for overseas commitments without question was seen as more of a bonus than anything else.
Mob: Aust Colq. <pro> M-ob. Com Def: A group, mass, herd or conglomeration
Com: eg mob of sheep, of cattle
Litt: a riotous/disorderly assembly or crowd
Colq: disordered/informal group,
Slang: party of friends (a mob of us), Aust Reg Army (the mob).
Macquarie Australian Dictionary
The ARA was established as a force of two Divisions by the Regular Army Act of 1948 (revised 1952, 1966, 1978) . It was to consist of one Armoured Division and one Mounted Division (US Mechanized), with sufficient support elements to make the force capable of independent operations within Australia. At the same time the support services that had grown up to cope with the AIF and CMF through WWII were revised and established under the RA Act on a level to cope with both the ARA and needs of the CMF as established under their new Act of the same year CMF Act 1948, revised 1955, 62 and 7 .
However the acts of Parliament only provided a legal framework and fixed the bounds of the new force in law. The ARA had to be manned; Brigades, Battalions, support formations and everything else that a functioning army needs had to be created out of the available manpower pool on one hand and a mound of stores and equipment on the other. This prompted what has to be the largest administrative shake up in the history of our services, the two biggest elements were a stock take to square the accounts for WWII and see exactly what we did or did not have materially, the other portion of this was a stock take of a very different kind.
In 1948 the Australian army as a whole was comprised of formations from four different periods, Pre- Federation, First AIF, Second AIF and the new post war additions who had to be created. This wasnt only and administrative exercise, it was a watershed with great political perils attached to it; at this time the majority of the voting public had either spent time in one of the three services or had a close relative who had. It was inevitable that some units would have to go, but an even bigger problem was making room in the CMF for the Second AIF.
When the First AIF returned from WWI, their formations were absorbed directly into the CMF supplanting older titles that lacked the AIFs newly won gravitas. A few of the more outstanding Pre- Federation formations survived, but naturally there were a number of amalgamations as between the AIF and Colonial units there were more titles than slots to fill. However the majority of the existing structure of the CMF vanished as the AIF Battalions moved into their places.
The Second AIF was raised on exactly the same lines as the First, the Division numbers followed on from their WWI ancestors and the WWII battalions took the same numbers as the First AIF. To avoid confusion the new units added a 2/ to the original numbers. In WWI there was a 7th Battalion, in WWII there was a 2/7th, and the old 7th stayed at home in the CMF. This left the obvious problem of what to do with the Second AIF after the war, the precedent had already been set that they could not disappear, but then the First AIF was not only still represented by a large pool of veterans, it generally had a more distinguished record in action. This wasnt through any fault of the Second AIF other than they lacked the opportunity their fathers had in such surplus, and there were Second AIF formations with battle honours mainly from the 6th and 7th Divisions.
At this juncture Id better point out that the Australian Army has always been Battalion based, a man might be proud of his Division or partisan about his Brigade, but his devotion was focused squarely on his Battalion. Each AIF Battalion was in effect a single battalion Regiment like those found in the British Army.
The compromise that was reached might not have pleased everyone, but it was workable and reasonably fair. The 2/ battalions would join with their older brethren and become the second battalion of that Battalion. I did warn you Again the British Regimental system is closest model, the First AIF unit would become like the 1st Battalion of a Regiment; the Second AIF unit of that number would be reduced to a cadre and support the 1st Battalion from home as a depot when it was activated. In times of dire need, the 2/ battalion could be fleshed out to take the field so it had hardly disappeared, but otherwise once the honour rolls of the two battalions had been merged, the 2/s were allowed to slip out of sight, to be neither seen nor heard. All in all its not unlike the British Army after the Caldwell Reforms of the late 19th century.
Having disposed of the AIF, what was left of the Colonial armies still had to be sorted out, and this was a much more dynamic result than the stasis the Second AIF had been reduced too. The new ARA needed to be filled with its component formations and these battalions needed names. There was some resistance at first to re-using old names for the permanent divisions, but these old colonial units had a one important advantage, they were clearly territorial. They all had firm long term associations with specific areas of the country or were close enough to be shifted about a little to fit the places the army needed them. This was so important because of the way the equally new (or at least heavily revised) National Service Scheme was to work.
Again Ill get into more detail on this later, but in essence it was a fusion between the old CMF and the regular Continental system of conscription. The compulsory period of service was fixed at 7 years and 6 months years by the CMF Act, and now for essentially the same technical reasons as the ARA had been established, the first 18 months of service were to be full-time and the ARA were expected to absorb a large portion of each years intake. To do this they needed well established depots and the intention was for each National Serviceman to do his full-time commitment with a unit local to his home before transferring over to the CMF for the remainder.
This use of the oldest names on our books gave much of the ARA a christening present of the longest histories Australia could manage with out resorting to farce, and in the process setting them up with smattering of battle honours. All this done without plundering the AIF/CMF or disturbing the RSL.
Quick Note: The Returned Services League of Australasia is our veterans association, founded after the First World War. They along with the charity Legacy of the families of ex-servicemen have a reach that has to be experience to be believed. The RSL gets a bit political for my tastes at its higher levels, but Legacy are very-very Good People. If you are in Australia around the 25th of April and don't buy a Legacy badge, I will personally hunt you down and slowly remove various parts of your anatomy. Believe me, your future on two legs is really not worth the few dollars a badge costs.
The only AIF units to escape relegation to the CMF in on form or another were the Light Horse Regiments, or those of them that remained after the post WWI reorganizations. The reason these were spared was quite simple, they were the foundation on which the ARA was built. When Australia started moving towards mobile then mechanized/armoured warfare during WWII, it had been the LH from both Second AIF and CMF who had pioneered the techniques of mechanized infantry. The reason Australia uses the word Mounted rather than the more technical Mechanized to describe Infantry in APCs is that ours started out as just that, Mounted on horses in 1941-2, and those horsemen were the Light Horse.
Not all of them made it into the ARA of course; a good number of the Light Horse titles did transfer to the CMF where they became the divisional reconnaissance or MI elements. But those that made the cut, are still the core of MI in the ARA today, and if that hasnt changed much neither has the rest of the system as Ive laid it out here. Many other things have changed of course, but the fundamental structure set out in 1948 has soldiered on into the present and proven quite adaptable if its beaten around the head and shoulders hard enough.
Before I get into a brief outline of the force structure, Table of Establishments and the like; Id better lay out the ARA/CMF organization in all its glory.
The very model of a modern Military District?
One of the first things the Commonwealth Government did when it took over defence matters from the former Colonies, was to re draw the military boundaries by dividing the country into Military Districts that were intended to be of roughly equal recruiting potential.
The RA Act and CMF Act were accompanied through parliament by the Army Act which was a hold-all for the many things not directly covered by the other two; its sort of the glue that binds the other two Acts together. As a part of the Army Act the existing Military Districts were re drawn to take into account the population shift since the last time they were revised (not much); and to incorporate all the scraps of territory wed picked up over the last few years, little things like New Zealand, Dutch New Guinea, New Caledonia and the like.
The new structure was a balance between population and military risk, but it wasnt all that different to the old one other than it had been expanded. The First Military District (1MD) covered Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, 2MD was Queensland and New South Wales, 3MD Victoria and Tasmania, 4MD New Zealand and the Pacific Islands south of the Tropic of Capricorn, and 5MD New Guinea, the Solomons and all the islands between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Equator.
Each Military District was the home to one or two CMF divisions, and acted as an umbrella administrative organization for all Army units and facilities in their area. The Command of those units and facilities that were either purely CMF or fixtures for general use was exercised by the districts resident division, the resident division also acts as caretaker for any stray units parked in their area.
The resident CMF divisions are numbered according to their MDs, 1 Division is in 1MD and so on, they also have a slightly split personality, if the Division is mobilized and moves into the field, it leaves a rump behind to continue its administrative role. I bet you wouldnt guess it, but that rump keeps its divisional number and adopts a 2/
If anything Ive tried to explain here has seemed odd or illogical, its not really if you have the whole picture; which you havent got yet, at least not form me. But take my word for it, using the 2/ prefix in this situation borders on daft! As I indicated it was used by the battalions of the Second AIF to distinguish them from the old AIF and that was fair enough. But the WWII divisions numbers followed directly after the First AIFs, that why we had a 6th 7th 8th and 9th Div the WWI numbers stopped at 5. There is no historical basis for putting a 2/ to a division and to this day I cant work out why they decided to do it this way.
But my perplexity is hardly your problem dear reader so back to business. This 2/ division is supposed to act as a cadre like the 2/ battalions and their brigades (note not 2/!), to be fleshed out with men and mobilized if the call should come and the district division has all ready been committed. On paper this gives Australia a very impressive 15 Armoured, MI and Infantry divisions it might draw upon in wartime. This is my first table, please be gentle.
1MD 1st Division CMF
2MD 2nd and 6th Divisions CMF
3MD 3rd and 7th Divisions CMF
4MD 4th and 8th Divisions CMF
5MD 5th Division CMF
Australian Regular Army - 9th and 10th Divisions
9th and 10th
CMF First Reserve
1st 5th 6th 7th 8th
CMF Second Reserve
2nd 3rd 4th
CMF Third Reserve
CMF Fourth Reserve
2/2nd 2/3rd 2/4th
Now again in theory, the depot battalions of the ARA could also be mobilized to provide another division and a half or perhaps three quarters, but at that point wed be past arming teenagers and old men, and be issuing slingshots to grandmothers and toddlers. Realistically in the deepest pinch, the Second Reserve might be partially activated. Perhaps, just maybe, we could scrape up the manpower to get some elements of the Third out the gate, but to be perfectly honest, the 2/s are little more than a few desks, a hand full of paper and the dustiest piles of equipment in the warehouses, and the only thing that sets the Third line above the Fourth is a few more desks and a little less dust. They all exist formally; but if most of the CMF is largely a shell, the 2/s are a skeleton. Perfect for rattling sabres I suppose but if their existence scares anyone Id be very surprised.
Admittedly things are a bit better now days than back in the 50s; the growth in population has increased the pool of manpower even taking the Baby Boom into account. But the CMF is still a pelican organization - its beak can hold more than its belly can. My opinion for what its worth, and I dont keep track of these things as closely as I once did; is we could probably support the ARA and four out of the first 6 CMF divisions at WWI infantry levels of attrition before we started to plunder the shoebox. One day we might fill out the whole lot, but I think wed run out of water before our population grew to that extent, the economy chews up far more bodies than it did in the past, and every year the Armys tail grows another few feet.
Getting back to the table, the levels of reserve are not official titles, only brackets Ive invented to help explain the situation. The divisions within each category could be mobilized in any order to suite the situation, and you will note that the additional Divisions from 2, 3 and 4MD are among the first in line for activation. You might also observe they bear the same numbers as the Second AIF These three divisions are in a blanket sense the first line of the CMF. The resident divisions from 1 and 5MD are also in the frame but this is more due to their position as the most exposed or at risk MDs. To support an overseas deployment the 6th 7th and 8th are the true reserve of the Australian Army.
All the divisions in the First Reserve maintain a portion of their strength on an active basis, usually about a Brigades worth more or less are held at somewhere close to full peacetime establishment and on full-time duty. Naturally their exact level of readiness fluctuates with the perceived threat level, but they do try to keep three battalions and most of an artillery regiment up to strength in each division.
The reason these units are on full-time like the ARA, is a function of their role and location, the 5th and 8th Divisions are not only in the first call of reserve; but effectively the garrisons for New Zealand and all the extra-continental territories in the 4 and 5MD.
1MD covers lions share of continental Australia and for many years was considered the most important and vulnerable of the MDs to external attack (5MD is the most exposed, but wasnt thought to be as valuable), so its division the 1st Division CMF was one of the most important.
At the same time the 6th and 7th Divisions are not only surplus to the whole MD system, but are located in the most populous states, meaning they are the easiest to man and the least disruptive to the system as a whole if mobilized.
In those MDs that have two divisions, the one bearing the MDs number is still the home division and has all the administrative responsibilities, leaving the extra one free to concentrate on its more active duties.
Recruitment and terms of service are yet another thing Ill be covering a bit further on, but in general there are three kinds of Nasho (person doing their National Service), and the common or garden Nasho is quite likely to go straight from the initial 6 months in the training system directly to the CMF for their year of full-time service. So it isnt like the full manning of these Divisional elements is a great burden, the warm bodies have to go somewhere.
The Dinkum Mob
Strictly speaking the mob refers only to the ARA, and since using that title some pages ago, Ive spent most of my time rabbiting on about the CMF. The real strength of the Australian Army is of course the ARA, calling it a regular Army is a little disingenuous as it always contains a good portion of Nashos and I dont mean any slight on the CMF either. The Chokos (the CMF - Chocolate Soldiers, theyre supposed to melt in the sun you see) are in my biased opinion as fine a reservist force as any in the world. My point being, that that it takes more than 18 months with the colours and six years of weekends to make a proper soldier; however it is a very good foundation.
The two divisions of the ARA took on the last two numbers that had been used by the AIF in WWII, and as Ive said they also picked up a grab bag of titles from both the AIF and Colonial forces. The only units to take up brand new names were in the support elements and the Tankies, the battalions of the RAAR (Royal Aust. Armd Regt.) took numbers as the 1st 2nd etc RAAR.
Initially and for the first decade of so of its existence the ARA concentrated on our particular brand of armoured warfare. The first major change to the form of the ARA was when the 9th Division became an Armoured Division rather than the MI one specified in the act. Officially this happened when the Act was revised by parliament in 52, but the process had started in late 50.
Both divisions were now Armoured and everything from basing to tactical doctrine revolved around fighting a conventional opponent on continental Australia. As you might imagine this too gets its own chapters or three <its a reoccurring theme in fact> later, but for the moment I ask you to just accept that the reasons for this were sufficient at the time.
Each division had three brigades, one armoured and two MI, each brigade with a Regiment of Artillery and a Brigade HQ group, which contained a support battalion and the Brigade HQ. Each Brigade being effectively a battle group that to a certain extent was self contained and capable of independent operations.
Id better insert another of my little notes here:
Regiment is one of the most abused words in the military lexicon, and if you think an Army that could mistreat Battalion in the way we do is going to spare Regiment think again. All the LH and colonial mounted units are Regiments in the cavalry sense of the word; that is the horsy equivalent of a Battalion. We also have an administrative Regiment that covers a branch of service in the same way Corp does in some other Armies, the US Army Corp of Engineers for example. And the gunners, as ever, have their own twist; not only are they a Regiment in their entirety, but they also field Regiments that are again almost the same as a Battalion. In this case it indicates an established grouping of Batteries for a specific purpose.
So on the tactical level Regiment and Battalion are interchangeable and so are Company-Squadron and Troop-Platoon. A Section (US Squad) is always a Section even in the artillery where it is either two smaller guns or one larger weapon and the smallest regular subdivision. Battery is of course the artillery-only version of Company/Squadron.
In units with the same purpose for example MI, the Establishment (US ToE) on either the Peace or War footing is identical even if one calls itself a Regiment and the other a Battalion.
Back to the main thread.
The Division had in addition to the brigades a Divisional Reconnaissance Regiment that being Cavalry considered its self well above mortal comprehension and ran about in armoured cars, if not quite playing Polo. Were the CMF to be mobilized, the ARA Divisions had a CMF Cavalry Regiment for each Brigade attached to them, they used a slightly different establishment to the regular MI one, being more aligned to deep penetration in the old Light Horse tradition; and Ive always thought they should be called Dragoons, as it better describes their function.
All this at full strength with attachments would provide each Division with 4 Armoured Battalions, 5 Battalions of normal Mounted Infantry, 1 Cavalry (Recce) Regiment and 3 CMF Cavalry (Dragoon type) Regiments. It would also field 4 Regiments of Artillery, in 3 Field Regiments (2 Field, 1 medium and 1 AAA battery per F-Regt + Support) and 1 Medium Regiment (2 medium, 1 AAA and 1 AT Battery + Support). The Divisions also sported a Tail to keep it in the field, the majority of this was held in the DHQ Brigade, and Ill break all this down in detail at the proper time and place (which isnt here or now).
A battalion in either Armoured or MI terms had 3 Rifle companies (or Squadrons, the Cav called them Sabre Squadrons and perhaps they did carry swords, I wouldnt put it past them) with a fourth Support company on Peacetime Establishment (PE). In War they are supposed to grow an extra line company to make 5 in total, these extra to come from a cadre bulked out by transfers from the CMF. A Company likewise had three line platoons with a support platoon on the PE and grow a forth line platoon on WE. I dont think any battalion was expected to expand by the effective total of two companies in wartime before either time or manpower ran out. My understanding was that the choice would be left to the Colonels if they wanted the platoons or an extra company.
An ARA Division might seem rather well endowed by international standards, it has to be understood that the ARA was seen as the nations shield and it was anticipated to be the leading edge of any Australian force in the field, so corners were cut elsewhere in order to give the 9th and 10th the best edge we could find.
Life in the ARA during this period was divided between garrison, training exercises and garrison again in the usual way of any peace time military. The two divisions rotated between fixed points, and their Brigades moved in a similarly constrained orbit between their Battalion depots and Forward Deployment areas with the Division; and forward was a joke by latter standards. The two centres of our cycle were the major Garrisons at Darwin and Perth; each had the DHQ Brigade and Armoured Brigade of a Division in residence with one for the MI Brigades rotating through on a regular basis. DHQs only rotated between the two centres but one of the Armoured Battalions was always missing from the Armoured Brigade on a depot rotation.
The majority of the depots were back on the east coast in 2 and 3MD, so at any one time Darwin and Perth had a garrison of roughly 2/3rd of a reduced Division with the missing thirds back on the east coast. This gave the Army three centres of mass connected by the National Rail Network which is a fancy term for the two lines that bisect the continent East-West and North-South in an inverted Tee.
With a major ARA concentration or garrison at each extremity of this Tee, no one unit was more than a week (!) away from either its war station - concentrated around its parent Division at either garrison, reinforcing the other Division at its garrison, or shifting a full division back to the East coast. This system was in place for a number of reasons that will as usual have to wait for a better time. But the prime purpose was to respond any invasion of Australia; and any invasion was expected to fall on one of three points; Darwin, the North-West, or the North-East coast. Each either held by a garrison or roughly halfway between any two concentrations.
Playfully aerobatic asphalt fish Where the dawn comes up like thunder
The second decade of its existence was a little more dynamic for the ARA; we sprouted an unofficial third division known informally as the 12th or the Alphabetical Army which lasted for almost ten years before finally being absorbed by the 9th Division. We also lost a little of our fascination with things mechanical and relearned the old skills of our fathers on two flat feet.
The ARAs role didnt so much as change; it was more like a diversification. While retaining the armoured capability wed spent so long building up, the Army also swung to the other extreme in the conventional sense of traditional Light Infantry, but with a more modern bent towards Counter Insurgency operations (COIN).
The main catalyst for all this was of course the war in Burma and our commitment of troops there in late 1959. Ill not go into Burma in any depth here, but it effectively split the ARA in two. On the gross level this division was between those who'd gone over there and the portion that remained in Australia and stayed on the same round of rotations and playing with their tanks. But on the subtler level it was a philosophical division dividing those who came to believe the best place to defend Australia was as far from our shores as possible, and those who rejected the concept of forward defence in favour of the more traditional let them come stance.
You see wed tried Forward Defence before in another age, when the sun would never set on a certain Empire; and while wed survived the experience; the end game was felt to have been a near run thing indeed with Australia lucky not to have been swallowed by Japanese during WWII. My American friends occasionally have a little trouble with this idea, as to reach Australia Japan would have had to get past the US Navy and Singapore. This is very true, and after all the war was won, Australia was not invaded and we all lived happily ever after.
The problem is my trans-pacific friends didnt watch the Pacific Fleet white-anted (white-ant Aust: termite) away under the demands of the Atlantic war. Neither did I for that matter, but my parents generation certainly did (those in a position to anyway), with the RN up in Singapore getting rustier by the day and with every modern American ship replaced by an older less capable vessel, our comfort margin slipped a little. At around this point I usually get some ignoramus start ranting at me that we should be grateful for Uncle Sams generosity in saving our lazy hides, or a more thoughtful reply pointing out that with the US Army in Russia, America was taking no chances of a Pacific war. And Im afraid they both miss the point despite being quite correct.
Australia wasn't/isn't ungrateful. On that score, let me say that if you are sheltering under a someone else umbrella, youre still entitled to notice any holes in the fabric, even if good manners prevents you making any comment at the time; however you still end up wet, and the owner of the brolly is in no position to get narky if you leave a damp mark on their couch.
And yes America wasn't enthusiastic about a Pacific war with so many troops in Russia let alone on behalf of the Russians for whom it would have been the final nail; again that isnt the point. We had placed our faith and security in the most absolute terms possible, into the hands of another, due to Halifax and Butlers most despicable act of treason, that trust was betrayed. It hardly matters that another picked up the burden Britain dropped, the point is we had been let down once so were very sensitive to any hint of the same.
Its safe to say the Dominions would have poured their all into defending Britain; wed been willing to stand by them in the past and had made it plain wed do so again to the bitter end. That such a portion of the British establishment had then been willing to hold us, with all that weight of mutual obligation, so cheap was deeply shocking. Think of it like honest Brutus lying there on the marble floor, looking up at Caesar holding a bloody knife and asking You too Julius?
It wasnt that we lost faith in peoples honesty, but rather their ability to deliver on said promises when the crunch came. I mean we trusted our Commonwealth partners implicitly, but that isnt to say we had a lot of faith in Singapores ability to turn back the Japanese should they feel like a change of climate. And if we looked a little sideways at countries who owed us nothing at all well we knew our ability to deliver (or lack of it).
I might be a little biased, alright I am bloody biased, but I dont think our scepticism should be taken as an affront to America. It wasnt that we didn't take US assurances at face value for the most part, or we thought theyd cut and run. The truth is we didnt think they could pull it off, it wasnt a matter of honesty, although there was some doubt about their absolute commitment when the going got tough, it was the ability to actually deal with the situation. There was no question about America resources and America might have thought it was the most powerful nation on earth, but they just hadnt proved it to the rest of us yet. And having been so sadly (and I mean sadly, not angrily) disappointed in someone with a proven track record, I think we can be forgiven a few qualms about such a minor thing as our national survival.
Anyway the problem with a forward defence policy is you must trust the countries youre working with, and you must work with other nations or forward defence is just another name of imperialism. That portion of the ARA who deployed to Burma had not just learned they could trust the Indians (who we didnt really doubt anyway) and Thais on a personal level in the field, or learned to respect their profession competence, but we found our selves indebted to them for showing us how to do the job properly. The shoe of competence was on the other foot; we had been the ones lacking the ability this time.
So the two schools of thought were separated by a gap of personal experience and world view. Fortunately this internal wrangling within the military was hardly a decisive influence on our foreign policy. The politicians had already made their decision even if they hadnt quite realised it themselves at that point. But if you can lead a horse to water, theres still the problem of making it drink. A military might be subordinate to its political masters, but our allegiance is to the Crown and via that to the nation; theres this little offence under the QR&Rs (the Queens Rules and Regulations for the better governance of Her Australian Forces) called Dumb Insolence
Tracks to tennis shoes, the after effects of Burma Softly, softly, catchee monkee
The division sized force drawn from the ARA to go to Burma called with startling originality Burma Force usually shortened to Bufo, had been taken equally from both the ARA divisions (actually drawn by lot if youd believe it) on the rather arrogant assumption the whole exercise would be little more than an extended holiday in sunny Burma; and every one was entitled to a fair go at such a charming expedition. We were away for a little longer than expected, and came back in a slightly different form from when wed left. It might have been expected the Bufo Battalions would slot back into their former positions on the garrison roundabout, but alas the opportunity just never arose.
Instead we ended up forming what was in all reality a separate army; or at least another division (in more ways than one) within the structure of the ARA. A cricket team has a position called 12th man he's the substitute, a member of the team but not really in the side. What had been Bufo came to be called the 12th Division even though it never had a formal existence, in fact it was hard to say exactly what the hell we were.
If Bufo had just contracted a different mindset, slotting it back into the rest of the ARA might have been a little painful but it wouldnt have been an issue; and obviously this wasnt the case or I wouldnt bought it up.
Bufo had gone to Burma with a minimal reorganisation from its WE as Mounted Infantry; we didn't take any Armour with us and Ill go into that when I cover the whole business in another chapter. In any event it didnt take too long to work out that Mounted Infantry striped of the majority of its transport was not really the best tool for COIN. The first thing they did was move all the battalions over to the normal Infantry WE as quickly as possible, but this left a legal conundrum.
The ARA as established by its Act was Armoured/MI, and the unit mix was specified in the legislation. It was actually illegal for the 9th and 10th Division to have Infantry as a part of their establishment; on the other hand we couldnt belong to the CMF as we were ARA Not wanting to mess up their nice neat paperwork, or have to bother Parliament with this sort of petty stuff at a time when the Army was already looking a little foolish anyway over Burma. All the MI Battalions in Bufo were stripped of their manpower, the troops were pooled and new temporary Battalions created. Now all nice and legal these temporary battalions designated by letters could get on with business, and so we did.
When Bufo came home in late 64 - early 65, administratively the MI Battalions did rejoin their divisions, but the Government couldnt afford to break up the Letter Battalions to give them their manpower back because COIN was now a boom industry and the Letter Battalions were the only ones we had capable of dealing with all the new trade.
The existence of the 12th in Burma was acceptable to the regular Divisions. It was expedient, overseas and posed no threat to the established order of things. When the Bufo came home, and worse didnt disappear immediately, the regular ARA was less than impressed. Not only did Bufo hold about half of their front line manpower and all the lime light; but Bufo actually had work. While the future offered the 9th and 10th nothing more than a continuation of Garrison routine, the Alphabetical Mafia were being deployed on active service, grabbing all the glory and getting all the priority for supply; it was horror of horror practicing such heresies as using non-standard equipment and going into action wearing tennis shoes! (Not that we did that very often, sneakers lack ankle support and have thin soles).
Such presumption was intolerable at the best of times, but Bufo was felt to threaten the very existence of the Armoured Divisions and so by extension the safety of the country.
It was a bloody little civil-war and the dust didnt settle until long after the fighting ended in 68. The most remarkable thing about it all though, was where it was fought. Tactical control of the ARA was vested ANZAC (Aust NZ Army Command, they just couldnt resist the acronym) and Administrative/Political control in the Department of National Defence; but this battle was fought at the Divisional level through the political back door of the RSL The brass hats had worked out their ideal solution well before the last shots were fired in Burma and it was officially incorporated in the revision to the ARA Act in 1966. However while Parliament might have passed the Act, that Dumb Insolence I mentioned translated into delay after delay in putting actions to words, and at every juncture the Minister would have to dither around under the pressure of the RSL before he could sign off on the paperwork.
In the end the Army won, the RAAR lost and the 9th became an Infantry Division, absorbing both the Letter Battalions and the Alphabetical Mafias ideas to become our shield aborad as the 10th remained at home. We might have lost an Armoured Division but we gained a much more flexible instrument of foreign policy.
There rests the first two decades of the ARA; as an old mate of mine said contrasting the parade ground of the early 50s to being neck deep in Burmese mud All the way from Bull to Shit in one easy decade and on that note I think this introduction has gone about as far as it needs to.