Part 1 1946 - 1948 Trouble, Trouble everywhere and only Rum to drink
A little background
The RAN probably reach its zenith of public and political support very shortly after it was founded in the years before World War One. In the immediate post federation period Australias defence policy mimicked that of Britain in placing the majority of the load on the Navy and leaving the Army as a secondary concern. In our specific case, this division was even more marked than in Britain, as without a role in policing the Empire, the Australian Army was almost completely Militia based with only a minimal cadre for training, administration and a handful of Permanent Artillerymen manning the coastal fortifications. For all intents and purposes the RAN was our defence force during peacetime, and since wed inherited the typical British worship of the Royal Navy (for very practical reasons in addition to sentiment) the RAN as our contribution to the Imperium was the bright-eyed child.
This policy paid off during 1914, the strength of the RAN was more than enough to deter von Spees forces from playing in our waters, but ironically this security also allowed Australia to export its army and that was the end of the RANs favoured status. While the 1st AIF soldiered though desert sand and Flanders field, the RAN spent most of the war helping the RN do what it always did, protecting trade. With the end of the war in 1921, London acknowledged the value of the RAN by making a substantial gift of warships to its junior partner, but the Australian public and their elected representatives just werent as interested in the RAN anymore. The Army had captured the glory and the brand new RAAF carried the aurora of modernity, leaving the RAN betwixt and between. Technically its status from a strategic viewpoint wasnt in doubt, but lacking the gloss of the other two services, the RAN had a hard time selling itself in the corridors of power at budget time, and the temptation to rely on the mighty RN was hard to resist. The Great Depression made life even harder, seeing most of the fleet laid up and the RAN having to resort to publicity stunts like flying around the country to stop it being forgotten about altogether.
The rearmament prior to WWII saw an improvement in the RANs fortunes to some degree, but a little bad advise from London and the needs of the other two services meant that in relative terms the fleet of 1939 was, arguably, weaker than in 1914. The war years bought a mixed basket of fortunes for the RAN, before the fall of Britain it was in third place for priority, but when the expansion programs had to be revised in the wake of Halifaxs Coup, they could only build on the foundations already in place that favoured the RAAF and Army. Yet at the same time we found ourselves playing host to a good portion of the RN and that demanded a reallocation of resources towards Naval affairs. Needless to say the result was a mass of compromises that satisfied no one but muddled though.
The War Years - Making do
The declaration of war saw the RAN fill its intended purpose as a supplement to the RN. The Australia Station and the RANs ships fell under the operational control of the Admiralty. RAN personnel dispersed around the world, a lot of the RNs bomb disposal people dealing with aerial mines dropped on Britain were RAN Subbies for example, and RAN officers could be found in almost any RN wardroom. Everything was set for a repeat of WWI with the RAN playing a steady but subsidiary role unpinning the sinews of Empire, then the Coup came along.
There were a lot of Dominion forces in the British Isles when Halifax pulled his swiftie and if the confusion, betrayal and disillusionment felt by the home forces was profound, for the Colonials there was an added layer dismay compounded by a very awkward political position. They were still at war with Germany, but now stood in a neutral country that they considered home.
The terms of the Armistice were rather kind to Commonwealth forces in the UK, in my estimation because neither Halifax or Hitler spared them half a thought. It would have been logical to expect the Germans to demand their disarmament and deportation, and Im sure Halifax would have agreed. But without it in writing and Halifax trying to pressure the Empire into going along with his folly, at lest we managed to slide out with some grace, bayonets fixed and drums beating, quite literally in the case of the Infantry units even if they had to borrow the drums and drummers.
The heavy equipment was much more difficult problem, the terms of the armistice did prohibit the UK from arming or supplying other combatants, but it didnt have anything to say about items already paid for, let alone paid for and delivered but still in Britain. It pleases me to think having to ship all those legions of Canadians, Australians, South Africans, Kiwis and so on home and with all their gear pissed Halifax and Butler off. But Im bloody sure watching No.10 Squadron fly out with brand new Sunderlands (to replace their worn ones) and having to substitute half a dozen warships for ones taken over but still fitting out really must have toasted their nuts.
On the other hand I doubt the British forces begrudged the loan of their drums or anything else the Cw took away. My Cadet unit was affiliated with the 2/32nd who shipped out of Southampton, I dont know what happened to the drummers, but the drums of the Hood Battalion RND from WWI sat below a pair of crossed Boyes AT rifles under the Battalion Colours until we sent them home in the 50s. The Boyes were still on the wall last I heard and they were the really symbolic thing, after Dunkirk any AT weapon was like hens teeth, but the 32nd and the rest of the 26th Brigade had every last item on the War Establishment they were supposed to, with full spares and alocated reserves. A small thing perhaps, but the British Army were passing the baton as best they could.
Anyway, apart from that small bobble the operational side of the RANs war was pretty much a rerun of WWI. They took their share of hard knocks, didnt win many headlines and accrued even less praise. The ANZAC legend didnt gather many fresh laurels in WWII either, the 6th Div had a bit of fun in the desert against the Italians, the 7th traded a few shots with the French across the Syrian/Palestinian border and they both got to see the Horn of Africa, the 9th got a holiday in South Africa then invaded Madagascar and the 8th walked into New Caledonia. At least they all got to do something, the 10th was reformed as the Australian Armoured Div and they only got to make a lot of tracks around various training grounds.
All the kudos ended up with the RAAF, and while I think the 6th and 9th Divs in particular deserve a bit more recognition, the French and Italians could and did fight bloody hard when they set their minds to it, the RAAF do deserve all the reputation they can scrounge for Russia. The war air war over Russia isnt really the subject here, but the RAAF held our end up with best of them. The reason Ive gone into all this, is quite simple, the reputation each service carried out of the war had a great deal to do with how it was received in the peace. Still theres more here about the Army and RAAF than the poor old RAN so
Counting Seagulls - Or What did you do in the war daddy?
My mother had six brothers, theres only two left now, but all six of them came though the war pretty much intact. Uncle Doug was a navy man from 38 and did his twenty, well actually with the war years counting as 1.5 he could have been out in 48, but he hung around for the bonus pension. Anyway my cousin once asked him the question and he reliped as above. Of course Dougie never told the family some of those seagulls were Heinkels and Stukas, his sort never did. I pulled his service records for a nephews school project and we worked out he must have seen Arctic gulls, Atlantic gulls, Great Southern gulls, Pacific gulls, Siberian ones and a few other varieties to boot. And that pretty much sums up the RANs war, no battles of epic proportions, just convoy duty and more convoy duty.
Going into WWII the RAN was Cruiser Navy, it had a pair of 8 heavies, three modern 6 lights and one relic from WWI. The rest of the fleet consisted for a few mixed destroyers and a hand full of sloops. Ill get into the industrial side later, but basically we had one slip capable of building a serious warship like a Cruiser or Destroyer. With the ability to build a larger number of escort types on the other slips existing or under construction at the time. However it came down to a choice of either/or and Australia opted for escorts in the short term and a few Destroyers later. By far the bulk of the countrys contribution to the war at sea came in underpinning the RN.
We fixed their ships, supported their kit, paid, fed and clothed their men and filled out the ranks as they thinned. Utterly boreing stuff for the most part, but it did two things for Australia's long term benifit. Firstly helped win the war, secure our place as staunch ally and wedded a good portion of the RN to Oz.
Secondly it ballanced Australia's industrial development. The demands of TWMAP saw sectors like munitions, aircraft and food boom out of all reasonable expectation and at great pains to the wider ecconomy. Only the needs of the RN kept naval engineering from becoming yet another 'Peter' sacrificed to pay 'Paul' and naval engineering was vital in keeping the development of areas in heavy engineering ballanced.
As the long years of war rolled by the Army lost its central place on a practical level, even if its primacy in general terms didnt waver. The RAAF gathered the majority of laurels earned by Australian forces and the RAN again did what it always had done, made a solid contribution to a larger effort in vital but unglamorous roles, protecting trade and providing a strategic deterrent with the battle fleet of another nation.
So World War Two saw the RAN expand a great deal, but the majority of this growth was in the supporting services; Dockyards, shipyards, victualling, Depots and the like. For the fleet itself, minimal losses and a modest construction program saw an increase in numbers. But with the refugee RN, already built, manned and paid for, providing such a vast addition to the regional Naval balance the Australian Government didnt see the need to invest heavily in building up its own home grown Navy.
The start of something new - the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning
By 1945 the war clearly stabilised to some degree, and by 1946 the end, in either victory or stalemate, was seen as approaching, even if the details were as yet unclear. The mechanics of the Imperial Gift have been covered elsewhere, but for the RAN they came in the context of much debate about the future world. In such uncertain times the RAN could hardly pin much faith in any particular prognostication, so in their planning they aimed at a happy mean. A balanced fleet that was sustainable for Australia, and that could be trimmed to suit the winds of change as they were revealed.
Naturally the RAN Staff were a little optimistic in exactly what might be 'sustainable,' and 'balance' was both a matter of opinion and dependant on what was available. But TBO, and worse the conditions found in Europe after the destruction of Germany left even their generalised ambitions in some disarray
The Imperial Gift
The eventual transfers of so much ex-RN tonnage and manpower under the Imperial Gift scheme put the RAN in a rather peculiar position. Almost overnight the RAN was a minority in its own house, with former RN personnel outnumbering their Australian colleagues, ships appearing under Australian colours that had never seen Australia or contained a single Old Australian rating, and all sorts of potential chaos looming.
The RAN had been a small service before the war, it had expanded of its own accord and swollen with RN adoptions during the war, but was now more than doubling again, all in less than a decade. It was also a young service, only just starting to produce its first crop of flag officers as the Cadets of 1912 matured, yet its officer ranks now held more Commanders and Captains than the pre-war RAN had held Lieutenants, and its essentially parasitic historical relationship with the RN meant these newcomers were not strangers, but family, with no grounds for discrimination. For many in the RAN it seemed as if the guests had taken over the hotel, or rather visiting relations from out of town had moved in permanently.
For the ex-RN personnel it wasnt an easy time either, as in addition to their personal feelings towards the situation, there were equal professional pressures; they were no longer the seniors but had joined the ranks of the junior service and like the old RAN hands, concerns over status and career had to be juggled with their equally sensitive partners.
A House Divided
My belief is that the RAN was always doomed to be cliquey. It is one thing to make the standard you too might be a General speech, but for the initial classes to pass through the new naval college, HMS Creswell, it was a simple statement of fact. Before WWI Creswell saw some men that would mature into remarkable characters, adventurers, spies, and spy masters, businessmen, crooks and, no great surprise this, Admirals. For those who remained in the Navy, the race was always on with the ultimate prize of being the first Australian head of service. By the late 30s this race had been going on long enough for the field to shake out, the front-runners were known, the bets were down and the junior officers were collecting behind their candidates.
The RAN had started off as more like a joint venture than an independent service, and it remained so until the end of the second world war. RAN officers moved freely through the RN for training, experience and career development. Just as RN officers flowed though the RAN, supporting the service as the RAN officer corps matured to take over its own house. Hitler rather disturbed this delicate process by invading Poland, and Halifax screwed it up totally. The late 40s were supposed to be the period when the winner of the 1914 Creswell Stakes crossed the line and the RAN finally stood on its own two feet. Instead the service saw a massive influx of RN officers at all levels, who were just as capable, just as qualified and looking for a job.
Riches to Rust Buckets
The material side of things also saw a dramatic back flip. The RAN was never going to be a big service, that was always understood from the start. The start was also a clean sheet of paper, the fleet circa 1912 was a collection of wildly assorted gunboats from the former colonial navies and a couple of middle aged RN 3rd Class Cruisers on a sort of permanent loan. So right from the beginning the RAN was a planned fleet rather then an organic one, the old crocks simply didnt count and a new balanced fleet of submarines, destroyers, cruisers was ordered, topped off by a capitol unit in the battle cruiser HMAS Australia. Theres no need to get into how the Navy Office tried to balance block obsolescence with economics between the wars, but the underlying principal was that when Australia bought, she bought the best. Ok they was the best the RN had to offer, no other need apply, but we always bought new or nearly new and the top of the line models. O class subs, Country class cruisers, Tribal class destroyers.
The war had thrown a spanner in those pretensions to quality, after 1939 the best that was available became quite modest. However if wed come out of WWI in better shape then wed entered it, the end of WWII bought a cornucopia of rust. The Gift Fleet was a very impressive collection of tonnage, no doubt about that, but it had no future. What wasnt old had been flogged half to death and into ageing beyond its years. The concept of economic repair rather depends on the circumstances, but 1960 was estimated to be the final end date on most of the cruisers and the rest of the primary fleet wasnt much better. The only ships still in the full flower of youth were the latter examples of wartime construction, and theyd been built to war economy standards.
I dare say Canberra would have loved to capitalise on the post war scrap market, it's where most of the rest of the IG ships ended up, Canada just about sailed ships directly up to the cutting torch. BUt Australia and the RAN found itself faced with not only a very real threat in Japan, but forced to stand on its own two feet for the first time. It was being tossed into the deep end, sink or swim time.
The Way Ahead - The Devil is in the Details
The new Navy Board set its job for the next decade out in quite simple terms:
1/ Turn the present shower into a single cohesive service, this was mostly a personnel issue and a thorny one. But with wars end and general demobilisation they had a convenient solution to such problems at hand, better yet the new Reserve and National Service schemes allowed them to have their cake and eat it. Men could be discharged, but retained on the Reserve rolls at the Boards pleasure and convenience. It was a blunt tool but by and large the Navy boiled down into to sorts of people, careerists and those who wanted out. So the Boards axe could cut both ways, trimming a career short or granting a would be civilian their wish. They managed to pulp the situation into something workable, if far from perfect.
The cliquey/bitchy internal politics in the RANs officer corps lasted about as long as its practitioners remained in harness. Its only been since the last of immediate post war intake officers have retired that things have sorted themselves out properly. Fortunately the lower decks adapted far more readily and national service helped a great deal there too. With the surplus of officers the RAN had in the late 40s, recruiting more was an awkward exercise. It had to be done or theres be gaps twenty years hence, but that didnt much help the problems of the day. So they set the bar very high and only accepted the pick of the crop, I suppose quality will out in the end. Anyway one of the obstacles on the path to Creswell was National Service, the compulsory commitment was 18 months, but an applicant for Commission had to do 2 years as a Nasho before they were eligible. The Army were doing the same sort of thing, still do for that matter, if for different reasons. But anyone entering Creswell from 48 on has done at least a year on the lower deck and at best might have had 6 months as a Petty Officer 3rd if hed been picked early for potential. A PO3 gets all the responsibility, precious little authority and bugger all respect, so on the whole thats not a bad grounding to be a junior member of the wardroom.
With decent young officers, plenty of wartime experience, solid NCOs and healthy turnover though National Service in addition to the regulars, the working side of the RAN sorted itself out pretty quickly. National Service is a funny thing, force people to wear a uniform and nine times out of ten they arent too keen on it all, but that tenth one loves it. 9:1 against might not be good odds in most lines of business. But when it comes to recruiting a military, were talking about almost 10 % of the eligible population and that is a lot better than a slap in the face with a wet fish. Combined with the post war austerities in the civilian sector, a nice secure government job was quite a lure in its own right.
2/ The Navy Board needed a vision, some concept of its role and place. This was intimately linked with its political and financial position too, but essentially the RAN had to work out its new place defending a new Australia.
3/ It needed to build a fleet capable of 2/ (above), whatever that might be, and along with the ships, the entire infrastructure required to support them.
These last two were the hard ones, as the essential point was Australias wider defence posture and that was largely out of the RANs hands.
Take Two Steps Forward or Stay at Home
The big question was Forward Defence, would Australia lean northwards to defend itself far from Australia or opt to meet an aggressor on home soil. This basic point held huge implications across all the executive arms of Government, foreign policy, trade, industry and of course the three services. One of the justifications used to support the Triple Alliance was that our mutual frontier with Japan/Chipan belonged on the Mekong River, and so far as the TA in total is concerned this proposition is all too true. But in the context of WWII and 1948, the advance line for Australia was the equator and it hinged on Singapore.
To fight a war on that ground demanded a very different defence force than that needed for a war on continental Australia. For the Army it meant jungle warfare in Malaya and perhaps elsewhere, along with defending and taking fortified islands. But they had built up a force around armoured divisions and mobile warfare. For the RAAF Forward Defence bought a far greater emphasis on maritime issues, strike and surveillance. Yet their structure was set around tactical air support and transport with some ambitions to strategic bombing in this dawning of the nuclear age. Plus of course both services would have to fight in the far and distant north from an industrial base in Australias south eastern corner. The RAN has similar issues with support, aside from Singapore, the Navys infrastructure was heavily biased towards South Eastern Australia too, but Forward Defence did play to their strengths and offered them a role of central importance. Not only was the prospective field of battle dominated by sea, but logistic support for the theatre would revolve around shipping on both sides of the conflict, offering the RAN a key role in underpinning the whole show.
The counter argument, defending Australia in Australia simplified everything. The Army were already structured around mobile warfare over long distances, the RAAF would be operating on its own doorstep and the RAN well theres the thing. Under Forward Defence the RAN could claim a lions share of the action, but to fight an enemy in Australia automatically implied they could get here and by extension the RAN couldnt/wouldnt/hadnt stoped them. Australia First, as the home defence argument came to be called, was an all or nothing deal for the RAN, either their task was to prevent an invasion or they didnt have much of role at all, at least in the centre of play. The Ran would be largely reduced to interdicting the enemys supply lines and providing coastal defence, neither of which were very glamorous or on par with the other two services doing all the main work. As a matter of fact one naval study suggested that under a doctrine of pure continental defence, the fleet would be best to concentrate almost totally on submarines and mine sweepers.
Naturally it was political and economic arguments that set matters in favour of Australia First. The country lacked the means to cover both options, and this lack of resources demanded a concentration of effort to offer any hope of mounting an effective defence. Australia First offered the public a tangible sense of security, where as defending on the equator was portrayed by many as protecting a bunch of Asians while leaving Australia vulnerable. But the clinching factor was Indias lack of cooperation in Malaya.
The Price of Freedom
The defence of Malaya had been a joint responsibility between Delhi and Canberra since the Halifax Coup, but India also took the civil side of Malayas administration under its wing. While the Dutch still ruled the Indonesian archipelago communications between Australia and Singapore represented no obstacle, Batavia was both a partner and financial supporter of the regional defence plans. However, the writing was on the wall of the NEI's and the imminent departure of the clog wogs left a large question mark over the whole business.
Australia was none to keen to deploy the main strength of its services in Malaya without a secure line back to the homeland. But the departing Dutch offered a solution as well as a problem. Batavia had already done a deal with Canberra in 1946; the Dili Accord exchanged guarantees of post war food aid to Holland and concessions relating to post-colonial matters for Dutch West Papua and Timor, Australia would move in just as soon as the Dutch themselves moved out. Another arrangement was being negotiated in Batavia as Germany vanished, this to extend the Dili Accord further west to Bali and north though the islands to the equator.
Discrete enquiries from Canberra showed that Batavia was willing to do a similar deal with India or Malaya over the island of Aceh and the Dutch portion of Borneo or any such trifles as Delhi might care to purchase from the NEIs Closing Down Sale. India was already involved in the negotiations over Bali, the Hindu population of the island had become an issue in Delhi and the Indian Government was quite eager to see their people come under the protection of a friendly power; at the same time protesting loudly about such a colonial exchange to pacify the hardline Islamic factions who identified with a united Greater Indonesia under the Muslim Javanese.
Canberra was happy enough to help out Nehru over Bali and be understanding about the anti-Australian rhetoric that was really only intended for domestic consumption in India. In return Australia looked to India or Malaya (under Indian suggestion) to reciprocate over Aceh or Borneo:
- Aceh was propesed as the cheap option the minimal commitment for an acceptable solution. The Acehense were none too happy about the prospect of Javanese domination and would accept a light handed protectorate. The island would further secure friendly control of the Malacca Straits and for Australia a sovereign base at Sabang would provide the last link in a chain. Sabang was to provide a staging post for Australian aircraft flying to Malaya via Christmas Island if we were ever denied overflight over Indonesian territory.
- Borneo was the full value proposal, it would require a far larger commitment by any new owner, but in return offered the greatest benefits in compensation. Malaya already controlled a quarter of the island having assumed responsibility for Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah in 1941. On a strategic level, Borneo would plug the line from New Guinea to Singapore, and Australia would take up the Dutch offer of Celebes to complete the job.
This then become the price for Australias whole hearted cooperation in the post war defence of Malaya and so a commitment to Forward Defence. If India would support either option there would be a minimum of two Australian brigades (one to be Armoured), garrisoned in Malaya permanently, along with one extended RAAF Group (2x Fighter Wing, 1x Strike Wing & 1x mixed Transport/MPA Wing) and Singapore would see the bulk of the RANs fleet strength.
Nehru declined to become involved in such an imperialist arrangement as exchanging territories for strategic purposes. It seems all the hot air from Delhi wasnt just for domestic consumption after all. Somewhat disappointed and rather hurt, Canberra pulled its head in, declined Celebes and instituted Australia First. All Malaya saw of Australian forces was the RAN and a token RAAF/Army presence in the existing sovereign base area at Butterworth.
Retreat Australia Fair
The Sabang Affair left the Navy Board up a creek and short of a canoe. Australia First called for a concentration of effort by each service on its role under the doctrine, but for the RAN this reduce them to very one dimensional force. For the Army and RAAF continental defence was more a matter of operational training and orientation, they retained a bit of wiggle room to adapt to other circumstances, as both services were to prove in Burma a dozen years later. However a fleet of subs and minesweepers was a far less flexible tool and it took five to ten years to field a new class of major warships and perhaps the same length of time again to develop the operational skills to use them properly.
Further more, Australia First was a plan for war, a defensive war, but still a plan of last resort for when all other channels had failed. It was something no one ever wanted to have to use. In the mean time, normal business continued and the Navy had other duties. The peacetime role of the RAN in the post war world was more or less an expansion of its pre-war experience, only an order of magnitude greater as it was now the primary agency rather then a adjunct to the RN. There were seas to patrol, surveys to be done, pirates to be suppressed and flags to be flown. Surveys aside most of this business didnt really contribute to Australia First even if it was quite important to Australia and the region as a whole.
The RAN as both an institution and as defenders of their country desperately wanted to retain a balanced fleet, but this new government policy didnt leave them much room to keep one. A great deal of the Imperial Gift, our two aircraft carriers for example had been bid for on the basis of a balanced fleet and Forward Defence, the shift to Australia First made building on this foundation a very difficult task. The carriers again are a case in point. After the Battle of Orkney, the Carrier was quite clearly the new Dreadnought, but like the battleship it was both bloody expensive in its own right and demanded a fleet to support it. Worse the IJN held the second most powerful carrier force in the world. Set against the IJN in any class of warship the RAN was David faced with Goliath and in conventional terms we had at best split peas or light gravel for our sling rather than proper stones.
This brings up the second major change after the collapse of the Imperial power structures, atomic weapons. In 1947-50 when all this was being sorted though, nukes were a moot point, only America had any and no one was going to argue the toss with them. All the same it was only a matter of time before nuclear devices become a real factor. Now while they offered David something better than buckshot, an equaliser is just that. Once both sides have them, a superior force with atomic weapons is still a superior force. As great disciples of Mahan, the assumption had to be made that IF the IJN were to come waltzing Matilda, they would be looking to fight a decisive engagement with the RAN and secure control of the sea. On prior evidence, it also looked as if they wouldnt be above opening the batting with a surprise attack too. So basically for the RAN, any idea of going toe to toe with the IJN was out of the question except in an act of utter desperation, theyd have to box cleaver instead.
This suggested a move away from Grand Fleets and towards lighter, more dynamic tactics, if not exactly guerrilla warfare at sea it was far more Tip and Run than Jutland. The analogy with Imperial Germany and the RN has been drawn more than once, as a naval strategy Australia needed more of a fleet in being than seems quite right for a service with the RANs historical associations. In any event Mahan was not to be Australias prophet of choice in the post war period, no Corbett was more our style.
Part 2 — A Very Mixed Bag
A String of Pearls
Lemon tree very pretty and the flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat
Well I dont know about that exactly, Ive eaten lemons and after the first couple they're not too bad. But the Australian Government were sucking the bitter end of the stick in 1948 no mistake, they were certainly robbing both Peter and Paul to pay the bills, and I dare say theyd have knocked off Marys purse if shed been hanging around too.
The new Mandated Territories in the Pacific were certainly a lai of pretty blossoms. Sand, sea, palm trees waving in the tropic breezes, you all know the drill. However at the time they were basically a financial millstone for Australia and represented a pretty sizable burden on the poor old Australian Taxpayer. By the mid 50s Australia had end up covering about an eight of the terraqueous globe, and this area tended more towards the aqueous side of things, even if most of Australias official mindset was rooted in terra firma. Apart from the Dutch half of New Guinea, all of these gains had come in the form of islands, none of which were peopled by those whod normally consider themselves Australian and by that I include the Kiwis. Wed become an empire (note the small e) overnight and the very existence of Australia First as a government policy showed Canberra had a long way to go in accepting that fact.
The late 40s and early 50s werent a great time to start up in the colonial game either. On the international scene the world had just won though a shockingly horrific war against expansionism by force. The single great power was noted for its anti-imperial stance if also for a slight hypocrisy in that same regard. Freedom, Liberty Equality and all the liberal values were heralded as the touchstones of the new world order and justification for the war that had just been fought in their name. Generally speaking the whole colonial business was out of fashion. Obviously the question of Australias Mandated Territories is quite a complex one, and it will be dealt with later in more detail. However the only real gnashing of teeth on an official level over the new Australasian conglomerate came from sources most people were of a mind to ignore, namely Japan and France.
The French wanted their bits of the Indian Ocean and Pacific back and reparations for lost income, their time and trouble too. Alas for Paris the common attitude in the international halls of power, was that the French lost them though their own negligence so they could at least be gracious about asking for their return, otherwise they could shut the hell up. In truth Australia would have been happy to return French Polynesia and the rest of it, if only France would commit sufficient resources to defend it properly. France as a Great Power could have had them back for the asking and be welcomed as a regional ally, but France the Broken Reed was in no practical position to hold their extended territories or oppose Japan, and Australia simply could not afford to risk Japanese expansion below the equator.
Japans objections were blatantly disingenuous, compared to their own efforts in China, for Japan to cry foul was almost laughable almost. The motives behind their objections werent in the least bit funny, the question of Japan ever having territorial designs on Australia is open to debate, but theres no doubt we were on their little list. My opinion is outright conquest by force of arms was never really on the cards; the aim in Tokyo was more towards reducing Australia to a client state and economic puppet. In any case it hardly mattered, Japanese objections were seen for what they were and treated as such by everyone outside the Glorious Greater South East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. So if Australias little empire wasnt wildly popular abroad, most governments recognised the necessity driving our actions and were willing to go along on the proviso we gave them no pressing reason to object; like native revolts, lurid tales of mistreatment and slavery or worse boiled missionaries. Dead missionaries dont go down very well in the American Bible Belt, so they were defiantly off the menu.
In essence wed taken up the White Mans Burden but with a different set of imperatives, or rather the same ones just in reverse order. In the post war world it was beholden on Australia to be good custodians, to wrap ourselves in those liberal values as the moral justification for geo-political necessity. Defence, Economics, National Prestige and all the rest of it still existed as motives, but the prime consideration was to better the circumstances of our new charges; education, infrastructure, medical care and economic development rather then exploitation. Which is not to say all this soft and gooey paternalism wasnt wrapped around a rock hard gobstopper of practicality. The better the islanders could take care of themselves the less Australia would have to do in the long run and the better we looked to the world. It helps to have your own house in order when slinging mud from the moral high ground. This was all well and good, but it took money, money that had to come from the voting public of Australia who quite frankly had other far higher and more selfish priorities. It meant asking people working nine hour shifts and queuing up for tinned pears as a special treat, to pay the way for natives living in tropical paradise to avoid exploitation and eat fresh coconuts all day.
Naturally enough between international opinion and domestic politics, Canberra was inclined towards playing the whole situation very quietly, it was best for everyone to let sleeping dogs lie. Now with sleeping dogs the trick is not to wake them up. Keep them all warm and dry, sprinkle them with flea powder and gently roll them over occasionally to avoid bedsores. Then when the mutt does wake up, it can yawn contentedly, have a bit of a scratch and go outside to do its business. That in a kennel pretty much summed up Australias official attitude towards the Mandated Territories, do the right thing by everyone, but to do it quietly.
By and large keeping things quiet wasnt that hard, Australasia might contain some of the most fearsome ethnic groups outside of Africa, as natural warriors the Koori, Maori, Polynesians, Melanesians, are just not to be trifled with and the Malays have their moments. Remember the Zulu did well enough at Isandlwana but they lost in the end, the Maori won and head hunting was still a family business in PNG. However while occasionally warlike, or for New Guinea Highlanders perpetually warlike, the one thing blissfully absent across most of Australias new extents in the late 40s was politics. Which is to say the dangerous sort of politics above tribal level, the sort of thing that gets ism tacked on the end of it. That sort of white mans politics needed education and broader horizons than were generally available, and as a factor it would come with time, but the delay was invaluable in shaping the context into which this political awareness would form. Until then a bit of tribal biffo was only a great concern if things got really out of hand, I mean it was impossible to stop it in places that hadnt even seen a policeman yet, let alone come under control. There are tribal wars to this day in PNG that no one outside some remote valley even hears about, if a tree falls in the forest?
Sailors they get all the money,
Soldiers they get none but brass;
Oh I do love a jolly sailor,
Soldiers they may kiss my arse
Before things go much further Id better cover some brass tacks. Australias economic blues in the immediate post war period came down to all the usual suspects that hit after every big war. The overnight change in government spending patterns, industry and commerce caught flat-footed and having to shift back to peacetime norms and products as the war contracts evaporate. Unemployment, as the boys come home to find inflation and uncertainty. Shortages as rationing clashes with re-development and adjustment, market imbalances as demand and supply try to reconnect its always mess. Every wartime boom is followed by a bust, the only real question is how long it lasts. 1947 was particularly vicious as it caught everyone on the hop, one-day stalemate the next peace. There was just no chance for any countrys wind down plans to kick in and do any good, even when they were given notice of TBOs imminence, and that was a very short list too. Apart from Canada and Russia I dont think Washington informed anyone officially, not until the bombers were on the way. In Australias case this was compounded by the scale of our industrialisation over the war years, some sectors of our industry had grown by 60% or more, others by 100% having been created out of military necessity. So for a very large slice of our economy, wars end wasnt a return to normal, it was totally fresh start and peacetime commerce a new experience.
The governments spending pattern certainly changed, unfortunately the levels of national expenditure didnt. At home industry had to be eased into the new way of things, while overseas Russia and Europe had to be fed. TWMAP put the Russian shipments on a clear basis, but the rest was on the never-never and someone had to pay the piper. With Canberra footing the bill for our aid to Europe along with their other responsibilities the domestic economy had to be maintained largely under a wartime regime, and that in turn kept living standards low very low. Australia might have looked like a paradise to people fleeing Europe but it was no land of milk and honey, well not unless you kept bees or a dairy herd. The austerity period in Australia officially ended in 1956 and rationing was stopped in 58, but in practice the mindset lingered into the 70s and longer.
Look, as I type this, its 88 degrees F, 58% humidity and Im sweating like a fountain. I can also count on the fingers of one hand the number of electrical devices running in my house: one clock, one refrigerator, one computer, one monitor and one fluorescent light, I turned the modem off. Ive got an air conditioner, the remote control is about two feet away. But Id rather sit here with the doors and windows open, perspire and drink warm tap water than turn it on. This isnt Ocker masochism, as a child of the era under discussion Im just tighter than a Scotsmans sporran in a vice, its bred in the bones. Waste Not - Want Not my friends, it is a (presently moist) way of life. Mind you Ill crank up the aircon and crack a beer if someone comes around, hospitality is sacred after all; but if I went about leaving the lights on Id have mum and both grandmothers coming back to haunt me, amd nothing is worth that. Ive often wondered if the scriptwriter on Mary Poppins wasnt an Aussie. That whole Tuppence scene in the bank, with Railways across Africa and feeding the birds could have come straight out of any Social Sciences class from when I was at school.
Anyway if there was a penny to be found Canberra were squeezing it for all they were worth after The Big One. Taxes stayed high, wages remained low, exports had priority over domestic consumption - Nobody starved, but there werent many fatsos running around either, which is probably why my generation tend to run on the comfortable side now days. We got some good things out of those times though, compulsory Superannuation might have started out as an enforced savings scheme but it means a safe and comfortable retirement is no dream. A good example of the government manipulation Im taking about is the Banks. In the 50s you could get a loan to buy a house or for a business quite cheaply by present standards, but if you wanted credit for personal use one of my Uncles always used to moan about paying 22%pa on his first car loan. Export or Die economics might have lead to export and prosper, but that was some time off. In the short term money was to be saved and spent wisely on useful things, tuppence in the bank could build a brighter future and the damn birds could take care of themselves.
For the armed services all this had a lot of impacts, demobilisation was quite measured so as to avoid unemployment, half the reason behind National Service was to soak up young 18 year olds before they hit the job market. The Imperial Gift was a nice little earner too, the vast bulk of UK servicemen had been in uniform since 1939 or 40, so by 1947 they had at least six of seven years of deferred pay owing to them plus un-dispersed family allotments, and that could amount to a very tidy sum. Deffo probably dates back to the stone age and I believe it was originally intended to insure a man had enough money left at the end of his hitch to square his accounts with the Quartermaster or had a few quid to see him home. But whatever the motive, holding back a portion of a mans pay until discharge has a long hallowed tradition in British service and during the great wars its been a useful economy to governments too. I think family allotments go back to the Napoleonic period too, or else they were Victorian innovation. Not that it really matters, the family allotment system broke down for UK personnel overseas pretty much with the coup, in line with their Commands repudiating London and the same thing happened for all the men on the RNs little jaunt in 42. Since a good number of people never changed their allotments, but the families werent being paid, that too stacked up with their deferred pay. There were men walking away in 1947 with, in some cases, well over a thousand pounds in their pockets, serious money, or a serious liability to the Government that had to shell out the cash. There was some talk of offsetting this back-pay against the sustenance benefits paid out to dependants by the Halifax Government, but not even London could be that mean so the debt was transferred with the man for anyone taking the Gift.
For the Australian Government the warm bodies and skilled hands were attractive but the cold cash was almost as alluring, come start a new life in Australia and bring your back pay with you. Since Canberra actually had to pay the men before they could spend their hard earned lump sums, youd think this would have taken the gloss of things. However thats not the way these things worked. There was a long established system for supporting the expenses of RN ships operation far from home and but seven years of war, changes in authority and general swapping about left things in a right mess. On an inter-government level it was like trying to split the bill for banquet all sort of bickering along the lines of But I didnt have the roast beef and you had two deserts. Eventually they had to set up an independent commission to sort it out, and for naval pay the best they could do was sum it all up and split the bill five ways. This of course left everybody equally unhappy, which only proves it was a damn fine Commission. Anyway this meant a matelot represented four times his cost to a government in credit all of which was a nice gain, but had to filter though the wider economy before it put any cash in the government coffers. Nice on a national level, but not much help to the RAN.
Nope the Navy had to earn its keep and that was not an easy job. Under the doctrine of Australia First the RAN was basically left sucking on the hind tit. The other two services had clearly defined roles of direct importance to continental defence, greater political capitol in the halls of power and were more amenable to the sort of famine and fast funding that Canberra could afford as it struggled to sort out the post war economy. While the RAN had a huge problem with block obsolescence looming on the not to distant horizon, no clear roles under Australia First and no martial glory to cash in on. However our new Mandated Territories needed to be governed and that government needed a strong right arm.
Naturally the RAAF were quick to point out air power was the most economical method of colonial policing, and if they couldnt bomb the locals into submission any more they could certainly get troops to a trouble spot faster than anyone else. The Army were happy enough to provide the men too, although they drew the line at permanent garrisons outside specific points. However it was the RAN that got the job, ostensibly on infrastructure costs, they didnt need any, but in reality the runways were going to be built anyway. Its just flying rapid reaction forces about the place was apt to create a little more fuss then the Canberra desired for this sort of thing, and the navy were better at sending the sorts of messages the Government wanted to broadcast. With Japan just over the line, Sovereignty wasnt something that could be taken as granted, it needed to be blazoned across the sky in the blare of a bugle sounding Colours as the sun dips below a purple horizon and into tropical night.
Flying garrisons were a good contingency measure, but they were a bit one-dimensional and they lacked a continuation of presence; which was half of their economic attraction and in this case most of their downfall. A warship wasnt expected to hang around all the time, its a ship, they come they go, its what ships do. Flying a company of troops in and out for a few days a month just looks indecisive, but a patrol vessel pottering about, here today gone tomorrow, is perfectly normal. The other end of the message is quite distinct too; a soldier with a fixed bayonet is a pretty clear statement of intent. Whereas a burly stoker tapping his meaty palm with a pickaxe handle, is more personable character given to chuckling kiddies neath the chin and feeding them lollies, helping old ladies and their shopping across the street If the locals wanted to blow off a little steam the RAN could meet them on their own level, without fear of pricking anyone with nasty pointy things and making them howl, creating the sort of ruckus that might disturb the dog.
The RAN also worked cheap, fate left them with a sizable fleet of ships perfect for the job. The Bathurst Class Corvettes, or AMSs (Australian Mine Sweepers) as they were also known, might almost have been tailor made for policing the Pacific, which was fortunate as they were bugger all good for much else by 1947. Ill get to the Bathursts in some detail a little later, but suffice it to say, as ships of war they were not very impressive, as keepers of the peace they were ideal. All the same, the role of Colonial Policeman was a mixed blessing for the Navy, politically it was priceless, its just in practical terms of building better fleet, the only contribution patrol work could make was in sea time and the diplomatic skills of its junior officers. If anything it dug the RAN even deeper into obsolescence, as patrol work hardly justified building serious warships and in fact the only new construction ordered between 1947 and 1950 were a handful of additional Bathursts. For the rest of the fleet, sea time was short and refits were long, if only to keep the yards occupied.
Trouble Down Below
Some of this refit work amounted to slight of hand, for the two River class submarines they might as well have jacked up the builders plates and slipped a whole new ships in underneath. However the Bathurst orders were strictly pragmatic for all they made the Admirals squeal. For a start they were built in commercial yards. This provided a valuable bridge for these firms in helping them transition to a peacetime footing, and dare I say, it they put some government money into certain important Labor Party seats before the run up to the post war elections. Yet the principal reason behind the first crop of post war Bathursts was as an attrition reserve.
As a class they saw relatively few losses during the war, but this good luck wasnt expected to continue. The Navy Board anticipated a few more lost to maritime hazards in their new patrol duties, messing about poorly charted islands is apt to get dangerous and survey work was to be a major part of their duties. But the real hazard was mines, people tend to forget the war in the Pacific, thats if they even realise there was one. As a campaign it started before the Americas involvement in Russia and outlasted Models Reich, so youd think it might attract a little attention, but no. For the most part it was fought between the RN/RAN/RIN and officially the Germans, but the Japanese had more than a finger in the pie too.
Germans surface raiders were the headline problem. If the Coup in 1940 had left WWII temporarily in a state of farce, antagonists yelling insults at each across the Atlantic, and we in Cw were hardly up to any offensive action; Hitler was not renowned for his sense of humour and he wasnt the sort to leave an enemy un-molested. For the Kriegsmarine Merchant Raiders were almost a traditional speciality, and quite an effective one too in the old guerre de course. Without Britain to plug up Europes ports, the stream of raiders and blocked running merchant ships was a veritable flood in 41-42. Donitz, not wanting to be left out of the fun, chipped in a few U-Boats too, but they were much less of a factor overall.
With the economic turmoil that followed the Coup, the last thing anyone in the Commonwealth needed was to convoy trade, but convoy was instituted quite regularly in the Indian Ocean between 1940 and 1945, and frequently enough in the Pacific and South Atlantic. The only saving grace for the allies in this situation was with Dutch cooperation and the bulk of the RNs cruisers available, we had more than enough resources to make a raiders life almost as difficult as they were making ours. I suppose we should have been grateful Hitler didnt want to waste any of his larger warships on us as well, a re-run of the River Plate might have been good propaganda but it was hard enough to find sufficient cruisers without having to run them in pairs and groups.
Keeping the raiders under control took quite a lot of effort, arming merchantmen, converting more AMCs and throwing a lot of very unsuitable craft into surveillance work. The RAN lost one Sloop that we know about to a raider, the poor old Yarra, down in the Kergulans and then theres the poor old Adelaide. But the raiders werent all bad news; if nothing else they forced the RNs global command and control network to overcome decapitation and keep functioning and that was a key element of the RNs later ability to remain a functional entity and in turn was a little more cement to hold the Cw together. The same can be said for the shipping control network too.
The Germans had three main ambitions in all this, maintaining commerce with Japan, making our lives miserable and making a nice little profit off captured tonnage. They largely succeeded in all three too for a while. After the European homeports, the other pivot for the Kriegsmarines extended operations was Japan and their rather bellicose neutrality. Its one of the less palatable ironies of war that weapons used against the Allies in Russia were made with raw materials sourced from South East Asia and yes Australia. But keeping the Japanese out of the war demanded they be allowed access to our produce and there was nothing bar the largely nominal blockade to stop them selling Malayan tin and rubber, Dutch oil or Australian wheat, wool and steel on to the Germans. It was a lot less ironic and far more unpleasant to have the German raiders and their auxiliaries operating out of Japanese held territory or seeing British ships sailing under the Japanese flag having been taken and sold. Anyway the Germans had a nice little trade running in this area, for a raider a cruise was basically a six to eight month run out to Japan, and then the same home, the auxiliaries took a lot longer and the blockade runners less, but that was the essential pattern.
This changed over time as at first the RN and then the USN made traversing the Atlantic more difficult. The Breakout in 42 helped a great deal, putting a lot more cruisers into the pot and finally putting a head back on the shoulders of the Admiralty System, although the real cure came with the USNs entry into the Atlantic in force. Once the USNs Carriers came to dominate the North Atlantic and the RN were able to concentrate the Home Fleet into the UKGI Gap as part of their operations supporting Northern Russia, the great outflow of KM ships from Europe largely dried up, but it never actually stopped. The raiders and their replenishment auxiliaries started to stay out for longer, usually visiting Japan twice before braving the run back to Germany. As the allies grip on the seas around Europe really began to bite in early 44 even the blockade-runners had trouble, and eventually the flow dropped to a trickle and the trickle dried up to a drip. Its believed the Germans and Japanese turned to submarines for the vital traffic and only resorted to running the odd ship for bulk goods, but not much is known about that end of the business. Theres some suspicion that Japan gained its initial cache of atomic material along this route, probably in the form of radiological rather than fissile material, but in any case the final handful of raiders ended up running out of Japanese waters almost exclusively and this is where the Bathursts grim future came in.
Raiding, for the success the Germans had, must have been a frustrating business. In general they had to avoid operating in the Atlantic and RN/USN cruiser patrols pushed them out of the South Atlantic too in time, but if this still left a lot of sea to play in, their own restrictions kept them out of the richest waters. To avoid fouling their own nest in Japan the KMs raiders were excluded from the North Pacific and US flagged trade in the Pacific as a whole, and that must have been galling. The congestion off Siberian ports would have been a submariners dream, and the largely unescorted trade from Panama and the US/Canadian West Coast ports across to Russia was a jugular exposed. Yet the more desperately Berlin needed to sink its fangs in to Russias life line, the more dependant they were on Japanese hospitality to do anything out here you can almost feel sorry for the bastards.
Up to about the middle of 44 the Kriegsmarines raiders had done quite a bit of mine laying, mostly as a means of spreading disruption into areas otherwise too hot to operate in. Theyd come in, drop their mines in lots of little fields down a few hundred miles of coast, or fill a choke point with a single big lay and run of into the night singing about Horst Wessel and toasting each other with steins of beer. Sensible chaps, other than in their musical tastes. This was a clear pattern, well known to the Raider Plotting Room in Simonstown and could appear anywhere from the Falkland Islands to New Zealand. But with the general decrease in raiding activity the mine laying not only stepped up in frequency but also shifted in strategy. Previously its first victim would find a new field, it might claim a second or third, but by then the alarm would have gone out. The sweepers would trundle along, clean up the mess and then go poking about the vicinity to find any additional lays. Certain areas would get swept on a regular basis, others would be done automatically after a new crop of mines had been found in the region and it was all a great pain the backside.
However by late 44 mines could crop up just about anywhere the bottom was within reach of a mine cable. Not in any great numbers or concentrations, little clutches of five, ten, perhaps a dozen scattered all over the place. With ships getting thumped out of the blue in the middle of nowhere, the first reaction was a new submarine campaign had been launched out here. That lasted about a month before mines were found to be the culprit and efforts turned to finding the new pattern. But there wasnt a pattern, well other than the lack of a pattern being a pattern in itself. All that could be said for certain was the German EMC type mines might be encountered in small numbers in waters of less than 300 fathoms period. Over time this statement was refined a little as more of these nuisance fields were found, mostly the hard way. None were ever found in the Atlantic or between 120d W to 30d East, the Pacific north of the Equator was off limits as were the Red Sea and Persian Gulf along with most of the Arabian Sea and the Indonesian Archipelago up into the South Chain Sea. All of which left Indian and Australasian waters to bare the vast bulk of this campaign. What also became apparent was the scale of this new effort, comparing the numbers of known mines, to the number of known active raiders and the traffic from Europe; the conclusion was that the Japanese had to be making German EMC pattern mines and supplying them to the raiders. But who made the mines was far less important that sorting out the mess they were making of Cw trade.
The concentration on Indo/Pacific waters was fair enough, the northern Indian Ocean is ideal for this sort of funny business, with shipping routes crossing lots of shallow minable waters well out to sea. But on a mine count the balance was skewed away from India and the Bay of Bengal, which was by far the best target for this sort of disruption, and towards the Pacific Islands. On the face of things this made little sense at all, there just wasnt the traffic out that way to sink. At the time this was thought to be a sign of timidity in the remaining KM raiders at large. Given they were operating out of Japanese waters, mostly Truk it is understood, the South Pacific was right on their door step and relatively easy to operate in. But then that didnt make any sense either, as the raiders were still cruising much further out.
Whatever the motives and source of these mines, cleaning the rotten things up has been the work of some thirty years, mostly by the RAN and the majority of it by the poor old Bathursts while they pottered about keeping the peace. Streaming paravanes and running Orpessa sweeps might be so old fashioned as to be laughable in modern naval circles, but it has been standard RAN practice in certain areas up until very recent times. Compared to the mine problem in European waters our issue with the odd EMC lurking in the depths is chicken feed. There are bits of the Baltic where the Russians still hold an annual international minesweeping competition, just to rub a little more red off the charts and the RNs job has been 60 years of patient toil and still isnt done yet. But theres three Bathursts, one Halcyon, a dozen inter-island traders and god knows how many fishermen siting on the bottom today though bumping into stray mines in times of peace.
The Trouble With being Earnest
By 1948 the considered view of Naval Intelligence in Singapore was that the Japanese had taken over the mine laying business for themselves and behind the beard of the KM raiders were using it to work out a few of their own frustrations, they certainly had enough pent up angst over various things.
Keeping the Japanese happy and out of the war was the corner stone of allied operations in Eastern Russia. For the Russians the Japanese Army in Manchuria wasnt that much of bogyman, Zukov had taken their measure himself in 38 but they certainly represented a straw that could easily shatter the camels back. However it was the IJN that represented the real issue, it would be hard to imaging a better or worse situation than the war in Russia presented to naval authorities on both sides. The Siberian ports, on which so much depended, were literally right under the IJNs nose, and yet about as far from any centre of allied naval strength as it was possible to get.
Im hardly knowledgeable enough to write about the diplomatic shenanigans between Washington and Tokyo during the war years, Ive got enough trouble without delving into that snake pit. But the upshot was the Japanese got enough to be mollified, but not enough to be really satisfied. A free hand in China was the worst of the Devils hard bargains for Washington, and they had a hell of time getting that around the China lobby in America. But Tokyo had ambitions southwards too, access to raw materials and resources in the Anglo-Dutch South East wasnt much more than an light entre.
Like so much of all this it started with the collapse of the European powers, although Japanese ambitions predated that by decades. With a large population on a small landmass, Japans problem was lack of natural resources and markets, by the time she had emerged onto the international scene the great imperial cave up had not left much in the Asian region for the Japanese apart from China, and even that was being parcelled up by the Europeans. Now the thing about empires, at least those of the late 1800s, is they were trading entities; the Imperial power had first dibs on the resources of its dominions and preference for its goods in those markets too. For the Japanese, on the outside looking in, it meant they paid the full price for their imports and had trouble inserting their products into the market place to earn the cash to pay for those imports. Basically it was bad for their bottom line.
What Tokyo lusted after was a resources area of its own, this wasnt always government policy but the business community had little doubt about it. They wanted a patch of turf with lots of people and lots of natural resources so they join the big boys and get ahead. As things were, the only edge Japan had commercially was low wages and that wasnt doing her economy much good. Low wages meant low tax revenues per capita, low domestic demand for manufactured products and all that sort of thing. The political climate in Tokyo in the late 30s and early 40s was rife with more then just economic arguments for expansion, the war faction was in the driving seat, which hardly boded well, and they were whipping the cart along with nationalism and all the usual trappings. But just the same money was at the root of matters, the war in China was chewing up resources faster then it was generating them and given the choice between trade and going to war with the whole region Tokyo would have and did chose the trade.
The collapse of the old Empires certainly gave the Japanese a military opening, but it also bought forth a cornucopia of commerce. Without European demands or supply of manufactured goods the Japanese were handed everything they were looking for on a plate. Prices for raw produce plummeted, demand for manufactures rocketed, well to the extent there was money to pay for them, and Japan could at last take over the driving seat of Asian trade. There was no point invading anyone, when we were all too busy breaking down the door to sell them the shop at knock down prices, any way they could invade at any time if they wanted to, and sabre rattling was good for business.
It wasnt all good news of course, we colonials were rearming like fury and paying for it partly out of Japanese trade, but Tokyo had the one advantage we simply could not match, the Imperial Japanese Navy. As a matter for fact the rearmament was seen in Tokyo as to their benefit, such a massive diversion of wealth into a non-productive area could only weaken colonial economies in the longer term leading to an ever-greater advantage for the Japanese. The fly in their ointment was America, with their silly humanitarian stance over China, couldnt the weak fools see it was just business? Apparently not, at least the Japanese never learned the value of not annoying the Bible Belt, because the clouds on the horizon steadily grew as Washington clamped down on its embargos against Japanese trade. In late 41 Roosevelt stepped up the pace and extended the embargo to cover oil and make it a total block on US-Japanese trade, mostly as a response to Japanese moves in Indo-China. Just because they could lord it over the marketplace didnt mean the Nipponese were averse to picking up the odd bit of territory if it came their way.
These embargos had been an increasing worry for the Commonwealth and the Dutch East Indies, not wanting to get across Washingtons bows but unable to resist Japanese trade, reluctantly Australia, India, New Zealand and the other colonies fell in behind Canada and Churchills Government, signing on to the US embargos with a great deal of grumbling. Only the Dutch refused to join. Now any embargo is only as strong as the will behind it, and frankly our hearts just werent in it. Front companies in Batavia and Bangkok picked up the trade pretty much without a hitch, so the only result was the middle men raising the price to the Japanese and reducing that paid to the producers, a really positive result all round.
Having to pay a few more pennies per ton wasnt exactly popular in Tokyo, but the opportunities all this back door dealing opened up provided ample compensation. Being good little imperialists, the Japanese were after a lot more then simple trade, the real profits were to be found in owning the means of production at both ends, the transport linking them together, along with the banks and financial institutions that the greased the wheels. From the start Japan had tried to leverage its position in the suddenly impoverished colonial world though its commercial links, the Yokohama Specie Bank, these days the Bank of Tokyo, was happy to extend credit to colonial administrations and help in any way they could and very nice of them it was too.
The Japanese had a sizable holding in Malaya of long standing and fingers in pies all over the place, the Asian pearl fisheries were largely Japanese in labour if not ownership and firms like NKK were competing in the island trades like Copra. If the US embargos prevented direct trade they had little to say on investment and finance. Japanese capitol flowed out and into Malaya and the NEIs in particular, but Australia and India saw some sizable Japanese investment in failing enterprises too. That these operations were on the wrong side of the embargos just prompted the establishment of Japanese owned front companies in the NEIs too. In short the Japanese were making a killing. The real danger period started just before the Royal Navys escape in 1942.
Colonial rearmament, as I say, had been seen more as an opportunity than a threat in Tokyo and this was mostly due to a simple strategic point. The Dutch could by tanks and aircraft from America, India and Australia could mobilise troops to garrison places like Malaya and Singapore; but none of us could scrape up a fleet to oppose the IJN and South East Asia, as a theatre of war, is dominated by sea. While the RNs battle line was locked up in Britain and the USN came no further west than Hawaii, Japan retained an unquestionable whip hand. But then the USN started to redeploy some of its bulk to the Philippians. At the time no one was quite certain exactly why Roosevelt saw fit to send his cruisers and destroyers out this way. The rhetoric from Washington was all about Japanese aggression in China and Indo-China, but they had been quite vocal about the leaks in the embargo too and it was rumoured the USN was actually to impose a stop and search type blockade of main shipping routes though the South China sea. Either way was bad news for Tokyo and then the RN broke out and made it to Canada. With the bulk of the RN back on the board the Cw now had the potential to offer some argument, it wasnt much more than a glimmer of light on the horizon, but it was a damn sight more than had been present before. Worse it signalled a shift in stance by the various Cw players, Americas entry into the war saw them align themselves firmly with Washington.
If naval power gave the Japanese the sense of security and trade the material comfort to feel generally content, these shifts on both scores threatened all the rosy pictures they had painted of the future. The pot was certainly starting to bubble through the last third of 1942, and that the lid stayed on came down to two things. The Dutch, bless their avaricious hearts, kept trading and the Japanese had taken over a large slice of the carriage trade. They passed a series of laws from Feb 41 on, that increasingly discriminated against foreign shipping in the Japan trade and with the general down turn in global shipping since 1940, the Japanese shipping lines had been able to buy up a lot of tonnage for a pittance. With the NEI-Japan traffic mostly in Japanese bottoms the risk of a US blockade was one that could be born, America might bully the small fry but direct action against Japanese shipping was a sure road to war.
The six months over Christmas 42/43 were a succussion of checks and balances. The Ledo Road from Burma into China was closed for repairs under intense Japanese pressure and equally loud American complaints, it was a hard choice of Delhi at the time. Batavia agreed to a Japanese firm buying 15% of Royal Dutch Shell. A serious rubber tappers strike in Johore was decided in favour of the Japanese owners and a new branch of the Yokohama Bank was opened in Wellington. But all this good news for Tokyo came against a back drop of steadily rising process for commodities as the US war economy geared up and the Russians entered the market place in a big way.
The real crux came in the weeks between the fall of Moscow and the commitment of US troops to Russia. If nothing else this swung the strategic balance back in Tokyos favour with a vengeance. Now Washington was looking for favours and the boot was on the other foot. As I said the diplomatic mechanics of the whole business are just something Ive no intention of getting into, but if the common coin of the exchange was China, there was a lot more too it than that, or at least the Japanese thought so. The Japanese saw China as their historical right, not some special privilege and Washington offering them a free hand there was Nippon finally getting its just deserts, nothing else. Now I dont know if there was any more too the negotiations or if the Japanese just assumed a nod was as good as a wink to a blind bat, to my mind theres no conclusive evidence either way. But theres plenty of backing to support the view that Japan presumed that after a respectable interval to save face, the US would withdraw gracefully and let the Japanese have a crack at the NEIs which is what theyd really been after all along this being the fair exchange for not making trouble over Russia.
Low and behold in early 44 the USN was largely withdrawn from the Pacific, with what remained based out of Pearl Harbour in Hawaii and Philippians were being de-colonised just as fast as the Americans could turn things over to the locals. All according to the plan as understood in Tokyo. But then we perfidious round eyes reneged, as the USN moved out, the ruddy RN moved in, the steady flow of imports from the NEIs started to come under additional pressure as the war economies soaked up raw materials and screamed for more, not to mention safe in this new world order, a lot of governments started passing laws. Nothing that discriminated against Japan, god forbid, but concerning foreign ownership in general along with citizenship, trade and currency restrictions, labour standards basically easing the Japanese back out of their economies. By the end of they year we found these mines starting to spring up there cant be any connection of course not.
A Philosophical Interlude
Towards the end of Part 1, I mentioned a number of naval thinkers and concepts; Mahan, a Fleet in being, Guerrilla warfare at sea, grand fleets and the like. Naval strategy is a bitch, it has always involved technology and long time spans on that level, so it is expensive and in some ways inflexible, at the same time is it vital, essential stuff on global scene. One can project force with a bomber full of atomic devices, but power comes in ships. If I can generalise a little, only soldiers can hold ground and only trade makes money. To deal in either of these things on a global scale shipping becomes the core of any operation if only for logistics. With shipping comes the need to protect yours and threaten the oppositions, and so naval power. Having waxed lyrical, Ill clarify cos this is important; merchant shipping moves the world.
Planes can move people, drop bombs and shift cargo; trains can too if rail garrisoned missiles count. But if you have bulk quantities of something, anything, that has to move on global scale with speed and efficiency, then a ship is the way to go. This counts for imported schlock in discount stores and invading armies. The air bridge to Russia gets all the movies made about it, but the Siberian ports shifted more bulk in a day than the air bridge could do in a week. This is not a new concept; the Greeks and Persians knew about it, as did the Romans, Vikings, Normans and everyone else. Unless were talking about a cockpit like Europe, military power comes out of the hold of a ship.
Ok so its important, that means no one wants to make mistakes, and a lot of thinking goes into Naval matters, but ships are not cheap or particularly quick to build, so people dont get to experiment all that much and theories pile up, largely uncontested by practical trial. Serious navies dont get very radical, the stakes are too high and the ante too rich for much in the way of revolution and great novelty. They tend to stick to some basic principals and adapt them to the changing circumstances as technology drives the bus. When revolution comes, it tends to be in a shower of shite and be pretty obvious too. Steam over sail, Dreadnought, radio, air power, and the Bomb. Smaller stuff has its influence too, but mostly on a tactical level and if tactics drive strategy from time to time, it is usually preferable to put the cart before the horse.
Submarines were not a strategic revolution, the war against trade is almost immortal, and for all their impact, its worth noting the most effective counter to the Submarine has been the Convoy and that dates back into the dark ages too. Nuclear weapons are another classic example, the bomb is a great equaliser, but if both sides have it, then the superior is still superior. Technology keeps throwing up different ways to do things, but generally speaking they are still the same old things, only the applicable techniques change. What is the difference between a smoothbore cannon and an AD-1 Skyraider? Everything and nothing; on the level Im talking about here they are both just means of projecting force from a ship. What sort of ship is a matter for the technologists and strategists, and as I say, of the two strategy is the more important in the long term. You have to know what you want to do before finding the means with which to do it.
What are these fundamental principals navies like to stick too? Well now that would be telling. There are all different sorts, from gaining the weather gauge to never buying the first of a new technology if you can help it. But for the most part its more a matter of philosophy than anything that can be set out in bullet points, accumulated conventional wisdom if you like. For every naval ambition or goal theres a perfectly relevant historical precedent, although it might be hard to spot though the changes in technology and geography, and from these examples naval thinkers have drawn up their theories. Oh, and as I say theres been a lot of them over they years.
Intellectual innovators can have their few moments in the sun. But either they get their comeuppance or are absorbed by conventional wisdom and the game rolls on. In the late 40s, strategic naval conventional wisdom could be encapsulated in one name, Mahan. Like Machiavelli or Von Clausewitz in their spheres, Mahans influence upon sea power wasnt so much a matter of new ideas as in the distillation and presentation of what has become common sense in the years since he was published. In my opinion old Alfred has been the most influential American to date, youve only got to look at his home and I dont mean just the USN:-
wars are not won by rambling operations, or naval duels, or by brilliant individual feats of gallantry or skill, by ships or men, but by the massing of superior forces, or by force massed and handled in skilful combination.
If that isnt the American way of war all over I dont know what is. Squint hard enough and SAC can be seen as a continuation of COTS over land. There you go, Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan USN (Ret.), that rarest of all things, a prophet honoured in his own land. Anyway, at the tail end of WWII, Mahan was not going to lead the RAN to nirvana, or at any other time in the foreseeable future. The gospel according to Saint Alfie is rather old testament, his divinity is Command of the Sea (COTS) and his worship is a very Darwinian activity. Massing those superior forces has broken much more prosperous empires than Australias little effort - actually its broken most of the empires over the last hundred years one way or another, its one of the reasons I rate Mahans historical influence.
Mahans case study was Royal Navy and his moment of clarity was drawing the links between the accent of the RN into global dominance and the growth of the British Empire into the largest such conglomeration of all time. The basic precepts Mahan sets out focus on the big objectives and the concentration of all effort to those ends, ignoring distractions, to win Command Of The Sea through Trafalgar come again, a decisive battle that crushes the opposition, all fine stuff. For the Japanese, Mahan was as good a bible as any, as a matter for fact they put him up on the altar right next to Musashi and Togo Heihachiro and just below the Emperor. Which is one of the main reasons Im rambling on about all this.
Mahans object was to provide his nation, America, with an appreciation of the value of Naval Power, and provide his lights on how it was best handled. The political side amounted to all the benefits that accrue to the power that rules the waves, freedom of action, trade, suppression of opponents, extended reach etc, in short the sea provides a great logistic advantage to whoever has the freedom to use it, and that advantage can be leveraged in allsorts of nifty ways, The Influence of Seapower upon History, is basically how to turn a Great Power into THE Great Power in two easy Volumes. But Mahan was writing to a specific purpose and audience, his budding colossus of a nation that was neglecting its Navy prior to the Spanish American War, and over the years a lot of people have missed this context. COTS is simply the biggest game in town, and if youre not already a High Roller well the 2 cent slots are down the hall and to the left.
Ruling the Waves to a Two Power Standard demanded that Britain spend 2/3rd of her military budget on the Naval Estimates and outspend the next two or three powers combined on naval matters. The RNs decline in global dominance can be traced directly to the growing costs involved across the defence sector of the period. For a nation not intended to launch any wars of conquest in the near future or otherwise bidding for global supremacy, a Defence Budget is basically a primum paid on an insurance policy. Money is spent on defence out for fear of the consequences; admittedly there are lots of fringe benefits to be had from that expenditure too, be they industrial, international influence etc. But those are like a policyholders Discount Card, nice to have, just not the major reason for signing the cheque. How much insurance you buy depends on how much insurance you can afford, who goes hungry to insure their TV set for third party liability?
Without getting into the details, somewhere south of 10% GDP is a rough line on what a nation can afford to pay out on Defence in peacetime without cutting too deeply into the rest of the economy. It depends on accounting methods, but generally speaking Defence counts on the red side of the ledger, most of the money spent at home gets recycled but that is Loss Recovery theres not too many Armies, Navies or Air Forces that actually generate a return on their investment. Invest a dollar in a healthy economy and you should get $1.10 back in a good year, put that buck into national Defence (note: not the defence industry) and if $0.10 comes back, in General Accounting Terms, youre doing well. But this is all beside the point, were talking about how the money is spent more than how much is spent. To play for COTS needs deep pockets, and Mahan is like a recipe that starts First obtain your elephant, you will need a moderately sized pachyderm of no more than 15 ton for best eating It might be a great feed, but what about the washing up?
Mahan-ian concentration of force and effort suggests the big bikies get focused at the top end things, but budgets arent infinite and priorities must be set, so something has to give. That something is usually the piddley little stuff Navies do and the small ships that do it. Again the RN is a good example, in 1914 it couldnt sweep mines to save itself, well not at any useful speed, and it had almost nothing in the cupboard to combat submarines, go steaming up rivers or support amphibious assaults either. It used to, not specifically in certain cases, but once upon a time the RNs List abounded in all types of handy minor warships; gunboats, 3rd Class Cruisers, Sloops etc. Where had they all gone? Well they were too small to fight and too slow to run away; so as the RN was drawn ever deeper into that purest of Mahanian confrontations with Kaiser Billy the Stupid, force had to be concentrated, sacrifices had to be made as the costs grew ever higher and all the little stuff got scrapped. Fortunately Britain had the resources to pull the chestnuts out of the fire in time during WWI.
However if we look forward to 1939, the RN while weaker than in 1914 and with a new crop of faults, was a far more rounded force. Why? They didnt have to worry about COTS, as expressed in a peerless battle line, or worse paying for it. With the Washington Naval Treaty and all the rest that followed, the RN now shared that responsibility with an acceptable partner in the USN. So they could spend money rounding out their capabilities. Its easy to spot a Mahan-ian Navy; just look for a Blue Water fleet totally dedicated to aggressively finding and decisively destroying its enemy, thats not too worried about convoying trade or mine warfare and little distractions like cooperating with an Army or Air Force. If you can afford to run two navies at once, this is fine, the USN and the USMC are a perfect example, hell theyve both got their own Air Force as well. But if not, then there have to be compromises made, and that can get awkward.
Mahan most famously summed up his case in those storm tossed ships over a far horizon stopping Napoleon from invading Britain. The RN had it (COTS), Napoleon did not so Britain survived to be the lynchpin of Napoleons downfall. 1- Nil for COTS. But Britannias dominion over the Pacific waves, or those of the South Atlantic, Eastern Mediterranean, Indian Ocean or Caribbean, really had sod all to do with the problem of moving 100,000 Frenchmen over twenty miles of oggin. That came down to local and regional superiority in the Channel and its approaches. The allies had as tight a grip on the worlds oceans in WWII as anyone could reasonably whish, but their command of Bass Straight, or the Bay of Biscay for that matter, didnt have much effect on the cross channel ferries, they kept running with Teutonic precision right up to the very end. Keeping the Grande Armee du Nord out of Blighty was actually the lesser half of COTS, dominion over those far flung seas allowed Britain to trade itself into an Empire, finance the wars against France and pay for the fleets blockading French ports that kept the onion sellers at home. Unfortunately Mahan didnt have a such a catchy passage to underline this side of things.
In contrast let me introduce Sir Julian Corbett and his far less famous book Some Principals of Maritime Strategy. In many ways this was the flip side to Mahan, looking at Sea Power from the perspective of having it already. There have been a lot of books written on this topic since Mahan and Corbett, but I prefer my philosophers good and dead, theres nothing like a few score decades of abuse to test a case, plus I like 19th Centaury language.
maritime strategy, that part of it [maritime strategy] which determines the movements of the fleet when strategy has determined what part the fleet must play in relation to the action of the land forces.
Oh what! Sorry, I must have drifted off. Corbett might be a little turgid but here we have a Briton, friend of Jackie Fisher the epitome of concentrated force who scrapped all those gunboats before 1914, openly stating that the needs of the Army should dictate Naval strategy. Why? Well
since men live upon the land and not upon the sea, great issues between nations at war have always been decided except in the very rarest of cases either by what your army can do against your enemys territory and national life, or else by the fear of what the fleet makes it possible for your army to do.
So theres two sides to the business; Mahan arguing that National Strategy should be expressed in Naval Strategy paving the road to heaven though COTS, while Corbett is suggesting that in heaven they play Cricket and Naval Strategy is subordinate to National Strategy. Its the subtle difference between the haves and have nots, if COTS is the national ambition (be it as a route to other things) then naval Strategy can drive the cart, but if thats not your game, but you still want to play at sea well youve got to box cleaver.
The Devil to pay and no pitch hot
There was never much doubt in into the late 50s that if Japan focused her naval might in our direction, Australia was up a very smelly creek and a bit shy on propulsion. In 1948 we had three general options.
1/ Commence a Naval race with Japan in an effort to gain superiority and regional COTS. - Financially out of the question.
2/ Commence building a Risk Fleet. While a step to 1/ (above), this is could also be an independent strategy. Either way the idea is to produce a force that would still loose in the end, but die so hard in the process as to make the game not worth the effort of winning. - Economically viable, but politically impossible.
3/ Take Corbetts advice and subordinate Naval Strategy to National Strategy. Australia First. After all, its not like we were in a pissing competition with the Emperor of Japan is it?
The first two options might have been attractive, but we missed the boat to becoming a really serious naval power in 1914/15 on the domestic level. The Australian people just didnt and dont think of themselves as sailors. After Gallipoli it was the Army in the spotlight. Utterly daft for a country in our position but there you go, one can lead a horse to water but if its not thirsty The only thing left was to make the most of what could be done.
The basis of the RANs strategy was built around a couple of assumptions about the IJN, in addition to all the hard intelligence they could gather and the best staff appreciations they could come up with. In this sort of business you have to assume something, the trick is making the right assumptions. The best staff work and modelling in the world has to allow for the human element; these are the options that the facts present, which one will the enemy chose? To make an educated guess, you have to know something about the enemy, how they think to put it crudely. This isnt just about mental processes, or adding a wider political context to the analysis, it concerns social and cultural issues on both the national and institutional levels, personal matters and experience, basically everything that makes someone tick. It might seem the hight of arrogance, but the RAN figured they were dealing with a fundamentally immature opponent. Now the RAN itself was a young service, but it was standing on the shoulders of ancients and it wasnt suggesting its opposite numbers in Tokyo were any less professional or competent. The charge of immaturity could be levelled at both Australia as a country and the RAN with equal justice, but a heart weve only got something to prove to ourselves, everything else is for show. The Japanese were assessed as being supremely confident in themselves, but having a chip on their shoulder and a need to prove their point to the world.
Many countries and services have a particular moment of time and space in the military sphere that they can point to and say There, that is where we start. For Australia and our Army in particular, its April the 25th 1915 on a Turkish beach. The French have Bastille Day and Valmy, the Germans had Sedan and I suppose the US has replaced Bunker Hill with TBO as its touchstone in time. For the Japanese it is Tsushima, but where the rest of my examples have gone on to learn other hard lessons, or indeed had a store built up before their key point, the Japanese, specifically the IJN, have not. Tsushima was judged to be the alpha and omega of the IJNs mental landscape. A clean-cut, decisive battle, that in one night eliminated the Russian fleet as a factor in the Russo-Japanese war, a total victory for the IJN and one that contrasted quite strongly with the Armys mess on land. Tsushima wasnt just a military victory, but a political one that saw the IJNs star rise above the Armys in the reverse of the prevailing culture.
The double-barrelled nature of this victory is undoubtedly a key point in Japanese history. The cultural revolution Japan had undergone since the good Commodore Perry stuck his nose into Nippon, drove the Samurai class from pillar to post. Still, by 1905 of the two services the Army, for all its Franco-Prussian trappings, could still be associated more closely with the old warrior cast than the Navy. For the traditionalist elements in Japanese society Tsushima was a national victory, but it came at the expense of the Army, it was a victory for the progressives. So far as Japanese politics before the Showa Restoration, the traditionalist leanings of the Army and the split this drove between the two services was a far more potent factor, and this only enhanced the sprit of Tsushima in the IJN. You might note Ive never once here questioned the association between the IJN and Mahanist doctrine; if it flies like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like duck, then its odds on to be a duck unless youre in Thailand were it might just be a chicken painted black with its beak glued shut.
But honestly if an American hadnt gotten there first the Japanese would have invented the doctrine for themselves. Previously I was talking about Mahans Strategic concepts, and how that strategy forces a certain doctrine on those who buy into it. If Strategy is what you want to do, in military terms Doctrine is the guidelines that set out how you mean to do it, the Method that follows the Recipe in any good cookbook. For the IJN, Mahan-ian doctrine fitted like a hand in a glove; planning leading to decisive action as the product of focus on the end goal. Its like a Samurai hero, as seen in any good art house movie program. The master swordsman, lets say Miyamoto Mahan Musashi to keep it in the pantheon, is cold, calculating and motionless, dominating his opponent/s though force of will, until the weakest flinches! Theres a blur of action, a clash and scrape of steel and the hero, unmoved, alone remains standing amid the wash of blood, again, still, calm and poised, ready for the next fool to try his patience. OK I know I said the Army had all the Walter Mitty sword swingers, but a cultural icon is still a cultural icon. You dont have to ride a horse to play Cowboys and Indians.
The problem for the Japanese is that once they bought the doctrine, the strategy had to look good and for Japan it too played just the tunes they wanted to hear. I say unfortunately, if only for what might have been. An aggressive Japan has been a very scary thing, but picture a Swiss Japan. Peaceful but militarised and secure, hardworking, thrifty, conscientious and with that damn focus they can apply to just about anything. Now that is a really frightening idea, stuff conquering the world, the bastards would own it in a generation or two.
So we left the RAN throwing stones in a glass house, what conclusions did they draw from their carefully weighted assumptions? Well they were looking for the holes in the Emperors wardrobe. They calculated that the IJN if heading our way would be looking for a Decisive Battle, as a matter of fact thats what they called their entire concept The Decisive Battle Case. This IJN thrust would probably strike with little or no warning and aim to finish the RAN in a single blow, mostly likely a Decapitation Strike at the fleet in port, again on the balance of probabilities Sydney. Failing that the IJN would have hunting down and crushing our fleet as its prime goal. Now this might sound glaringly obvious, I mean its a pretty sensible way to do business. But the key point lay in why they would be doing it, and what they would be neglecting to do in the mean time.
Long spoons and the deep blue sea
Australia First was essentially a Mahan-ian development too, which should be no surprise as Ive been saying its the only game in town all along. In effect it turned the whole continent into a Risk Fleet but one based around our Army and Air Force, NOT our Navy. Its not the most publicised side of the policy, but the primary goal of most of our armed services fighting on land was to die as hard as possible and then go out kicking like a Carp. The difference between Australia First and say Billy the Dumbs crack at the business is again fundamental, a fleet is a tool for power projection, it has mobility and global reach, look at the RN in 1982. An Army sitting on an island, doesnt threaten anyone, or no one with a serious Navy which was the point. Where Germany during the great Naval race with Britain was positively aggressive while pleading defence, Australia, in playing exactly the same card, was demonstrably defensive. We offered no threat, but promised great pain as a theory its worked for Switzerland these last few hundred years.
For the RAN Australia First, when seen as a fleet tasking, demanded two things. Firstly that it avoid being wiped out in the opening five minutes of war. Secondly that it make the maximum of its golden opportunities. What opportunities? Well a Mahan-ian fleet is a concentrated tool, even if it is divided into a number of individual formations. The Ocean is a big place, and its an even bigger place if all the eggs are in a relatively few baskets, but a warship or a group of warships only command the sea for as far as their weapons and sensors extend.
Speaking of time, Id better point out that this was a pre-atomic strategy, well a post atomic-pre-atomic one if that makes any sense. Until either of us gained a nuclear capability, the only effect the bomb could have was political, in so far as America chose to wave her big stick. If anything this made time a factor of even more importance, to succeed Japan would have to makes its gains before Washington could react, giving yet more emphasis on a decisive result from a single blow. Personally I dont think the RAN was all that far out in the late 40s.
Part 3 Brass Tacks
The wrong end of the telescope
We left the RAN looking a bit frazzled under the dictates of Australia First, the last concrete suggestion I mentioned towards a fleet structure, held submarines, mine warfare and Imperial patrolling as the only sectors the navy had a clear mandate for. There was some suggestion that the RAN should be reduced to this sort of level too, mostly as gambits from the other services at budget time, but they were never really serious. Stripping the fleet down to such a skeleton would be the death of the RAN to all practical purposes. It would take at least a decade to regain any of the lost capabilities, and probably another ten or twenty years to get back into top form. While the naval game might be a long term one, its not that long term, ten years to build a class of ship was acceptable, but thirty years. No, with that sort of time scale anything lost could be counted as gone forever and who could say what the future would hold. In any case such a one-dimensional navy wouldnt be all that much use for its prime purpose.
Australia First was a defensive plan for the worst case; the RANs real job was to help prevent things from ever reaching that level. Unfortunately to do this, they also needed to do the one thing Ive spent so long saying they couldnt mount a creditable opposition to the IJN. If the RAN could not contest a full blooded invasion, it seems a little odd to say their biggest role was to deter one from being launched, but there it is. Call it Catch-22, or making bricks without straw. But the best way to stop the Japanese from invading was to make it perfectly clear they would have to pay a very steep price for the privilege.
There were one or two other little arguments against reducing the RAN to a coastal defence force too. I wont say the RAN held as central a place in building national self esteem as say the Indian fleet did, we could hardly justify a squadron of battle cruisers out of ego, but warships have always been a tool of foreign policy and if showing the flag involved more than a presence in the islands, it also needed something better than a Bathurst Class Corvette to act as a flag pole. Wed managed to largely ignore Asia for the first 40 years of our federal existence, but Australia First or not, by the end of WWII we were in it up to our armpits. In the constant round of friendly port visits, sending a boy to do mans job can cause more harm than good and filling out a couple of pages in Janes was no bad thing on the national resume. But that argument was peanuts compared to the other big problem, anyone wanting to mess with Australia hardly needed to invade at all if they could mess with our trade.
Ill not bore you with yet another rehash of our economic position, and on a day-to-day or even decade-to-decade basis the actual situation was largely irrelevant. Australia is a trading nation and pretty much always has been, if you count convicts as trade. By the late 40s we were certainly lip deep in commerce, after all it was the disruption of our established trading relationship with the UK that drove us to the brink and pit of post war depression that we were desperately trying to trade our way out of. The nature of the traffic was changing, but the volume was only increasing and the bulk of it moved by sea. To extract all the concessions they might want short of outright colonisation, Japan need only have severed our SLoCs and that would take far less effort than invading.
Since the only proven way to protect trade in times of high threat was Convoy, obviously the RAN had to have the forces for the job. A broad conclusion of the threat analysis showed we needed basically the same kit to defend our trade as we would to make some effort at resisting an invasion, at least within the inherent limitations of our situation. The potential threats facing an escort group ranged down from carriers, though battleships, to cruisers, merchant raiders, mine laying and submarines. We needed a balanced fleet, there was just no way around it. All this was no revelation to anybody of course; the same situation had prompted the foundation of the RAN in the first place. Our navy had always been about deterrence and protecting trade. In 1914 the threat was Von Spees Asiatic Squadron and its potential impact on our shipping; the RAN with HMAS Australia was enough to suggest the Germans go looking for kinder waters. The RANs most famous action of that war was taking out the Emden, and what was HMAS Sydney doing at the time? Escorting a convoy. As I say theres generally a precedent in naval matters, although this one is clearer than most.
From the Navy Boards perspective all their anticipated work in both peace and war could be integrated quite nicely. The Bathursts hardly counted in this, but in general the same ships wed need for patrolling the Mandates could/should/would in wartime provide the backbone of the ASW and Mine Warfare effort. The Cruisers we would need to bolster the Escort groups could show the flag or take their part countering an invasion and our carriers ah now theres a tale, but as much as Id love to get into this juicy little topic, its at least a five page diversion so it will have to wait its turn. Lets just say that the RAN managed to justify its war fleet against peace time roles in so far as types were concerned, which left the numbers to be sorted out. In many ways these too followed a helpful progression, high demand for patrol ships could be matched by an equal requirement for convoy escorts, however in the bigger vessels this didnt work quite as neatly.
It all came back to how the RAN expected to counter then IJN and this in turn depended on how the IJN could be expected to act and so to their philosophy and general approach. For the RAN near on twenty years of studying the IJN, the last ten like a mouse apprising a snake; had led them to think the IJN would be coming south thinking more about defeating the RAN in a suitably showy manner, than they would about winning the national victory and adding laurels to the Armys reputation. No professional military staff likes to attribute arrogance to its enemy, underestimating any foe is worst possible stupidity, but then identifying the oppositions weaknesses is just as vital. To the Naval Staff the best chink they could find in the Samurais armour was the Japanese Navys view of itself and their relationship with the Army. Any invasion of Australia would clearly be an Army effort in the main, on its own leaving little glory for the IJN. Therefore the IJN would need to manufacture their own laurels and the natural foil for this endeavour was the RAN. So the IJNs effort was fall into to two portions, the invasion effort, and their own private war with the RAN.
Now as this would run contrary to any sensible disposition of effort by the Japanese, the RANs ideas look a bit silly. Any rational country would focus its forces on the national objective with the minimum of messing about, and in the particularly Naval sphere Mahans doctrine of concentration would suggest the same. Well the thing is for the Japanese a national effort meant in effect the Army. After all if interfering with our trade could provide all the political leverage Tokyo could ever need, the only reason to invade Australia would be to let the Army out on a spree. A truly rational nation would never invade in the first place.
Bushido on the Beaches
Lets take a quick look at what an invasion of Australia would involve; for a start it is a long trip from any Japanese or Chinese port, and for an army operating in Australia the tyranny of distance demands a high level of motorisation, if not outright mechanisation. The size of our continent also has a lot to say about the composition of an invading Army, the tooth to tail ratio is going to be pretty steep, as that mechanised army has to cover a lot of ground over a pretty sparse road network. But before I get too deeply into that, the really big question is where should they land? All the juicy stuff, population centres, industrial areas, administration and the like, clusters along the South East seaboard, which is about as far from Chipan as it can get on continental Australia. The North East coast is covered by the Great Barrier Reef, tricky waters to con large convoys though, with lots of choke points and little room to manoeuvre. The West coast is pretty open, as is the North, but theres not that much up there, or there wasnt back in the 40s and 50s, and overland communications back to the South East were scanty at best.
In short the easiest places to land offered little direct value and few avenues to get anywhere else. From the Armys perspective the most dangerous area in terms of national survival was Queensland from Cairns south to Brisbane and the Gold Coast, with the stretch from Rockhampton to Harvey Bay as the best compromise for an invader. However this was also good ground for the defenders. The same access to the East Coast transportation corridor that made it an attractive landing site, worked doubly for the home side and the ground would focus an advance southward along the relatively narrow coastal strip. Theres plenty of good defensive terrain to be had and with flanks covered by the Great Dividing Range and sea, and the Army were reasonably confident they could hold the Brisbane Line.
The most vulnerable areas were the South West and the far North, Western Australia has always been out on a limb and Darwin almost defines isolated outpost of civilisation. If the Japanese Army were looking for a King Hit then Queensland was the place for them, but if low hanging fruit held more attraction there were plenty of other options. Darwin was viewed as the most vulnerable spot on the Australian mainland for two reasons. As a primary invasion target it was isolated, limited and easy, with some potential for exploitation down the road/rail line to Alice Springs and so to Port Augusta. Basically it threatened to cut the country in half, and once so divided the Western half would be ripe for the plucking. But even if the main invasion were to land elsewhere, no Japanese force could afford to leave Darwin behind them, as a base for our interdiction effort on their SLoCs. This brings us back to the sea, you can land over a beach, but to move the mass of men and material required for a sizable army a port is vital. The Japanese could land almost anywhere, but there wasnt much point in doing so unless they could get hold of a decent port PDQ.
Coastal shipping had been a fundamental part of Australian transport from the start, before air travel took off, if time wasnt critical it was still more comfortable to go from say Melbourne to Perth by sea than by rail and our development pattern had generally gone the way of establish a port, move inland and only then think about serious lateral links overland. It comes down to population density as much as anything else; tramp coasters were more economical than lightly loaded railways. So anyway theres no shortage of ports as such, even across the far north, not all ports are created equal though. Whatever advantages geography might offer, a good harbour still needs infrastructure to qualify as a port, and such well-developed ports were in very short supply.
But again theres no point in taking the best port in the world if its other transport links dont lead in the right direction. This is what made Rockhampton so dangerous, the Mount Morgan mine had underpinned a nice little city with a well provided harbour for deep-sea shipping that also sat astride Queenslands main North South railway line. Broome in Western Australia might be close analogue to Rockhampton, well to the extent WA could offer one back then, but it led to absolutely nowhere of any great interest. Yet as I say Darwin had both the facilities and the connections, if hardly ideal in either particular. So come what may, Darwin was thought to be on the chopping block. The Japanese might invade elsewhere but they would hit Darwin, and that in turn suggested their other efforts wouldnt be too far removed if only for reasons of mutual support.
Should Darwin be the pivot of their Invasion, the theory down here held that the Japanese could then do one or more of three things. Hopping down the West Coast to Perth was probably the least popular version. The Cape York dash looked good on paper, but only on really large scale maps, taking Cairns from behind by landing in the Gulf of Carpentaria is not something Id want any part of, even with todays roads. I mean yes it is only 500km or so and there is a railway from Normanton to Corydon, with only a ~100km gap to the branch line at Forsyth, but its like bypassing the Dardanelles by landing at Anzac Cove or trying to take Port Moresby overland from the North Coast of New Guinea.
The third option was the Darwin-Alice-Port Augusta marathon. Compared to Rockhampton or moving on Perth, aiming to take Port Augusta verges on the perverse, I mean there not that much there and route is hardly a string of pearls either, youre crossing the whole continent North to South for nothing worth sending a postcard home about. Heres where the composition and capabilities of an invasion force, both the troops it can land and what they can do, come to the fore.
Inescapable logic - If they come, they come by sea
A ton of feathers and a ton of lead both need the same displacement to float. The Combined General Staff might have been guessing about where a Japanese invasion might land, or what they might be after if they did, but Archimedes gave them a far firmer foundation to anticipate what they could do and where they might go. Mahan started with storm tossed ships over a far horizon, keeping at bay an Army it never saw. They might not have liked to admit it, but the whole point for Imperial Japanese Navy in following his doctrine towards COTS lay in Corbetts by the fear of what the fleet makes it possible for your army to do.
The Yellow Force Order of Battle provided the start for assessing the potential invasion force, their Merchant Marine an indication what it was possible for them lift and our own ports a measure of what might be sustained once ashore. There being little point in dropping 100,000 men on the beach if only 10,000 could be supported. Much would depend on the internal conditions faced by the Chipanese in China and Indo-China as to the sized force they could pry lose from internal security duties for an invasion. There was also a good degree of argument about the volume they could shift from ship to shore, with expected port operating efficiencies and over-beach transhipment clouding the issue. But by and large the general consensus of the Australian planners was that a Corps of two or three Divisions looked about the largest possible force for the initial landing.
Part of the discussion about the Military force was its possible composition, not so much in terms of Infantry, armour and artillery, or even the support services and theyd need plenty of engineers. The argument revolved around the national make up of the force, would it be Japanese, Chinese or a most likely a mix of the two? As by far the largest land force in Eastern Asia the Japanese/Chinese/Chipanese Army had come in for a good deal of scrutiny, the Thais and Indians spared little in their peeking and probing, Australia did its fair share too, and wed best not ignore the Russians and the US, both of whom took a keen interest as well. If the internal relationship between the Japanese Army and Navy was a little more involved than is usual, relations within the two parts of the Army get down right Byzantine. Theres a library of books to be written on just that topic alone, if anyone can ever straighten it out enough to paint a coherent picture. As far as the common understanding extends there were actually four armies, not counting the paramilitaries.
The major divide was between the Japanese and the Chinese of course, but neither side was monolithic, and each seemed to be split into at least two major factions. Within the Chinese element, the divide was most visible, both in troops, their material and training as well as politics. The Regular Chinese forces provided the bulk of the standing army and on the whole looked quite respectable given its generally second line equipment. But the Chinese Militia were frankly scary, their obvious model was the Red Army before Stalin took his leave, and the idea of a million or two screaming peasants armed with nothing but grenades and PPShs was the bogyman of at least my era. Not that it was a particularly accurate picture mind you. They did have support weapons, mostly machineguns do the letters NKVD ring any bells? I used the word scary rather than say threatening because to be honest any half way decent opponent would be stacking them up like the proverbial cordwood. But that seemed to be the whole idea and the concept of sending a million men out to die with little hope of achieving much in the process sure as hell scares me. Apart from the obvious Regular-Militia relationship, the politics of it all was quite pronounced. From what we on the outside could see, the Regulars were the tool of the Chinese leadership, where the Militia was unsurprisingly the remnants of the grass roots Communist organization.
The Japanese component was a reasonably modern force, with decent equipment thorough training and looked to be the professional edge, in the early 50s the ethnic balance was starting to shift within the Japanese elements, as more and more Koreans, then Chinese were taken in to fill out the ranks. This was the primary divide in on the Japanese side of things, the pure Japanese units being for one reason or another a cut above the mixed ones. The world got a better look at the capabilities of this side of the Army by the end of the decade, after their little excursions into Thailand and over the Himalayas, but it didnt change too many opinions except in detail. The Imperial Japanese Army was not to be taken lightly.
As far as external observers could tell the pecking held the pure Japanese Army at the top, the mixed units half a step below them, with the Regular Chinese under them and the Militia at the bottom of the heap. It really looked like a trust thing, Who Tokyo and then Peking could actually rely on to do as they were told. This was articulated in any number of ways. The poor old Militia were a Levee-en-mass cannon fodder force if ever there was one, reliable enough if things were going their way but otherwise not to be trusted by either of the Chipanese power centres. It looked to be Horatio on the Bridge time on the few occasions they were seen in action, all the politically undesirables and expendables lumped together and sent out to soak up bullets. The Regular Chinese Army was a rather different kettle of fish, historically it seems to have formed around the core of the old Communist field army and was the hub of a national service scheme, exactly how it worked is hard to say, details of enlistment seemingly changed with the wind. But the average length of service looks to have been around three or four years and discipline was rated as good by most observers, the supposition is it was this force that really kept a lid on China, the Japanese Army acting as more the icing on the cake.
Anyway before this turns into a essay on the ICA, the Staff Appreciation down here at the time, was that for a variety of reasons the leading wave of any Invasion would be in the main Japanese troops with some Chinese Regular formations and some impressed coolie labour in the form of a Militia contingent. Exactly what it would look like changed regularly with the best guesses of the analysts as they tracked the enemy OoB. But the key point was wed see the Japanese first and this was a huge relief. Basically it meant wed face one main effort and perhaps a secondary one, but the belief held that no Japanese Army would be just dumped ashore willy-nilly. It provided some assurance of conventionality about which we could plan. That is to say we could calculate the odds around a force the Chipanese would value and so have some care for risk Vs reward. If they threw a Militia based force at us, it wasnt even a safe bet theyd bother with resupply let alone worry about port capacities and the like.
If they led with the Japanese, it implied theyd be doing the job properly, it seems more then passing strange that wed have welcomed the prospect of facing better troops, but from a planning perspective you can count on professionals, its only the damn amateurs that are a worry. On the other hand, Staff calculations suggested there simply werent enough Japanese for the task, they would need not only Chinese regular units to bulk them out but the Militia too, if only for numbers. This was more a matter of internal security at home than anything else, the more Japanese and Chinese Regulars they punted off to the far end of the world, the less secure they would be in China, whereas the opposite were true for the Militia, the more of them shipped out the better those in Authority would like it or so the theory went.
But in juggling the logistics, time Vs ton miles Vs discharge rates Vs the square root of my left shoe by twice the sigma of a meat pie, all lead to the conclusion that they could not pull off a king hit. Common sense would suggest the same but lacks the intellectual satisfaction I suppose. If our hocus-pocus of logic, assumption and analysis was even halfway right, no port an Invasion could take in a single lift, would be capable of supporting a force large enough to threaten anything we really valued. They could size a chunk of country all right and that would not be very welcome, but in terms of taking say Sydney from Rockhampton forget about it. Whatever they might do ashore the invasion itself would not be a Blitzkrieg.
Given this the only other course open was for slow and sustained effort, taking a bridgehead and then building up a head of steam to take the next phase before repeating the process or something like it until getting the desired result. This wasnt great news for Australia of course but it did buy precious time, in the end wed still lose without some external assistance of serious proportions oh speaking of which - SAC?
Yes America had made their position clear in 1947, along with their ability to back it up, but so what? For one thing this was all worst case planning, but more to the point wiping a country off the map buys a little respect, but equally as much doubt. At this point in time America was certainly taken seriously, but one shower does not winter make, and anyway, after the Coup Australia wasnt resting much on faith, certainly not our national survival. I hope people will take this in good heart, but the only reason Australia First aimed at Japan not America, was that we saw little point in seriously planning to fight the US. If SAC wanted to send us back to the dreamtime, there wasnt much we could do about it prior to 1960. As relationships go, that between the US and the rest of the world wasnt something to take to the bank back then.
Moving right along, Darwin had always been a key point and the more we looked at what the Japanese could do, as opposed to what they might do, the more it seemed to be the best possible target for an invasion. Unlike the tender points in Queensland, Darwin was sufficiently isolated from the rest of Australia to present a nice bite sized morsel for an invader. It was harder for us to reinforce, (relatively) convenient for them, and all in all just right to be the beachhead. If the Japanese could secure Darwin back in the early 50s, wed have a hell of time kicking them back out again, actually we couldnt, it was that simple. The Japanese would have a big chunk of Australia with better support facilities than the home team could muster and all the time in the world to exploit it. The worst of it was by the Staff assessments wed actually done this to ourselves, the Alice Springs to Darwin Railway had been built at much cost in sweat and resources and had just been finished by wars end, mostly to provide strategic depth for the RN Far Eastern Fleet. Unfortunately it also made Darwin a practicable springboard, if wed not built that line, many people believe there would have been nowhere viable for the Japanese to land. And it had seemed like such a good idea at the time too.
In any case the Japanese/Chinese force mix looked like they would want somewhere they could grab fast and hold easily with the Japanese portion of their army for the initial period, then build up from Chinese elements a force sufficient to move on to the next stage what ever that might be. Darwin came out as their best bet, but by extension that put the Japanese on a set of rails we could anticipate with some hope of accuracy. For example the Staff could estimate how much traffic Darwin might process. With a geographical datum the mechanics of Convoys would be worked out with some precision and so the Army could form a good idea of the likely operational tempo, what sort of timetable the Japanese would be looking at, when they could expect reinforcement, potential rates expenditure and all that sort of thing. Its not sexy but it is vital.
Alimentary my dear Watson
No, its not just a rather poor pun, one of the key elements in all this deduction was food. As they like to say in Cuba A mans gotta eat. Canberra expected to meet any invasion with our version of Scorched Earth, the standing instructions were to burn, demolish or shoot anything that couldnt be carried and then head inland. Along Queenslands Invasion Coast the Sappers used to go around annually and advise properly owners on how to demo their holdings, farms were expected to keep sufficient explosives on hand to deal with their private dams, and if a lot of it ended up taking out rabbit burrows, then it was all good practice and Gelignite was subsidised for primary producers anyway. Now theres no way on earth to strip a fertile country like Central Queensland bare of sustenance, but the population were of no mind to hang about and greet the Japanese, Nanking etc wasnt much of an advertisement for their tourists. But the Northern Territory was another paddock of cattle. Any trespasser up Darwin way might get by on steak for a while, but there are no cereal crops, precious few market gardens and generally not much else bar bush tucker. So our visitors would need to pack their own lunch, and without a decent port unwrapping their peanut butter sandwiches would be a little difficult.
Logistics is a chain, for Yellow Force it would run: dock to ship to dock to .. hmm what comes next? Bullets beans and bandages are all lovely stuff, but up north the only thing more important that water is fuel. Petrol, Diesel, Avgas, Avtur pick you poison. Without transport nothing moves very far including food or hungry people. Without bulk handling facilities, fuel has to come packaged be it in drums, jerry cans or blivets, not that they were around back then. The last attraction that nailed Darwin to the top of the hit parade was its tank farm, it was a ruddy fleet fuelling base and you couldnt ask for better than that. But even if they could take Darwin intact, the Japanese would have to bring their own trucks. Up in NT they learn to drive shortly after they learn to ride (horse/pushbike as convenient), theres no shortage of vehicles, but nowhere near enough for an Army, and the great thing about trucks (from the defenders perspective) is they are buggers to ship. Unless they can be flat packed and assembled on shore, a truck, even a loaded truck, is pretty inefficient load for a ship. Yet without them no one is going anywhere unless they have a railway.
The line from Darwin leads south to Alice Springs, from The Alice, the line keeps on south through a number of almost forgettable towns to Port Augusta total distance (back then) a shade over 3,250km, or a tad under 3,000 if you take the Southern Line to Tarcoola that they opened in the late 50s. So a little less than London to Cairo or Cairo to Calcutta and a little more than Cairo to Chicago according to my Atlas, but I find it a little hard to credit, bloody Transverse Mercator, now that is propaganda, talk about shaping the way we see the world.
So anyway, the Japanese would encounter the same mobility issue wherever the hell they landed. The could bring along as many vehicles as they liked with as much packaged POL as they cared too, but unless they also bought a prefabricated port with them, the rate at which they could discharge, taking into account ship to shore ferrying, would limit the amount they could deploy when all their other loads were allowed for. This is just the broad conclusions of course, the actual numbers were changing all the time and no two logisticians would give the same answer on the finer details, too many judgment calls. But the results concurred to the point that a Japanese invasion could be big or it could be mobile. But it couldnt be both and the mobile option had pretty finite limits to its reach and endurance. In effect there was no point in them even trying unless to score some political objective. However add a working railway into the equation and things took on a whole new gloss, but the catch is a working railway.
A landing in Queensland is hitting a reasonably dense population by rural Australian standards and the railway line is quite expensive lots of bridges, cuttings, a few tunnels too IIRC. Not to mention it would run into organised resistance fairly quickly. So the chances of getting hold of that line in a workable condition was far lower than say oh the Northern Territory. Where there are fewer people with fewer opportunities for doing major mischief. Darwin offered the answers to too many of their supply issues to be ignored; all the same it was a long way to Port Augusta.
It was also a long way to Darwin FROM Port Augusta. If the Japanese were faced with advancing down a single railway line, we had to climb back up the same track, its 4,000km from Sydney or Melbourne to Darwin. The alternatives were equally horrendous for both sides.
This is modern data, distance in km and rough driving time in hours on sealed highways at present speed limits.
From Darwin to:
Adelaide = 3042/24
Alice Sp = 1489/18
Brisbane = 3415/44
Cairns = 3100/37
Canberra = 3917/43
Melbourne = 4045/55
Perth = 4250/49
Sydney = 3991/43
Cairns to Brisbane is still 1718km; Brisbane to Sydney is another 1010km and 963 to Melbourne. If they hit Perth theyd have 2750 for Adelaide or 3410 to Melbourne. Its about the same distance wherever you go beyond the Brisbane Sydney Melbourne Adelaide nexus. If they could blitz Darwin, the Japanese might get to Alice Springs before we could overland.
On the whole the balance of probabilities was against any invasion, but if one did come, Darwin was the key.
A Rock in a Hard Place
If the Japanese would be coming to Darwin it was only fitting they should be received properly, the place was already classified as a Fortified Port, so Singapore South was at least building on a foundation. The details of Darwins defence do have some minor impact on the RAN, so its worth a brief sketch. Leaving aside its invigorating climate, charming inhabitants and idyllic atmosphere, Darwin is a prick of a place to defend. An amphibious coup de main? Take your pick of beaches, mind the crocks and the mangroves are a pain but Ive stepped off a LCM dry shod within half a mile of what passes for a CBD. Perhaps sir would care to try an airborne assault? Pay no attention to that 20,000 runway three and a half mile from the heart of town and less from the Fort. Care to try the back door and come in overland? Well to give the runway 25,000 yards of clearance so as to keep that pesky artillery out of range, means a 50,000+ yard Airhead perimeter for the garrison to defend, not counting all the creeks that need to be picketed to prevent infiltration. But what use is a runway if the enemy have air superiority? Ok so make the naval base the datum point. That cuts the base defensive line across the isthmus down to a shade over 20,000yards, but of course the harbour isnt all that wide and if you connect up the dots to hold the other side as well, the Naval perimeter becomes 60,000 yards at least its flat and the digging is good.
Im not saying Darwin is impossible to defend, far from it; its just not a small undertaking. The Armys position back in the 50s was it would need two infantry Divisions and an Armoured Brigade to do the job properly and hold for a month, or two Infantry and an full Armoured Div for choice, plus more then their fair slice of Artillery. The Australian Regular Army was but two Divisions, and a short Division (1x Inf & 1x Armd Brigade) was Darwins standing garrison. Obviously wed need a bit of notice to roll out the welcome mat and any preparation we could do before the big event would be a good idea. Ive got absolutely no intention of giving a lump by bump coverage of the Darwin defences for any number of reasons. Ill just cut to the point and say Darwin was to be held come hell or high water; and given the number of 10 x 60 Monsoon Drains we dug around the place, hell was more likely to be a problem.
At least a weeks notice was expected of any landing, which was just enough time to throw two CMF Divisions together and get them up there, and I mean throw. The CMF was expected to do little more then report to their Drill Hall or Depot with full kit and 24 hours worth of tea and sandwiches. Internal organization was to be done on the fly and completed on the ground as they took up their positions on the Green Line out of preplac stores. Ive done a couple of Pitch Black exercises and they are always a mess. PB74 was almost an utter disaster, 10,000 very pissed off reservists spending Christmas under a cyclone was one of lifes more interesting episodes.
The plan was basically to hold Darwin with whatever could be moved up in time, while the rest of regular Army concentrated on Alice Springs then pushed up the railway supported by the rest of the CMF as it got its act together. But were talking about the RAN, so what was their part in this little game?
The Spicy Carrot
Darwin might have been the principal plan, but it didnt really matter where the Invasion might fall, other locations were just better or worse for the RAN. The actual landing site set an anchor for the waltz to revolve around. As Ive said repeatedly the whole strategic concept was set on the RAN not stopping the IJN, but if they couldnt prevent invasion, they could certainly help by drawing off as much of the IJNs force as possible. The biggest worry was aircraft carriers naturally enough, Until the Japanese could get some land based air up and running, they would be dependant on carrier support and protection, but equally their surface forces were well worth getting out of the way. Darwin was as susceptible to naval bombardment as any coastal town and the more warships hanging about the harder it would be for the RAAF to get into the Japanese transports and make a meal out of their shore side dumps.
This is one reason for the RANs fondness for Submarines, ok they could do their share of attiring the IJNs convoys, but their presence, their known presence, forced the IJN to institute convoy and to provide escorts. Half the Armys planning revolved around a phased nature to the Japanese invasion, and the biggest limitation on Japanese shipping and so their lifting capacity wasnt merchant tonnage but escorts. The stronger their escort groups had to be, the fewer of them there could be. The number of available escort groups limited the number of potential convoys the IJN could run, which in turn meant fewer but larger convoys, making for a boom-bust cycle in terms of Army logistics. Thus the more intermittent the convoys making the run down to Australia were, the greater the dynamic surge and so the more predictable the Japanese ground campaign would be, and that is before we looked at any direct influence of losses in transit.
The whole thrust of the RANs planning was to assist our Army by limiting the impact of the IJN on the land battle and they figured the IJN were ripe to play along too. Any invasion (from a naval perspective) would have to come as at least two main forces, the Invasion Fleet would need its escort and supporting groups, but there would be a Covering Force too, and the more weight the IJN put into the Covering Force the less it could throw into the actual invasion. Since the RAN reckoned the IJN would be out hunting for it anyway, to grab their slice of the glory, then we might as well play along.
Now Monty Python gave the RANs main fleet strategy away in the Holy Grail Run Away! If the RANs contribution was to diminish the IJNs presence and direct support for the invasion, a single Jutland in the Coral Sea wasnt going to do much good unless we won, and if we could win one of those, then wed not be worrying about an Invasion. Under Australia First sinking Japanese tonnage was important, merchant tonnage heading south between Darwin and the South China Sea, anywhere else virtual attrition was the name of the game and so we get to Guerrilla warfare at sea.
Most theories on this use Q-ships, mines and light forces like MTBs or in time FACs, but for the RAN it was a matter of Aircraft Carriers, Cruisers and Destroyer Flotillas, subs would have been useful too, but its all a numbers game and HMAS/Ms had more important business elsewhere. If you want to lead a bull by the nose you need a carrot and a stick, for the RAN of these times, both were combined in the Carrier Group. As the capitol force of the navy our CBG was the one thing IJN Command had to take seriously, both as a threat and as a prize. If they could locate, engage and destroy our carriers, the IJN would win all their hearts desires, fulfilling their military purpose and political obligations in a single decisive and glorious stroke. Obviously the RAN were quite keen to avoid this for as long as possible, and to maximise the amount of effort the IJN would need to invest in achieving it. As a fringe benefit, it was expected that the longer the IJN spent hunting our CBG, the more dispersed their efforts would become. This was long before the age of Satellite surveillance and given the areas involved aerial reconnaissance wasnt going to provide any god like overviews either.
To find the CBG the IJN would have to either hit it in port or draw it out by threatening something wed have to defend. However at the same time the RAN had no desire to take a long cruise to Antarctica, we needed to remain in contact with Covering Force for own benefit and to keep them interested. This is why I dont really like the Guerrilla analogy very much, to my mind the RAN Staff hit the right note in calling one of their early planning package Matador. If this was to have been a bullfight, then itd be more of a Portuguese one as there was little hope of actually killing the Toro, but it wouldnt be much fun without Picadors and Banderilleros, or indeed Forcados.
To operate around Darwin the vital ground was the Arafura and Timor seas, the IJN would need to dominate this area to protect the invasion force and its supporting shipping. The western flank, where the Timor Sea met the Indian Ocean was open but not uncomfortably broad at about 500km. To the east things were much better, you can just about spit across the Torres Strait between New Guinea and Cape York, in terms of open water the channels between them only amount to 20km or so and they are channels; the TS is pilot water for anything bigger than a good sized trawler.
Torres Strait is the key here, either side could block it pretty much at will. Without local pilots the IJN could only transit at great risk to their bottoms, but if the RAN could navigate the passage they were just as vulnerable to mines or aircraft in the restricted waters. In effect the Torres Strait was too risky for either side to take lightly or make an opposed transit in anything but a dire emergency or absolute control. Thursday Island had been fortified since the turn of the centaury to some extent, but for all the concrete that was poured around Australia in the post war years TI is remarkable for NOT being reinforced. Cape York saw a bit of construction for the RAAF, but TI actually de-militarised, simply because it was too isolated and small to be worth the effort, in the event of war it was going to be mined to a fair-thee-well and abandoned except for Coast Watchers.
By closing the Torres Strait the naval war was divided in two, the Arafura/Timor and Coral/Tasman seas, separated by the long transits around either Australia or New Guinea. For the IJN this implied they would hardly need worry about the RAN at all if Darwin was the only focus of their attention. The Torres Strait covered their eastern flank and channelled any opposition into the western Timor Gap, where neither side would have much room to manoeuvre, and the IJNs superior weight could come to the fore. But if the RAN were not going to come around to the West in force, or only screen the Timor Gap and make no real effort to engage, well it would be a pretty boring business. The problem with fighting in the west, at least for the RAN, was support. With only one real base to work out off and that a long way south in Fremantle, there was little home team advantage to be had, and any additional infrastructure could only be very vulnerable. The Timor Gap was not something we could hold or that would defend anything of great value, and any attempt to do so would be fighting the battle on Japans terms and at the IJNs advantage.
This might sound a little odd given even in the Timor Gap our forces would be far closer to home than the Japanese. But again it comes back to the base principals; if it couldnt be done it wouldnt be done. So for an invasion to occur the IJN would have to have a solution to this, and it would have to be met with means we could muster. In this particular case the answer was obvious (a fleet train), precedents existed (the Carrier assault on Europe) and the two were clearly combined in practice. The Chipanese Merchant fleet was one of the largest on earth, well integrated with the IJN and had an impressive quantity of large fast tankers and refers etc. They also had an impressive line up of fleet tenders. So all in all the IJN were in a better position to support a fleet for extended operations off our North West coast then we were (without access to Darwin), and there wasnt much hope of changing that in the short to medium term.
If fighting them in the west was foolish, for the IJN to come east was equally perverse, as I say they had no real need too on the face of things. But that is ignoring the internal politics and culture of the enemy. If the IJN didnt come to grips with the RAN they would not get any credit for their part in things, nor would it fulfil their own picture of how such matters were to be resolved. The Torres Strait forced them to accept the tactical consequences of their political imperatives, they could not cover all their objectives with a single effort and that was the chink that gave the RAN its first point of leverage. If the IJN had one foot nailed to the floor by the assault on Darwin, their other foot had to fall on the RANs choice of ground, because without the RAN theyd be one hand clapping in the forest it takes two to tango.
The other leaf to this book is basic return for value in attacking Australia. Darwin has little intrinsic worth on its own, and as I say it still presents a long haul to anywhere more important. It would not be a pleasant pill to swallow, far from it, but in terms of national survival Australia could lose Darwin and be grateful. Likewise if war were confined to the far north it would be the best of a bad situation. To really crank down the thumb screws on Australia, the east coast has to be threatened and in the context of the times this meant the IJN would have to wade into the Coral/Tasman sea.
This isnt to say the West could be ignored by either side, the RAN would have to maintain at least a nominal screen if only to keep the IJN awake and the IJN as the defensive player in this strategic offensive certainly couldnt afford to neglect its backside. Yet this too played more to the RAN than the IJN, in that it, along with the Torres Strait, forced the IJN to make the first big split in their forces. Better still, the need to provide air cover to the invasion had to put some of their carriers into the Timor/Arafura, just as the concentration of land based RAAF squadrons suggested that the IJNs carriers should be massed in the east if the fleet were hoping to recreate the USNs success. While relief on the ground was going to take some time, the RAAF could deploy up to the Northern Territory a great deal quicker. It was anticipated that Darwin would need only wait two days before the first RAAF units were in place and ready to provide limited CAS over the perimeter from their dispersal sites inland. Every carrier not covering the landing would be a bonus to 5 Group RAAF, just as every carrier off the east coast was hitting the hard mass of 2, 3 and 4 Groups.
A Dance Macabre
In drawing the IJN into the eastern seas, the RAN were trying to swing things to their advantage, but it was doing the Japanese a few favours as well. For a start access into the Coral Sea was far less constrained, they had more routes to come south and those routes were harder to picket, mine and otherwise block for the defence. It was also playing right on our most vital doorstep, it put the bulk of our population and industry right on the firing line and into play. Of course this was also the RANs home side advantage but that hardly eliminated the dangers.
If the RAN planned on Retreating to Victory doing so in the Coral/Tasman gave the Japanese no end of leverage in return. If they were to threaten any of our major cities or towns, they could expect the RAN to respond in their defence. Again this has shadows of WWI, in this case the German Tip and Run raids on British coast, only in reverse, as the superior force would be using the technique to try and pin down the inferior or is it? Light Raids had been a staple of Australian naval planning for ages, the idea that an enemy would use our long coastline and low force density to make his point by hitting our vulnerable towns and cities. But peripheral operations cut both ways; the Japanese advantage was in mass (we hoped). If they started to break this down by sending small forces to peck at our coastal population in an effort to draw the RAN out. They were also dividing their forces and so reducing their mass at the same time and providing the home side with an opportunity to mass our forces at the decisive point to take out their small groups rather than face the whole lot at once.
This aspect of the naval game extended well beyond the RAN, if naval strategy had bought things to this point it was national strategy that addressed it. As with stopping an invasion the job was simply too big for the RAN alone, and in any case if the IJN were to start striking coastal targets the game moved into the wider sphere of joint operations. Should the IJNs carriers care to try their hand against the east coast then the RAAF would obviously have something to say about that, while any coastal bombardment or minor landings fell in under the Armys purview. Ill leave the RAAFs side of things to when I get around to discussing our Air Defence, but the army offers a good example of what I mean about national strategy rather then Combined or Joint planning.
The Coastal Artillery is the oldest permanent element of the Australian Army and the reorganisation of the late 40s lumped it together with the Heavy AA Regiments into Defence Command. The Army under Australia First, as it has always been, was divided into two elements; the permanent force (ARA) and the part-timers (CMF), with the CMF being geographically based for obvious reasons. Ive already gone into Divisional structure and Military Districts, but to recap, Australia was broken down into half a dozen Military Districts largely on State lines and each MD held a CMF Division or two. Naturally enough these Divisions came with a due compliment of artillery and the naval element of Australia First saw these units being relocated to the coast. Its a bit crude to say a gun is a gun, theres quite some difference between Coastal Artillery and Field gunnery but without delving to deep here, the two are not incompatible. This force structure put a battery or at least a troop of guns at most of the coastal towns along the eastern seaboard and it didnt take much to give them the basis of a reasonable coastal battery.
Of course this depended on exactly what sort of battery the CMF unit was. A Medium Artillery unit had 5.5 Gun/Howitzers and just needed some earthworks, a bit of concrete and a few OP instruments with a plotting board; where a Field Battery with its 25pdrs wasnt quite so well provided for but then we had no shortage of suitable weapons by the late 40s. With the Imperial Gift and the general scrapping of warships, older 6, 4.7s and 4 were only cluttering up the RANs gun yards, while the RAAF had bought home no end of 40mm and we had a shed load of Mk.1 and 2 3.7 HAA guns that SAC had just rendered embarrassingly obsolete. In any case the 25pdr was no slouch as a close in defence gun in its own right and 17pdr AT Guns were on their way out too and there was all those 3 20cwts, the guns off DEMS Merchant ships, not to mention you get the picture.
The point being that forces from the Army were redeployed and combined with resources from the RAN (and other sources) to not only fill a hole left by the RANs own lack of capability, but to do so within a considered framework that fitted in with the RANs wider concepts and ticked everyone elses boxes too. It could have all gone the other way of course, there was enough inter-service bickering at the best of times, but its fair to say the war didnt end of Australia in 1947, in fact it had really only just started. In the late 40s and all though the 50s there just wasnt any room for mucking about, while rebuilding the economy was vital so too was defence and there were not the resources spare to waste in the face of such a threat.
Anyway, with the IJN in the Coral Sea the RAN had a number of ideas as to what would follow. In essence the idea was to keep clear of the initial rush and then hide for a bit, to come out again once the IJN had lost their momentum and try to pick off any low hanging fruit that might be on offer and then repeat the process for as long as possible. The focus for all this was Sydney, its where the Navy lived and where the IJN were expected to come looking for it sooner or later. Now the Decapitation Strike theory predated the advent of nuclear weapons, and if its hard to say how much weight one should give the Pearl Harbour theory, hitting Sydney would be right up there on the To Do list for the IJN in any event. Theres just so much concentrated there that no attacker could resist having a poke at the place.
So the one thing the RAN could not afford to do was defend Sydney, again that would be down to the RAAF and Defence Command, yet at the same time the RAN needed Sydney like baby needs a teat.