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Battle of Australia

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Omar al Hashim View Drop Down
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    Posted: 05 Sep 2009 at 11:06
The following article is from Dr Peter Stanley and posted on this site: http://www.awm.gov.au/events/talks/oration2006.asp

It points out the new emergence of this so-called 'Battle' and it's context in history.

(I don't know why some characters have stuffed up, it doesn't happen in the edit window)
Quote

Australian War Memorial Anniversary Oration by Dr Peter Stanley, 10 November 2006


For Australia, 1942 was the year of greatest losses, a year of crises confronted and overcome. It was a year in which war briefly touched Australia’s shores. What does this mean for the way we remember 1942? It suggests that we should at least question whether there was a “Battle for Australia”, or ask if there was, what did it involve?1

There was a phrase in vogue in museum circles a few years ago, that museums are “safe places for unsafe ideas”. My scepticism the reality of the Battle for Australia would certainly be regarded as unsafe. When I’ve spoken or written in this vein several times over the past few years I’ve been abused as unpatriotic or even “un-Australian” (whatever that means). My citizenship (dating from 1971) has been called into question – one persistent critic habitually refers to me as “English-born” – and the Memorial’s Director has been urged to sack me. These are representations that he’s felt able to resist – so far. If criticising the Battle for Australia is an unsafe idea, I’m glad that the Memorial offers an opportunity to discuss it in a rational manner. While there won’t be opportunities for debate this evening, I hope that you’ll contact me by letter or e-mail to express your reactions.

I offer reflections on a phrase which over the past decade has assumed a growing significance in the ways Australians remember the Second World War. Indeed, I’d argue that the new idea of the “Battle for Australia” is the most significant single development in Australia’s understanding of that war since the publication of the official histories between the 1950s and the 1970s. The idea that there was a Battle for Australia has perhaps captured the popular imagination. It’s an idea which few historians have endorsed, but which thousands of Australians have embraced. For that reason, I have decided to take the idea of a “Battle for Australia” seriously as a basis for considering our past. I want to use this address to consider its validity for Australia’s remembrance of the Second World War. As you’ll hear, it has a place in our thinking about this war: but not, perhaps, as an all-embracing event that can be justified historically.

Those who advance this idea argue that from the outbreak of war with Japan Australia was the objective of the Japanese advance, and that 1942 saw a series of crucial campaigns that resulted in the defeat of this thrust. In some versions of the battle it is seen as continuing up to the Japanese surrender. The point of the Pacific war, they imply, was that Australia was in danger of attack or conquest, and that the significance of the campaigns in the south-west Pacific was that they prevented such a calamity.

This idea of a Battle for Australia is both attractive and superficially plausible. It is dramatic. It seems to explain a series of campaigns to Australia’s north. It seems to give purpose to the bombing of Darwin, the submarine raid on Sydney and the submarine offensives off the east coast: even the Papuan campaign can be stretched to fit the rubric of the “battle that saved Australia”. The growing awareness of the importance of the mobilisation of Australian civilians – men, women and children –their motivation to work for the war effort and their contributions as individuals and in communities, all fits easily into a view that places Australia at the centre of events. Above all, a Battle for Australia nourishes Australians’ pride in surmounting what was truly the greatest crisis the nation has faced. These are all reasons to subscribe to this interpretation. But first, I want to look at where this new idea has come from and suggest why it has arisen in the form it has.

The idea of organising the events of 1942 around the idea of a “Battle for Australia” is quite a new one, though the phrase itself was used in wartime propaganda. In turn it seems to have come from a speech delivered by Prime Minister John Curtin on 16 February 1942. In an echo of Churchill’s speech of June 1940 foreseeing that the fall of France would open a “Battle of Britain”, Curtin said that “The fall of Singapore opens the battle for Australia".2 The phrase was used in a few booklets produced by the Department of Information, but it did not appear even in the booklet While You Were Away, produced in 1945 to inform liberated prisoners of war what had occurred at home.3

Curtin’s phrase did not resonate with those first charged with documenting Australia’s part in the Second World War. It appears just once in Paul Hasluck’s official history The Government and the People, but not at all in Gavin Long’s Six Years War or indeed in any general history of Australia published until the mid-1990s. There is no battle honour “Battle for Australia” on any regimental colour, ship’s crest or unit plaque. The phrase - even the idea – disappeared. The first time it appeared in print in a work of significance was in the late John Robertson’s Australia at War 1939-1945, published in 1981.4 But he used it as a striking opening line to his chapter on the collapse of the so-called Malay Barrier. He did not endorse the idea of such a battle having happened.

But in the mid-1990s the idea was resurrected, though the exact origins of what I’ll call the Battle for Australia movement are for the moment obscure. Recently Andrew McKay and Ryoko Adachi offered an account of its origins in their exploration of Australia and Japan’s wartime memories, Shadows of War. They suggest that it was conceived in 1996 by the Victorian President of the Air Force Association, Wing Commander Reginald Yardley, and was fostered in schools by a former Chief Executive Officer of the History Teachers’ Association of Victoria, Dr Jacqualine Hollingworth. Over the years Reg Yardley had laid many wreaths on Battle of Britain Day when in 1996 – significantly, the year after the great year of “Australia Remembers” – he realised that no one seemed to remember a Battle for Australia. “And there was a Battle for Australia”, he emphasised in an interview, “we damned near lost it and yet nobody knows anything about it …"5 He thought of the “battle” as spanning the period from the invasion of New Britain in January 1942 to the battle of the Bismarck Sea in March 1943.

James Bowen’s unofficial Battle for Australia website describes his own role in persuading the Returned and Services League to commemorate a Battle for Australia. He credits the then national and Victorian state presidents of the RSL, “Digger” James and Bruce Ruxton, with recognising the value of his idea in 1997.6

Either way, by 1998 a national Battle for Australia Council existed. Its aim was to “enhance community knowledge and understanding of Australian and Allied actions in the war against Japan from 1941 to 1945”. It is interesting to note the expansion of the date range, to encompass the entire Pacific war. The National Council lobbied to establish the first Wednesday in September as Battle for Australia Day, and now ceremonies are held in several states, marking the anniversary of the battle of Milne Bay, the symbolic first Allied victory against the Japanese in 1942.

The Council’s lobbying has since been joined by several private efforts, notably James Bowen’s website, which engages in energetic advocacy and robust critique of those who might offer a contrary view. Mr Bowen has since parted company with the national Council. The Memorial’s Director and myself have been singled out for criticism because we have disagreed with Bowen’s interpretation of this period. We have been accused of being “revisionists”, used as a term of abuse: no less than thirty-five times in the course of his website’s denunciation. You can judge my views on their merits: to call Steve Gower a “revisionist” is simply ludicrous. Bowen’s website offers an aggressively positive view of the events of 1942, a simple and colourful saga of threat, crisis and salvation. The essence of Mr Bowen’s case seems to be that by offering a different version of 1942 I must be demeaning those who died, that by disagreeing with political leaders (on both sides of politics) I am disrespectful, and by differing with Mr Bowen I must be wrong.

Though notably more moderate, the Battle for Australia Council’s view of 1942 connects several episodes into a single narrative. It presents the defence of Singapore, the conquest of the Netherlands Indies, the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the Papuan and Solomons campaigns, and the campaigns that secured Allied victory into a single epic story. We might regard this saga as forming a “collective story”, a story valued or heeded by an entity, such as a nation. The term is used by the clear-thinking and plain-speaking historian Inga Clendinnen in her recent Quarterly Essay, “The history question: who owns the past?”8

Inga Clendinnen reminds us why these “collective stories” are important to us. But as the stories become more collective – and this is a national story – they acquire “de facto custodians” – like Mr Bowen, perhaps. These guardians, she says, “find they have to invent crimes like blasphemy, heresy, treason or “being un-Australian” to see off any incubating counter-stories”. The “counter-story” here, in the context of the Battle for Australia debate, is actually the older, established version, because it challenges what is becoming the new orthodoxy.

Inga Clendinnen sees a risk in historians feeling a “primary responsibility to the present and the future of the nation and not to the past”. She disagrees with the proposal that “the true purpose of ‘Australian history’ [ … should be] patriotic and integrative”. She thinks – and I agree – that “historians need to resist participating in the concoction of large, inspiriting narratives, because any [such] narrative requires significant narrowing of vision and manipulations of the truth” – or, I’d rather say, of the evidence.

But an oration such as this, particularly one delivered on the eve of Remembrance Day, is perhaps not the occasion for astringent analysis which may alienate and offend at a time when our thoughts ought to be in accord on at least the value of remembering war’s cost. However strong my conviction may be, I acknowledge that there is little point, and less dignity, in trying, Canute-like, to turn back the waves. Or, to switch metaphors, no amount of argument can now drive the genie of the Battle for Australia back into its bottle. Indeed, especially on an occasion such as this, we need to acknowledge that a purely intellectual argument about the evidence will not carry the day.

But history is not just about the evidence of what happened in the past, important though that is. It is also about how we shape an understanding of that past to satisfy our present needs. So rather than simply laying into the idea of the Battle for Australia on the basis of chronology and evidence, we need to examine its meaning today. That is why this lecture is called “What is the battle for Australia?” I suggest that the idea arises from emotional roots, a desire to connect with the Second World War and to incorporate it more securely into Australian remembrance. And on that note, I am in complete accord with proponents of the battle for Australia. I, like them, am determined that the sacrifices and the achievements of the Second World War, and especially those of this country, should be never be forgotten. I have devoted a good part of my professional life at the Memorial to that end. I want to find ways in which we can do so without skewing the evidence of history.

This struggle over the meaning of our history is itself part of an historical process. For ninety years, Gallipoli has been a part of Australia’s discovery of itself as a nation, and its exploration and assertion of its national identity. That process has entailed the creation of an Anzac legend, one which has focussed not just on the Great War, but specifically on Gallipoli.

But for at least a decade, at least since the Australia Remembers anniversary, there has been a move, if not supplant Gallipoli’s centrality, at least to assert the significance of the Second World War as part of the story of an emerging Australian national identity. This process arguably began with the fiftieth anniversary of 1942, when Prime Minister Paul Keating gave his celebrated speech at Kokoda the day after Anzac Day in 1992. This was the occasion on which he revered “the blood that was spilled on this very knoll … in defence of the liberty of Australia”.9 Perhaps the entire Battle for Australia movement can be traced from that moment. This is at one level highly laudable: how could we not wish to remember the Second World War and recognise its significance in Australia’s national story? Certainly: except that this new emphasis stresses not the Second World War as a whole, not Australia’s contribution to Allied victory against Nazism and fascism in the Mediterranean and Europe, but only Australia’s defence of itself.

It would seem that the Battle for Australia movement is an example of historical nationalism, an interpretation, as Inga Clendinnen would say, being shaped to fit the needs of the future, not the evidence of the past. It is the product of the emergence of a school of history – and especially military history - that justifies the name “nationalist”. It promotes relatively unimportant events close to Australia over important events far away, purely on a rather simplistic calculus of proximity. It has become the new orthodoxy in Australian military history. The polar opposite is a view that sees Australia’s contribution in the context of a global war and an international coalition against inter-continental enemies, in an alliance in which Australia played its part as much as any and for longer than most. We might call this the “internationalist” school of Second World War history. It has many proponents overseas though very few in this country.

In essence, I submit, the nationalist tendency is a matter of the heart, the internationalist approach a matter of the head. The Battle for Australia movement arises directly out of a desire to find meaning in the terrible losses of 1942. (And let us remember the terrible litany of Malaya, Rabaul, Singapore, Ambon, Timor, Java and all the massacres and misery that followed.) There is an understandable desire to make those sacrifices directly relevant to Australia. That explains the need to find a satisfying national drama in the approach and defeat of a deadly Japanese thrust. A global war fought for abstract democratic principles, as a small part of a great Allied coalition, in which the most significant battles occurred far away, satisfies only a part of the need felt by many Australians to make this war meaningful.

I suggest that this is a result of the Australian concentration from 1942 on a war essentially fought in and close to Australian territories in Papua New Guinea. Australia’s withdrawal from the broader war, especially in Europe, deprives us of a sense of having contributed directly or substantially to the defeat of Nazi Germany (notwithstanding the decisive contribution Australians made to the war in the Mediterranean in 1941 and 1942, and its efforts in the air war over Europe). The Battle for Australia bequeaths us a partial memory of the most important war in which Australia has ever been involved, a war that truly did save the world as we know it.

Our national memory of 1942 is suffused by emotion. That “memory”, though, is not simply a matter of pitting veterans who “remember” a battle for Australia against younger “historians” who challenge that belief. The Battle for Australia movement has garnered a coalition of old and young, veterans and descendants, journalists and writers, and sponsors from across the political spectrum. They have been animated by the highest motives – by a desire to acknowledge those who served and suffered, and by a need to acknowledge that deaths and sufferings mattered in a war too often marked by futile losses, defeat and disaster. Historically I think they’re wrong: emotionally I share their desire to make sacrifice meaningful.

It needs to be said that this is not the first epic of threat and salvation that Australia has seen. Professor Joan Beaumont of Deakin University has been comparing Australia’s memories of the world wars and promises to illuminate a phenomenon we all-too-often take for granted. She has shown, for example, how for about forty years it was accepted that the battle of the Coral Sea “saved Australia from invasion”.10 The decisive Coral Sea battle (in May 1942) has now been subsumed into the Battle for Australia. Now we are told that the struggle for national survival continued into 1943, and even until the war’s end. Professor Beaumont reminds us that history is malleable, not static, and not immutable: our feelings guide our understanding as much as does the evidence we consult.

The new Battle for Australia movement proposes what is, in fact, a “revisionist view”. Of course all history is revisionist: fresh questions and new evidence will always revise accepted understanding. But the term is widely used, sadly, as a term of abuse for uncongenial ideas: unsafe ideas, perhaps. Some of its proponents, who assume that we have always believed that there was a Battle for Australia, might be surprised at that; but the fact is that the Battle for Australia is a new way of looking at this period. Despite its brief appearance as a propaganda term in wartime, the idea of a Battle for Australia is of recent date. Only two books use the term as a title, both published in the past two years.11 The National Library’s catalogue lists a further eight books under the keyword term, but they are all part of the “Battle for Australia” series written and published privately by W.H.J. (Bill) Phillips of Coffs Harbour. Still, despite its absence from authoritative histories, it is clear that the idea clearly has appeal, and we need to explore rather than merely dismiss it.

So the Battle for Australia movement seeks to supplant an accepted view with a more recent interpretation. In this case, I’m not, as some of my critics have alleged, a “revisionist”. I’m if anything a reactionary, at least intellectually. I’m trying to resurrect or salvage an older interpretation, the one put by official historians who did not endorse the idea of a “Battle for Australia”.

You can see my problem. Except for a few wartime propaganda booklets, this idea fell out of use for fifty years: it simply doesn’t figure in general histories of Australia or in specialist studies of the Pacific war. Then it becomes current again over the past decade. But why? Is there a basis in history for the revival of this concept?

Let me remind you of the setting of John Curtin’s 1942 speech in which the phrase “battle for Australia” first appeared. He gave this speech the day after the fall of Singapore and three days before the bombing of Darwin. It was not a judgment upon what had occurred: it anticipated what he thought would occur. It was almost a prediction. Curtin, a man passionately devoted to his people, for justifiable and understandable reasons feared that the fall of Singapore – believed to have been the keystone of imperial defence in Asia and Australasia – would open a struggle for the possession of his homeland. Or so it very reasonably seemed at the time.

What followed was the Pacific war’s greatest crisis, for both sides. The Japanese conquered south-east Asia, occupied half of the Pacific Ocean and advanced to India’s borders and to within a few miles of Port Moresby. After a series of epic battles, in the Coral Sea, in Papua and the Solomons, and in the Central Pacific around Midway, the Allies at last wrenched the initiative from the Japanese. From late 1943 Allied forces finally began a series of counter-offensives that, beginning in New Guinea and extending to the Central Pacific and Burma, began the drives that took Allied forces to within striking distance of Japan itself. Its armies isolated and starving, its merchant marine destroyed and its home islands devastated, Japan finally surrendered when the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and the detonation of two atomic bombs finally persuaded its hitherto intractable leaders that defeat was inevitable.

In Australia, a nation justifiably feeling threatened with invasion mobilised its military, industrial and civilian resources, accepted American aid and MacArthur’s command and confronted the Japanese in the south-west Pacific. Alarmed by the crisis, Australia largely withdrew from the broader struggle, concentrating on the liberation of its territories and on operations on adjacent islands.

So while Australians played a substantial part in the battles of 1942, there was no “Battle for Australia”, as such. As it turned out, Curtin was wrong. There was to be no such battle, not as he envisaged it. Thank goodness.

How dare I say this, some of you may ask. I can assure you, I’m not the first. I take my cue from official historians Gavin Long, Dudley McCarthy, Lionel Wigmore and Paul Hasluck. If they did not endorse the idea of a “Battle for Australia”, then we need to be convinced before we do.

But the way in which proponents of this view have constructed a revisionist “Battle for Australia” suggests that the real battle for Australia is a contest to capture an important part of the national historical imagination. The extent to which the Battle for Australia is now becoming accepted and fostered means that we cannot simply dismiss it as untenable. We need to take the Battle for Australia interpretation seriously, to consider why some want to endorse it. And we need to consider how we can live with this emotion, and ask what purpose it might serve.

In doing so, we need to be wary of the myths and misunderstandings which have accumulated around this event. The first Darwin raids, for example, were undertaken to support the Japanese conquest of Timor. They did not prompt Curtin’s celebrated turn to the United States. They did not herald invasion. They did not result in a thousand Australian deaths, as is now claimed. Of the 250 victims of those first two raids, very few were in fact Australian. The largest single group were the 188 American sailors killed aboard the destroyer Peary, while most of the rest were British empire merchant seamen. Most of the Australians killed were civilians – merchant sailors, the oft-abused wharfies, the PMG telegraph girls killed in the Post Office, and Daisy Martin, the Administrator’s Aboriginal servant girl. Of the 250 dead, only eighteen were uniformed members of the Australian services: the only Darwin dead to be commemorated in this memorial. I mention this because too often Australians have become impassioned about the “250 [or more] Australians killed in Darwin”.

I’m not diminishing the individual tragedy of these people’s deaths, but we do need to understand them in perspective. Darwin’s significance is largely symbolic rather than strategic. The damage at Darwin, though widespread, did not materially hinder Allied attempts to halt the Japanese conquest of the Netherlands East Indies, which was a lost cause anyway. But looking at it from a specifically Australian stance tends to inflate its significance, especially symbolically. The problem is that proponents of the battle for Australia tend not to distinguish between the reality and the representation: they conflate history as what happened with history as it is popularly remembered.

There are several problems with the idea of an actual Battle for Australia.

One is that the idea conflates several different Japanese initiatives into a grand plan aimed at Australia. Japanese air commanders in the East Indies fought an air war over northern Australia as part of the occupation of Timor and the Netherlands Indies. Naval commanders in Rabaul or Truk embarked on submarine campaigns to support operations in the south-west or even central Pacific. Meanwhile, operations in Papua proceeded unrelated to either. But all of these operations are represented (and, it has to be said, exaggerated) to imply a direct, actual and significant Japanese threat. In fact the Japanese war effort was chronically fractured. Its defeat stemmed partly from its commanders’ inherent inability to co-ordinate plans or services.

The concentration on a defensive “Battle for Australia” – as if the Japanese were actively trying to take Australia – diminishes the emphasis which informed commentators place on the Allied counter-offensives that dominated the second half of 1942 and beyond. David Horner (who quotes Curtin’s 16 February speech, to show how seriously Singapore’s fall worried him) makes this point strongly. In his chapter in the Memorial’s 1988 “Bicentennial” book, Horner makes clear how in early 1942 the Curtin government’s intention was “to carry the fight to the Japanese just as soon as forces became available”12. In the event, almost all Australia’s fighting from mid-1942 arose from Allied counter-offensives rather than from defending Australia directly.

There’s also the problem that at its most extreme, this “Battle for Australia” is virtually a synonym for the entire Pacific War. Some versions of the Battle for Australia narrative end with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. The atomic bombs were not dropped in defence of Australia. Here, Australian particularism runs riot. Even if we take the Battle for Australia to have occurred as portrayed, surely it can only be justified as running between, say, the Japanese invasion of Australian New Britain in January 1942 to MacArthur’s assurance that the danger had passed in June 1942. Curtin’s belated acknowledgement that an invasion threat had passed, in June 1943, comes a year too late to be tenable.

One of the curiosities of the Battle for Australia movement is that it represents the campaigns in the south-west Pacific as being neglected in favour of the war in the Mediterranean. This is clearly unsupportable. Think of the flood of books on the Papuan campaign – Professor Hank Nelson reckons that about 3000 pages have been published on Papua since 2002 alone – and compare it to the handful published about, say, Alamein, a battle fought at exactly the same time.13 The south-west Pacific campaigns of 1942 are obviously not neglected – indeed, they represent a staple of Australian military publishing.

Then there’s the problem that only Australians recognise the Battle for Australia. The Japanese, it must be said, do not use it: whatever they thought the campaigns of 1942 were about, they weren’t for Australia. Nor do British and American historians see the war, even in our part of the world, in such narrow terms. For example, Hedley Willmott, the author of a magisterial sequence of books minutely examining Japanese and Allied strategy in 1942, simply does not recognise any such view of the war. Allied strategy in a global war cannot be constrained within a national perspective.14

Then there is the problem that it is based on one of the most tenacious myths of 1942, the idea that the Japanese planned to invade Australia in 1942. There is no doubt that the Japanese could not have invaded and decided not to: when we focus on more than Australia we realise how the scale of Japan’s war of conquest in China made an opportunist advance in the south impossible. The evidence for the “invasion” claim is weak. Claims made on the basis of this evidence are highly tendentious and circumstantial, heavily reliant on hearsay and supposition. Acting under the residual effects of wartime propaganda, many Australians assume that a threat that was said to have existed in 1942 was real. Many accept spurious evidence – notably the supposed existence of “invasion money” – to support their belief.

But we need to be careful in de-bunking this myth. In 1942 it was entirely understandable to suppose that having conquered south-east Asia so swiftly the Japanese would keep going. Indeed, the government (which knew no better) fostered this belief. Not to have faced the real threat would have been irresponsible. In 1942 it was reasonable to believe that invasion was imminent. In 2006 that belief is untenable – the evidence shows without doubt that while the Japanese high command considered an invasion it decided against one, and never had the opportunity to change its mind. We need to be careful not to imply that Australians in 1942 were wrong to hold this belief – they clearly weren’t – but in 2006 we cannot continue to talk about Japanese plans or intentions to invade Australia in 1942 when there is no evidence for such plans, and much evidence to show that none was planned.

Again, this is not Johnny-come-lately “revisionism”. Read the official histories, of several nations. My colleague Dr Steve Bullard has just translated the relevant Japanese histories and they corroborate British, Australian and American research. Read Hedley Willmott’s 1983 study of Japanese strategy early in 1942, The Barrier and the Javelin. He documents the divisions plaguing Japanese army and navy planning staffs, and how the attack-on-Australia option was dead by the end of January 1942. In over forty years no one has shown this view to be unwarranted. Indeed, if you read the authoritative studies that followed the official histories, such as David Horner’s High Command (published in 1982), you find that those in charge knew that the danger of invasion ended not in June 1943, when Curtin admitted it publicly, but in June 1942, when the Advisory War Cabinet accepted that invasion was unlikely and when MacArthur told Curtin that Australia’s security was “assured”.15

That’s not to say that had events gone differently Australia would never have faced an actual threat. Had the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway especially been lost; had Australian and American forces failed to regain the initiative in the Solomons and Papua – then things might have gone differently. But history deals with what happened, not what might have happened. The fact is that there was a potential Japanese threat in 1942, a decision was made not to invade and no further opportunity presented itself. We can only remember and commemorate what happened.

It needs to be said very clearly and explicitly that in criticising the idea of a Battle for Australia I am in no way diminishing the sacrifice or achievements of those Australians who served, suffered and especially those who died in the war years. As I have said repeatedly, those who risked and gave their lives for the Allied cause in 1942 deserve the highest honour – the respect that they are accorded here at the Memorial.

But we need to be wary of engaging in an unseemly bidding war, in which those who claim the moral heights of alleged national survival trump those who concede that deaths in war are not always justified by victory. It is doing no honour to the dead to represent that they all died “defending Australia” directly, or to imply that those who died directly in defence of Australia (in Darwin, for example) somehow acquire an additional lustre. Those who died over Berlin, or at Alamein or in the Mediterranean – in actions intimately connected with Allied victory but not remotely connected to the direct defence of Australia – are equally worthy of our regard. We also need to be mature enough to acknowledge that in the south-west Pacific many died in support of flawed plans (such as the defence of the Malay Barrier), in actions unrelated to the defence of Australia or from causes unrelated to battle. But the fact of their deaths in support of the great cause for which Australia fought makes their deaths equally worthy of remembrance.

So if we’re not to re-cast our remembrance unjustifiably around a Battle for Australia, what should we remember?

I would argue that the Second World War should of course be remembered on the same plane as the Great War. I am not arguing that Gallipoli should be accorded a primacy: Anzac Day is the day on which we remember all Australians in all wars. Let us remember the Second World War: but let us not unduly accord privilege to one theatre of war over another. We share a desire to honour those who served and died: but let us not misrepresent the significance of that service and sacrifice.

By all means let us choose a day to remember the dead of the Second World War. Various anniversaries are proposed – recently the RSL’s National Congress resolved to mark a Kokoda Day in November. But the anniversary that most Battle for Australia protagonists seek to mark in the first week of September is in my view a fitting date. But they conceive of the event and the reason too narrowly. The present Battle for Australia commemoration is the first Wednesday in September: the anniversary of the end of the fight at Milne Bay. That was indeed a significant action, when a small force of Australian Militia and AIF troops, supported by Australian air and naval forces, and some Americans, defeated a Japanese attempt to establish a base in support of their designs on Port Moresby.

Coincidentally, though, this is also more-or-less the anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War for Australia, as well as the anniversary of its end. On 3 September 1939 Robert Menzies announced Australia’s entry to the war, and on 2 September 1945 Australia’s representative signed the surrender document aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

I would argue that Australians ought to pause, to reflect and remember on 3 September each year. But let’s do so in memory of all of those Australians who helped to fight Nazism and fascism in Europe and militarist aggression in Asia. Let’s remember those who gave their lives for the freedom of the millions who actually were occupied and oppressed by Germany and Japan, and not in memory of a “battle” that didn’t actually occur in the way it’s said by some to have done. The sacrifices of all Australians in the Second World War helped to ensure that Australians inherited the society we cherish today. That seems to be a legacy of much greater significance and one worth remembering. Let me remind you of the reasons Robert Menzies gave for Australia’s decision to go to war in 1939.

A week before the war’s outbreak, as the European crisis deepened, Menzies had told the nation, “in plain English”, that “the destruction of defeat of Britain would be the destruction or defeat of the British Empire” – he gave it a capital E – “and would leave us with a precarious tenure of our own independence”. In his 3 September broadcast – the one from which everyone remembers the phrase about “melancholy duty”, but little else – he again detailed the reasons why the Australian cabinet had decided to act. The aggression of Hitler’s Germany had made it plain – “brutally plain”, he said – that if it went unchecked “there could be no security in Europe and no just peace for the world”.

Menzies appealed to principles that his listeners shared: “honest dealing, the peaceful adjustment of differences, the rights of independent peoples to live their own lives, the honouring of international obligations and promises”. He affirmed that “where Great Britain stands there stand the people of the entire British world” – a world that Australians then felt they belonged to. But his appeal was not simply to imperial loyalty: it was also an appeal to democratic principles. It was, as the official historian Paul Hasluck wrote, “more than anything else an Australian decision”. These principles remind us that the Second World War began as – and remained –a crusade for the values at the centre of western political culture: political liberty and tolerance: freedom as we understand it.

This link between Australia and what the Allies fought for that has increasingly been lost in early twenty-first century Australia. As we approach the seventieth anniversary of the war’s outbreak, the Second World War against Nazi Germany and fascist Italy is increasingly being seen as a remote imperial war, one largely fought in (and only concerning) Europe, remote from Australian interests or involvement: the usual phrase is “somebody else’s war”.16 The war with Japan is increasingly being seen as the most important part of the war, though not because it entailed the oppression and then the liberation of millions of Asians, but because the war touched Australia’s shores. This re-interpretation of the war, which has been exaggerated to the point where it has now been given a new name, is unjustified. It emphasises an exaggerated interpretation. It separates us from the broader war rather than connects us with it, in a sort of historical isolationism.

So, was there a Battle for Australia? No: not in the literal meaning of the term.

But I would argue that we should indeed always remember that between 1939 and 1945 Australians mobilised to fight for values that we still hold dear today. In both Asia and in Europe, Australians made a clear contribution to Allied victory, to the defeat of oppression and to the restoration of the international rule of law. Just as the conflict was a global war, so Australia’s response was global. That gives a longer-lasting and more secure claim than to a concentration on a perceived threat to Australia itself.

In preparing this address I waited eagerly for the latest book to appear on Australia and the Second World War, Michael McKernan’s The Strength of a People. Michael’s book is not, I would have to say, the book I would write. It is written in his inimitable style, letting vignettes of individuals carry the story, often people he knew, met or admired: Beryl Beaurepaire (née Bedgood, whom we recall warmly as our former Chairman of Council), Ralph Honner and John Curtin. The Strength of a People tells an unashamedly Australian story, though reining in its nationalism, rarely adopting the strident tone of an historical barracker. Reading it, I was interested to note two things. First, Michael also does not adopt, does not even quote, Curtin’s “Battle for Australia” speech. Second, he ends with a strong endorsement of the argument I’ve just put. Recalling an exhibition at the Memorial of drawings by children who mostly died in Auschwitz, Michael mused that “To liberate people in captivity everywhere and to prevent the domination of the world by evil men and evil ideologies: that was why Australian men and women gave themselves to the war, and were prepared to give their lives. This was the noble cause for which Australians fought”, he writes, “and they did, indeed, fight for a better world”.17

I would argue then, that what the Battle for Australia is a commemorative phenomenon that exists in our hearts, reminding us of Australia’s contribution to freedom’s war long ago. But it is Australia’s part in the wider war that counts, not the undue concentration on a battle that did not actually occur.

Inga Clendinnen describes historians as both “the custodians of memory, the retrievers and preservers of the stories by which people have imagined their … lives”, and at the same time “the devoted critics of those stories”. This address reflects that two-fold task, especially in this place. What I’ve presented has been, I hope you’ll agree, rooted in a devotion to the idea of the Memorial as a place of scholarship inspired by remembrance and as a place of remembrance informed by scholarship.



Edited by Omar al Hashim - 05 Sep 2009 at 11:08
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Sep 2009 at 07:18
The fact that the Japanese didn't mean to invade Australia (as far as I know) means to me that it can't be compared to the Battle For Britain. There was no single large strike against Australian homelands -- simple raids against the military positions in the northern parts of Australia.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Sep 2009 at 08:17
Like the article said, Australians did their bit in WW2. Australians did think that in 1942 they were going to be invaded, but I agree their was no Battle of Austalia as such. Hell, Coral Sea, Milne Bay, Kakoda Track, Buna, Gona etc could just well be called the 'Battle for New Guinea'. And as for the though that the Atomic Bomb was droped for Australia! Kidding right? Big Mac had washed his hands of Australia and Australian troops early in 1944 when he left them behind to mop up the Jap troops 'withering on the vine', while he led his fresh troops from American on to glory in the Phillipines!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Sep 2009 at 12:28
Actually, MacArthur did take a few Australian units to the Philippines. These included a detachment of Special Branch personnel, along with Wireless Units 4, 5, and 6 of the Royal Australian Air Force. These were the units that provided signals intelligence to MacArthur's headquarters.

Within the United States, there are historians who question the need to invade the Philippines at all, in light of U.S. Naval advances in the Pacific.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Sep 2009 at 19:39
Yes he did take a handful of Australians with him to the Philippines, but he left the battle experianced Australian Divisions, some who had been in action since the start of 1941, who had seen action in North Africa, Syria, Greece, Crete, New Guinea to mop up the Jap units 'withering on the vine' in the south pacific. Alot of Australian veterans died in useless battles that didn't shorten the war by a single day mopping up the starving enemy units. Big Mac had very little respect for the Australian Army. When the Australians won a battle he called it a allied victory, when any US troops were invloved in was a US victory.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Sep 2009 at 19:45
Australians were the most experianced troops Mac had (and the best at jungle warfare), but he didn't want them involved in the liberation of the Philippines, because it had to be Americans liberating it's former colony.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Sep 2009 at 03:25
Birddog:  Do you have any specific cite showing that MacArthur did not respect the Australian Army (which was largely militia in New Guinea)?  Yes, I have read Gallaway's "The Odd Couple"  too, covering the careers of Blamey and MacArthur. A lot of good points in that book, but I think the anti-MacArthur bias and poor scholarship overshadows its occasional excellent criticisms. Australian critic Mark Dash was less kind. he found the book "littered with misrepresentations, misinterpretations and unsubstantiated assertions..." (http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-25873431_ITM)

According to Samuel Eliot Morrison's History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. 13, Chapter IX, pp. 213-214, MacArthur did have plans for using Australian troops, in conjunction with the Eighth US Army, to liberate Mindanao, and then move into the Dutch East Indies. Heavier than expected Japanese resistance on Luzon and Leyte derailed those plans. Apparently, Gallaway has never read the U.S. Navy's official history, or looked into MacArthur's own plans, in this case, Musketeer II. The American JCS did nix MacArthur's plans to move Australian troops to Java, on the basis that the shipping was needed elsewhere.

So much for Gallaway's credibility.


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How did the Australian Militia units perform? Read about the Battles of Gona, Sanananda and Buna. There was also the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisons of the 2nd AIF avaliable.

 
 
 
All examples of MacArthurs huge respect for the Australian Army.
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Birddog, You give me newspaper articles repeating what some other book or report has said. None of them stand up to the official naval history I cited. So Big Mac was an ar***ole! Everyone knew that. Note that he treated his American divisions no different than he did the Australian ones. And also note that in the official U.S. histories of the SWP, Aussie diggers get due credit.

Here's a link to one part of the 32nd Division's history. They were piece-mealed into battle much as MacArthur later did with Task Force Smith in Korea.

http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/papua/papua.htm

Since we are into books, as opposed to official histories, here's a civilian historian's view from:  http://www.amazon.com/MacArthurs-Victory-War-Guinea-1943-1944/dp/B0012D1DBO

"General Douglas MacArthur and his U.S. and Australian staffs could congratulate themselves in early January 1943 on having wrested the initiative from the Japanese. In conjunction with the naval and ground forces in the eastern Solomon Islands, the threat to Australia, once so feared, had been removed. Allied air forces, particularly the Fifth Air Force, dominated the skies over Papua New Guinea, and made systematic regular raids on the Japanese strongholds at Rabaul on New Britain. The Japanese attempt to take Port Moresby by crossing the Owen Stanley Mountains along the Kokoda Trail had been halted within sight of the objective. In a bloody six-month advance, the Australians had reversed the situation and driven the Japanese back along the trail toward the north coast of Papua. Another attempt to take Port Moresby was foiled in August by the Australians at Milne Bay. MacArthur committed the green troops of the 32nd Division in an attempt to quickly capture the Japanese stronghold of Buna. Without adequate artillery or naval support, the U.S. troops, augmented by Australians, fought a bloody and at times seemingly fruitless campaign against fanatical Japanese resistance in the swamps around Buna. Ultimately they would succeed."

...................
"Much to MacArthur’s chagrin, the Southwest Pacific Theater was from the first viewed by Washington and the Joint Chiefs as tertiary to the European and South Pacific Theaters. MacArthur had imagined before his arrival in Australia in March 1942 that a large number of combat troops would be waiting for him and that reinforcements and supplies that would enable him to immediately take the offensive would be quickly forthcoming. He discovered that not only did he not have any prospects for an immediate substantive augmentation to his forces, but also that his appointment as supreme commander was being held up by opposition from Admiral Ernest King, chief of naval operations, who maintained that command should go to a naval officer. This would set the tone for the difficult relations with the Navy that would persist throughout the war."

"Even after his command had been approved, MacArthur encountered continuous opposition in Washington to his requests for more troops. After a series of communications with Marshall over a period of months, he was bluntly informed that few troops could be spared from the European buildup. His and Curtin’s requests for a return of all Australian divisions then in Europe and North Africa were met at first with excuses. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill feared that the removal of Australian units from North Africa would seriously damage an already weakened front.5 Ultimately most of the Australian divisions were released, but at first only the 7th Division and one brigade of the 6th were returned. As a belated recognition to Australia’s vulnerability, two U.S. Army divisions were sent. The 41st and 32nd Divisions, ill prepared for warfare in New Guinea, had arrived by May."


By the by, my limited knowledge of Papua New Guinea comes from Peter Pinney's "Signalaler Johnson's Secret War". Although a fictionalized account of the campaign from an independent company's viewpoint, he does capture the AIF attitude towards their "choco" and "nasho" counterparts.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Sep 2009 at 10:31
'MacArthur refused to have Australians on his staff, and disparaged their quality when queried by Washington. The US Army generally regarded it as intolerable that US units and formations should be placed under Australian command, and MacArthur moved to ensure that as Commander, Allied Land Forces, Blamey would command nothing but Australians." Jeffery Gray "The Australian Army, Volume 1, Chapter 5 Page 141.
 
The final and most recealing word concerning MacArthur's performance as commander in Papua should be left to his chief intelligence officer, Major-Geneeral Charles Willoughby: "Bana was a head-on collision of the bloody, ginding tpe that MacArthur was henceforth to avoid, but it was necessary...It became a race between Eichelberger and the Marines under Admiral Halsey's command to see who would turn in the first improtant land victory in the Pacific War" (Willoughby and Chamberlain, MacArthur 1941-1951 p 88)
 
This statement is both illuminating and a gross distortion fo history. Some points, therefore, need to be made in response. First, while there may well have been a race between Eichelberger and Halsey to get a vicotry on the bopard, the unavoidable conclusion is that it was the Australian troops who were being acrificed to win such a event. Of this Willoughby seems totally oblivious.
Second, Willoughby's assertion that the manner in which the battles for the beachhead was fough was somehow necessary only demonstrates that he could not conceive that a smore pforessional approach to leadership on MacArthur's part would have seen superior tactics enployed and the objectives attained at far less cost. There was no inevitabilty about it, as Willoughby contends.
The last point concerns 'the first important land victory in the Pacific War'. That victory was at Milne Bay in early September of the pervious year (1942). And then their was the victory at Kakoda on 2 November of 1942. And then Gona on 8 December 1942. Buna was the fourth important land victory of the Papuan campaign, but for the sake of American vanity the fourth victory has become the first. It should also be mentioned that the final vicotry at Sananada was, in fact, the end of the Papuan campaign. But that was only 'mopping up'.
The axasperating point that the Americans could not then, and still cannot, acknowledge is the fact that it was the Australians who won the critical battles at Milne Bay, along the Kakoda Trail, at Gona, and that they were primarily responsible for the victory at Bana and overwhelmingly in charge of the final victory as Sananada. And all this from a soldier who was MacArthur's chief of inelligence during the entire Papuan campaign-a contracdiction in terms. Peter Brune, 'A Bastard of a Place: The Australians in Papua'. Chapter 28, page 603-604.
 
For the first two years of operations Australian troops formed the bulk of the forces fighting in the South-West Pacific Area. Indeed, at no stage did the proportion of Australian involved drop below 65 percent. Once the Japanese had been decisively defeated in New Guinea, and once tha Allies had the strategic advantage at sea, MacArthur's palans for the Australian troops a his disposal did not include paricipation in the Philippines reconquest. Peter Charlton 'The Unnecessary War: Island Campaigns of the South-West Pacific 1944-45'. Chapter 1, page 11.
 
Curtin was keen that Australian troops be used in the assault of the Phillippines, but he did not press the point with much vigour; the final decision was to be left to MacArthur. Peter Charlton 'The Unnecessary War: Island Campaigns of the South-West Pacific 1944-45'. Chapter 2 page 18.
 
 
The Papuan campaign had taken the lives of 2165 Australians and 671 Americans; Australian woulded totalled more than 3500, American more than 2000. It is estimated that the number of Japanese killed now exceeded 13,000. Nearly 1500 Australians had died in the fighting for Gon-Buna-Sananada, a campaign that could well have been avoiuded if MacArthur, less eager for a victory, had chosen to bypass the beachhead. A.K. MacDougall 'Australians at War' Chapter 9, page 271.
 
The rushed and costly attacks at Buna-carbon copy of similar attack as Gona-were nothing more than the tragic experssion of MacArthur's burning desire to conclude his Papuan campaigining before the American marines on Guadalcanal could complete theirs. And with that race seemingly wom, MacArthur believed that he could expect a corresponding reward in terms of the amount of material that would thus be directed to this theatre of operations. The costly victories at Gona and Buna were little more than the appling expression of his limitless and egotistical ambition. Peter Brune, 'A Bastard of a Place: The Australians in Papua'. Chapter 25, page 553.
 
But many of MacArthur's orders weren't all that skilful: '....put sergents in charge of battalions ande corporals in charge of companies'; 'I want you to take Buna, or not come back alive'; 'drive through to objectives regardless of losses'; 'take Buna today at all costs-MacArthur.' And all this from a supreme commander who not once visited his subordinates or saw the front. Peter Brune, 'A Bastard of a Place: The Australians in Papua'. Chapter 25, page 552.
 
That the Australian soldiers, both AIF and militia alike, were able to learn the lessons of jungle warfare on the spot, fight the Japanese in a totally foreign and hostile environment, hold them and then utterly defeat them at their won game speaks volumes for their initiative, cunning and sheer tenacity. Peter Brune, 'A Bastard of a Place: The Australians in Papua'. Chapter 28, page 622.
 
The 1 October plan was marked by the innovation which would characterize MacArthur's leadership throughout the Pacific War: resupply by air. Once units entered the jungled mountains, resupply became a major problem. The Australian practice of relying on the strong backs of New Guineans did not solve the problem, since the bearers usually deserted when they suspected enemy presence. The Allies settled on the airdrop. http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/papua/papua.htm
(July 1942) MacArthur still refused to sanction aerial dropping of food and ammunition. 'Air supply must neccessarily be considered an emergency rather than normal means of supply'. A.K. MacDougall 'Australians at War' Chapter 9, page 262.
 

The Allied ground advances across Cape Nelson and up the Kapa Kapa-Jaure axis proved severe trials of endurance. Moving across the base of Cape Nelson, the 3d Battalion of the 128th Infantry soon found itself floundering through the knee-deep mud of a malarial swamp. The unit abandoned its planned route and made directly for the coast. When the battalion reached its objective of Pongani by sea on 28 October, many of its men were suffering from malaria and other fevers. http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/papua/papua.htm (This was another of MacArthur's brilliant plans. Those poor bastards were sent off the track, hacked their way through the jungle for two weeks, and came out behind the Australian lines without seeing a single jap! They were so sick from their ordeal they couldn't go into combat.)  The heat, the sharp kunai grass, the leeches and fever-bearing insects, and the slippery trail broke down discipline, and the troops discarded large amounts of equipment to lighten their loads. The ration�Australian bully beef, rice, and tea�made some sick, and diarrhea and dysentery claimed many. Five days of steady rain from 15 October made heating food and boiling water impossible and forced the men to wade through neck-deep water when crossing streams. http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/papua/papua.htm (It was that bloody awful food the Australians gave them!)

 'Choco' Chocolate Soldiers who melt in the heat. The soldiers of the CMF 'Citizen Militia Forces' were raised in the pre war years of Australia for home defence. (bit like the US National Guard). It was not a dad's army formation. When the war started many of the militia men volunteered for the AIF. Most of the AIF senior commanders had experiance in the CMF before the war. From the start of the Kakoda battles till the end of the war militia units were in combat, often beside Australian and US forces. Militia units were in action at Kakoda, Gona, Buna and Sananda. There was some alot of rivalry between the AIF and the militia divisons, but the milita saw alot of combat in the south pacific and performed well. The 39th Battalion of the CMF, the first to engage the Jap's on the Kakoda Track fought the campaign through till Buna. When it was pulled out of the line it was down to only 30 combat effectives from an orginal strength of 450. This next comment from Blamey is hard on the 32nd and I will tell you that Blamey was almost as big a bastard as MacArthur but here it is, becuase it does praise the choco soldiers.
 
 In December (1942), Blamey wrote to Curtin that 'the American troops (US 32nd Division at Buna) cannot be classified as attack troops. They are definitely not equal to the Australian militia, and from the moment they met opposition sat down and have hardly gorn forward a yard...' As the same time, he was considering replacing the malaria-wasted AIF brigades with fresh militia units. A.K. MacDougall 'Australians at War' Chapter 9, page 271.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Sep 2009 at 16:43
Birddog, Yes I like the official cite for a change. But then you jump to Brune, with his wild allegation that the "Americans could not, and still cannot, acknowledge that the Australians won the critical battles."  As I pointed out, that does not accord with the official U.S. histories of the campaign. And one undeniable fact is that MacArthur did draw up at least one plan calling for the use of Australian troops in the Philippines (Musketeer II).  So Charleton is wrong.

This appears to be more about current Australian politics than Australian history. The theme seems to be: Australia wasn't under any real threat from Japan, so the Americans hoodwinked us, abused us, and failed to give us any credit. They took it all for themselves. Hindsight is 20/20, but unfortunately neither Curtin nor Blamey nor their American counterparts were blessed with it. There is ample evidence that the Americans too were panicked by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They actually feared an invasion of California. Ergo blackouts, sentries on the West Coast beaches, and forced relocation of Japanese and Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast. After all, the number of Japanese living in Tokyo and its environs was probably greater than the number of Australians, or Californians. It's nice that in 2009 we can say: Let 'em come. They'll all die in Northern Territory before the year is out. But it didn't seem that way then.  

As for Chockos, and other matters, we seem to be talking past each other. Yes, Chockos was the AIF term for the Militia, who initially were not allowed to serve outside Australia. It was mere digger slang of the period, like bowler-hatted, murries, burries, boongs, etc.  And obviously, not everyone looked down on the Chockos:

Lanes of Woolloomooloo
By John Dengate

Oh, then who's your mate, my Johnny lad,
so drunk he can hardly stand
With his eyeballs staring so wildly
and his violently shaking hand?
His name is not for the naming,
but his story I'll tell you true;
He's a child of the great depression
from the lanes of Woolloomooloo.
Reared on bread and dripping
And on dollops of dole plum jam,
He dodged the police and his father's boot
And his fare on the city tram.
Mustered in the militia
on the wharves of Woolloomooloo,
Fought disease and the Japanese
In the summer of '42.
Never you mind his shaking hand
Or his strangely twisted mouth;
He was cut off at Templeton's Crossing
When the Japs came swarming south,
He wept and prayed in the jungle
And God to his prayers was deaf:
Chocko! Retreat on your bleeding feet,
And where was the A.I.F.?
You'll find him now in Bell's Hotel
Or round by the Domain;
You'll find him under a Moreton Bay,
Sleeping it off in the rain,
You'll find him wandering William Street
Without any work to do,
He's a child of the great depression
from the lanes of Woolloomooloo.
He's a hollow, dirty derelict,
abandoned by the fates;
His soul's at Templeton's Crossing
With his dead militia mates,
White lady is his mistress,
They fornicate and woo,
Spawning blind oblivion
in the lanes of Woolloomooloo.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Sep 2009 at 19:42
At Milne Bay the Allies assembled a force of some 7,500 troops, including three companies of U.S. engineers and a battery of U.S. airborne antiaircraft artillery. Named Milne Force, this two-brigade concentration took positions around two Allied airfields. On the night of 25-26 August the Japanese landed 1,500 men six miles east of the airfields. Spearheaded by two light tanks, the Japanese mounted night assaults on the 26th and 27th, and reached Airstrip No. 3. Milne Force stiffened its line and then pushed the enemy into a general retreat. On 4 September the Japanese called in the Navy for evacuation. In this first Allied ground victory�and first significant American action in Papua�Milne Force killed 600 of the enemy, while losing 322 dead and 200 wounded. http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/papua/papua.htm
 
What did the US Engineers do during the battle? The engineers lost one man killed in combat, two wounded. Several other engineers were killed and wounded in the bombing. Most of the 322 and 200 wounded came from the 7th Milita Brigade and the 18th AIF Brigade. This was the first significant American action in Papua?
 
MacArthur committed the green troops of the 32nd Division in an attempt to quickly capture the Japanese stronghold of Buna. Without adequate artillery or naval support, the U.S. troops, augmented by Australians, fought a bloody and at times seemingly fruitless campaign against fanatical Japanese resistance in the swamps around Buna. Ultimately they would succeed."
 
Augmented by the Australians who had fought the battles of Milne Bay and over the Kakoda Track and Gona, the 7th Divison. The Australians sound like a side show. The 18th Brigade alone suffered 900 battle casualties at Buna augmenting the 32nd.
 
The Papuan campaign had taken the lives of 2165 Australians and 671 Americans; Australian wounded totalled more than 3500, American more than 2000. It is estimated that the number of Japanese killed now exceeded 13,000. Nearly 1500 Australians had died in the fighting for Gona-Buna-Sananada,  A.K. MacDougall 'Australians at War' Chapter 9, page 271.
 
"Americans could not, and still cannot, acknowledge that the Australians won the critical battles."  As I pointed out, that does not accord with the official U.S. histories of the campaign. lirelou.
 
So the Americans won these battles? What did the Australians doing during these bloody battles when Australian losses were twice that of the US? The US lost a handful of men at Milne Bay, and only went into action on the ground at Buna and Sananda, where the Australians loss 1500 dead compared to the 671 American.
 
MacArthur had a strangle hold on any press coming out of the battle zone. News reports from the front were held up to a week sometimes at MacArthurs Brisbane head quarters. He was very free with acknowleding US forces and Allied forces, very seldom Australian forces, the Allies he was working with. That was the phrase he loved. Allied Forces. He had no Australian Officers on his staff, prefering the staff who came with him from the Phillipines. He critizised the Australian milita and 7th Divison all the way over the Owen Stanlley Ranges and down the other side! He was a master of PR. Look at the example about the airdrops. MacArthur's inovation that was much better than the 600 natives the Australians used to carry food over the Ranges. In July MacArthur still refused to sanction aerial dropping of food and ammunition. 'Air supply must neccessarily be considered an emergency rather than normal means of supply'. A.K. MacDougall 'Australians at War' Chapter 9, page 262. He was good at backflips if they made him look good. He looks like the great inovator and the Australians who wanted airdrops back in July backward twits using 600 natives. This is American offical history. MacArthur made sure all the credit for the Papua campaign was laid on the alter of that great American hero, Douglas MacArthur. As for Australian historians beliving that MacArthur had no plans for Australians in the Phillipines, how would they know? They only knew what he told them and MacArthur had no Australian officers on his staff and froze senior Australian officers out of planning! No wonder so many Australian historians (talking to Australian Generals) didn't know of any plans to use Australians in the Phillipines.
 
As for the Australian milita. You pointed out the most of the Australian Troops were milita. 7 Divisons of milita ready when MacArthur arrived in Australia, all of which went into action during the war. You raised the topic of Choco soldiers and the contempt the AIF showed to them. I'm just raising the point that they fought on the front line and did a good job.
 
"Who said they couldn't fight!"
"The Japs or the Choco's?"
"Both!"  
Joke from the 7th Divison.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Sep 2009 at 00:38
Birddog,

  You: "So the Americans won these battles? "
  Official History:  "At Milne Bay the Allies assembled a force of some 7,500 troops, including three companies of U.S. engineers and a battery of U.S. airborne antiaircraft artillery."

Sorry, I read that as total US participation: 3 coys US Engrs and a Btry of AAA. I don't think the average American reader is going to suppose that and British, French, Canadien, or Dutch forces were included.

  You:  "MacArthur had a strangle hold on any press coming out of the battle zone." 
  Me:  No argument there. MacArthur was a shameless egomaniac and cunning self-promoter. So what?

  You:  "As for Australian historians beliving that MacArthur had no plans for Australians in the Phillipines, how would they know? They only knew what he told them and MacArthur had no Australian officers on his staff and froze senior Australian officers out of planning! No wonder so many Australian historians (talking to Australian Generals) didn't know of any plans to use Australians in the Phillipines."
  Me:  First, the fact that there were no Australian officers on MacArthur's staff does not surprise. It does not follow that senior Australian officers were frozen out of planning. Where were the liaison officers? Were there no LNOs permitted on MacArthur's staff? And what about the Blamey's headquarters? Did his staff not coordinate with MacArthurs? I'm just shooting from the hip now, but I would suspect that there were no American officers, other than liaision officers, on Foch's staff in 1917-18. World War II was the coming of age of coalition warfare in the U.S. military, and SEA was one of the most remote and lowest priority theaters. Yes, Big Mac received instructions to put Australian officers, i.e., 'staff principals', not LNOs,  on his staff, and he refused to do it. Since you have obviously looked into this more than  I have, I will accept your judgment that Mac's staff kept the Aussies in the dark regarding the Musketeer II Plan. But, the Aussies did end up moving into the Dutch East Indies. Some coordination was necessary. Remember that regardless of Mac's plan, the US Navy nixed the sea-lift for Mindanao. That was not MacArthur's doing. So, MacArthur could have done much better at making the Australians full partners, and he didn't. The result would still have been no major Australian forces in the Philippines.

At least someone on his staff was intelligent enough to take along the Aussies who wrote his special intelligence bulletins. (examples of which are contained in Jack Bleakey's book "The Eavesdroppers").  And, of course, the Americans could only understand what they got from Japanese signals intelligence due to another unknown Aussie contribution to the war effort, that of Naval Lt. T.E. Nave of the R.A.N., who had begun cracking Japanese naval codes in 1921.

Well, enough on this. I think we'll have to agree to disagree on some points.

Phong trần mài một lưỡi gươm, Những loài giá áo túi cơm sá gì
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Sep 2009 at 08:00
I agree. I only added the Milne Bay bit because of the use of the word Allies, which MacArthur used alot to discribe Australian Troops. US engineers and Airbrorne AA get special mention, but not two Australian Brigades. They are Allied forces! The Australian forces took the brunt of the attack and by far the lions share of the losses but it's the first major US action in that theater.  MacArthur kept the US in the dark about alot of what happened in the South P theater. He also kept the Australian public in the dark about what it's troops were doing. By time MacArthur was going into the Phillipines many Australians were wondering if Australia was still in the war due to a two month Blackout on Australian operations that was not lifted until after the Philipine landings.
"Probably never in the history of modern war had so large a force, although in action, been hidden from public knowledge for so long." Gavin Long 1945. Peter Charlton 'The Unnecessary War: Island Campaigns of the South-West Pacific 1944-45'. Chapter 8, page 104.
After being asked by Blamey if now that something be releaced to the Australian public about Australian troops taking over the front from the US in those areas MacArthur releaced a press releace about the Australian Army fighting in New Guinea, Bougainville, New Britain, the Solomons.
"Australian forces have relieved United States Army elements along the Solomons axis, in New Britian and British New Guinea. Continous actions of attrition at all points of contact have been in progress. So far 372 Japanese have been killed, 20 captured and 10 friendly nationals recovered."
 
I've nothing against the US soldiers, sailors and airmen. My Grandmother told me wonderful stories about the US troops in my area of Australia. My grandmother became good friends with a coloured soldier who sadly died in New Guinea. American troops suffered under MacArthur too, and many US soldiers never got the credit they deserved.
 
I'll end on two humours shots at MacArthur and his hold over the press. First a newspaper qoute.
 
"Will anyone knowing the whereabouts of Australian soldiers in action in the South-West Pacific please communicate at once with the Australian Government?" Canberra Times, 10 January 1945
 
This came out of MacArthurs Brisbane head quarters and spread throughout the South-West Pacific. The writer is unknown, possibly in fear of their life!
 
Here, too, is the sage bold,
of virile, deathless youth
In stories seldom tarnished with
the plain unvarnished truth
It's quite a rag, it wares the flag
Its motif is the fray
And modesty is plain to see in
Doug's Communique.
 
'My battleships bombard the Nips from
Maine to Singapore;
My subs have sunk a million tons;
They'll sink a billion more
My aircraft bombed Berlin last night.'
In Italy they say,
'Our turn's tonight, because it's right in
Doug's communique!'
 
And while possibly a rumor now
someday will be fact
That the lord will hear a deep voice say
'Move over God - it's Mac'
So bet your shoes that all the news
that last great judgement day
Will go to press in nothing less than
DOUG'S COMMUNIQUE.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Sep 2009 at 08:59
I just had to raise this point.
 
You: I would suspect that there were no American officers, other than liaision officers, on Foch's staff in 1917-18. World War II was the coming of age of coalition warfare in the U.S. military, and SEA was one of the most remote and lowest priority theaters. Yes, Big Mac received instructions to put Australian officers, i.e., 'staff principals', not LNOs,  on his staff, and he refused to do it.
 
Me: 1: The US army in France in 1917-18 never surrendered control to France. Perishing refused to send US troops into battle under command of a forgien power. Perishing pulled a large number of American troops out of the line of battle a couple of days before a major attack rather then send them into battle under an Australian General! (Perishing couldn't pull them all out and the Americans fighting along side the Australians at Hamel did very well!) Australia did not have this kind of operational control under MacArthur.
 
In ETO, even though the US had the majority of troops, there was an intergrated staff under an American Commander, Ike (who studied dramatics under MacArthur for many years).
 
In the South P Australia never had less than 65% of the manpower avalable to MacArthur, yet no intergrated staff. Australians were under MacArthurs operational control, and he decided were Australian would fight. It's a little bit more than hard titties that MacArthur didn't have any Australians on his staff.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Sep 2009 at 13:36
From 19 Novemeber 1942, the 32nd Infantry Division and the 163d Infantry Regiment of the 41st Infantry Divison took the offensive to the Japanese across the Owen Stanley mountains of New Guinea. They were later reinforced by the Australian 7th Divison. I Corp and the Aussies pushed slowly forward until Buna was captured on the north coast of the island on 22 Janurary 1943. This was the first Allied victory against the Japanese Army. I Corps received the Distinguished Unit Citation for the battle. Some would suggest that this victory marked the Turning point in the ground war against Japan. http://home.st.net.au/~dunn/usarmy/icorps.htm
 
From 19 Novemeber 1942, the 32nd Infantry Division and the 163d Infantry Regiment of the 41st Infantry Divison took the offensive to the Japanese across the Owen Stanley mountains of New Guinea. They were later reinforced by the Australian 7th Divison (who including the 18th Brigade AIF had already been in action fighting their way over the Own Stanley Ranges down to Gona, Buna and Sananda). I Corp and the Aussies pushed slowly forward until Buna was captured on the north coast of the island on 22 Janurary 1943. This was the first Allied victory against the Japanese Army. (I though Milne Bay was? It said so on http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/papua/papua.htm that is what I was asked to read). I Corps received the Distinguished Unit Citation for the battle. Some would suggest that this victory marked the Turning point in the ground war against Japan. (Milne Bay, Kakoda, Gona can all be safely ignored.)  
 
lirelou: But then you jump to Brune, with his wild allegation that the "Americans could not, and still cannot, acknowledge that the Australians won the critical battles."  As I pointed out, that does not accord with the official U.S. histories of the campaign.
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