Australia's involvment in the Pacific War

Discussions on WW2 in the Pacific and the Sino-Japanese War.
JamesNo1
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Australia's involvment in the Pacific War

Post by JamesNo1 » 19 May 2006 04:20

On 7 April of this year Brian Ross left us waiting for the second boot to drop!

Because this has relevance to the important thread under discussion, I will summarise the position that had been reached on 7 April 2006. In late 2005, controversial Australian War Memorial (AWM) historian Dr Peter Stanley renewed his attack on the character of wartime Prime Minister John Curtin in an essay "Threat made manifest" published in the Griffith Review. In that same essay, Stanley also pursued his theme that Australia faced no significant threat from Japan in 1942. He had earlier initiated these revisionist themes in a paper published by the AWM in 2002 and called "He's (not) coming South: the invasion that wasn't". The title of this paper is a distortion of the title of the famous 1942 poster "He's coming South" that depicted a Japanese soldier with rifle and bayonet pointed towards Australia.

We are discussing a topic called "Australia's involvement in the Pacific War". I believe that most reputable Pacific War historians would probably take the view that Australia played an important role in shaping the course of the Pacific War at Coral Sea, Kokoda and Guadalcanal. If Peter Stanley is right in his claims that these 1942 battles (or campaigns) did not save Australia in any relevant way from a significant Japanese threat, then he effectively relegates Australia to an insignificant role in the Pacific War.

Briefly stated, Stanley claims (1) that the Japanese were not planning to invade Australia at any time in 1942; (2) Australia was never in grave peril from Japan in 1942; (3) the Australian Diggers who blocked and then repelled the determined Japanese advance along the Kokoda Track to Port Moresby did not "save Australia" from invasion or grave peril; and (4) wartime Prime Minister John Curtin exaggerated the threat from Japan in 1942 for political gain or because he was unable to cope with the stress of office in wartime. In his paper “Threat made manifest”, Dr Stanley makes a point of mentioning his English birth before claiming that the apparent need of Australians to believe that they faced a grave danger from Japan in 1942 is "pathetic".

I read history at an Australian "Sandstone" university at a time when history was a discipline that involved objective rigorous and systematic study of past human affairs rather than the fluffy subject it has become today after decades of undermining by political correctness, postmodernism, and other malign trends. After reading both of Dr Stanley's papers carefully, I formed the view that his denial of the grave threat to Australia from Japan throughout 1942 and his criticisms of Prime Minister John Curtin were not based on a sound grasp of the strategic situation facing Australia throughout 1942. I also formed the view that Dr Stanley did not have a sound grasp of the structure and functioning of Japan's military high command or its strategic aims and war planning in 1942 that would enable him to correctly evaluate its hostile plans for Australia. If I am right about this, and I believe that I am, then Dr Stanley's criticisms of Australians for their beliefs about the grave peril that their country faced in 1942 also lack substance.

After checking references that are claimed by Dr Stanley to support his revisionist claims, I could find no evidence that they did. I also formed the view that both of Dr Stanley's papers on 1942 and John Curtin contained many errors. For all I know, Stanley may have some knowledge of the Boer War or the battlefields of World War I, but I could find no depth of knowledge of the Pacific War in either of his papers.

On 22 March of this year, I drew attention to this revisionism emanating from the Australian War Memorial that turns our traditional view of the danger faced by Australia from Japan in 1942 on its head and denigrates the character of a greatly respected wartime leader. I mentioned that I had employed a number of chapters on the Battle for Australia Web-site to demonstrate that Dr Stanley's views on 1942 are erroneous and apparently based upon flawed research and/or inadequate knowledge of the Pacific War. I mentioned in particular:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/battlefora ... nists.html

and

http://www.users.bigpond.com/battlefora ... nvade.html

There is compelling historical evidence in the work of leading Japan scholar Professor Henry Frei that the Japanese were planning to make themselves masters of Australia in 1942, either by invasion of key northern areas of the mainland and then severing Australia's lifeline to the United States (Japanese Navy), or by severing that lifeline and then "throttling" Australia into complete surrender to Japan by blockade and other pressures (Japanese Army). See Professor Frei: "Japan's Southward Advance and Australia", especially at page 172. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Kim Beazley, have publicly rebuked Dr Stanley and rejected his revisionist views concerning 1942.

Very sensibly one might think, the Australian War Memorial bureaucrats have adopted the time-honoured bureaucratic ploy of avoiding an embarrassing issue by "going to ground" and refusing to discuss it. They have taken this course even though I have offered to apologise to Dr Stanley publicly if the War Memorial can draw my attention to credible historical sources that prove my criticism of Dr Stanley's 1942 revisionism is without foundation.

We could have left this excursion into the character of John Curtin and the gravity of the Japanese threat to Australia in 1942 but for the fact that Brian Ross has declared in this forum his support for Dr Stanley's revisionist views. To be fair to Brian, I will quote verbatim what he said on this topic on 5 April 2006:

"All the books I've read on Japanese strategy suggest that Peter Stanley is correct.."

On 7 April 2006, I responded to Brian as follows:

"Even if the AWM will not engage in dialogue with me, I would be grateful if you would draw my attention to the books that you are referring to..(in the quote above)".

Brian replied on 7 April 2006:

"I will look at my references over the weekend and get back to you, OK?"

If there are in fact books of the kind that Brian has mentioned above that in fact support Dr Stanley's revisionism, I would be grateful if Brian could draw them to out attention.

James

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Post by varjag » 19 May 2006 12:25

I feel that Australias contribution to the Pacific war - was mainly geographical. In all other
areas it must be classed as 'insignificant'. In regards to the bunfight about a Japanese invasion
in 1942 or 1943 - the question raised, namely WITH WHAT Japan could - have invaded Australia
is central. They were stretched to the limit. Irrespective of the 'learned debate' in the rarified
air of academe the Japanese never had the resources for such an undertaking.....
But hey! Invaded? - They DID! We have a local crackpot who at his own expense, is now
publishing The Second Edition of his The Long Island Massacre. The First (all of 70 copies!)
sold out - but you still have the chance to snap up a copy of The Second - 200 copies!
Strictly for 'True Believers' of course....Varjag

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Australia's involvement in the Pacific War

Post by JamesNo1 » 20 May 2006 06:53

Varjag's denigration of Australia's contribution to the Pacific War as being "insignificant" lacks foundation in fact but that will have to keep for later comment.

I am more interested in his other comment: "WITH WHAT Japan could - have invaded Australia.
The Japanese never had the resources for such an undertaking (namely, invasion of Australia)".

It appears to have escaped the notice of Varjag that Australian soil was in fact invaded on 21 July 1942 when Japanese troops landed at Buna and Gona in the Australian Territory of Papua. Unlike the Territory of New Guinea, Papua was never a League of Nations Mandate. Australia exercised full sovereignty over Papua from 1906 until it achieved independence from Australia in 1975. The Kokoda Campaign was fought entirely on Australian soil, and the Japanese were not ejected from Australian soil until January 1943.

However, assuming that by "Australia", Varjag is probably referring to the Australian mainland, I think it is necessary to draw his attention to the views of the internationally respected Australian historian, Professor David Horner:

"The Allied successes on the Kokoda Track, at Milne Bay and on Guadalcanal ensured the security of Australia...during 1942 Australia was in great peril. The Allied policy of 'Beat Hitler First' meant that Australia faced the prospect of a Japanese invasion with only limited support from the United States."

From Defending Australia in 1942, published in the journal "War & Society", Department of History of The University of New South Wales (issue May 1993). David Horner is Professor of Australian Defence History at the Australian National University, Canberra.

Varjag's comments might have carried force if he was referring to the time following the Japanese withdrawal from Guadalcanal in February 1943, but he is clearly referring to 1942, and for that reason, he is wrong. But first let us be clear about Japan's strategy in relation to Australia in early 1942. It is also necessary to keep in mind that invasions can take place not only by force of arms but also by surrender to a powerful enemy.

There is compelling historical evidence that the Japanese were planning to make themselves masters of Australia in 1942, either by invasion of key northern areas of the mainland and then severing Australia's lifeline to the United States (Japanese Navy), or by severing that lifeline and then bullying Australia into complete surrender to Japan by blockade and other pressures such as intensified bombing (Japanese Army). By 7 March 1942, the Japanese Navy and Army had agreed that severing Australia's lifeline to the United States (known as "Operation FS") and pressuring Australia into surrender to Japan were more important objectives than the limited invasion of Australia's northern coast that the Navy had earlier proposed. At the Imperial General Headquarters Liaison Conference on 7 March 1942, the Navy General Staff and Navy Ministry agreed to their limited invasion proposal being deferred in favour of the Army plan to sever Australia's lifeline to the United States and then pressure Australia's into total surrender to Japan. It is important to note that the Japanese generals did not rule out their support for an invasion by force if Australia did not surrender as they expected when the Japanese noose was tightened. For a more detailed examination of Japan's Australia war strategy, see:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/battlefora ... nvade.html

In "Japan's Southward Advance and Australia", the leading Japan scholar Professor Henry Frei tells us that Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo was planning to "throttle Australia into submission" to Japan in 1942 by means of Operation FS. See Frei at page 172. After Australia's anticipated surrender to Japan in 1942, the Japanese government was planning to incorporate Australia as a puppet state into Japan's compliant political bloc called the New Order in Greater East Asia and its equally compliant economic bloc called The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. See:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/battlefora ... Plans.html

For the purposes of this discussion, it is necessary to examine Japanese attempts to implement "Operation FS" in 1942.

Japan's first attempt to implement Operation FS occurred in early May 1942, when powerful amphibious forces set out to capture Australia's Port Moresby on the southern coast of the island of New Guinea and Britain's Tulagi Island in the British Solomons. Port Moresby was intended to be the anchor for a chain of fortified Japanese island bases stretching across the South Pacific to Fiji and Samoa. The dates for the invasions of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa had already been fixed for 8, 18, and 21 July 1942 respectively. After two earlier Japanese demands for Australia's surrender had been ignored by the Curtin government in January and February 1942, General Tojo gave Australia a last warning to surrender in the Japanese parliament on 28 May 1942. As Professor Frei describes it: "Japan was now tightening the noose on Australia."See Frei at Page 172. For a more detailed treatment of Operation FS, see:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/battlefora ... ralia.html

The Battle of the Coral Sea averted grave peril for Australia. If the Japanese had won the Battle of the Coral Sea (7-8 May 1942), they would have been able to capture Port Moresby on the southern coast of what was then the Australian Territory of Papua and the island of Guadalcanal in the British Solomons. Using Port Moresby as a base, Japanese Navy bombers would have been able to strike as far south as the coastal town of Bundaberg in Queensland (opposite Fraser Island). On the way, they could have bombed Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, and Rockhampton. Only the State capital Brisbane would have been beyond the striking reach of Japanese medium bombers taking off from Port Moresby airstrips. A 500 kilometre stretch of Coral Sea would have impeded retaliation from Australia. With Port Moresby in their hands, the Japanese would have been able to block the eastern sea approaches to Australia's northern port of Darwin. The capture of Port Moresby would have been an important first step towards severing Australia's lifeline to the United States. The second step would have been to establish a major Japanese forward airbase on the island of Guadalcanal. Japanese land-based bombers located on Guadalcanal could then strike south into the Pacific as far as New Caledonia (targeted for invasion on 8 July 1942) and intercept sea communications between the United States and Australia. Japanese demands for Australia's surrender would have been greatly strengthened as the noose around Australia was steadily tightened.

These facts explain why the Japanese were determined to capture Port Moresby and Guadalcanal throughout 1942, and why the Australian Curtin government and the United States Navy were equally determined to save both Port Moresby and Guadalcanal. For more on Coral Sea see:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/pacificwar ... l_Sea.html

On the implications likely to flow from an Allied defeat at Coral Sea, this aspect is covered in the chapter "How this crucial Allied victory shaped the Pacific War".

An American defeat at the Battle of Midway would have exposed Australia to Japanese invasion. Professor David Horner has described Midway as "the crucial battle of the Pacific War". See "The Second World War-The Pacific", (2002) Osprey Publishing at page 37. If the Japanese had destroyed the US Pacific Fleet at the Battle of Midway (4-6 June 1942), two things would almost certainly have followed. The United States would almost certainly have withdrawn to a modified Rainbow-5 defensive line stretching from Hawaii to the Panama Canal. This would mean abandoning to the rampant Japanese Navy everything west of Hawaii, including Australia and New Zealand, until the United States could rebuild its Pacific Fleet and/or the war in Europe had ended. Under these circumstances, it is a very real possibility that Australia would have been absorbed into the Japanese empire as puppet state before the middle of 1943 when the first of America's powerful Essex Class carriers became operational.

With only one, and perhaps two, carriers left after a defeat at Midway, the Americans would have been too busy defending Hawaii against a major Japanese offensive planned to begin in October 1942 to spare any further military support for Australia, and moreover, any such support for Australia had been effectively ruled out by Churchill and Roosevelt at the Arcadia Conference held in Washington, DC, in late December 1941.

After the Japanese were defeated at the Battle of Midway and lost naval supremacy over the United States Pacific Fleet, Japan's military high command became even more determined to isolate Australia and force its surrender to Japan by implementing Operation FS. It was now even more vital for Japan to capture Port Moresby and Guadalcanal in order to block what the Japanese saw as a very real threat of a powerful Allied counter-offensive launched from those places.
For a detailed treatment of the Battle of Midway, and the likely consequences of an American defeat, see:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/pacificwar/Midway.html

The Australian victory on the Kokoda Track also saved Australia from grave peril.

The crucial and bloody Kokoda Campaign was also intended by the Japanese to implement Operation FS by capturing Australia's Port Moresby, and was fought between 21 July 1942 and 22 January 1943. Young Australian militia soldiers, with an average age of eighteen years, confronted a powerful Japanese Army on the northern side of the Owen Stanley Range. Ten thousand battle-toughened Japanese troops were intending to capture Port Moresby by using the rugged Kokoda Track to cross the Owen Stanleys. The young militia soldiers of the 39th Battalion were under-trained, poorly equipped, and poorly supplied. The Japanese also outnumbered them by ten to one. Despite these enormous disadvantages, the young Australians held the Japanese for a vital month of bloody fighting until battle-toughened comrades from the AIF 21st Brigade could reach them at Isurava village on the first high northern ridge of the Owen Stanleys. Another month of bloody fighting ensued as the Australians made the elite Japanese troops of the South Seas Detachment pay dearly for every foot they advanced along the Track. The Australian fighting withdrawal across the track cost the Japanese one month. Their timetable had only allowed ten days to brush the Australians aside and capture Port Moresby. They had only been carrying a ten-day supply of food when they began their drive along the Kokoda Track. When the Japanese reached Ioribaiwa village, they were starving and exhausted, and their supply lines were a shambles. Although the Japanese could see the searchlights sweeping the night sky over Port Moresby, the Australians had fought them to a complete standstill. There was nothing left for the Japanese to do but retreat. They had lost several thousand troops on the Track, and many of the survivors were sick. Japan could not fight a bloody war of attrition on the Kokoda Track and at Guadalcanal at the same time. The second Japanese attack on Port Moresby was called off, and Australia was saved from the same grim fate that would have threatened it if Port Moresby had fallen into Japanese hands following the Battle of the Coral Sea.

No American soldiers fought on the Kokoda Track, and the bloody war of attrition on the Kokoda Track denied the Japanese forces on Guadalacanal reinforcement by some of the best Japanese troops in the Pacific-the South Seas Detachment. Despite these undeniable facts, Varjag claims Australia's contribution to the Pacific War was "insignificant"!

I have mentioned above in the paragraphs dealing with the Battle of the Coral Sea the grim fate that would have faced Australia if Japan had captured Port Moresby in May 1942. The capture of Port Moresby was a vital first step in the Japanese implementation of Operation FS, and Operation FS was to be accompanied by blockade of Australia and intensive psychological pressures to compel Australia to surrender to Japan. Presumably, those intensive psychological pressures would have included more intensive bombing of the mainland (most of Queensland would have been within range of Japanese bombers based at Port Moresby), increased shelling of Australian coastal cities and towns from the sea, and even more ships sunk off the Australian coast. The heroic Australian Diggers who repulsed a much larger Japanese army under conditions of extraordinary hardship on the bloody Kokoda Track almost certainly saved Australians from these horrors in 1942 by thwarting implementation of the first stage of Operation FS. As I see it, they certainly deserve to be honoured as "the men who saved Australia".

The crucial Gualalcanal Campaign also averted grave peril for Australia.

The Japanese campaign to capture Guadalcanal was Japan's last desperate attempt to implement Operation FS. If Japan's Guadalcanal Campaign had been successful, it would have placed Australia at grave risk of isolation from the United States and being at the mercy of the Japanese without the support of any powerful ally. This campaign was fought mainly by the US Navy and Marines between 7 August 1942 and 7 February 1943*. If the Japanese had won at Guadalcanal, they would have been well placed to sever Australia's lifeline to the United States and capture Port Moresby. They would then have been able to tighten the noose around Australia and press for surrender to Japan. The bloody Guadalcanal Campaign ended with the unexpected withdrawal of Japanese troops from the island on 7 February 1942. Both sides were exhausted. On more than one occasion, the Americans came close to defeat. For the Japanese, it was a case of being an island too far, and the logistical strain was too heavy. When the sea and land battles ended, the Americans had only one carrier left to defend the whole of the South-West Pacific Area- USS Enterprise. Although the Japanese had greater naval strength at the end of the Guadalcanal Campaign, they failed to press home their naval superiority by capturing Port Moresby. This was fortunate for Australia because the United States lacked the capability in the Pacific to mount any major naval operation until November 1943 when US Marines captured Tarawa.

* The Royal Australian Navy played a role and the Australian Coastwatchers provided vital warnings of the approach of Japanese forces to attack the Americans.

In conclusion, it is necessary to emphasise that the Japanese were indeed coming South in 1942, and they were coming to compel our surrender to Japan. I find it difficult to understand how any rational Australian could fail to appreciate that Australia faced grave danger from Japan throughout 1942, and at least until the Japanese withdrawal from Guadalcanal on 7 February 1943. As Professor Horner has pointed out (above) that danger from Japan included a very real risk of loss of Australia's independence as a free nation.

James

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Post by varjag » 21 May 2006 13:19

James - I thank you for a blockbuster of verbiage. Which still does not answer my question -
'With What' Tokyo intended to extend the Co-Prospherity-Sphere beyond Pt. Moresby (if they had
gotten there). Aussie Glory, Anzac Day, HMS Canberra, The Krait - etc. etc. - cannot deviate
from the terrible fact - that in the defeat of Japan, Australias contribution was insignificant.
rgds, Varjag

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Australia's involvement in the Pacific War

Post by JamesNo1 » 22 May 2006 04:41

Sorry about the "blockbuster of verbiage" Varjag. If you had read it, you would have noted that the Japanese Army was confident in 1942 that Australia could be "throttled" into surrender without the need for an invasion by force of arms. Leading Japan expert Professor Frei tells us that Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo believed in early 1942 that Australia could be bullied into surrender to Japan by blockade (enforced by Operation FS), and intensive psychological pressures that would almost certainly have included bombardment from the sea and air, and sinking of more ships off the Australian coast including oil tankers. The Battles of Coral Sea, Midway, Kokoda, and finally Guadalcanal put an end to Japan's strategic aim of isolating Australia from the United States.

I will tell you why Australia did play a significant role in 1942 in shaping the course of the Pacific War. In view of the implied complaint in your last posting, I will try to keep this explanation as short as possible for you.

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Post by edward_n_kelly » 22 May 2006 08:44

Are we not actually arguing over the same thing ?

One argument is the state of play at the time all this was happening – a seemingly invincible enemy sweeping all before it, few own forces to oppose them and a lack of equipment (and more importantly time) to prepare for a seemingly inevitable invasion ?
This is not at odds with Stanley’s writings – he is looking at it from an historical perspective with access to information from both sides – and can be dispassionate about why it never happened. His criticism of any of the participants is taken from that viewpoint as well – who has not debated Monty or Mac with the benefit of hindsight while the people on the ground thought they were “bees knees” (and at worst a little excentric).

There are 4 major headings under which any writings should be considered for this period:

1. What the Allies believed was going to happen viz an invasion based on their experiences with the Japanese to date, intelligence available to them and their assessment of the capabilities and intentions of Japanese;

2. What the Japanese intended to happen;

3. What the Japanese were capable of doing (these are not the same – the Japanese were prone to over estimate their abilities/resources and underestimate their enemies by the time of Kokoda. It is called “victory disease”) ;

4. What the Allies were capable of doing to interfere with the inferred Japanese plans.

You may wish to add a subset to item 1 above as their may be an exaggerated assessment in Australia compared to elsewhere because of proximity of the forces, comparatively large losses compared to the others engaged, etc.

Personally I have not read Stanley's book yet (nor obtained it), I have Frei's book to read (but study has intervened for the moment).

Edward

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Australia's involvement in the Pacific War

Post by JamesNo1 » 22 May 2006 12:11

Responding to edward_n-kelly, and in relation to AWM historian Dr Peter Stanley's very controversial revisionism, the issue is not one of differing interpretation of facts. I have no problem with that. The problem that I have with Dr Stanley is that he purports to rest his controversial revisionism concerning John Curtin's character and the level of threat from Japan in 1942 substantially on the work of the person whom he acknowledges to be the leading authority in this area (as do I)- the late distinguished Japan scholar Professor Henry Frei. As I see it, the problem for Dr Stanley's credibility on these issues is that Professor Frei does not support Stanley's revisionist views. I know Professor Frei's work so well that I could almost quote it verbatim from memeory. When writing the history of the Battle for Australia 1942, I relied heavily for Japan's strategic planning in 1942-42 on the work of two distinguished Japan scholars, Professor Henry Frei of Tsukuba University in Japan and Professor John Stephan of the University of Hawaii. Professor Frei not only doesn't support Stanley, he contradicts him. For all I know, Dr Stanley may be an expert on the Boer War, Gallipoli, or the Western Front in World War I but I have seen no evidence in his writings to suggest that he can speak with authority on the Pacific War.

The fact that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Federal Oposition have both publicly slammed Dr Stanley's revisionist views has not assisted my attempts to engage in rational dialogue. The AWM has rsponded in a way that I have found from long experience to be typical of the Canberra bureaucracy. When confronted with an embarrassing situation for themselves, they go to ground and hope that it will all go away if they ignore it.

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Post by varjag » 22 May 2006 12:48

OK James - so now they are 'throttling' Australia to SURRENDER. I repeat - with what? The threat understandably
DID seem dire in mid-1942, in reality it wasn't - as Japan 'had shot her bolt' and after the American
victory at Midway - the tide was receding. Australia was just an 'also ran' after that, a geographical benefit
for the war on Japan - but little else....rgds, Varjag

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Post by edward_n_kelly » 22 May 2006 12:52

Until I have read both works I cannot give a fair criticism of Dr Stanley's approach to the matter.

Unfortunately you have not answered my (albeit implied) question - how does Stanley's stack up against the 4 points I raised ?

While the Rt Hon John Howard has admited "... I don’t claim to be an expert. I’ve read a little bit about it...", I cannot find the Hon Kim Beazley's comments on his creditials in the study of history - perhaps you could enlighten me ? Perhaps you could also point to a reliable source of his (Kim's) remarks ?

One comment I will make though - Curtin's government was not above exaggeration on matters military and the conduct of the war when it suited them. They had a "track history" with Eddie Ward the "leader of the charge".

Cheers
Edward

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Post by alf » 23 May 2006 01:31

I am not convinced by a single web site that Japan was a major threat to Australia in July-August 1942 attacking through New Guinea. To establish the viability of a threat a lot more factors have to be considered, both political and military and I am not convinced that looking at Australia in a more holistic viewpoint that a threat was seriously considered.

Looking at New Guinea from a Japanese perspective. For an investment of less than one divison of troops, Australia was taken out of the war. All Australias resources for the remainder of the war was focused on regaining New Guinea and that rapidly became a back water as the war passed it by

I tend to agree with Vargag more on this. The ability to invade Australia was already available to the Japanese after the fall of the Dutch East Indies, the entire North West coast was open to invasion from March 1942. They never took it, so why would they have chosen to attack overland from New Guinea, months later on after suffering a tactical sea defeat by the USN at Coral Sea and a major defeat at Midway?

The Australian forces deployed to New Guinea do not show any sense of logical forethought or military urgency for a National crisis. The 39th , 41st, 57th Militia battalions to Moresby and then sending only the 39th over the Track? Some flew into Kokoka , most walked there and fought their way back. There is no question of the bravery of the 39th, they fought and died in the highest traditons of Australian soldiers in a brillant rear guard action. But the 39th had to "scounge" Bren guns and were not allowed to take mortars so fought only with light infantry weapons the whole time. The 57th ran away, that rarely gets mentioned and the 41st was near useless unable to be motivated or trained to defend their own country. This was the force for the battle of Australia? Meanwhile two combat hardened elite Divisons sat idle. If this was THE fight for Australia then the way those Divisons were fed into battle piecemeal was crimminal.

The lack of planning, the internal politics of sacking Generals willy nilly ( Potts especially) shows a country not fighting for its survival at all. The discrimiation between AIF, "Rainbows" and "Chockos", show a military and its high command not focused on important issues. The political fight over returning RAAF Officers from the Euopean theatre being forced to drop rank when returning home ie Bluey Truscott, the fighter ace who was a Squadron leader in Britian was forced to drop to the rank of Pilot Officer when coming home, he refused and a political bun fight ensued. This was at a time of total war ? The RAAF High Command had other priorties than fighting the Japanese it seems.

Australia continued to supply bomber squadrons to the European theatre through out the war. RAAF Squadrons in the 460 number range and Australia sent aircrews to Canada for the Empire Training Scheme. If the threat was so real in 1942, those thousands of men should have stayed home instead of bombing Berlin.

What if the Japanese had seized Port Moresby, so what? How did they resupply it? Over the Track? From the air? Shipping from the west ( Indonesia) as the East was barred by Milne Bay and Guaduacanal and especially the USN. The loss of Moresby didnt threaten Darwin or Townsville so the major bases in the north of Australia would have continued to function. The RAAF and USAAF airforces would have quickly built up strength in the North to contest airspace over Moresby and Japans resources were limited. The USA's resources were not.

The primary port for shipping in Australia has always been Melbourne and it is literally at the furtherest point possible from New Guinea, US reinforcements and supplies would still arrive unhindered. They would stage through New Zealand (as the First US Marine Divison did for Guaducanal. Speaking of which that battle absorbed more and more Japanese resources over time in 1942. Japan lacked the ability to fight on multiple fronts by then.

In 1942-43, the USA offered to build the Alics Springs- Darwin Rail Link ( the one Howard finished a few years back) Curtin refused the offer mainly as he didn't wish to offend some in his own party. To refuse a major logistical supply option in time of total war? The ability to rush tanks, heavy artillary and hundreds of tons of supplies in one go? That single act speaks volumes of how "real" the threat to Australia was.

MacArthur refused to use Australian troops in the Philipines so the next major role for Australia was to be the Invasion of Japan in late 1945 early 1946. Curtin and Blamey allowed Australian troops to "mop up" Japanese forces that had been passed by, men died instead of letting those forces wither on the vine. The Australian Army did start to demobilse in 1944 especially, letting trained men return to their civillian trades so on that point Varjag is correct. I have written on the 80th Wing RAAF mutiny in 1945 elsewhere here, that shows the state of morale on Australian forces ( the exception of the Navy that sailed north to fight), everyone else got left behind "mopping up".

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Australia's involvement in the Pacific War

Post by JamesNo1 » 23 May 2006 09:03

Alf certainly raises some interesting points, but let's just take two for now. He says:

"I am not convinced by a single web site that Japan was a major threat to Australia in July-August 1942 attacking through New Guinea."

I assume that Alf may be referring to my Pacific War Web-site when he denies that Japan was a major threat to Australia in July-August 1942. However, I am not alone in holding the view that Japan posed a major threat to Australia from January 1942 (capture of Rabaul) until February 1943 when the last Japanese soldier was withdrawn from Guadalcanal.

First, Alf needs to grapple with the views of Australia's top Pacific War historian Professor David Horner who is Professor of Australian Defence History at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University. Professor Horner has written:

"The Allied successes on the Kokoda track, at Milne Bay and on Guadalcanal ensured the security of Australia. Had Milne Bay been taken by the Japanese the Allied position would have been threatened. If Port Moresby had been taken by General Horii's troops advancing over the Kokoda Track, the whole strategic situation would have been transformed. In that sense, Kokoda was the most important battle fought by Australians in the Second World War...during 1942 Australia was in great peril. The Allied policy of 'Beat Hitler First' meant that Australia faced the prospect of a Japanese invasion with only limited support from the United States."

From "Defending Australia in 1942".

Next, Alf should grapple with the views of the Supreme Commander South West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur who cabled the American Chief of Staff General Marshall on 6 September 1942 as the Japanese were pushing the Australians steadily back towards Port Moresby in bloody fighting on the Kokoda Track. MacArthur asked for more naval forces and said,"If New Guinea goes the result will be disastrous. This is urgent."

I have to ask Alf: "Is Professor Horner wrong? Was General MacArthur deluding himself about the danger that would flow from the capture of Port Moresby by the Japanese?" These are important questions, and we would all benefit from alf's carefully considered reasons for rejecting the views of Professor Horner and General MacArthur.

Alf also says:

"What if the Japanese had seized Port Moresby, so what?"

This comment also flies in the face of the views expressed above by Professor Horner and General MacArthur, but it goes much further. Alf is questioning the strategic priorities of both the Japanese high command and the US Navy in 1942. From March until at least December 1942, the capture of Port Moresby was a major strategic priority in the Pacific for the Japanese. One important reason was that Port Moresby was intended to be the anchor for the chain of fortified island bases that were intended to stretch from Port Moresby to Samoa (Japanese code reference Operation FS) and isolate Australia from the United States. I have already explained Operation FS in the course of this discussion, and my full explanation of Japanese Pacific strategy is set out at:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/battlefora ... nvade.html

But defending Port Moresby from capture by the Japanese in 1942 was also a key American Pacific War strategy. I have explained why this was so at:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/pacificwar ... sback.html

The security of the last Allied base on the island of New Guinea (Port Moresby) was regarded as so important that the US Navy was prepared to risk four fleet carriers in the Battle of the Coral Sea. As it was, Enterprise and Hornet did not arrive in time to take part, and Lexington was sunk. If Port Moresby was not important to the Allied cause in 1942 as alf claims, one has to wonder why Admirals King and Nimitz were not sacked for placing four of America's five precious fleet carriers in danger for no good reason, and losing Lexington at Coral Sea.

Does alf say that the Japanese Imperial General Staff and the chiefs of the US Navy got their priorities completely wrong in 1942?

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edward_n_kelly
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Post by edward_n_kelly » 23 May 2006 09:17

Actuall all I can add to this is I will discuss it with Dr Stanley, Prof Horner and a host of other people later this year. Probably of a half decent red....

Edward

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Pips
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Post by Pips » 23 May 2006 22:47

If that's the case Ed you certainly move in rarified circles. :)

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edward_n_kelly
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Post by edward_n_kelly » 24 May 2006 01:14

I wish - just a once a year affair.....

Edward

PS I served with Horner for 2 years in the same unit in his (and my) younger days....

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Australia's involvement in the Pacific War

Post by JamesNo1 » 28 May 2006 03:58

This discussion has been a lengthy one and there have been some excellent contributions that focussed on the declared purpose of Desert Fox’s original post which was to learn about “Australia’s more extensive involvement in the Pacific War.” Although there have been some diversions from this thread, it appears to me that the major challenge was thrown down by “varjag”. Speaking of Australia’s involvement in the Pacific War at a very early stage of this discussion, varjag said:

“I'll probably make a lot of enemies by saying it - but apart from some tenacious action that halted the Japanese in New Guinea, it was a non-event..”

In his posting of 19 May 2005, Varjag clarified what he meant by “non-event” when he said “I feel that Australia’s contribution to the Pacific War - was mainly geographical. In all other areas it must be classed as insignificant'.”

Normally, it is probably unwise to pay a great deal of attention to sweeping statements of this kind that are unsupported by any evidence or credible reference sources, but the issue is an important one – at least for those Australians who are proud of the contribution made by their fighting men and women during the most critical phase of the Pacific War.

So let me speak plainly. If varjag means to say that Australia played no significant role in shaping the course and duration of the Pacific War, then he is wrong.

A description of Australia’s contribution to victory in the Pacific as being a “non event” or “insignificant” may perhaps be excused in an era when impressions of the Pacific War are largely gained by many people from Hollywood movies and real history is no longer taught in many Western schools systematically, objectively, and as a rigorous discipline.

Two points need to be clearly understood. The first is that Australia’s most important contributions to the Pacific War were made in 1942, a year that was crucial not only for Australia but also for the United States.

The second is that, despite the splendid fighting record of Australian land forces against the Japanese, MacArthur did relegate those Australian land forces to the dangerous and thankless task of cleaning out bypassed Japanese-held enclaves in the backwaters of the South-West Pacific from August 1943. The reason for MacArthur’s action is difficult to understand without an appreciation of this very controversial general’s extraordinary vanity and passion for self-glorification that bordered on megalomania. His appalling mismanagement of the defence of the Philippines must have been apparent even to a man with MacArthur’s vanity. It would have been impossible for this conceited general to share his triumphant return to the Philippines with foreign, i.e. Australian troops. MacArthur’s massive command and character flaws are too large a topic to consider here, but I have addressed these matters at length in the Battle of the Philippines and Battle for Australia sections of the Pacific War Web-site. For those who may be interested in reading more about the Battle of the Philippines and MacArthur’s massive failings as a human being and general see:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/pacificwar ... Index.html

In the Battle for Australia 1942-43, see especially:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/battlefora ... ralia.html

To appreciate how MacArthur’s culpable neglect of Australia’s northern defences could have cost the Allies victory in the vital Kokoda Campaign, see:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/battlefora ... Index.html

By way of contrast with MacArthur’s behaviour, the US Navy welcomed participation by Australian warships in the toughest naval fighting of the Pacific War from Coral Sea to Leyte Gulf. The Australian flagship, heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, was in the thick of the fighting off the Philippines until January 1945. HMAS Australia took no less than six hits from Japanese Kamikaze aircraft in the last stages of the Pacific War.

The first point is the most important in discussing varjag’s claim that Australia’s contribution to the Pacific War was “insignificant”. To demonstrate that varjag is wrong, it will be necessary for me to develop the arguments that prove this to be so, and I am not going to apologise to varjag for doing so.

It is not sufficiently appreciated that the most important contributions by Australia to victory in the Pacific War occurred in 1942 when Japan was still on the offensive. This was a crucial year for both the United States and Australia because those twelve months were pivotal in shaping the course, duration, and possibly, the outcome of the Pacific War. When I speak of “outcome”, I am not suggesting the possibility of American defeat but referring to the fact that it ended without the Japanese unleashing on Americans and Australians the massive arsenal of horrifying biological and chemical weapons that they had used in China.

THE NEED TO APPRECIATE JAPANESE AND AMERICAN STRATEGIC PLANNING

The important role played by Australia in shaping the course of the Pacific War can only be fully appreciated by examining the strategic planning and priorities of Japan and the United States in the Pacific in 1942.

In the case of Japan, one of the two most important strategic priorities in 1942 was to sever the lines of communication between the United States and Australia.

On 15 March 1942, Japan’s Imperial General Headquarters authorised achievement of that result by means of Operation FS. Initially that meant capturing and fortifying Port Moresby, Fiji, and all of the islands between them, including Guadalcanal. In Japanese hands, Port Moresby would anchor the chain of Japanese island strongholds that were intended to stretch as far as Samoa and deny the United States access to Australia as its main base in the South Pacific from which to launch a counter-offensive against Japan southern defensive perimeter. Both the Japanese Army and Navy believed that Australia could be pressured into surrender to Japan if it was cut off from American aid. On three occasions between January and June 1942, Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo promised Australia leniency if it surrendered to Japan.

A second, and competing strategic priority came into existence for the Japanese immediately following the Doolittle Raid on Japan on 18 April 1942. This second strategic priority was the total destruction of the US Pacific Fleet carriers at Midway. After the major Japanese naval defeat in the Battle of Midway (4-6 June 1942), Operation FS was necessarily scaled down to the capture of Port Moresby, Guadalcanal, and all of the islands between them. However, the capture of Port Moresby remained the top Japanese strategic priority in the Pacific until the end of the Kokoda Campaign in January 1943.

The capture of Port Moresby by Japan would have denied the Americans and Australians their last base on the island of New Guinea. It would have placed 500 kilometres (300 miles) of the Coral Sea between American B-17 heavy bombers located at Townsville in Australia and the Japanese bases at Port Moresby, Lae, and Rabaul. Japanese occupation of Port Moresby would have enabled Japanese bombers to strike deeply into Australia and across the Coral Sea, and thereby facilitate the severing of the lines of communication between the United States and Australia.

I have addressed these strategic issues in much greater detail, and in particular, the determination of the Japanese to capture Port Moresby in 1942 at:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/battlefora ... nvade.html

In the case of the US Navy and the Australian government, they believed that it was equally vital to prevent the Japanese capturing Port Moresby in 1942. The US Navy’s Pacific War Plan involved four phases. The first phase required a build-up of American forces and positions in the South and South-West Pacific. This was not going to be easy when Churchill had persuaded Roosevelt at the Arcadia Conference to pursue a “Germany First” war strategy. During 1942, less than one tenth of American military resources went to the Pacific theatre.

The second phase was to be a simultaneous American-Australian offensive through the Solomons and New Guinea to recapture the northern coast of New Guinea and the Bismark Archipelago where the Japanese were establishing a major base at the former Australian port of Rabaul. The involvement of Australian land forces in 1942 was vital to implementation of this second phase of US Navy Pacific war strategy because the United States had only allocated two raw National Guard reserve divisions for the defence of mainland Australia. The US Navy had only the equally raw US Marine 1st Division training in New Zealand for a proposed assault on the British Solomons.

The third phase involved the removal of the Marshall and Caroline Islands from Japanese control and establishment of advanced American air and naval bases on those island groups. The third phase did not begin until November 1943 at Tarawa, and this delay was caused partly by the fact that the United States only had two fleet carriers still afloat by the end of 1942 (Enterprise and Saratoga) and partly because of the limited military resources available to the US Navy in the Pacific as a result of the “Germany First” war strategy.

I have covered in more detail the strategic importance of Port Moresby to the United States and Australia at:

http://www.users.bigpond.com/pacificwar ... sback.html

An appreciation of the strategic aims of the Americans and Japanese in the Pacific theatre during 1942 enables us to understand (a) how two major battles and two campaigns in that year shaped the course and duration of the Pacific War, and (b) how Australia made vital contributions to Allied victory in these campaigns and battles. The battles were Midway and Coral Sea. The campaigns were Kokoda and Guadalcanal.

After the Battle of the Bismark Sea in March 1943, the Japanese were reduced to a wholly defensive war. Australia’s vital contributions to Allied victory in the Pacific War were made while the Japanese were still on the offensive.

So please let us hear no more uninformed suggestions that Australia’s contribution to Allied victory in the Pacific War was “insignificant”.

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