Journal of the Australian War Memorial
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The Great War: gains and losses -- ANZAC and Empire
Craig Wilcox (ed.) assisted by Janice Aldridge
Gender and war: Australians at war in the twentieth century
Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake (eds)
Largely a gamble: Australians in Syria, June-July 1941
Jim McAllester and Syd Trigellis-Smith
A forgotten offensive: Royal Air Force Coastal Command's anti-shipping campaign, 1940-1945
Christina J.M. Goulter
The Pacific War atlas, 1941-1945
On the duckboards: experiences of the other side of war
Craig Wilcox (ed.) assisted by Janice Aldridge, The Great War: gains and losses -- ANZAC and Empire, Australian War Memorial and Australian National University, Canberra, 1995, xiii + 236 pp., index, soft cover, A$19.95.
Reviewed by: JOAN BEAUMONT, Deakin University
In Australian popular memory the First World War is commonly seen as being futile; it is depicted as 'someone else's war', in which Australians became involved not because their national interests were at stake but because Australians were uncritically and emotionally attached to the British empire. This view has been challenged in recent years by historians such as John Moses, but nonetheless remains pervasive.
In August 1994 the Australian War Memorial and the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University convened a seminar to re-examine this issue: was Australia's involvement in the First World War right, necessary and worthwhile? And what were the costs and benefits of this involvement? This book is a lightly edited version of the proceedings of the seminar. Conference proceedings are always a smorgasbord, but this one is more so than usual. Almost all the papers make good reading, but sometimes their relevance to the themes set out in Ken Inglis' introduction seems tenuous.
Bill Gammage opens the collection arguing, as one would expect from the author of The broken years, that the war should not have been fought. Nor should Australia have fought in it. In Gammage's view, the war cannot be construed as being fought for liberal democracy (as Trevor Wilson and Robin Prior argue later in the volume); rather it was fought for national interests in Europe. Australia's national survival was not at stake. Germany had no chance of winning a world war, nor of launching a successful occupation of Australia. But Gammage overlooks the fact, pointed out by Barry Smith in a later chapter, that the German navy had the capacity and the bases in the south-west Pacific to interdict Australian lines of communication, thus disrupting its trade and compromising its political autonomy. Gammage also weakens his argument by recycling the discredited 'lost generation' thesis; namely, that the low calibre of Australia's leaders in the 1920s was attributable to the losses of the war. As the British historian David Cannadine has pointed out, the men who died in the war of 1914-18 were too young to occupy positions of political leadership until the 1940s or 1950s.
Judith Smart's contribution is a long one (nearly 50 pages), which rather unbalances the collection. Her argument that the war stultified the pre-1914 momentum for a new social order is well-sustained, though much of the detail she includes about the morally and politically coercive regime which the war generated is familiar.
Jock Phillips offers an interesting analysis of the war from the New Zealand perspective, demonstrating how remarkably similar was the experience of the two Dominions. (One notable difference was the opposition to the war on the part of certain Maori groups who had suffered confiscation of their land.) Both in their imperial nationalism and their diffidence about pursuing an independent agenda in post-war foreign policy, New Zealand and Australia had much in common. The war, Phillips concludes, did not create a new kind of nationalism in New Zealand.
Hank Nelson's account of Australia's occupation and administration of German New Guinea is inherently interesting and extends our knowledge of an aspect of the war which is normally consigned to a sentence or two in histories of the conflict. But it makes very little effort to engage with either of the themes of the conference.
Avner Offer's contribution is intellectually the most original (though again marginal to the themes of the book). He develops powerfully and elegantly the argument that we can only understand the decision on the part of European nations, particularly Germany, to go to war in 1914 by considering the code of 'honour' manifested quintessentially in the duel. Honour, too, was an element in the decision by many individuals to volunteer to fight in the war. Offer's argument provides a useful foil to the Fischer school which attributes to Germany a much more coherent set of foreign policy objectives, including the domination of mittel Europa.
Trevor Wilson and Robin Prior have no doubt that Germany aspired to the mastery of Europe and, for that reason alone, that Britain's involvement in the war was necessary. Britain could not have contained Germany, or defended liberal values and representative government, had it not played a central role in the fighting. Wilson and Prior agree that war could have been conducted more competently by the British command, but argue that even had the British generals achieved a more effective correlation between the aims of their campaigns and the resources available the war would still have exacted an appalling toll. A conflict between industrial giants of almost equal resources was bound to be bloody and protracted.
Geoffrey Blainey's contribution to the debate is a typical one, full of intriguing speculation about the might-have-beens of history. Particularly striking is his discussion of what might have happened had Australia refused to enter the war and to occupy German New Guinea. This German colony might then have been occupied by Britain's ally, Japan, and in the postwar settlement Japan rather than Australia might have gained the League of Nations mandate for the territory. What would have been the strategic implications of this in 1941?
The last major essay is by Barry Smith who is, as always, provoking in the best sense. Accepting that Australia had no choice in the context of 1914 but to be involved in the war, Smith focuses on the costs of the conflict. His emphasis is on the often overlooked victims: the wounded, and the women and families who endured the pain of the war for decades thereafter. As Smith says graphically, the war created a generation of bereft and lonely women. In addition to its demographic impact (for example, on the gender balance), it had significant implications for the composition of political parties in the inter-war years and contributed to the 'feminisation' of religion. Smith concludes with a challenge to the more pessimistic assessments of soldier settlement schemes.
Almost all of the essays contained in this volume are a useful contribution to the history of the First World War. It is a pity, however, that, despite Wilcox's thoughtful editorial conclusion, they do not, in the sum, form a more coherent and integrated analysis of the issues the volume aims to address.
Ian Buruma, The wages of guilt: memories of war in Germany and Japan, Jonathon Cape, London, 1995, 330 pp., index, soft cover, 18.99 (order through Graham Book Services, Random House, 25 Havelock Road, Bayswater Vic. 3153).
Reviewed by: JOHN A. MOSES, Canberra
This is the paperback edition of Buruma's work published in 1994, a sign that it has already made some impact. The book should have an impact: it addresses the central problem of why some nations (Germany and Japan, specifically) committed atrocities on an extraordinarily large scale during the Second World War and how these nations have subsequently handled the guilt associated with these horrific episodes. The book contains both some encouragingly good news and some which is disquietingly bad.
If one has been brought up in a Western Christian culture, one is not surprised to learn that individual human beings, and sometimes governments, are capable of perpetrating heinous crimes. It is called sin. Mostly the perpetrators are brought to book, acknowledge -- however reluctantly -- that they have been guilty and, in some cases, repent and make amends to society. Even non-Christian citizens subscribe to the ethics of the Ten Commandments and of the Sermon on the Mount because they concede that society functions better when the norms of decency and humanity are observed. The good citizen hates crime and corruption. It is simply an ineradicable part of our political culture to be appalled by these things when they occur.
We in the spiritual/intellectual West have a deeply ingrained sense of justice and fair play. When we learned of Japanese and German atrocities, such as the Nanking massacre and the Nazi death camps, we wondered whether we were fighting against either sub-human species or nations that were somehow pathologically incapable of recognising what was humane and what was not. Certainly, we saw our entry into the Second World War against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan as being motivated by a determination to stop unwarranted aggression on the part of powers which had either intentionally repudiated membership in the West (Germany) or who remained encapsulated in a barbaric medieval militaristic culture, impervious to the values of a more modern and humane civilisation (Japan).
So, the Germans knew better but eagerly embraced a criminal political culture characterised by its ideology of the master race and its contempt for pluralistic parliamentary democracy, and justified their foreign policy of war and genocide on the basis of this ideology. The Japanese, likewise, justified their aggression on racial grounds and on the alleged historical mission to impose their rule on the 'lesser breeds' of South-east Asia, of course at the expense of the European colonial powers. The West, allied to the Soviet Union, amassed huge forces of men and materials to rid the world of the twin scourges of Nazism and Japanese imperialism. In doing so, weapons of unprecedented destructive power were employed. In Germany, conventional bombing wreaked more actual death and destruction than did the atomic bombs visited upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Axis Powers' will to fight was thus broken, and Western democratic constitutions were introduced under the watchful eye of Allied occupation forces. East Germany was, of course, absorbed into the Soviet Empire. Thereby, the West had hoped to have eradicated the ideologies which had given rise to the conflicts in the first place.
The concern whether this hope has been realised was Ian Buruma's motivation for this book. Have both the Germans and the Japanese learned what they did wrong and why the West reacted as severely as it did? Have they shown sufficient or even any remorse for the horrors they perpetrated now that they presumably know better? Buruma's research revealed that in Germany there has been to a large extent a cultural shift towards Western values and that this is evidenced in the work of many liberal-minded historians and other social scientists. But having noted that, he has observed both blatant and subtle illustrations of the appeal of the old anti-Semitism and anti-democratic values. In other words, there are still many in Germany who have not yet appropriated the ethics of Christian civilisation. Witness the anti-foreigner outrages that have occurred especially since German reunification. The encouraging news is that officially such behaviour is condemned as criminal and anti-constitutional. There is a worry, though, that some public servants will not rigorously prosecute offenders. A subtle undercurrent of racism still exists in Germany, as Buruma has confirmed.
In Japan, the situation is different. As we have seen recently, the Prime Minister had great difficulty in officially acknowledging Japan's 'war-guilt', 50 years after ignominious defeat. In contrast to Germany, the historical profession in Japan has not nearly adequately investigated the real causes of the Second World War. They have left that task to politically-motivated journalists who either do not have the equipment to tell the full story or who advance frankly erroneous, face-saving excuses, even to the extent of depicting the Japanese as having been the actual victims of aggression. In other words, the effects of the former emperor-worshipping imperialist political culture are still alive and well in Japan. This is Baruma's main point. It is far less so in Germany where the dominant political culture, having been 'baby-sat' by a long US occupation, has been largely turned around. German historians and other analysts and commentators have been far more honest and scholarly than their Japanese counterparts.
Telling the truth historically, then, has been painful for both Germany and Japan, but more so for Japan. The reason is clear. The Japanese had been brainwashed by the cult of the Emperor. This is why 'his' forces fought with such fanatical tenacity on the one hand and why they showed absolutely no compassion to the vanquished enemy. Atrocities perpetrated on enemy soldiers or civilians were never regarded as such; on the contrary, it was the right way to behave 'for the Emperor'. So, the conclusion to be drawn is that political indoctrination was the root cause of the inhumane behaviour of both German and Japanese forces. It was also the cause of the conflict overall.
Baruma's work is an eloquent argument against the Marxist obscurantism that wars are essentially struggles for markets and that ideology is only 'superstructure'. On the contrary, as Baruma illustrates, the curious belief systems which produced the racialist and imperialist ideologies of National Socialism and Japanese emperor worship were ominously, brutally and tragically efficacious. In the process of eradicating these destructive ideas, historians play an enormously crucial role; they are in effect the ideological mentors of their respective nations, and what historians or historical commentators write is nearly always a reliable guide to the political values of a people.
Finally, Baruma has written a timely and important book. His adducing of evidence is impeccable, and he is always on the look-out for kindred liberal spirits among the Japanese and Germans who will, hopefully, act as correctives to the insidious residual racially-inspired nationalism of the past. So, such ideologies have nothing to do with national 'types' at all, but they have everything to do with education and indoctrination. Every nation wants to feel good about its past, but that cannot be achieved at the expense of historical truth.
Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake (eds), Gender and war: Australians at war in the twentieth century, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1995, 351 pp., illustrations, index, soft cover, rrp A$29.95.
Reviewed by: BOBBIE OLIVER, Australian War Memorial
Gender and war is a collection of essays by eighteen scholars -- mainly historians -- from universities in Australia and overseas. The book's theme is the contradictions and tensions in gender relations arising out of 'Australia's engagement in three of the twentieth century's wars'. These contradictions and tensions are explored through a three-part structure consisting of 'femininities', 'masculinities' and 'mobilisations', and are nicely counterpointed by a cover illustration depicting an 'ideal' heterosexual relationship: a soldier of the 2nd AIF (not an American serviceman) embracing his AWAS girlfriend in front of a monument to the First World War dead.
The essays on 'femininities' explore a range of issues, including differing expectations of heroism in the male and female during the First World War, conflicting images of nurses as 'mother figures' and 'seductresses', the 're-conceptualisation of femininity' which arose in the 1930s and 1940s and was reinforced by women's war experiences, lesbianism in the women's services, and the impact of consumerism. Lake's chapter, for example, argues that 'World War II saw both the triumph and demise of the old feminism' (p.75). 'Woman as mother and/or home maker' was replaced by an emphasis on 'the mutuality of women's and men's interests'; hence, Lake argues convincingly, women's 'interest in and right to sexual pleasure' was established. Consequently, when women's liberation emerged in the 1960s, sexual freedom -- including legal abortion and free contraception -- were key demands, and 'lesbianism, not chastity', was the choice of women who eschewed sexual relations with men.
The second section includes chapters on the 'dysfunctional serviceman', contradictions surrounding the roles and images of homosexual men, and racism in the contexts of the Second World War and the Vietnam War. Pugliese explores the 'ambivalent' relationship between psychiatry and the military. He asserts that, 'although the military use psychiatry to account scientifically for phenomena that remain unintelligible when viewed in the light of standard military medicine,' they view the science with 'anxiety and suspicion' (p.162). Furthermore, military psychiatry tends to 'feminise psychiatric casualties while simultaneously manifesting an anxiety to disassociate themselves from the stigma of the hysteric, as the quintessential female malady' (p.163).
Wotherspoon ponders the contradictions in the wartime experiences of two homosexual men: 'Alex Page', a cross-dresser who regularly appeared in chorus lines entertaining the Australian troops; and Harry Foy, who died from injuries inflicted by an irate American sailor while Foy was masquerading as a woman in a Sydney night club. Page was 'lauded' for his performances; Foy was despised and ridiculed. Wotherspoon skilfully expands the question 'why' into an examination of the many ambiguities surrounding homosexual men in Australia in the 1940s, such as contrary images of the 'effeminate' and the 'predator' (p.210).
Chapters in the third section, 'Mobilisations', discuss the ideologies and motives of women and men involved in anti-war, anti-conscription and other protest movements in the Second World War and the Vietnam War. This section reveals greater differences of interpretation among the authors than in the previous sections. Evans discusses the experience of anti-conscription campaigner Margaret Thorp at the hands of an enraged crowd of pro-conscriptionist women in Brisbane in July 1917. He asserts that the violence meted out to Thorp by a 'howling, screaming' crowd of women resulted from the frustration of 'covert private mourning' -- a rechannelling of 'all the suppressed misery and bitterness' against accessible scapegoats, 'but especially against those who directly abrogated the validity of ... the Great War ...'(p.248). Damousi, on the other hand, argues that when socialist women spoke on anti-conscription platforms, they encountered physical and verbal violence because they were 'engaging with a male discourse that ... challenge[d] male hegemony' (p.255). Yet violence was directed by men (including returned soldiers) against male anti-conscriptionist speakers, and by women against women (as shown by Evans). Another reason for crowd violence is posited by Judith Smart in an excellent chapter on the cost-of-living demonstrations in Melbourne in 1917. Although contemporary police accounts blamed the 'hoodlum element' for much of the violence to property, Smart points out that the demonstrations were not spontaneous but carefully planned by experienced dissidents such as Pankhurst. Certain buildings were targeted especially to 'embarrass and publicly punish' the proprietors (p.293). These differing explanations of why violence was perpetrated on or by demonstrators in the First World War create a context for further debate, and could have been explored more fully in the introduction. The section concludes with Ann Curthoys' fine chapter on sexual identity and political action in the anti-Vietnam war movement, in which she reflects on interviews with eight women of different backgrounds who protested against Australia's involvement in Vietnam.
This book is the first to systematically investigate the relationship between warfare and military service on the one hand and gender identities on the other, within the context of Australian twentieth century history. It is perhaps unfortunate that such a ground-breaking book is a collection of writings rather than the research of one author. There are inevitable variations in quality, style and theory. This reviewer found excellent historical analysis in some chapters, while others were obfuscated by post-modernist terminology and concepts. Holmes asserts, for example, that First World War nurses 'constructed' desexualised relationships between themselves and soldiers (p.50). One may be able to 'construct' an image, but a relationship? Regrettably, much post-modernist analysis imposes on early twentieth century women and men perceptions from the 1990s. Elsewhere, post-modernist prose creates confused images such as are found in Lucas' chapter on the film Gallipoli. Lucas concludes that: 'The battlefield of Gallipoli ... might be quiet, but the dichotomised social discourse that requires the constant construction of an "other" or enemy has merely been transposed on to the killing fields of gender' (p.159).
The book contains both new and previously-published material, including one essay (Shute's) which was first published 20 years ago and others which appeared in print in the 1980s and early 1990s: an indication, perhaps, of the marginalisation of this type of historical inquiry. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the issues raised in Gender and war will receive further attention by historians capable of giving them the depth and context that they fully deserve.
Bob Nicholls, Statesmen and sailors: a history of Australian maritime defence, 1870-1920, Standard Publishing, Rozelle, 1995, 323 pp., illustrations, maps, photographs, bibliography, index, soft cover, rrp A$29.95.
Reviewed by: JASON SEARS, Australian Defence Force Academy
Bob Nicholls, a retired naval officer, has written and published a very detailed and involved account of how Australia came to have its own navy. As such, Statesmen and sailors is very much a description of relations between the Australian Government, the British Admiralty, and Australian naval personalities between 1870 and 1920. It also examines wider international developments such as the naval race between Britain and Germany, and the impact that developments in naval technology had upon the size and shape of naval forces in Australia. In his concluding chapters, Nicholls also evaluates the performance of the newly formed Navy's controlling body, the Naval Board, during the First World War.
Despite covering such a broad range of subjects over a time frame of 50 years, I feel that Nicholls puts too much detail into the first half of the book. He has clearly used a vast and impressive array of primary sources, but he has followed these too closely. Consequently, Nicholls tends to explore every event which related to Australian naval developments in the period regardless of the importance of that event.
This intense and comprehensive description of events, conversations, parliamentary debates, conferences, files, newspaper articles and so on, frequently left me wondering what the point of the description was, when so often nothing came of the event being described. It would surely have been easier for Nicholls to give a few examples of fruitless discussions, and then say that such events were typical of Australia's attempts to develop her own naval forces. His descriptions make it clear that early Australian naval development was very much a stop-start process affected by a multitude of factors relating to financial constraints, changes in governments, public opinion, personalities and Imperial policies. Overall, I felt that the first half of the book required more editorial work before publication. Then again, Nicholls set out to trace all of the developments that led Australia to acquire a navy of its own and he certainly achieved this in Statesmen and sailors.
Statesmen and sailors becomes much more interesting from Chapter 12, which deals with 1909 when Pearce placed specific orders with Britain for destroyers to be built for an Australian naval force. From this point onwards, Nicholls' writing picks up pace and he spends more time analysing what actually occurred. He describes characters in his history such as Chambers, Hughes-Onslow and Thring, and his writing seems a little less tied to documents and becomes much easier to read. I thoroughly enjoyed the last eleven chapters of the book.
Despite my criticisms of the first half of Statesmen and sailors, I firmly believe that the book is an important work about a much neglected, yet very vital, part of Australian naval history. It is the only comprehensive, well-researched work about Australian naval developments between 1870 and 1920, and Nicholls has unearthed much new and interesting material in the course of his research. However, general readers may have trouble finding what is relevant and interesting. Fortunately, Nicholls provides an excellent index and his research is well-supported by a comprehensive bibliography and endnotes.
Nicholls' concluding chapter is very interesting. It is certainly the best piece of analysis in the book and draws together the many valuable observations that Nicholls makes in the preceding chapters. Nicholls highlights the important role played by Deakin in the establishment of the RAN and, while he presents Creswell as the dominant naval thinker in Australia, he also acknowledges many of his mistakes and weaknesses. In Nicholls' opinion, Creswell's solutions for Australian naval defence were the wrong ones. Nicholls writes that Creswell could see no further than the coastal defence of Australian waters and that, from the beginning of the First World War, Creswell was increasingly overwhelmed by the changes and complexity of the Navy he commanded. According to Nicholls, Creswell should have stepped down in 1909 or, at the latest, 1914.
Nicholls' analysis of British involvement in the establishment of an Australian Navy is also fascinating. He believes that the Royal Navy Commanders-in-Chief of the Australia Station provided both Australian politicians and naval officers, as well as the Admiralty, with good quality, even-handed and helpful advice. Perhaps understandably, Nicholls concludes that British politicians, bureaucrats and the Admiralty were not particularly interested in the issue of Australian naval defence: they had much more important issues closer to home with which to concern themselves.
One of the most controversial conclusions that Nicholls makes concerns the role of seapower in Australian defence policy. He asserts, like Creswell, that as Australia is a nation with no land borders, then seapower should have been its main form of defence. He even notes that: 'Creswell was only stating the obvious when he made the point that in a country with no land frontiers money spent on an army is wasted.' Nicholls puts the 'army-mindedness' of Australians down to the prominent role that the militia has played in Australian society combined with the fact that most Australians served in the Army during the First and Second World Wars. According to Nicholls, these factors have 'provided a serious distortion of the understanding of the vital role of the RAN -- and, later the RAAF -- in defending the country.' It is a point still relevant to contemporary strategic debate in Australia.
Nicholls clearly knows his subject and has put an enormous amount of time, effort and thought into his research. He has produced a remarkably detailed account of an important area about which little had been written previously. His conclusions are generally sound and add much to our understanding of the history of the Royal Australian Navy.
Andrew T. Ross, Armed and ready: the industrial development and defence of Australia, 1900-1945, Turton & Armstrong, Sydney, 1995, xvi + 436 pp., illustrations, index, hard cover, rrp A$39.95.
Reviewed by: GERALD WALSH, Australian Defence Force Academy
The author tells us that he wrote this book because he was dissatisfied with the way Australian historians have treated the role of science and technology and the growth of secondary industry in twentieth century Australia, 'particularly as to how those activities affected Federal government policy'. It is certainly true, as Ross points out, that Australian historians with few exceptions have shied away from dealing with the history of science and technology. This is the result both of their ignorance of its importance and of their belief in the narrow view that 'history is past politics' and not much else. But Australian historians are not alone in this regard. Indeed it is well to remember that it was not until 1907, well over a century since its inception, that a full chapter was devoted to the process known as the 'industrial revolution' in a general textbook on modern European history: Robinson and Beard's Development of modern Europe. But the situation in Australia is improving. From the Second World War point of view, in addition to D.P. Mellor's official Second World War history, The role of science and industry, and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering book, Technology in Australia, 1788-1988, we now have Ross' excellent study which elaborates on Mellor's work.
The book is divided into two parts, each of seven chapters. Part 1 examines Australia's industrial development and issues of Australia's economic and defence policy until the eve of war in 1939. Part 2 focuses on the war and the production effort that supported it at a time when 'Australia was truly the Arsenal of the Southern Hemisphere' and not, as often claimed by some historians, 'merely a piece of real estate which was used by the US to land supplies to equip themselves and the Australians'. Ross' central thesis is that Australia was not defenceless in 1942, and that Australia was not saved by the United States of America, but rather saved itself. He argues strongly that Australia was able to do this in the 1920s and 1930s by increasing its scientific and industrial capacity through what was known as the 'Self Containment' policy. The end result of this deliberate policy was that Australia was saved from Japanese invasion largely by her own efforts, thus saving the lives of 40,000 Australians. Not everyone will entirely agree, but Ross' argument is compelling.
Apart from attempts to encourage the development of secondary industry through tariffs and bounties, successive Australian governments fostered technological progress through such special creations as the Munitions Supply Laboratories and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research which was established in 1926. These facilities, together with the Postmaster General's Department, were matched by similar agencies developed by state governments and, in the private sector, by large Australian firms such as BHP and the Collins House group of companies. The end result was a surprising degree of technological competence in munitions production and in the manufacture of small arms, guns, tanks, fighter and bomber aircraft, optical equipment and radar units. Australia's march to 'Self Containment', however, was not without its problems. There were many administrative and design errors and a degree of bungling in many projects, including the Beaufort bomber, Cruiser tank and the Owen gun. Nevertheless, in producing the implements of war Australian engineers, technicians and tradesmen showed themselves to be just as flexible and innovative as they had been in the previous century in meeting the special technological requirements of agriculture and the pastoral industry.
Apart from placing the story of Australia's defensive capacity in the wider context of Australia's industrial development and providing new insights on matters ranging from the Singapore strategy to the appalling wrangle over the Owen gun, the book is also a worthy tribute to the industrialists, engineers, scientists, bureaucrats and factory workers who helped place Australian secondary industry on a firm base. The politicians, such as G.F. Pearce, Joe Lyons, R.G. Casey, R.G. Menzies and John Curtin are well-remembered for their vital work, but much less so people such as Arthur Leighton (1873-1961), 'the father of Australian munitions production'; J. K. Jensen (1884-1970), the talented administrator; Essington Lewis (1881-1961), industrialist and wartime director of munitions; Sir Colin Fraser (1875-1944), businessman and company director; and the brilliant engineer, Laurence Hartnett (1898-1986). As well as filling a wide gap in the history of Australian science and technology, Ross gives these and many others their proper recognition.
A feature of Ross' study is the excellent use he has made of archival sources. The illustrations, tables and figures are helpful but the two page index is inadequate for a book of this scope. A list of illustrations and a separate bibliography would also have been useful.
Jim McAllester and Syd Trigellis-Smith, Largely a gamble: Australians in Syria, June-July 1941, HQ Training Command, Australian Army, Sydney, 1995, xi + 261 pp., illustrations, maps, photographs, bibliography, index, soft cover, rrp A$24.95.
Reviewed by: ALEC HILL, Canberra
It could be argued that it was the adventurous General Rommel who saved the 7th Australian Division from going to Greece in April 1941 by his incursion into Cyrenaica. Similarly, it was German activity in Syria and Iraq that brought about the division's redeployment for the invasion of Syria. Those were the bad days when shortage of weapons and equipment was matched by shortage of trained formations.
Very little has been written about the brief Syrian campaign and the important contribution made by Australians to its successful conclusion. This book has been produced for the Army's Training Command as part of its military history program for officers and senior NCOs, and the campaign in Syria is 'the centrepiece' of the course in 1995. Training Command is to be congratulated on its initiative in producing this, the latest in a series of studies of Australian campaigns, both for the lessons to be learned and for familiarising leaders of today with the Army's tradition.
Nevertheless, it is disappointing that there is evidence of a hurried approach in the writing and production of Largely a gamble which appears to have been inadequately edited. The very first paragraph of the introduction opens with a careless statement on the extent of Wavell's command in 1939: 'from Tunisia' when its western limit was in fact the frontier of Egypt. The summary of the crisis of early April 1941 (p.15) is inaccurate and misleading. Two brigades, 20th and 26th, belonging to the 9th Division, not the 7th, were sent into Cyrenaica, not Tobruk, to relieve the 6th Division beyond Benghazi. Wavell did not send the well-trained 21st Brigade (which was in Palestine) to Tobruk because a better trained brigade, the 18th, was in Egypt, much closer to Tobruk. It had just acquired battle experience at Giarabub and had been raised and trained by Morshead, the new commander of the 9th Division.
A surprising omission is Blamey's intervention on 19 June when, after visiting Lavarack and the forward troops, he decided to see General Wilson forthwith and obtain a change in his strategy. This involved a night drive to Jerusalem, getting Wilson out of bed after midnight and insisting on an immediate phone call to HQ 1st Australian Corps: 'Men are dying in Syria. This can't wait.' The incident shows how one of the Australians in Syria influenced the battle.
Another disappointment is the use of 'journalese' in a book where accurate terminology is expected. There are numerous instances of the artillery firing a 'barrage' where the context makes it obvious that they are putting down a concentration. That very overworked word 'strategic' sometimes appears when the ground referred to is only of tactical importance.
A thoughtful chapter at the end sums up various features of the campaign. Even here there are omissions; the advantages conferred by the Royal Navy's and the RAN's control of the sea are not emphasised, nor is the gradual improvement in the air support, especially in the last stages of the operations. Reference could have been made to No. 3 Squadron, RAAF, which scored heavily against the French in its new Tomahawks.
Most of the book is devoted to the infantry battle which is described in detail, including the experiences of individual soldiers of all ranks, after the fashion of the Official Histories. The book is well-illustrated with maps and photographs; useful tables and appendices complete the book, including an honour roll by unit and a decorations list under award headings. Errors persist here, however; the OBE list should be headed 'Officer of the Order of the British Empire' and the MBE list should be under 'Member of the Order of the British Empire'. The authors have overlooked the fact that Nizam was an Australian destroyer; 'Nasad' was Naiad, a British cruiser.
Christina J.M. Goulter, A forgotten offensive: Royal Air Force Coastal Command's anti-shipping campaign, 1940-1945, Frank Cass, London, 1995, 366 pp., maps, tables, diagrams (cover type and rrp not available at time of print).
Reviewed by: JOHN McCARTHY, Australian Defence Force Academy
This is a sober, scholarly and superbly researched book which examines the effect of administration, technology, inter-service politics, operational tactics and doctrine on the effort to air interdict shipping in the North Sea and the Baltic. It might also be a study of lost opportunities. Dr Goulter does not simply begin in September 1939. At least one third of her text is devoted to an analysis of the development or lack of development in anti-shipping aviation from 1912.
A general point is worth making because this book demonstrates it very well: most uses of air power existed in at least embryonic form in the First World War and the employment of the air weapon to attack merchant shipping was just one of them. Indeed, by 1918, methods and possible lines of development had been well-established. There was a proper bomb-sight, aircraft carried torpedoes, the use of wireless telegraphy was established, the art and science of navigation over dark waters learnt and taught. There was even an efficient drift calculator. All this research and development was the work of the Royal Naval Air Service. The army, whose idea of navigation was to fly along railway lines, was quite uninterested. One consequence was that when the RAF was formed, a shipping strike role for the new service was almost entirely neglected and research forgotten.
Perhaps this is surprising, but here revealed again is the splintered thinking which was endemic among the senior ranks of the inter-war British armed services. One might suspect that a maritime Empire, itself dependent upon the protection of vulnerable sea-lanes, would have given a high priority to an examination of how air power could interdict and disrupt merchant shipping. Not so: inter-service rivalry for the control of air assets, naval jealousy, and the dominance of the bomber mentality in the RAF denied the existence of an anti-shipping strike capacity. Yet a vital target did exist. Germany relied on the importation of sea-carried Scandinavian iron ore. The importance of this traffic was well realised by the Ministry of Economic Warfare. If communications across the North Sea and the Baltic could be blockaded then German war industry would be seriously, if not fatally, affected.
Certainly it is true, as Goulter argues, that international maritime law governing blockade required the safety of crew if ships were sunk; this capacity was denied to aircraft. Nevertheless, the ambiguity concerning the legality of air attacks on cities did not deter the prophets and followers of Douhet from forming plans and eventually providing the equipment to carry them out. The creation of Coastal Command in 1936 saw no advance in the an anti-shipping role. In 1939 the striking force of the Command consisted of the obsolete Vildebeest, and it was not until 1943 that the inadequate Blenheim and Hampden disappeared from the order of battle. Before the introduction of the Beaufighter, and later the Mosquito, aircrew morale was at best fragile, and no wonder. In July 1941 anti-shipping attacks might see a loss rate rising to 45 per cent of sorties flown.
The introduction of Strike Wing tactics late in November 1942 eventually led to success against merchant shipping. As Goulter clearly shows, this tactic had been developed in 1916 but between the wars had been well forgotten. The idea was to attack merchant shipping from various angles with a sizeable mixed force of aircraft. Torpedoes would be the main weapon, preceded by fighters and bombers to neutralise dangerous flak ships. Leigh Mallory had wanted to employ the concept of concentration of force during the Battle of Britain; the Japanese used similar tactics when attacking Repulse and Prince of Wales in December 1941. Bomber Command had found by early 1942 that careful timing and force concentration tended to swamp defences. Coastal Command, however, was in no position to bring its full strike power against the iron ore trade into effect until mid-1944 and by then it was too late, given the long lead time required to convert iron ore into useable battlefield weapons, to have a decisive or a particularly meaningful effect on the outcome of the war.
Goulter herself reaches a subdued conclusion. In her opinion Coastal Command, if given adequate resources at an earlier point in the war, could have interdicted iron-ore supplies to a point where the effects would have been felt in the German arms industry before the climax of the bomber offensive or the ongoing land battle proved decisive. In fact, however, one is left in doubt if direct air attack on this traffic was particularly effective. Interesting figures show that between April and May 1945, the mine laying aircraft from Bomber Command constituted the most effective counter-shipping tactic. Reduced to a minimum cost-benefit analysis, the mine-laying campaign sank 638 vessels for the cost of 450 aircraft; direct shipping attacks sank 366 ships for the cost of 857 aircraft.
This is a thoughtful book which raises many questions. For this reviewer the reputation of Sir Charles Portal is further reduced and that of Vice-Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Wilfred Freeman, again enhanced. Perhaps a full study of his influence on the air war is warranted.
Henry Probert, The forgotten air force: the Royal Air Force in the war against Japan, 1941-1945, Brasseys, London, 1995, xvii + 381 pp., illustrations, maps, photographs, appendices, bibliography, index, hard cover, rrp 20 (available from DLS Australia, 6 Holly Drive, Dingley Vic. 3172).
Reviewed by: ALAN STEPHENS, RAAF Air Power Studies Centre, Fairbairn, ACT
For entirely understandable reasons, Great Britain's war efforts between 1939 and 1945 were overwhelmingly focused on Europe. Suggestions that the mother country abandoned Australia to its fate are not only strategically simplistic but also misdirected, as any opprobrium should be directed primarily against those Australian politicians who neglected their national defence responsibilities during the 1920s and early 1930s by refusing to spend enough on our own forces.
In any event, Britain's eventual contribution to the victory over Japan was substantial and important; whether or not the extent of that contribution has been fully appreciated is questionable. Notwithstanding the magnificent land campaign fought by General Slim in the Far East, his forces have often been described by historians as the 'forgotten army'. Similarly, the Royal Navy's efforts have been largely coloured by the disaster of the Prince of Wales and Repulse. Henry Probert has now extended the epithet of 'forgotten' to the Far East component of the RAF. Simultaneously, however, he has tried to redress the balance by presenting a comprehensive account of the RAF in the war against Japan.
Like the army and the navy, the RAF started abysmally in the Far East campaign. Probert begins with a very good and thoroughly depressing summary of the shocking days leading up to the fall of Singapore on 15 February. While he generally has no qualms about revealing the RAF's disgraceful lack of preparedness for war, Probert is too apologetic for the two men in charge on the scene, Commander-in-Chief Far East, Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, and Air Officer Commanding Far East, Air Vice-Marshal C.M. Pulford. Both stand condemned for the complacency and poor training which were endemic in their commands. The preparations made for the air defence of Malaya and Singapore, as described by Probert, would seem almost farcical if they had not been so tragic.
But enough has been written about the incompetence of senior commanders in those early months. What is of interest here is the way in which British forces, and in this case the RAF, fought back so well. From the moment the British services regrouped in Burma, it was clear to their leaders that air dominance in one form or another would be critical to their endeavours. Indeed, placing an interesting slant on the priority usually given by airmen to fighter and bomber aircraft, at the end of 1942 the General Officer Commanding India, General Irwin, noted that the future of the war in Burma (which to a considerable extent held the key to the future of the war in China) lay with transport aircraft. Slim took a broader view, acknowledging that 'everything else [in the campaign] was built' on the air supremacy which the Allies eventually won, and which alone permitted the transport aircraft to fly the 'Hump' in addition to resupplying his 14th Army.
Few things in war are easy. Much of the Far East was a hell-hole for the men fighting there, with the climate, disease, and general privation trials enough in themselves, let alone the everyday fear of death at the hands of an extraordinarily cruel enemy. Nor was the source of their trials confined to nature and the Japanese, as remote mandarins in Whitehall too often continued to frustrate those at the front with their ill-informed attempts to direct the war. It is one of the many virtues of a book like this that overdue recognition can be extended to the men who confronted such challenges and made the difference. Thus, it is gratifying to see the Air Officer Commander-in-Chief India, Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse, given his due, as perhaps more than any other individual he was the architect of the RAF's reversal of fortune. More generally, as Probert describes with understanding and some affection, air and ground crews alike fought their war with characteristic British stoicism, good humour and courage.
By the end of 1943, India Command had expanded from 426 aircraft to 2,820, arraigned in 52 front-line squadrons. In the context of the RAF's contribution to the war in the east, it is noteworthy that by 1945 the RAAF had 53 squadrons in the Southwest Pacific Area, a force the then Chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal George Jones, later claimed could have beaten Japanese air power by itself.
Henry Probert's excellent book has filled a significant gap in the story of the war against Japan and in the process has, one hopes, helped lay to rest uninformed comment on Britain's role in the Far East.
George Hicks, The comfort women: sex slaves of the Japanese Imperial forces, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1995, xxi + 265 pp., illustrations, bibliography, index, soft cover, rrp A$22.95.
Reviewed by: USTINIA DOLGOPOL, Flinders University
George Hicks' book is both comprehensive and troubling. The writer is obviously sympathetic to the women, now aged in their 60s and 70s, whose lives were so horrifically affected by their forced enslavement. However, the book is full of phrases which could be called titillating. Although impressive in its coverage of details, the book lacks sensitivity.
The materials in the book are pulled from a wide variety of sources; and it is undoubtedly the most extensive compilation of material existing in English. The details of the women's experiences are contrasted with the conduct of the Japanese military in the 'recruitment' and treatment of the women.
To some extent the problems with the language may be accounted for by the fact that the author is a journalist and no doubt was attempting to maintain a level of objectivity. However, the choice of language sometimes makes it sound as if the book is describing an ordinary brothel. Chapter headings such as 'The flesh market', and phrases such as 'breaking women into the trade' and 'the tricks of the trade', display a lack of understanding of how humiliating these events were to the vast majority of women. Also, the book does not bring out the fact that many of those forcibly taken by the Japanese military were children. A large percentage of those taken were under seventeen years of age, and a significant number were aged under fourteen. Phrases such as those quoted above seem particularly inept when the age of the girls is borne in mind.
Unfortunately the format of the book makes it difficult to quote as a source of information. Although the book was not intended to be academic in the sense of being a 'learned treatise', its contribution to the subject would have been even greater if the major sources of information for each chapter were contained in a list of references as well as in a few judiciously chosen footnotes. This would have made it possible for others working in this area to corroborate the author's statements and conclusions and hence rely on them. This is particularly true of some of the more controversial statements in the book, such as the behaviour of the Allied forces when they entered Japan.
Perhaps because of the volume of material, there are many internal inconsistencies in the factual information presented. For example, different dates are given in different sections of the book for the establishment of the first brothels in China; the story of Gertrude Balisalisa is referred to in at least two sections of the book, yet the facts as first stated are not totally accurate and differ from those appearing later. Most problematically, the book starts with the premise that the issue of the comfort women was a hidden one for many years, but later identifies the materials existing in English, Japanese and Korean which discussed quite extensively the abhorrent phenomenon of the comfort women. There is no doubt that extensive knowledge of the plight of the comfort women existed at the close of the war. The true horror of the what was done to the women cannot be fully appreciated until one grasps the unwillingness of any country to face this situation and bring to justice those responsible. Although briefly mentioned in the concluding chapter, more could have been done to highlight this aspect of the issue earlier in the book.
Despite its weaknesses, the book is a useful addition to the literature and will serve an important function in making the details of this horrifying episode in modern history more widely known.
Notes  On pp.72-73 the author makes the following statement: 'At the end of the war the Kisarazu houses continued to function until the entry of the Occupation force, when a United States officer requested the mayor and the head of the Female Entertainers Union to supply thirty women for the use of Occupations troops.' Whenever the issue of the behaviour of the Allied Forces has been raised, there have been vehement denials from former soldiers and officers that such events occurred. The credibility of this statement would be greatly enhanced if a source were listed.
 Gertrude Balisalisa was interviewed extensively by the members of the ICJ mission. Her story appears in the publication Comfort women, the unfinished ordeal as well as several of the information booklets produced by the Filipina Task Force on the Comfort Women.
David Smurthwaite, The Pacific War atlas, 1941-1945, CIS Cardigan Street Publishers, Carton, 1995, 143 pp., illustrations, maps, bibliography, index, hard cover, rrp A$29.95.
Reviewed by: PETER STANLEY, Australian War Memorial
One of the many welcome outcomes of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War has been the publication of a great variety of works seeking to explain and reinterpret that conflict. David Smurthwaite, assistant director of the National Army Museum in London, has produced The Pacific War atlas, offering a useful concise overview of the war from the Japanese attacks on the United States and Britain to the surrender in Tokyo Bay. Clearly written and encompassing confident judgments as well as essential detail, the book is a useful reference of first resort.
If an atlas is regarded as a work whose prime value might be expected to be cartographical, then The Pacific War atlas is not so much an atlas as a short history with maps. Though it includes 66 attractive colour maps, it does not deal adequately with some major operations or phases of the war. The number of formations, arrows showing movement and other symbols produces clutter which makes it difficult to link text and maps, especially for long and complex operations, such as the reconquest of Burma or the Philippines. For example, the destruction of the Japanese Maru fleet for the entire war -- one of the most important determinants of Japanese defeat -- is dealt with in four shades of pink dots on a map measuring just 13 cm square. Clearly atlases customarily appear in larger formats for good reasons.
The necessity of meeting a deadline imposed by the anniversaries of 1995 appears to have resulted in a number of embarrassing slips, in the form of typographical errors and misplaced captions. From an Australian perspective, the most curious error is to have rendered the 2/16th Armoured Regiment as the '2nd Battalion of the 16th ...', an understandable mistake given customary usage but nevertheless unfortunate, especially for a book published in an Australian edition.
Australia receives relatively little attention, not entirely appropriately. Smurthwaite presents the war in a global perspective, devoting most space to important themes and major campaigns: the war's origins, the Japanese conquest of south-east Asia, China and Burma, what Americans call 'Swapa' and the central Pacific. Though I am an advocate of placing Australia's war in proportion, I cannot condone the omission of, for example, a map showing the great Australian offensive of 1943.
Notwithstanding the good maps in the Australian official histories, Smurthwaite's rather cursory treatment of Australia may derive from the lack of an atlas of Australia's wars. It is just on twelve years since Alec Hill proposed such a work, serving the study of Australia's military history just as successive West Point atlases have facilitated the study of America's wars. An atlas now promised under the able direction of John Coates seems likely to rectify the deficiency in time to mark the centenary of Federation. In the meantime, we will have to wait.
Gwynedd Hunter-Payne, On the duckboards: experiences of the other side of war, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1995, xix + 220 pp., illustrations, bibliography, index, soft cover, rrp A$24.95.
Reviewed by: ANNE-MARIE COND, Australian War Memorial
On the duckboards grew out of Gwynedd Hunter-Payne's recent history of Heidelberg Hospital in Melbourne, Proper care: Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, 1940s-1990s (Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1995). The title of her latest work conveys little about the content, and it is left to the cover illustration to hint that this is a book about Heidelberg during the Second World War, when it was known as the 115th Australian General Hospital. Hunter-Payne paints a vivid picture of the daily life of the Heidelberg community, examining the experiences of patients and staff, and exploring their relationships. We learn about the patients at the 115th, not through the eyes of male doctors and medical scientists whose chief pre-occupation tends to be with the clinical aspects of military medicine, but through former patients themselves and the women who cared for them.
Hunter-Payne is a fine writer and this book is a pleasure to read. Readers who know little about Army or hospital life will learn much along the way, in company with many early recruits to the hospital, especially young VADs, who had to learn the terminology, procedure and discipline that dominated a military unit. We follow the lives of patients and staff from the early establishment and staffing of the unit to the increasing expansion and sophistication of the hospital. The progress of certain individual patients through arrival, treatment, rehabilitation and recovery is traced, a technique which helps to establish connecting threads throughout the narrative. While perhaps there is an unnecessary pre-occupation with the detail of nursing training, our journey through the 115th takes us through useful discussions on Army education, occupational therapy, orthopaedics and plastic surgery. The latter, in particular, is an important discussion of a field that has so far received little attention outside Alan Walker's medical volumes in the official history series. Hunter-Payne is careful also to follow the many staff who were posted away from the 115th to serve in forward areas. News of their fate was always anxiously awaited by their friends at the 115th.
Much of the book is based on interviews with former staff and patients, and the warmth of the relationship that developed between Hunter-Payne and her informants is apparent. The result is generally that the book tends to dwell on positives: the sense of community that developed in the unit, troubles lightened and laughter shared. These are the things that her informants, not surprisingly, wanted to remember, so it is hard to get a sense of the trauma, pain and hopelessness felt by the severely wounded and ill. Hunter-Payne comes closest to it in her chapter on plastic surgery where, with great lightness of touch, she describes the suffering and recovery of those who arrived home in Australia with the very worst mutilations and disfigurements. But she rarely speaks of death, or how patients and staff coped and carried on through the many battles for life that were lost.
This book offers a serious exposition of aspects of the treatment and rehabilitation of service people. In presenting what she calls the 'counter-voice' of the patients who underwent this process, Hunter-Payne demonstrates the sort of military medical history that is much needed in Australia.
Gordon L. Steinbrook, Allies and mates: an American soldier with the Australians and New Zealanders in Vietnam, 1966-67, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln USA, 1995, xvii + 182 pp., map, index, hard cover, rrp A$26.50.
Reviewed by: JEFFREY GREY, Australian Defence Force Academy
The author was a freshly-minted Reserve Officers' Training Corps (USA) lieutenant sent to Vietnam in mid-1966 with an American artillery regiment. For the first half of his tour he operated as a forward observation officer with the 1st Australian Task Force in Phuoc Tuy province, before returning with his US battery to fire in support of an American division. While with the Australians he worked as a ground and air observer, went forward with the relieving force to clear the battlefield the morning after Long Tan, and operated with an Australian Armoured Personnel Carrier squadron. His was a very varied war, measured against the norm for young American gunner officers.
A perceptive young man, clearly not given to the gung-ho excesses of some of his countrymen, Steinbrook has many interesting observations to make about the war, the Americans, and their Vietnamese and 'third nation' allies. He notes that the assignment of his battery to the Australians was the cause of considerable envy among the officers of his regiment and that, on the whole, he found the Australian and New Zealand officers he worked with superior to their American counterparts: 'all so darn professional'. He comments on the way in which the vast American military presence corrupted Vietnamese society in so many ways, but much of his text is taken up with observations about the war and the way in which Allied forces, so different from his own army, waged it.
The greater part of the book is made up of letters home to his young wife and his parents, supplemented by additional text to expand or explain particular points or make up for the absence of letters during peak periods on operations. The publisher notes that in the United States knowledge of the Vietnamese, Korean, Australian and New Zealand participation is non-existent, and Steinbrook's memoir will offer American readers an unfamiliar perspective on Vietnam. But it offers Australian readers a similar service. Clearly, he enjoyed his time operating with the taskforce, but his pleasure at the personal relationships formed is tempered by his shrewd assessments of the competence with which the Australians and New Zealanders conducted their war. This is an unpretentious and quite charming little book, a combat memoir of an older style not often associated with American memoirs of Vietnam.
Other books received
David Horner, Inside the War Cabinet: directing Australia's war effort, 1939-45, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1996, xii + 283 pp., illustrations, bibliography, index, hard cover, rrp A$34.95.
Darryl Dymock, A sweet use of adversity: the Australian Army Education Service in Warld War II and its impact on Australia's adult education, University of New England Press/AAACE, Armidale, 1995, xii + 154 pp., bibliography, index, soft cover, rrp A$19.95.
Alan Stephens, Going solo, AGPS, Canberra, 1995, xvii + 523 pp., illustrations, maps, tables, bibliography, index, hard cover, rrp A$49.95.
Geoffrey Edmund Garne, The furnace for gold: a pen picture of triumph over tragedy in the disastrous war that opened our blood-drenched Twentieth Century (an historical novel based on a true story), Pro Pax and Signs Publishing Company, Warburton, xiii + 406 pp., illustrations, bibliography, soft cover, A$10 + A$4 p&p, all orders and enquiries to Geoffrey E. Garne, PO Box 356, Alstonville NSW 2477, telephone (066) 280 319.