Journal of the Australian War Memorial
Issue 30 -- April 1997
Australian War Memorial
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Emergency and confrontation: Australian military operations in Malaya and Borneo, 1950-1966
Peter Dennis and Jeffrey Grey
The cost of war: Australians return
The quarantined culture: Australian reactions to modernism,1913-1939
John F. Williams
Tarakan: An Australian tragedy
Touched with fire
The war diaries of Eddie Allan Stanton, Papua 1942-45, New Guinea 1945-46
Edited by Hank Nelson
Fleeting attraction: A social history of American servicemen in Western Australia during the Second World War
Anthony J Barker and Lisa Jackson
Conscripts and regulars: With the Seventh Battalion in Vietnam
Peter Dennis and Jeffrey Grey, Emergency and Confrontation: Australian military operations in Malaya and Borneo 1950-1966, St. Leonards, Australia, Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial, 1996, pp xvi plus 381, maps, photographs, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Reviewed by THOMAS R. MOCKAITIS, DePaul University, Chicago, USA
Readers have come to expect that official histories will invariably exaggerate the role of the unit under study and either overlook or down-play its failings and those of its government. Peter Dennis and Jeffrey Grey have avoided both these unfortunate tendencies in their contribution to The official history of Australia's involvement in Southeast Asian conflicts, 1948-1975. They have produced a solid work of historical scholarship that does justice to the Australian forces’ role in the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation and yet is accessible to non-academic readers. Since the authors enjoyed access to classified Australian government documents not available to other scholars, the book sheds new light on the conflicts, particularly Confrontation.
Although written independently, the two parts of the book join in an almost seamless fashion rarely achieved in collaborative efforts. The reader not only sees the connection between the two wars but never loses sight of the larger story of Australian defence policy in south-east Asia in which they must be set. In Part I of the book Peter Dennis treats Australia's contribution to the Malayan Emergency. After providing an overview of the counterinsurgency campaign, the author deals with the larger questions affecting his country's participation in the conflict. Malaya represented but one piece of a larger Australian security puzzle. Committed to regional stabilization and forward defence of its island continent, Australia committed units to Far Eastern Land Forces (FARELF), the British command based on Malaya and Singapore. The nation had also joined the South-East Asia Treaty Organization, which included the United States. These commitments and the desire to maintain growing autonomy from Britain affected Australia's willingness to allow its FARELF contingents to be used for internal security duties.
The defence establishment in Canberra saw preparation for conventional war as their primary duty, while members of the Australian Labor Party were not eager to see the troops used to quell disturbances in Singapore. These concerns and the state of the Australian army, which had declined since the Second World War, delayed the commitment of ground troops to Malaya until 1955, although RAAF units had been deployed since 1950. As Dennis readily admits, by the time 2RAR took the field, the outcome of the Emergency if not its timing had been determined. The Australians would contribute to mop-up operations. In describing these operations, Dennis captures the flavour of the entire campaign: countless hours of patrolling and waiting in ambush over long periods of time to produce a few fleeting contacts. From this account emerges not only a sense of what counter-insurgency is about, but awareness of the problems inherent in deploying multinational units. The Australians had not even been given copies of The conduct of anti-terrorist operations in Malaya, which had been produced a few years before, nor did the British pass on all that they had learned in anything like an organized and effective manner. As a result, the Australians had to reinvent the wheel. Once they had acclimatised, the troops made a valuable if limited contribution to the final resolution of the Emergency.
Because so much has already been written on Malaya, Dennis can hardly be faulted for not covering new ground, although his account of operations on the Thai border from 1960-63 has been neglected in most other works. Jeffrey Grey did not face this limitation in writing about Indonesian Confrontation. His narrative not only maintains continuity with Dennis’ analysis of the Emergency and traces the continued evolution of Australian defence policy, but also provides new insights into one of the most under-studied conflicts of the Cold War era. Confrontation was the diplomatic-military policy of President Sukarno of Indonesia to destabilize Malaysia and perhaps gain control of its eastern provinces Sarawak and Sabah, which shared the island of Borneo with Indonesian Kalimantan. Because British interests in the region remained strong and because the newly created country of Malaysia could not resist incursions by its neighbour, the British became involved in the border conflict as soon as it broke out in 1962.
For Canberra, however, intervention was more problematic. While it shared the British goal of preserving the independence of Malaysia, it also had to live with Indonesia, whose eastern territory of West Irian shared the island of New Guinea with territory under Australian jurisdiction until 1975. The same issues over the proper role for Australian troops (conventional or counter-insurgency) assigned to FARELF that had arisen during the Emergency resurfaced at the outset of Confrontation, exacerbated by the worsening situation in Vietnam. In the end, the result was the same: reluctant and somewhat belated participation made inevitable perhaps by Indonesian landings in western Malaysia in 1964. Grey tells the story of Confrontation in fascinating but manageable detail. His description of the organization and doctrine of the Indonesian military provides invaluable insight into why Confrontation failed. He also covers the diplomatic complexities of the conflict in a manner that lets the reader understand why all sides tacitly agreed to keep it limited and quiet. While he readily admits that, as in the Emergency, the contribution of Australian units remained limited, his accounts of their activities provide a clear picture of how all units conducted operations, particularly the clandestine cross-border raids code-named Claret.
Finally, Grey notes that the real challenge for Australia was to protect the independence of Malaysia, keep Indonesia intact, and remain on good terms with both countries -- a challenge that it successfully met. Emergency and Confrontation is a fine book made even more valuable by inclusion of some really useful supplemental materials. A list of abbreviations helps the reader wade through the alphabet soup of acronyms. Good maps locate activities and even specific operations. Photographs that are more than window dressing capture the nature of the terrain and how soldiers lived and fought within it. Five appendices contain tabular data on troop-strengths and operations which, although valuable, would bog down the narrative. The bibliography, notes and index are first rate. All in all, this fine book makes a valuable contribution to the literature and is accessible to scholar and layman alike.
The Oxford companion to Australian military history, edited by Peter Dennis, Jeffrey Grey, Ewan Morris, Robin Prior, with John Connor, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1995, pp 692, photographs, maps, bibliographies, RRP $69.95.
Reviewed by CARL BRIDGE, Sir Robert Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, London
Usefulness is the best guide to the quality of a reference book. Judged by this criterion The Oxford companion to Australian military history passes with flying colours. In the relatively brief time since receiving the book I have had cause to consult it on many occasions -- for, among other things, the range of a bomber, the outline of a military engagement, the details of repatriation policy, the size of the WAAAF, the birthplace of a general, the symbolism of a particular national war memorial, and estimates of Aboriginal enlistments in the 1st AIF. Each time I found what I sought. Anybody interested in military history will wonder how they ever coped without this excellent companion. The editors, all from the Department of History at the Australian Defence Force Academy, richly deserve our congratulations, as do the other twenty-two contributors and the publishers. This book was long overdue and fills a major gap in Australia’s reference collections. Nearly all of the 800 or so entries are crisp, critical and authoritative and together they cover a formidable range of subjects.
The core of the book is in the campaign entries. Though the editors’ contributions are unattributed, the masterful distillations under ‘Gallipoli’ and ‘Western Front’ must have been written by Robin Prior, who in recent years has gained an international reputation as one of the best Great War battle analysts anywhere. Prior concludes that the Gallipoli venture was ill-conceived and under-resourced and that its only virtue was that it kept the ANZACs away from the worse horror of the Western Front for a year. And his commentary on the AIF’s stopping of the German offensive in March 1918 correctly emphasises the crucial role of artillery support without which the efforts of the seasoned Australian infantry would have been ‘doomed to failure’. The various second world war entries are ably compiled by Lieutenant-General (retired) John Coates, whose eye for the significant was trained in the field before he put it to other uses in the study. ‘The Singapore strategy’ and ‘The Malayan Emergency’ have the ring of Peter Dennis’s professorial authority (Prime Minister Keating’s 1992 anglophobe misreading of the fall of Singapore is dismissed as ‘tendentious’). ‘The Korean War’, ‘The Vietnam War’, and ‘Aboriginal armed resistance’, I suspect, are Jeffrey Grey’s deft handiwork. For executing the central mission of this enterprise it would be hard to find three better musketeers than Prior, Coates and Dennis or a better D’Artagnan than Grey.
There are big thematic essays on such subjects as the ‘ANZAC legend’, ‘Conscription’, ‘Humour’, ‘War economy’, ‘War art’, and ‘Film and television’. A superb analysis of ‘Religion and war’ by Michael McKernan concludes provocatively that a ‘spirituality’ did emerge in Australia assisted by the crucible of war but the churches played little constructive role in the process. Peter Pierce’s survey, ‘War in Australian literature’, is particularly fine, noting, for example, that: ‘The revisionist body of poetry and fiction of the 1970s that scrutinised the Great War now seems a comprehensive remythologising of a lost Australia, in reaction to then present discontents’.
Next comes the cornucopia of shorter entries: on weapons, aircraft, ships; on all major commanders, defence politicians, authors and commentators; on military strategies, treaties and practices. Often a real joy, these range from ‘Agent Orange’, ‘Chocko’, and ‘G for George’ to ‘Storepedoes’ and the ‘Wazza Riots’; or, if you prefer a quirkier alphabetical span, from ‘Animals’ to ‘Winnie the War Winner’, nickname for Sparrow Force’s makeshift transmitter on Timor in 1942. (Did you know that the AIF took koalas, kangaroos and possums with them to France in 1916? Or that in 1945 servicemen tried to bring home ‘at least 10 goats, 220 dogs, 170 cats, 150 birds, and 50 assorted monkeys, squirrels etc’?) However, we search in vain for ‘Two-up’, ‘Victory girls’ or ‘The brown-out murders’.
Some of the terse biographies contain a wealth of sound scholarly judgement. Monash and Blamey stay on their pedestals; Bean is rocked on his (his histories, ‘more frequently referred, even deferred, to than actually read’); the jury is pronounced to be still out on Shedden’s influence on war policy; there are interesting reassessments of Menzies and Curtin as war leaders; and Gordon Bennett remains ‘entirely discredited’. Also, there are occasional gems, such as Damien Parer’s aspiration ‘to try and do with a camera what Dyson did with his pencil in the last war’; or ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s description of Romani brigade commander, ‘Galloping Jack’ Royston, as ‘by instinct a bandit chief and by temperament a hero’.
John Connor selected the photographs with an unerring eye for the telling effect. The heroic is here, from the gun battery in action on the jacket to HMAS Bataan in the ice off Korea; and the everyday, from Gellibrand breakfasting with his officers in a Pozires dug-out to Australian horses taking their refreshments at a well in Palestine. We see the gruesome face of war -- MacArthur inspecting the body of a Japanese sniper; lighthorsemen nonchalantly trotting past bloated Turkish corpses after Magdhaba. There are ironic juxtapositions -- war artist James Quinn fastidiously at work with his portable palette amid the devastation of Mont St Quentin; a Land Army girl milking a papier mch cow; and a Women’s Weekly war correspondent, Dorothy Drain, (who looks just like Edna Everage) interviewing an airman at Vung Tau. We note the digger humour behind re-naming the ‘Starview’ hotel the ‘Starve-U’ in embattled Port Moresby and in the unambiguous arrangement of two pairs of feet on an anti-VD poster in Vietnam.
Not all aspects of this companion are praiseworthy, however. The decision to strip Monash, Chauvel and the rest of their knighthoods in the entry headings was anachronistic and foolish. Moreover, the editing across the entries often lacks consistency, and perhaps betrays an undue haste to get to press. It is unforgivable in a reference work of this kind not to have decided, for instance, whether the Repatriation Department was established in September 1917 (p. 500) or in April 1918 (p. 497), or how many Australian casualties were suffered at Beersheba: 197 (p. 143) or 63 (p. 92)? Also, some important subjects are surprisingly neglected. The next edition would benefit from extra thematic entries on wartime politics, on the home fronts during the world wars, and on the Americans in Australia, 1942-45; indeed, this last is a glaring and inexplicable omission.
Inevitably, some entries are better than others. Those on ‘Popular culture’ and on ‘War art’ are too flatly descriptive. And the key entry on ‘ANZAC Day’, which ought to have been strong, is disappointing and lacks balance and insight. Its repeated references pre-Vietnam to ‘returned men’ as ‘veterans’ are simply wrong. Much worse, it gives no real sense of the cathartic process which is at the heart of the day’s rituals: from the deep emotion of the Dawn Service through the camaraderie of the march to the release of the drinking and ‘two-up’ in the afternoon -- a national version of the traditional rhythm of vigil, funeral and wake. Instead, after a detailed discussion of the difficulties the states had on agreeing on a national holiday, and a weak description of the day’s ceremonies, we get a column on sectarian bickerings and a disquisition on the banning of women from the Dawn Service at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance in the 1930s. As one who attended Dawn Services at the Sydney Cenotaph in the early 1960s and heard the piercing screams of war widows unable to contain their grief, I expect that the 1930s banning had much more to do with fear of releasing such raw emotions than with any sense of closed ‘men’s business’. ANZAC Day deserves a better entry than this.
Still, in the overall context of the grand enterprise these criticisms are mere pin-pricks. This companion is a monumental achievement, bound to go into many editions. All who wish to explore further the myriad elements which make up the Australian experience of war will return to its riches again and again.
Reviewed by BOBBIE OLIVER, Curtin University of Technology
Stephen Garton’s important and interesting study of the cost to Australian service personnel and their families of the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War is sombrely clothed. A dull black cover frames a black and white photograph of a returning soldier embracing his wife (or girl friend) while an older woman (mother of one of them?) looks away and in doing so presents her full face to the camera. Shown thus, her face is strangely arresting. She does not look joyous in this celebratory moment. The mood of the book is set for the reader.
Garton examines seven aspects of the returnees’ experience: the transition from battle front to home front ("return"); war in the memory of those who served and those wishing to commemorate their sacrifice ("remembering"); the social and political problems of repatriation; the successes and failures of ex-service personnel becoming farmers ("soldier settlement"); and the difficulties presented by victims of "shell shock", strained and sometimes shattered marriage relationships and the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners of war. In each chapter, all three conflicts are discussed, but there is also a separate chapter on the Vietnam War, which raises the question of whether the experience of servicemen in that war was especially unique.
A major theme of the book -- that of contrast and comparison -- is introduced in the first sentence: "Every return was different in its own way, and yet it was also something more general, shared, and universal" (p. 1). All Australians who have served overseas and survived share the experience of returning to Australia. The contrasts occur in the individual experiences and in the speed of return: a long journey by ship and train after sometimes months of waiting in England for Great War soldiers, whereas fifty years later servicemen could be in "the towns and villages of Vietnam, uncertain who was friend or foe" one day and back in Australia the next. Thus returns evolve from lengthy sea journeys to speedy flights, and both modes of travel present their problems for returnees assimilating into civilian society. The accompanying celebrations (or lack of them) offer a window through which we glimpse changing Australian social attitudes. In 1919, returning servicemen and women might have received several official welcomes before reaching their homes, where yet more public and private ceremonies often awaited them. In 1945, the majority of service personnel were already on Australian soil. There were plenty of celebrations, but, observes Garton, the tone was different from 1919, with "far fewer speeches celebrating the valour and glory of the men, who, while delighted by the warm welcomes, were reported to be keen to avoid such celebrations" (p. 6). While Vietnam veterans remembered emotional reunions, many recalled more vividly and bitterly the anti-war protests at the welcome home parades (pp. 8, 232).
Another chapter which reflects the extensive social changes in Australia over the 50-odd years between the end of the Second World War and the end of Australia’s military commitment in Vietnam is that on "shell shock". Garton discusses the difficulty of reconciling pre-First World War psychological theories, which favoured "hereditary weakness" as an explanation for mental disorders, with the ANZAC image. Consequently, some medical officers and consultant psychiatrists sought to prove physical causes such as the "commotional theory" supported by A.G. Butler (that falling shells had a "percussive" effect on the brain). During the Second World War, American recruits underwent extensive psychological testing, a practice which was not widespread in Australia. Furthermore, Australian psychiatrists tended to disagree with American theories that exhaustion and fatigue were major causes of war neurosis (p. 166). Throughout the book generally, the First World War receives more detailed attention than the other conflicts, with well over half of this particular chapter devoted to the period before 1941. As a result, both American and Australian advances in psychological theory in the Second World War receive only brief attention when they deserve more detailed coverage.
Perhaps the book’s greatest weakness is its lack of a central thesis or argument. There is no introduction, the usual place for explaining the choice and significance of the various themes in the study. There is no conclusion, drawing together the various findings in each chapter. Consequently, it seems to this reader that Garton’s desire to present a ‘balanced’ argument results not only in no clear conclusions but also robs the book of any passion or sense of outrage at the terrible and unnecessary cost which involvement in overseas wars has inflicted upon Australians. The latter, if not directly expressed by the author, might have been generated to some extent by greater and more judicious use of case material.
Garton sets down facts and figures which clearly show war’s horrendous social and economic toll. In his chapter on repatriation, for example, he states that in 1938 repatriation benefits cost almost 18 million pounds (just under one-fifth of all Commonwealth expenditure). By 1958, this amount had blown out to 55 million pounds, although Garton fails to press the point home by revealing where this sum ranked in Commonwealth expenditure (p. 84). He also states that the need to provide what in effect became a ‘second welfare state’ after the First World War resulted in Australia’s original social welfare system ‘languishing’. This is an important point which bears further investigation.
Aspects of the social costs of war are examined in a lengthy discussion of literature and films of the Second War World period. Garton identifies certain themes in these fictional stories and speculates on their significance: the unfaithful woman; the soldier who develops a passion for his mate’s wife or fiancee; disability, and so on. This chapter could have been developed further by examining those aspects of military culture which degrade women and help to foster feelings of distrust and hostility towards them. The concept that women are part of the ‘reward’ due to returning soldiers and that an ‘unfaithful’ or ‘unresponsive’ woman is failing in her ‘duty’ is mentioned (pp. 186-7) but not fully explored.
A further cost, which can never be fully estimated, is the social, political and economic loss of some 100,000 dead and many thousands of others who were totally or partially disabled in the three conflicts. I expected to encounter at least a brief discussion along the lines of J.M. Winter’s paper, ‘Britain’s lost generation of the First World War’ (1977), but Garton has not entered into this aspect of the cost of war.
There is, however, only so much that can be attempted in a broad study of this nature, and every scholar tends to research those aspects which most keenly interest him or her. It is to be hoped that other scholars will pursue further the issues that Garton has raised.
Chris Coulthard-Clark, Soldiers in politics: The impact of the military on Australian political life and institutions, Allen & Unwin, 1996, pp xvi plus 240, index, illustrations, bibliography, paperback, $29.95, ISBN 186 448 1854
Reviewed by BRIAN DICKEY, Flinders University of South Australia
This is the first volume I have seen in a bold new series called "Australian Military History". There will be some biographies under David Horner's guidance and some issue studies edited by John McCarthy. This volume was an obvious early choice among the issues to be explored.
The subtitle's use of the term "the military" immediately raises a major concern. Is there a firmly established category within Australian society which can be called "the military", and which possesses observable common characteristics whose operation over time can be observed and assessed? It is a major assumption which the author makes in proceeding as if such a category does exist. He briefly canvasses the question, first at p. 90, where he asserts without advancing any supporting evidence whatsoever that, "without attempting to minimise the importance of the citizen soldier tradition in Australia, it is nonetheless contended that the ethos embodied in military service is pretty much universal, and it is this factor which former soldiers brought to their identities as citizens upon their return to civilian life." He further asserts that "war service was the defining experience of their lives". It is important to notice the shift between these two assertions, the one focussing on long-term institutional formation, the other on the face of battle, a distinction never explored.
By the time we get to the conclusion of the book, at p. 204, Coulthard-Clark concedes that "This citizen orientation of the services" actually calls into question the extent to which potential national leaders with military backgrounds might be said to have been imbued with "distinctive military values and attitudes". It is a pity the author did not then admit that he did not have anything useful to say and returned his contract to the publishers.
My point is that the book consists of unending lists of names and biographical details which add up to nothing, generally because that prime initial major in the logic has not been established. There is no such thing as "the military" in Australian history, and the author should have been sufficiently self-aware to admit it.
Yes, at certain times, military force has been deployed to influence our affairs. The very establishment of the colony of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia also had a military intent, in that strategic issues based on power calculations and pursued through the deployment of military force were crucial. The author of this book glosses over those matters. He does discuss the Rum Rebellion of 1808 and (correctly in my view) suggests it was an angry protest by regimental officers at what they regarded as mistreatment, both systemic and personal.
Likewise, the author lists the range of knowledge available on the various secret societies based on military connections which were established between the 1920s and the 1950s. Most of these had military leadership in the sense that former officers were involved. But Coulthard-Clark does not press hard enough the reality that these organisations were politically motivated by a deeply felt conservatism that in itself was not caused by "the military", but, rather, by the fact that the sort of people who joined and succeeded in "the military" were already deeply conservative in a variety of ways. Their military behaviour was more outcome than cause. He should have asked himself about other military men who adopted an alternative political outlook -- Ric Throssell comes to mind -- as evidence of different connections between military experience and social action.
For the rest, we are provided, in a series of diligent chapters, with biographical information about colonial and state governors with previous military experience, and likewise for the governors-general. These chapters achieve nothing except to show the emptiness of the author’s basic proposition. Then there are some boring presentations on politicians who might have served in the armed forces at some point in their careers, however tenuous the link in some cases. The most obvious are the amazing antics of J.C. Neild of New South Wales and the Senate; Neild also raised and led the St George Regiment. In no sense of the word can Neild’s antics be called into play to develop any concept of "the military". Indeed, to the contrary, it is the civil manipulation of the military option which is significant about Neild’s behaviour.
Nor does the author anywhere discuss the possibility that some politicians knew very well that a modicum of previous military service connected them well to certain sectors of the voting community. Tom Playford of South Australia would be the most obvious example. Nor does he consider that at some points there would inevitably be previous military experience among the community leadership, notably in the 1920s and 1930s: what else were able men doing in formative years that happened to have been 1914-18? That does not make them all the same, and hence likely to shape Australian society in a particular way.
I have already quoted the author’s disclaimer about the citizen soldier tradition in Australia. The author gives me the impression of seeing life still from the prism of his own formation at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. He seems unwilling to admit that the dominant contribution to the military performance of the Australian nation has come from its citizens, not the tiny band of formed full-time soldiers. Indeed, at one or two crucial points he rightly asserts that such an outcome would be a disaster for Australia. Thus the suggestion that the armed forces might somehow have been deployed to support Governor-General Kerr against the government in 1975 is scoffed at, and reasonable evidence is presented to support the scoffing. More generally, in his conclusion, the author adopts a mainstream view favorable to the maintenance of a civil democracy in Australia in which "the military" are and should remain honourable servants of the community through their established authorities, the government of the day. Most of the rest of the book is irrelevant.
David Hobbs, Aircraft carriers of the Royal and Commonwealth navies: The complete illustrated encyclopedia from World War I to the present, Greenhill Books, London,1996, illustrated, bibliography, index to ships’ names and aircraft squadron numbers, pp 264, ISBN 1-85367-252-1, 35 pounds (UK)
J.H. Straczek, The Royal Australian Navy: Ships, aircraft and shore establishments, Navy Public Affairs, Sydney, 1996, drawings, pp 264, bibliography
Reviewed by JAMES GOLDRICK, HMAS Sydney
David Hobbs has written a good book which gives us a useful summary of the history of the aircraft carriers of the British Commonwealth. David Hobbs brings the expert eye of the professional naval aviator to his subject and this is particularly evident in his pithy comments on the design and performance of various ships which appear at intervals within the text. The format is designed around an event by event narrative for each ship, and it is clear that much research has gone into the work. Discontinuities and errors of fact are few in number and I was impressed by the amount of information available from what is a relatively compressed text. Commander Hobbs’ introduction is an excellent summary of the evolution of the aircraft carrier and the principles of its operation. The photographs are another strength of the book, being well chosen and including relatively few which have been done to death by other publications.
In addition to fleet and escort carriers, Hobbs’ ken extends to a variety of experimental units and to the innovative merchant aircraft carriers which operated in the Battle of the Atlantic. Continuing in their role as tankers or grain carriers, these merchant vessels were equipped with basic flying facilities and a handful of Swordfish anti-submarine aircraft. They made a substantial contribution to convoy protection during the later stages of World War II. There is a strong Australian component, not only in the selection of Ray Honisett’s picture of HMAS Sydney on operations in the Korean War, but the inclusion of six units in all of the RAN. Hobbs’ enterprise extends even to descriptions of the newly acquired Kanimbla and Manoora, which are currently refitting for service as training and helicopter support ships. The only gap in Hobbs’ research is an apparent failure to consult the ‘Ships’ Covers’ which contain the design histories of British built warships and which, after declassification, have been deposited at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. These collections of documents and plans have much to say about the origins, careers and fates of British and Commonwealth warships which cannot be discovered elsewhere (the development of the RAN seaplane carrier Albatross is a case in point). This is, however, a relatively small matter considering that Hobbs’ emphasis is on operational history. In all, this is a book which has much for the serious student of naval history and for the enthusiast of any age.
Joe Straczek’s remarkable book is a much more austere production than Aircraft carriers of the Royal and Commonwealth navies, but The Royal Australian Navy: Ships, aircraft and shore establishments has already established itself as an indispensable ‘first source’ reference. While the author does not claim that his index of ships and establishments is completely correct, stating the intention for a revised edition in due course, the existing product is remarkably comprehensive. Set out in alphabetical order and including a summary of dimensions, armament and key dates, the list ranges from the largest to the most insignificant units of the RAN. There are many fine works already in print which deal with the bulk of Australian warships, but no one has before gathered so much detail about the minor vessels which form a substantial, indeed essential component of naval activity in peace and war. The cruiser or carrier may represent the cutting edge of maritime power, but it will not function without the support of fuel or stores lighters, tugs, minesweepers and local defence vessels.
Also known as Royal Australian Navy A-Z, the book incorporates many items of interest. As the third HMAS ANZAC enters operational service, it is fascinating to discover that the second ship of that name was originally intended to be christened Matapan, after the 1941 Mediterranean action in which HMAS Stuart and Perth took part. The RAN, in this case, had been beaten to the punch by the British, who were already building a Battle-class destroyer of that name. As a result, ANZAC was the only one of 26 British and Australian Battles not to be named after a battle. Her RAN sister was, of course, the Tobruk. The informal agreement whereby Commonwealth navies did not duplicate names in major units has only recently broken down and there is now a Newcastle in both the Royal and Royal Australian Navies. The anomaly of the ANZAC among Battles is not the only one in the RAN’s history. The Kurnai was rechristened Bataan in honour of General MacArthur and was thus the only one of 27 Tribal class destroyers in three navies to have another name.
There has been a clear effort to limit the cost of the work and this is reflected in the absence of photographs and the soft cover. The only drawback to this is that the spine is relatively weak and unlikely to survive much handling. In the long term the book will be of particular value to veterans and their relatives. In all, Royal Australian Navy A-Z is a substantial contribution to Australian naval historiography and will be a valuable tool for researchers and writers.
Reviewed by JEFF DOYLE, Australian Defence Force Academy
John Williams is a photographer of distinction, an academic as well, both teaching and administering at the Sydney College of Arts, and more recently he has pursued another interest -- History. To some extent this book is a result of the combination of those many skills.
At first glance one might wonder what such a book had to do with military affairs. True, modernism is still a huge topic of discussion in many fields of the humanities; and even in what is now largely and perhaps too easily accepted by many as the post-modern, modernism still causes considerable discussion. Indeed, that is one of the underpinning tenets of Williams’ book. He seems to accept that we are post-modern readers and writers, and so we are looking back at the modernist movement(s) to reassess, to analyse our own past(s) over and over again.
The past focussed on in this book is that of Australia from about 1880 to 1939, though as the sub-title suggests the strict focus is from 1913 to 1939. The lynchpin of the book is the Great War, and how it both focussed Australia's reaction to and was focussed on through, by and about modernism.
At the beginning let me say that this is a very important book. Essential. It is finely written, in fact a very easy and convincing style; clear, punchy, elegant and yet linguistically complex enough to discuss its issues well. And while it nods to a knowledge of the post-modern its style is never clouded by the worst excesses of the theoretically inclined. Though a small carp: saying that the book is post-modern is not quite the same as using the most recent of theoretical styles or methods. True, most of us know enough of this stuff, often osmotically taken up from the milieu rather than fully applied. Williams knows more than the superficial but he might have used just a little more theory here and there.
That aside, Williams’ thesis is clearly put and logically argued. The Great War and the construction of the ANZAC legend via Bean and others combined with a certain trend in the Australian art world effectively to sideline modernism in Australia. To quarantine it, in fact. He contends that while the foundation of the Australian identity in ‘bush legend’ derived from Lawson, and had an impact from the 1880s onwards, it was at Federation no longer as viable as it had been a decade before. International movements in the plastic arts, design and to some extent in literature were well known and being analysed in the Australian press, and by those touring the old country and Europe. Indeed, the urbanisation of the Australian identity was well underway and far from being universally denigrated. Modernism for Williams is far broader than an art movement: it is economic, industrial and psychological as well. All are intimately entwined.
Before the Great War some aspects of Edwardian culture had indeed been open to the ‘new’, and not (reworking Robert Hughes) to its shock but as a welcome filip to the new country, or better put to the newly urbanising nation. But here’s the rub, others were hard at work trying to avert modernism’s trendiness (as they saw it), its un-aesthetic nature, its industrialisation and fixation with the machine, and its basic superficial newness. It was not for Australia.
In Williams’ retelling of the various strands of this story, the villains are strongly opposed to modernism while being for the old fashioned landscape and bushman imaginary. As he outlines it, for a variety of reasons they also had the ears, eyes and other organs of the greater public’s awareness at their disposal, and they used them to close off not merely debate but access to the new.
Chief among Williams' anti-modernist villains are various members of the Lindsay family, Lionel pre-eminently, but Norman gets a fair serve, not least as a less-than-wondrous artist and draughtsman despite (or perhaps because of) the lushness of his nudes. And while lush is my word it seems appropriate to the tone directed at him by Williams. Streeton, while not held to be a necessarily intentional villain, provided a series of social texts in the post-Great War reconstruction of what Williams' contends was already passe -- the bushman and landscape tradition.
Others get lesser degrees of villainy charged to them, though J.S. MacDonald, as director of national galleries in New South Wales and Victoria sequentially, is held, rightly I think, to be a major quarantiner of anything new. Talent in his chosen areas (mostly, Williams suggests, the older ‘classic’ painters) he may have possessed, but he was hostile to innovation and seemed actively to distort national taste to fit his own narrow concerns.
Outside the art world the major villain of the piece is C.E.W. Bean, whose work forms the backbone of the book. Williams’ analysis of the construction of the ANZAC legend is not altogether new, here and there it’s a little summary, and there’s a need for more literary detail to fill out both the history and art scenes, but these are quibbles, since the book cannot do everything (and it’s a literary historian, me, with a vested interest who’s making this charge). The point more importantly is that this version of Bean as war correspondent, then official historian, demonstrates the interpenetration of the social construction of the military aspect of Australian character into the wider social fabric.
Soldiery, as Williams sees Bean write it, allied to the landscape boys, knowingly and deliberately knocks out modernist notions of society and identity from 1915 to at least the 1929 crash. It was then, for many, as it is now still for many others, a lamentable curtailment of choice. Still it’s not my place here to more than hint at how relevant much of this material is to the vista of present military attitudes penetrating the wider social fabric of the 1990s.
On this earlier penetration Williams’ evidence is wide ranging: from art of course, but equally interesting are his examples of how soldier settlement schemes linked to wider (indeed, world-wider) economic issues, and both imperial British and wider world attitudes linked to trade alliances and race. A careful reader like Williams lays up some very nice foundations for how the world so easily walked into the Second after the lessons of the Great War.
Not the least alliance here is between a world so intent on redressing and repossessing nationalistic boundaries of culture and geography with their perceived need to define racial boundaries as economic necessities. Bean’s impact on the Bruce government is but our local example of the way rewriting the Great War as an anti-modernist lesson occured throughout many of the Allied and Axis powers alike. Building on this analysis, some of Williams’ observations about the so-called ‘lost generation’ are startling in originality, conviction and in the sheer quality of the insights provided. I’ll be thinking through a number of them for some years.
Throughout, too, Wiliams makes references to the gender biases in the art world, though his nod to this issue is not his strongest suit; at times I felt more wide-ranging analysis needed to be done, but his line of thought is clear enough. While numerically dominant after the war, women leaned to those areas of art style which were socially at least disfavoured. Modernist they may have been but this is what sidelined them. How long was it before Grace Cossington-Smith and Thea Proctor, among others, got the status they merited? In effect, the alliance of Bean and upper-class arty types drove Australia into the arms of the working class doldrums of sport and entertainment as surrogates for thinking of any kind. And we thought Super League was a new diversion!
At the same time, this line of attack is refracted by a general hint about how the arguments were driven by class, migration and ethno-religious prejudice: that is, quite specifically by anti-semitism. Anything remotely modern was seen as a part of the Jewish conspiracy to undermine and dominate the West. The constant carping of the anti-modernists that they were not anti-Semitic while they sledged the Jew has a few modern parallels, alas. Some of it would have been well heard in the Germany of the 1930s, as Williams allows the reader to glean. And what has changed, we might ask?
While shuddering at how deep-seated Australian racism is, I would have liked a little more discussion of the class aspect. I accept the argument on the whole but feel that there was so much more to say and add in support. For instance, a discussion of the print media’s handling of the soldier imagery via, say, popular poetry would have demonstrated that the nexus betwen city, industry and working class was being smoke-screened to avoid facing the gradual production of urban factories and slums. Fuelled by an appeal to the nation as an idealised though huge collection of small farms, the nation bought the imagery while living in the cities, or as others have shown, at best began to move into the suburban-farm surrogacy of the quarter-acre block. C.J. Dennis's sentimental bloke as poem and film of the 1920s and then the Dad and Dave films of 1930s all appealed to this notion of the small family farm as the Australian ideal.
As evidence it does not alter the argument, but it adds more weight and opens more nuances into the 1930s. But I carp about adding more evidence to an already detailed book overflowing with the gravitas of thoroughly thought-out research. This is first rate stuff.
Reviewed by JOHN COATES, Australian Defence Force Academy
Australia's involvement in the Second World War was well recorded in the media at the time, and in authoritative sources like the Official Histories , and other publications and presentations since. Relatively little, however, has been produced on how the nation's war effort was directed and the mechanisms for doing so. It is this gap that the book seeks to close. Its publication was also prompted by the 50th anniversary celebrations marking the end of the war, and the reasonable decision of the Australian Archives to publicise a part of its immense holding of records, in this case those dealing with the War Cabinet and higher direction of the war.
Even though Australia suffered far more fatal casualties in the First World War than in the Second (approximately 60,000 against 39,000) there had been no war cabinet during the first conflict. In consequence, far-sighted men like Frederick Shedden, Secretary of the Department of Defence from 1937 to 1956, saw the need for one; on the outbreak of war against Nazi Germany in September 1939 a War Cabinet was formed.
Menzies' initial War Cabinet included himself as Prime Minister and Treasurer; the Minister for Supply (R.G. Casey); the Minister for Defence (A.G. Street); the Minister for Commerce (Senator McLeay); the Minister for External Affairs and Information (H.S. Gullett); and the Attorney-General (W.M. Hughes). The precedent was continued without significant change by Menzies' successors: Arthur Fadden in August 1941, and particularly by John Curtin at the head of a Labor Party government from October 1941 for the duration of the war. Throughout, the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which consisted of the Chiefs of Staff of the three armed services, collectively were invited to attend the War Cabinet to advise on matters concerning the military conduct of the war.
Because his prime ministership was accompanied almost immediately by the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific and thus a new and more desperate struggle, Curtin faced greater tests of his leadership skills than his two predecessors. But he was also fortunate that the mechanism for directing the war effort was, by then, well established and functioning smoothly.
Menzies had previously tried to form a national government across party lines to direct the war effort but had been unsuccessful. Instead, he established an Advisory War Council which worked in parallel with the War Cabinet and had the advantage that, by including members of the opposition, some unity of purpose was achieved. It was so successful that not only did Curtin retain it, but on issues where agreement had been reached by the Government members - which included 5 of the 8 members of the War Cabinet - their decisions could be accepted automatically as War Cabinet decisions.
There were two major amendments to this top level deliberative structure. First, in November 1939 the Department of Defence was separated into four departments (Defence Coordination, Army, Navy and Air), and the minister for each was added to the War Cabinet. Second, a greater change came with the entrance of Japan and the creation of a South-West Pacific theatre under an American, General Douglas MacArthur.
MacArthur shrewdly assessed that he was in a position of great politico-strategic strength, and he focussed his prerogatives accordingly. From this emerged a supra-strategic body, the Prime Minister's War Conference, which included Curtin and MacArthur, who automatically became Curtin's chief adviser on strategic and military affairs. The third full member was Secretary of Defence, Frederick Shedden, who, since he was also secretary to both the War Cabinet and Advisory War Council, was in a position of extraordinary power. Not only did he have Curtin's full confidence, he also had that of MacArthur, who wrote to Curtin, ‘if I should not be readily available, Mr Shedden has my full confidence in regard to all questions of War Policy’. More emphatically than anything else, the statement underlined Shedden's pivotal role in the management of war policy, further reinforced by his temperate style, mastery of detail and consummate ability to influence events without appearing to do so.
Shedden's minutes of the Prime Minister's War Conference are a valuable insight into the higher direction of the war. MacArthur was not loath to go beyond his position as Curtin's strategic adviser to venture into Australian politics in which, along with his comments on Australian personalities, he was a formidable grey eminence . David Horner raises the interesting question as to whether these minutes were ever made available to the official historians, for Shedden, who remained Secretary of Defence until 1956, produced extracts from them guardedly and only then in answer to specific questions. Thus, both Shedden but particularly MacArthur were in positions of immense influence in Australian wartime politics.
To assist him in his secretarial functions, Shedden had a small staff built around four men: Sam Landau, Vincent Quealy, Herbert Port and Alan Salisbury. Port and Quealy in particular took minutes at almost all meetings of the War Cabinet and Advisory War Council, and it is their handwritten notes on discussions leading to important decisions, with the individual views of participants, that are of most interest. The meetings were held in Melbourne, Canberra and occasionally Sydney. As anyone who has had to do with organising high level conferences would know, the duties of the staff in an era of mainly train travel presented a significant logistic challenge.
Of necessity, the book is much more about the discussions than the quality of the decisions that emanated from them. But, even given the fact that Australia abrogated some at least of its sovereignty by placing such trust in MacArthur's strategic judgement, most decisions were of a high order. Moreover, given the fact that the War Cabinet held 355 meetings, dealt with 3,998 agenda items and had 4,645 recorded minutes, while the Advisory War Council held 174 meetings, dealt with 727 agenda items and recorded 1,618 minutes, it is scarcely surprising that only a small number of them are dealt with in these pages. They ranged from grave issues such as whether the 2nd AIF should be committed to Greece, and later, on its return from the Middle East,whether it should be diverted to Burma or - as it did - continue to Australia, through issues of manpower control, rationing, and whether or not a Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) should be formed.
There are useful appendices, including one dealing with the Australian Archives holdings on the Second World War and where particular material is likely to be found. Also of interest is a facsimile of the Minute of the War Cabinet Meeting at Melbourne on 8 December 1941 at the time of the Japanese attacks in the Pacific which details the parlous state of Australia's defences.
This is an extremely helpful book that sheds light on how the Australian war effort was organised and how, and in what atmosphere crucial decisions were taken.
Reviewed by DAVID HORNER, Australian National University
On 1 May 1945 the 26th Australian Infantry Brigade landed on the small island of Tarakan off the north-east coast of Borneo. Its mission was relatively straightforward: it had to seize the oilfields and refinery and capture an airstrip so that Allied planes could support further operations in Borneo. Clearly, the first requirement was to drive the Japanese defenders away from the beachhead and airstrip, and then ultimately to destroy them. The 26th Brigade, with its additional troops and air force units, eventually numbered over 15,000.
The operation to eliminate the Japanese proved to be more complex, longer and bloodier than the planners expected; by the end of the war in August scattered Japanese were still being rounded up. By that time 240 Australians had been killed and some 700 wounded. Because of the high water table and lack of suitable paving material, construction of the airfield proved difficult, and it was not ready in time to support the other operations. Furthermore, it took longer to bring the oilfields into production than planned and, in any case, they could provide only a fraction of the oil that was being brought from the United States and elsewhere to support the war in the Pacific.
Dr Peter Stanley, Senior Historian at the Australian War Memorial, tells the story of the Tarakan operation from a variety angles - from the point of view of the strategic planners, from the perspective of the tactical commanders, through the eyes of the soldiers in the front-line, and also from the sides of the Japanese and the local Indonesian inhabitants. The result is a first-rate account of a relatively small military operation which, in microcosm, deals with some fundamental issues.
The crucial question is whether there was any point to the operation. Could it be justified? One month earlier, on 1 April, US forces, eventually numbering nearly a quarter of a million men, had stormed ashore on the island of Okinawa, only 1,300 kilometres south-west of Tokyo. In terms of achieving the defeat of Japan, at one stroke all campaigns to the south were rendered strategically irrelevant. As Stanley points out, it has been fashionable to claim that the Australian campaigns in 1945 had no strategic purpose and wasted Australian lives. While the campaigns in Bougainville and New Guinea were fought at the whim of General Blamey, the Australian Commander-in-Chief, those in Borneo were ordered by General Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied South-West Pacific Area, for equally specious reasons.
Stanley rejects this simplistic explanation. He admits that MacArthur was duplicitous in his dealings with both the Australian Government and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. He also admits that MacArthur was driven to liberate 'a Dutch town of some importance'. Furthermore, the Joint Chiefs' desire to seize Brunei, the next step in the Borneo campaign, and which was to be supported by the Tarakan airfield, flew in the face of British wishes. Nonetheless, Stanley concludes that the operation had been endorsed by the Australian Government, and that the objectives of the overall campaign had been identified a year earlier. In terms of maintaining good relations with the Americans the operation was justified - even though this view might be unpalatable to those who fought and the families of those who were killed.
Within these parameters, Stanley's interpretation is broadly correct. He has certainly carried out impressive research in the relevant areas in Australian and US archives. Nonetheless, the story is perhaps even more complex than he paints it. The issue of strategic decision-making in 1945 begs several more questions. Perhaps the whole command structure, by which all Australian forces (except those in Europe and the Middle East) had been placed under MacArthur's operational control in the emergency of 1942, should have been reassessed in 1944. Did the Australian ministers really understand the strategic issues? Did they have sufficient information on which to base their decisions? An examination of questions such as these were beyond the scope of Stanley's book, but he might at least have acknowledged this area of complexity.
This discussion should not obscure the fact that Stanley never forgets that this is essentially a story about individuals who had to bear the brunt of the decisions of strategists like MacArthur and the planning mistakes of lower-level commanders and their staffs. The real question is why the soldiers continued to take the fight to the Japanese with such determination when it was obvious that there was little strategic gain.
The story is told through the eyes of many individuals - the forward scout waiting for the first shot, which invariably was aimed at him; the section commanders who carried the burden of driving home local attacks; the battalion officers, who led the way when the going was tough. One example was Corporal John Mackey, a baker from civilian life, who led his section from the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion up a narrow razorback ridge towards three Japanese machine-gun positions. His exceptional bravery inspired the whole of his battalion, but his subsequent Victoria Cross was awarded posthumously.
The campaign also saw the death of Lieutenant Thomas Derrick, VC, DCM - a loss which had a profound effect on his comrades. Disregarding orders about the overloading of vehicles, Padre Bryson and Derrick's mates were bailed up by a military policeman 'who, not realising the cause, reprimanded him. Bryson sternly told him to get out of the way, that they were going to the funeral of a man'. At home in Adelaide, Derrick's widow 'became prostrated with grief', while on Tarakan the Japanese rejoiced in the death of the Australian 'Commander-in-Chief'.
One of the strengths of Stanley's account is his discussion of the supporting services. Of the 15,000 personnel ashore at Tarakan, only some 3,500 were in infantry combat units. About 140 were in a tank squadron and some 700 were in the artillery field regiment. It is interesting to read how the front-line soldiers accepted their lot, even though they were conscious of the base troops only a few kilometres to the rear whose tasks were far less dangerous and onerous.
Remarkably, there were 4,716 personnel in RAAF units on the island, even though few planes actually operated from the airstrip there. As Stanley shows, RAAF discipline was often below that of the Army units, and RAAF planning for the operation had been sorely lacking. In a singular display of short-sightedness, the American and Australian air forces had thoroughly bombed the airstrip before the campaign, damaging it to a point where the task of repairing it was almost beyond the capability of the engineers.
This thorough and absorbing account draws on an impressive range of sources. Stanley has not been willing to accept any story without rigorous checking, For instance, AIF folklore has it that the troops embarking at Townsville were hindered by striking wharfies. Stanley has consulted files of the Townsville branch of the Waterside Workers' Federation to show that no such industrial action was taken.
Since the publication of the official histories, most of which appeared in the 1950s and 1960s, there have been remarkably few studies of the Australian military campaigns of the Second World War. Some of these more recent books have been superficial and based largely on the official histories. Stanley's account of Tarakan demonstrates that there is ample scope for critical re-assessments of other Australian military campaigns of the Second World War. Not only is more information available, but the achievements of the men involved need to be told to a community which is now largely ignorant of them. Such accounts can do more than revaluate the strategy, planning and tactics of past campaigns, they can also tell us much about the nature of the Australians who, after the war, helped make modern Australian society.
Reviewed by PETER STANLEY, Australian War Memorial
Viewers of Ken Burns’s television series, The Civil War, will recognise in Eric Bergerud’s title, Touched with fire, Oliver Wendell Holmes’s quotation expressing the bonds which service in war creates. ‘In our youths’, he wrote, ‘our hearts were touched with fire .... We have shared the incommunicable experience of war.’ If Holmes were right, if the experience of war truly cannot be communicated, Bergerud and the every other military historian,would be out of a job. Fortunately, Touched with fire demonstrates that the experience of combat can be remembered, described, reflected upon and communicated to those who did not share it. While we may never know exactly how it felt to look out into a jungle night in expectation of Japanese infiltrators, we can at least imagine what it might have been like; and if that is the best we can do, then it is better than not trying. Soon that will be all that we are able to do.
Touched with fire deals with a theatre of war which, for Americans, has been consistently overshadowed by more accessible campaigns in Europe and the Central Pacific. Eric Bergerud’s aim has been to describe the reality of combat in the jungle campaigns in the South and South-West Pacific Areas in the years 1942-43, a focus which includes the Australian contribution and experience.
Touched with fire is a book which both enlightens and infuriates. On the one hand Bergerud has taken the trouble to seek out and listen to veterans of the campaigns in the Solomons and New Guinea. He has asked many of the right questions about what combat actually entailed, and has recorded the responses - rather too much quoting from them at too great a length, perhaps, but enough to give readers a full and rounded understanding of the character of Army and Marine formations, their equipment, training, command and performance in battle, and how they changed as they became more experienced. It is a candid book which explains a great deal about how the American forces performed in battle, how they learned and changed, and how they differed from their Australian counterparts.
Infuriatingly, though, it is also embarrassingly weak in its coverage of Australian experience, mostly because Bergerud has relied on such a limited sample of Australian sources, and has failed to travel to Australia to make use of the great lode of private and official records held in the Australian War Memorial’s collection. His principal Australian informant was Bill Crooks, who, despite the breadth of his military experience and his skill in recording it, does not compensate for a reliable and broad perspective based on a wide reading of the available archival sources and extensive literature. This literature includes a large number of unit histories (including Crooks’s The footsloggers, which Bergerud does not cite) many of which provide insights of the kind which make Touched with fire so valuable as a study of the American experience. The only saving grace here is that when Bergerud was writing there was no Australian study of the tactics of the Australian military forces in the Pacific theatre. While Mark Johnston, in At the front line, has provided a valuable guide to the reactions of Australian soldiers to active service and battle there, we still lack a direct Australian equivalent which considers Australian weapons and tactics and the ways in which men employed them.
Bergerud provides students of the Pacific War with much to ponder on. He suggests that the theatre’s heavy losses from disease (rather than wounds) made for a peculiar pace to the involvement of formations, in which ‘long periods of training and rebuilding were interspersed with relatively short but intensely violent campaigns’. The Australian experience bears this out, qualified perhaps by the long periods which Militia brigades spent in New Guinea, if not strictly in intensive action later in the war. Bergerud discusses the experience of the men who fought these campaigns in detail. In considering the relationship between technology, tactics and behaviour in battle - the book's strength - Bergerud challenges one of the great clichs of the Pacific war, the Japanese-sniper-up-a-tree. Snipers fired from trees much less frequently than we might think, he points out (based on the testimony of a marine who became an historian), though he concedes that both Allied and Japanese looked for them there because both expected the other to be there.
Again, however, qualifications must be made. Bergerud has done a service in contacting and interviewing or corresponding with some 130 veterans, mostly American, but he has failed to consider the resulting testimony in relation to contemporary material, especially official records. Veterans’ recollections are not so often false as individual or particular to places, times and circumstances, and thus cannot be accepted without corroboration. (Perhaps the most egregious instance is that Bergerud has left uncorrected Bill Crooks’s assertion that ‘5 million of the [Australian] population are Asian immigrants’.) While Bergerud has used American and Australian official histories, he has apparently not even attempted to consult Australian or - more reprehensibly - American records, and not even unit histories. The result is a book which too often reads like random recollection, in which untested assertion in lengthy quotations diminishes its standing as a work which can be relied upon. The contrast with Bill Rawling's study of the weapons and tactics of the Canadian Corps on the Western Front - which used Canadian official records with great effect - is striking.
These shortcomings mar but do not nullify Touched with fire, which remains essential reading for students of the war in the Pacific theatre. I look forward to greeting Professor Bergerud when he visits Australia to research his next book on the Pacific war.
Reviewed by IAN McGIBBON, Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, New Zealand
Germany's submarine campaign during the Second World War brought near success and ultimately almost total defeat. For a time German submarines, operating from bases in France and Norway in particular, wrought havoc among allied merchant shipping in the crucial Battle of the Atlantic. In their peak month, March 1943, they sent half a million tons of shipping to the bottom. But all too quickly the tide turned, as allied tactics, technological and intelligence advantages, and, above all, material superiority began to make their impact felt. Eventually German operations in the North Atlantic had to be suspended, and easier pickings sought elsewhere. A dispersive strategy, it was hoped, would force the allies to divert forces from other theatres. To this end a succession of long-range U-boats were despatched to the Indian Ocean from May 1943 as part of Group Monsun.
One of the twenty-one submarines (out of forty-seven allocated to Group Monsun) which survived the long and dangerous haul to the east was U-862, a new Type IXD2 boat ('super' or 'overseas cow') which left Kiel at the end of May 1944. She had been commissioned the previous October under the command of Kapitnleutnant Heinrich Timms. Most of her crew of seven officers and 57 NCOs and men had been together in Timms's previous command, U-251, which had survived nine operational patrols from Norwegian bases in 1942-43. They were, in consequence, relatively experienced at a time when the average life expectancy of German submariners was down to eight weeks. Breaking out of the allied cordon from Norway with some difficulty, U-862 proceeded to the Indian Ocean and, after operating off Madagascar, eventually reached Penang, where a German base had been established with Japanese blessing. She then proceeded on a cruise in Australian waters, during which she sailed round New Zealand and became the U-boat which proceeded the farthest from Germany. Meanwhile the crew's homeland was being overrun by the Soviet and Anglo-American armies, and U-862 returned to Jakarta not long before Germany capitulated. Her crew were then interned by the Japanese. After Japan's defeat a few months later, the men were transferred to Britain. Most did not get back to Germany until 1947.
Focusing on her cruise in Australian waters, David Stevens has written an absorbing account of U-862's career. He sets out to analyse 'both the thinking behind the [Australian] operation and the reasons for U-862's survival when so many of her sisters were lost? In doing so, he places her operations in the context of the latter stages of Germany's undersea war, and throws light on the uneasy co-operative relationship between Japanese and Germans in the theatre. As Europeans in Japanese held territory, the Monsun U-boats' crew members found their hosts not always welcoming, though facilities were provided. The Germans would come to rue the inadequacy of Japanese naval performance, especially in anti-submarine warfare.
Stevens's account brings out the massive dominance achieved by the British and Americans in the war at sea by 1944. Much of this related to the allied capacity to produce the planes, escort ships, and submarines which made life for German submariners increasingly tenuous. While the scope of allied coverage was less in the Indian Ocean, allied submarines presented a dangerous threat, the more so because of the other great German disadvantage, in the field of intelligence. Having broken into the German naval ciphers, the allies often had detailed information about a particular submarine's activities. In the Indian Ocean operations, the danger was enhanced by the Germans' need to co-ordinate their movements with the Japanese, for Japanese naval codes were also being broken. U-boats leaving or returning to base were particularly vulnerable, with the allies often in full knowledge of the timings of the passage of particular boats.
Responsibility for safely guiding U-862 through these dangerous waters rested with Timms, whom Stevens describes as 'something of an enigma'. While generally cautious, he could occasionally act recklessly, much to the dismay of his crew. His competence as a U-boat commander was reflected in U-862's tally of victims: with five ships sunk near Madagascar, and another two in Australian waters, she was 'without doubt one of the most successful of the Monsun boats' An honourable opponent, he seems to have given what assistance he could to survivors. Above all, he was a lucky commander. On several occasions last minute changes of plan saved his boat from probable interception by forewarned allied units, both in the North Atlantic and in the Indian Ocean.
Stevens provides interesting insights into the lack of war preparedness in Australia and New Zealand in this late stage of the war. U-862's three-month cruise in their waters was, he suggests, 'one prolonged three-sided battle between the U-boat, the elements, and the Australians and their allies'. He describes in detail the massive search instituted by the allies after the sinking of the Liberty ship Robert J. Walker some 250 kilometres south-east of Sydney on 25 December 1944 - 'the longest and most extensive hunt for a submarine ever conducted off the Australian coast'. These events, he suggests, indicate how 'woefully unprepared' Australia was for an enemy incursion at this time. The situation was even more relaxed across the Tasman. During their New Zealand interlude U-862's crew were bemused by the peacetime atmosphere which they observed in the east coast ports of Gisborne and Napier, which they observed at almost recklessly close quarters. At the latter, jazz bands could be heard playing. However, Stevens dismisses as a sailor's yarn suggestions by Timms that some of his men were landed to obtain milk from a Hawke's Bay cow. No ships were sunk in New Zealand waters, and the voyage passed unnoticed. It was not mentioned in the official history of New Zealand's wartime naval effort.
Stevens concedes that U-862's voyage is no more than 'a mere footnote' in the context of the German submarine campaign. Using to good effect the journals of two crew members, as well as interviews with two more, he has produced a highly readable description of this little known episode of the Pacific War. The reader is vividly reminded of the claustrophobic nature of undersea warfare, of the foul smell of unwashed men, of the monotony, and above all of the fear of imminent death in a struggle which took the lives of one in every two Germans who served in the U-Bootswaffe.
Reviewed by CAROLYN NEWMAN, Australian War Memorial
Eddie Stanton’s diaries, originally written in five exercise books and eventually bound together as one work, record the years of his life spent in Papua and New Guinea during the Second World War. Hank Nelson has reproduced about a third of the original 180,000 words for this book, which was not published until thirteen years after Eddie’s death. As well as carefully recording the date, place and weather above every daily entry, Eddie had collected numerous cuttings, photos and official documents which he has pasted into the diaries. Some of his entries had been edited and in some he had added even more information when it came to hand, even years later, and these additions have been reproduced in a different typeface. Eddie’s desire for accuracy and completeness is reflected throughout his diaries, and many of his comments indicate that he expected equally high standards from everyone else.
Eddie Stanton was a most unusual man. Born in Sydney in 1915, he was the son of a sign-writer. He left school when he was fifteen and started work with Burns Philp, the shipping and trading firm, with whom he had many trips to sea. Estranged from his family after a dispute about funds for this continuing education, he changed his surname to "Stanton", replaced "Edamund" with "Eddie" and adopted Allan as his middle name. When he was 21 he decided that he wanted to study medicine and so paid tutors to assist him obtain the Leaving Certificate. Having qualified to go to Sydney University in 1939, however, he still lacked money for the course and then decided to ‘go into the world & gather unto myself the elusive 1,500 pounds, no matter how long it might take.’
Early in 1942, Eddie sailed to New Guinea on the Burns Philp ship, Macdhui. He had been employed to work as a clerk on Port Moresby wharf, but he arrived there as the civil administration ended and the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) took over. Since ANGAU was short of staff, Eddie suddenly became not only Warrant Officer but also Patrol Officer Stanton, and by the middle of March 1942 he had been posted to Milne Bay.
These diaries were written by a man with no previous experience of service life, the country, the people or the government that he had been employed to represent. The diaries are the product of a solitary 26-year old who spent the next four years writing down what he observed, what he did and what he thought, always with the knowledge and determination that he would survive the war and return to study medicine in Sydney. So strong was that belief that, in the midst of everything else he did during his time in the Pacific, Eddie dissected frogs.
Although Eddie’s long-time (post-war) friend, Vera Langley, has written in the foreword that Eddie would be "most surprised to find that his diaries were being published", they do seem to have been written for a wider audience. Eddie had views on everything. Among his comments on island administration are records of the air and sea traffic (both enemy and allied) that he observed, as well as many ‘war’ rumours he has collected from various sources. (Hank Nelson has included many notes elaborating these). There are his views on female morality; the relationship between the islanders and the soldiers (Australian, Japanese and American), and his own ‘anthropological’ analyses of New Guinea society and culture. While his views reflect the flagrant ethnocentrism of his era, some of his comments do display an understanding of the complexities of cross-cultural interaction.
Eddie was an intelligent man who eschewed companionship and, probably because of that, was an astute observer of human nature. He was generous in his criticism of Australian politicians, Australians at home and particularly the fickleness of Australian women (while their men were away fighting). He expressed a great deal of admiration for (white) Americans (their technology, their facilities and particularly their service conditions) and a great deal of sympathy for the Australian servicemen who ‘are still trying to chase the Japanese with canoes, & bows & arrows. ... It’s a pity the Diggers doing the fighting couldn’t get some American tanks, aeroplanes, & landing craft. There is no gainsaying that our equipment is childish. We are 25 years behind the times.’
The pleasure of reading this book is reduced by the position of the footnotes, which are relegated to the end. This may have been due to the policy of the publishing house, but they are an essential adjunct to the diary entries, and it was a source of constant frustration to have continually to turn to the back of the book for clarification and elaboration of points in the narrative.
Although Eddie’s views may upset people today, the book is well worth reading. His scepticism and laconic style are symptomatic of that era, and Hank Nelson writes that even the author was shocked when he read some of his bald statements many years later. Despite his eccentricities, Eddie Stanton has left us a valuable record, and we are lucky to have the opportunity to read the diaries of such an interesting and perceptive man.
Anthony J. Barker and Lisa Jackson, Fleeting attraction: A social history of American servicemen in Western Australia during the Second World War, University of Western Australia Press, 1996, pp 296, index, photographs, illustrations, bibliography, rrp $29.95
Reviewed by JOANNE SCOTT, Sunshine Coast University College, Maroochydore, Qld
'If there is one thing that annoys Sandgropers almost as much as being ignored entirely', declare Anthony Barker and Lisa Jackson, 'it is being taken for granted as simply another part of Australia'. In their social history of the impact of American service personnel on Western Australia during the Second World War, they avoid both of these pitfalls. The result is a lively and entertaining book which affirms the importance of place in Australian history.
Fleeting attraction is a welcome addition to literature on the Australian homefront. Not surprisingly, it includes many of the themes which other authors have emphasised in their accounts of the United States' wartime presence in this country. These themes include Australian reactions to the arrival of the Americans, American consumerism, relations between Australian women and US servicemen, and violence which involved American troops. Yet Fleeting attraction is not merely a re-statement of familiar topics which happens to be set in Western Australia. What distinguishes this study from other major publications in its field is its focus on the ways in which those topics affected or were affected by the places where they occurred.
Barker and Jackson identify distinctive features both of Western Australian society and the American presence in that state in their analysis. 'It was a unique experience because circumstances and sensitivities in the West were indeed different, and also unique because the Americans were themselves different from their counterparts in the east', they write. Reactions in Western Australia to the war, for example, were shaped in part by its citizens' traditional sense of isolation from the rest of the country. Moreover, and in contrast to the eastern states, the American presence in the West was largely, although not exclusively, naval.
One of the most interesting aspects of the authors' argument about the particular nature of the American forces in Western Australia concerns race relations. Analysis of Australian attitudes towards black American troops and the effect of those troops on local race relations have become standard elements in accounts of the US wartime role in this country. Comparatively few black Americans, however, were stationed in Western Australia and they had little impact on race relations in that state. 'That negative factor is a most important part of the uniqueness of the state's response to the Americans'.
Barker's and Jackson's examination of the significance of place is not restricted to the contrast they draw between Western Australia and the eastern states. They also identify different responses to the war within Western Australia. Air raid precautions were taken more seriously in Geraldton, 350 miles to the north of Perth, than they were in Albany on the south coast which 'was understandably more relaxed'. Location, as the authors emphasise, however, is not sufficient to explain individual responses to the war. In assessing the diversity of reactions in the south-west of the state during 1942, Barker and Jackson remind us that 'no general explanation can rest simply on varied circumstances of age, location, gender or class'.
There is a third dimension to the book's focus on place. Detailed descriptions of incidents and where they occurred impart a distinctively local flavour which contributes to the book's charm and enables readers to picture events as they unfold. Information about the length of bus journeys between Perth and Fremantle, comparisons of Perth streetscapes in the 1940s and the 1990s, and references to particular buildings which the Americans occupied create an evocative backdrop.
Another feature of Fleeting attraction is that it conveys a sense of the authors' enjoyment of their material. In a discussion of Americans' access to various commodities and their generosity in sharing those goods, Barker and Jackson relate an anecdote about an American serviceman who took the young brothers and sisters of his Australian fiancee to a local greengrocer. He told the children that they could have as much fruit as they wanted. The tale concludes with the comment that the shopkeeper's 'attempt to have them put things in bags to take away was fruitless: his shop almost equally so at the end of their visit'.
The sometimes light-hearted tone of Fleeting attraction should not be equated with any lack of seriousness in terms of the analysis offered by the authors. The book includes a sometimes trenchant critique of other works in the field and also engages with a number of theoretical and methodological issues. A major strength of Fleeting attraction, for example, is its use of oral sources, particularly interviews with Western Australians and former American servicemen. The authors caution against the assumption that their interviews with locals are representative of Western Australian society during the war. They recognise that those people most likely to share their memories of the American presence are those individuals for whom that presence was especially significant. Barker and Jackson are also alert to problems associated with their documentary sources. National Security Regulations during the Second World War prohibited the collection and dissemination of information about the armed services. As a result, newspapers are 'extremely inadequate guides to the social impact of mobilisation in the first two years of the war', they point out.
It is refreshing to read that 'the American presence did not have a lasting general effect'. Barker and Jackson are more prudent in their conclusions than some other authors who have written on this subject. They are careful not to claim more than their research can sustain, noting that 'there can be little doubt that the post-war economic and social transformation of Australia would have occurred regardless of the wartime experience'. The involvement of American service personnel in Western Australia was indeed 'fleeting'. As this book so clearly demonstrates, however, it deserves our attention.
Reviewed by JEFF DOYLE, Australian Defence Force Academy
Michael O'Brien's book is a part of the revival of interest in military history that has been evident in both Australia and the United States over the past few years, some of which has certainly been inspired by the persistence or revival of memories of Vietnam. In academic circles in the US, at least, the analysis of Vietnam has shifted somewhat from the earlier phase of variously apportioning blame, shame and guilt, and from areas of what might be seen as understanding aspects of the big picture, to more studied and detailed analyses of the minutiae, as it were, of the war on the ground or, rather, various grounds. A military writer might say theatres and that would be doubly appropriate since it would allow the notion of performance as well as military locale, and performance, not just at the sharp end of combat.
This then -- a turn to the detail in the front line, in the government office, in the staging camps -- this is where US critiques have turned. Interestingly, that means there are more detailed accounts of combat, no longer from the point of view of the combat novel or the glorified compaction of Hollywood, nor just from an Official History-style analysis in which the front line is layered with its support hierarchies. Detail yes, but limited of necessity.
In Australia we've also begun the detailing process; we've had our few Vietnam combat novels. Although none rises to anything like the American quality, even from the veteran community, in Christopher Koch's Highways to a war we've finally had a great novel about some aspects of the memory of Vietnam. We've had the first few of the Official Histories, all masterful volumes, and none more so than Ian McNeill's first combat volume, To Long Tan, but he cannot do everything (close though), even in two volumes.
The minutiae are coming through in other ways, such as in the newer versions of the unit histories of which Michael O’Brien’s is a fine example. Others such as J.M. Church’s Second to none: 2RAR as the ANZAC Battalion in Vietnam 1970-71, provide other levels of combat detail. Church's volume basically presents the ground war as seen by the battalion commander, detail found in his analysis of material understood not at the level of patrol but at distance, as it were. It’s quite an intriguing volume, essential reading for those interested in command at any level, and provides a link between the McNeill level and that of O’Brien.
Conscripts and regulars is an almost day-to-day account of 7RAR’s two tours of Vietnam. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it an operation-by-operation account. So it begins with set up, structures, logistics and training and then rapidly moves into the daily patrolling and operational level reporting. Large chunks of the book are given to outlining largish operations such as Atherton, Forrest, Finschhafen and others. First O’Brien offers an overview and then discusses the operation as it unfolded. Here he provides the kind of specific detail that makes the Australian legend. The troops -- individuals, small groups, patrols -- make up the bulk of his commentary. We see the same operation from several viewpoints, swirling through the engagement from one position to another, advancing both the time-line of the engagement and the detail of just who did what where.
In some hands such detail could easily confuse and lead to a sense of vertiginous swamping of clarity for the sake of comprehensiveness. Not so in this book. O’Brien’s hand is steady, his literary style a balance of just sufficient military know-how and nomenclature with the necessary narrative drive. And of course the men are interesting as people. That’s hard to do but done well here.
And while the book contains details of all levels of activity, its primary focus is on the front end: the patrols and larger scale operations of the combat soldier. It is a fine account and the balance between expert operational analysis and copious quotation from the participants, allowing the reader into the combat. I don’t mean the ‘cheapening’ idea that adorns blurbs of the scandalous novel or film’s incitement to ‘experience Vietnam for ourselves’. This is more important, and more authentic than that.
O’Brien, now a brigadier, was a front line platoon commander and intelligence officer in Vietnam, so he writes with considerable knowledge. More than this, he elicits comments from the troops which simultaneously convey the course of and analyse the operation under discussion. Clever. No, better, smart work.
Oh, yes the title. That differentiation between the professional and the conscripted, which still lingeringly underpins Australia’s memory of Vietnam, is not the primary focus of the book. Rather, O’Brien wants to make it clear that, on the ground, there was no difference, save in some levels of combat experience. His book is at pains to show how the battalion’s training methods brought everyone up to scratch. No one did less than was required.
Criticism there is, yes, and often directed between the lines, at the government, at the hierarchy fighting from the desk (nothing wrong with that, but it needs an understanding of the front end -- we've heard that recently, haven’t we?), and not a little at the Americans for not understanding their own war, so to speak.
Conscripts and regulars is another welcome volume to aid our understanding of our recent history and its cultural spin-offs.