seems to be that Australians want to believe that they were part of a war, that
the war came
close; that it mattered..Set against the prosaic reality, the desire is poignant and rather pathetic.
Dr Peter Stanley of the Australian War Memorial speaks of Japan's deadly attacks on Australia in 1942 in the paper "Threat made manifest".
Allied successes on the Kokoda Track, at Milne Bay, and on Guadalcanal ensured
the security of Australia...during
1942 Australia was in great peril. The Allied policy of 'Beat Hitler
First' meant that Australia faced the prospect of a Japanese invasion with only
limited support from the United States."
From "Defending Australia in 1942" by Dr David Horner, Professor of Australian Defence History, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University. The Japanese withdrawal from Guadalcanal in February 1943 signalled the failure and end of the FS Operation. See expanded quotation below.
Stanley has legitimate arguments in my opinion".
Major General Steve Gower, AO, Director of the Australian War Memorial on 8 November 2005
HE WAS COMING SOUTH - TO COMPEL AUSTRALIA'S SURRENDER TO JAPAN!
Dr Stanley's 2002 essay proclaims "He's (not) coming South" - meaning the Japanese soldier in the famous wartime poster below was not, in Dr Stanley's opinion, coming south to Australia. Dr Stanley is wrong again.
wanted to "throttle Australia into submission to Japan" in 1942 by
severing its lifeline
to the United States and applying a blockade and other intensive psychological pressures.
the previous chapter, we saw by reference to passages from Professor Henry Frei's
"Japan's Southward Advance and Australia" that Prime Minister General
Hideki Tojo was planning to "throttle Australia into submission" to
Japan in 1942 by means of Operation FS.
Operation FS was designed to isolate Australia from its powerful American ally
by capturing and fortifying a chain of islands from New Guinea to Fiji in the
South Pacific. The Japanese
then intended to pressure Australia into surrender to Japan by blockade and
other persuasive measures*. After
Australia's anticipated surrender to Japan in 1942, the Japanese government
was planning to incorporate Australia as a puppet state into Japan's compliant
political bloc called the New Order in Greater East Asia and its equally compliant
economic bloc called The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. I will deal
with these Japanese plans in the next chapter.
* See Frei, at page 172.
Japan implements "Operation FS" in 1942
Japan's first attempt to implement Operation FS occurred in early May 1942, when powerful amphibious forces set out to capture Australia's Port Moresby on the southern coast of the island of New Guinea and Britain's Tulagi Island in the British Solomons. The dates for the invasions of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa had already been fixed for 8, 18, and 21 July 1942 respectively. After two earlier Japanese demands for Australia's surrender had been ignored by the Curtin government in January and February 1942, General Tojo gave Australia a last warning to surrender in the Japanese parliament on 28 May 1942. As Professor Frei describes it: "Japan was now tightening the noose on Australia." See Frei at page 172. The emphasis is mine.
How the Battle of the Coral Sea averted grave peril for Australia
If the Japanese had won the Battle of the Coral Sea (7-8 May 1942), they would have been able to capture Port Moresby on the southern coast of what was then the Australian Territory of Papua and the island of Guadalcanal in the British Solomons. Using Port Moresby as a base, Japanese Navy bombers would have been able to strike as far south as the coastal town of Bundaberg in Queensland (opposite Fraser Island). On the way, they could have bombed Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, and Rockhampton. Only the State capital Brisbane would have been beyond the striking reach of Japanese medium bombers taking off from Port Moresby airstrips. See "Author's Note" below. With Port Moresby in their hands, the Japanese would have been able to block the eastern sea approaches to Australia's northern port of Darwin. The capture of Port Moresby would have been an important first step towards severing Australia's lifeline to the United States. The second step would have been to establish a major Japanese forward airbase on the island of Guadalcanal. Japanese land-based bombers located on Guadalcanal could then strike south into the Pacific as far as New Caledonia (targeted for invasion on 8 July 1942) and intercept sea communications between the United States and Australia. Japanese demands for Australia's surrender would have been greatly strengthened as the noose around Australia was steadily tightened.
These facts explain why the Japanese were determined to capture Port Moresby and Guadalcanal throughout 1942, and why the Australian Curtin government and the United States Navy were equally determined to save both Port Moresby and Guadalcanal.
Most of Queensland's cities and towns would have been within striking range of Japanese land-based Navy bombers if Japan had captured the airfields of Port Moresby in 1942. The Mitsubishi G4M medium bomber (code-name "Betty") had an operational range that would have enabled it to reach and bomb Rockhampton. The Mitsubishi G3M (Allied code-name "Nell") had an operational range that would have enabled it to reach and bomb Bundaberg (opposite Fraser Island). If based on Guadalcanal, these Japanese Navy aircraft could easily have reached and bombed New Caledonia.
An American defeat at the Battle of Midway would have exposed Australia to Japanese invasion
If the Japanese had destroyed the US Pacific Fleet at the Battle of Midway (4-6 June 1942), it is almost certain that Australia would have been absorbed into the Japanese empire as a puppet state before the middle of 1943. With only one, and perhaps two, carriers left after such a defeat, the Americans would have been too busy defending Hawaii against a Japanese invasion planned to begin in October 1942 to spare any further military support for Australia, and moreover, any such support for Australia had been effectively ruled out by Churchill and Roosevelt at the Arcadia Conference held in Washington, DC, in late December 1941. Of those who attended the Arcadia Conference, only one person saw a pressing need to save Australia from Japanese occupation and he was Admiral Ernest J. King, the recently appointed Commander in Chief of the US Navy. Admiral King was not motivated by affection for Australia, but a realisation of how difficult it would be for the US Navy to halt Japanese aggression and recover the Philippines without access to Australia as a major base. Without disclosing to Churchill and Roosevelt that he intended to try to save Australia, Admiral King ensured that the final wording of the Arcadia agreement would not prevent him placing what was left of his Pacific Fleet (after the Pearl Harbor disaster) between the advancing Japanese and Australia.
After the Japanese were defeated at the Battle of Midway and lost naval supremacy over the United States Pacific Fleet, Japan's military high command became even more determined to isolate Australia and force its surrender to Japan by implementing Operation FS. It was now even more vital for Japan to capture Port Moresby and Guadalcanal in order to block what the Japanese saw as a very real threat of a powerful Allied counter-offensive launched from those places. Operation FS* was intended to be accompanied by blockade of Australia and other pressures to compel Australia to surrender to Japan.
*See a more detailed treatment of Operation FS in the previous chapter.
How Kokoda saved Australia from grave peril
The crucial and bloody Kokoda
Campaign was also intended by the Japanese to implement Operation
FS by capturing Australia's Port Moresby, and was fought between 21 July
1942 and 22 January 1943. Young Australian militia soldiers, with an average
age of eighteen years, confronted a powerful Japanese Army on the northern side
of the Owen Stanley Range. Ten thousand battle-toughened Japanese troops were
intending to capture Port Moresby by using the rugged Kokoda Track to cross
the Owen Stanleys. The young militia soldiers of the 39th Battalion were under-trained,
poorly equipped, and poorly supplied. The Japanese also outnumbered them by
at least ten to one. Despite these enormous disadvantages, the young Australians
held the Japanese for a vital month of bloody fighting until battle-toughened
comrades from the AIF 21st Brigade could reach them at Isurava village on the
first high northern ridge of the Owen Stanleys. Another month of bloody fighting
ensued as the Australians made the elite Japanese troops of the South Seas Detachment
pay dearly for every foot they advanced along the Track. The Australian fighting
withdrawal across the track cost the Japanese one month. Their timetable had
only allowed ten days to brush the Australians aside and capture Port Moresby.
They had only been carrying a ten-day supply of food when they began their drive
along the Kokoda Track. When Japanese reached Ioribaiwa village, they were starving
and exhausted, and their supply lines were a shambles. Although the Japanese
could see the searchlights sweeping the night sky over Port Moresby, the Australians
had fought them to a complete standstill. There was nothing left for the Japanese
to do but retreat. They had lost several thousand troops on the Track, and many
of the survivors were sick. Japan could not fight a bloody war of attrition
on the Kokoda Track and on Guadalcanal at the same time. The second Japanese
attack on Port Moresby was called off, and Australia was saved from the same
grim fate* that would have threatened it if Port
Moresby had fallen into Japanese hands following the Battle of the Coral Sea.
*See above under battle of the Coral Sea.
Now all of this is history; but what does English-born Dr Peter Stanley say about Kokoda:
"With the rise of the Australian nationalist view of 1942 over the past 20 years or so, Kokoda has supplanted Coral Sea. Now, we are told, the Australian Militia and AIF who met and defeated the Japanese in Papua were "the men who saved Australia". Fitzgerald, Ham and journalist Patrick Lindsay, and even a historian who ought to know better, Peter Brune, explicity evoke a proposed Japanese invasion of Australia* as the basis of extolling the Papuan victory."
This sort of dismissive comment by Dr Stanley reinforces the view I expressed earlier that his revisionist views do not appear to be based on a sound grasp of the grim strategic situation facing Australia throughout 1942.
I have mentioned above in the two paragraphs dealing with the Battle of the Coral Sea the grim fate that would have faced Australia if Japan had captured Port Moresby in May 1942. The capture of Port Moresby was a vital first step in the Japanese implementation of Operation FS, and Operation FS was to be accompanied by blockade of Australia and intensive psychological pressures to compel Australia to surrender to Japan. Presumably, those intensive psychological pressures would have included more intensive bombing of the mainland (most of Queensland would have been within range of Japanese bombers based at Port Moresby), increased shelling of Australian coastal cities and town from the sea, and even more ships sunk off the Australian coast. The heroic Australian Diggers who repulsed a much larger Japanese army under conditions of extraordinary hardship on the bloody Kokoda Track almost certainly saved Australians from these horrors in 1942 by thwarting implementation of the first stage of Operation FS. As I see it, they certainly deserve to be honoured as "the men who saved Australia", and I feel that it reflects no credit on the Australian War Memorial to seek to deny them this honour.
The gravity of the danger faced by Australia in 1942 is supported by one of Australia's most distinguished Pacific War historians, Dr David Horner, Professor of Australian Defence History, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University when he says:
Allied successes on the Kokoda Track, at Milne Bay, and on Guadalcanal ensured
the security of Australia...If
Port Moresby had been taken by General Horii's troops advancing over the Kokoda
Track, the whole strategic situation would have been transformed. In that sense,
Kokoda was the most important battle fought by Australians in the Second World
1942 Australia was in great peril. The Allied policy of 'Beat Hitler First'
meant that Australia faced the prospect of a Japanese invasion with only limited
support from the United States."
emphasis has been added.
From "Defending Australia in 1942" by Dr David Horner, Professor of Australian Defence History, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University. The Japanese withdrawal from Guadalcanal in February 1943 signalled the failure and end of the FS Operation.
The crucial Gualalcanal Campaign also averted grave peril for Australia
The Japanese campaign to capture
Guadalcanal was Japan's last desperate
attempt to implement Operation FS. If Japan's Guadalcanal Campaign had been
successful, it would have placed Australia at grave risk of isolation from the
United States and being at the mercy of the Japanese without the support of
any powerful ally. This campaign was fought mainly by the US Navy and Marines
between 7 August 1942 and 7 February 1943*. If
the Japanese had won at Guadalcanal, they would have been well placed to sever
Australia's lifeline to the United States and capture Port Moresby. They would
then have been able to tighten the noose around Australia and press for surrender
to Japan. The bloody Guadalcanal Campaign ended with the unexpected withdrawal
of Japanese troops from the island on 7 February 1942. Both sides were exhausted.
On more than one occasion, the Americans came close to defeat. For the Japanese,
it was a case of being an island too far, and the logistical strain was
too heavy. When the sea and land battles ended, the Americans had only one carrier
left to defend the whole of the South-West Pacific Area. Although the Japanese
had greater naval strength at the end of the Guadalcanal Campaign, they failed
to press home their naval superiority by capturing Port Moresby.
* The Royal Australian Navy played a role and the Australian Coastwatchers provided vital warnings of the approach of Japanese forces to attack the Americans.
The gravity of the peril faced by Australia in 1942 can be gauged from the words of World War II five-star American Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey when speaking of the Australian Coastwatchers and the importance of Guadalcanal to the course of the Pacific War:
"The intelligence information received from the Coastwatchers at Bougainville saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the South Pacific."
Noted in "The Coast Watchers" by Lt. Cdr. Eric Feldt at page 285. This is the full text of Admiral Halsey's famous message to the Coastwatchers.
The true gravity of the danger faced by Australia from Japan in 1942 is reflected in the words of former Australian Prime Minister, the Honourable Robert L. J. Hawke, AC, spoken at the time of Australia's Bicentenary in 1988:
"For there can be no doubt that 1942 was for Australia - as a nation and as a people - the most important single year of all those two hundred. It was the turning point in the making of modern Australia. In the fire of that tremendous crisis were forged all the elements which have shaped our national life and destiny, to this day." Emphasis added.
Did Japan have long term hostile plans for Australia beyond the Japanese Army's plan to force Australia's surrender?
Japan did indeed have long term hostile plans for Australia. Although Dr Stanley suggests that he has read Professor Henry Frei's book Japan's Southward Advance and Australia, he appears to have completely missed Professor Frei's explicit reference to Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo's plan to "throttle Australia into submission" to Japan in 1942 by means of Operation FS*. Professor Frei tells us that Tojo promised lenient treatment for Australia if it surrendered.* An Australian government would have been insane to even think of accepting such an assurance from Tojo after the vile treachery practised by Japan in the Pearl Harbor attack. * See Frei, at page 172.
I personally find it difficult to see how an Australian surrender to Japan in 1942 could assuage Japan's strategic concerns without some form of Japanese occupation that would exclude access to Australia by the United States. Professor Frei tells us in the next chapter that, after Australia's anticipated surrender to Japan in 1942, the Japanese government was in fact planning to incorporate Australia as a puppet state into Japan's compliant political bloc called the New Order in Greater East Asia and its equally compliant economic bloc called The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
The Japanese were indeed coming South in 1942, and they were coming to compel our surrender to Japan. I find it difficult to understand how any rational Australian could fail to appreciate that Australia faced grave danger from Japan throughout 1942, and at least until the Japanese withdrawal from Guadalcanal on 7 February 1943. That danger from Japan included a very real risk of loss of Australia's independence as a free nation.
How then do we approach the following words of Dr Peter Stanley from the Australian War Memorial when he speaks about events of 1942 in his paper "Threat made manifest":
seems to be that Australians want to believe that they were part of a war, that
the war came close; that it mattered..Set against the prosaic reality, the desire
is poignant and rather pathetic".
Dr Stanley's revisionist views in relation to 1942 are apparently fully supported by the Director of the Australian War Memorial. On 8 Novenber 2005, Major General Gower said to me:
"Dr Stanley has legitimate
arguments in my opinion".
I am forced to conclude that denial of the grave threat to Australia from Japan throughout 1942 on the part of Dr Stanley and Major General Gower indicates that they do not have a sound understanding of the very dangerous strategic situation facing Australia during that year.
It is useful to end this brief account of the grave danger faced by Australia from Japan throughout 1942 with the words of the internationally respected Pacific War historian, Professor David Horner:
"The Allied successes on the Kokoda Track, at Milne Bay, and on Guadalcanal ensured the security of Australia...during 1942 Australia was in great peril. The Allied policy of 'Beat Hitler First' meant that Australia faced the prospect of a Japanese invasion with only limited support from the United States." From "Defending Australia in 1942" by Dr David Horner, Professor of Australian Defence History, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University. Defending Australia in 1942 was published in the journal "War & Society", Department of History of The University of New South Wales (issue May 1993). The emphasis has been added