DEFENCE OF AUSTRALIA
DURING WWII

 

At a War Cabinet meeting on 3 September 1941, it was noted that the following organisation was recommended by the Defence Committee for the preparation of joint operational plans by the Australian Army, Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force to meet possible forms of attack on Australia:-

1. For the Defence of Australia as a whole:-
The Chiefs of Staff Committee, initial planning for which is carried out by the Joint Planning Committee

2. For the Defence of Commands:-
Command Planning Committees to be set up in each Army Command, comprising the General Officer Commanding the Command, the Air Officer Commanding the Area, and the local Naval Authority concerned. A representative of the State Civil Defence authorities may be co-opted.

3. For the Defence of Coastal Areas:-
Local Defence Co-ordinating Committees set up at defended ports and other localities and comprising local Commanders of the three Services. A representative of the State Civil Defence Authorities may be co-opted

 

The following decisions were given at the War Cabinet meeting of 3 September 1941:-

(a) The machinery to effect co-ordination of planning as set out above and the Directive prepared for the guidance of Committees in the formulation of joint operational plans, were approved, subject to alteration of the title of "Local Defence Co-ordinating Committees" to "Local Defence Committees";

(b) It was directed that joint operational plans for the defence of Australian territory should be completed as soon as possible. The plans are to be reviewed by the Chiefs of Staff and a report submitted to War Cabinet when this has been done;

(c) The Chiefs of Staff are to review the organisation required for the co-ordinated control of Army and Air Force operations for the defence of Australian territory and Naval co-operation in local defence measures and submit a report for consideration by the Cabinet.

 


 

The War Cabinet approved on 11 December 1941, the provision of an additional total Army personnel of 114,000 which would be called up for duty immediately in addition to the total of 132,000 already on full time duty or called out for universal service. The War Cabinet also approved a total of 5,000 Volunteer Defence Corps personnel to be called up for full time duty for airfield defence and the Coast Watching Organisation.

 


 

STRENGTH OF RAAF AIRCRAFT AVAILABLE IN AUSTRALIA AND N.E.I. TO MEET AN ATTACK AS AT 9 DECEMBER 1941

 

1ST LINE AIRCRAFT

WIRRAWAYS

4 Squadron Canberra 12 4 ordered to proceed to TOWNSVILLE
5 Squadron Laverton 12  
12 Squadron Darwin 18  
22 Squadron Richmond 17  
23 Squadron Archerfield 12  
24 Squadron Townsville 12 Ordered to proceed to RABAUL
25 Squadron Pearce 18  
  TOTAL 101  

 

HUDSONS

2 Squadron Darwin 8 Ordered to proceed to KOEPANG
2 Squadron Koepang 4  
6 Squadron Richmond 6  
6 Squadron Laverton 4  
13 Squadron Darwin 6 2 ordered to proceed to LAHA
13 Squadron Laha 6  
14 Squadron Pearce 12  
23 Squadron Archerfield 3  
24 Squadron Rabaul 4  
  TOTAL 53  

 

CATALINAS

11 Squadron Port Moresby 6  
20 Squadron Port Moresby 6  
  TOTAL 12  

 

SEA GULLS

  Rathmines 3  
  Ship Borne 6  
  TOTAL 9  

 

2ND LINE RESERVE SQUADRONS

FAIREY BATTLES

No. 1 B.A.G.S. Evans Head 36 Some subject to armament deficiencies
No. 2 B.A.G.S. Port Pirie 36 Some subject to armament deficiencies
  TOTAL 72  

 

WIRRAWAYS

No. 2 S.F.T.S. Wagga 36 Some subject to armament deficiencies
No. 5 S.F.T.S. Urannquinty 36 Some subject to armament deficiencies
No. 7 S.F.T.S. Deniliquin 36 Some subject to armament deficiencies
  TOTAL 108  

 

ANSONS

G.R. School Laverton 18  

 

UNCLASSIFIED RESERVE

ANSONS

No. 3 S.F.T.S. Amberley 54 Subject to armament deficiencies
No. 4 S.F.T.S. Geraldton 54 Subject to armament deficiencies
  TOTAL 108  

 


 

War Cabinet Minute No. 1579 of 12 December 1941, detailed a decision which was made to retain ammunition that had been manufactured in Australia for export, based on needs for the defence of Australia and wherever possible re-continue exports when possible. It read as follows:-

"That the munitions being made in Australia for export, which are required urgently for the defence of Australia, should be retained in Australia."

 


 

CHIEFS OF STAFF PAPER NO. 1

CHIEFS OF STAFF APPRECIATION - DEFENCE OF
AUSTRALIA AND ADJACENT AREAS - DECEMBER,
1941

 

1.     The War Cabinet has requested the Chiefs of Staff to amplify the measures recommended in their appreciation of December, 1941, with special reference to the defence of :-

(a) The area NEWCASTLE-SYDNEY-KEMBLA-LITHGOW

(b) DARWIN

(c) Islands to the North East of AUSTRALIA

 

AREA NEWCASTLE-SYDNEY-KEMBLA-LITHGOW

2.      This is the most important industrial area in Australia, including the B.H.P. Steel Works and associated companies without which Australia's munitions factories could not continue to operate. It also contains aircraft production factories and many other industrial concerns engaged in the production of munitions. Located in the area are mines producing the great bulk of Australia's coal supply.

3.     SYDNEY, in addition to being the biggest centre of population in AUSTRALIA, is our main Naval base and dockyard. It is also one of the chief links in our chain of sea and air communications.

4.     We consider this area of such importance that its defence, to the limit of our capacity, must not be compromised by detachments which we can not subsequently concentrate.

Having this in view, we have given the highest degree of priority to the forces allotted to the defence of the vital area and to those designated for its reinforcement.

 

DARWIN

5.     DARWIN is our only main fleet operating base for the allied Naval forces at the Eastern end of the Malay Barrier and contains some 100,000 tons of Naval oil fuel. It is an important air-force station and the main centre for sea and air communication on the line N.E.I., MALAYA and MIDDLE EAST.

6.     Replacement of land and air forces despatched to N.E.I. is now being effected.

Further Army reinforcements are available in Southern Australia to be moved to DARWIN if the need arises.

7.     We wish to emphasis that the anti-aircraft defences of DARWIN are relatively strong in comparison to other parts of Australia. Some increase is desirable, but can only be achieved at the expense of the vital area in New South Wales.

ISLANDS TO THE NORTH EAST OF AUSTRALIA

8.     The establishment by the enemy of an operational base in the islands to the North East of Australia will enable him to bring a greater scale of attack against our Coastal and Overseas trade, particularly that routed via the Pacific. It will also facilitate any subsequent operations against the mainland of Australia and deny us as essential link in our proposed chain of air bases across the Pacific.

            The Chief areas in question are:-

                (a) MORESBY

                (b) RABAUL

                (c) NEW CALEDONIA

                (d) SUVA

Although SUVA lies within New Zealand sphere of operations, it is so closely related to our defensive position to the Eastward that we consider it necessary to include reference to it in this paper.

MORESBY

9.     MORESBY is an important naval and air station for the control of TORRES STRAITS, and for operations in the CORAL SEA. Its retention is also essential for the extension of our seaward reconnaissance to the North East. Should WAKE ISLAND continue to be held by U.S.A., it is an important link in the chain of air communication with the U.S.A.

10.     It at present as small stocks of Naval fuel oil and air force petrol and is protected by a small garrison of one battalion, two coast defence and four anti-aircraft guns. An additional four anti-aircraft guns are at present in transit.

11.     To meet the scale of attack which could be brought against it, we consider that the garrison of MORESBY should be increased to one Brigade Group and that the air forces should be reinforced to the full capacity of operational aerodromes available on threat of attack.

The Naval and Air Forces available should enable us to maintain the garrison.

RABAUL

12.     The existing garrison was despatched to RABAUL to protect the air operational base. In recent months a joint U.S.-Australian project has been agreed to for the expansion of the defences of RABAUL to make it suitable for use as a fleet base for British and American Naval forces. This project has, however, not been implemented by U.S.A. and we are now advised that it is most likely that it will be proceeded with in the near future.

The function of the garrison accordingly remains teh same as when the troops were despatched to RABAUL, viz. protection of the base.

13.     There are now three courses of action open to us:-

(a) To reinforce the garrison to meet the scale of attack likely to be directed against RABAUL.

(b) To withdraw the garrison and abandon RABAUL.

(c) To retain the existing garrison.

We do not consider reinforcement is possible in view of the very great hazard and difficulties which would be experienced in transporting reinforcements from the Mainland to RABAUL and in maintaining the increased force at that place. With our limited resources, we are bound to concentrate on tasks of a higher priority.

14.     Dealing with courses (b) and (c), we consider it essential to maintain an advanced observation line to give the earliest possible indication of enemy movement to the south. We must therefore rule out any question of withdrawal. The problem of safe sea passage for the garrison and remaining civil population is no less acute than that considered in paragraph 13 above in dealing with reinforcing the garrison. It must also be borne in mind the psychological effect which a voluntary withdrawal would have on the minds of the Dutch in N.E.I.

15.     We therefore recommend that the existing garrison be retained at RABAUL. In making this recommendation we desire to emphasise the fact that the scale of attack which can be brought against RABAUL from bases in the Japanese Mandated Islands is beyond the capacity of the small garrison to meet successfully. Notwithstanding this, we consider it essential to maintain a forward air observation line as long as possible and to make the enemy fight for this line rather than abandon it at the first threat.

16.     The situation will be under constant review and if U.S. cruisers and destroyers from the Asiatic Fleet fall back on DARWIN, which is a possibility, or units from the Pacific Fleet move westward, sufficient Naval forces may become available to reinforce and supply RABAUL.

NEW CALEDONIA

17.     The importance of NEW CALEDONIA is twofold:-

     (a) In the hands of the enemy it would provide him with an operating base from which the scale of attack on our vital coastal shipping and shipping in the Tasman Area would be intensified. Danger from sporadic raiding on the Australian coast would also be increased. This threat would apply equally to New Zealand.

     (b) It becomes a link in the chain of joint United States - Australian air bases when aerodrome construction is completed.

     (c) In the hands of the enemy, it gives him an essential source of Nickel.

     Taking these considerations together, its denial to the enemy is more important than its use by us.

18.     The defence of the island itself is a difficult problem. It is some 300 miles in length and landings on either coast at many places should preset little trouble. While a  force of the order of a brigade group could probably hold the NOUMEA area for a period, it would need a division to prevent occupation of the island by the enemy. This would require to be supported by air forces capable of dealing with strong carrier borne forces which might be brought against the defenders.

19.     We have neither the land or air forces or aerodromes needed for a garrison of this magnitude, nor could we maintain such forces with our present resources.

Moreover our problem of making secure the SYDNEY, DARWIN and MORESBY areas will tax our present resources to the utmost.

20.     We consider that the despatch of any large garrison to NEW CALEDONIA at present can not be contemplated. Arrangements are in hand for No. 3 Independent Company to leave SYDNEY on 16 December to enhance the morale of the Free French Forces and for demolition purposes.

At the same time, we recommend that this matter be kept under review, and that a garrison be equipped and despatched when existing priorities are completed, should the situation not have changed for the worse.

SUVA

21.    The retention of SUVA is of first importance -

(a) To give us an operational base from which to counter a Japanese move to attack our Pacific Sea Communications.

(b) To give United States Naval Forces, if their plans eventually bring them southwards, a base from which to undertake offensive operations to the Northward.

(c) As a link in the air reinforcement route across the Pacific.

22.     Its security has, therefore, a direct bearing on our own defence measures although its defence is primarily a matter for New Zealand. We, therefore, recommend that the New Zealand Government be communicated with in order to ascertain what assistance Australia can five in augmenting the defence measures of SUVA.

LIAISON WITH UNITED STATES FORCES.

23.     We desire to bring to notice the difficulties under which we are now working in respect of combined plans, owing to the almost complete lack of information either as to the present location or the intentions of the United States Forces.

SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS

24.

(a) The area NEWCASTLE - SYDNEY - KEMBLA - LITHGOW is vital to Australia, resources should be concentrated for its defence.

(b) DARWIN is our main fleet operating base at the eastern end of the Malay barrier.

(c) Additional anti-aircraft defences for DARWIN can only be provided at the expense of the vital area in New South Wales.

(d) Possession by the enemy of islands to the north coast of Australia would enable him to bring an increased scale of attack against our seaborne trade and provide bases for further operations against the mainland.

(e) That reinforcement of existing garrison at RABAUL is not possible with our present resources, although the scale of attack likely is in excess of the capacity of the garrison to withstand successfully.

(f) That the denial to the enemy of NEW CALEDONIA is desirable, but that its adequate defence is, for the present, beyond our resources.

RECOMMENDATIONS

25.

(a) The Military Garrison at Moresby should be increased to one Brigade Group. The air forces to be reinforced to the capacity of the operational aerodrome on threat of attack.

(b) That the question of the reinforcement of Rabaul should be constantly reviewed in the light of the naval situation.

(c) That the question of the defence of New Caledonia be kept under review so that when existing priorities are completed a garrison should be sent there if the situation has not changed for the worse.

(d) That the retention of Suva as a fleet base is of first importance and that the New Zealand Government should be communicated with to ascertain whether we can assist them in strengthening the defences.

(e) That we should inform United States Service Authorities of our intentions and the planned disposition of our forces and ask for reciprocal treatment in order that we can correlate our strategic plan in the Pacific.

DISPOSITIONS

26.     The proposed Naval, Military and Air dispositions are shown on the attached maps.

 

(Sgd.)  C.S. Burnett

...............................
Chief of the Air Staff

 

(Sgd.) V.A.H. Sturdee

.................................
Chief of the General Staff

 

(Sgd.) G.C.C. Royle

...............................
Chief of the Naval Staff

 

15th December, 1941

 

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