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December 21st 2017 print

Jonathan Huston

Time to Dismantle the Curtin Myth

Lionised by Labor and the left -- most recently by Paul Keating in a typically intemperate attack on Sir Robert Menzies -- John Curtin's conduct of the war has for far too long been spared close examination. A dispassionate look reveals a pliable leader who fell well short of the ideal

curtin macarthurIn late May, 1944, the Dominion prime ministers gather in London to discuss imperial strategy and post-war order. Churchill, the host is gracious, yet commanding, knowing full well that his reserve of wits must be tuned more to the needs of Roosevelt, Stalin even De Gaulle, than prime ministers William Mackenzie-King, John Curtin or Jan Smuts.

This was to be Curtin’s first and only visit to London during his prime ministership. Of a different political ilk and style than the imperious British Leader, Curtin was not at ease in the company of Churchill or with the sophisticated national war machinery that he had built. As was his way, Churchill invited Curtin to Chequers, ostensibly to meet his daughters, but also to privately discuss imperial defence – especially war strategy in the Pacific, where Churchill feared Australia had fallen too far into the American orbit.

Churchill’s attention must have been distracted. Only days before, in the company of the allied commanders, Montgomery had presented his Continental invasion and break-out plan for Overlord. Just as concerning were signals intelligence intercepts and photographic intelligence pointing to the re-commencement of a Nazi rocket campaign, bringing back the horror of the Blitz and the threat posed to docks heavily laden with embarked troops and supplies. All the same, Churchill greeted his Australian counterpart into his family home. Accompanying Churchill was the unsung architect of the Allied strategy – a strategy that would lead to victory. Field Marshal Alan Francis Brooke — Viscount Alanbrooke — was a regular soldier turned grand strategist, and he was well aware of the outstanding reputation the AIF had developed in North Africa. He had been told so by Montgomery, who he had long mentored and sponsored to lead the 8th Army. Likewise accompanying Curtin was General Thomas Blamey – Alanbrooke’s opposite number and Commander of Australian Forces – albeit more in name than authority, as Curtin and his cabinet had assigned effective command of all Australian forces to General Douglas Macarthur.

Alanbrooke and Churchill had an extremely close yet tense relationship. Meeting on a daily basis, often till early in the morning, Churchill was the frustrated Generalissimo, often confusing the reach of his political responsibilities. Alanbrooke was measured, exact and kept his leader’s exuberance in check. Curtin, so often touted for his war leadership, preferred a distant relationship with his senior military officer. This was especially strange given the dire threat to Australia which existed from 1942 till early 1943. Blamey was kept at a distance by his prime minister, even to the extent that Curtin instructed Blamey not to directly correspond with him. Given the need for close civil military relations one wonders how Curtin kept himself abreast of the complexity of the grand struggle?

In August, 1942, during the height of the Kokoda crisis, Curtin instructed Blamey to correspond with him in only “special cases … at the same time forwarding a copy direct to the Minister for the Army. This method is only to be used in exceptional cases.”1 How extraordinary is it that an Australian PM should issue such a dictate to his commander in chief at a time of national crisis? What did this say about the senior management of war strategy in Australia?

In late 1941 Curtin was elected Prime Minister by way of a no-confidence motion. Soon after taking office he was faced with the Japanese attack and the direct threat to the Australian mainland. On February 10, 1942, five days before Singapore fell, Curtin declared to the nation ‘a complete charter for a total war effort in Australia’. This was the clarion call for the mobilisation of the nation’s physical, economic and human resources.

Back in London in mid-1944, what a difference fifteen months would make! With the Japanese defeated in New Guinea by mid-1943 and the direct threat to Australia now remote, Curtin was delivering a very different message to Churchill. At Chequers, Churchill was keen to understand how a re-awakened and now secure Australia could further contribute to the Allied war effort. Churchill was to be very disappointed by his dominion opposite number. In Churchill’s study Curtin reiterated his letter to Churchill of September, 1943, when he advised his government had

considered whether it should sanction a further regimentation of the civilian economy in order to make available additional manpower. This would necessitate the imposition of such drastic measures as to involve in Australia a higher degree of regimentation than exists in any democratic country. In view of this and in having regard to the effect on morale and the war effort itself, the government (of Australia) has rejected this course.3

Given the short time, the turnaround in Curtin’s position is bewildering if it taken to reflect more than his singular view of the conflict. One can only surmise that the improved security outlook for Australia had led Curtin to gradually opt out of the wider struggle. Britain, by comparison, was an armed camp. Civil liberties were restricted, evacuated children were still living in the countryside, food and fuel rationing remained severe. In Normandy in ten days’ time Churchill was faced with the certain death of thousands of his countrymen, plus thousands more American, Canadians and other allies. Yet here was the Australian Prime Minister seeming to back out of the conflict. Blamey protested to Curtin that Britain had “accepted the conditions of privation and stepped up production in order to preserve their striking power, for they appreciate that by this method, and this method alone can the enemy finally be brought to its knees.”4 Curtin and his cabinet were  unmoved.

Blamey had to bear the brunt of Curtin’s desire to back out of the conflict. While the Allies built up for the assault on the Axis, the Australian Army had been shrinking since mid-1943. Despite Blamey’s demands to replace losses and discharges, the cabinet under Curtin had been demobilising while simultaneously demanding Blamey do more with less. Curtin had informed Blamey that he would be reducing the overall size of the forces and the monthly intake.When he assumed the prime ministership, Curtin inherited an Army of twelve divisions; by September, 1944, only eight remained. By 1945 only six remained. Similarly, Curtin reduced total war expenditure once the immediate threat subsided. In 1942-43 Curtin committed £562m to the war effort; the following year he reduced the war chest to £545m, then to £460m.[5]

The linkage between the downgrading of the commitment and the securing of New Guinea is unmistakable, yet in mid-1943 the wider war was far from won.

At the time, when the allies had not yet landed in Sicily nor the Japanese repulsed in Burma, the Australian government led by Curtin was effectively winding down the war effort. Production of all 25-pounder artillery ceased in late 1943, tank production ended in July, 1943. Aircraft and engine production reached its peak of 1632 units in 1941/42, but it decreased every year thereafter to total only 760 units in 1945.[6] Eight munition factories were closed in September, 1944, having been operational for just 12 months. Munitions Minister Norman Makin was perturbed by the reductions and underlined the dire needs of allied forces in Burma and India.[7] Mountbatten had requested the use of Australian forces in his South East Asian theatre. This request was refused by Curtin long after the direct threat to Australia had evaporated. Similarly, Australia had a fully equipped and trained Armoured Division idle in WA, yet the last incursion into the Indian Ocean by a small Japanese surface flotilla occurred in early 1944.

As a nation we must ask the hard questions as to why Curtin, who is held so high for his wartime leadership, deserves the laurels given his obvious intent to wind down the war effort once the threat to his immediate sphere of influence was reduced. Is this the mettle of alliance warfare? What is the justification for the demobilisation whilst countrymen of other nations were dying in their thousands in order to defeat totalitarianism and ensure the defence of Australian liberty? Moreover, how the reductions could be countenanced while Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen continued to be supplied with British and American weaponry, aircraft and ammunition?

Those who seek to defend the record of Curtin’s war commitment will probably point to the heavy demands placed upon our small population to sustain both a military and industrial infrastructure. It is useful to contrast the Australian and
Canadian war experience to properly judge the performance of the Australian war economy under Curtin. At the outset of war, Canada and Australia each had a very small munitions base. Indeed, the Australian naval ship building capacity was the larger of the two. Canada has a larger population and greater GNP, but the two were comparable. Offsetting this difference in size is the fact that Canada was not directly threatened by invasion, so it could be argued that it had less urgency to imitate Curtin’s rally for a ‘total war effort’.

Some comparisons of war production between the two nations call for a deep revision of Curtin’s ability to meet the urgency of the situation. During the war years, Canada produced 16,400 aircraft, including 1500 Hurricanes, 1000 Mosquitos, 650 Catalinas and 450-plus Lancasters. Australia produced 3500 aircraft of which most were Tiger Moths, Beauforts, Wirraways and Wackett Trainers. Likewise Canadian ship-building development was an industrial miracle. Its ship yards turned out three 10,000-tonne merchant ships per week, 410 in all. In all, 206 corvettes were produced in Canada while Australia managed only 60. The disparity is more pronounced in the production of land-based munitions. During the war, Australia hailed the production of 66 cruiser tanks – that were never fit for action. by contrast, Canadian factories produced 2000 Ram tanks, also cruiser class, along with 815,000 trucks and utility vehicles. The Canadians also built 1420 Valentine tanks, 188 Shermans and 2100 self-propelled guns.[8]

From any standpoint Australian munitions production was paltry when ranged alongside the Canadian effort. Moreover, the Canadians increased their production through to 1945, rather than the scale-down evidenced in Australia from 1943. Indeed, between 1941/42 and 1942/43 (the first full year of Curtin’s term), the Canadian war expenditure doubled, whereas Australia’s effort was diminished. This trend continued such that, despite being on roughly level pegging during Menzies term, the Canadians were outspending Australia three fold by war’s end [9] How can the claim be made that Australia’s economy and society could not be both a fighting and industrial contribution, when the relative gross output was so abysmally low, even when taking into account Canada’s larger economy and population.

Curtin was a Labor leader. Yet given the lifelong bonds he had built with the unions he was unable to prevent a rapid increase in industrial disputes during his term. In the 18 months prior to his election, under the UAP, Australia suffered 592 industrial disputes in the coal industry. Once Curtin was elected, the ensuing 18 months saw this number of disputes nearly double to 10,210. It seems inconceivable that during the dire struggles in New Guinea, from mid-1942 to early 1943, that a Prime Minister with such a union pedigree could not marshal the tools of war – both man and material
to meet the common cause. Curtin imploring waterside workers to load supplies for the troops in New Guinea was not the stuff of Cinetone newsreels. In the end the wharfies returned to work only after he threatened to lift their exemption from wartime service.

Curtin’s failure to fully industrialise the war economy, especially the ship-building industry, had far more negative medium-term implications for Pacific strategy. As time progressed and the Japanese surge faltered, the initiative passed back to the allies. In island warfare, offensive and logistics naval forces provide the platform for tactical and strategic operations. Curtin had failed to anticipate and build such a naval force such that, when the urgency passed, Macarthur was able to bypass the Australian forces and leave them as garrison troops on islands already secured by American units. While a sombre statistic, it is noteworthy that of the 39,000 deaths of Australians in the war less than 1700 Army casualties occurred in the Pacific theatre after Jun 1944.[11] Blamey observed that a “feeling that we are being side-tracked is growing strong throughout the country.”[12] A root cause of the problem was the lack of shipping to support Australian operations. If Australia had developed the means to provide for its own amphibious and logistics operations then it would have had more leverage to dictate the place and tempo of operations and strategic options. To rely on the US Navy to supply and manoeuvre Australian forces was a cardinal error — clearly one we had the capacity to deal with, given the Canadian mobilisation.

Did Australia lack this political will? In his authoritative study of Australia and Allied Strategy, Dr David Horner makes the final judgement on Curtin when he writes “he does not appear to have had any overall strategic view of his own, and once Macarthur arrived, Curtin was content to agree with his views.”[13]Curtin’s seeming indifference to retaining Australia influence over allied strategy and operations was most manifest in his unexplained acceptance of Macarthur’s insistence that no Australian officers be appointed to allied GHQ staff. For decades the British have been ridiculed for their seeming indifference to ANZAC military contributions – some of that venom justified. Yet British headquarters were peppered with Dominion officers: Blamey was deputy commander in chief in the Middle East; Lindsey Conningham, a New Zealander, commanded the Desert Air Force; Donald Bennett, an Australian, led the Pathfinders. How can Curtin justifiably wear the mantle of an Australian nationalist when he bequeathed control of military strategy to a foreign general, without adequate safeguards and checks at the staff level?

Gavin Long in the Official History noted, “The existence of a joint staff is essential if the point of view of each national component is to be fairly represented and its needs satisfied. For instance in 1944 and 1945, when the two armies were operating in widely dispersed areas, the American Army was generously supplied with equipment and, in particular, ships, the First Australian Army was left gravely short of essentials. Under a joint staff this should not happen.” 14

Curtin was in a powerful position to demand a joint staff, as Roosevelt had instructed Macarthur to appoint Australians to “a number of high positions”. Macarthur replied that the Australians did not have enough staff officers for even their own Army. The truth is that Australia had seasoned staff officers with two years’ experience fighting the Germans and Italians on land, sea and air. The real question is why Curtin did not insist that the Roosevelt instructions be  implemented? In that failure, Curtin surrendered Australian strategy and sovereignty to Macarthur, leaving Blamey and the service chiefs stranded.

In the sixty years since the surrender the Curtin legacy has been underwritten by a myth that served a post-war political purpose. The legitimate demand to deny use of the 7Th Division to Rangoon has become ingrained as the single key hole to view Curtin’s performance. It was the right decision by Curtin, but surely a wider prism must now be employed to review Curtin’s ability to mobilise the nation for war and steer national defence strategy. Historian John Robertson wrote “why should a small-town journalist turned politician, who was good a rebuilding a shattered Labour Party, be expected to have expertise in running a war”.[15] This may be true, but all democratic leaders in war are thrust into challenges that tower above that which was expected when they entered office. Far less well publicised is the little-known fact that on not one occasion — not once! — did Curtin visit troops in the field. Never did he seek to appraise himself firsthand about battle conditions or his field commander’s views. Even the crippled Roosevelt visited his troops, as did Churchill many times, often across perilous passages. The presence of a national leader in company with his troops serves to reinforce in the combatant’s minds the popular will in the face of conflict. Blamey advised Curtin to visit the troops in New Guinea, Macarthur advised against it. The latter prevailed.[16]

Appraisals of Curtin’s leadership must finally move beyond the Movietone newsreel. It must be analysed and critiqued in an objective fashion. The British and American historians have maturely analysed the performance of Churchill and Roosevelt and it has not reduced their stature. We, as a nation, seem unwilling to do the same. Curtin is upheld as a great prime minister and, to the Labor side of politics, the greatest. Yet on what basis is that mantle deserved? Surely the measure must be the extent to which Curtin met his own standard of “waging national war” and the balancing of Australian sovereignty within the context of a global struggle. It would seem that, to Curtin, the national struggle was over by mid-1943 and moreover that he was willing to relinquish sovereign authority to a foreign general. Yet in 1943 the
wider war of civilisation and ideals, in which Australia was initially committed, armed and defended, was far from won.

Finally, as Curtin departed Churchill’s study, Alanbrooke listening in the shadows, later penned in his diary “…Curtin is entirely in Macarthur’s pocket.”[17]

Johnathan Huston, a former Army officer, is a Perth businessman

_________________________

1          Letter from Curtin to Forde and Blamey dated 12 August 1942, quoted in Gavin Long “ The Final Campaigns” AWM 1963 p. 593.

2          Gavin Long, “The Six Years War”, AWM 1973 p. 217

3          Letter from Curtin to Churchill, quoted in Gavin Long, “The Six Years War”, AWM         1973 p 398-399.

4          Letter from Blamey to Curtin dated 27 Oct 1944, quoted in Gavin Long “The Final Campaigns”, AWM 1963 p 33.

5          Australian Year Book, No 37, 1946-47.

6          Beaumont, J. “The Australian Centenary History of Defence: Volume VI – Australian Defence: Sources and Statistics”, Oxford University Press, 2001. p 453.

7          Gavin Long “The Six Years War”, AWM 1973. p 317.

8          J.L Granatstein, “ Arming the Nation, Canada’s War Effort 1939-45”, Ottawa, 2005. pp 10-14

9          Comparison of Australian and Canadian Defence Expenditure. Sources: Australian Year Book no 37 1946-47 and ‘The Official History of the Canadian Army: Six Years of War’.

10        Gavin Long, “The Six Years War” , AWM, 1973. See table at p 320.

11        Gavin Long, “The Final Campaigns”, AWM, 1963. p 635.

12        David Horner, “High Command – Australian and Allied Strategy 1939-45”, AWM, 1982, p 384,

13        David Horner, “High Command – Australian and Allied Strategy 1939-45”, AWM,982. pp 440-441.

14        Gavin Long, “ The Final Campaigns”, AWM, 1963. p 598.

15        John Robertson, “Australian War Policy”, Historical Studies Vol 17, No 69, 1977. p 504

16        David Horner, “High Command – Australian and Allied Strategy 1939-45”, AWM, 1982. pp 441-442.

17        Alanbrooke Papers cited in David Horner, “High Command – Australian and Allied Strategy 1939-45”, AWM, 1982. p 321.

 

 

Comments [28]

  1. Keith Kennelly says:

    A wonderful article.

    As Shakespeare said in ‘A Mid-summer’s Night Dream’ “the truth makes all things plain.”

    Australian Labor never supports the Australian Armed Forces. And now nor does the Liberal Party, under Turnbull. He’s another Curtin, with out the drunkenness.

  2. Bran Dee says:

    Maybe due to the Fenian connection Labor has a history of undermining Australian war effort: WW1, WW2, Vietnam.
    To understand unionist sabotage in WW2 read Hal G.P. Colebatch “Australia’s Secret War”.

    • Ian MacDougall says:

      BD:
      Yes, you are probably right. Every Australian, so it is said, has an Irish grandmother. I am no exception.
      A friend of mine, now a medico with a very Irish name, was for reasons of rural isolation in his early childhood, given his primary schooling at home by his Irish grandmother. This was in rural Victoria.
      The education she gave him was as follows:
      1. What bastards the English were in the 16th C.
      2. What bastards the English were in the 17th C.
      3. What bastards the English were in the 18th C.
      4. What bastards the English were in the 19th C.
      5. What bastards the English have been in the 20th C.
      6. What bastards the English still are. AND
      7. What bastards the English will ever be.
      So upon ‘graduating’ from her course, he was ready to strangle the first Englishman he met.
      My own grandmother would never use such ‘language’. She merely referred to them routinely in conversation as “the faelthy, dorty English”, and let it go at that.
      Still, it was not hard to see the parallels between Ireland’s long struggle for independence, and that of the Vietnamese. Eisenhower said in his memoirs that had the US stuck to its agreement made in 1954 in Geneva after the French defeat in their Indochina War, and had held a Vietnam-wide election as agreed, to form the new, independent administration, Ho Chi Minh (the Communist leader) would have got 80% of the vote.
      So naturally, the ‘democrat’ Eisenhower, elected democratically to be the US President, happily sabotaged democracy in Vietnam, on account of that intelligence; which said that democracy in Vietnam would definitely produce the wrong outcome.
      And so, Australian troops went to Vietnam to fight in support of a series of US stooge regimes, one of which (Diem’s) was brought to an end when good old JFK gave the green light for a military coup, in the course of which both Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were done in, Mafia style. Another of the stooges, Nguyen Kao Ky, was a swashbuckler who had flown war planes for the French, targeting the Viet Minh who were fighting French the colonialist forces. He was a bit similar to a notional Australian airman flying planes for the Japanese; helping the Japanese Empire’s campaign to take Australia by attacking say, Darwin in 1942. (I wonder how popular such a man would have been with the Australian post-WW2 population?)
      So the whole antidemocratic American war effort in Vietnam stank to High Heaven, and proved itself for what it was when the last stooge regime finally collapsed.

      • Doubting Thomas says:

        You’re incorrigible, Ian.

        What has any of what you’ve written above got to do with Mr Huston’s essay?

        Could it be you, unable to find an argument to defend the indefensible, kicking up a dust-storm to divert the argument in your typical trollish fashion?

        • Ian MacDougall says:

          DT: “What has any of what you’ve written above got to do with Mr Huston’s essay?”
          Not much. Not much at all.
          It is a response to the comment just above it by ‘Bran Dee’, (BD) or whatever his or her real name is.
          Perhaps in your view such discussion should be no longer permissible?
          BTW: Don’t beat about the bush while talking in riddles. What is the ‘indefensible’ I am in your view attempting in my incorrigibility to incorrigibly defend?

  3. LBLoveday says:

    “under the UAP, Australia suffered 592 industrial disputes in the coal industry. Once Curtin was elected, the ensuing 18 months saw this number of disputes nearly double to 10,210″.
    592 to 10,210 is “nearly double”!

    • en passant says:

      The MacBot found a typo – how brilliant of him. He turns an article on WW2 and Curtin into a diatribe about his Irish ancestry and the Vietnam war – yet failed to mention the role of climate change!

      IanMacB: You PROMISED not to renew your subscription as your wife did not want to spent the money you make from your methane producing cattle. Please keep her word.

  4. speedie says:

    I think you will find that Eisenhower was a Republican.

  5. sabena says:

    This is a timely opinion piece.However there is much more that could have been said.The first is Curtin’s lack of personal courage.In David Horner’s book Supremo a biography of Sir Frederick Shedden,there are 2 examples-the first his Curtin’s refusal to fly to the US and in the US in 1944 notwithstanding the Americans putting planes at his disposal(this reduced the available time for discussions with US officials to no more than courtesy calls).The second is Curtin’s decision to leave the UK a week before D Day because of the likelihood of German air attacks.
    Then there is the case of Curtin’s appeal to the US after Pearl Harbour.For a statement of significance on foreign policy, very little attempt was made to follow the appeal with serious discussions with the US administration, or Roosevelt in particular,a matter which very much concerned Shedden.At the same time Curtin’s failure to control Evatt lead to a rift with the US over the Canberra Pact with New Zealand,which should have been obvious to any seasoned diplomat and which forced Curtin,when he finally met Roosevelt to make an apology.

    • intellek says:

      Thank You Sabena. As a West Australian I have taken advantage of the opportunity to read all the boxes at the Curtin Prime Ministerial Library on the diary notes pertaining to the visit to Washington and London in April – June 1944. I noted that the transcribed ( typed) material mysteriously ceases around the the events you have referred. I think the nature of this journey needs far greater analysis, because as you say some of the behaviours exhibited during it as observed by his Principal Private Secretary need more exposure.

  6. ianl says:

    The following is attributed to Stalin, as so many aphorisms are whether the attribution is accurate or not, and has the ring of authentic Russian black humour applicable to the sort of “history” under siege in this article:

    Stalin is climbing the Politburo ladder and well on his way to the top, although not quite there yet. He is being constantly dragged back by those who argue that: “Lenin wouldn’t do that; Lenin would think this; Lenin etc etc …”

    Stalin eventually loses patience: “How long will we go on listening to a dead man ?”

  7. exuberan says:

    Very little in the article denigrates the root cause of the Pacific War, the nasty little Japanese who by the way never apologised or paid reparations. It appears that we are happy to cast clouds over people like Curtin but not one our major trading partners.

    • intellek says:

      My article is not about the root causes of the Pacific War, thus I did not address these issues. Perhaps at a latter time…

    • whitelaughter says:

      and whose brutality in China mean they were one of the few enemies of the Marxists to not get support from the USA.

      *Had* Japan maintained the strict obedience to the rules of war they showed during both the Russo-Japanese War and WWI, the Yanks would have *helped* them create their ‘co-prosperity sphere’ and probably have brought peace to China. But no, they had to – among other crimes – depopulate Nanking.

  8. Jody says:

    Happy Christmas from Dunedin NZ. Best wishes 2018 to all.

  9. Ian MacDougall says:

    Actually, Jonathan Huston would have done a helluva lot better had he first read David Day’s John Curtin: A Life Harper Perennial, 2006, before launching this shallow diatribe.
    John Curtin, was an Empire Loyalist, as were most of his parliamentary contemporaries. But he saw the looming WW2 in a different way from the ‘conservatives’ he opposed. Menzies, as can only be expected, deferred to Churchill at all times, while Curtin came to defy the man.
    Understandably, Churchill’s priority was to the European theatre of WW2, and the defeat of Hitler. In 1942, with then French Indochina, Singapore and the then Dutch East Indies in Japanese hands, the Japanese threatened Australia, Burma, and beyond that, India, where Britain’s position was not ensured or secure. So Churchill’s priority became the defence of Burma, gateway to India and vital also to the defence of China.
    Then with Germany defeated, so the thinking ran, all Allied forces could be concentrated against Japan: even if the cost of this strategy was Australia falling for a while to the Japanese. Naturally, this perspective split the ‘conservatives’, both in Parliament and beyond.
    Curtin, with all his personal failings, was still a hero in the eyes of mainstream Australia, if not in those of the ‘conservatives’. He was having none of it, and had no illusions as to how the Imperial Japanese would behave in their occupied Australia. So his focus became the Pacific Theatre, and he worked hard to make Australia the Americans’ principal base, particularly after the vulnerability of Pearl Harbour had been revealed.
    Diatribes like Huston’s cannot alter the fact that despite his own ill health, Curtin rose to the occasion, and died a hero in the eyes of mainstream Australians.

    • en passant says:

      Curtin was a weak politician and a failure as a war leader. As described in the QoL review: http://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2017/11/four-years-reporting-war/ As Chester Wilmot reported in ‘Valiant for Truth’

      “Many books have been written about the crisis resulting from the egotistical machinations of MacArthur, the double dealing of Blamey, the weakness of Curtin and the effect of all this on the combat troops fighting for their lives and Australia. McDonald does not waste time rehashing more than the essentials, but he opens a new window on events by focusing on Wilmot’s fight to clear Rowell’s name and have him restored to command. Curtin demurred with the comment that “we can’t afford to sack him [Blamey]”. In today’s terms Blamey was “too big to fail” no matter how bad he was, as the show must go on.”

      As Hal Colebatch also pointed out in his book ‘Australia’s Secret War’, Curtin could not unite the unions to work for country and its military, no matter how dire the danger. He threatened to remove wharfies exemption from military service … Big deal! Yet our resident troll states ‘this shallow diatribe’ without providing a single fact to explain that slur.

      “… all Allied forces could be concentrated against Japan: even if the cost of this strategy was Australia falling for a while to the Japanese.” There was no danger of Australia falling to the Japanese. They might have been able to raid and land some forces (similar to their Aleutian venture), but they could never have occupied Australia, nor advanced down to the fictional ‘Brisbane Line’. So, our Grand Armchair Strategist points our ‘Allied forces could be concentrated against Japan’ – when Jonathan points out the Oz commitment in production and manpower was being reduced by the Curtin Government.

      Ian,
      Time you went back to joining the dots in your playbook.

      Jody,
      Enjoy Dunedin, but do let us know if your MacBot Troll has included any ad homs in his Christmas scribbles.

  10. Ian MacDougall says:

    With 20/20 hindsight, Eyn Pyssant not only self-qualifies brilliantly as the sort of “armchair strategist” he accuses me of being, but also states what some modern historians now believe to be the case. This of course is in continuation of the blue-ribbon standard of hypocrisy we have come to expect from good old Eyn.

    There was no danger of Australia falling to the Japanese. They might have been able to raid and land some forces (similar to their Aleutian venture), but they could never have occupied Australia, nor advanced down to the fictional ‘Brisbane Line’.

    Eyn here demonstrates his perfect 20/20 hindsight, but that was not how Australians, civilian and military, saw the situation after the fall of Singapore in early 1942:

    WAS JAPAN REALLY GOING TO INVADE?

    Historians disagree. Tokyo’s high command considered it but, according to the AWM, [Australian War Museum]“realised that an invasion of the Australian mainland was impossible as early as March 1942.”
    However the attacks continued — so the fear persisted.
    The lack of detailed information on the state of the war and the constant state of high alert helped the spread of rumours.
    “Many believed, wrongly as it turned out, that a plan — the Brisbane Line — existed to abandon the north and west of the continent to the enemy in the event of invasion and only commit to the defence of the most populated areas of south-eastern Australia. There was no such plan,” concludes the AWM.

    Port Moresby, on the south of New Guinea and the aim of Japan as it tried to fight across the Kokoda Track, was seen as a natural jump-off point for an invasion. And the discovery of Pounds and Shillings notes — dubbed “invasion currency” — on Japanese soldiers in New Guinea further spread conviction they were Australia-bound.

    http://www.news.com.au/national/anzac-day/keep-your-pants-on-how-australia-got-ready-for-a-japanese-invasion-in-world-war-two/news-story/7519dff622d139d261fce0ce5508be5b

    Both as a trained soldier (2/770508) long out of the Army Reserve Corps, and as a man who has formally studied quite a bit of history, I have had more than a passing interest in all this.

    If it knows what it is about, neither an army nor its government prepares itself against a potential enemy’s stated intentions: only against his known and/or assumed capabilities. And Curtin’s government must be judged on the intelligence available to it at the time it was making its decisions, not on what afterwards became known.

    The Japanese actually did land reconnaissance parties in Northern Australia. I have this on the word of an old soldier, who told me first hand that he and his mates out on patrol in 1942 had come upon the bloated body of just such a Japanese soldier on the coast of Arnhem Land, possibly a snakebite victim.

    The Dibb Report of 1986 endorsed the obvious and generally-held belief: any invasion of Australia would most likely come “from or through Indonesia.” In 1942, Japan had brought general humiliation to the French, Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial regimes in SE Asia, from which those regimes afterwards never recovered, despite their best efforts in subsequent colonial wars. The illusion of the invincibility of the white European conqueror was busted, well and truly. And Air Marshal David Evans, in his book A Fatal Rivalry (1990) points out that should such an invader ever seek to capture a port in Northern Australia, the supply difficulties would be far greater for the Australian forces seeking to recapture it than they would be for the (likely Indonesian-based) invaders defending it against such recapture.

    The Federal governments of Australia had sided throughout the period before WW2 with the European colonial powers, including the Dutch in the then Dutch East Indies, afterwards Indonesia. Soekarno and his Indonesian Nationalists at first got on rather well with the Japanese, and there was no great love for him in Australia. A Japanese-supported Indonesian invasion of ‘South Irian’ was always possible.

    See also http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/the-citizens-guide-to-war-when-japan-threatened-australia/news-story/0e542f479492d104564d00d963e4c2fb

  11. Ian MacDougall says:

    With 20/20 hindsight, Eyn Pyssant not only self-qualifies brilliantly as the sort of “armchair strategist” he accuses me of being, but also states what some modern historians now believe to be the case. This of course is in continuation of the blue-ribbon standard of hypocrisy we have come to expect from good old Eyn.

    There was no danger of Australia falling to the Japanese. They might have been able to raid and land some forces (similar to their Aleutian venture), but they could never have occupied Australia, nor advanced down to the fictional ‘Brisbane Line’.

    Eyn here demonstrates his perfect 20/20 hindsight, but that was not how Australians, civilian and military, saw the situation after the fall of Singapore in early 1942:

    WAS JAPAN REALLY GOING TO INVADE?

    Historians disagree. Tokyo’s high command considered it but, according to the AWM, [Australian War Museum]“realised that an invasion of the Australian mainland was impossible as early as March 1942.”
    However the attacks continued — so the fear persisted.
    The lack of detailed information on the state of the war and the constant state of high alert helped the spread of rumours.
    “Many believed, wrongly as it turned out, that a plan — the Brisbane Line — existed to abandon the north and west of the continent to the enemy in the event of invasion and only commit to the defence of the most populated areas of south-eastern Australia. There was no such plan,” concludes the AWM.

    Port Moresby, on the south of New Guinea and the aim of Japan as it tried to fight across the Kokoda Track, was seen as a natural jump-off point for an invasion. And the discovery of Pounds and Shillings notes — dubbed “invasion currency” — on Japanese soldiers in New Guinea further spread conviction they were Australia-bound.

    Both as a trained soldier (2/770508) long out of the Army Reserve Corps, and as a man who has formally studied quite a bit of history, I have had more than a passing interest in all this.

    If it knows what it is about, neither an army nor its government prepares itself against a potential enemy’s stated intentions: only against his known and/or assumed capabilities. And Curtin’s government must be judged on the intelligence available to it at the time it was making its decisions, not on what afterwards became known.

    The Japanese actually did land reconnaissance parties in Northern Australia. I have this on the word of a very astute old soldier, who told me first hand that he and his mates out on patrol in 1942 had come upon the bloated body of just such a Japanese soldier on the coast of Arnhem Land, possibly a snakebite victim.

    The Dibb Report of 1986 endorsed the obvious and generally-held belief: any invasion of Australia would most likely come “from or through Indonesia.” In 1942, Japan had brought general humiliation to the French, Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial regimes in SE Asia, from which those regimes afterwards never recovered, despite their best efforts in subsequent colonial wars. The illusion of the invincibility of the white European conqueror was busted, well and truly. And Air Marshal David Evans, in his book A Fatal Rivalry (1990) points out that should such an invader ever seek to capture a port in Northern Australia, the supply difficulties would be far greater for the Australian forces seeking to recapture it than they would be for the (likely Indonesian-based) invaders defending it against such recapture.

    The Federal governments of Australia had sided throughout the period before WW2 with the European colonial powers, including the Dutch in the then Dutch East Indies, afterwards Indonesia. Soekarno and his Indonesian Nationalists at first got on rather well with the Japanese, and there was no great love for him in Australia. A Japanese-supported Indonesian invasion of ‘South Irian’

    Links next.

  12. Ian MacDougall says:

    was always a possibility.

  13. en passant says:

    I must defer to the “Both as a trained soldier (2/770508) long out of the Army Reserve Corps, [NO SUCH ORGANISATION EVER EXISTED. WHAT WAS THE CORRECT NAME OR DID YOU NEVER KNOW?] and as a man who has formally studied quite a bit of history, I have had more than a passing interest in all this.”

    Of course, I could not know nearly as much as the all-knowing Guru having only:
    1. Served in the Army for 20+ years and achieved a senior officer rank.
    2. Graduated from the elite Army Staff College where (among other things) we studied strategy in WW2
    3. Been detached to and served in PNG as a member of the PNGDF for 4-years (and visited and studied many of the battlefields first hand)
    4. Traversed the Kokoda Track (to understand what the soldiers went through)
    5. Continued to write military history articles for FIVE magazines (eight articles published this year – so far)
    6. Studied Horner’s ‘Crisis in Command’ about the machinations of senior officers and the weakness of Oz political leadership
    7. Having read and reviewed the book ‘Curtin’s Cowboys’ (the antecedent of NorForce)
    8. – 100 etc

    But then, unlike Ian MacBot (the random word generator who cannot even copy accurately ‘En Passant’) I do not have the benefit of a mentor like the Archangel Gabriel’s voices in his head or insights of his the methane producing cattle from his back paddock that inform him. You are right, we are not in the same league on this subject.

    And your next ad hominen in reply is … as you have no credibility in this unequal exchange.
    PLEASE KEEP YOUR WORD AND NOT RENEW YOUR SUBSCRIPTION – OR WAS THAT JUST ANOTHER ‘MISSPOKEN RANDOM STATEMENT’ DESIGNED TO MISLEAD BY GIVING US HOPE?

  14. Ian MacDougall says:

    Actually, I am rather tempted by Eyn Pyssant’s* above rant and general spray to renew; if only to prevent this site from becoming an echo chamber. (Valued contributors like Eyn can always just use their scroll down key, if they can find it under the froth, spume and foam.)
    Note that nowhere in my post above does he point to something I have written that is actually wrong.

    (*Not to be confused with ein pissant; rough equivalents in German.)

    • en passant says:

      Jody,
      Is the MacBot Troll being uncivilised in his discourse?

      Renew? No, Ian you are a man of your word (many, many words actually) you will not renew. It will save me a lot of time correcting ARES, part-time expert corporal(?)

      “A Japanese-supported Indonesian invasion of ‘South Irian’” Really? A fantasy – and MacArthur and Blamey (and therefore Curtin) knew it. That is why “While the Allies built up for the assault on the Axis, the Australian Army had been shrinking since mid-1943.”
      Once MacArthur came to Oz and US troops began arriving there was NO CHANCE of any further Japanese advances. Their final throws were to capture PNG (particularly Port Moresby) and Guadalcanal. When both operations failed they had to switch to strategic defence to hold what they had.

  15. Ian MacDougall says:

    My interest, after reading Dibb and Evans (above) is more in future Indonesian capabilities and possibilities than past Japanese ones. But all historical speculation is in counterfactual territory, and James Bond’s advice applies. Never say ‘never’, lest you be caught one day by surprise.
    Also, my guess is that in his military career Eyn Pyssant (probably how Chaucer would have spelt his chosen moniker) made it to colonel:

    Renew? No, Ian you are a man of your word (many, many words actually) you will not renew. It will save me a lot of time correcting ARES, part-time expert corporal(?)

    Trouble is, Colonel Pyssant’s openly displayed contempt for me cannot be easily confined. By him. He also clumsily extends it here to the rank of corporal. (BTW I must thank him at some future opportunity for the promotion.) And I would guess that his contempt for any rank below his (former) own would be matched by an obsequiousness and grovelling servility to those ranked superior to him, and to whose number he might hopefully one day add himself. A bit like his attitude to the “Cameroon Academy of Science” (snuffle, smirk)…”
    See https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2016/11/climate-crack-marrakech/#comment-20369

    Churchill noticed that this trait was common among the Germans, and from memory he said of them that they were either “at your throat, or at your feet.”
    Well Colonel Pyssant can be usually found around here having a go for my throat: that leg of the double is in.
    Meanwhile (now civilian if not civil) Eyn Pyssant lives happily amongst the people through whose land he once practiced ‘search and destroy’. He no doubt fought as hard as he needed to against their dangerous peasant army. But then, lo and behold: after the collapse of the American-Australian-South Korean campaign, and its political aftermath, he settled down those same former enemies them like a Norman knight amongst the Britons after 1066. And now he is happily living the life of a Lord Muck.
    “I say Ponsonby, these coolies hereabouts will work their guts out for you for damn near nothing at all…! Pass the whisky, there’s a good chap; and while you’re at it, have another swig of gin for yourself… God, this caviar’s good. I will say this for the Wussians: they are the only blighters on Earth who know how to make it!”
    He cannot abide Australia. Amongst other issues, acceptance of the science on AGW is too strong for him here…
    Ah well. Our loss is Vietnam’s gain.

    • en passant says:

      Private Ian,
      Is there no limit to the depths to which you will sink in your dark dystopian fantasies?

      Like you, I started as a private, but unlike you I did indeed rise to the rank of Colonel, whereas your talents retained you as a Private. Yes, unlike the squattocracy gentleman farmer, landowner capitalist kulak that you are, I rose from working parents on the bottom rung to the level I achieved through merit (before going on to being CEO of a middle-ranked company and forming my own businesses). No, I did not come from the ‘upper’, or even the ‘middle class’ so once more your defamatory remark that “I would guess that his contempt for any rank below his (former) own would be matched by an obsequiousness and grovelling servility to those ranked superior to him, and to whose number he might hopefully one day add himself.” A cowardly defamation without basis, just as was your comment that I was a racist (despite being married for 43 years to a wonderful Asian lady). How is your own marriage holding up, or are your idiocies too much for any one, two or three wives? Do let us all know (but I know you won’t).

      I wrote in a family biography about my time in Viet Nam “I felt no remorse for the enemy dead or wounded, but I felt no hatred either. I admired the infantry soldiers I was with, but it also gave me a very negative view of my fellow armchair warriors who strategized on how to fight the war in the bars of Vung Tau, but never volunteered for field operations.” Sounds like I knew you even then. Of course, doing one’s duty, military professionalism and volunteering for field assignments is not something that ‘… as a [semi] trained soldier (2/770508) long out of the Army Reserve Corps’ could comprehend. Yet you feel you have the right to criticise, slander, defame and fabricate lies about others with characters so superior to you (intellectually, educationally and as decent human beings) that it rates you as one of the most despicable trolls I have come across.

      Next time you call me a racist or insult my family, please include your address as it is time to take you more seriously. I treat the Vietnamese with dignity and respect because I like and admire them. I always have. They have already risen from nowhere to become the 20th largest economy in the world while Oz sinks into an economic Green Black Hole by choice.

      Oz is choosing to fail.

      Here is an extract from another recently published article of mine:
      “The Vietnamese Government has asked me what they can do to encourage me to reopen my company in Viet Nam. By comparison Oz has become a nightmare in which to be an entrepreneur. After my most recent 2-year bureaucratic nightmare I will NEVER! invest in another Australian business again.
      We eat out a lot in Viet Nam. The quality of service can be patchy (mainly through misunderstandings), but the willingness to help and the cheerful smiles as you are served are genuine and a pleasure to experience. The people are exuberant, positive, confident, ‘unified’, polite and universally pleasant. They believe in their country and its future, something I find has rubbed off on me. I believe in them too and that they will succeed. I am willing to help them do so”.

      As you say “He cannot abide Australia. Amongst other issues, acceptance of the science on AGW is too strong for him here …
      Ah well. Our loss is Vietnam’s gain.”

      Amen to that, but can you tell us the ideal concentration of CO2 and the ideal average global temperature you seek – and what difference the destruction of Oz will make to the world? Of course not, as you have no idea why you want to destroy the Oz economy and culture.

      I note Keith K. has diverted potential profits from productive investment into buying a polluting diesel generator to meet the inevitable blackouts that would destroy his business. Keith, let me know when you want to move here.
      Another extract:
      “Could we live just as well in Australia? Almost, but not quite as the cost of living differential would limit some activities. My electricity bill in Melbourne was $800 for the 2016 winter quarter (and would no doubt have topped $1,000 in 2017). Here it is $180 for the same period, yet we are all-electric and run three air conditioners constantly. At night we light the place up like Luna Park for the ships to navigate by. Did I mention that my cheap electricity is because the Vietnamese built the world’s 11th largest coal-fired power station in Ba Ria so power is cheap and reliable. The Power Station is being extended …” They know what is the right thing to do by their people.

      You cannot be ignored Ian, because you never sleep, never give up, never admit error and never stop commenting to the only captive audience who cannot avoid you. This is why you will break your solemn promise and re-subscribe. You need us as the nearest people to ‘friends’ you will ever have. If only god was as righteous as you.

      You insult, you denigrate, but you never answer any of the key questions put to you. When you are shown to be plain wrong (as per the threat to Oz in 1942-43), or about my alleged racism, or your deficient military knowledge as a semi-trained inexperienced Private soldier, compared to mine, you simply ignore your error, double down and make up an insulting ancestry for me rather than deal with the facts. You are a despicable example of what passes for a human troll. You are immune to mockery, facts or reality, so what value you actually have to society is debateable.

      Begone, thou vile creature of the Dark Side!

      Jody,
      Please adjudicate on the ejaculations of your friend Macdougall constitute being insulting and slanderous or not?

      Ian,
      Apologies, but I could find no trace of your Service Record.

      “The number 2/770508 is an NS number from the pre-1960 scheme for 90-day enlistments.
      There is a privately raised NS Nominal Roll, but there is no Ian MacDougall listed. http://www.nashonomroll.org/f_nominalroll2.asp

      Please enlighten us with details of your service to your country in the military you despise and denigrate for carrying out their duty.