Defence Committee Minute 234/1945

Extracts CANBERRA, 19 June 1945




By Minute No. 152/1945 [2] the Defence Committee decided it would be desirable to give preliminary Joint Service consideration to the question of the balanced post war defence forces that should be maintained by Australia …

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2. The Defence Committee considered that it would now be possible to formulate advice with regard to the nature and functions of the Australian forces to be maintained post war, but that the question of the strength and organisation of the forces cannot be resolved until the Government has given some indication of the annual expenditure which is likely to be allowed for defence in the post war budget.

3. In pursuance of the foregoing paragraph, the Joint Planning Committee were instructed to report to the Defence Committee accordingly. The report of the Joint Planning Committee now having been examined, the Defence Committee report on the Nature and Functions of the Post War Defence Forces is attached as Appendix ‘A’ to this Minute.


Limitations of Forces contemplated:

4. The Defence Committee wish to lay stress upon the fact that Australia’s economy will preclude the provision of forces necessary to her security. It is essential, therefore, to co- operate fully in an Imperial Defence Policy and to give the fullest support to any system of collective security.

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Attachment (extracts)


Nature and Functions of Post War Defence Forces in Australia

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Major Lessons:

11. (a) Experience has shown quite conclusively that, because of the heavy and vital commitments elsewhere, it was not possible for the Imperial force to protect adequately British possessions and interests in the Pacific and SE Asia Areas. There is no certain guarantee that history may not repeat itself in this regard in a future war.

(b) Despite pre-war theories to the contrary, a sufficiently powerful enemy may secure the necessary superiority of forces in areas close to Northern Australia and may establish overseas bases within striking distance of our coast, for forces of all arms capable of operating therefrom.

(c) Because of commitments in other theatres, Empire or Allied assistance may not be available for some considerable time for the defence of Australia.

(d) The establishment of a British or Allied base or bases at Singapore, in the Indies or elsewhere in the Western or SW Pacific cannot, of itself, relieve Australia of the responsibility of providing for its own local defence, or preclude the possibility of invasion of her territories. Prior to 1942, the possibility of enemy invasion was not a contingency to be provided against in the formulation of defence policy. The course of this war has shown quite conclusively that this policy was unsound and that security against successful invasion is a major consideration in future defence policy.

(e) Aircraft can operate as an independent arm and cooperate with sea and land forces. It follows that not only should fleets and armies be fashioned to assist the fullest development of air power, but that air power should assist in every possible way in enhancing the power of the other two Services. Unless this is done, there can be no true combination of forces and, therefore, no unity of offensive and defensive action. The operations of amphibious warfare, requiring a balanced contribution from all three Services, are highly important in modern warfare for they lead to victory. The Navy may control the seaways; the Air Force may batter the enemy; but only the ground troops can occupy the enemy’s territory and by so doing, inflict ultimate defeat. In an overseas expedition, such forces as are necessary to enable us to operate from secure bases, whilst providing a means of offensive action finally to overcome the enemy’s means of resistance, must be organised and disposed for coordinated action in accordance with the task. Ground troops cannot do this without being taken in ships and without being supported by the Air Force. Whether this air support is provided by mobile sea aerodromes (carriers) which overcome the limits of range and endurance set upon aircraft or whether it can be provided by shore air bases within range, is immaterial. The outstanding lesson of modern warfare is the importance of maintaining and coordinating all arms to a single plan.

(f) Imperial co-operation is the basis of Imperial strategy. Past Imperial conferences have accepted the principle that each part of the Empire was to provide for its own local defence to its own maximum capacity as well as being prepared to contribute to a balanced Empire pool of resources for the successful prosecution of an Empire war. Both this war and the last have proved this cardinal principle to be sound.

(g) The pre-war system of training of the Australian forces and the process of mobilisation of personnel and material resources were inadequate to defend Australia in the event of sudden attack by considerable forces. A system of universal service, therefore, is essential to build up an adequate trained reserve which can be mobilised by all three Services and employed in the minimum time.

(h) The machinery for direction, control and mobilisation of the national effort, including the armed forces, was inadequate for total war at short notice and unless such machinery is brought into existence and the forces required are trained, equipped and capable of mobilisation in a limited period of time, together with the necessary reserves, the outcome of the next war may well be disastrous from the early stages. As war is the final act of policy, when all peaceful means of securing the nation’s vital interests fail, it follows that policy, strategy and condition of the armed strength must be related one to the other. A country which is not prepared for war may be defeated in detail before its armed forces and resources can be mobilised.

(i) In accordance with pre-war doctrine, the Australian Army has undertaken responsibility for providing many administrative services for the R.A.A.F., and to a lesser extent, the Navy.

Fundamentally, this conception was based on the assumption that the forces, particularly Army and R.A.A.F., would be operating in the same area. The conduct of operations often requires action by air forces from areas in which there is not sufficient army administrative service to cope with the work involved, e.g. the shipping, transportation and handling of quantities of supplies, ammunition, fuel and stores of all natures. It is suggested that it may be desirable to establish a service to control, direct and supply the means of transportation along lines of communications from the main base to the forward points where the fighting Service itself takes over for distribution. Such an executive Service could take over shipping, rail and air transportation, dock operating and labour, hirings, postal and medical services, canteens organised on lines of N.A.A.F.I., Red Cross and Comforts Fund activities and Amenities Services.

(j) It is essential, not only to have a balanced co-ordination of civil resources, but Australia must possess in peace the necessary basic industries upon which naval, military and air power are based.

(k) It is necessary that the conduct of operations should be jointly coordinated in planning and execution by the Services participating. This implies in the first place unified operational and administrative control of each Service and coordinated control of all three Services. It also envisages the location, together as far as practicable, of headquarters of Commanders and Staffs of the three Services. For combined operations, a joint planning staff will be necessary.

(l) There is need for continuity in defence policy. Co-ordination and direction of resources and national mobilisation of such matters as manpower, materials and transportation will apply in any future war, and, therefore, plans should be prepared in peace.

(m) (i) The present war has shown that Australia’s strategical position and resources make it likely that the Commonwealth will, in any future war in the Pacific, be an important base for operations. Whether Australia becomes a base for Empire forces, Allied forces, or forces acting under the Military Council of a Collective Security organisation, the development of a capacity to base, service and repair these forces is an essential and its security vital. Furthermore, although Britain, the main base of the Empire, has managed to maintain her industries in this war, it is obvious that their being so close to other countries makes the risk of their being destroyed so great that it is imperative that civil production, from which are derived the key defence industries such as shipbuilding, aircraft production, production of arms and munitions, clothing, food, etc., shall be developed in Empire countries more remote from foreign air bases. Australia is particularly well suited for this purpose.

(ii) Moreover, although it may be somewhat visionary, nevertheless it is deserving of consideration as to whether a country such as Great Britain could not be subjected in a future war, at short or without notice, to such concentrations of attack by diabolical forms of destruction, such as electronic developments, bombs and rockets, coupled with gas and bacteriological warfare (including crop destruction) as to cripple its war potential from the outset.

(iii) It is therefore desirable that while we must maintain our basic defence industries, we should do so in accordance with an Empire plan for the strategic deployment of such activities as shipbuilding, supply and munitions production and aircraft manufacture. Governmental agreements should be reached on these aspects.


Defence Weaknesses:

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13. The facts must be accepted that the defence of the Australasian area is beyond the capacity of Australia and New Zealand unaided and that defence co-operation with the United Kingdom and United States of America is essential. Furthermore, Australia must fully participate in a World Organisation for Collective Security and the basis of our own defence strategy must be the maintenance of highly mobile offensive Naval, Army and Air Forces equipped for extended operations over long distances and with adequately protected bases in and to the north of Australia.

14. One of the dangers against which Australia with a limited defence potential must safeguard herself, is that of being unprepared to mobilise her full defence resources at short notice.

As it will not be possible to maintain large permanent forces, the only alternative is the re-introduction of compulsory training for all three Services, to enable the maintenance of an adequate basic war organisation and the reserves necessary to complete this organisation on mobilisation.


15. The particular dangers to which Australia is exposed are therefore- (a) Interruption of sea communications.

(b) Sporadic raids.

(c) Invasion.

Basis of Defence:

16. Defence against the particular dangers mentioned above should be undertaken as follows:-

(a) Interruption of Sea Communications Although this can only be prevented by a powerful Empire (or allied) Fleet superior to that of any possible enemy in the Pacific, with suitable defended bases from which to operate, Australia’s share must be- (i) Provision of Naval forces, including ship-borne air craft.

(ii) Provision of adequate R.A.A.F. reconnaissance and striking squadrons.

(iii) Development and defence of operational bases.

(b) Sporadic Raids Against such attacks, which may be carried out on our shipping routes or our military and economic objectives on the mainland or island mandates, control of sea communications exercised by naval (including carriers) and air forces is the primary safeguard. In addition, it is also necessary permanently to station land forces at vital areas in order to secure the bases for operations.

(c) Invasion of Mainland or Adjacent islands The security of the bases must be ensured and the possibility of their being threatened must be admitted, and accepted as a result of experience. Provision is therefore necessary for- (i) The deployment of Naval and Air Forces to operate from northern bases which will have local protection by Army garrisons.

(ii) Forces capable of amphibious operations.

(iii) Mobile formations based on the Mainland.

V. RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING THE NATURE AND FUNCTIONS OF POST WAR FORCES 17. In view of the foregoing factors, it is recommended that provision of defence forces as among the three Services should be as indicated hereunder.

Naval Forces:

18. (a) A balanced Task Force including aircraft carriers, supported by a fleet train, as a contribution to Empire security.

(b) A sea frontier force of escort, minesweeping, harbour defence and surveying craft.

(c) The assault shipping required for combined operations.

Land Forces:

19. (a) The land forces should be so organised and disposed that they can act in conjunction with the other Services in the protection of areas of strategic importance and in the undertaking of amphibious operations.

(b) Local mobile forces for the defence of the main vital areas.

(c) Coast and Anti-aircraft Defences and garrison forces for bases.

Air Forces:

20. (a) Reconnaissance and striking forces capable of- (i) Strategic operations.

(ii) Tactical operations in support of Naval and Land forces.

(iii) Defence of Sea communications and trade in co-operation with the Navy.

(b) Forces for the defence of important bases.

(c) Transport aircraft to ensure flexibility of air forces and airborne troops, and to provide air transportation for all Services along Ls. of C. [3]

Defence Industries:

21. Those industries essential to the support of armed forces should be established and maintained in peace to a scale which is related to the national resources and to the ability of such nucleus industry to expand readily to required war-time proportions.

22. It is further recommended that the Government approach British and Empire Governments to reach agreement on a plan for the strategic deployment of defence industries and research throughout the Empire.

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1 Agendum 107/1945, supplement 1.

2 4 May.

3 Lines of Communication.


[AA : A2031]