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part in the Battle oftheSomme. (National Library ofScotland)

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

Issue 153



Herein lies our worst mistake. We assumed that, just as Atkinson and researchers who have come after him have had access to the details of naval H&A, we too would simply need to access the records safely and securely lodged in the National Archives of Australia (as the Archives Act requires) by the Department of the Navy and Department of Defence. As we started our quest at the beginning (a very good place to start as Julie Andrews reminded everybody), we appeared to be on a sound research footing as there is a delightful amount of information on most naval H&A up until World War II.

However, the access enjoyed by Atkinson began to look privileged the deeper we got into that conflict. We realised that there had been a war on, but the writing up of recommendations for awards varied from excellent to awful, with most RAN commanding officers exhibiting a marked disinclination to say clearly why their men deserved gongs. Those who have, in recent times, constructed cases for retrospective awards to various naval people generally take aim at the bureaucracy or even 'bias' at senior levels of the Navy. I think there is a simpler explanation: the appalling standards of many recommendations must have left the poor bureaucrats and Admirals scratching their heads.

Records of H&A were a little better for the Korean War, not very good for Indonesian Confrontation (for which only two decorations were made) and Vietnam was pretty much a shambles. After that things got much worse. I know Jeffrey Grey in Up Top had a hack at naval record keeping, a sentiment I shared in my own books on the period, but I had no expectation that there would be, for all intents and purpose, NO records on naval H&A recipients in the Archives from around 1970. So, if you think that "1116/ have it all

recorded, think again. Guard your records of your naval service carefully: reconstruction is most likely impossible.

We had recognised that the Navy got excited about digitisation and in 1970 whisked all the information on those very useful, though sometimes illegible, Service Record cards off to be noughts and ones. This mean that we could no longer trace a recipient's career past April 1970. Ironically, the guy in charge of this project got an OBE for his pains. We also knew that the Archives Act would close out access to official records in any case 27 years before the end date. We thought we could live with struggling to find information on 27 years worth of H&A recipients, most of whom we expected to still be alive. We did not realise we were facing a virtual official record blackout of more than 40 years.

What to do? Well, when the going gets tough... as another song goes. Another apposite aphorism is 'Persistence pays'. Persistence, cunning, knowledge gained in over ten years of research, knowing who to ask and the kindness of complete strangers, plus a few dollars invested in the British Archives in Kew and the US National Archives in Maryland have enabled us to edge closer to the goal.

I won't go into all the stratagems we have tried here, but there are no squares outside which we have not thought. Our major resource has, however, been the recipients themselves or their families. I take this, the first but not last, opportunity to express publicly my deep appreciation for the cooperation I and my team have received from the many hundreds of people we have contacted. This is their book and they have more than played their part in getting it written. My oldest respondent described to me the circumstances in which he won a DSM in sinking a Japanese submarine in 1944, which I was delighted to add to the narrative.

Which brings up my final comment in this section. In January 2012 David and I analysed the situation. In broad terms, after three year's work we still need to discover the details and circumstances of around 2,000 awards. Extrapolating our rate of progress, especially as we had already picked the low-hanging fruit, showed that we would not finish the task before the grim reaper came for us. We resolved to seek help with the research. The team of volunteers we assembled, collectively known as the Beavers, has made all the difference. The composition of the group has changed and we have been helped by many others on an opportunity basis, but the project would have sunk, probably without trace, except for the enthusiasm and diligence of the Beavers.

Outcomes and Progress

What is going to emerge from all this effort? That's always been pretty clear. My habit is to start a book project by writing the Introduction, which sets out what the reader is going to find in the finished product, and then setting out the Table of Contents, which outlines the steps by which the tale will be told. The Introduction has changed very little over the six years although the Table of Contents has got longer. Whatever title is settled on for the manuscript, Bravo Zulu will result in a history of the development of Australia's navy as told through the contributions of its H&A recipients. There are 16 chapters, three of them describing the H&A system as it applied throughout the past 114 years and the other 13 telling the stories of

Sergeant Robert Buick is awarded the Military Medal in Vietnam (Austmlian Army)

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute


Recording Naval Valour and Service - the Bravo Zulu Project

recipients, set in a framework of what was happening around them.

In A4 sheets, and with the five finals chapters covering the period 1975-2014 still with holes in them to be filled, the manuscript extends to over 800 pages.

At time of writing there are just under 500 stories to be completely researched. The first 11 chapters have been reviewed by a civilian 'Control Group' and are in good shape, the remaining five have been drafted, and I am working to update the final chapter. Our research is concentrated on filling the gaps in the period 1975-2001, after which things get somewhat easier.

We have given very serious attention to reducing or eliminating all navalisms, acronyms and the other things that distract lay readers in the average book of naval history. We have assumed no knowledge of navies or of the RAN. There are introductory and explanatory notes and extensive use of footnotes, thanks largely to the work of the Control Group. Access to individual entries on recipients will be via the Index at the back of the book which contains (abbreviated as appropriate out of concerns for space) surname and initials, rank at the time of the award, number, service, award, date of award and the page reference.

When the work will be finished is a question I cannot answer. 'Soon' is my profound hope. But then comes the hard part - finding a publisher. I'm already examining options on how to get what will be a very substantial pile of paper into the hands of the public at an affordable cost, including crowd funding. I would hope to achieve this in 2015.

What Can the Reader Expect?

It might not come as much of a surprise, but the reader will discover, as we did, that official records can be in error like any other account. One

group of men received awards for their performance in a battle they did not fight. Other were credited with service they did not perform (as an anguished pencil marginal note against one recipient's name exclaimed). Citations concealed more than they revealed, often for security reasons but also because of confusion in the minds of those who wrote them.

They will marvel at the kinds of situations in which RAN people found themselves and, I believe, be impressed by the service they rendered to Australia or to our allies. It may be observed that our US allies frequently use language verging on hyperbole (although, from a researcher's point of view they write damn fine citations which tell the recipient what he or she is getting the gong for, not like the Imperial and Australian habit of obfuscating something so gross). That won't disguise their appreciation for the duty rendered by Australians who seem, in this as in other national endeavours, to punch above their weight.

It is my hope that readers will also come to realise that navies, including our own, are more than collections of expensive grey-painted machinery, and that it is people who make them what they are. I also hope that the readers will appreciate just what it takes to create and keep in existence a navy by reading of the contributions made in so many different ways to making the RAN a little better by enthusiastic and dedicated people doing a bit more than they are paid to do, and sometimes a lot more than that.

The nature of the narrative also changes as the chapters advance. Necessarily, the background stories are largely descriptive in the earlier chapters. As we gained access to living recipients there was more to tell and the entries (and chapters) became longer, but I think more interesting. I have tried to keep the word count under control:

in doing so there are some excellent tales which do not get a decent airing. My resolve is to tell these outside the confines of the current manuscript.

There ware two things the reader will not find. Except for one or two mild remarks about the nature of an award in the circumstances, Bravo Zulu is about H&A that were received, and not about those that might or should have been received. Those eager to rewrite history will not find any basis for their arguments in the book.

We regret that readers will also not find the reasons behind each and every award, which had been our goal. Faced with incontrovertible proof that, for example, all the recommendations for awards to members serving with the British Pacific Fleet were destroyed in London after the war, we can do little but infer why they were probably made. Others have simply defied our ability to get to the story.

A Final Word

If any of the readers of this article are H&A recipients who want to know if they are in the book, the answer is 'Yes'. If your award fits the criteria above, you're in. The quality and completeness of the entry that describes the background to your award will depend on the information we have been able to glean. I'm always happy to discuss this with a view to improving the end product. iW

Drlan Pfennigwerth followed 35years in the RAN with theawardofhisPhDin2005,andhassinceresearched and written on Australia's naval history. With eight boob published, another, on the campaign fought againstthe GermansbytheRANin1914-15,hasjustbeenreleased.

Ian may be contacted on

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

Issue 153


Vernon Parker Oration 2014, with Mike Carlton

Mr Carlton is the author of the 2013 book First Victory1914 -HMAS Sydney's hunt for SMS Emden.


ice Admiral Griggs, Vice Admiral Barrett, Rear Admiral Sammut, ladies and gentlemen.

Its both an honour and a pleasure to be here with you this evening. As a mere civilian invited into your midst, I take it as a great compliment.

I should admit that I did come very close to the 1963 entry at the RANC, but squibbed it at the last minute. But I hold a profound respect for the men and women who serve in the Royal Australian Navy today and for those many more thousands who went before you in peace and war over a century and more.

And I'm delighted to note that there are more admirals here tonight than there were at Trafalgar; that's very flattering.

Let us go back 100 years to this very day, the 16th of October, 1914. It was a Friday. The First World War is not yet three months old. In Europe, the German army's race towards Paris has been checked at the Battle of the Marne, and the Battle of First Ypres is about to begin. Millions of men face each other across the fortifications and the trenches.

Here at home, Australia has taken the colonies of German New Guinea, at the cost of six lives at the Battle of BitaPaka, all but one of them sailors. One of them, LCDR Charles Elwell

RN, was killed, sword in hand, leading a bayonet charge; an unusual way for a naval officer to go, and one we are unlikely to see again. As ever, it was the Navy first in. Thirty-five more men are dead with the loss of the submarine AE1.

At home, in seaports around the country, the 20-thousand men of the 1st AIF are in camp, waiting to join the great convoy that will take them - they think - to England and, eventually, a crack at the Kaiser. And on this very day the Kiwis set sail from Auckland aero ss the Tasman to j oin that ANZ AC convoy.

The battlecruiser HMAS Australia is at Suva with the cruiser Encounter, the destroyers WARREGO and Parramatta and the submarine AE2. Vice Admiral Sir George Patey commanding the Australian Squadron, is convinced that Germany's East Asia Squadron is heading east across the Pacific towards South America. In this he is correct. But the British Admiralty knows better, it believes. So Patey is ordered to

remain in the western Pacific where -in the words of the official Australian naval historian, AW Jose, he is kept tethered like a dog to his kennel, and bombarded with silly and contradictory suggestions from London.

And in the Indian Ocean, on this same day, just off the south-western tip of India itself, near the Minicoy Light, at 8 degrees 21 north, 72 degrees 24 east, the small German cruiser SMS Emden sinks another two British merchant vessels. Her eleventh and twelfth victims. They are the steamer Clan Grant, of 4000 tons, with general cargo on passage from Liverpool to Calcutta. To the delight of Emden's crew that cargo includes a load of much-needed English cigarettes.

The second vessel was the most novel capture of Emden's raiding career: the Ponrabbel, a dredger of some 400 grossly unseaworthy tons plodding along at five knots from Scotland to Tasmania. The Ponrabbeh crew were thrilled. They'd already been paid for

Sydneyship's company pose on the Focsle as the cruiser pursues the Emden's refueling vessel Buresk (RAN photo)

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute


Vernon Parker Oration 2014, with Mike Carlton

their voyage: they could not wait to be rescued from this floating nightmare. They were packed and ready to leave even before the German boarding party set foot on their deck,

So that was the 16th of October. Let's pause for some wider context. There is a modern view that the First World War was a quarrel between the crowned heads of Europe

- kings and emperors -
and their arms makers.
And that, therefore, far

distant Australia had no reason to enter their fight. There is enough truth to the first part of that argument to provide a flimsy platform for the second.

But that simplification ignores some important facts. As war broke out in 1914, the Kaiser boasted a flourishing colonial empire in China, East Asia and the Pacific. Germany's place in the sun, as he called it. Deutsch Neuguinea sprawled across Australia's northern doorstep. With its capital at Rabaul, it commanded a great sweep of the islands of New Guinea, of New Britain, the Solomons, Nauru and as far south as German Samoa.

With Deutsch New Guinea as its base, the Kaiser's navy - the Kaiserliche Marine - had laid detailed plans to attack Australia's seaborne trade in the event of war with England and the British Empire. It would severe the links of commerce and communication between Britain and Australia (and New Zealand as well) and - if necessary

- it would send warships to bombard
Sydney and Melbourne and other
port cities. So Australia was directly
menaced by Imperial Germany lying
just over the northern horizon, a threat
that our forebears understood very well.
We did have a dog in the fight.

And it was a threat not just to Australia. Our exports of wool, of wheat, of gold and meat were vital to the economy of Britain. Take wool alone: essential for Britain's army and navy. No wool, no uniforms. It was as stark as that.

This German Pacific empire was policed by a modern and powerful naval force, the Ostasiengeschwader, the East Asia Squadron, based on the colony of Tsingtao, now Quingdao, in Northern China.

Under the command of a capable and honourable officer, Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee, the squadron was made up of two 12,000 ton heavy cruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and a handful of smaller cruisers, including the light cruiser Emden. It was this squadron that would have attacked us, but which was now making its escape across the Pacific.

Because one formidable presence had seen it off: HMAS Australia. For a small navy and nation, she was an extraordinary thing to possess. A capital ship. Fast, powerful, state of the art. 25,000 tons. Eight 12-inch guns, a speed of 26 knots, a ship's company of more than 800. Arguably, she was the most powerful ship in the Pacific; certainly in the southern hemisphere.

We had set aside the enormous sum of two million pounds to have her built on the Clyde in Scotland. She was completed before time, and under-budget by an impressive 295, 000 pounds. (A feat, a triumph never again repeated in Australian defence procurement.) And she was, in the words of my friend James Goldrick, the single most effective defence purchase this nation has ever made. As Admiral von Spee wrote to his wife, she was too powerful for his squadron ever to think of challenging her. Australia was the ultimate, successful deterrent.

On the 13th of August, Spee was at Pagan, in the Marianas group of islands. He called his captains for a conference in his cabin. In their best white uniforms with swords and decorations - they were a very formal navy - they listened as he explained his plans for South America. Coal would be readily available from Chile and other countries believed to be well-disposed towards Germany, and British trade could still be attacked.

Spee asked for the opinions of his captains. Most agreed. But one did not. Fregattenkapitan Karl von Muller, commanding officer of Emden, respectfully offered another idea. He objected that the Squadron would be

HMAS Australia (I) steaming (Courtesy RAN)

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

Issue 153


Spee promised to consider the proposal and said he would give his answer that afternoon. He did. And it was yes. So began this extraordinary story in the annals of war at sea.

Karl von Muller was the son of a Prussian army colonel, born in Hanover in 1873. A reserved and studious figure, his career as a junior officer had been conventional. Battleships in the Baltic Fleet, watch-keeping certificate, gunnery officer here, signals there, a posting to a gunboat in Germany's East African colonies, where he contracted the malaria that would plague him all his life. In a lucky break, he had a spell on the staff of the founding father of the German navy, Alfred von Tirpitz, who marked him for promotion. The East Asia squadron was a coveted posting - so much more exotic, more congenial than the drab grey Baltic or the North Sea. And Emden
was his first command. He was, as it would turn

PlanoftheEmden-Sydney battle from Franz Joseph's book Emden

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