9. World War II and Australia

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Essay from “Australia’s Foreign Wars: Origins, Costs, Future?!” http://users.cyberone.com.au/ibuckley

9. World War II and Australia

A. September 3, 1939, War 1

(a)Poland Invaded, Britain Declares War, Australia Follows

(b)Britain continues ‘Standing By’ – the Phoney War

(c)German U-boat and Air Superiority

B. Early Defeats 5

(a)Norway, then France, Fall

(b)A British Settlement with Hitler?

(c)Challenge to Churchill’s leadership fails

C. Germany invades Russia 11

(a)Germany Invades Russia, June 22, 1941

(b)Churchill and Roosevelt Meet – the Atlantic Charter

D. Japan Enters WWII 15

(a)Early lightning gains – with historical roots

(b)Singapore Falls; facing invasion, Australia fights back

(c)Midway Battle turns the Naval Tide

(d)Young Australians repel forces aimed at Port Moresby

(e)Its Security Assured, how then should Australia have fought the Pacific War?

E. Back to ‘Germany First’- and further delaying the Second Front

(a)The Strategy and Rationale 30

(b)Post-Stalingrad Eastern Front: January 1943 – May 1945

(c)Britain’s Contribution to ‘Winning the War against Germany’

F. The Dominions and the RAF’s Air War on Germany

(a) The Origins of the ‘Empire Air Training Scheme’ (EATS) 34

(b) EATS and the Defence of Australia - any Connection?

(c) Air Operations – Europe

(d) Ill-used Australian Aircrew

(e) RAF Bomber Command and its Operations – (do see Official UK, US Reports!)

(f) A contrast: US Air Force’s Specific Target Bombing from mid-1944

G. Defeating Japan 43

(a) Victory Over Japan Clinched by Economic Strangulation (not by Bombs)

(b) As the Japanese Ready to Quit, why Fire- and Atom-Bomb them?!

(c) Japan Surrenders

H. WWII’s Human Costs 50

(a) Country by Country - David Kennedy’ figures

(b) Some Economic Outcomes

I. WWII and the Origins of the Cold War 52

(a) Contrived Origins..

(b)..and MAD Nuclear options

(c) Non-nuclear Strategies of the Cold War - and Civil Wars

J. Sources 58

World War II and Australia

A. September 3, 1939, War

(a) Poland Invaded, Britain Declares War, Australia Follows

German forces having invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Britain declared war three days later. And within an hour and a quarter of Neville Chamberlain’s declaration, Australia’s Prime Minister Robert Menzies, without consultation or debate, followed suit in the following terms: “(JMcC,1)

Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of the persistence of Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that as a result, Australia is also at war.”

This comes across as a reflex action of someone more intent on demonstrating his ‘loyalty’ to the Old Country’s (largely pro-Hitler) Conservative government than in conferring with members of his own Government and Opposition, let alone with Australians more widely, before any such commitment.

And notwithstanding all the display, neither in Britain or Australia did any plans exist for the defence of Poland. As Churchill pointed out, Britain’s ‘guarantee’, to support Poland in the event of German invasion was completely empty since there was little means and certainly no intention of such military intervention. In Churchill’s words, “France and Britain remained impassive while Poland was in a few weeks destroyed or subjugated by the whole might of the German war machine.” (WC4i,376) With terrifying ‘efficiency’ Germany’s invasion had gone ahead, the sole opposition coming from the forces of Poland itself, and since these were comparatively minuscule, it had taken just 4 weeks. For Hitler the only real hold up, and that only temporary, was Russia’s prompt occupation of eastern Poland, its troops rapidly advancing to the demarcation line agreed by their mid-August “Non-aggression Pact”.

(b) Britain continues ‘Standing By’ – the Phony War

Thus it was all over and the British government had no plan for any action towards its ‘declared’ war. Chamberlain referred to the subsequent ‘prolonged and oppressive pause’ as the “Twilight War” (WC4i,376) but it was more popularly and realistically known as the “Phoney War.” However, the British government did at least appoint Churchill to its War Cabinet, returning him to his old role (held pre-WWI through to the Gallipoli defeat) of ‘First Lord of the Admiralty’. This he took on with enthusiasm, doing his utmost to get the Royal Navy in top order and secure its bases against attack. Since the British enjoyed a clear superiority in capital ships, that might have been a straightforward matter, but the reality of Germany’s far greater strength in air power and submarines (so ‘cleverly’ promoted by Britain’s Conservatives throughout the 1930s) was to gravely undermine that advantage.

(c) German U-boat and Air Superiority

Indeed Germany’s U-boat force promptly set about sinking Britain’s merchant fleet wherever it found them at home and abroad, thus threatening its vital imports and challenging its very survival, 135,000 tons sunk in the first month.(WC4i, 390) German U-boats also attacked the Royal Navy’s ships, early sinking the aircraft carrier Courageous with the loss of 500 mostly young lives. Even more disastrously, by mid October they had penetrated Britain’s Scapa Flow, its ‘secure’ northern naval base, where a U-boat sank the battleship Royal Oak with the further loss of 833 young sailors.(WC4i,439) The ‘successful’ raid had been carefully planned by Admiral Doenitz, Germany’s U-boat chief.

At the very least Britain’s supposed superiority at sea should have guaranteed not only the protection of its own shipping, but the ability to drive all Germany’s commerce off the sea, thereby blockading all of its overseas trade, including essential imports. A Ministry of Economic Warfare was formed to guide this very policy (WC4i, 379) but the fact of Germany’s superiority in both U-boats and air power made nonsense of Britain’s claim to ‘naval superiority’. And it completely undermined Churchill’s September 12 ‘Catherine’ scheme to have the Royal Navy establish a permanent presence in the Baltic Sea, a presence intended to threaten Germany’s plans for Poland and beyond.(WC4i,415-9;495-6;626-8) Most significantly, it would have enabled the Royal Navy to blockade Germany’s imports of Swedish iron ore, material absolutely essential for its war’s prosecution. Similarly, as occurred 6 months later, Germany’s U-boats and air power were to frustrate Britain’s plan to occupy Narvik, the all-year Norwegian port through which so much of the Swedish ore passed. (see B(a) below)

In the meantime, Britain and France, neither of which had seriously considered supporting Poland’s resistance to invasion by attacking Germany from the West, were nevertheless forced to contemplate how they might defend themselves should Hitler decide to move westwards. They knew that of Germany’s 116 divisions, they would have to face at least 42 or, depending on eventualities in the East, up to a 100. Against this threat, France had 86 divisions, but this left a serious shortfall because Britain offered only 4 – ‘available by mid-October’, - (this compared to the 90 divisions Britain had in the field towards the end of WWI).(WC4i, 429-30) Not only that, but in the event the 4 promised divisions did not arrive in France until March 1940! (WC4i, 502) Whichever way you look at it, as Churchill wrote, “The British Expeditionary Force was no more than a symbolic contribution.” (WC4i,429)

Such lack of commitment was not only in division strength. Politically the governments of both Britain and France were seriously divided over how to respond to Hitler and his war plans. Sympathies in Hitler’s direction, strong before the war, continued at the highest levels to play a major role in both countries. Added to that were the memories of the carnage of WWI coupled to the knowledge of Hitler’s ruthlessness and the terrifying efficiency of his military machine. This, together with the feeling that Hitler represented protection against the ‘virus of Communism’ which might ‘infect’ their long-suffering populations (affected still by the on-going effects of the Great Depression) continued as potent influences.

As indicated above, although a long-time opponent of appeasing Hitlerism, Churchill had been admitted to the British War Cabinet. However, his position there remained tenuous, many in favour of a peace settlement with Germany wanting him removed. Essentially similar attitudes existed within the government of France. For them, since Hitler’s long-stated intention was to expand eastwards into Russia, there seemed reason to hope he would concentrate on that and avoid conflict with France. And given the strong Maginot and Siegfried defensive fortifications along the Franco-German border it was easy for such people to continue ‘prosecuting’ a Phony War, simply waiting to see what, if anything, might happen – and just hoping it would not involve them at all!

For Churchill, that was not good enough. He advocated building the British army up to 55 divisions, to bringing Canadian and Australian armies to France (WC4i,452), and to greatly increasing the numbers of British bombers - since while Germany had 2,000, France and Britain together had only 950.(WC4i, 430) He also supported his Government’s arrangements for the Dominions to supply young aircrew for the RAF’s use in Europe, under what was termed ‘The Empire Air Training Scheme’ (EATS) a scheme formally agreed in November 1939. (see **Note, below & 9F (a-e)) For Australia it was an arrangement negotiated between the Menzies government and Britain’s Lord Riverdale who, as Sir Arthur Balfour, had from the early 1930s enthusiastically advocated the rearmament of Germany.(see 8A(b)) Significantly, it seems, in Churchill’s “The Gathering Storm”, his history of the period, there is no reference whatever to this EATS Agreement - or of its tragic effects through the RAF’s bombing campaigns, on so many young British and Dominions’ airmen - not to mention the tens of thousands of innocent German men, women and children civilians.(see F(c-e) below )

Churchill also continued active in the naval field, especially in attempting to counter the devastating effects of Hitler’s submarines and magnetic mines on British shipping and trade, including imports vital for the nation’s survival. By April 3, 1940, Churchill’s long-standing proposal to mine the approaches to the Norwegian port of Narvik had finally been approved by Cabinet.(WC4i, 522) As a northerly port having direct rail connection to Sweden’s rich iron-ore deposits at Gallivare, Narvik played a critical role in supplying Germany’s iron and steel needs. Although Narvik was well within the arctic circle, the Gulf Stream assured its all-year accessibility. Thus the planned mining operation, if fully successful, could have interfered with Germany’s ability to continue the war.


**Note, On the important issue of Britain’s ‘available manpower’, it is most revealing to read Churchill’s urgent questioning of the Home Secretary in October 1939 regarding the under-utilisation of British men, some 500,000, “….people of middle age, many of whom served in the last war, who are full of vigor and experience, and who are being told by tens of thousands that they are not wanted, and that there is nothing for them except to register at the local Labour Exchange?”, - men whose active service could release “…the young and active from their billets’, thus allowing them to fight in one or other Service. (WC4i, 438-9) (Indeed, as became clearer and clearer during the course of the war, young Englishmen were still in 1944 waiting up to eighteen months on the same deferred lists for training as pilots, navigators and bomb-aimers, etc, Lord Balfour referring to these numbers as “…the manpower of two divisions ….locked up in our deferred lists for a year or more…” (JMcC, 125; and see 9F(d). below )

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