OPINION: by James BowenNews Weekly
The Japanese threat facing Australia in 1942
, June 27, 2009
Too many Australians fail to appreciate how close the country came to invasion by the Japanese in World War II, writes James Bowen.
Michael E. Daniel provides an interesting review of Peter Grose's new book, An Awkward Truth: The Bombing of Darwin, February 1942 (in News Weekly, June 13, 2009), but one qualification is necessary.
Midway - the battle in 1942 that
saved Australia from Japanese
occupation - depicted in the painting
"The Famous Four Minutes", by
American aviation artist R.G. Smith.
Mr Daniel reproduces a significant historical misunderstanding of Japanese strategic planning for Australia in 1942 when he says: "Although it was not known at the time (of the initial bombing of Darwin), the Japanese had made the decision not to invade Australia."
This historical misunderstanding with regard to Japan's hostile planning for Australia in 1942 appears to have been generated between 2002 and 2006 by the Australian War Memorial's former senior historian Dr Peter Stanley, who claimed in published essays that Australia did not face a grave threat from Japan in 1942 and that Prime Minister John Curtin exaggerated the Japanese threat to Australia for political advantage.
When challenged by me to produce credible historical evidence to support these claims, Dr Stanley was unable to do so. When invited by me in writing to debate publicly his controversial claims, Dr Stanley declined the offer.
Dr Stanley's controversial revisionism appeared to rely on nothing stronger than his argument that the really significant battles that decided World War II were fought over his English homeland, on the continent of Europe, and across the Soviet Union.
Now that the Australian government has formally adopted commemoration of the Battle for Australia, young Australians need to appreciate that Australia faced grave peril from Japan in 1942.
Control of access to Australia was considered vital by both the Japanese and Americans in 1942, and both were determined to prevent the enemy gaining that access. To deny the Americans access to Australia for a counter-offensive, the Japanese navy general staff was proposing as early as December 1941 a limited invasion and occupation of the northern Australian mainland.
Although willing to invade and occupy Australia's New Guinea territories, the Japanese army opposed an invasion of the Australian mainland on the grounds of massive troop requirement and logistical burden.
The Japanese generals, including Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo, pressed for adoption of an equally sinister plan to bring Australia to heel, called Operation FS. This plan involved isolating Australia from the United States by means of a chain of fortified Japanese-occupied islands stretching across the Pacific from Port Moresby to Fiji and Samoa (FS), and subjecting Australia to intensified blockade, bombardment and psychological warfare.
The generals believed that implementation of Operation FS would be likely to produce Australia's submission to Japan and withdrawal from the Allied cause without the need for an invasion by "force of arms". By March 7, 1942, the Japanese navy and army had agreed that severing Australia's lifeline to the United States (Operation FS) and pressuring Australia into submission to Japan were more important objectives than the limited invasion of Australia's northern coast that the navy had earlier proposed.
At the imperial general headquarters liaison conference on March 7, 1942, the navy general staff and navy ministry agreed to their limited invasion proposal being deferred in favour of implementing Operation FS. Planning for an invasion of Australia was not dropped at this liaison conference. It was agreed that invasion planning would be referred back to navy and army headquarters for further study.
On March 15, 1942, with Emperor Hirohito's approval, Japan's military high command formally resolved to implement Operation FS. The Battle of the Coral Sea frustrated Japan's first attempt to implement Operation FS. The Japanese naval defeat at the Battle of Midway forced Japan to cancel the original Operation FS in July 1942, and to pursue its hostile plans for Australia by less ambitious measures such as the Kokoda and Guadalcanal campaigns.
This account of the gravity of the Japanese threat facing Australia in 1942 is supported by the leading historians and Japan scholars, Professors Henry Frei and John J. Stephan, and by the massive official Japanese history of the Pacific War, Senshi Sosho
.- James Bowen is convener of the Battle for Australia Historical Society. He has been an army officer, a senior crown prosecutor and senior public servant.