September 2

Battle For Australia Day

In March 1944, when John Curtin was ill, the supreme Allied commander in the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur, sent the Australian leader a photograph of himself across which he scrawled in pen:

"To the Prime Minister who saved Australia in her hour of deadly peril."

When Curtin died months before Japan's surrender in 1945, MacArthur in a communique said of him: "He was one of the greatest wartime statesmen, and the preservation of Australia from invasion will be his immemorial monument."

…Battle For Australia Day  proposed…

Now James Bowen convener of the Battle for Australia Historical Society, reminds Australians that today, 2 September 2010 is Battle for Australia Day. In The Australian (1/9) he asks why we do this. “Proclaimed by the Governor-General in June 2008, Battle for Australia Day is to be observed nationally on the first Wednesday in September of each year, joining Anzac Day and Remembrance Day in the calendar of formal national commemorations in Australia,” he explains .

“For this reason, it is important for Australians to appreciate the justification for observance of Battle for Australia Day. Younger Australians may reasonably ask whether Australia faced a grave threat from imperial Japan in 1942 and whether that threat produced a Battle for Australia.”

As the person who first proposed commemoration of a Battle for Australia in 1942, and defined its concept and scope, he feels he  should explain my reasons for doing so. His reasons follow.


[To read Mr. Bowen’s reasons, click on ”Read more” below]

I discussed the proposal privately with Major General W. B. "Digger" James in 1997 when we were senior RSL officers. We both felt that there had been insufficient recognition of the men and women who had defended Australia against a grave threat from Japan in 1942, and that their service and sacrifice should be acknowledged by national commemoration of a Battle for Australia.

As a graduate historian with a special focus on Japanese history and the Pacific War, it fell to me to prove that events took place in 1942 that could fairly be described as a Battle for Australia.We adopted the term Battle for Australia in deference to prime minister John Curtin, who first used it to describe the expected struggle for survival facing Australia after the fall of Singapore to the Japanese on February 15, 1942.James and I defined the concept of a Battle for Australia that placed the great battles of 1942, including the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Kokoda campaign, and the Guadalcanal campaign, in the context of a bloody struggle to prevent the Japanese achieving their strategic aims of isolating and controlling Australia, and denying the Americans access to Australia as a base for launching a counter-offensive against the Japanese military advance.

We were aware that the Americans were determined to protect their access to Australia in 1942, even at the risk of their precious fleet carriers, and that the Japanese were equally determined to deny their enemy access to Australia. In reaching these views, we relied heavily on the work of eminent Japan scholars Henry Frei and John J. Stephan. We also drew on Senshi Sosho, the massive official Japanese history of the Pacific War, 1941-45.

Although willing to invade and occupy Australia's New Guinea territories, the Japanese army opposed the Japanese navy's proposed invasion of the Australian mainland on the grounds of massive troop requirement and logistical burden. The Japanese generals, including prime minister Hideki Tojo, pressed for adoption of a plan, designated Operation FS, to bring Australia to heel.

This plan involved isolating Australia from the US by means of a chain of fortified Japanese-occupied islands stretching across the Pacific from Australia's 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 invasion of the mainland.

Senshi Sosho confirms that Japan's military high command, as early as January 10, 1942, intended: "to force Australia to be freed from the shackles of Britain and the United States".

On March 15, 1942, with Emperor Hirohito's approval, Japan's military high command resolved to implement Operation FS. Capture of Port Moresby was a critical aspect of the operation to neutralise Australia. The first Japanese attempt to capture Port Moresby by a seaborne invasion force was defeated in the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 7-8, 1942).

The Japanese then turned to an overland attack on Port Moresby by crossing the rugged Owen Stanley mountains.

This overland attack on Port Moresby led to an invasion of Australia when Japanese troops landed at Buna and Gona on the northern coast of Papua on July 21, 1942. Papua was at that time sovereign Australian territory and the Kokoda campaign was fought entirely on Australian soil. This invasion ended when the Japanese were defeated in Papua on January 22, 1943, after six months of some of the bloodiest and most difficult land fighting of the Pacific War.

The heroism of heavily outnumbered young Australian soldiers on the Kokoda Track and at Milne Bay brought an end to invasion of Australian territory and a grave Japanese threat to the mainland.


The Japanese threat to Australia was not substantially eased until the Japanese were defeated on Guadalcanal in February 1943.

   


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