Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Nation unprepared for threat of war

War worries: The German invasion of Poland and the resulting war in Europe found Australia poorly equipped to respond at a time when worries about Japan were growing.This is the fourteenth in a series on Australia's early intelligence activities, the tenth on the life of Harry Freame.  

As the 1930s wound to a close, the international scene continued to darken.

In July 1937, full-scale war broke out between Japan and China. The Japanese achieved initial success capturing Shanghai and Nanking, the second with a degree of brutality that still scars Sino-Japanese relations.

In Europe, both Mussolini and Hitler were pursuing expansionist policies.

Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935 although both countries were members of the League of Nations. Later, in April 1939, Italy seized Albania.

In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria then placed pressure on Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudetenland. In September 1938 this was agreed to under the Munich Agreement on the basis that Germany would make no more territorial claims.

It quickly became clear that Hitler had further territorial ambitions. Now greatly alarmed, the United Kingdom and France guaranteed their support for Polish independence. When Germany invaded Poland, Britain declared war on 1 September 1939. Australia followed suit.

The country was ill equipped to fight a war, less prepared than it had been in August 1914. The poorly equipped Army had a small permanent cadre of 3,000 men plus 80,000 part time militiamen. The Air Force had 246 aircraft, few of them modern. The Navy was in a better position, but was still small.

These problems had been foreseen by, among others, David Drummond, then NSW Minister for Education as well as Member for Armidale. 

In the second half of 1936, Drummond had been on a ministerial tour of Europe and North America. This included a visit to Germany where he visited technical institutions and watched them training glider pilots.

Already convinced of the importance of airpower, Drummond argued for urgent action on his return.  His trip report painted a frightening picture,

Quoting T.W. Leech of Sydney University, it suggested that for defence purposes Australia needed a minimum of 400 first line aircraft with a further 100 training machines. To construct and maintain such a fleet would require 4,000 mechanics and forty aeronautical engineers.

However, as at 31 December 1935 there were only 333 aircraft registered in Australia, there were only 1099 pilots and only 956 aircraft mechanics. Even if aeronautical training was expanded immediately, it would take some years to train the necessary staff.

Rearmament had finally begun, but to a Commonwealth Government worried about Japan as well as Germany, there was considerable reluctance to commit limited resources to Europe.

Here the Government had another problem, one that would bring Harry Freame back into the frame. There were very few Japanese speakers available. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 15 May 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019   


Johnb said...

You might be interested in the current renewal of a stronger UK- Japan relationship Jim, the very first point out of the five relates to the historic relationship between the two powers that was only broken by WWII..it is unlikely this current upgrading of their relationship will prove to be as significant for Australia as the previous Treaty relationship was.
The UK and Japan: Forging a Global and Proactive Partnership
Read the report >

Read 'The UK-Japan Relationship: Five Things You Should Know' on Medium >

Johnb said...

It appears the links are broken so herewith.



Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for this, John. I think that the Wikipedia article on the treaty and its demise is quite good https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Japanese_Alliance