- Halley, George, Comdr., RAN
- None noted
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1989 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Now that the object is not so readily manifested there is a need to develop one. We have witnessed the growth of inter service co-operation in Australia. Much has been said about economies of scale and the need to abate unnecessary duplication. We now have an Australian Defence Academy in Canberra. But when we audit the bottom line, what do we discover? Where is the professionalism of being a mariner? How well do our captains and our ships compared with our old allies navies? These are questions which the Naval Historical Society should be answering or considering.
There is a need to develop a few great and noble objectives. In peacetime “showing the flag” is a worthy cause. A visit to the west coast of the United States of America does wonders for everyone’s morale. The spiritual exercise of hosting two receptions in HMAS MELBOURNE’S hangar in Long Beach and San Francisco is something to recall with relish. Both receptions culminated with ceremonial sunsets and the National Anthems were played loudly.
Having been involved in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy, there is certainly a need to have available the capacity to provide cyclone relief. For six months of every year our coast, from Geraldton to Brisbane, is at risk to the ravage of cyclones. We also have the matter of fishery surveillance. This provides an important objective. It also gives our young patrol boat crews operational experience in the use of limited force and the law of the sea.
This is an area which requires a great deal of thought. The task of ascertaining the basis for intellectual morale in the RAN is fraught with problems. For many years the RAN produced splendid destroyer captains. Much of our thinking was done for us. We bred men who could obey an order and achieve an objective. This was satisfactory when we were the Pacific Division of the Royal Navy. But those days are passed. In the last two decades the pendulum has swung away from the close ties with the Royal Navy towards closer ties with the US Navy. It now appears to be narrowly oscillating, in almost a vacuum, with very little sense of purpose.
It is not easy to amplify the Field-Marshal’s three points on intellectual morale. Can we convince our sailors that the object can be attained and is not out of reach? How can you provide cyclone relief without adequate across the beach support? After a cyclone the port’s infrastructure is usually rendered impotent. There is a need for aircraft direction and boat running is severely restricted because of the debris floating in the harbour. So the relief vessels must have the capability of operating and maintaining a large number of helicopters. A similar problem has arisen following military coups on the island nations of the South Pacific. Cyclone relief and aid to the civil power are compelling and identified areas of proven risk which support the need for the RAN to have “organic air”. This is a delightful North American term which translated to English means a Fleet Air Arm.
Is the organisation efficient and what about its leaders? The RAN has not had a “Falklands”. Since 1945 all our operational experience has been without a real multi-threat, although we have trained for it. For many the greatest threat to our equanimity has been the notorious workup at Portland in Dorset, whilst on exchange with the Royal Navy. Unfortunately the RAN has never been able to achieve a similar air of tension and realism.
The Naval Historical Society should ponder on the subject of our future Naval Officers. This paper has already referred to the establishment of the Australian Defence Academy. The need for our officers to be taught to think is fully supported. The problem is much greater. The Royal Navy reached its apogee when the officers were mainly of yeomen stock. The so called gentrification followed the defeat of Napoleon. Retired Naval Officers, with their well earned prize money, were the nouveau riche.
This charade of the romantic side of the Navy has taken some time to diminish. We now have young officers with little interest in the mores of the time of Jane Austen’s book Persuasion. Australia is an egalitarian society, experimenting with multi-culturalism. How does one equate these concepts with leadership in a fighting services? The traditions of our fighting services are based on a somewhat feudal structure. In our society our servicemen and women sacrifice some of their freedom so that the civilians can enjoy the free society which we believe is worth fighting for. Many of our new settlers have not come from free societies. We can modify our society to accommodate their ideals. However, we cannot modify our fighting services in the same manner. The victories of Great Britain have been determined by leaders like Lord Slim.