- A.N. Other
- RAN operations, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth II
- March 2014 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Sub-Lieutenant G. Bateman, RAN
Garry Bateman was born in Plymouth on 23 July 1980. His father was a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy serving in submarines. This awakened an interest in the maritime environment, which in later years would become part of his keen interest in wreck diving. Following secondary school he gained entry to Portsmouth University and graduated with a Masters in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. He later worked in industry involved in the development of weapon control systems and also managed to find time to become qualified to teach scuba diving. In 2007 this eventually brought him to Australia where he was teaching diving in Cairns and Sydney. The next year he returned to engineering.
In 2013 Garry, now an Australian citizen joined the RAN and graduated from New Entry Officer Course 49. At the end of the year he married his long-term girlfriend Winnie with eleven of his classmates from HMAS Creswell forming a guard of honour. In January 2014 he was posted to HMAS Cerberus to join the Engineer Officer Application Course, leading to a seagoing posting.
Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
The Battle of Sunda Strait took place shortly after the ‘collapse of Allied sea power’2 at the Battle of the Java Sea, on 28 February 1942 and concluded with the eventual sinking of HMAS Perth and USS Houston early on 01 March 1942. Perth, under the command of Captain Hector Waller, was ordered to head to Tjilatap by means of Sunda Strait. The American British Dutch Australian command (ABDA) had suffered considerable losses to the superior force and magnitude of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), and the move was made to cease the pursuit of protecting Java in favour of defence of the Coral Sea.
It was unexpected by the allied forces that the IJN would have such a capable presence within the Sunda Strait. By the time Captain Waller had realised this was an oversight it was too late. The errors in judgement made by the ABDA command, coupled with an apparent lack of capability, allowed the Allied forces to be easily outnumbered, overpowered and outflanked by their Japanese counterparts.
The aim of this essay is to address defence strategy and, in particular, maritime doctrine. This essay will draw upon lessons learnt from the Battle of Sunda Strait, and from methodology employed by the IJN during 1941-1942; which empowered them to be a superior naval force at such battles. The final area that this essay will cover will be how strategy and doctrine are implemented in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) today.
Comparison of IJN and ABDA strategies
The Japanese military utilised a strategy known as a ‘centrifugal offensive’3 to gain momentum in establishing a defensive perimeter in Southeast Asia. Japan’s objective to secure this defensive perimeter, stretching from Singapore to Sumatra and Java, across the northern shore of New Guinea to Rabaul in New Britain, was pursued with the eventual intention to negotiate a settlement on favourable terms. To succeed with an offensive strategy of this scale required a great deal of planning and foresight. To enable this, the Japanese Total War Research Institute4 studied previous historical events with similar objectives, as a platform to build a strategy to suit their objectives. They studied a strategy using warlike simulation, known as war-gaming which was employed by the Prussian Army in the early 1800s5 and by using simulation the IJN gained a thorough understanding of various possible mission contingencies, outcomes and potential threats to missions proposed. This technique actually allowed the Japanese to overestimate the likely casualties and losses of assets early in the Pacific war. In conjunction with this methodology, the IJN also looked to its own cultural history to develop the ‘Japanese Octopus’ tactic.6 The ‘Octopus’ was a clever idea that linked an early Japanese military strategy of ‘Yogei Sakusen’7 with the way in which an octopus overwhelms its prey. It achieves this with a series of simultaneous attacks on its prey, to initiate control and suppression. Yogei Sakusen can be translated as a ‘Decisive Battle’, and was a strategy of direct attack used by Samurai warriors in early Japan.8
Japan is a nation of hard warriors, still inculcated with the samurai do-or-die spirit which has, by tradition and inheritance become ingrained in the race.
Ambassador Joseph Grew (U.S. Ambassador to Japan, 1939).9
Direct decisive action upon multiple strategic targets that were smaller in scale allowed the IJN to quickly suppress their targets, whilst dividing Allied resources. This required the IJN to create a larger and more technologically superior naval force that could achieve its objectives simultaneously. The Japanese plan established a two-sided strike force – the eastern and western invasion forces. This provided the size and strength to outflank and outnumber ABDA naval forces that were already split. In short, the IJN assumed a position of superior sea control.10 Also, through extensive military simulation, the Japanese understood the need for cohesion between their land, sea and air forces to achieve success over the Allied forces in the Pacific region. This required careful planning of their offensive whilst keeping to a strict timetable to enable them to achieve their set objectives ahead of schedule and with very few losses.11
At Sunda Strait, shortly after the ABDA defeat at the Java Sea, the IJN was in a dominant position with their strategy clearly working. It was at this point the Allied forces realised that Java, a key operational location within the region, was soon to be lost. As the Japanese forces occupied Timor in February 1942, they had reached the tipping point in the plan to subdue and control Indonesia. Java, ripe for the harvest, was isolated, surrounded and cut-off from potential assistance.12
Japanese dominance in the region was expected, but their presence at Sunda Strait was not. Prior to the ABDA’s commencement of transit towards Sunda Strait, there had been some airborne surveillance, that indicated presence of only Australian corvettes in the region. This surveillance had also reported at 1500 h on 28 February 1942, that there had been a sighting of a Japanese invasion fleet. This was said to be 10 hours away and was not likely to interfere with the exodus via the Sunda Strait. This intelligence was later found to be inaccurate, with the IJN being 4 hours ahead of schedule.13 In fact, General Imamura’s Western Invasion convoy, heavily fortified with 56 transports and a powerful escort14 were closer than ABDA reconnaissance had thought, but were equally unaware of the movements of Perth and Houston. The only consolation was that ABDA forces were proceeding without the Japanese being aware of their presence. The Japanese were concentrating their efforts on the landing and suppression of Java. However, the magnitude and preparedness of the IJN fleet meant that any surprises could be dealt with, thanks to early strategic planning.
The Battle of Sunda Strait was without doubt an unexpected encounter for both sides. The Allied forces were forced to employ a strategy which did not have the level of sophistication that the IJN strategy used. The ABDA command observed its recent losses, and ordered the retreat from the region. This meant accepting the substantial losses incurred to that point, including Java, in favour of regrouping the remaining resources to protect a new objective – the Coral Sea.
The retreat tactic worked for the most part. It allowed a number of vessels to escape to safety, before unexpected battle commenced with the Japanese. This gave ABDA a short window of time to escape and thwart the enemy who had not planned for this manoeuvre. In fact, it came at a time when the Japanese were preoccupied with their plan to land on Java. It did lack the resources and time needed to develop an understanding of the enemy, which explains the losses sustained. It appears that in an attempt establish sea control the ABDA command took an opportunity to generate a plan to safeguard the Coral Sea. To the Allied credit the Battle of the Coral Sea marked the point at which the Japanese advance into the southwest Pacific was arrested.15
Problems with ABDA command at Sunda Strait
ABDA was a coalition of four nations that required far more involved political constraints in planning for and actioning their objectives. They were defeated by the Japanese at the Battle of the Java Sea, and again at Sunda Strait for a number of reasons linked to their lack of cohesion; including fatigue from constant patrol, older ships, lack of common language or common codebook, the lack of communication with shore commanders, and a command force which was composed of men of different nationalities, who therefore lacked training in common tactics.16 An example of this was the Dutch destroyer Evertsen; which did not accompany Houston and Perth, due to apparently not receiving orders to do so.17 Again the lack of communication regarding replenishment resources available to the Allies in Tanjong Priok, left both Houston and Perth with no means of attaining battle readiness for their mission. Meeting an IJN force, as they did, meant very quick depletion of their ability to remain offensive, and leading to their tragic end.
Constantly developing defence strategy and doctrine
Development of defence strategy and doctrine requires experience from hard-learnt lessons, such as the losses at Sunda Strait. It requires forward planning to meet the needs of enhanced capability. Since 1976, the Australian Government has been addressing this requirement by producing a document for defence strategy, and its continued development. The Defence White Paper is Australia’s primary policy document available to the public that announces the Government’s long-term strategic direction, Australia’s national defence commitments, and future plans to enhance capability. The Government aims to release an updated white paper every 5 years.18
There is no greater responsibility for a national government than the defence of the nation, its people and their interests. Successfully meeting that obligation requires sound long-term planning, guided by regular thoughtful assessments of the country’s strategic outlook and potential threats to our sovereign interests.
Joel Fitzgibbon (Minister for Defence, 2009).19
At its most basic, the white paper introduces policy that explains why Australia needs a defence force, the current and perceived threats to Australia, and the measures required to achieve self-reliance. This helps the people of Australia to understand the need for development in the capability of its defence force. This degree of strategic development shows that Australia has been learning from its successes, mistakes and failures in order to create an educated current policy. The most common element of the defence strategy discussed in each of the papers written since 1976 has been that people remain to be the largest and most important resource. People are ‘integral’ to implementation of strategy and doctrine. Essentially, the calibre of personnel in terms of their training, leadership, professionalism and technical expertise is how Australia has maintained its defence capability.20
The policies written in each white paper provide the basis for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to create doctrine. For the RAN, the doctrine published is called the Australian Maritime Doctrine (AMD). The AMD highlights the specific strategies that Navy uses, or intends to employ in the future to meet future defence requirements. Maritime doctrine teaches the fundamental principles that the Navy uses to determine its course of action to support national objectives.21
The purpose of maritime doctrine is to give naval command clarity in their approach to conflict, dangerous or unusual situations. It is derived from analysis of historical events, and Australia’s military experience. In brief, it is a strategy that describes the function of the RAN. Doctrine provides a basis for action founded upon knowledge.22 The AMD lays out the most important tactics and strategies that the organisation must employ to be an effective tool in the defence of Australia. In essence, it sets the tone and limitations for the actions that the Navy takes to achieve its mission ‘to fight and win in the maritime environment’.23 The RAN relies entirely on the ‘way that technology is employed’, and it is essential that people remain the ‘most important factor for maintaining naval effectiveness’.24
Implementation through Navy values
The RAN implements strategy and doctrine through its people. Focussing on professional mastery at every stage, it is instilled through excellence in the development of leadership, teamwork and specialised skillsets. Ultimately the responsibility of ensuring continuity and cohesion between strategy and people lies with the people who train, instruct and have a responsibility to develop Navy people. Positive reinforcement, effective comm-unication and a thorough understanding of historical events, such as those presented in this essay, all contribute to developing a Navy that functions effectively.
The requirement to develop future capability and operation remains in the present with Navy’s current leaders. Knowledge of historical events develop an understanding of how to prevent incidents such as the loss of Perth, whilst professional specialty training enables Navy and its people to develop specific methods of enhancing the defence of Australia. It is the effectiveness of Captain Waller’s leadership that kept his men fighting to the end, even after they had ran out of ammunition and the loss of Perth was inevitable. Waller acted with bravery in an uncertain circumstance, he led his crew to the end and went down with his ship, but his calm leadership throughout would have instilled much confidence them. This stands testament to the current values that the RAN operates by.
This essay has shown that the development and implementation of defence strategy and doctrine can enhance the capability and effectiveness of the RAN. The need for a continually developing organic defence policy has been driven by hard learned lessons in wartime, and events such as the Battle of Sunda Strait have highlighted that the organisation must learn something from every failure and emulate those strategies and behaviours from times of success. The benefits of generating strategies through analysis, simulation and war gaming has been proven, by the Imperial Japanese Navy in this example, to be a far superior way of achieving operational success.
Being prepared, as the IJN had been in 1941-1942, allows for a far more thorough understanding of the cost of conflict, and the potential losses in engaging in battle. This strategy alone is a very useful command tool since it poses the question of whether it is necessary to go to war or not. Modern strategy employed by the RAN is determined by means of policy documents such as defence white papers and is implemented through doctrine by means of one very important factor – people. The RAN prides itself on quality leadership and focuses entirely on the development of its people to achieve its objectives.
Budge, Kent G. The Pacific War Online Encyclopaedia, Published online, 2013.
Caffrey, Matthew, History of Wargames: Toward a History Based Doctrine for Wargaming, Published online, 2000.
Department of Defence, Defending Australia – Defence White Paper 2013, Australian Government Publishing Services, 2013
Department of Defence, Defending Australia – Defence White Paper 2013, Australian Government Publishing Services, 2009
Dull, Paul S., A Battle History of The Imperial Japanese Navy (1941-1945), Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2007.
Gill G. Hermon, Australia in the War of 1939-1945, The Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942, The Australian War Memorial, 1957.
Gustafson, Gary, A., The Strategic Culture of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Military History Online, 2012.
O’Hara, Vincent, P, Battle of Sunda Strait: 28 Feb.-1 March, 1942, Published online, 2007.
Sea Power Centre – Australia, Australian Maritime Doctrine, Australian Government Publishing Services, 2010.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War (translated by Lionel Giles, M.A.), 1910, Published online through Project Gutenberg, 2013.
1 Sun Tzu 1910, The Art of War (translated by Lionel Giles, M.A.), p 182
2 Vincent P. O’Hara, ‘Battle of Sunda Strait: 28 Feb.-1 March, 1942’, http://www.microworks.net/pacific/battles/sunda_strait.htm, accessed 25 August 2013, p1
3 Kent G. Budge, ‘Centrifugal Offensive’, The Pacific War Online Encyclopaedia http://www.pwencycl.kgbudge.com/C/e/Centrifugal_offensive.htm
4 Matthew Caffrey 2000, ‘History of Wargames: Toward a History Based Doctrine for Wargaming’, The Strategy Page http://www.strategypage.com/articles/default.asp?target=WARGHIS2.htm&reader=long
5 Kent G. Budge, ‘War Games’, op cit
6 Sea Power Centre – Australia, 2010, Australian Maritime Doctrine, ‘Maritime Operational Concepts’, p 96
7 Gary A. Gustafson, 2012, ‘The Strategic Culture of the Imperial Japanese Navy’ http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/articles/strategiccultureijn1.aspx
8 Gary A. Gustafson, 2012, ‘The Strategic Culture of the Imperial Japanese Navy’, op cit
9 Gary A. Gustafson, 2012, ‘The Strategic Culture of the Imperial Japanese Navy’, op cit
10 Sea Power Centre – Australia, 2010, Australian Maritime Doctrine, op cit, p 205
11 Kent G. Budge, ‘Centrifugal Offensive’, op cit
12 Hermon G. Gill, 1957, Australia in the War of 1939-1945, The Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942, The Australian War Memorial, Canberra, p 596 http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/second_world_war/volume.asp?levelID=67910
13 Vincent O’Hara, loc cit, p 1
14 Hermon G. Gill, loc cit, p 619
15 Sea Power Centre – Australia, 2010, Australian Maritime Doctrine, op cit, p 73
16 Paul S. Dull, 2007, A Battle History of The Imperial Japanese Navy (1941-1945), Chapter 5, ‘From The Fall of Java to the Invasion of Burma’, p 87
17 Vincent O’Hara, loc cit, p 1
18 Department of Defence 2013, ‘The Defence White Paper’, http://www.defence.gov.au/whitepaper/
19 Joel Fitzgibbon, Department of Defence 2009, ‘Defending Australia – Defence White Paper 2009’, p 9
20 Sea Power Centre – Australia, 2010, Australian Maritime Doctrine, op cit, p 175
21 Sea Power Centre – Australia, 2010, Australian Maritime Doctrine, op cit, p 1
22 ibid, p 1
23 ibid, p 9
24 ibid, p 9