Falling bombs and the rise of a nation - Six: Drawing lines and pulling back
Give up most of Australia to the enemy? It seems crazy to say it, but that's exactly what was tabled. It was a last resort strategy considered as one of the options against a determined enemy. Here's some of the story.
Australia is a huge country with relatively few people. It meant our military forces were quite limited back in the late 1930's and early 1940's when war broke out. This was mainly due to our small population and limited financial resources together with our reliance upon Britain and her resources. It paid to have powerful friends. Our main military forces, the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) was serving in far away lands leaving very little back home to hold the fort.
With the brutal way in which Japan was conquering territory it was only a matter of time before they turned their attention to the big brown land at the bottom of the world, and its resource-rich land.
Due to the sheer size of the land it would be almost impossible to defend so other plans were devised.
Plans were tabled to focus defensive efforts to the "more vital" industrial centres in the east and south-east portion of the country. An imaginary line, to be known as The Brisbane Line was to begin above Brisbane and arc around to Adelaide with the everyone outside of that line being pulled back into the more defensible area.
The image above shows the defensive positions in 1942 as per an official report from General MacArthur. The defensive positions are circled and the black curved line to the right is the Brisbane Line, or part of it.
You can see the main defence area marked from Adelaide around to Brisbane, including Tasmania. The rest of Australia was to be forsaken. src
This "Brisbane Line" strategy was first secretly discussed by Britain's Winston Churchill and Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies before the war but it was kept extremely quiet, for obvious reasons. Abandoning seven eighths of the land wouldn't be popular.
Exactly when the plan was first proposed is unknown, nevertheless, there is evidence that there were indeed plans to fall back to more defensible positions allowing a concentrated effort to repel the enemy when they came rather than trying to defend a massive front which would surely lead to failure.
It came up again in 1942 when Eddie Ward, a politician from Sydney, stood before Parliament and called-out Robert Menzies for the plan questioning how the country could follow such a man who proposes such an abominable plan without even firing s shot first!
You can imagine the arguments that ensued between the politicians; One side so ready to abandon seven eighths of Australia to the Japanese and the other not wanting to have anything to do with a government so willing to forsake the country without so much as a shot fired in anger. Unheard of!
Fortunately once war actually did break out the plan was not supported by the new government headed by Prime Minister John Curtain although incarnations of it were talked about with General MacArthur referring to the Brisbane Line in an official report. The map above is from that report.
This was all good and well for those down south, well away from the death and destruction but up in Darwin was where the real work was getting done.
In Darwin things were moving apace with the RAAF base being cleared of the destruction and debris from 19th February bombing attacks and those since. They were busy finding and disposing of unexploded ordinance dropped by the Japanese and bolstering the defences for what may, and did eventually, come.
One way they sought to mitigate the bombing risk was to construct roadside airstrips for the fighters spread around the area rather than concentrated in a single location. These were often crudely constructed, usually compacted by 44 gallon drums full of water rolled along by the men...The Aussies were short of equipment, but not ingenuity. They still exist today too...One can walk on them, imagine a spitfire taking off climbing skyward and into battle.
The air strips were crude but serviceable and soon more P40 Kittyhawk fighters began arriving along with the efficient American Liberator bombers and the much-sought-after Spitfires! Now they could take it to the Japanese!
The Japanese were still bombing but now realised one of their biggest mistakes; They had not followed up the devastating Darwin bombings with a ground invasion.
They should have taken Darwin when it was battered and bleeding from the intense bombing, when it was in disarray and its defence was in tatters. It would have meant they had a firm footing on the continent, air fields to launch heavy bombers from and a supply line reaching all the way back to Japan. That ground invasion would have been virtually impossible for Australia to dislodge once it had gained a toe-hold. It would have changed the course of the war in the Pacific and probably the outcome here in Australia had they done so, especially considering the Brisbane Line strategy of pull back and hold. If that happened, and my ancestors survived, this post may have been written in Japanese.
Still, despite that error, the bombings didn't let up with the Japanese ranging further inland to destroy the airstrips and supply dumps where possible. It was harder work though; There was no longer any element of surprise and the Aussies and Americans were getting organised from a defensive perspective. There was more resistance from the ground, anti-aircraft and machine gun batteries, and the arrival of the Liberators and Spitfires meant the air was no longer ruled by the enemy.
The two sides squared off and fell into a series of brutal punch, and counter-punch, air battles. Bombing sorties came inland from the Japanese and the allies took them out to see to bomb the Japanese fleet and many dogfights took place between the Japanese Zero fighters and the Kittyhawks and Spitfires of the allies. Of course men died, on both sides; It was the way of war, and this one was no different.
The two combatants attacked and defended with the Australian's usually on the back foot however they had motivation, and the nation at their back.
The Aussies didn't like what had happened to Darwin, and that it had caught them unawares...It wouldn't happen again, they vowed, and they dug deep within, worked hard and fought hard in the typical Aussie way. They put themselves in harms way for those down south, their families, and yes, even those bloody politicians who were happy give most of Australia to the enemy. "Not on your bloody life you bastards," the men thought. "Not on my watch."
The Brisbane Line policy was never tested fortunately. I believe it would have been disastrous and could have lost the whole of Australia to the enemy in quick fashion. We will never really know of course, thanks to a few who put themselves in harms way, both Aussies and those brash, likeable yanks. A bunch of dedicated and selfless people offered themselves up in defence of the country in the far away Northern Territory; A town called Darwin and the skies over head, was the battlefield. The fight for Australia was on.
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An original post written by a human
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NOTE about this series:
A little while ago I announced a series I would do about the bombing of Darwin, Australia. I've done three posts so far and it's time for part four. You can find the other three by following the links part one, part two, part three, part four and part five here.