In March 1943 the War Cabinet appointed the writer of this volume to prepare a plan for an official history of Australia’s part in the war then being fought. This action was a result of representations by Dr C. E. W. Bean who had completed his Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 in the previous year. After advice had been sought from a number of authorities, a provisional plan was presented to the War Cabinet and approved by it in July 1943. It provided for the writing of sixteen volumes, not including those which might be devoted to a medical history to be planned by an editor nominated by the medical directors-general of the three Services; for the preparation, as a departmental responsibility and for the guidance of future administrators, of wartime histories of Federal departments, not necessarily for publication; for the establishment of a naval historical records section; and an enlargement of the air force historical records section. (An adequately staffed military history section was already at work.) Among other proposals was one that the trustees of the Canteen Fund be asked to help in providing funds towards the production of unit histories where needed.
A revised and extended plan was approved by the War Cabinet in December 1945. Under this plan, as finally amended in 1950, there will be, in the civil series of this history, two volumes on wartime government and the war’s effects on the people, two on economic developments, and one on technological and scientific achievements. The volumes on wartime Government present the over-all view as seen by the War Cabinet, and to that extent they form a key to the work as a whole. The experiences of the fighting Services are described each in a separate series. It would not have been practical to write volumes which described the combined operations of all three Australian fighting Services, because they were in action together so seldom.
The history of the Australian Army from 1939 to 1945 is to be described in seven volumes, three of which deal principally with campaigns in the Middle East and four with campaigns in East Asia and the Pacific. A large part of the present volume is concerned with the period before military operations began, and to a great extent it forms an introduction to the military series as a whole. It includes only one relatively brief campaign. In the air force series two will describe the experiences of the Australian Air Force at home and in the war against Japan, and two the part which Australians played in nearly six years of air warfare in Europe and the Middle East. The two naval volumes relate the story of the world-wide activities of the Australian Navy; the first ends at a convenient date in 1942. Each of these three series is introduced by a brief account of developments between the wars. The medical history is planned in four volumes in which wartime problems of the medical profession in general and the medical services in particular are examined, and their organisation
and work described in relation to the needs of the armed Services and the health of the nation.
In all this planning Dr Bean’s advice was constantly obtained. He also read the first draft of this and the succeeding volume of the army series and offered much valuable criticism.
The administration of the official war history was placed under the Minister for the Interior, largely because to his department belongs the Australian War Memorial at Canberra, which nursed the small staff of the official history in its infancy and is the home of the records of the Australian fighting Services in the first and second of the world wars of this century. In 1943 the Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, established a committee consisting of the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister for External Affairs and himself to consult with the Minister for the Interior and the General Editor about the appointment of writers of individual volumes of the history. Thus the writers whom the General Editor chose and recommended had to have the approval of both Government and Opposition. The General Editor and the Medical Editor were salaried. The other eleven writers signed agreements with the Minister for the Interior to complete their work within a specified time – generally four years for one volume. Their fee was paid in instalments as sections of the work were delivered. Each writer was required to spend on each volume a year free of other employment, but in fact several have devoted considerably more full-time work than that to the task. The writer of the volumes on wartime government obtained a cancellation of his contract with the Commonwealth in order that he might stand for election to the House of Representatives, but, with the agreement of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition, he continued his work as a labour of love.
At its maximum the staff employed to help the writers has included seven research workers or literary assistants, a cartographer, a secretary and two part-time typists. It has been a general principle that, so far as was practicable, the researchers should not intervene between the writer and his source material. One result of this policy has been that the research and editorial staff has probably been smaller in relation to the size of the undertaking than in other organisations working in this field. A main task of this hard-working and devoted team has been to provide each writer with the greater part of his source material – a task demanding exceptional patience and initiative in view of the fact that only a proportion of it was yet in the good order and arrangement that the archivists will eventually achieve, and much still in the custody of Government departments. They have also carried out detailed research work of a strictly factual kind. However, the writers of these volumes have not been dependent to any great extent on narratives or summaries prepared by others. The research staff has prepared the typescript for the printer, prepared the biographical and other footnotes and the indexes, and done a great amount of checking.
An undertaking by the Government to give reasonable access to official documents has been generously carried out by Ministers, administrators
and archivists. The writers have been helped also by the exchange of documentary material with colleagues in the British countries, the United States and Holland. As the work progressed several volumes of British Commonwealth and American official histories and many memoirs by wartime leaders became available. These helped to fill notable gaps, particularly in enabling Australian writers to record deliberations in London, Washington and other places which affected the employment of Australian forces.
When I accepted appointment in 1943 it was on the understanding that after the war I should be free to take up the question of freedom from censorship. When the War Cabinet approved the final plan of the history in December 1945, it decided that “the exercise of censorship by the Government is to be limited to the prevention of disclosure of technical secrets of the three Services which it is necessary to preserve in the post-war period.” Thus this history is official in the sense that it has been financed by the Government, that the writers have been given access to official papers, and have been conscious of the special responsibilities which rest upon writers of a national history.
While writers and editor have on occasion only reached agreement after considerable discussion, in no case was agreement impossible. That is not to say that writers and editor are devoid of opinions and sentiments and have achieved complete agreement on the multitude of problems raised by a work such as this; but that, in my opinion, each writer has gone as far as could reasonably be expected in subordinating to his responsibilities as an historian, his loyalty to his nation, to his Service, or to a political point of view. Each writer has been given opportunities to read and comment on the drafts of those other writers whose work runs parallel with his own, and, making the most of one of the advantages enjoyed by a contemporary historian, has had his whole work or parts of it read by men who participated in the events he describes.
The nature of the sources on which the civil volumes are based will be discussed in their prefaces. This volume, like others of the military series, is chiefly based on the war diaries and reports of formations and units, on some hundreds of interviews with participants obtained during the war, and on much correspondence and many interviews conducted after the war with a large number of soldiers, some of whom gave many laborious evenings to helping to solve our problems. Thus the authority for most of the statements is contained in documents now at the Australian War Memorial at Canberra. Footnotes have been kept to a minimum by citing authorities only where they are quoted verbatim or where support seemed to be needed for controversial statements. As a rule German, Italian and Japanese documents are named only when they have been published or otherwise made widely available. Each writer’s notes will be handed to the Director of the War Memorial for preservation. Generally our policy is to accept the evidence of a witness close to the event in place and time in preference to one farther away. Thus a company commander’s report is preferred, so far as the experiences of his company goes, to a battalion’s
or a brigade’s account of the same incident. All published sources of which substantial use has been made are named in footnotes, but in this as in other volumes of the military series they comprise only a small part of the source material.
In this preface I do not attempt to answer a number of interesting questions likely to arise in the minds of other workers in this and related fields of history. Later I will write a more detailed account of the problems encountered during the writing of the history as a whole and this series in particular.
In this volume and others dealing with operations in the Middle East the spelling of place names was a wearisome problem. There are several systems of transliterating Arabic and Greek words, each with its devoted adherents. As many as six different spellings of certain place names in Syria can be collected from maps and gazetteers in use in 1941 or later. In these volumes we have tried to avoid spellings which would be misleading or unduly irritating to Australian readers yet at the same time to go some distance towards following sensible methods of transliteration.
The practice employed in the previous Australian war history of providing a short biographical footnote about each person mentioned in the text has been followed in the army, navy and air series, and in a modified form in the civil series. We have tried to give his occupation before the war and the town or district which he considered to be his home. In the army and air series a biographical footnote published in a volume dealing with the war in Europe and the Middle East is repeated if the man concerned reappears in a volume dealing with the war against Japan.
In the preface to each volume the writer will state to what extent he had first-hand experience of the events which he records: I joined the I Australian Corps as a correspondent representing Australian morning newspapers in November 1940, after having been in France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1939–1940. I reported the operations in the Western Desert until late in February when my colleagues and I began to make ready to go to Greece.
I will not try to record the names of the very many soldiers from generals to privates who helped me in the writing of this volume. Some handed over valuable collections of documents and personal records; some have read all these chapters; some have read and offered helpful criticism of single chapters or special passages on which they could comment with authority. Many submitted to interviews lasting often for hours; many have taken great pains to collect and set out replies to our questions. In the writing of this volume much help was received from Brigadier H. B. Latham of the historical branch of the Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom and his staff.
In my work as general editor I owe much to the support of three Prime Ministers, Mr John Curtin, Mr J. B. Chifley and Mr R. G. Menzies. Mr Menzies and Mr Chifley were also wise and generous members of the History Committee during the periods when they were Leaders of the Opposition. Constant support was given by four successive Ministers for
the Interior, Senator J. S. Collings, Mr. H. V. Johnson, Mr. P. A. M. McBride and Mr W. S. Kent Hughes, and by two Secretaries of that department, Mr J. A. Carrodus and Mr W. A. McLaren.
In common with the other writers of volumes in the army series I have received generous cooperation from the Director of the Australian War Memorial, Lieut-Colonel J. L. Treloar, and his staff; the Secretary of the Department of Defence, Sir Frederick Shedden, and other officers of that department; the Chief of the General Staff, Lieut-General S. F. Rowell; and the Secretary of the Department of the Army, Mr F. R. Sinclair.
My principal assistant on this volume, and the next, has been Mr A. J. Sweeting. He was lent to me from the AIF in 1944 when he was a young veteran of one Middle Eastern and two New Guinea campaigns and has worked on the history since then. He has been responsible for the index, the biographical footnotes, the preparation of the typescript for the printer, and much correspondence and checking. Beside him has been Mr John Balfour, his senior, who was on Dr Bean’s staff from 1919 until 1942 and on mine from 1946, and has been the tutor of all the assistants who have worked on volumes of this history. All of us owe much to my secretary, Miss Mary Gilchrist, who has steered our organisation through its administrative problems and also done much of the typing when it presented special difficulties. I was lucky to have Mr Hugh Groser, both artist and draughtsman, as cartographer; more of his work will be seen in later volumes.
4th July 1951