Appendix 5: Future Employment of AIF: General Sturdee’s Paper of 15th February 1942
In view of the present situation in the S.W. Pacific Area and of information which has just come to my knowledge, I consider that the future employment of the AIF requires immediate reconsideration by War Cabinet.
2. At the present moment we are in the process of transferring 64,000 troops of Aust. Corps from the M.E. to the ABDA Area. The first flight of 17,800 is now in Bombay being re-stowed into smaller ships for dis-embarkation in N.E.I. If any change is to be made, action must be taken immediately.
3. So far in this war against Japan we have violated the principle of concentration of forces in our efforts to hold numerous small localities with totally inadequate forces which are progressively overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers. These small garrisons alone without adequate reinforcement or support never appeared to have any prospect of with-standing even a moderate scale of attack. In my opinion, the present policy of trying to hold isolated islands with inadequate resources needs review.
4. Our object at the present time should be to ensure the holding of some continental area from which we can eventually launch an offensive in the Pacific when American aid can be fully developed. This postulates the necessity for keeping open the sea and if possible the air reinforcing routes from U.S.A. This area to be held must be large enough so that, if we are pressed seriously by the Japanese, we will have room to manoeuvre our defending forces and not get them locked up in a series of small localities, e.g. islands, where the garrisons are overwhelmed piece-meal and are consequently lost as fighting resources for the duration of the war. Sacrifices of this nature can only be justified if the delay occasioned to the enemy’s advance is such that the time gained enables effective measures to be organised for taking the offensive.
5. Present indications are that in the near future the only portion of N.E.I. that is likely to remain in Allied hands is Java. The Dutch Military Forces there amount to some 55,000 organised into two divs (according to information dated Nov 1941), concentrated in two groups around Batavia and Surabaya. The centre of the island is devoid of troops except a few small posts. These forces consist of a small proportion of Dutch whites, the remainder being native. They are entirely immobile in the sense that they cannot fight out of the area in which they are at present located, as they rely very largely on civil resources for their supply, transport, repair, signals, provost and other services. In fact, they should be regarded more as well equipped Home Guards than an Army capable of undertaking
active operations in the field according to the developments of the strategic situation.
6. The Dutch themselves will probably fight well, but are inexperienced and probably not highly trained. The rank and file are natives whose fighting qualities are doubtful under conditions of modern warfare. It is unlikely that they are as good as British Indians, who so far have not been very successful against the Japanese.
7. General Wavell’s present plan is to distribute the AIF and the accompanying British Armoured Bde as follows: –
South Sumatra: 7 Div and some Corps Troops.
Central Java: 6 Div and balance of Corps Troops. British Armoured Bde.
South Central Java: Depots and Base Units.
The prospects of 7 Div being able to reach South Sumatra in time seem doubtful even at the best estimate. If they are unable to go to Sumatra, it seems probable the whole Corps would be located in Central Java. Assuming that the move of the AIF can be completed in time, the defence of the whole of Java would then depend on Aust Corps of two divisions, one British Armoured Bde and two inadequately organised and immobile Dutch divs tied by lack of maintenance services to Batavia and Surabaya respectively.
8. Java is some 600 miles long with an average width of about 100 miles. It is highly developed with internal communications (roads and railways) and possesses few of the topographical obstacles encountered in Malaya. Its natural resources are well distributed and very favourable to the Japanese forces living on the country. With the present command of the sea enjoyed by the Japanese and the local air superiority they can concentrate, landings can be effected in any portion or portions of the island they choose.
9. It is known that Japan has several divisions in reserve in addition to those that could be spared from Malaya and the Philippines. Her limitations therefore appear to be shipping, her losses of which to date are comparatively small.
The prospects of the successful defence of Java are therefore far from encouraging.
10. Even assuming the successful defence of Java, this island does not provide us with a continental base from which we could build up Allied strength to take the offensive. It would be continually subject to air bombing from adjacent N.E.I. islands in Japanese hands, and the sea approaches would be open to continuous attack from Japanese naval and air forces from near-by bases.
Valuable as the holding of Java would be to impede the Japanese advance southwards, it cannot provide a strategic base upon which Allied strength can be built up owing to its comparatively small size, the long sea route from U.S.A. and the uncertainty of keeping such route open
for the enormous quantity of shipping needed to develop USA resources in manpower and fighting equipment.
An equally important factor is that, if Timor is lost, we are unable to ferry fighter and medium bomber aircraft by air to Java from their assembly bases in Australia.
11. The most suitable location for such a strategical base is Australia. It has the shortest sea route with U.S.A. of any considerable area of continuous land. Its extent is such that it cannot be completely overrun by the Japanese if we concentrate our available resources for its immediate protection whilst American strength is arriving. It has an indigenous white population which provides considerable fighting forces. It has sufficient industrial development to form a good basis for rapid expansion with American aid. Its northern shores are sufficiently close to Japanese occupied territory to make a good “jumping off” area for offensive operations, whilst its southern areas are sufficiently far from Japanese bases to ensure a reasonable degree of immunity from continuous sea and air bombardment bearing in mind the growing strength of USA Naval and Air forces.
It can therefore be accepted that Australia meets the requirements of a strategic base from which to develop our ultimate and decisive offensive.
12. The only other alternatives seem to be India and its neighbour Burma. The latter is already in the front line, more difficult of access even than Java, and possesses insufficient development to be capable of rapid expansion. It is, however, most important to keep the Burma Road open to retain China in the war. India is a long sea route from U.S.A. and approaches via the Bay of Bengal will probably be difficult of access. It is a “black” country, and the attitude of its population is likely to be uncertain if the whole of the NEI falls into Japanese hands in addition to Malaya and Singapore.
Therefore, Australia provides the logical answer.
13. Our immediate problem is how best to assure the security of this country pending the arrival of sufficient American forces not only to safeguard this strategic base, but also to develop the offensive against Japan.
The AMF is progressively being built up to some 300,000 but it lacks much of its essential fighting equipment and is inadequately trained at present. Having regard to the size of the continent, it is inadequate against a maximum scale of attack by Japan. The cream of its trained and experienced officers have gone abroad with the AIF and large numbers of its other ranks are in the elementary stages of training. Even when fully trained, a matter of many months, its numbers are inadequate to defend the vital areas within the 12,000 miles of coastline.
14. It is therefore very evident that considerable risks are at present being taken with the security of this country, which appears to be the only practicable base from which the offensive can ultimately be launched. The return of the available AIF from abroad, some 100,000 trained
and war experienced troops, complete with war equipment and trained staffs, would in my opinion more than double the present security of this country.
15. To hold Java (if this is practicable) and to lose Australia would be little solace to Australia, the British Empire or the Allied cause.
Alternatively, if Australia is held and Java lost together with over three-fifths of the Australian Corps, the Australian potential for providing its quota of military forces for the eventual offensive would be very greatly reduced.
16. In view of the foregoing, I have no alternative but strongly to recommend that the Govt give immediate consideration to: –
(a) The diversion to Australia of: –
(i) that portion of the AIF now at Bombay and en route to Java;
(ii) the British Armoured Bde in the same convoy.
(b) The diversion of the remaining two flights to Australia.
(c) The recall of 9 Aust Div and remaining AIF in M.E. at an early date.
17. Since the above was written, a cable has been received from General Lavarack (copy attached) which endorses the basis of the views I have expressed. He refers therein to an appreciation by General Wavell. This is not so far available to me.
(Sgd) V. A. H. STURDEE Lieutenant-General
15 Feb. 42.
Chief of the General Staff.
Addendum by Chief of the General Staff:
General Wavell’s appreciation just received, which only confirms the views submitted. (Intl’d) V.A.H.S.