History - general
In the State Library of Victoria we have an amazing photographic collection of ship photo thanks to Allan Green.
He was born in Daylesford, in the Central Victorian goldfields on Dec. 23, 1878. His father was a miner. There is a photograph of a sister, Florence, and there were an unknown number of brothers.
Our knowledge of this man’s life – if not the published indications of a gentle and kindly soul – are at best fragmentary. We do know that as a young man Allan Green and his brothers set out for the goldfields of Western Australia, in the roaring days of Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie, but – not striking it rich – eventually opened a grocery store in the remote mining settlement of Day Dawn well north of Perth, inland from Geraldton [it is now a ghost town]. Allan Green was never a miner: he had originally worked as helping hand to a blacksmith, and after the store was opened, finding himself left for long periods alone, he started a corresponmdence course in Fine Art, the basis of his water colour painting that followed.
Clearly Green was a man of finer instincts than his environment of remote boom and bust mine towns suggest. A photograph of wheat wagon out in WA also suggests he was already working with a camera. Information about his introduction to photography, however, is completely lacking, but everything about the stunning clarity of Green’s plate glass images, and his care in composition, compellingly suggests that he also had some formal training in this art.
He is seen in the photo here as a young man, in a typical early 20th Century Edwardian portrait, perhaps taken around the time of his marriage to Elizabeth May Cowie, a beauty of Scottish heritage, whom he married at the Town Hall in South Melbourne.
Returning to Victoria in the early years of the 20th Century Green opened a photo studio on Williamstown’s Front Esplanade, which he lived above. While Green no doubt did commercial portrait photography, his own fascination and focus seems to have been was almost entirely maritime, and he clearly spent an enormous amount of time on it.
Of the 10,000 or so images Green donated to the State Library of Victoria in 1940 [the number, nominally 8025, is much understated as a result of by multiple images under single subject listings], there are just a few family portraits and few general scenes. The rest is entirely of ships, one of the great collections of its kind.
His first love had been sailing ships, billowing under full sheets out at sea, and there are thousands of such images in the SLV’s Green Collection, augmented by his highly regarded colour paintings from the 19th-early 20th Century’s end of sail era, many of them published in the Melbourne ‘Punch,’ and later the maritime ‘Port Phillip Quarterly.’
The photograph collection largely consists of Green’s own work, but he also gathered in photos of ships from all around the world, and he sold reproductions of these these from his Front Terrace studios. In truth, the business failed to flourish, and the 1930s found Green working as a newsagent in Melbourne’s tough inner suburb of Richmond, a business that eventually failed during the Depression.
Green’s grandson, Mr David Thiessen of Oak Park, Victoria, who passed on this information, tells us that while his grandfather – artist at heart – was never a successful businessman, nor was he much concerned with money. Apart from his time in Western Australia, Green’s only trips outside the State of Victoria were two trips to Sydney, at least one of them accompanied by his grandson. Although only a boy, David Thiessen recalls him photographing warships at Garden Island during this visit.
In a tribute published after his death on April 25, 1954, the Port Phillip Quarterly, the author Captain Hartley Watson said that along with sailing ships Green had an early interest in the ships of the Royal Navy’s Australia Station squadron, which preceded the formation of the RAN. This interest continued throughout his life, and just as Sydney’s Sam Hood [1872-1956] is said to have photographed every ship that came into Sydney Harbour over a 60 year period, so too Allan Green captured just about every ship, and certainly all the warships of all nations, that ever appeared in Port Phillip Bay.
Australia has had other great maritime photographers: Searcy in South Australia, Izzy Orloff [1891-1983] and Saxon Fogarty in Fremantle, Albert Perrier [1870-1963] in Sydney, and others [not forgetting the newspaper photographers], but in terms of preserved work and significance, Sam Hood and Allan Green seem to stand head and shoulders above the rest. Their styles were very different: Hood, topical, with human interest settings and Sydney scenery; Green, ignoring almost everything but meticulously lucid detail of the ships – the only outside influence to intrude on Green’s images was Melbourne’s notorious weather.
The above story is from https://www.flickr.com/photos/41311545@N05/7691401602
The State Library of Victoria collection available at http://search.slv.vic.gov.au/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do;jsessionid=BF9685547D67BC59BB7292EC3EE8B1FF?fn=search&vl(freeText0)=Green%2c+Allan+C&tab=default_tab&mode=Basic&scp.scps=scope%3a(ROSETTA_OAI)%2cscope%3a(SLV_VOYAGER)%2cscope%3a(SLV_DIGITOOL)%2cscope%3a(SLVPRIMO)&vid=MAIN&ct=suggestedSearch&vl(34473804UI1)=all_items&vl(1UIStartWith0)=exact&vl(10247183UI0)=creator
Allan C Green 1878-1954, photographer.
by Lieutenant Commander Terry Feltham RAN Ret’d
“Just because something ends doesn’t mean it never should’ve been. Remember, you lived, you learned, you grew and you moved on”. Anon.
Why this topic?
The recent discovery within the Society’s archives of an undated letter from Signalman Donald Fraser, commissioning member of HMAS Toowoomba1 led to my researching the reasons for the resignation in March 1942 of her Commanding Officer, LCDR Paul Hirst and the eventual dispersal of her entire crew.
Part of undated letter from Don Fraser: after suffering heavy damage on the passage. Soon thereafter we were ordered back to sea. Our captain ‘Digger Hirst’ was loath to take Toowoomba to sea until major repairs were affected. Apparently Senior Naval Officer Western Australia, Commodore Collins, directed the skipper – ‘Take your ship to sea or resign’. ‘Digger’ advised the ship’s company, “I’ve resigned and I will be happy to get back to the spuds in Tasmania”. Under a new skipper we sailed to Adelaide for repairs. There, the entire crew received ‘individual draft notes’ sending them to all corners of the globe! Toowoomba then decommissioned, affected repairs and recommissioned. Did ‘Digger’ resign for nothing? Don Fraser.[i]
My First Impressions.
Initially, there seemed little to this research task. Paul Hirst was a member of the Pioneer Class[ii] at The Naval College and HMAS Toowoomba 1 was Paul’s third command (following Tasmania and Success). Clearly Commodore John Collins and The Naval Board held Paul in high regard. So, in my opinion all that was required was for me to obtain copies of Toowoomba’s Reports of Proceedings from commissioning date in October 1941 to March 1942, seek out the Naval Board paperwork on the incident, the notes by Commodore Collins immediately before and after his decisions on the incident and access Paul Hirst’s personal reports and then write the story. ‘Wrong’. Despite considerable help from many people (most notably Vice Admiral Peter Jones) many cupboards were bare. However, sufficient veteran’s recollections are recorded to allow us the essentials of the story.
So I chose to go back to the early part of the 20th Century, research the history behind The Royal Australian Naval College and its Pioneer Class and build the story from that point.
The Royal Australian Navy and its Naval College
By the middle of the first decade of the 20th Century Vice Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell, KCMG, KBE (‘The Father Of The Royal Australian Navy) along with Rear Admiral Frederick Tickell MID CMG RN and two very supportive Prime Ministers, Alfred Deakin and Andrew Fisher, had begun a concerted push to have our Navy (more a Colonial Force at the time) breakaway from The Admiralty. By late 1905 the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board was constituted in Melbourne, and it was clear that ‘The Royal Australian Navy’ (RAN) was close at hand.[iii]
|VICE ADMIRAL WILLAM ROOKE CRESWELL, KCMG, KBE, RAN (Chief of Staff, RAN)||REAR ADMIRAL FREDERICK TICKEL CMG RAN (AS A CAPTAIN RAN) Australian War Memorial|
|Prime Minister of Australia Andrew Fisher, By T. Humphrey & Co, NLA image||Prime Minister of Australia Alfred Deakin, NLA image|
By 1911 many of Creswell’s capital initiatives for the RAN had been agreed and the Australian Government had also signed off on a major recruitment scheme for Australian Naval Officers, specifically:
An Australian Naval College (to be named HMAS Creswell on commissioning in January 1958) would be established at Jervis Bay by 1915. In the interim, young boys from all Australian states, and whose 13th birthday fell in the calendar year 1 January 1913 to 31 December 1913, would be invited to sit an exemplar exam in 1912 for entry to the Temporary Australian Naval College at Geelong in Victoria in 1913. Twenty eight Officer Cadets would be chosen to undergo a rigorous four year education, leadership, sporting and management program taking them to University entrance equivalent. On completion the successful graduates would join the Royal Australian Naval Officer Ranks as Midshipmen.[iv]
Creswell also made it clear to the Australian Government that he expected significant numbers of RN officers (including several of Flag Rank) would be required to fill positions in Australia’s naval command structure for the foreseeable future; probably until the early 1930s. He went further:
‘this fact does not worry me one iota as I am confident the Naval College structure agreed by the Australian Government, with its fine Executive, Educational, Engineering and Electrical training staff, would soon begin commissioning superb Australian Naval Officers’.[v]
Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d) in his book Australia’s Argonauts expresses best the sentiment of the time:
“For the nation, the calling for the first intake of Australia’s naval college was an important step in forging its own Navy. Yet, for twenty eight 13-year-old boys their decision would forever change their lives. Their careers would decisively shape the course of the Royal Australian Navy”.[vi]
Members of the Pioneer Class[vii] 
|Otto Edmund Albert;
George William Thomas Armitage;
Joseph Burnett (later KIA when Commanding Officer [Captain RAN], HMAS Sydney);
Norman Keith Calder;
John Augustine Collins (later Vice Admiral Sir John, KBE CB, Chief of Naval Staff 1948-1955);
Alfred Denis Conder;
Ernest Semple ‘Dick’ Cunningham (lost in HM K17 in 1917);
James Claude Durie Esdaile (the last surviving member of The Pioneer Class);
Harold Bruce (Fearless Frank) Farncomb (later Rear Admiral – CB, DSO, MVO, MID (3) Navy Cross [US] and Commander of the Legion of Merit [US]);
Eric Augustus Feldt (later OBE and Commander RAN – our greatest Coastwatcher);
Frank Edmond Getting (later Captain RAN – KIA 1942 when in Command HMAS Canberra);
|Lloyd Falconer Gilling;
Paul Hugill Hirst (later Commander – 3 Commands – Tasmania, Success and Toowoomba);
Elmer Benjamin Howells;
Peyton James Kimlin;
Frank Lockwood Larkins;
John Valentine Stuart ‘Jack’ Lecky;
Rupert Basil Michel Long;
Hugh Alexander MacKenzie DSC;
Jack Bolton Newman;
Edwin Scott Nurse;
Win Locker Reilly;
Cyril Arthur Roy Sadlier;
Henry ‘Harry’ Arthur Showers (later Rear Admiral, CBE);
Horace John Harold Thompson;
Harry Bertram Vallentine;
Adrian Joseph Beachleigh Watts;
Llewellyn Leigh Watkins.
Captain Bertram Chambers RAN was the initial Master at the College and to anyone interested he would say:
– ‘these young boys were selected on their perceived ability alone; social standing was paid no mind. I guarantee that by the passing of six months it will be impossible to tell the difference between the Cadet who knew the meaning of ‘a silver spoon’ and the Cadet who could handle a stump jump plough’.[viii]
Several of the class proved notable talents and will be well known to many of us: Vice Admiral Sir John Collins, Rear Admiral Farncomb, Rear Admiral Showers, Captain Burnett and Commander Feldt. Commander Paul Hirst proved to be a first-class naval officer and commanding officer, however he will not be as well-known as those named above.
Boys to Men
The selection process sought to ensure that only the fittest and the physically strong formed the 1913 Entry.
Sadly though, several originals lost their life while serving their initial engagement 1913-1930 and three Cadet Midshipmen were discharged before graduation returning to civil life and uncertain futures. The first to give his life was Otto Albert through meningitis in May 1914. Dick Cunningham, along with 47 other crew members in the RN submarine K17 were KIA following a collision in what was to become known as the Battle of May Island on 31 January 1918; and after the war ended, Frank Larkins accidentally lost his life when swept overboard from the casing of the RAN submarine J2 on the night of 19/20 June 1919 while transiting past Sumatra on his return to Australia.
World War 1 ends
Several of The Pioneer Class saw service during WWI, but by 1920 their lives had returned to a form of normality. A Return of Service obligation tied them to the RAN until 1930 and by then the seafarers blood flowed in the veins of quite a few, many going on to give absolutely outstanding Naval service until retirement; most notable being Vice Admiral Sir John Collins and Rear Admiral Harold Farncomb. The honour and legacy of those two men was settled for all time when the Australian Government gave the names Collins and Farncomb to two of our Collins Class Submarines.
Vice Admiral Collins was not only a name to be remembered by the Australian Government and the RAN; the people of Sydney (maybe even wider Australia) silently offered their thanks to him at his funeral. One woman was heard praising him in this way, ‘You have to understand what John Collins meant to us. When we were losing everywhere in the war he gave us our finest victory. He gave us hope’.[ix]
Paul Hirst proved also to be an outstanding naval officer. During the 1920s he was recognised as such on two occasions by The Naval Board, when given command of HMAS Tasmania and later HMAS Success. The following was written of Paul Hirst during his period In Command of HMAS Success.
“Paul Hirst is a capable, keen and zealous Commanding Officer of HMAS Success”. RAN.[x]
During that decade Paul was also appointed as The First Lieutenant at HMAS Cerberus a tough assignment for any Naval Officer
In 1931, with the world at peace, Paul decided to resign his commission and return to the family home in Carrick, Tasmania. When War raised its ugly head again late in the 1930s, he offered to re-join in July 1939 as a member of the Emergency List and was accepted with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Following service at Cerberus, then Warrego and Brisbane, Paul was appointed to commission HMAS Toowoomba in October 1941. This appointment being further recognition of the esteem in which he was held by his superiors.
Toowoomba at War 1941/1942
Soon after her commissioning late 1941, Toowoomba entered operational service. She was based in Sydney initially, tasked with convoy escort duties along the east coast of Australia until January 1942, when she was ordered to Batavia. Toowoomba was in constant action over the next two months and on 14 February was one of the last ships to enter Singapore Harbour before the Island was captured by the Japanese. Toowoomba’s sailing orders for each of her assignments in 1942 were issued under the hand of Commodore Collins RAN.
Following the outbreak of war with Japan, Captain John Collins was appointed Commodore Commanding China Force, based in Batavia, Dutch East Indies. HMAS Toowoomba under the command of Paul Hirst was stationed in the Dutch East India area early 1942, so throughout that period, Commodore Collins was Paul’s senior officer and as such his reporting officer
During what must have been a quite insane period in the Dutch East Indies early in 1942, Toowoomba was ‘dive bombed’ many times, surviving, it seems, only by the magnificent seamanship of her Captain. Toowoomba’s crew paid tribute to Paul with Signalman Fraser remembering Paul as a ‘Bonzer bloke and a terrific skipper’.[xi]
Toowoomba’s assignments in the Tanjong Priok and Tjilatjap areas kept her extremely busy and Tjilatjap became a regular stop off for refuelling. Hirst decided it would be prudent always to track close inshore when escorting convoys and when leading his corvettes.
Early 1942 the RAN decided that as Collins and his staff could not be well protected in Batavia, the office was to be moved to Fremantle,
Early on the morning of 2 March Collins, stationed at the time at Tjilatjap was doing his utmost to find shipboard accommodation for as many as possible in the transfer of his quarters and staff to Fremantle to take up the position as Commodore Commanding Fremantle and Senior Naval Officer, Western Australia
To his delight, over the horizon came Paul Hirst in Toowoomba and the other corvettes he was leading. Collins would have found them a god-send; as they made possible the evacuation of all personnel.
Soon after that evacuation, Toowoomba was ordered back to Fremantle and then commenced routine patrols off the Western Australian Coast. During her last patrol, she encountered heavy seas and suffered major damage to her upper deck structures and sonar and was forced to return to Fremantle. Shortly before arrival, a signal was received in Toowoomba informing Paul that he was to be promoted Commander and that he was to take four corvettes, including Toowoomba to join the British Eastern Fleet. The whole crew were delighted in the announcement.
Damaged Toowoomba arrived in Fremantle on Saturday 19th July 1942.
The Fremantle Meeting
Paul’s naval career ended effectively one week after Toowoomba’s return to Fremantle on Saturday 19 July 1942.
On arrival in Fremantle, I think it fair to assume that Commodore John Collins inspected the damage to Toowoomba[xii] and that Paul paid a visit to Senior Officer Western Australia Commodore Collins to further explain the structural damages to Toowoomba and to seek time to affect the required repairs. There are no written records extant of either Paul’s visit to John Collins or John Collin’s visit to Toowoomba. The Naval Board were in Melbourne and would not have visited the ship.
I do not say that Collins suggested to Hirst, ‘resign’, as there is no corroborating evidence such an exchange occurred. What we do know is that Hirst told his ship’s company he had resigned.
What I am suggesting is that there may well be several other parts to this section of the story. In particular I have little doubt that Commodore Collins took in Paul’s explanation of the repairs considered essential before Toowoomba could return to War Time duty anywhere, I think it is fair to assume, Commodore Collins, at this time, was (nearly) out on his feet following those hectic days in Singapore, Tanjong Priok and Tjilatjap when all that he was concerned about was the safety of his staff and the prosecution of Australia’s wartime commitments in the region.
There could be only one winner in the apparent disagreement between Paul and Commodore Collins over Toowoomba’s seaworthiness.
Vice Admiral Jones makes a most salient point. “The date was 1942, however Paul’s principled stand then resonates today where there is much greater appreciation on ensuring the material condition of ships ‘ship safe’ regime”.[xiii] So I remain bemused that Collins and the Naval Board (apparently) dismissed Hirst’s caution out of hand.
Despite Collins having been closely associated with Hirst’s promotion to Commander and Hirst’s exemplary wartime record in the Dutch East Indies in 1942, Paul would no doubt have given serious consideration to all Collins had to say before he (Hirst) decided ‘Resignation it must be’.
Both men were true gentlemen, outstanding Naval Officers and leaders (particularly in the case of Commodore Collins) and each would have known what the outcome of their disagreement had to be. First and foremost though was that Australia’s Naval Activities in the Dutch East Indies and also in Australian waters would take precedence over personal friendships. Paul would have understood this clearly.
Paul then returned to Toowoomba keeping much to himself until the following day. At an appropriate time, he assembled the ship’s company on Fremantle wharf, advised them of his meeting with The Senior Officer Western Australia, Commodore Collins, and told the crew (words to the effect) – “I’ve decided to resign my Commission. I will be returning to my family in Tasmania. You have been an amazing crew. I wish you well for the future”.[xiv] On Paul’s departure a period of considerable gloom settled over Toowoomba.
Repairs to Toowoomba were not affected until November 1942. Yes, a new Commanding Officer was appointed shortly after Hirst’s resignation, but the original crew remained aboard until Toowoomba arrived in Adelaide for docking and repair.
The obvious question as far as I am concerned: ‘Why did Paul Hirst feel compelled to resign IF the repairs to Toowoomba were essential and arranged to be completed in Adelaide soon after his resignation’?
On arrival Adelaide, Toowoomba was docked for repairs and her original crew (including all officers) were reassigned (posting notes and appointments) far and wide within the RAN.
Clearly, the Naval Board wanted a lid put on the whole incident. On 22 November 1942 Toowoomba was assigned to duty to the British Eastern Fleet involved in escort and patrol duties across the Indian Ocean reaching as far west as the Persian Gulf operating with the fleet until returning to Fremantle on 3 December 1944 for refit. That refit was completed in March 1945, and Toowoomba joined the British Pacific Fleet, assigned to escort and patrol duties between Australia and New Guinea until the end of hostilities.
Following the end of World War II, Toowoomba spent time in Hong Kong, performing minesweeping and hydrological survey duties; returning to Australia in December 1945. The corvette earned two battle honours for her wartime service, “Pacific 1942” and “Indian Ocean 1942–44”.
Following his resignation, Paul returned to his beloved Tasmania. However, he was not done with service in our Armed Forces. In September 1945 he volunteered for duty as a Captain with the Australian Army and was appointed Master of Craft with the Army’s water transport corps. Paul’s appointment in the Army was terminated (at his request) in January 1947. He then returned to farming in Tasmania. His wife Evelyn passed away in 1963 and Paul was laid to rest in Carrick Church Cemetery, Tasmania, in 1973.
Shipmates attending Paul’s funeral in 1973 at Low Head, Tasmania, recalled: ‘Digger had an uncanny ability to avoid the bombs from Japanese aircraft’. Norm Smith, another shipmate, wrote, Paul Hirst ‘had brought the ship through several close encounters with the enemy of the time so I and 80 or so others revere his memory in perpetuity’.[xv] Vale
HMAS Toowoomba During Pre-Commissioning Trials 1941
|Namesake:||City of Toowoomba, Queensland
|Builder:||Walkers Limited in Maryborough, Queensland
|Laid down:||6 August 1940
|Launched:||26 March 1941
|Commissioned:||9 October 1941
|HMAS Toowoomba at Fremantle on return from Active Duty in Singapore and Dutch East Indies
|Decommissioned:||5 July 1946
|Honours and awards:||Battle honours:
• Pacific 1942
• Indian Ocean 1942–44
|Fate:||Transferred to Royal Netherlands Navy|
Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d); Mr John Perryman Sea Power Centre, Canberra ACT; National Archives of Australia; Signalman Donald Fraser and his family; The Australian War Memorial; The Hirst Family (Tasmania and Toowoomba QLD); Historical Societies of Hobart Tasmania and Carrick Tasmania; Dr Ian Pfennigwerth [Captain RAN Ret’d] and The Royal Australian Navy.
[i] Undated letter from Able Seaman Donald Fraser – commissioning signalman HMAS Toowoomba.
[ii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geelong 2016. Pp428.
[iii] Vice Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell RAN.
[iv] Royal Australian Navy papers 1911.
[v] Vice Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell RAN.
[vi] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 17.
[vii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Preface.
[viii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp19
[ix] Royal Australian Navy papers 1911.
[x] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 640.
[xi] Paul Hirst’s personal papers.
[xii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 428.
[xiii] Personal communication Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d).
[xiv] Signalman Fraser interview by Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d) for Australia’s Argonauts).
[xv] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 636.
Dr J. K. Haken
Mines and submarine mining are always associated with the Navy, but internationally and locally the early development was with the Army Engineers.
Mines and underwater explosives were developed by the ancient Chinese, but in 1812 Paul Shilling, a Russian engineer, exploded an underwater mine electrically. This formed the basis of submarine mining, where mines protect harbours against attack. British Army staff including Engineers filled many roles in the Colonies and more than half a century passed before local troops eventuated. Victoria was the first of the Australian Colonies to raise an Engineer Corps1. Rules and Regulations for the Victorian Volunteer Engineers were signed on 9 March 1861 and a Torpedo and Signalling Corps was formed in 1870. The volunteer section was disbanded in July 1882 but the permanent section remained, known as the Permanent Section, Torpedo Corps and later as the Permanent Section, Submarine Miners. In 1886 the Torpedo Corps was renamed the Submarine Miners and was combined with the Engineers2.
In New South Wales Engineers were formed on 28 December 18703. The Torpedo and Signalling Corps was formed in 1873 and was the sixth Company of the NSW Naval Brigade commanded by E.C. Cracknell who transferred to the NSW Military Forces on 8 October 18774. In 1882 part of the Torpedo and Signalling Corps was re-designated as NSW Submarine Miners and became part of the Engineer Corps. At Federation the Submarine Miners were No 3 Company NSW Engineer Corps5. The greatest military disaster that had been experienced at the time occurred on 3 April 1891, when at an official demonstration a fatal explosion resulted in the deaths of four men. A mistake by an experienced RE NCO (on loan to the Colony) resulted in the destruction of the rowing craft and of nine other boats tethered alongside.
In 1877 a company of Engineers formed in Queensland and disbanded in 1893 before reforming in 1899 as the Brisbane Company of Submarine Miners5. In Victoria the Company was located at Swan Island, in New South Wales initially at Berry’s Bay and subsequently at Chowder Bay. Chowder Bay remains a military site. Both Swan Island and Chowder Bay are heritage listed. After Federation, the Australian Corps of Engineers was formed on 1 July 19026and the Submarine Miners consisted of No 1 Company Submarine Miners formerly No 3 Company NSW Corps of Engineers7, No 2 Company formed from Field and Submarine Companies, Victorian Engineers7,8and No 3 Company Submarine Miners formerly Brisbane Company of Submarine Miners7. No 3 Company was short lived, disbanding in 19099.
In 191210the Engineer Forces were reorganised and many amalgamations occurred. 37 Engineers (Submarine Mining Company) was formed from No 1 Submarine Mining Company while 38 Engineers (Submarine Mining Company) evolved from No 2 Submarine Mining Company. 37 Engineers (Submarine Mining Company) became 37 Engineers (Fortress Company). With re-organisation on 1 July 1913 the name was changed to 37 Fortress Company Engineers11. The Company was assigned to fixed defence on 31 March 192112. The 38 Engineer (Submarine Mining) Company became 38 Fortress Company Engineers on 1 July 191311, it also being assigned to fixed defence in 192112. Lieut. Gen. Sir Cyril Brudenell White, the Chief of the General Staff, decided that the submarine mining technique was obsolete13and subsequently all mining activities were transferred to the Royal Australian Navy in August 192214.
- Royal Australian Engineers Association of Western Australia.
- G. R. Vazenry, Military Forces of Victoria 1854-1967, Self-published Albert Park Barracks Melbourne c1968. Ch 6.
- NSW Government Gazette 322 2897, 30 December 1870.
- J. K. Haken, Lineage and Officers of the New South Wales Naval Forces 1863-1902The Naval Historical Society of Australia, Monograph 199, September 2003.
- G.R. Vazenry, Reorganisation. Self-published Albert Park Barracks Melbourne c1969, p 339.
- Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 58 606, 13 December 1902.
- The Military Forces Commonwealth of Australia List 1 February1904.
- Burton, H. A. An Account of the Corps from its Foundation to1932.Manuscript 1932, p 9.
- NAC File1924/18 Melb. Perm. Ser. 84/1 CMNcN.
- Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 51 1374 3 August1912, MO 428/1912.
- MO 403/11913.
- MO 95/19212.
- T. Hutchinson, The Miners of Chowder Bay, Army Newspaper, reproduced on line.
- P. J. Greville, The Royal Australian Engineers 1945-1972, Paving the Way.Volume 4, Corps Committee Royal Australian Engineers 2002, p 8.
Like some sections of our own armed forces who fail to acknowledge a period of colonial rule over which we had no direct control, there are those within the Indian Military Forces who take a similar stance insisting their history began after independence from Britain. But a nation cannot escape its past because of a dislike of some particular era. Part 1 of this series explored the extent of Indian military history until the commencement of the Second World War and we shall now move forward to Independence.
Extent of the Empire
In the period of the Raj before WWII India included Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka with the nominally independent Bhutan, Nepal, Burma and Afghanistan also paying heed to the viceroy. The Empire extended its influence over a huge area and population, with borders extending from Persia in the west, to Russia and China in the north, and Thailand in the east.
India and her associated states provided more than 2.5 million men to fight for the Allies in WWII. Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief India from 1943 to 1948, asserted that the British: couldn’t have come through both wars (WWI & WWII) if they hadn’t had the Indian Army. These sentiments were echoed by Field Marshall Sir William Slim (later Governor General of Australia) who said: It was a good day for us when he [Auchinleck] took command of India, our main base, recruiting area and training ground. The Fourteenth Army, from its birth to its final victory, owed much to his unselfish support and never-failing understanding. Without him and what he and the Army of India did for us we could not have existed, let alone conquered.
The Political Situation
Unlike Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa which were all self-governing Dominions within the British Empire, India, the ‘Jewel in the Crown’, remained under colonial rule. India stood at the very centre of the empire and the rise of an independence movement was of much concern to Great Britain. Those in charge had to be selected with great care. From 1936 the viceroy was the Marquis of Linlithgow, a respected, well-educated ex-army officer and Conservative politician. He was relieved in 1943 by Field Marshal Alexander Wavell (later Earl Wavell). Other than for a short period as Commander-in-Chief of the ill-fated Java based ABDACOM (American-British-Dutch-Australian Command) Wavell had been Commander-in-Chief India when he received the rather surprising offer to become viceroy. Although not popular with Churchill, Wavell was seen to be a safe pair of hands to wrest Burma back from Japanese occupation and stabilise unrest. At the end of WWII Wavell was recalled and replaced by the last of the viceroys, Lord Mountbatten.
As Prime Minister, Churchill, was virtually represented in India by Leopold (Leo) Amery, who was Indian born and a contemporary of Churchill’s at Harrow. Amery, a brilliant scholar, could speak Hindi and eight other languages. He became a correspondent for The Timesbefore entering politics and between 1922 and 1924 was First Lord of the Admiralty. Although not always in agreement with Churchill he became Secretary of State for India (1940-1945) and was the power behind the throne to which the viceroy was required to answer.
There were a number of powerful Indians representing the Congress Party including Gandhi (see Part 1), Nehru, Bose and Jinnah. Jawaharlal Nehru was a particularly influential member of a rich Kashmiri Brahman family and another old Harrovian, who completed his education at Cambridge. Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a successful lawyer and shrewd politician known for his efforts in forging compromise between Hindus and Muslims. Jinnah led the powerful Muslim League. Subhas Chandra Bose, who had completed his education at Cambridge, was the enfant terrible of Congress and a charismatic leader capable of stirring the masses. In 1938 he was elected President of the Congress Party.
The size of the Indian armed forces at the outbreak of war in September 1939 was: Army 194,373 men, Air Force one squadron of 285 officers and men and a small naval force with 1,846 personnel. This does not include the Indian Merchant Marine, noting that the British Merchant Navy (then the world’s largest) at the start of the war comprised 144,000 men and women, of whom about one quarter were Indian. This provides a total of about 232,500 personnel in the Indian armed forces and merchant marine by late 1939. By the end of the war these numbers had risen to Army 2,065,554, Air Force 29,201 and Navy 30,748 plus a Merchant Service of about 40,000. The total in late 1945 showed an amazing tenfold increase to 2,165,503, mainly men supported by a small number of women in uniform. The Indian Army was then the largest volunteer army in known history.
The Racial Divide
Religious divisions within the subcontinent are ages old and deep-rooted. From earlier times soldiers were predominantly recruited from the more warlike Muslims or Sikhs of north-western India. Additionally there was a sizable number of Ghurkhas from Nepal. Some high caste Hindus, not including Brahmans, were also included. Soldiers from this echelon were generally thought to be immune from an anti-British feeling that was becoming prevalent elsewhere.
But this mine was not bottomless and during the First World War it was necessary to cast the net further into Hindu communities to find the required number of recruits. During the Second World War the situation was exacerbated by phenomenal growth in a short space of time resulting in social transformation in the composition of the armed forces, with many more Hindus coming from southern India. With these increases the ratio of experienced British officers declined. There was also an imbalance, with a tendency to retain the mainly Muslin martial classes in front line regiments, at the expense of others.
India at War
As early as 1937 plans had been made for sending Indian troops to help garrison overseas outposts. Even before the outbreak of the Second World War, India had deployed 10,000 troops to help garrison Egypt, Aden, Singapore, Kenya and Iraq. In September 1941, after allowing for internal defence against an uncertain Russian position on the north-west frontier and a growing Japanese threat in south-east Asia and with a further build up in recruitment, India was able to deploy one division to Malaya and three more divisions to Iraq to protect Anglo-Iranian oilfields. In June 1940, with the fall of France and with Britain in dire need of experienced troops, eight regular British Army regiments were returned home from India and replaced by less experienced territorial regiments. By early 1942 some 264,000 Indian troops were serving overseas, including 91,000 in Iraq, 50,000 in Malaya, 20,000 in the Middle East and 20,000 in Burma.
There is little record of the Indian Expeditionary Force that sailed to France in December 1939. The Force was of brigade strength and mainly comprised men from the Indian Army Service Corps, partly equipped with four companies of mules. These were the first Dominion/Empire troops to come to the aid of the mother country during WWII. Embarkation was completed at Bombay on 10 December aboard the troopship Lancashirealong with four smaller British Indian ships, of which two were fitted with ‘tween deck stalls for mules. The total troop strength was about 4,000 officers and men. The convoy was escorted by the Australian cruiser HMAS Hobarttogether with two AMCs. They reached Marseilles on 26 December and the force was soon disembarked in cold, wintry conditions to entrain for destinations in Northern France.
In an interesting aside, lest we think that it was Indians alone who still relied on four legged transport, their convoy, supported by two further ships, was now made ready to embark the leading (6th) Brigade of the 1st British Cavalry Division, the last of a long line of horsed formations to serve with the British Army. After crossing the Channel from Southampton a total of 9,000 men and 4,000 horses were entrained for Marseilles and final shipment to Haifa in Palestine. Before the fall of France and the virtual closure of the Mediterranean to allied commercial shipping, nearly all troop movements to the Middle and Far East were made via Marseilles, thereby avoiding the considerable Atlantic U-Boat menace.
North and East Africa
The war in North Africa started in September 1940 with the movement of a large number of over-confident Italian troops from the relative safety of their cantonment in Libya towards Egypt. In the western desert they were opposed by General Wavell who had a numerically inferior mixed British and Indian force. The newly arrived Indian 4th Division was poorly equipped, had little training and no experience in desert warfare. However, morale was high, in this the first formation of the Indian Army to serve on the frontline of the war.
Skirmishes between the two sides occurred in late October 1940 but on 7 December Wavell launched his attack. Some 36 hours later the Battle of Sidi Barrani was at an end with 38,000 Italians plus much equipment captured. This was the first major victory by the Allies in WWII. This victory was however bitter-sweet for the Indians, who had performed well, as the 4th Division was replaced by the inexperienced Australian 6th Division, and the Indians moved to the less important theatre in East Africa.
Sudan was initially defended by three British battalions, but as of late September 1940 the Indian 5th Division began arriving. They included the 10th Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier William Slim, who had been with the army in India since 1919. In Sudan the going was much tougher with Italian troops occupying well defended positions and with superior air cover. The Allied cause was improved by the insertion of the Indian 4th Division. With considerable hard fighting the East African campaign was over with the surrender of Italian forces in May 1941.
Malaya and Singapore
After first becoming comrades at Gallipoli a quarter of a century earlier Australian, British and Indian armed forces were to meet again in less auspicious circumstances in Malaya in 1942. This battleground has been called the greatest defeat of the British Army when it was routed by a smaller but much better trained Japanese Army, culminating in the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942. In numerical terms the Indians were the senior partners with about 50,000 troops, British 33,000, Australian 17,000 and Malays 2,000. Most of these surrendered to an uncertain future.
The 6th Australian Division, which had relieved the 4th Indian Division in North Africa, took Bardia on 5 January 1941. Three weeks later Tobruk had fallen and the retreating Italians were pursued along the Libyan coast by exuberant Australians. Over 130,000 Italians were taken prisoner with hundreds of tanks.
This situation could not be allowed to continue and Germany decided to stiffen Italian resistance in North Africa, which in turn would not allow British and other Allied forces to withdraw troops to the European theatre. Ominously, the first of General Rommel’s Afrika Korps landed on 7 February 1941.
In March 1941 the now experienced Australian 6th Division was sent to Greece and replaced by new troops including the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade. Later that month the new boys were badly mauled by a Panzer Division. The Australians retreated to Tobruk. The Indians were isolated at Mechili where they were surrounded and, after suffering 25% casualties, surrendered.
On 11 April German and Italian troops stood at the gates of Tobruk. The 4th Indian Division which had just returned from East Africa was sent to help relieve the garrison. With Rommel’s forces being over-extended his attack was called off and on 4 December Tobruk was saved. The war in North Africa see-sawed before Rommel, with numerically inferior forces and little hope of fresh supplies began his fresh attack. He again reached Tobruk on 20 June 1942 which was defended by British, Australian and Indian troops. The ferocity of the attack surprised the defenders and early the next day the 22,000 strong garrison surrendered. The fall of Tobruk sent shockwaves far beyond North Africa as far as Washington. The retreating 8th Army took up new defensive positions at El Alamein.
In July 1942 rumours were rife of Rommel’s imminent entry into Cairo. Women and children were streaming out of the city in all modes of transport. The Commander-in-Chief, Auchinleck, was with his 8th Army squaring off against Rommel in the desert at El Alamein. This position, well within the Egyptian frontier, had been chosen because of its defensive capabilities with high ridges and salt marshes making it largely impassable to tanks.
The 10th Indian Division garrisoned further west at Matruh had been cut off by the attacking Axis forces. The decision was made to fight their way back to Alamein and this breakout proved successful. However, by the time they reached Alamein they were in a poor state and sent back to the Nile to re-equip.
Other Indian units with no experience of desert warfare were deployed on sectors of the Alamein Line and received a baptism of fire in confronting tanks from the crack Afrika Korps. In the end Alamein became an expensive stalemate but unable to dislodge the Allies, Rommel withdrew and Auchinleck did not pursue the enemy. Auchinleck was relieved of his command and sent to India with Montgomery taking over the Eight Army.
The Burma Road
To many Australians, mentioning the Burma Road takes their thoughts back to a railway built in 1943 covering the 258 miles (415 km) of rugged terrain through Thailand providing support to Japanese forces in the Burma campaign. This was built at great human cost by locals and 60,000 Allied POWs. There is, however, another much longer Burma Road of 717 miles (1,154 km) running through mountainous country linking southern Burma with China and built in 1937-38 by 200,000 Burmese and Chinese labourers. Until cut by the Japanese during WWII this gave vital British and American aid to Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Chinese Army, who had been involved in the Sino-Japanese War since July 1937.
The British may have underestimated the capabilities of Chiang’s poorly provisioned but battle-hardened troops, who were willing to support them in Burma. There may have also been an underlying suspicion that increased American aid through Burma to China might unduly influence future political post war affiliations, running counter to those of European colonial interests. As a result the Indian Army fighting against the Japanese in Burma was initially poorly resourced; in 1941 this comprised 22,000 mainly British, Indian and Burmese troops.
Initially Burma did not feature in Japanese plans but as Malaysia had fallen so easily they sensed similar opportunities in Burma. By capturing the country they hoped to seal the western boundary of their planned Co-Prosperity Sphere to replace the older European dominated colonies. The Japanese offensive with 25,000 troops began on 22 January 1942 and the onslaught was ceaseless against ill-prepared defenders. By early April the skies were alight as the Allies set fire to fuel tanks from their precious Burma oil fields. By the end of April 1942 Allied troops together with countless civilians had evacuated Burma.
Following the evacuation of Rangoon, India entered into its darkest days. Japanese forces next occupied Indian territory, seizing the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the south-eastern entrance to the Bay of Bengal. Now within the range of Japanese aircraft and warships, the eastern Indian seaboard became unsafe for Allied shipping. The Royal Navy’s Far East Fleet, fearful of Japanese air attacks, evacuated Ceylon to new bases in the Maldives and Kenya; this mighty navy had been humbled, it had lost its raison d’être and, for a while, it had lost control of the Indian Ocean.
While the Allied cause did indeed look bleak, this was also the zenith of Japanese conquest, as Japan had overextended its resources and supply lines. Soon after, the superiority of the American industrial expansion and military manpower became evident and, after hard-fought encounters, there was a glimmer of reversals in fortune. It was time to plan for the re-conquest of Burma.
Re-conquest of Burma
The first Arakan offensive began in late 1942 with the 15th Army Corps comprising nine brigades. The offensive was aggressively pursued by the United States, which was providing vast quantities of much needed logistic support, and who considered an attack essential to keep Chinese Nationalist Forces engaged against the enemy in northern Burma. Britain favoured a gradual build-up and more cautious approach but the offensive was approved. The initial landing on the Burmese coast went well as two defending Japanese brigades withdrew to the cover of better defended positions. It was then found impossible to dislodge the Japanese and after nearly two months of battering a Japanese counterattack was launched and, by mid May, the Indian Army was withdrawn having suffered a humiliating defeat.
The Arakan campaign had sent shockwaves throughout the army and had fostered an aura of invincible Japanese fighting skills. A study of lessons learnt came to the ironic conclusion that a central problem with the recent build-up of the Indian Army, and making it suitable to mechanised warfare in North Africa, was that it had forgotten basic skills necessary in the jungle-clad mountainous Burmese terrain. It was back to the basics of 1915 Gallipoli with the reintroduction of the Mule Corps, and even bullocks and elephants were called into service in transporting heavier loads. Overall training was much improved with emphasis on morale, health and discipline to enhance fighting skills. New tactics were developed and employed to counter enemy dispositions.
At the higher level the C-in-C of the Indian Army, Auchinleck, was largely bypassed with Mountbatten, who had distanced himself in Colombo, as the new overall South East Area Commander (SEAC). The Eastern Command was renamed the 14th Army and placed under the command of General Slim.
On 30 November 1943 the Army was ready to undertake a new major offensive in Burma. While costly frontal attacks could not always be avoided, new tactics of infiltration and encirclement (learnt from the Japanese) often worked and compelled the Japanese to retreat. This, together with massive air superiority, gradually wore down Japanese resistance and the once invincible troops were finally repelled at great cost to both sides. Bitter fighting continued for many months. The monsoon made effective fighting impossible for about half of the year, but a lack of supplies and fresh troops took its toll upon the Japanese resulting in their eventual collapse after many thousands of deaths and casualties, with a final retreat into Thailand in August 1945.
Civil Disobedience and the Quit India Campaign
Early reversals of fortune of British and Allied forces fighting in Europe and North Africa gave impetus to the Congress-inspired Indian Independence Movement. This was exacerbated by Japanese air raids on the subcontinent which started on Calcutta on 19 December 1941.
On 9 August 1942 the leadership of Congress was arrested and placed in custody. This triggered a popular uprising, the most serious since the Great Mutiny of 1857. A ‘Quit India Movement’ became a catchcry under which public property, with government buildings including police stations, post offices, railways and telegraph installations were damaged and destroyed. The Indian Army stood firm to maintain law and order and where necessary opened fire upon its own citizens. On 10 February 1942 Gandhi started a hunger strike in support of the independence movement; this could have had dire consequences should he have died a martyr. Fortunately, on 2 March he ended his fast, regained his health, and gradually order was restored.
The Indian National Army
Associated with the independence movement was the Indian National Army (INA) and its leader Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose was born to a wealthy legal family and educated in India but later attended Cambridge. He was a radical leading member of the Indian National Congress, rising to become president in 1938. In the mid 1930s he had visited both Italy and Germany where he was feted for his anti-imperialist views. Here he met a young Austrian woman, Emile Schenkl, and they later married.
After differences with Gandhi and other Congress leaders Bose was ousted from the leadership in 1939 and considered a subversive. He was subsequently placed under house arrest. However he escaped from India and in 1941 arrived in Germany where he established a ‘Free India Radio’ and helped form a 3,000 strong ‘Free India Legion’ from disaffected POWs who had been captured in North Africa. While of significant propaganda value the ‘Legion’ never saw action and was mainly used in policing roles in the Netherlands and the Low Countries.
In view of Japanese successes in south-east Asia, Bose’s talents were considered more important in this theatre. At Kiel on 9 February 1943 he boarded the German submarine U-180 which took him to Madagascar where he transferred to the Japanese submarine I-29 from which he disembarked in Sumatra in May 1943. Bose was then flown to Tokyo for high level discussions on how the 60,000 Indian civilians and POWs in Singapore might be recruited into the INA.
A mass gathering of Indians in Singapore was transfixed by the oratory and charisma of this amazing individual – one of his quotes is: Give me your blood and I will give you freedom. Over 20,000, including many officers, joined the INA and Bose was even able to recruit a volunteer female regiment to provide nursing and welfare support. Recruits may also have been encouraged by the alternative offered, of joining labour camps in New Guinea with a very uncertain future.
The INA were employed taking control of the Indian, but Japanese occupied, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the then British, but Japanese-occupied Christmas Island (post-war this became an Australian Territory). INA also provided guards overseeing Allied POWs at Changi prison. Their greatest assistance to the Japanese war effort was in providing troops to assist in the defence of Burma. Bose had the vision of being the great liberator, leading his army from Burma into India, with the population flocking to his banner. While this was never to eventuate there would have been immense unrest if it had succeeded. With the end of the war in sight Bose was moved to Formosa where this misguided patriot died following an air crash in August 1945. He was 48 years of age.
British authorities were determined to make an example of the INA officers and soldiers as traitors. However, the days of the Raj were over and the authorities were out of touch with the common man. Senior officers were deeply shocked and dismayed by the attitude of the majority of Indian troops who had remained loyal; they were now willing to regard members of the INA as independence fighters, whom many believed were true patriots. After a few showpiece trials the majority of prisoners were released to be welcomed back into the community as heroes.
The Royal Indian Navy
Not unlike the RAN, the Royal Indian Navy traces its history back to colonial times, in fact a long way back, to the East India Company which was established in 1599 and formed a fleet of fighting ships in 1612. Subsequently there were various changes in title until the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) was formally proclaimed on 2 October 1934.
Under the overall protection of the Royal Navy the Royal Indian Navy was often overlooked and at the start of the Second World War the RIN had only eight warships. However its wartime growth was considerable, which included the establishment of a Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service.
RAN ships were frequently attached to the Eastern Fleet and worked with RIN counterparts. One of the more tangible contributions was the transfer of four Australian built corvettes, the rather grandly named, HMI Ships Bengal, Bombay, Madras and Punjab which were all commissioned in Australia in 1942. when Bengal was escorting the armed Dutch tanker Ondina off the Cocos Islands In October 1942 she was attacked by two Japanese commerce raiders armed with 6-inch guns. Bengal and Ondina sank one raider and the other beat a retreat. Two other corvettes, HMA Ships Ipswich and Launceston combined with HMIS Jumma in sinking the Japanese submarine RO-110 in the Bay of Bengal.
Post War – the Navy goes on Strike with the end of an Empire
The year 1946 was one of turmoil. Inflamed by the INA trials there were uprisings, demonstrations and strikes. The loyalty of the armed forces was also tested when on 18 February 1946 the Royal Indian Navy mutinied. This started in Bombay where dissatisfied sailors deserted their ships and marched through the city holding aloft portraits of Subhas Bose. A major point of protest was alleged discrimination against Indians by British officers. The mutiny spread throughout the country affecting 78 ships and 20 establishments with over 20,000 ratings involved. There was also sympathy from their Army and Air Force colleagues and substantial public support.
The leaders of Congress demonstrated tangible political maturity and negotiated a settlement with the mutineers to return to their duties and, in return, they would ensure that their grievances were addressed. As quickly as it started the mutiny was over.
The mutiny demonstrated to the British that they no longer had control of the Indian armed forces and political power was with the Indian people. Following elections on 2 September 1946 Nehru became vice-president of the viceroy’s Executive Council and thus effectively prime minister. A new British administration under Labour leader Attlee recalled Governor-General Wavell and appointed Mountbatten as his successor – but not for long, as Attlee also announced that Great Britain would withdraw from India by June 1948. The Raj was over and the Empire no more.
India, a nation with a tumultuous upbringing, has long sought peaceful independence. The Australian–Indian relationship, however, was not brought about by peaceful means but forged out of marching and countermarching to imperial tunes, which lasted until the demise of an outmoded empire.
We now seek inspiration for a final chapter in this series addressing the maturing relationship between our two countries from the time of Independence to the present day, which also looks into mutual issues affecting regional defence in the Indian Ocean. This might also acknowledge a different Australia, one with rapidly changing demographics, with a decided cultural shift towards Asia.