- Royle, Guy, Admiral
- None noted
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- August 1972 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On December 10 1944 the First Naval Member, Australian Commonwealth Naval Board, Admiral Sir Guy Royle, KCB, CMG, in an address to the Fleet expressed the opinion printed below. The 28 years which have passed have not altered the importance of the Navy’s role in Australia’s defence.
I AM AFRAID there are still quite a number of people in Australia who have little or no idea of what Sea Power means to them, people who would be quite surprised if they were told that without Sea Power Australia would long since have faded off the map, or, alternatively, be populated by Japanese.
I am not blaming them. The Navy does its best to keep its movements and operations wrapped in secrecy. It has to, for security reasons. One of the great advantages of naval power is mobility and its capacity to strike suddenly and unexpectedly in any part of the world.
Unlike belligerent armies and air forces whose positions are generally known and whose operations are attended and reported on by large numbers of newspaper correspondents, the navies do their best to disappear from the public eye, and, in consequence, their confidence value is gravely diminished. The landsman just does not understand it. It is this psychological fact that makes him crave for something he can see and touch, like the army and the air force. For these reasons I would ask you to remember three simple solid facts – facts which are indisputable and which should prove clearly to all why Sea Power is indispensable to Australia. There are many other facts, but these three should be sufficient:-
- Australia is an island – in fact, the biggest island in the world – and lies farther from her markets in peace and from her allies in war than any other Dominion.
- No part of the Empire, least of all Great Britain, is self-sufficient. Each Dominion depends for her existence in time of war on the safe arrival of reinforcements and supplies from her allies, and without that help she hasn’t a chance of adequately defending herself or of carrying out an offensive against the enemy. Australia’s combined imports and exports in 1942 were valued at over £359,000,000, whilst in 1943 they were over £391,000,000. Her imports of fuel in 1942 were 2½ million tons and in 1943 3 million tons; and, remember, without this vital lifeblood our aircraft would have been grounded and our armies and shipping immobilised.
- Australia’s lines of communications with the outside world can be severed anywhere in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans thousands of miles from her coast by powerful surface ships, disguised raiders, submarines or longrange bombers, and if they are severed Australia is definitely on her own. She is cut off from outside help. Her trade stops and her armies and her air forces, however powerful they may be, will function just so long as her reserves of fuel and other supplies last out.
Having got these three facts in your mind I want you to ask yourself this question: How was it that during the first two years of the war, from September ’39 to December ’41 –
We in Australia enjoyed comparative peace and security?
Our trade and our troops proceeded overseas in comparative safety?
We had no fear of sudden raids or bombardments of our coastal towns?
How did this come about, when on the other side of the world England was fighting desperately for her life and ours? If you arrive at the correct answer you will go down on your knees every night and thank God for the British Navy and its little sister, the Royal Australian Navy, which held in check the naval forces of Germany and Italy, which otherwise would have overrun the seven seas and choked Australia to death.
It was those great battleships which you never see and of which you rarely hear – King George V, Duke of York, Anson, Howe, Rodney, Nelson, Queen Elizabeth>, Warspite, etc. – operating from their bases at Scapa, Gibraltar, Alexandria and Colombo, which have held the ring and are holding it now, and have thereby saved the Empire.
And now I want you to recall your feelings when Japan came into the war with her treacherous attack on Pearl Harbour and the sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse, off Malaya. Do you remember how scared we were – and quite justifiably so – how lonely and helpless we felt, how vast and unprotected the coastline of Australia appeared to be, how our coastal towns appeared to offer perfect targets for bombing attacks by carrier-borne aircraft, and in fact our coast appeared to be wide open to invasion? The Japs had us at their mercy.
All this happened because we had suddenly lost control of the sea in the Pacific.
How were we saved from disaster and invasion? The answer is a simple one. We were saved by the American Navy assisted by its little cousin the Royal Australian Navy, whilst the British Navy guarded our left flank in the Indian Ocean.
We were also helped by a silly mistake of the Japanese. If after their attack on Pearl Harbour they had occupied it and based their fleet there, Australia’s lines of communications in the Pacific would have been severed and none of those vast reinforcements of men and supplies could ever have reached this country. Australia would have been isolated and left open to invasion. There would have been no New Guinea campaign.
Fortunately for us the Japanese had other plans. They preferred to go for Singapore, the Philippines and the rich resources of the Netherlands East Indies, and during that welcome respite the Americans built up their fleet. When the Japanese had time to turn their attention to us they found the United States fleet barring their path, the great American battleships whose names you probably hear for the first time – New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Indiana, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and North Carolina.
These great ships held the ring in the Pacific whilst the British fleet held it in the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, and thereby safeguarded our sea communications and enabled vast reinforcements and supplies to reach this country. The experiences of this war have therefore proved again that the existence of this island Empire of ours depends on the control of sea communications, which can only be guaranteed by powerful naval forces.