- Proud, J.C.R, Commander
- Naval Intelligence, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2021 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
This article was the first to appear in the very first issue of the Australian Naval Historical Review in 1971. It retains its historical interest, and is very much in character with the style and tone of today’s Review.
If Lieutenant Commander R.B.M. (Cocky) LONG had not been passed over for promotion and given a desk job in Melbourne as Director of Naval Intelligence, the history of war in the South West Pacific might have been very different. He, with Wally Brooksbank, who was civil assistant to DNI, were to be primarily responsible for the establishment of a wartime intelligence organisation which was to play a significant part in the campaigns in New Guinea and the Solomons, and later in what was then the eastern part of the Netherlands Indies.
In the years before the war, Long planned and organised the Coastwatching system in the islands to the north. Its story has been told in The Coast Watchers by its first commanding officer, Eric Feldt. Its part in supplying the intelligence which led to the defeat of the Japanese in Guadalcanal and New Guinea is well known. But Long saw further than this. In consultation with Admiralty, he placed Admiralty Reporting Officers in Portuguese Timor and the Netherlands Indies and arranged for RAN Intelligence personnel to be seconded to the HQ in Singapore of Admiral Layton, then C-in-C China Squadron. I was one of these officers and found myself acting as political intelligence officer concerned with Japanese operations in China and their intelligence activities in South East Asia.
Shortly before the fall of Singapore I was posted to Java. After the battle of the Java Sea, I was one of the fortunate ones able to escape the Japanese net, and reached Fremantle in mid-March 1942. I reported to DNI in Melbourne at the same time as Lieut. Col. Egerton Mott of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), who had been sent by London to advise on establishing an Australian division to carry out sabotage and intelligence operations in what was to become the South West Pacific Area. Captain Kendall had also arrived from London on a similar mission. He represented the United Kingdom Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). My own field was organisation of native resistance to the enemy by propaganda and infiltration and the subversion of enemy morale.
Long saw that these organisations if established should be coordinated to avoid duplication. Talks began in March, and General Sir Thomas Blamey came prominently into the picture. He had seen the value of irregular operations in the Middle East and was anxious that similar bodies should work in New Guinea and the Islands. GHQ SWPA were not so enthusiastic although they appreciated the work being done by the Coastwatchers.
On his own initiative Blamey approved the establishment of the Far Eastern Liaison Office (FELO) in June 1942. It was charged with carrying out all combat propaganda in SWPA involving lowering of morale in the enemy forces, misleading the enemy regarding our military intentions and influencing native peoples in Japanese occupied areas to give the Allies maximum support in weakening the enemy’s war effort by co-operating with our forces. I was appointed Director of FELO.
At the same time the C-in-C arranged for Mott to establish an Australian branch of Special Operations (SOA). Both organisations had their initial HQ in Melbourne.
By July, MacArthur and his chief of Intelligence, Willoughby, accepted the situation and established under Col. C.G. Roberts of the Australian Army the Allied Intelligence Bureau. Its object was to coordinate the work of five organisations – the Coastwatchers, SO(A), SI(A), FELO and the Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service. The latter had been formed by the government in exile which had been set up in Australia following the occupation of the NEI.
It was not until the end of 1944 that AM was effectively reactivated when Brigadier K. A. Wills (now Sir Kenneth) was appointed Controller AIS. He, by force of his personality and enthusiasm for the work, and with the strong backing of the C-in-C, welded the separate organisations into an operational whole. He took over in January 1945, with HQ at Hollandia. By this time our efforts were primarily directed to the Moluccas, Borneo and Java. The Americans had set up their own organisations to cover the drive to the Philippines.
In the previous two years there had been co-operation between the four irregular bodies, but this had been achieved by personal relations between the heads of each group rather than imposed from above. FELO personnel were attached to SO(A), now known as the Services Reconnaissance Department, and Coastwatcher field parties to carry out special propaganda functions and supply and communications systems were shared where practicable.
Mention has been made earlier of the general FELO directive. How was it to be achieved? On the overt side the use of propaganda leaflets in native languages and in Japanese was the most obvious way. To cover this, a small nucleus of Japanese experts was recruited and this was later expanded by certain Japanese POWs who agreed to co-operate. At the same time, we had a group of New Guinea and Indonesian personnel to cover the native populations.
Printing of general purpose leaflets was done in Brisbane, but before long, advanced sections were established in forward areas to prepare material particularly designed for the local tactical situation. To ensure accurate dropping (which was essential in areas like New Guinea and the Islands), a team of officers and NCOs was attached to the RAAF and USAF squadrons. These men went on leaflets dropping missions and were briefed to pin point the targets.
This was particularly important for leaflets in Pidgin and Indonesian where specific instructions were given to native villagers with the object of denying their labour to the enemy. On the Kokoda Trail it was later estimated from captured Japanese documents that as a result of these leaflets more than 2,000 Japanese front-line troops had to be used as carriers.
But leaflets were not enough in themselves. A much more personal contact had to be established, and FELO was fortunate in having Lieut. Col. G.W.L. (Kassa) Townsend as head of operations. A senior district officer of the New Guinea service, he knew the people well, and was also able to recruit old New Guinea patrol officers andothers with an intimate knowledge of the Territory. These officers, with units of specially trained native police boys, were infiltrated behind enemy lines with the object of obtaining intelligence and stiffening the resistance of the local inhabitants to the Japanese occupation forces. Altogether FELO inserted 14 of these field parties.
In a short survey like this it is impossible to list them all, but the work of Lieut (sp) G. A. V. Stanley in the Sepik area, Captain Bob Cole AIF, behind Hollandia and Flight Lieut. MacDonald working with small craft and HDMLs in the Moluccas was outstanding. Stanley was awarded the DSC, Cole the MC and MacDonald the XIBE. The use of small craft became more important as we advanced to Morotai and Borneo. At the end of the war FELO had 12 of these vessels working along the coast of Borneo and Sarawak. FELO also had mobile propaganda units equipped with film projectors and radio receivers placed in enemy occupied areas to win over the natives as our troops advanced. Also, front line broadcasting units were attached to the Australian forces to broadcast propaganda material to the enemy but the effectiveness of this was doubtful. In the Japanese army we had the toughest proposition of all, and POWs taken were relatively few.
Lack of space makes it impossible to describe in detail the other operations of FELO, but an important one was the deception plan which, at the request of General Kenney (USAF), was carried out to induce the Japanese to make an air attack on Port Moresby in April 1943. By the use of native agents, leaflets and the international press and radio, the plan succeeded. According to Kenney’s report, the Japanese put over three raids of 75 to 100 planes each. We lost half a dozen Allied planes, the Japanese lost more than 100 fighters and bombers.
All the AIB sections were demobilised at the close of hostilities although FELO still had work to do contacting isolated enemy detachments who had not heard of the surrender, and often still refused to believe it. This was carried out by leaflet drops and broadcast messages from small craft.
Many lessons were learned from both our failures and our successes. One thing was certain: Irregular forces, while they must be given as much freedom of action and method as possible must be co-ordinated from above and be in touch with local operational command. Without this, men and material can be wasted without commensurate results.
Biographical Note: J. C. R. Proud, CBE, VRD. Served with RANVR, 1939-45. Director FELO, 1942-45. After the war, served with the British Foreign Office and later with the Colonial Service in China, Malaya, the Caribbean, Kenya and Cyprus. 1961-68, Director of the Centre for Educational Television Overseas, in London. Now retired. Decorations: OBE (Mil.), 1945, CBE (Civil) 1958