- Cowman, Ian, Dr
- History - general, Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
But Admiral William Rooke Creswell, the Australian First Naval Member, rejected the idea of war in the Pacific on the ‘grand scale’. He had never truly given up an earlier commitment to destroyers and local naval defence, for he even opposed the full panoply of the Henderson scheme. Japan, he believed, was only likely to favour a war of expansion over the long term:
The very “advanced” scheme contemplates war on the grand scale i.e., a fleet followed by an army of invasion opposed to which is a coalition fleet (when it comes into being) adequately based on the North line. The probabilities are against war on the grand scale, rather they are in favour of a war in which, at the least cost and danger to herself, Japan would attempt to enforce the free entrance of her subjects to Australia.36
Under such circumstances it was Australia’s shipping and lines of communications that were vulnerable, for cruiser forces could evade and would find the Australian coastline wide open. Under the Thring-Onslow plan, where the disparity in forces was estimated at some twenty Dreadnoughts to four, use of the Australian Fleet would be constricted and contained, the bases covered, and Australia’s naval forces besieged in their own ports. The only other alternative was to develop a fleet strength more on a footing with Japan. But garrisons and fortifications would then be unnecessary. Instead a ‘Nation in Arms’ would have to be created. So to fulfill all the requirements he felt would require a more populous Australia, if not the introduction of conscription; the drain on resources was certain to be greater than Australia could stand. In any case Creswell had always preferred a defensive posture:
Recent developments… indicate that British naval command of the Pacific may be suspended to a greater degree and for a longer time than could have been anticipated. Under such circumstances the defensive will be forced upon us. At Sydney commerce and navy are both centred in one port offering only one neck to break between them, it compels concentration upon it by the enemy …. the effective counter to such a condition will be the selection of Port Stephens in the North and Jervis Bay in the South and making them strong as flanking ports.
This done, if the enemy attempted to watch all three ports, unless greatly superior, the consequent dispersal would offer opportunities to the weaker fleet (the defence). If the enemy, ignoring the flanking ports, still centred its attack on Sydney, then once again unless vastly superior in terms of strength, his communications would be at the mercy of an active though weaker force based at the flanking ports.37
Nevertheless it was agreed the cause of Australian defence would probably be better served by trying to combine the resources of the various Pacific colonial dependencies into an Empire wide scheme, an opinion underwritten by the Navy Board itself at meetings held on 17 and on 21 July 1913.38 The standard adopted was 70% of the fleet strength of the ‘enemy’ and it was decided that the united fleet should have no less than fourteen ‘Dreadnoughts’. The Naval Board also endorsed discussion of the united Empire Fleet at the next Imperial Conference, which they hoped would be called immediately and without delay.39 Millen took the reports and resolutions to Cabinet where it was decided to cable London to request a defence conference.40 But the matter had not ended there as Hughes-Onslow pointed out:
The discussion of this subject was officially brought to an end by the adoption of certain resolutions by the Board, but I now find on sending for the docket that the First Naval member and Finance Member have both added minutes within the last few days preparatory to handing the docket to the Minister. I consider it improper and irregular … that certain Members of the Board should then proceed to write official minutes on the subject without the full cognisance of every other Member of the Board …I desire to point out that both the First Naval Member and Finance Member contravene by their arguments the formal Board Resolutions to which they assented and to which they were officially committed.41
Around 4 September it was agreed by the Board to take the matter to the Council of Defence, where it was anticipated agreement ‘would be secured in principle but differences over detail would remain’. But the Council did not meet from 5 February 1913 to the 9 February 1915. Despite this Darwin was substituted for Bynoe Bay in the listings as an advanced fleet base. As a compromise Creswell even suggested continuation of the Henderson scheme with possible expansion into the Thring plan some time in the future.42