Did Japan Intend to Invade Australia?

Duncan Grey, Dickson College, 2010

printThis essay was written in response to the following question: "Did Japan intend to invade Australia? If not, what was the purpose of its attacks on Australia in 1942 and 1943?" It was submitted as part of the Second World War unit at Dickson College, Semester 2, 2010.

In 1942 both the Government and people of Australia viewed the prospect of Japanese invasion as a genuine threat.[1] After a rapid advance through South East Asia and the Pacific the Japanese, having begun their invasion of New Guinea, were seemingly at Australia’s doorstep. Following the bombing of Darwin in February 1942, invasion seemed inevitable and initial fear was widespread among many Australians.[2] However, in reality the Japanese had no intention of invading Australia in 1942 and made no serious attempt to do so. Not only did Japan not intend to invade Australia due to other strategic priorities, it was extremely unlikely that it would have had the capability to do so regardless of how the war proceeded. Instead, the attacks upon Australia in 1942-43 were Japanese attempts to damage Allied bases in North Australia and not a precursor to invasion.

The initial stages of the Pacific War were meticulously planned by the Japanese military, with their expansionary goals clearly mapped out prior to the beginning of hostilities in December 1941.[3] These goals did not include an invasion of Australia, but were focused instead upon the quick destruction of “American, British and Dutch bases in East Asia. Hasten the fall of the Chiang Kai Shek regime in China”.[4] Part of the reason for this was that central to Japanese war aims, especially in conquering South East Asia “was to carry its resources back to Japan”.[5] One of Japan’s key initial expansionary goals therefore was to secure vital mineral and other resources to support its longer term strategic military operations. Areas captured by Japan in 1942, particularly the Netherlands East Indies, contained these materials; Australia could not offer the same prospective economic benefits and so was not a priority for invasion.[6] While invasion of Australia was certainly proposed by members of the Japanese military, it found little support and “no operational plans were made, accepted, approved or distributed”.[7]

There is some evidence that opinion among the Japanese military was divided on the idea of invading Australia.[8] While there was some support for an invasion among members of the Japanese Navy, the Japanese Army was strongly opposed to the idea. When presented with a preliminary proposal for an invasion of Australia by the Japanese Navy in the early months of 1942, the Army did not believe it feasible. Major General Tanaka Shin’ichi, Operations Section Chief in the Japanese Army General Staff, who was responsible for Army strategic planning, cautioned that “plans to invade Australia do not quickly end the Pacific War, but make it the center of the next stage and overextend the limits of our offensive power in the Pacific”.[9] While some senior members of the Japanese Navy continued to push this idea, Shin’ichi’s view was supported more broadly by the Japanese Army, his stance on an invasion prevailed and these preliminary plans were shelved.

The Japanese Army believed not only that an invasion of Australia would be a strain upon their troop numbers, but also viewed it as unnecessary. Instead, a plan agreed upon by both Japanese services in January 1942, as part of what would become Operation FS, was to “Proceed with the southern operations, all the while blockading supply from Britain and the United States and strengthening the pressure on Australia, ultimately with the aim to force Australia to be freed from the shackles of Britain and the United States”.[10] It was later abandoned by the Japanese and they instead attacked Midway, ending in a crushing defeat for the Japanese Navy after which a Japanese invasion became steadily less viable.[11]

Japan’s primary plan for dealing with Australia was to blockade it into submission. Japanese military expansion into the region was ultimately aimed at securing political and economic control over the region and its natural resources, while at the same time eliminating the influence of Britain and the United States in particular.[12] Although the Japanese prosecuted this expansion in stages, its ultimate goals were represented by the concept of the overarching Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Australia was not intended to form part of the Sphere, but Japan’s ultimate goal was to ensure that Australia’s military and political ties with Britain and the United States were effectively severed and that Australia could no longer support the Allies and other nations in the region, militarily or politically.[13]

Not only did Japan not intend to invade Australia in 1942, but there was almost no possibility of it doing so, regardless of other successes in South East Asia and the Pacific. A possible invasion of Australia would have been a monumental task for the Japanese, already stretched out across much of Asia and the Pacific. The Japanese Army had previously “insisted that it would take...between 150,000 and 200,000 men...to invade Australia”.[14] To produce a force of that size the Japanese would have needed to significantly reduce their Army in other theatres. By March 1942 they had occupied large portions of South East Asia and these areas required considerable Japanese garrisons to keep them pacified and ward off any possible future attacks. Any further expansion towards Australia was made more unlikely by Japan’s main strategic concerns which “in the period after the invasion of key areas in the southern region were the continental fronts in China and Burma”.[15] As these theatres of war took priority over a push south towards Australia, only Allied capitulation in either Burma or China would have allowed for troops from these areas to be redeployed against Australia.[16] There was little chance of this occurring, as fighting continued in these theatres with no clear end in sight; the Japanese proceeded through Burma and planned an invasion of Eastern India as well as launching major offensives against the Chinese in the first half of 1942.[17]

Japanese strategic planning was also “predicated on a war with the Soviet Union fought on the plains of Manchuria”.[18] Although there was no conflict between the two in 1942, the Japanese Army had already briefly fought the Soviet Union during the Khalkhin Gol Campaign in 1939, an engagement which ended in a Japanese military disaster.[19] The prospect of renewed hostilities was an ever present threat after the Soviet Union’s entry into the war against Germany, and the presence of twenty Soviet Army divisions which remained on the border with Manchuria throughout the war presented a constant threat.[20] The Japanese military had therefore realised in 1942 that they could not expand any further south and instead had to focus on the need for possible defensive operations “against the Soviet Union, to defend the present Pacific perimeter, and to prepare a military structure capable of withstanding a protracted conflict without defeat”.[21]

The Japanese never aimed to invade Australia and instead their attacks upon it were the result of their other offensives in the Pacific. The attacks on the north of Australia, particularly bombing raids on the towns of Darwin and Broome, were motivated largely by the need to deprive Australia and its Allies of these towns use as bases.[22] By 19 February 1942, when the Japanese launched their first and largest raid on Darwin, they had already begun their invasion of Australian territories to the north, including Rabaul, which would host a major Japanese base.[23] The Japanese were also on the verge of invading Timor, and the possibility of Darwin becoming a major Allied base threatened this operation as well as the planned Japanese attack on the Australian Territory of New Guinea.[24]

By 1942 the Japanese had recognised northern Australia’s “potential for use as the main American base in the South Pacific for staging a counter-offensive”.[25] It was vital for the success of the Japanese offensive in New Guinea to neutralize the prospective threat that Darwin posed as an Allied base, and the attacks upon it which continued into 1943 had the same motive. Similarly, the bombing of Broome on 3 March 1942 was not intended as a precursor to Japanese invasion. The town was an important point of evacuation for Dutch civilians fleeing the Japanese invasion of the Netherlands East Indies, and possessed an airfield with numerous Dutch, Australian and U.S aircraft.[26] Apart from the Japanese air raids on northern Australia, their most prominent attack on the Australian mainland was the submarine attacks on the east coast of Australia, including Sydney Harbour, in May and June 1942. Sydney Harbour at this time hosted many ships from the U.S Navy and the Japanese intention in launching the attacks was to send “its submarines against an American warship to support a Japanese thrust against the American Pacific Fleet”.[27] The attacks on the Australian east coast were therefore merely an extension of the ongoing naval war in the Pacific and not part of a planned invasion of Australia.

The question of whether or not Japan planned an invasion of Australia continues to be a source of historical debate among academics,[28] and tends to receive a high level of publicity in the media. Despite this, evidence taken directly from Japanese military sources proves that they were not set on an invasion of mainland Australia during the Second World War. While there was certainly some support for an invasion among some members of the Japanese military, plans for an invasion were never seriously developed or considered. Instead, Japan’s attacks upon Australia in 1942-43 were part of a much less ambitious undertaking with a narrower strategic aim, conducted principally in support of other operations in the Pacific and South East Asia. It is evident that the fears of a Japanese invasion present in the minds of many Australians during the War were, in fact unfounded.

Bibliography


Books

No author listed, Translated by Bullard, Steven, 2007, 'Japanese Army Operations in the South Pacific Area New Britain and Papua Campaigns', 1942-43, Australian War Memorial, Australia
This is a translation of the Official Japanese History of the Second World War, known in Japanese as the Senshi Sosho. This book provided a particularly detailed account of Japanese Army Operations in New Guinea as well as some references to other relevant theatres of the War.

Drea, Edward, 1998, In the Service of the Emperor: Essays on the Imperial Japanese Army, University of Nebraska Press, U.S.A
This book primarily looked at specific incidents involving the Japanese Army in the Second World War and how these events affected the course of the war. Several of the Essays provided in this book were useful for gaining information particularly on the threat of the Soviet Union to Japan.

Drea, Edward, 2009, Japan’s Imperial Army: Its Rise and Fall, 1853-1945, University Press of Kansas, U.S.A
This book was a detailed account of the history of the modern Japanese Army. A large portion of the book focused on Japan and the Second World War including the possible threat to Australia.

Frei, Henry, 1991, Japan’s Southward Advance and Australia From the Sixteenth Century to World War II, Melbourne University Press, Australia
This book was a useful source on both Japanese aspirations in South East Asia and the Pacific, but also provided information on how Japan was perceived in Australia, prior to and during the Second World War.

Horner, David, 1996, Inside the War Cabinet: Directing Australia’s War Effort 1939-45, Allen & Unwin, Australia
This book was about the way in which the War was handled by the Allies, specifically the Australian Government. It was helpful in providing a perspective on the threat of invasion from a non Japanese point of view.

Stanley, Peter, 2008, Invading Australia: Japan and the Battle for Australia, 1942, Penguin Books, Australia
The focus of this book was specifically on the question of whether Japan intended to invade Australia and the notion of the battle of Australia. It provided useful information on all aspects of the topic.

Stanley, Peter, “Dramatic Myth and Dull Truth: Invasion by Japan in 1942” in Stockings, Craig (Ed), 2010, Zombie Myths of Australian Military History, University of New South Wales Press, Australia
The chapter from this book focused on whether or not the Japanese intended to invade in 1942. It provided a easily readable and condensed introduction to the subject.

Journals

Wurth, Bob, “Know Thy Name and Thyself: Understanding the Gravity of our Japanese Threat”, Australian Army Journal, Volume VI, No I, Autumn 2009
This journal article represented a differing view on the Japanese threat to Australia. It was used solely to provide an example of the level of debate regarding the issue.

Websites

No author listed, 'The Bombing of Darwin', http://www.naa.gov.au/about-us/publications/fact-sheets/fs195.aspx, sighted 8/10/2010
This source is from an official Australian Federal Government website. While it lacked detail, there was some useful information on the Bombing of Darwin and its aftermath.

No author listed, 'Reports of General MacArthur Japanese Operations in the Southwest Pacific Area-Threat to Australia: The Papua Offensive' http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/MacArthur%20Reports/MacArthur%20V2%20P1/ch7.htm#p131, sighted 12/10/2010
This website presented an incredibly detailed portrayal of the War with Japan from an American point of view. It is an extract of a primary source produced by General Douglas Macarthur and his staff after the end of the war. It was useful in gaining information on Japan’s aims in the Pacific.

References


  1. ^ Horner, David, 1996, Inside the War Cabinet: Directing Australia’s War Effort 1939-45, Allen & Unwin, Australia, p.74
  2. ^ Stanley, Peter, 2008, Invading Australia: Japan and the Battle for Australia, 1942, Penguin Books, Australia, p.107
  3. ^ Stanley, Peter, “Dramatic Myth an Dull Truth: Invasion by Japan in 1942” in Stockings, Craig (Ed), 2010, Zombie Myths of Australian Military History, University of New South Wales Press, Australia, pp.144-145
  4. ^ Drea, Edward, 1998, In the Service of the Emperor: Essays on the Imperial Japanese Army, University of Nebraska Press, U.S.A, p.45
  5. ^ Stanley, 2008, p.155
  6. ^ Drea, Edward, 2009, Japan’s Imperial Army: Its Rise and Fall, 1853-1945, University Press of Kansas, U.S.A, pp.224-225
  7. ^ Stanley, 2010, p.155
  8. ^ Stanley, 2008, p.41
  9. ^ Frei, Henry, 1991, Japan’s Southward Advance and Australia From the Sixteenth Century to World War II, Melbourne University Press, Australia, p.163
  10. ^ No author listed, Translated by Bullard, Steven, 2007, Japanese Army Operations in the South Pacific Area New Britain and Papua Campaigns, 1942-43, Australian War Memorial, Australia, p.79
  11. ^ No author listed, Reports of General MacArthur Japanese Operations in the Southwest Pacific Area-Threat to Australia: The Papua Offensive, http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/MacArthur%20Reports/MacArthur%20V2%20P1/ch7.htm# p131, sighted 12/10/2010
  12. ^ Drea, 2009, p.211
  13. ^ Stanley, 2008, pp.41-42
  14. ^ Frei, p.164
  15. ^ No author listed, Translated by Bullard, p.76
  16. ^ Horner, p.103
  17. ^ No author listed, Translated by Bullard, p.149
  18. ^ Drea, 1998, p.42
  19. ^ Drea, 2009, p.205
  20. ^ Drea, 1998, p.32
  21. ^ Frei, p.166
  22. ^ Ibid, p.161
  23. ^ Drea, 2009, p.224
  24. ^ No author listed, The Bombing of Darwin, http://www.naa.gov.au/about-us/publications/fact-sheets/fs195.aspx, sighted 8/10/2010
  25. ^ Frei, p.162
  26. ^ Stanley, 2008, p.108
  27. ^ Ibid, p.178
  28. ^ Wurth, Bob, “Know Thy Name and Thyself: Understanding the Gravity of our Japanese Threat”, Australian Army Journal, Volume VI, No I, Autumn 2009, p.12