CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF
The Defence and Service Departments had moved to Canberra in 1959, so it was Canberra to which I returned from Bangkok in July 1962. I was allotted a government house in Hutt Street at Yarralumla as a temporary measure. The house, then occupied by the then C.G.S. (Pollard) would not be available until January 1963 when Pollard would retire and I would take over. As the two houses were identical in design and shape, I would, in January 1963 have the choice of staying where I was or moving to the C.G.S. house in Melbourne Avenue, Forrest. I eventually chose the Melbourne Avenue house because it was a more suitable and convenient location -- certainly much closer to the Grammar Schools which Robert and Virginia were still attending.
After settling the family into the Hutt Street house and a period of leave, I commenced planning in detail for a visit, which had already been approved, to U.S.A., U.K. and Europe. The purpose of this visit was to visit the Chief of Staff of the Army in each country and a variety of their military establishments and units and study developments in organisation, training, weapons, equipment and tactics. The visit to Europe would be to British Army Component of the N.A.T.O. Forces and observe land warfare tactics and techniques under European conditions as compared with those in Asia.
In U.S.A. I was very well received -- in fact, the Chief of Staff U.S. Army (General Decker) received me with full military honours outside the Pentagon. After discussions with General Decker, and a variety of briefings in the Pentagon on the various subjects in which I was interested, I then set out on a three week tour of selected military establishments and units. The distances involved were very considerable and so I had been allotted a VIP plane (a Convair) for the whole of the tour very comfortable and convenient. Travelling with me was a U.S. Colonel who had been allotted to me as "escort officer" to smooth the way and resolve any local difficulties. The Australian Military Attaché from our Embassy also accompanied me.
At every base we visited, I had the usual "honours" treatment, guns and all. All the various Commanders I visited obviously went out of their way to tell me everything and show me everything. Quite clearly, the Chief of Staff of the Army had sent round the message! The last U.S. military establishment I visited on this tour was the Military Academy at West Point. I had in fact been there before when I was with the Military Mission in Washington in 1943. On this occasion the Superintendent (Commandant) was General W.C. Westmoreland whom I was to meet many times later in Vietnam and knew well.
The tour concluded with a "rest period" in New York before the next leg of my trip. The rest period was for two days and I was the guest of the U.S. Army at a very good hotel and two Broadway shows!
From New York I flew to Ottawa for a three day visit to Ottawa and discussions at Canadian Army HQ. I then flew from Ottawa to London for the British visit. At this time the British C.G.S. was Field Marshal Sir Richard Hull whom I had first met at I.D.C. in 1952 and later when he was C-in-C, Singapore. Hull had arranged for me to visit the C.N.S. and C.A.S. and also to call on the Chief of Defence Staff -- Lord Louis Mountbatten. After a few days in U.K. -- during which I had briefings and visits to selected Army establishments and units - I then flew across to Germany to visit the British Army Component of the N.A.T.O. forces. I had visited these previously on an I.D.C. tour in 1952. These forces were then called the British Army of Occupation. However, there was more than a change of name. They were now very welcome to the Germans; also it was a different Germany. In those ten years there had been a remarkable recovery in the economy and the outlook of the Germans. My tour round the various HQ and units was comprehensive and well arranged so I had a good look at their organisation, equipment and training etc. Also met quite a few old friends and acquaintances whom I had known in World War II and Korea.
From Germany I returned to Canberra via Singapore. After my return I had a leisurely few months bringing myself up to date on developments in the Australian Army during the previous two years.
On January 13, 1963 when I took over as C.G.S. -- then aged 53 I commenced what were to be the most challenging, strenuous and interesting years of my life.
On the domestic front we decided to move from Hutt Street, Yarralumla to our present house in Melbourne Avenue. The house was one of twenty so-called "special" houses built to accommodate generals etc. when the move of the Defence and Service Departments took place in 1959. It was quite inadequate for a service chief. So I decided that, as the government would not make the necessary additions, I would purchase the house from the government and have the additions made at my own expense. Accordingly, I added two bedrooms, an annex for guests and extended the dining room by six feet. Later, I extended the terrace by three feet and built a pergola over it. A carport was also added to the garage to house a second car.
At this time (1963) son John had completed his University course and had gained a Master's degree in Engineering Science. He then went to Moresby in New Guinea in the hope of gaining useful practical experience. Robert and Virginia were still teenagers and in their last years at the Grammar Schools and so were living at home.
The decision to purchase and enlarge the house proved to be successful and potentially profitable. In those days purchasers of government houses in Canberra had very favourable terms 45 years to pay off the cost of the house at very low interest rate (4.1%). In the event, my monthly payments were very little more than I would have been paying as rent. However, I would now have to pay the cost of maintenance and rates myself.
Now, some fifteen years later, in 1977, the value of the house and particularly the land, is many times more than the price at which I purchased it from the government. It is, of course, my most valuable investment -- the increased capital value keeps pace with inflation but I only have to repay the 1963 value at the low interest rate. If I were to sell this house, I would have to pay at least twice as much rent as I am paying now and, in addition, I would have to pay tax on dividends I received from investing the money received from sale of the house!
In my new job C.S.C.G.S. I was now at the interface between the service and the government. I was directly responsible to the Minister for the Army, Mr John Cramer -- one of the "old guard" Liberal politicians, so I saw a great deal of him. As all major policy and budgetary matters were controlled by the Minister of Defence (Athol Townley), I used to see him frequently. On occasions when matters of major Defence or Service importance were discussed in Cabinet, the Service chiefs were required to be in attendance. So in this way I saw a great deal of the Prime Minister (Robert Menzies) and his senior ministers.
On the social and diplomatic front, a Chief of Staff and his wife were always on the invitation list for dinners, receptions, cocktail parties etc., whether it was a Government House function, an official government function or an Embassy function.
I soon made it a rule to accept only the most important invitations and even then escaped as soon as I could. A hectic social life was incompatible with a busy working day! Fortunately my period as Commandant at Duntroon had given me some experience on the Canberra social front so I did not experience too much shock.
As background to my period as C.G.S. it should be remembered that in 1963 the situation in Asia was very unsettled. In S.E. Asia there were struggles going on in practically every country -- Burma was still in a state of flux -- in Laos there was fighting between the right wing government and the Pathet Lao -- in S. Vietnam the government was endeavouring to cope with the increasing threat of the Viet Cong -- in the Philippines the Huk rebellion had just been brought under control but there were many remaining problems -- Thailand was the most stable country of all, but even there Communist subversion was becoming a problem and there was insurgency on her northern borders -- Cambodia under Prince Sihanouk, was to external viewers, apparently calm but in fact there were problems with the Communist bands which were then building up their strength and biding their time to gain control of the country. Their chance came at the end of the Vietnam war and they quickly seized power. In Malaysia the emergency against the Communist Terrorists was still going on. To make matters worse, President Soekarno of Indonesia commenced his period of "confrontation" of Malaysia. The impact of this was felt more directly in Borneo than in Malaya and Singapore and caused diversion to there of forces and resources which were still needed to deal with the emergency in Malaya.
Against this background, the Australian government took a realistic look at the strength and capabilities of the Australian Defence Forces which had been kept on a low budget during the previous decade. The result was a considerably increased Defence budget for a re-equipment programme and to build up the strength of the forces generally and particularly the Army which was well below its authorised strength.
It should be understood that, particularly in peacetime, it takes a long time to translate a government decision into better equipment and increased forces. Men have to be recruited and trained and most men will not enlist in peacetime unless pay and conditions of service are at least equivalent to those in civil life. Weapons and equipment have to be selected and ordered and there is a minimum of 1 or 2 years between placing an order and receiving deliveries. In the case of ships and aircraft, the time lag is even longer -- a naval ship could take five years to build even if an existing design was used. So it was not surprising that there was no quick and dramatic increase in our defence capability.
One of the first problems I had to contend with was the organisation of the field force. The new "Pentropic" organisation had been introduced in 1961 and most units had been reorganised on new establishments and scales of weapons and transport etc. Action was in hand to write new training and other publications.
I had not been in favour of the "Pentropic" organisation when it was first proposed in the late l960s, and had told the then C.G.S. (Lt. Gen. Sir Ragner Garrett) of my views, a few months before I relinquished command at R.M.C. Duntroon and was posted to Bangkok as Chief S.E.A.T.O. M.P.O.
It was while I was outside Australia that a firm decision was made to adopt the Pentropic organisation and it was a fait accompli by the time I took over as C.G.S. from Lt. Gen. Sir Reg. Pollard. There had always been an anti "Pentropic" school of critics within the army but by January 1963 there were also many outside critics.
Eventually criticism and doubts began to be expressed in political and government circles, and in the press.
It was ironic that, as a former opponent of the "Pentropic" organisation, it fell to my lot to preside over the consolidation of the new organisation. I had given the matter a great deal of thought and study and in October 1962 visited and taken a long hard look at the first full strength full scale battle group exercise in the field. (Exercise "Nut Cracker") What I saw and learnt on that occasion convinced me that the Pentropic organisation would not be suitable for the Australian Army.
There were also some modifications and changes required to the previous organisation (Tropical Warfare - TW) which the Pentropic organisation had superseded. So, to cut a long story short, I decided that the best organisation would be to revert to a modified T.W. organisation which would include some of the good features of the "Pentropic", plus some other changes. In this way we would have the best of both organisations and our organisation would be compatible with those of closest Allies, i.e. U.K., U.S.A., N.Z. This was essential in my view because the lack of compatibility of the Pentropic organisation had been one of its major defects.
As professional head of the army it was my duty to advise the government on any matter of major importance to the army; and the organisation of the field force was, of course, a major policy matter. So it was that I decided to recommend strongly to the government that we should abandon the Pentropic concept in favour of a revised "Tropical Warfare" establishment. My recommendation included an outline of the reorganised division. As my basic recommendation coincided with the government's own predilection, I received a very quick approval which left me free to work out the details. This was done under my direction by Brigadier K. Mackay (later Maj. Gen.) who did an excellent job in a remarkably short time.
(Note: For further details on this matter see pp. 3-6 of "Vietnam Notes" in separate folder)
In 1963 the manpower problem confronting the C.G.S. was not as capable of quick resolution as was the organisational problem. The first National Service scheme had been terminated about 1959 and Citizen Military Force (C.M.F.) units were well over strength and there were major problems in providing regular cadres for C.M.F. units and for their equipment and buildings for training depots. At the same time we were trying to build up the ARA field force for which the same resources were required.
We had to continue to maintain our commitment in Malaysia and P.N.G., and also to maintain the training team in Vietnam which became an increasingly difficult task. This team was composed of 150 specially selected officers, Warrant Officers and N.C.O.s -- all these experienced men were the very type we desperately needed in other parts of the army for C.M.F. cadres, for an expanding field force and for army schools and, later, for training the recruits who were coming out of the 2nd National Service scheme, which commenced in 1964(5?).
In 1963 the total regular army strength of 22,000 was well below the approved 25,000 establishment and there was no prospect of reaching even this target, though some minor improvements to pay and conditions of service were tardily and grudgingly made. The government had already approved an increased target strength and, against an unsettled and deteriorating situation in S.E. Asia, it was clear that other measures would have to be taken to build up the strength more rapidly. So towards the end of 1964 the government decided to introduce the 2nd National Service (N.S.) scheme -- but this would be very different from the first which merely trained men and posted them to C.M.F. units who were not available for overseas service. The second scheme was designed to build up the regular army for overseas service if and when required. It would also maintain the C.M.F. at the required strength.
From a purely military viewpoint, this was a very effective scheme for the purpose intended. It should be noted that the first commitment of Australian troops to Vietnam was not decided upon until early in 1965 and this was composed entirely of regular army soldiers who were voluntarily enlisted. It would be a further year before any National Servicemen would be available for overseas service. Preparations to introduce this scheme meant a greatly increased load on an overstretched regular army new camp sites had to be selected and buildings erected, instructors and staffs had to be culled out of all units of the army. It was a very hectic time for everyone. Eventually all was ready for the first intake in March/April 1965. To bring these men to the required standard of training for operational service would require three months basic training plus a further three to six months specialist training.
We saw to it that this scheme would avoid the defects of the first scheme and would be flexible, and a model for any future schemes requiring much larger intakes such as would be required on mobilisation. Moreover, it would create a reserve. I was very pleased with the results -- individually and collectively, of this scheme. We had groups of young men who were drawn from all sections of the community. They were fine young men and by the time they were posted to their units, they were indistinguishable from the Regular Army men. Even if this had not been so, it would have happened very quickly because it was army policy to make it so by every means possible. These men were desperately needed by the Army and were welcomed from the moment they joined their units as full "members" of the "club". Eventually about one-third of the strength of the Field Force was provided by men who had come through the N.S. scheme. The attitude of the regular Army to these men is best summed up by the reply a Commanding Officer in Vietnam gave to a newspaper reporter who asked which were the N.S. personnel in his battalion. The Colonel stared at him and then, after a brief pause, said "All the men in my battalion are good soldiers and I am proud of them and treat them all in exactly the same way."
It is true to say that most career officers and N.C.O.s would not necessarily know whether a soldier who joined his section or platoon in the field was originally an ARA or a N.S. enlistee. He did not need to know. Also in a great many cases N.S. men were of much better quality than the normal ARA recruit in terms of intelligence, physique and education.
Except for a very tiny percentage, I would say these N.S. men rendered excellent service. Even those who had been opposed to conscription before being called up, adopted a very commendable and practical philosophy -- as much as to say "Now I'm in, although I don't like it, it will be best if I do the job I've been called up for as well as I can." I made it my business to question unofficially and informally any young men I encountered after they had completed their service and had been placed on the reserve. These young men can be grouped into two main categories. The first category were those who had believed that the onus was on the government to call them up if additional men were required, rather than place the responsibility on them for choosing to interrupt their careers and way of life and make other sacrifices. The first category were, in fact, glad to be called up -- they would have been volunteers in a time of declared war and mobilisation. They quickly adapted to military life and gained valuable experience.
The second category were those, referred to earlier, who were opposed to conscription and who accepted their call up philosophically and also did a good job but were very glad to be discharged. When discussing their military life with me, they would invariably end up by saying it was a wonderful experience from which they had gained a great deal and they were glad they had not missed it!
The above pages are not intended to be a comprehensive examination of, and to give all my thoughts and comments on, the 2nd N.S. Scheme. This is not the place. So I end these comments by saying that I believe a government's first duty is to ensure the security and safety of the nation. To do this the government must have a defence policy and strategy which relates not only to the short term predictable future but also into the long term future. Having decided on its policy and strategy (and hopefully we may some day have a bipartisan Defence policy), the government of the day must take whatever steps are necessary to implement its policy and strategy in relation to short term without losing sight of longer term considerations. In the early sixties one of the steps necessary for the implementation of the government's policy and strategy was the 2nd N.S. Scheme, because without it we would not have had a regular army field force strong enough to deploy and maintain our strategic commitments. Although this 2nd N.S. Scheme was suspended early in 1974, I have no doubt that the scheme would be quickly reintroduced by the government of the day, whether Labour or Liberal, should a situation occur in the future which requires our Defence Forces to be at a high state of readiness and the necessary manpower cannot be obtained by voluntary enlistment.
(Note: At the present time, 1977, I notice that the Labour Party policy is that in the event of a "declared" war, conscription would be introduced if necessary. To be noted is that an aggressor is always well prepared before he makes his "declaration").
About the end of 1963 Francis was replaced by Dr Jim Forbes as Army Minister -- he was a Duntroon graduate who, after World War II, resigned from the army, took a Ph.D., and eventually became a lecturer in Political Science at Adelaide University. From there he entered politics. We got on well; because of his army background he understood the army ethos. He later became Minister for Education and was replaced as Army Minister by Malcolm Fraser -- the present (1977) P.M. At that time I did not realise that I was working with a future P.M. He was young, inexperienced and, rightly, unsure of himself, but obviously ambitious and keen to make his mark and at the same time avoid making errors. During his first few weeks I prevented him from making a very serious error in the case of Gunner O'Brien in Vietnam. (That is a long story to be told separately.) On the whole, we got on well together. After Athol Townley died, he was succeeded by Senator Paltridge as Defence Minister. On the whole, I got on well with these two during my period as C.G.S.
I also saw a great deal of Harold Holt who succeeded Menzies as P.M. Shortly after becoming P.M., Holt decided upon a tour of visits to our forces then in S.E. Asia and I was required to accompany him throughout and virtually hold his hand because he was quite unfamiliar with military matters and had never been to S.E. Asia. It was all an eye opener to him and very educational and I am sure that it was of great value to him later when it came to making political decisions on the military matters which were referred to Cabinet. I saw to it that he saw at first hand how the Navy, Army and Air Force carried out their jobs under combat conditions, and the arduous duties they carried out and had to live in field under primitive and extremely uncomfortable conditions. Holt stood up to this trip very well and followed advice as to what he should do in various circumstances. He coped well with some unexpected situations. So the tour was a great success -- the troops were glad to see him and he enjoyed himself once he became acclimatised to the heat and other conditions. I have many stories about this trip which will be related separately. Two I will mention briefly here before leaving the subject of Holt. When Holt started on the trip he was somewhat overweight. Consequently, in the tropics he sweated profusely all over his body but particularly from the head and neck. This is a problem well known to the Army which issues sweat cloths to the soldiers which they wear round their necks. The cloths are made of loosely knitted absorbent cotton dyed khaki. I soon introduced these to Harold and thenceforward he refused to be parted from his neckcloth -- whether he was visiting troops or dressed in civilian clothing, talking to local politicians. I would say Harold lost at least 7 lbs on that tour. Because of his obsession with the sweat cloth, he forgot to take his speech notes with him from the helicopter when he went to address the troops on Anzac Day at Bien Hoa near Saigon.
The other story concerns his visit to the Australian field artillery battery at Bien Hoa. The battery commander was a very impressive officer who obviously knew his job. He made such a good impression on Holt that the latter kept on telling me what a very fine officer he was. I agreed with him but did not have the heart to tell him that this was the officer who Fraser, supported by Holt, wished to condemn in the case of Gunner O'Brien before the result of the Court of Enquiry into this matter had been held.
During my time as C.G.S. I travelled widely throughout Australia and T.P.N.G. My aim was to see at first hand what was going on in every part of the army and to gauge for myself the state of efficiency and morale and standard of training of every unit I visited.
I wanted also to see the standard of accommodation etc. for the troops. 1 also wanted to talk directly to the officers and men; learn about their problems, and also obtain their views on a variety of army matters.
In peacetime the army is widely dispersed throughout Australia and because of the enormous distances involved, these visits were a time-consuming, strenuous and tiring business, but well worth while. Moreover, the visits were welcomed by the troops. It is a popular misconception that the troops dislike all so-called "brass hats". If they did dislike "brass hats" they would dislike them even more if the "brass hats" did not visit them occasionally. It gives the troops confidence and encouragement to feel that the head of Army personally knows something about their unit and is prepared to share their problems, discomforts and, in an operational situation, dangers.
I have found this to be so throughout my service. On the other hand, once the "brass hat" has made his appearance, particularly in a dangerous situation, they then become concerned for his safety and try to prevent him becoming unduly exposed to danger and in the end are relieved when he leaves their sector.
(Examples of this in Syria, T.P.N.G. and Korea will be described separately.)
During the course of various inspection visits in the various states, I always made a point of calling on the State Governors, Premiers and other State authorities. They expected these calls and welcomed them. It gave them the opportunity to expound their views on Defence matters generally and in particular on Army matters within their states -- particularly if there were problems. The Governor of W.A. at this time was Maj. Gen. Sir Joseph Kendrew, a retired British Army officer, who had served alongside me in Korea in command of the 29th Brit. 1 Brigade at the time I was commanding the 28th Commonwealth Brigade. We were good friends and we had much to talk about. He always insisted on my staying at Government House. My visits to T.P.N.G. (Territory of Papua and New Guinea) were full of interest and value and I managed to visit every important centre including, of course, the areas where I had served in World War II. I was amazed to see the developments there (in 1965) since the end of W.W. II. The progress, and efficiency, of the Pacific Islands Regiment was particularly pleasing. This regiment was the basis on which the present (1977) N.G. Defence Force has been established. My visits to T.P.N.G. were greatly facilitated by the R.A.A.F. who always made a VIP plane available for me throughout. I was thus able to obtain the maximum coverage in the minimum time.
I was rarely able to take Helen with me on my visits in Australia, but in T.P.N.G. with a R.A.A.F. VIP aircraft at my disposal, I managed to take her with me on one of my visits.
One of the highlights was a visit to Vanimo on the north coast of New Guinea where we had a company outpost a few miles from the W. Irian border. This was a "men only" outpost and wives and families remained at the battalion base at Wewak for the three months the company was away. Helen persuaded me to take the wives with us on the VIP aircraft on the day we visited Vanimo. This was a great success and very much welcomed by all. From the air the Army outpost at Vanimo looks like a tropical holiday paradise, unspoilt, beautiful beaches and sparkling blue seas!
in November 1964 the C-in-C of the Pakistan Army invited me to visit Pakistan and see the main army installations and units etc. in both West Pakistan and the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The itinerary of this visit was so arranged as to include many of the important places, units and installations which were not included during my visit in 1962 when I was C.M.P.O. S.E.A.T.O.
Arriving at Karachi, I was met by Col. Humphry Bates, an officer I already knew very well, who was then Military Attaché to the Australian High Commissioner at Pakistan. Bates accompanied me throughout this tour -- he was useful to me and it was a great opportunity for him to be with me on such a comprehensive tour during which we were made very welcome and all doors were opened and information made available which would not have been given to Bates in the ordinary course.
Before leaving Karachi, I paid a nostalgic visit to Manora Island adjacent to the port of Karachi. It was at Manora that Helen and I established our first home in tents in January 1939. In 1964 it was a Naval HQ. Some other naval installations were also there.
We then flew to Rawalpindi in the Punjab to pay my call on the C in C of the Pakistan Army. We exchanged gifts and had a long discussion. That night the C in C gave a dinner in my honour in AHQ Mess. The format of the dinner remained identical with that used under the British Raj! Next day I visited a few army installations in the vicinity of Rawalpindi and also to the new capital of Pakistan - Islamabad -- then being constructed in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains about 20 miles from Rawalpindi.
The following day I paid a call on the President of Pakistan Ayub Khan, who welcomed me warmly. We had a discussion which lasted more than two hours -- a discussion during which he did most of the talking! He talked about the problem of East Pakistan, relations with India and the long-standing dispute over Kashmir. Pakistan's internal political and economic problems were very much in his mind. I was intensely interested in his idea that Pakistan (and many other countries which had become independent since World War II) need a system of democracy different to the Westminster model. He explained that in a country, where most of the population were poor and almost illiterate and engaged in agricultural pursuits as small farmers or tenants, a different system of electing members to parliament was essential. For most of the population the village was the centre of their life. They were more interested in electing a man from their village, whom they trusted and respected, than in a particular party. His idea was that the elected representatives of all the villages in an electorate should meet and select from one of their number the man who would represent the electorate in Parliament.
Next, I visited the lst Armoured Division at Kharian. This was in a new cantonment strategically located with reference to the border of India. In the centre of the cantonment was a large rectangular grassed field about 1000 yards x 500 yards which was intended to serve as an assembly, parade and sports area. Div HQ and the HQs of all the brigades and units were located on the road which ran around the open space. At right angles to this road, smaller roads ran to the barracks etc. of each unit. It was a very efficient lay-out -- it facilitated rapid communications throughout the division. Moreover, it enabled all commanders from the div comd down to exercise rapid supervision. This armoured division was, of course, intended to be the main striking force in case of war with India. (In fact, it was so used in the war which occurred in I found the morale and standard of training of the army in West Pakistan very impressive. Their equipment, however, was very old and obsolete. Moreover, the army was very overextended. A considerable force was deployed on the Kashmir front, and also large garrisons were necessarily maintained at various strategic places on the northern and North Western Frontiers. In addition, there was a comparatively large garrison force in East Pakistan where I flew to from W. Pakistan on the final stop of this tour.
At Dacca, the capital, I was very pleased to meet again my friend, Rear Admiral Ahsan, who had been my deputy when 1 was C.M.P.O. of S.E.A.T.O. He also was appointed to take my place as C.M.P.O. when I completed my appointment with S.E.A.T.O. At this time he was seconded to the civil government as Controller of Waterways and Canals (or some such title). This was a very important job in E. Pakistan which is mainly a flat plain, subject to frequent flooding, and where the rivers and canals provide the main means of transport, there being very few roads. The population of E. Pakistan are, of course, Bengalis -- the province was called E. Bengal under the British Raj. The E. Bengalis were converted to the Moslem faith many centuries ago and for this reason were incorporated in the state of Pakistan at the time of independence and partition. They are, however, an entirely different race -- smaller in stature than the population of W. Pakistan and have a different social and cultural background. It was not surprising that some years later E. Pakistan, with the aid of India, sought and gained independence.
From Dacca I returned to Canberra after an absence of a little over two weeks. I had found this to be the maximum period I could afford to stay away from my office without adverse effect. I gained a good knowledge of Pakistan and its Defence problems and forces and it was a pleasant nostalgic visit. However, the purpose of the visit was essentially political and arranged initially through the Department of Foreign Affairs who had urged acceptance of the invitation, as a goodwill gesture, which would facilitate the continuance of good relations between the two countries.
Visit to Sabah (N. Borneo)
During the first half of 1964 Soekarno's confrontation had resulted in an increased threat to SABAH and Sarawak. There were infiltration raids from the Indonesian side of the border and, in addition, dissident groups within Sabah and Sarawak were being supplied with arms and equipment etc. by the Indonesians. This meant that these states had to be reinforced by British and other Commonwealth troops from mainland Malaysia. Insofar as Australian troops were concerned, we eventually had an infantry battalion and an SAS company deployed in the frontier area of Sarawak in addition to a squadron of engineers which had been sent to Sabah in June 1964. Before this squadron was sent from Australia, I was sent by the government to Sabah to investigate the necessity for this extra contribution and to examine the extent of the task involved and other aspects of its employment.
It should be understood Sabah is a very undeveloped state and, except adjacent to the coast, roads are non-existent. The border with Indonesia is in the jungle, some 80 to 100 miles from the coast. The only method of keeping our troops maintained in the border areas was by helicopter. A very expensive method and helicopters were scarce and rapidly wearing out.
Solution -- build a road some 80 miles toward the border area and at the road-head establish a helicopter base. All supplies and reinforcements etc. would then go by truck to the helicopter base which would be only about 15 minutes helicopter flying from the furthest patrol post.
Speed in construction of the road was essential which meant that it initially could only be an all-weather track suitable for jeeps and trailers in wet weather. However, in dry weather light trucks could also use it on a one way traffic basis. Although the road had been proposed primarily to meet an operational requirement, it would go through areas which were eminently suitable for agricultural development after hostilities had ceased. This had been a future development project for the government of Sabah when funds could be made available. To the Australian government the road proposal had double appeal -- a high priority operational project and a civil aid project. When I arrived in Sabah I was met by the engineer officer who had been sent ahead to study the technical feasibility and logistics of the problem. He was very concerned because the officials of the Sabah government, who had been sent to assist in relations with the local authorities and people, had told him that the government were expecting him to build a two lane bitumen all weather road capable of 3 ton trucks at speeds up to 50 kph. (This appeared to be the specification laid down by the Sabah government for future standard roads).
I told him that was not the case and we went off on a reconnoiter of the proposed route of the road. When we returned we found the Chief Minister of Sabah (Stevens) waiting for us. He expressed surprise that we intended only making a jeep road and said he had understood a standard road would be built and suggested that I recommend accordingly to my government.
I told him firmly and politely that it would have to be a jeep road or nothing from a military point of view because of the time factor. He accepted this, well knowing he could not make a case for a standard road purely as a civil aid project. I then told him of the assistance (free of charge) which we wanted in the way of local labour, supplies and resources in order to build the road. He was most reluctant to agree to this. So I then had to point out that we were there to assist in defending his state and we were not charging the state for our services. He agreed with this but was still somewhat reluctant so, as a final persuader, I said that if he could agree to the assistance I requested, I would vary the route of the road to an alignment which would enable the road to be widened at a later date. He then readily agreed to my requests.
In fact, I did not need to vary the route because we had already selected the best alignment and gradients for future development of the road!
We were both happy -- I am sure that from the outset he was happy to have even only a jeep road and thought he had secured a point and saved face. For my part, I was glad to obtain free of charge the civil assistance I required. We parted the best of friends. I was to meet him again later and enjoy good relations with him when he came to Canberra as High Commissioner for Malaysia. (In 1975 I was very sad to hear that he had been killed in an aircraft accident in Sabah.)
On return to Canberra I reported to the government that the jeep road should be built and the project was put in hand and the jeep road was built.
When I told the above story to the then Secretary of the Department of Defence (Hicks), he laughed and said "You have saved the government at least six million pounds." He had a good sense of humour!
By the beginning of 1965 progress with the expansion of the army and provision of new equipment was well under way. However, particular reference needs to be made of the question of air support for the army by the R.A.A.F. Primarily because of lack of funds, the R.A.A.F. had concentrated their main effort on the provision of fighters and bombers and neglected the requirements of the army for close support aircraft and for air transport for lifting troops and supplies, both strategically and tactically. In addition to fixed wing transport aircraft, medium and utility helicopters were required. After much discussion and negotiation between the services, agreement was reached and government approval obtained to purchase Hercules transport aircraft and Canberra aircraft. These were available in 1965. However, provision of Chinook helicopters, although approved in principle, did not eventuate until the 1970s! We were luckier with the Iroquois utility helicopter which began to become available in increasing quantities from the end of 1965 onwards.
Then there was the question of light aircraft and helicopters to be operated by the army for its own battlefield use and liaison. The R.A.A.F. stubbornly opposed any increase in the small number already operated by the army -- these were World War II vintage Aust. or in the introduction of a new and better type. This struggle between Army and R.A.A.F. had gone on since 1947 when I was D.D.M.O. I continued it when I became D.M.O. and subsequently B.G.S. and finally got it resolved when I became C.G.S.
In brief, I succeeded in obtaining approval to form the Army Aviation Regiment to be equipped with modern light aircraft and helicopters.
Note: The R.A.A.F. was once part of the Army. The R.A.F. originated as part of the British Army. The U.S.A.F. was part of the U.S. Army. Control by the army stifled development of the full capabilities of air power and the Air Forces then gained their independence. The air forces then neglected the tasks they were supposed to carry out for the armies and, in their turn, tried to prevent the army (and Navy) doing so themselves!
Another problem which was difficult and of great concern to me as C.G.S. was promotion of senior officers (above rank of full Colonel). The army system of selection and promotion is very thorough and controlled by a Promotion and Selection Committee under the supervision of the Chief of Personnel (formerly Adjutant General). I believe it to be fair and a very good one. All officers who have a satisfactory record of service and qualify at the required examination are promoted to rank of major in order of seniority when they have served the prescribed number of years. Above that rank promotion is selective -- the best majors, regardless of seniority, are the ones who are selected for promotion to the rank of Lieut. Col. and beyond. My own policy was to select for promotion to Lieut. Col. only those majors whom I considered would eventually be suitable for promotion to full colonel, i.e. two ranks up. I was not always able to apply this policy because we had a rapidly expanding army and not sufficient majors, meeting my criteria, to fill the Lieut. Col. vacancies. So we necessarily had to promote some who, although they became satisfactory Lt. Cols. did not have the capacity to go beyond that rank.
The same applied in some cases on promotion to the rank of colonel and eventually we had some colonels promoted to the rank of brigadier who had not the capacity to be a major general. Selection of Brigadiers for promotion to Major General was critical. A Major General has to be employable in a wide variety of responsible appointments, i.e. Command appointments, Military Board appointments, Defence Department or Joint Service appointments, etc.
(footnote) Some of the decisions I had to make were not popular with, or adversely affected, many of my contemporaries including some of my oldest and best friends. This caused me distress but I took the view that the best interests of the army were paramount.
On several occasions, whilst C.G.S., I had problems and embarrassment on the postings of Major Generals for a variety of reasons: physical fitness, personal and domestic reasons, personality problems, lack of expertise or experience (which should have been gained in a lower rank) etc. The net result was that some Major Generals, although suitable for the job they were in, could not be posted to other jobs. This meant that the best and more versatile major Generals were subject to frequent repostings to meet service requirements. In a wartime situation these problems would be more easily resolved.
Another problem was to get the Defence Department to process decisions on promotions and appointments for Major Generals six months ahead of the event so that the consequential changes in the lower ranks could be planned in advance.
These recollections of my period as C.G.S. would not be complete without reference to the inter-relationship between the authority and responsibilities of the C.G.S. and the Secretary, Department of the Army. The legal aspects of this were confusing and contradictory and the net result was that efficient and harmonious cooperation between the two was dependent upon personalities. This was not a satisfactory solution to either party as it could cause delays, frustration, duplication of effort and misunderstanding. Control and administration of the Army at the top level (under the Minister) are too important to be dependent on personal relationships.
I hasten to add at this point that I enjoyed excellent personal relationships with Mr B. White who was Secretary, Department of the Army, throughout my time as C.G.S. We both tried hard to make a bad system work effectively. This had not been the case with White's predecessor who eventually was transferred from his post because of his inability to work with members of the Military Board.
Fundamental to an understanding of the C.G.S.-Secretary problem are two major points:
The terms "Supremacy of the Civil Power" and "Civil control of the Military" need clarification and definition. To some public servants it means control through or by Public Service officials. To the Defence Forces it means control by Parliament through the Minister.
The difference between a normal government department (i.e. Civil Department, e.g. Department of Customs) and Service Department (i.e. Military Department, e.g. Department of Army) needed to be recognised and understood. In the former the Secretary is designated as the "Permanent Head" and, subject to the decisions and directions of the Minister, is the statutory authority responsible for all the activities of his Department. However, in a Service Department, it was the Service Board (e.g. the Military Board) which, subject to decisions and directions of the Minister, was the statutory authority collectively responsible for the command and administration of the Service (e.g. the Army). Each member of the board, including the Secretary, had his allotted function. The Service Chief of Staff was the Chairman of the Board. In addition to his responsibilities and duties as a member of the Board, the Secretary, as a Permanent Head, had other functions under the Public Service Act for which he was -directly responsible to the Minister (political and financial matters, audit, etc.).
It will be seen, therefore, that a public servant from a civil department, who was appointed as Secretary, Department of Army, could assume that he, as a Permanent Head, had authority over the Army. This was particularly so in the immediate post World War II years when the Secretary was not a member of the Military Board and the recommendations of the Board went through him to the Minister. This caused so many difficulties and friction that the government amended the regulations so as to make the Secretary a member of the Military Board.
However, at the same time they sowed the seeds of future conflict by stating that they did not intend to amend the Public Service Act so as to limit his authority as Permanent Head. on the other hand the C.G.S. was still to remain Chairman of the Military Board!
Although Secretary White and I had amicable relations and tried to make the bad system work, our efforts were made more difficult by the various Ministers of the Army. It was much easier for a Minister to do everything "through the Secretary" as was done in a civil department. This overloaded the Secretary and placed on him responsibilities for professional military and technical matters which he was not qualified to handle. Throughout my time as C.G.S. I endeavoured to change this system but made very little headway -- mainly because the Ministers were not interested in changing a system which suited them (and which most of them did not understand!). The post of Minister for the Army (also Navy and Air Force) was a very junior one in the ministerial hierarchy and for the incumbents it was usually their first ministerial post from which they hoped to be promoted as quickly as possible to a more senior one. They were, therefore, very anxious not to make any mistakes! In this mind the best way to avoid mistakes was to rely on the Secretary in all matters.
This was sound enough in the case of a civil department but in a service department there are many "minefields", as some Ministers found out.
Towards the end of my time as C.G.S. and in consultation with Secretary White, I had prepared a draft document setting out the relative responsibilities of the Secretary and C.G.S. this document had gone through many drafts and had almost reached the stage of being an agreed final draft when I left the job of C.G.S. and became C.C.O.S.C. Unfortunately, I did not keep a copy and I don't know what happened to it in the end. I did not pursue the matter because, inter alia, 1 began to pursue the much wider question of reorganisation of the whole Defence Group of Departments. If I could manage to have my ideas on that subject accepted, it would also resolve the AHQ problem.
General Sir John Wilton Home Page