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Thursday, 16 November 1939

Mr STREET (Corangamite) (Minister for the Army) . - by leave - The right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has already presented to honorable members a clear picture of our war aims, of the general conduct of the war, and of changes of defence administration which fall into the broad design of the Commonwealth plan for the conduct of the war. It is my function- to fill in the details of the activities of the three services - the Wavy, the Army and the Air Force - since war broke out. The Commonwealth's war measures have operated in a way which entirely justifies the care and forethought that were put into their preparation. The unsensational way in which Australia's war activities are going forward is in itself proof that the closer relationship demanded by modern warfare between the military and the nonmilitary sections of the community has been accomplished to a remarkable degree.

Honorable members are already acquainted with the highlights of the war activities of the fighting services. In the Navy, the personnel has been doubled, the ship construction programme greatly expanded and the strength of the squadron increased. Already mobilized for active service before the war began, the Navy, while silently at its work of guarding trade routes and patrolling the coasts, is continuously adding ito its striking power, whether for offence or defence.

The Army has been put through its paces. Half of the members of the Militia have completed their month of training, and have emerged from camp demonstrably the better in physique and efficiency, and invaluably enhanced in morale and determination to serve their country. The 2nd Australian Imperial Force has been launched into its longer period of training. The veterans of the Australian Imperial Force Reserve are carrying out garrison duty. The Air Force is swelling to proportions never contemplated; the Air Board is steadily preparing so that the Commonwealth will play a full part in the gigantic Empire air training scheme, and Australia, with its Sunderland flying boats, will be the first dominion with a complete air squadron working with the Royal Air Force abroad. The establishment of group commands within Australia will add to efficiency in administration, and training plans have been expanded ' with the expansion of the air programme.

I shall examine the war measures of the several fighting services in turn.

Immediately prior to the outbreak of war, all naval reservists were called up for continuous service. This increase of personnel enabled all ships at that time to be commissioned with full complements made up from active-service ratings in depot and on shore duties. It also allowed an immediate expansion of the Royal Australian Navy necessitated by the changed situation. The strength of the Royal Australian Navy has been considerably augmented by chartering merchant vessels and arming them for naval service. This method of increasing the naval force can be rapidly put into practice and continued from time to time as necessity demands. The smaller types of vessels are readily convertible into mine sweepers, anti-submarine vessels, examination vessels and light patrol craft. Consequently, it is this class of vessel which has been requisitioned for service more than any other. In this way thirteen mine-sweepers and anti-submarine vessels, two fast mine-sweepers, ten examination steamers and a store carrier have already been fitted out, manned and placed in service. In addition, five vessels have been armed and fitted out as armed merchant cruisers - three for the Admiralty and two for ourselves. This action has greatly increased the work in the various dockyards. In addition, the number of naval vessels Under ' construction at the outbreak of war has also been increased. As ship-building facilities improve, consideration will be given to increasing the building output of the dockyards, and the Commonwealth Government has offered to arrange for construction on behalf of the United Kingdom Government, should that Government so desire. Over 80 merchant ships still engaged on their normal trade duties have been defensively armed in Australia. Gun crews for these ships are trained in Australian ports and certain key. naval ratings are allocated to each ship.

The organization required to maintain the efficiency of this increased naval force has necessitated an expansion also on shore and in shore establishments. Thus the expenditure on naval stores, additional accommodation at naval depots, improvement of harbour facilities and services, strengthening of harbour defences and increase of oil-fuel storage and supplies has risen in proportion to the size of the fleet. In addition, the merchant shipping in Australian waters is controlled and routed as is necessary bythe Navy acting in conjunction with the Admiralty world-wide organization. Signal and coast watching stations which have been established around the coasts have been functioning satisfactorily for some weeks. The expenditure on the Navy during the year 1939-40 will be £14,500,000, of which £5,333,000 will be expended on special war measures.

With regard to the Army, early in October a review of internal security commitments was undertaken owing to, first, the internment of known enemy and other persons likely to engage in subversive action; and, secondly, the large number of troops immobilized in protective duties. This resulted in the elimination on the 16th October of guards at points where danger was remote and the reduction of personnel at other places. In September all commandants were authorized to raise garrison battalions for the relief of Militia units and detachments called up for duty as guards of vulnerable points and internment camps, and for the close defence of the fortress areas. When war was declared, as a precautionary measure those enemy aliens who might reasonably be suspected of espionage or subversive action if allowed to remain at large were immediately arrested and detained. Later a committee of review was set up to review the cases of all internees, as the result of which some have been released, either on restricted control or on parole.

Mr Mahoney - How many naturalized British subjects are interned?

Mr STREET - A naturalized person has power to appeal to a special committee set up in each State. About 300 persons are interned, some of whom are naturalized. The general principle regarding internment is to keep the number of internees as low as is possible consistent with national security. Only those aliens who are actually suspect are now interned. The number of internees is at present fewer than 300. Coast and antiaircraft defences at all ports throughout the Commonwealth were early placed on a war footing, and have been since so maintained. Essential details of the defence scheme for Papua had been completed before war broke out and the coast defences at Port Moresby were ready for action.

In New Guinea - the Defence Act having been extended to apply to all Commonwealth territories - approval was given for raising a volunteer defence force, and the unit has been named the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. Training had commenced by the middle of October. At Norfolk Island a Militia infantry detachment is being raised.

The first month's training of the Militia Forces will be completed next month. Three months' camp training will commence early in 1940. The effect of the decision to extend Militia camps to one month has been that leave had to be granted from the first series of camps for approximately 6,110 personnel for the following reasons : -

(a)   Medically unfit - 1,159,

(b)   Reserved occupations - 2,571,

(c)   Cases of individual hardship - 2,380.

In addition it has been ascertained that approximately 16,350 personnel, or 22 per cent. of the total other ranks of the Militia, are married, and of these more than 12,000 are private soldiers. Instructions have been issued that these latter may, at their option, be transferred to regimental reserves at the end of the one month's training if they so desire. The information at present available indicates that about 6,000 of these may elect to be transferred to the regimental reserves. The total effect of the process may be that as many as 25,000 members of the Militia may not be available for the period of three months' camp training. The decision of the Government to re-introduce universal military training, to take effect from the 1st January, 1940, will ensure that the Military Forces, apart from the Australian Imperial Force, will be maintained at a strength of not fewer than 75,000. The first draft to be called up for training will comprise personnel who were unmarried on the 21st October, 1939, and who will become 21 years of age during the year ending on 'the 30th June, 1940. They will undergo three months' camp training with the Militia.

The Sixth Division of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force has now about 16,000 men undergoing training in camp. They are being gradually concentrated into three camps at Ingleburn and Allandale in New South Wales, and Puckapunyal in Victoria. This will greatly facilitate training and administration. The artillery of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force is being re-organized on the same lines as the artillery in the British Army. This is in keeping with the policy followed in modernly-equipped armies, and is based on experience gained during and since the Great War, namely, to increase fire-power relatively to manpower. The objects of this new organization are, while effecting economies in man-power, to achieve more effective fin.' control and quicker manoeuvre. The organization improves the administrative capacity of the artillery regiment, simplifies ammunition supply and facilitates the occupation and concealment, of gun positions. It is not proposed at the present juncture -to introduce the new artillery organization in the Militia; but the first step is being taken in the reorganization and re-equipment of the infantry of the Militia on modern lines. In future rifle platoons- will bo organized in three, instead of four, sections, each section being equipped with a light machine gun. The infantry of the Militia will adopt the new organization at" the commencement of the first period of three months' continuous training in January, 1940. The 2nd Australian Imperial Force will also adopt this organization as soon as the necessary preliminary arrangements oan be made.

Before the outbreak of war, arrangements were in progress for obtaining items of war material required by the existing army organization. These arrangements were accelerated at the outbreak of war, and, shortly thereafter, wore extended to provide for the special training of the Militia and raising the 2nd Australian Imperial Force. As the result the Army is being supplied with additional arms, armament, ammunition, mechanical vehicles and equipment of all kinds. For similar reasons, the process of mechanization has been accelerated. Additional motor transport vehicles are being purchased for the Militia and the 2nd Australian Imperial Force.

It has been necessary to take urgent action to ensure proper comfort for the troops called up for training, and for the accommodation of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force; and very satisfactory and rapid progress has been made in the provision of works needed after the outbreak of war. At this stage I wish to pay a tribute to the various government departments and commercial firms and their employees for the whole-hearted cooperation extended in this form of preparation. Their energy and ability are assisting materially in carrying out the Commonwealth's war measures. The estimated expenditure on camps for the 2nd Australian Imperial Force amounts to £1,250,000. Structures for outlying districts and commands have been erected, but the main works are for the brigade camps at Ingleburn and Allandale, New South Wales, and Puckapunyal, Victoria.

The Repatriation Department and public hospitals are at present being utilized for military cases. Dental treatment for the Militia and garrison battalions is limited to relief from pain and the treatment of acute cases. The personnel of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force will be rendered dentally fit. Dental personnel are being enlisted for this purpose, and dental equipment ha? bi.'cn purchased.

Mr White - Docs that mean that free dental treatment will bc given in the Australian Imperial Force camps?

Mr STREET - Yes. Nursing personnel are being recruited from the Australian Army Nursing Service. Arrangements have been made for the supply of medical stores to meet the requirements of the Militia, garrison units and 2nd Australian Imperial Force and also for the replenishment of stores drawn from district depots of medical stores. Contract demands have been submitted for medical equipment for the medical units of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force. Special contracts have been submitted for reserve medical equipment for certain hospitals.

A canteens service administered by the Army will be inaugurated in appropriate military camps in the near future. It is proposed that the general administration will be the responsibility of the QuartermasterGeneral. A Contoiler of Canteens Service will be appointed and attached to Army Head-quarters. District canteens committees will be sot up in each military district, consisting of three representative citizens and three army representatives.

The command organization was introduced on the 13th October to bring the peace organization into line with the war organization. The command system provides for the personal and whole-time guidance and supervision, hy a higher commander, of divisional and other formation commanders on questions of training and general preparedness for war. It also reduces the number of lower formations under the direct control of Army Head-quarters. The responsibilities previously exercised by the QuartermasterGeneral and Master-General of the Ordnance have been divided, and a new appointment of Master-General of the Ordnance has been created on the Military Board.

Measures have been taken to cope with the greatly increased work of the various head-quarters staffs, and for the administration of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force and garrison battalions.

The estimated total expenditure on the Army in 1939-40 is £28,200,000 or £17,770,000 over the pre-war allocation.

Mr White - Will the Minister say why there is no Inspector-General now?

Mr STREET - The functions of an Inspector-General, as the honorable gentleman will realize, are more suitable to peacetime than wartime conditions.

At the outbreak of war the Royal Australian Air Force was mobilized and all members of the Active Citizens Air Force and all available reservists were called up for continuous service. The Royal Australian Air Force has cooperated with the Navy in patrolling coastal areas. New squadrons have been formed and training has been intensified.

The development programme is being accelerated in order to complete it toy June, 1940, instead of June, 19.41, as originally intended. Of the new squadrons formed, some are equipped with modern civil aircraft obtained under charter and operated by. their regular civil crews, supplemented with specialist Air Force personnel. The order for Lockheed Hudsons from the United States of America has been increased from 50 to 100. and the Government has arranged with the Commonwealth Aircraft Cor poration to accelerate the rate of production of Wirraway aircraft. My colleague, the Acting Minister for Supply and Development (Sir Frederick Stewart), will deal with the measures being taken generally for the supply of aircraft in Australia.

Considerable numbers of training type aircraft will be required under the Empire air training scheme. Negotiations are proceeding to take up 40 suitable privatelyowned aircraft in Australia. Most of these will be elementary training type. The number of civil aircraft required may have to be increased to a total of 100. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation recently produced to the order of the Government a light training type of aircraft which has embodied in its design the essential features of the modern heavily wing loaded service type aircraft. The service trials of these training aircraft are well advanced.

The right honorable the Prime Minister has already dealt with the Empire air training scheme and its great significance. Australian pilots and air crews sent to the United Kingdom to take delivery of Sunderland flying boats will form the nucleus of a complete air squadron which, although retaining its identity as a unit of the Royal Australian Air Force, will serve as a reconnaissance unit alongside Royal Air Force squadrons. The necessary personnel to complete the squadron will leave Australia as soon as it can be conveniently arranged. Thus Australia will be the first dominion to have a complete air squadron working with the Royal Air Force.

Mr Rankin - Will it be commanded by an Australian?

Mr STREET -Yes. Valuable flying experience has already been gained by some of the personnel overseas who have accompanied Royal Air Force aircraft on submarine and convoy patrols. A seaplane conversion course has been run continuously at Point Cook since the outbreak of war, and no difficulty is anticipated in meeting our full seaplane pilot requirements.

To provide for a large increase in the training of flying instructors the following measures have been adopted: -

(1)   A flying instructors' school was formed at Point Cook out of what was the Elementary Training Squadron to develop the civil pilot potential of the Commonwealth. An eight weeks' course for 46 pupils with more than 150 hours' flying was commenced on the 16th October, while a second course for pilots with less experience will commence on the 2nd January next. Selection of this group is practically completed.

(2)   Elementary training of a batch of air cadets selected at the outbreak of war was therefore transferred to civil flying training establishments at Essendon, Mascot, Newcastle, and Brisbane. To keep up the supply of pilots to complete units of the home defence force according to the development programme new elementary flying training schools have been formed at Parafield, South Australia, and at Archerfield, Queensland. They will be ready to commence elementary flying training of 100 air cadets, who have already been selected, on the 27th December.

The technical training of airmen at the training depot, Laverton, has been accelerated, and training capacity of the service generally has been increased by -

(1)   Decentralization of recruit training by the establishment of personnel recruit sections at Richmond, New SouthWales; Laverton, Victoria; and Pearce, Western Australia.

(2)   Extension of the signal school and its transfer to Point Cook to expedite the training of wireless operators and wireless and electrical fitters. It has also been decided to transfer the training of air observers to Point Cook.

(3)   Steps to utilize facilities for training at certain technical schools. The Air Force requires large numbers of fitter tradesmen and, to assist in obtaining these, men who just failed to pass the entry trade test will be selected to undertake a four months' course at the schools. It is proposed also to train wireless and electrical fitters and instrument makers at technical schools.

It has been decided to form two group commands within the Air Force. The formation of these groups is part of the normal development programme of the Air Force, and would have taken place whether war was declared or not. The state of war, however, and the consequent large expansion of Air Force activities now taking place and contemplated in the future, make the establishment of the groups more than ever necessary. The group head-quarters are to be responsible for close supervision of training and general preparedness for war and for the administration of all units within the group. No. 1 group head-quarters, which will be established in Melbourne, will be responsible for the Air Force stations at Laver- . ton, Point Cook and Cressy in Victoria, and Parafield in South Australia, and the training and operation of units located in those establishments. Later, it will be responsible for the Royal Australian Air Force station being established at Wagga, New South Wales, and the units located there. No. 2 group head-quarters will be established in Sydney and will be responsible for the administration of Air Force stations at Richmond and Rathmines in New South Wales, and Archerfield in Queensland, and the training and operational units allocated to those stations. . Also, it will be responsible for the station that is being established at Canberra.

The formation of these group headquarters will permit a closer supervision to be exercised over flying than is now possible at Air Force head-quarters and, in addition, will make possible decentralization of administration, which is essential to eflicient operation.

Group Captain H. N. Wrigley has been appointed to command No. 1 group, and Group Captain A. T. Cole has been appointed to command No. 2 group.

During 1939-40, exclusive of the cost of the Empire air training scheme, £11,900,000 will be spent on tie Air Force. This is an increase of £2,442,000 on the pre-war allotment for the service during that year.

So much for the war measures of the fighting services. Such a statement as this, however, would be indeed incomplete without an appreciative reference to the voluntary patriotic service of private citizens iri all walks of life. The Commonwealth must acknowledge with gratitude the thousands of unconditional offers of personal service which have been made and many of which have been accepted. I lay on the table the following paper -

War Activities of tlie Fighting Services - Ministerial Statement - , and move -

That the paper he printed.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Curtin) adjourned.

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