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'1942, Australia’s greatest peril'

By Bob Wurth - posted Friday, 5 September 2008

The few historians insisting that the Japanese invasion threat to Australia in early 1942 was merely a “myth” and a recent product of wartime Australian fears of Japan must elevate the debate by researching Japanese sources about the invasion menace.

Dr Peter Stanley in his On Line Opinion article (posted August 6, 2008), trots down familiar paths to denounce those who disagree with him as “revisionist veterans” and “nationalist partisans”. Dr Stanley has got his history wrong. His views are anti-Curtin and pro-British and he has used acerbic words as a substitute for intellectual discussion on the issue since 2002.

My book 1942, Australia’s greatest peril, just out, puts forwards evidence that the Japanese threat to invade Australia in the first few months of 1942 was both genuine and imminent. I table the documents which indicate that invasion was debated most seriously within the Combined Fleet and Naval General Staff of the Imperial Navy and that the naval proposal was put forward for adoption officially, often, and in the most strenuous manner to the Imperial Army.


In the foreword to my book 1942, historian David Day writes that my book provides “… a new and important perspective to the ongoing debate”. But what does this perspective comprise?

If this debate is to move on from bluster and silly notions of “myths” to a more historically rigorous discussion, we should all put our evidence on the table.

In truth there were many senior Imperial Navy officers arguing in favour of an invasion of Australia at some stage during 1942 and this very debate and their proposals represented a substantial menace to Australia. At the time the nation was in a state of great unpreparedness in early 1942 with our armed services largely overseas and with thousands of troops in Australia were drilling with broomsticks, as I detail in my earlier book Saving Australia (Lothian). Australian, British and US intelligence appreciations all pointed to the possibility of at least “limited” or “partial” invasions of Australia, frequently referring to Darwin.

Here are some of the Imperial Navy officers who supported or proposed the invasion of Australia, as listed in 1942:

The commander in chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto; his chief of staff Admiral Matome Ugaki; the commander-in-chief of Japan’s second fleet, who led the southern invasion operations including the invasion of Malaya, Admiral Nobutake Kondo; the commander of the Japanese fourth fleet Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue; the commander of the second carrier division, Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi; the head of the bureau of naval affairs within Naval General Staff Admiral Takasumi Oka; and many powerful naval war planners, including the chief of the operations section of Naval General Staff, Baron captain (later rear admiral) Sadatoshi Tomioka.

According to war historian Hiromi Tanaka, who teaches today at Japan’s National Defense Academy:


… there were so many high ranking officers, including those in the Navy General Staff, who were arguing about attacking Australia. Also in the Combined Fleet. Arguing about attacking and invading Australia. It wasn’t just the initiative of junior officers involved in this talk …

But what was the logic in invading Australia? Primarily, these officers wanted to prevent the US from using Australia as a base for offensives, as indeed occurred. But logic, I learned in four research trips to Japan, didn’t always come into it, as Professor Tanaka in Tokyo pointed out:

You must understand that the Imperial Japanese Navy was such an irresponsible organisation; they never wanted to take responsibility, but after the [Australian] takeover, they would have withdrawn, and left the rest to the army, saying the rest was an army responsibility.

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About the Author

Bob Wurth is the author of 1942, Australia’s greatest peril, published by Pan Macmillan. Bob Wurth’s website is

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