PANEL 5: LEARNING FROM AUSTRALIAN HISTORY  

Seminar Room 1, 10:30-12:00
Chair: Ross Mackie

 

Perceptions of the Centurion Tank during the Vietnam War-era
Cian Reid, MA Student, University of New South Wales, Canberra

This study explores the evolution of Australian armoured doctrine during the Cold War, with a focus on the Centurion Main Battle Tank and the Vietnam War. In undertaking this research, I will be approaching memoirs, diaries, letters, and archival material, as well as conducting interviews. The paper discusses what did happen, not what might have happened. However, to ensure a guiding theoretical framework, two contemporary-to-the-Vietnam-War military pamphlets will be consulted: Armour, and Counter-Revolutionary Warfare (of the Division in Battle series). These discuss armour's use during the Cold War broadly, but also specifically state armour's role in South-East Asia as one of infantry support. Three books - Australian Armour: A History of the Armoured Corp 1927-1972, Jungle Tracks, and Canister! On! Fire! - can broadly be said to be lacking depth, or are in a narrative, not academic form, and are distinctly lacking a record of the immediate pre- and post- Vietnam War-era. This research is significant because there is still much to be learnt from the Vietnam War regarding fighting against an insurgency. Additionally, the use of armour, particularly when operating with infantry, is a very important theme in Australian military history, and remains an enduring issue in the armed forces.

Cian Reid is a Masters of Arts (Research) student specialising in history at UNSW Canberra. He studied at Monash University double majoring in history and archaeology.

 


 

 “Bricks Without Straw”: Allied Operational and Tactical Conduct during the Battles for Buna, Gona and Sanananda, 1942-43
James Brien, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

This paper provides an analysis of the operational and tactical-level conduct of Australian and American forces involved in the beachhead battles at Buna, Gona, and Sanananda in late 1942-early 1943. It became a three-month battle against a masterful defensive system held by the Japanese and a struggle against the terrain and logistical shortfalls. This campaign is significant as it was the first major offensive by a combined Australian-American force in the Pacific theatre. It expands upon more recent scholarly work on the theatre by Peter Dean, Garth Pratten, Tim Moreman and Adrian Threlfall. My research engages with broader military themes such as command and control, doctrine, cooperation, and learning an adaptation. At the operational level, my research examines the doctrinal principles of command, coalition warfare and the exertion of command and control during the operations, intelligence and planning, logistics, and the role of non-combat forces in supporting operations on the frontlines. At the tactical level, it investigates the challenges of command and control in tactical units, how combined arms operations were coordinated and executed, the difficulties faced by armour, artillery and air units in operations, and how infantry techniques and tactics had to be adapted to meet the challenges of fighting against the bunkers, swamps, and jungles which dominated the beachhead areas. A constant theme throughout my thesis is in-theatre learning and adaptation, which serves as an overall framework for my analysis. The thematic approach differentiates it from the typical ‘tactical narrative’ which has characterised Australian military histories of the Papuan campaign.

James Brien commenced a PhD with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University in 2016 with a thesis project examining Allied operational and tactical-level conduct during the beachhead battles in Papua from November 1942-January 1943. His interest in the topic developed from the completion of the Australian War Memorial's Summer Scholar scheme in 2013. He has published articles on the Beachhead Battles and causation in history. James received an Australian Army History Unit Research Grant for 2018-19 to help him complete his research on the topic. At the completion of his candidature he hopes to pursue a career in the field of military history and education.

 


 

A Century of Constant Care: Health Support for Australian Maritime Operations 1900-2000
Dr Neil Westphalen, PhD Candidate, University of New South Wales, Canberra 

This paper seeks to fill an important gap in the historiography of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), with respect to the provision of health support for Australian maritime operations from 1900 to 2000. This entails addressing two issues: one pertains to the attributes of the health services required to support Australian maritime operations during that time, while the other considers the attributes of these operations that drove the need for maritime health services. These issues are firstly addressed by considering the missions that needed to be conducted by the RAN’s health services to support maritime operations, followed by the health-related functions and roles necessary to undertake these missions. It also considers the fundamental inputs to health capability required to undertake these functions and roles. In addressing these issues, this study has two overlapping themes. The first, during the period from 1900 to the 1970’s, pertains to the development of self-reliance from (while maintaining interoperability with) the British Royal Navy (RN)–and later the United States Navy (USN)–with respect to health support for maritime operations within the Australian areas of strategic interest. The second theme, during the period from the 1920’s to 2000, pertains to the development of interdependent relationships with the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) health services.

Dr Neil Westphalen graduated from Adelaide University School of Medicine in 1985 and joined the RAN in 1987. He is an RAN Staff Course graduate and a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and the Australasian College of Aerospace Medicine. He also holds a Diploma of Aviation Medicine and a Master of Public Health.

 


 

The Great War in our schools: The lag between research and education
Damien Zuccarini, PhD Candidate, University of New South Wales, Canberra

The centenary of the First World War lead to an explosion of military commemoration across the world and Australia. Alongside the realm of mainstream Anzacary of the likes of the many TV mini-series that coincided with the centenary, there was also a steady stream of new research into the war, deepening our knowledge of its conduct. The decades before the centenary had also seen a steady growth of literature examining the beliefs and assumptions that surround Australia’s participation in the war and challenging many of them. This constant process of revision and continuing understanding is at work in universities and amongst academics who have an interest in the Great War. However, this research seldom leaves the campus grounds. The high-school history curriculum has a unit explicitly on Australia and the Great War and institutions like the Australian War Memorial and the Shrine of Remembrance provide resources and educational experiences to schools. But is the state of research reflected in what is being taught? What resources are schools using and where do teachers find them? How up to date is the history being taught? What can we, as scholars, do to further spread the most up to date research?

Damien Zuccarini is a graduate student at UNSW Canberra currently completing his PhD under the supervision of John Connor. He completed his BA(Hons) at Victoria University in Melbourne with the dissertation “Imperial or Australian: Anglo-Australian relations during the First World War”. He moved to Canberra in 2017 to commence his PhD. His thesis is an analysis of British and Dominion divisional commanders on the Western Front. Command during the Great War is his primary interest but he finds all eras and facets of history just as fascinating.