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The Ambon Forward Observation Line Strategy 1941-1942 A Lesson in Military Incompetence

Evans, David (2010) The Ambon Forward Observation Line Strategy 1941-1942 A Lesson in Military Incompetence. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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In October 1940 and in February 1941, the Australian Chiefs of Staff agreed to supply a task force (Gull Force) and an air strike group to garrison the small Dutch Island of Ambon. The decision to send troops to support the Dutch was made at Singapore where Australia ostensibly agreed to send three squadrons of aircraft to support Ambon in exchange for the Dutch sending four of their squadrons to support Malaya and Singapore should they be attacked. Under closer examination, however, the reasons for sending Australian troops and aircraft to Ambon become more obscure.

Historians and writers in the past have provided various explanations for Australia’s commitment to Dutch Ambon as being; because the Island was a steppingstone for the Japanese to use in approaching Australia; because it was necessary to delay the Japanese for a couple of days; because Australia required a forward operating base; because Timor and Ambon were necessary for maintaining an open air route between Java and Australia; and, because Australia needed to demonstrate to its allies that it was prepared to fight the Japanese regardless of the disproportionate cost in doing so. Considering the paucity of facts regarding the Ambon case, the aim of this dissertation is to examine the question of why the Australian Government knowingly made the decision to send an under equipped, under-strength and unprotected task force to an isolated island in the Malukus to face overwhelming Japanese forces without any hope of reinforcement, rescue or withdrawal.

The conclusions show that the Australian Government and its military advisors were unequal to the task of successfully formulating grand war policy and military strategy in the Ambon Island case during 1941-1942. The minimum aim of war strategy is to formulate a decisive war plan in balance with the attainable political objective and the military’s ability to achieve those ends. The Ambon strategy failed these criterion where Gull Force was sent to garrison the Island without any stated aims other than fighting to hold the Japanese advance for no longer than a few days to demonstrate Australia’s willingness to fight. Gull Force was given an impossible task to fulfil at a price that could not be justified under any conventional strategic principles of the time.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Durey, Michael and Sturma, Michael
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