"2011 Creswell Oration"
Rear Admiral James Goldrick AM RAN

(Verbatim as presented)

1 March 2011.



RADM James Goldrick AM RAN
Commander Defence College

"…Australia will have to be pretty careful before it goes into the submarine arm again and will have to take every precaution and examine the position very thoroughly, because three times this country has been involved in submarines and three times it has been pleased to get out of this arm of the Navy."1

The history of submarines and the Royal Australian Navy is not well understood within Australia. Apart from the heroics of AE-2's successful penetration of the Dardanelles, the popular image has been one of great ambitions largely unrealised, particularly before the entry into service of the Oberon class of the 1960s. This national attitude is precisely reflected in Athol Townley's remarks as Minister of Defence in 1962 quoted above.
There are, however, good reasons for the repeated appearance of submarines in Australian defence and strategic thought and in its maritime force structure. Ironically, the submarine and the Commonwealth of Australia are near contemporaries. The first really efficient submersibles were entering service just as federation was achieved and their potential to contribute to Australia's defences was soon the subject of debate, both professional and public.
Three key characteristics of submarines made them particularly attractive in the Australian context - their stealth, their striking power and, with the benefit of diesel engines after 1909, their endurance. Two other characteristics have created significant, sometimes insuperable challenges - their cost and complexity. But, just as these latter characteristics have manifested themselves at each stage of Australian submarine development, sometimes to the point of arresting it, the potential offered by striking power, stealth and endurance has also been apparent at important points in Australia's strategic history. In particular the expectation, or rather hope, that submarines would, despite their cost, provide a level of offensive warfighting capability not otherwise possible for the resources available has brought them back onto the agenda again and again.
The Phases of Australian Submarine History
The history of the submarine arm of the Royal Australian Navy falls inevitably into eight phases, each associated with a particular capability and an associated concept of operations. Not all relate to an actual class in service and several phases were only a few years in duration as events combined to halt the particular effort.
They are, in chronological order, firstly, the initial post-Federation period and the early schemes to make use of the new type of warship to meet Australian defence needs. Second was the Fleet Unit concept implemented in the wake of the 1909 Imperial Defence Conference, in which submarines were an integral element of the various force packages to be distributed around the British Empire. The third phase was the revival of the Australian submarine arm through the transfer of surplus units immediately after the end of the Great War. This was done with an eye not only to maintain a larger fleet than the United Kingdom itself could afford after 1918, but to begin building up strength in the Pacific to counter the Japanese. The fourth phase came only a few years later with new construction units also conceived as part of a force structure which would provide for local and regional defence until the arrival in theatre of the main British fleet from the Mediterranean. This did not survive the retrenchment of the Great Depression.
The fifth phase, more than three decades after, was the re-creation of a submarine arm, initially with the purpose of being an opposition force for national anti-submarine units but also as the core of a future anti-shipping and anti-submarine capability in its own right. The sixth phase, and the first to flow smoothly from its predecessor, was the evolution of the Oberon design into a total system in which the weapons and sensors were of a capability that fully exploited the potential of what had proved to be a highly effective platform. Seventh was the acquisition of the Collins class and eighth, and the phase which we are just now entering, will be the provision of a follow on submarine in much larger numbers than ever before.
This study will deal only with the first six phases. It should be noted that the temporary use of an elderly Dutch boat, K-9, during World War II does not rate consideration in this way because of the limited use for which it was ever intended. Nor does the crucial submarine campaign, partly waged from bases in Australia, by the United States Navy and the Royal Navy against Japan between 1941 and 1945 because this did not directly involve the Royal Australian Navy or the Australian government. But, by examining each of the other separate periods of submarine development, it should become clear that there have been consistent ambitions and recurrent challenges in the history of the Australian navy and its submarines.
Phase One: The Submarine for Local Defence - the First Ideas
The advent of the submersible did not pass un-noticed in Australia and the potential for its employment in local defence was soon identified as the new nation struggled to understand its strategic situation and its own defence requirements. The visionary Alfred Deakin, long a proponent of an Australian navy, publicly proposed the acquisition of submarines as early as 1905. William Creswell, the first Director of the Commonwealth Naval Forces was, however, not initially enthusiastic; his primary focus in the first years of Federation for a new Australian navy was firmly centred on surface torpedo craft. Given the characteristics of submersibles at that time, Creswell was quite right. In view of the limited capabilities of the first classes of submersible to enter Royal Navy service, he was justified in assessing that destroyer or torpedo boat-type craft would be more flexible for Australian local defence, even for port defence, while having a much better ability for sea keeping and offshore operations in the Australian environment. Submarines were still constrained in range and endurance, had only petrol engines (with all their attendant hazards) for surface running and were not yet particularly reliable. As Creswell noted, they were also very complex to build and thus very expensive for their size. Another factor, and it was an important one, was that surface craft were better platforms for training large numbers of people, particularly when a core of seagoing personnel had to be built up practically from scratch.
Even a dive in a British submarine in 1906 did not immediately change Creswell's thinking. Deakin, on the other hand, became progressively more enthusiastic about submarines as he moved in and out of power in Federal Government. When discussions on the future of an Australian naval effort came to a head at the 1907 Imperial Defence Conference, Deakin was soon receiving the benefit of the ideas of Admiral Sir John Fisher, the First Sea Lord, who had identified the emerging potential of the submarine as a ship killer in the open sea and the impact that this would have on all major surface ship operations. However, and this was a key point, there remained a gap between Fisher's vision of submarines and their existing capability which had yet to be spanned 5. This would require experimentation and resources on a level which a great power like the United Kingdom could afford, but which would not be practicable for a small navy such as Australia contemplated.
The problems of bringing about a submarine based scheme of defence certainly proved too much for the French, who deserve the credit for conceiving the first such program in the wake of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05. Although theoretically neutral, France had supported Russia and, with the Russian naval defeat of Tsushima, became acutely aware of the vulnerability of French Indo-China to Japanese assault. Submarines appeared to offer the only practicable (and affordable) means of providing protection. Between 1905 and 1907 an emergency building programme of submersibles for the Far East was implemented, funding for submarines more than doubling as a proportion of the construction budget. Although an improved relationship with Japan and strategic priorities closer to home brought about cancellation of the scheme in 1907, another reason for abandonment lay in the actual capabilities of the designs at the time. To provide the necessary speed and endurance, the French submarines had steam power for surface propulsion. They were not a great success and none made it to the Far East.
Thus, although Deakin formally announced to the Federal Parliament on 13 December 1907 a project to acquire submarines as part of a force of local defence units , Creswell's concerns remained legitimate. Submarines, even as local defence assets, did not yet represent the best value for money for Australia and involved much greater risk than surface vessels. The first Australian order for warships, when it finally came in early 1909 (and after a change of government), was for destroyers only.
Phase Two: The Submarine as a High Endurance Sea Going Capability
But in the same year submarines were reaching a critical point in their development with the perfection - at least to a degree - of the 'heavy oil' or diesel engine, which was fitted in the second unit of the much enlarged and more effective D class of the Royal Navy - some twice the size of its predecessors. Sir John Fisher, as ever, was quick to perceive the implications, noting in late 1908 that the type promised to be capable of 'maintaining itself at sea, unaided for long periods'. The appearance of the D class coincided with the maturing in Fisher's mind of a new concept known as 'Flotilla Defence'. Fisher's brainchild was intended to utilise Britain's technological edge over its rivals to achieve a capability jump that was both affordable and, at least temporarily, unassailable. Fisher's scheme had two principal components, the long ranged, fast and heavily armed battle cruiser to hunt down and destroy enemy commerce raiders on the world's oceans, and the small 'flotilla craft' - submarines and destroyers - to hem the enemy's battle fleets into their own ports and, at the last ditch, protect the Empire's bases and focal areas. Significantly, the battle cruiser and the new submarines stood out from all other warship types for their extended endurance and, in retrospect, it is clear that both were therefore well suited to the vast distances of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
'Flotilla Defence' promised a solution to the much vexed question of how Australia and the other Dominions could contribute to the collective defence of the Empire and still meet their local security concerns. At the 1909 Imperial Conference, Fisher proposed that 'Fleet Units' centred on a battle cruiser and with supporting light craft be established at key points in the Pacific as part of a global construct. Australia was invited to acquire a fleet unit as the core of a modern Australian navy. The timing was perfect; Australia had the funds available, having already promised to fund a dreadnought, and public opinion strongly supported the creation of a capability that could both ensure the protection of Australia's own territory and local shipping and contribute to the overall defence of the Empire.
An integral component of the Fleet Unit would be submarines. The initial proposal was for three C class, but inherent to the Fleet Unit concept was that its units should be as modern as possible. The very rapid evolution of British design after the success of the diesel powered D class allowed the first build for Australia to be two of the new and even larger E class as the start of what was intended as a larger flotilla. Visionaries, such as Creswell's assistant, Commander Hugh Thring, already envisioned how these submarines might be used to attack threatening maritime forces during the day, leaving night time attacks to the destroyers, and allowing an enemy no respite.
Completed in 1914, AE-1 & AE2 arrived in Australian waters just before the outbreak of the First World War after what was, at that point, the longest voyage ever undertaken by a submarine. Significantly, and in recognition of their capability, when the time came for the Australian fleet to adopt the offensive with an amphibious attack on the German settlement at Rabaul in New Britain, the submarines were not held in Australian waters but accompanied the deployment. Although the two units did not sail independently, this was the most distant operational deployment undertaken by submarines to that time, something that has passed largely unrecognised. Their principal role came to be, in cooperation with destroyers, to provide protection for the main force at its anchorages. With the light craft on patrol outside the harbour at Rabaul, for example, then the Allied squadron could not be surprised by an enemy surface force. It was while undertaking these duties that the AE-1 tragically disappeared without trace.
By the end of 1914 the Indian and Pacific Oceans had been cleared of German units. The remaining Australian boat was recognised as being too valuable a unit to be retained on the Australia station and was soon despatched to escort a troop convoy to the Middle East. There AE-2's successful penetration of the Dardanelles marked another stage in the evolution of the submarine as an offensive weapon. Although the boat was lost before she completed her patrol, the potential of the type had been clearly demonstrated to both the navy and - when the story of AE-2's exploit finally emerged - to the Australian public. The submarine was an offensive weapon and it was capable of world-wide use. Interestingly, and ironically in view of AE-1's employment when lost, what was also clearly demonstrated by the British experience of the First World War was that the submarine was not particularly suited to local or coastal defence. Not one German surface ship raid on a British port had been intercepted by a submarine in its approaches, despite the fact that there were units allocated to the task.
Phase Three: After 1918 - A New Threat and a New Concept
The end of the Great War almost immediately saw the development of new great power rivalries. In the Pacific, Japan had benefited significantly from the strategic space it had enjoyed as an ally while the United Kingdom focused on Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. It was now clear that there was the potential for conflict between an expanding Japan and the British Empire. Such a conflict would be inherently maritime in nature and would place huge demands on British and Commonwealth resources.
The shift of focus of British defence planning to Europe from the early 1930s and the rapid collapse of Allied resistance in South East Asia to the Japanese offensives in 1941-42 have tended to disguise the amount of effort that was put into developing concepts for the defense of the Far East in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly at the operational and tactical levels, before the crises began in Europe. It was accepted from the outset, even after the development of significant base facilities in the Far East, that the main British fleet would normally be located in the Mediterranean and only in emergency move to South East Asia. This created the requirement to buy time.
In particular, the British very quickly understood that submarines represented the best chance of interrupting or at least slowing any Japanese seaborne ventures into the archipelago. From 1919 until the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe, the largest and most modern force of submarines in the Royal Navy was always part of the China fleet . The first modern submarine flotilla of L class submarines (of the next biggest type after the J and the special M and K classes, which were not considered suitable for such operations) was transferred to the China Station in 1919, at the same time as the J class were given to Australia. It was considered the 'premier' submarine flotilla of the Royal Navy. The first serious experiments with sustained submerged operations in tropical conditions were conducted as early as 1923 and the performance of submarines in this regard was a continuing subject of interest, with extended patrols (up to a month in length) being practised. Until the early 1930s, every new RN submarine design was intended for the Far East and it was only later in the 1930s and the return of a European threat that the priority moved away from the larger (and faster) boats which were required in the A sia-Pacific. In July 1939, in addition to the modern depot ship Medway, there were no less than fifteen large patrol submarines on the China Station. By comparison, there were only five operational submarines in the Mediterranean, three of which were clearly reinforcement units for the Far East, and six in the Home Fleet. Notably, although most of the surface fleet was withdrawn from the Far East at the outset of war with Germany, fear of Japan taking advantage of the situation meant that all the submarines remained in theatre until well into 1940.
The Admiralty's schemes for the RAN from the start proposed particular Australian contributions to what soon became a 'main fleet to Singapore' strategy and were aligned with the early concepts of that strategy. It was thus not surprising that after the end of the First World War the British should offer and Australia accept a flotilla of submarines. It was also not surprising that the class, albeit one that in itself represented a discrete package as there were only six of the type, should be the biggest submarine in RN service, aside from the steam driven K class and the big gun armed M class, and one with significant endurance.
The J class, however, rapidly proved too much for a cash strapped Australian Navy, particularly as they required a high level of maintenance and restoration after their war service. Despite a number of valiant rearguard proposals to retain one or two of the boats for ASW training, it was eventually accepted (even by the submariners) that the J class 'were too obsolete and worn out ever to be brought forward for further service'.
Phase Four: A Role for the RAN in the British Construct for the Defence of the Far East
Nevertheless, even as Australia agonised over the fate of the J class, British thinking continued to focus on the means by which a workable scheme for the defence of the Far East could be devised. The force structure implications of that plan for both the Royal Navy and the Dominion naval forces in the Asia-Pacific were put formally to the Imperial Defence Conference in 1923. The British expected that the Japanese would attempt to seize Singapore as soon as hostilities began and before any British reinforcements could arrive. The British Empire's forces in South East Asia had to be able to prevent or at least delay the arrival of a Japanese invasion force. The Admiralty therefore 'considered fast…cruisers of great endurance and large submarines the most suitable classes of ship for the Dominion navies.'
The proposal that Australia should divide its primary naval (and, indeed, defence) expenditure on cruisers and submarines thus reflected the requirements for both sea control and sea denial to be achieved during the period over some 42 days (a figure subject to variation as plans were modified over the years ) in which the main fleet would move from European waters to the Far East. During this time, it was accepted that the British Empire forces would be on the defensive, particularly in the South China Sea and the archipelago of the East Indies. That defence would be sustained at sea principally by submarines, with the cruisers of the China, East Indies, Australia and New Zealand stations providing surface action groups in the China Seas, as well as units in the Indian and South West Pacific oceans and the Malacca Strait to protect both trade and the movement of reinforcements.
The British intended their submarines to operate in the East and South China Seas and within the archipelago on a scale which would present fundamental problems for Japanese surface forces, particularly if there were any attempts to stage amphibious assaults. While the points to be defended varied, with Hong Kong sometimes given up as a lost cause, British operational concepts became increasingly sophisticated. Although they themselves would have a surveillance and reconnaissance role in their own right, the submarines would not operate unsupported. The Oberon class, which were the first class to be built after the Great War and the first designed specifically for the Far East, and their successors were fitted with up to date radio equipment in order to allow their interaction with other force elements (and with sonar for ASW work). In this period the RN and the Royal Air Force began to conduct joint exercises in which flying boats were required 'to locate a naval force and home a submarine flotilla on to it.' In 1927 (in good time for the new submarines) four flying boats were transferred from the United Kingdom to Singapore and formed into the new 205 Squadron. Group or 'wolf pack' coordinated submarine tactics were developed as a method of overwhelming the defences of Japanese fleets and troop convoys. Covert submarine reconnaissance techniques were also refined, some of which would be revived for the Cold War, in order to monitor the progress of the increasingly secretive Japanese, particularly after 1936 when no more foreign warship visits were allowed to Japanese ports.
Notably, a parallel strategy for submarine warfare was adopted by the Netherlands for the Dutch East Indies and their regional fleet in 1939 included no less than twelve of their most modern submarines, while the Americans in the Philippines also maintained a substantial flotilla. In a conflict, the Admiralty assessed that the Australian boats could either be despatched to support the main effort in the South China Sea, or else constitute an independent sea denial force around such focal areas as the approaches to Darwin.
The Australian 1923 submarine program foundered for two reasons. The first was that it was too early. The pair of O class boats which the RAN acquired were also two of the three prototypes for the RN's post-war patrol submarine fleet. They incorporated many new systems and, although developed in the light of the experience of 1914-18, were fundamentally new designs after a break of nearly a decade . The British themselves generally did not deploy prototype units to foreign stations until they had been properly tested and proven in service and the RAN was not ready nor equipped to deal with the problems that were soon encountered with Oxley and Otway. In fact, the new heavy cruisers Australia and Canberra experienced significant issues with their 8" main armament guns, which were also novel to the RN and RAN, but by their nature such difficulties could much more easily be concealed in peacetime than the engineering defects of the submarines. The British themselves did not despatch any new submarines to the Far East until 1930 when they could deploy in company with their new (and well equipped) depot ship and when most of the prototype problems had been ironed out.
The second was money and the associated problem of force generation. The Australian Navy maintained its plans for the expansion of the submarine flotilla to six boats with a new depot ship until as late as the end of 1928, when a new naval development plan was submitted to the Council of Defence. The RAN, however, came under increasing financial pressure as the Great Depression loomed and distribution of the little money available forced choices and heavy cuts that were in the nature of least unacceptable. From the funds that the Government was willing to allocate, the Australian Navy simply could not afford to maintain both a significant surface force and a submarine capability even if both were essential in providing a balanced contribution to the "Main Fleet to Singapore" strategy. The latter remained relatively expensive to operate and demanding on external resources. It would also take a much larger submarine force than was practicable to generate reasonable numbers of trained personnel. The cruisers, on the other hand, fulfilled the sea control role while also serving as training platforms and sustaining seagoing manpower at reasonably high levels.
In other words, in the extreme economic conditions of the day, the cruisers could preserve a core force in a way that would allow later expansion while still meeting at least one of the fundamental wartime roles of the RAN. In these circumstances, the handover of the two submarines to the Royal Navy represented the best solution. And there was another aspect to the British acceptance of the situation. Under the terms of the London Naval Disarmament Treaty (as it had been for the earlier Washington Treaty), British Empire naval strength was treated as one. With submarine tonnage now limited to 52,700 in total, the RN could not afford to waste it on less than effective units. If the RAN could not afford to operate the two O class submarines properly, they were better off in British hands.
It is true, however, that neither the internal naval debate that preceded the decision to give the submarines to the British nor Australian Cabinet discussion of the issue dealt properly with the consequence that the RAN no longer possessed a significant capacity to contribute to offensive operations in the region and thus make a real contribution to delaying any Japanese advance into the archipelago. In this context, Australian naval planners were almost as guilty of a 'fortress Australia' mindset as the Army colleagues whom they criticised because the operational concept of the RAN was thus largely defensive and almost wholly local. It was not emphasised enough by naval authorities that the needs of forward defence that would make Singapore any use at all as a protection for Australia were being neglected - and by Australia, not just Britain. It was true that the minimum trade protection requirements could still be met by the rump of the fleet that remained, but not much more than this would be possible. A small force of cruisers and destroyers might be dispatched to the South China Sea, but its strategic weight (and this was clearly demonstrated in 1941-42) was very limited indeed.
Phase Five: The Restoration of an Australian Submarine Arm
It was to take nearly thirty years for submarines to return as a factor in Australian force strategic and force structure planning. The recreation of an Australian submarine arm in the 1960s came about through the confluence of a number of issues. The first was the fact that the British, who had provided a division of submarines at Sydney from 1949 to support anti-submarine training, could no longer afford to do so. The RN's war built submarines were rapidly approaching obsolescence and could not be replaced by the British one-for-one, particularly as the RN was concentrating on a nuclear propulsion program as the core of its future submarine capability. Since ASW remained a key role of the RAN, as its primary contribution to the Western alliance, the deterioration which would follow the absence of live targets was not acceptable.
But a more significant factor for the long term was the emergence for the first time since the Second World War of a potential surface threat to Australia. Initially, the Soviet Sverdlov class cruisers and their potential as long ranged commerce raiders were the primary concern. No Australian surface unit had the armament to stand up to a heavily armed Sverdlov while the sole aircraft carrier could not generate a large enough strike force to be sure of overwhelming the cruiser's defences. The Australian naval staff toyed with the idea of tactical nuclear weapons , but these were never really a practical (or acceptable) option. The problem acquired a new urgency in the late 1950s with the expansion, with Soviet support, of the Indonesian fleet. The Indonesians first acquired large destroyers in 1958, then a cruiser (with the possibility of further hulls) in 1962 and even some of the first missile armed fast attack craft. Furthermore, the USSR, China and Indonesia all possessed expanding submarine fleets and the potential to deploy units into Australia's area of interest and against its shipping. The fact that submarines were one of the most effective weapons against other submarines was becoming increasingly apparent as Western nations contemplated the ASW challenge.
In these circumstances a submarine force could restore a measure of offensive capability to the RAN, a requirement implicit in the 1959 Strategic Basis of Defence Policy's statement that, in a limited war, Australian forces 'must also be able to act independently against aggression in the North Western approaches'. With the formidable support of Senator John Gorton as Minister for the Navy, the RAN was able to make the case for the creation of a submarine arm as a necessary addition to its force structure.
The problem was the more critical because of the increasing difficulty which the RAN faced in maintaining a fixed wing capability and even the limited measure of offensive power possessed by the small air group operated from the light fleet carrier Melbourne. The Sea Venom jet fighters would soon be at the end of their effective lives, while the Gannets were optimised only for ASW. The new generation of fighter and strike aircraft demanded a bigger platform than the Melbourne and there were no such vessels available to the RAN at a price that the government was willing to pay. If the Fleet Air Arm could not continue to exist, then the RAN had to expand into other capabilities if it were not to decline into a small ship Service.
The Porpoise class, on which the Oberon was based, had, as was already clear to the RN, proved an extremely successful design and, despite habitability that had not evolved significantly from previous generations of submarines, possessed excellent range and endurance as well as reasonable underwater speed and manoeuvrability. Above all, they were very quiet. The Oberon's inherent quality would be demonstrated by their export success, boats being built for Brazil and Chile as well as Canada and Australia.
The original force structure for the RAN was based on a program of two batches of four boats, with the possibility of nuclear submarines to follow. The latter never eventuated, while the second batch was cut down to two boats, ordered in 1971 shortly after the final unit of the first quartet arrived in Australian waters. The money saved went instead to the purchase of ten additional Skyhawk jet fighter-bombers for the aircraft carrier Melbourne. While the decision to strengthen the Fleet Air Arm partly at the expense of the Submarine Arm reflected the priorities of an aviator Chief of Naval Staff, there was some justification for the hedging of bets which this represented. Apart from the fact that the RAN was still determined to maintain a fixed wing capability at sea and also determined to improve its striking power by exploiting the success of the Skyhawk-Melbourne combination, the Oberon class suffered from significant limitations.
The passive sensors of the Oberons were extremely unsophisticated and limited in range and target discrimination. Their fire control equipment was no better, while the ASW homing torpedoes for which they were designed were soon recognised as being ineffective and withdrawn from service. The primary weapon system was and remained for a decade the Mark VIII straight running torpedo, a weapon which had been in service for three decades before the commissioning of the first Australian Oberon. The reality was that in order to achieve a successful attack, a submarine so equipped had to approach very close to its target (certainly within the protective screen around a defended unit) and rely very largely upon the capacity of its commanding officer to calculate the correct firing solution within his head.
The problem with this situation was not the lethality of the Mark VIII on impact. This would be confirmed anew in 1982 when the British submarine Conqueror sank the Argentinean cruiser General Belgrano. It was that the short range at which the submarine had to engage not only exposed it to anti-submarine units when making its approach, but left it vulnerable once its presence had been confirmed by its attack, successful or not, and it was attempting to withdraw.
Phase Six: The Submarine Weapons Update Programme
The need to address these deficiencies under strategic guidance that continued to emphasise the need for independent Australian maritime capabilities initiated the next phase of Australian submarine development. The package of sensor and weapon improvements that came to be designated the Submarine Weapons Update Program (SWUP) was one of the most successful modernisation efforts in the history of the RAN. There was an element of serendipity about the way in which, over a decade, a number of key technological advances were brought together to provide what became an extremely effective package, but some points are notable. The first was that the small team of submariners who championed the modernisation effort succeeded in obtaining and maintaining the support of the Navy's non-submariner leadership. Even at the height of the battle to acquire a replacement carrier, finally lost in 1983, funding was provided and staff effort directed at securing the new systems for all six Oberons. In this case, the bet hedging was in favour of the Submarine Arm. It was to prove well judged.
Detailed work began in 1971 with the project to acquire a long range, hull mounted passive sonar, designated MICROPUFFS, which would, through the use of sensors along the hull as a baseline, not only allow for much longer range detections, but provide estimates of their range. This was first fitted to HMAS Ovens in 1975 and extended to the remainder of the class as they came in for their next major docking and refit. The next step was a Singer Librascope digital fire control system which was able to fire the much more sophisticated American Mark 48 heavyweight homing torpedo. Oxley received this system in 1977-79. Finally, a Krupp Atlas active/passive attack sonar replaced the earlier British unit. The full program of modernization was complete by 1985. In November that year, the final piece of the jigsaw was put in place with the successful firing from submerged of a Harpoon anti-ship missile by the Ovens.
The weapon/sensor/fire control system combination that resulted from SWUP provided the RAN Oberons with a stand off capability that would allow them to engage surface targets at much longer ranges than ever before possible and certainly at distances that created significant challenges for the most sophisticated of ASW defences. Furthermore, they themselves also possessed an extremely effective ASW capability that, allied to their low noise signatures, made them formidable opponents for other submarines, no matter how sophisticated.
The timing of the program proved fortunate, since the total capability now provided by the submarine force went some way to substituting for the lost offensive power of the fixed wing aircraft carrier in an era in which the Australian Government was seeking to achieve 'self reliance' in national defence. What the RAN did have by 1985 was a powerful force of submarines capable of use in a wide variety of roles from surveillance and reconnaissance and support of special forces to anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. It was one that was being progressively more integrated into Australian concepts of operations and which was recognised as a key fighting element within the Australian Defence Force. The successful completion of SWUP also set the scene for the development work that was now in hand for a follow-on submarine. But that is a different story and a new phase of Australia's submarine history.
Submarines have long provided a capability which has had a special potential to meet Australia' s unique requirements for national defence. That capability was recognised very early in our history and the fact that so many efforts were made to establish or retain a submarine force indicates that this recognition has been, if not sustained, at least a recurring element in national strategic thought. Stealth, striking power and endurance represent a powerful combination, in offence as well as defence, whether supporting a purely national campaign, or as a contribution to an alliance or coalition. At the same time, the record of Australia's submarine effort confirms that they are not simple to acquire or to operate. They have always been complex machines, often being at the leading edge of technology for their day and always demanding the highest standards of construction, maintenance and operation to ensure their survival in an unforgiving environment. They create great challenges not only for their owner navy but for the national support and industry base which must lie behind any submarine capability, challenges which can only be met by a deliberate, sustained and properly resourced effort on the part of all concerned. This was the key lesson of the first six phases of the history of submarine development in Australia and the reason why the 1927 Oberon class failed and the 1967 Oberons succeeded.


1. The Honourable Athol Townley, Minister for Defence, to the House of Representatives 27 March 1962, CPD p. 946. Cited Peter Yule & Derek Woolner Steel, Spies & Spin: The Collins Class Submarine Story Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2008. p. 12.
2. See 'Report submitted by the Naval Director to the Honourable the Minister of State for Defence 15 November 2005' Nicholas A. Lambert Australia's Naval Inheritance: Imperial Maritime Strategy and the Australia Station 1880-1909 Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs No. 6, Maritime Studies Program, Canberra, 1998, p. 123.
3. Bob Nicholls Statesmen and Sailors: Australian Maritime Defence 1870-1920 Balmain, 1995, pp. 94-95. See pp 99-100 for Creswell's reservations about submarines in 1905. His 1906 visit to UK (p. 108) and first hand acquaintance with the B class, including a dive, did not change his opinion at this stage about the limitations of the petrol driven, short range craft.
4. Letter from Alfred Deakin to Admiral Sir John Fisher of 12 August 1907 (with marginal comments by Fisher) Lambert Australia's Naval Inheritance, Op. Cit. p. 150.
5. See Richard Compton-Hall Submarine Boats: The beginnings of underwater warfare Conway Maritime Press, London, 1983, especially pp. 110-125 and pp. 167-71. For example, the first retractable periscope was not fitted to a British submarine until the D class in 1909.
6 Nicholas A. Lambert 'The Opportunities of Technology: British and French Naval Strategies in the Pacific, 1905-1909' Naval Power in the Twentieth Century N.A.M. Rodger (Ed.) Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1996, p. 47.
7. Lambert Australia's Naval Inheritance, Op. Cit. pp. 154-155.
8. In fact the first 'heavy oil' units used paraffin
9. The submarine A-13 had successfully trialed a diesel engine in 1905.
10. Nicholas Lambert Sir John Fisher's Naval Revolution. p. 182
11. Notes of the Proceedings of a Conference at the Admiralty 10 August 1909, Lambert Australia's Naval Inheritance, Op. Cit. 180-184.
12. David Stevens '"Defend the North": Commander Thring, Captain Hughes-Onslow and the beginnings of Australian naval strategic thought' David Stevens & John Reeve (Eds) Southern Trident: Strategy, history and the rise of Australian naval power' Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2001, p. 236.
13. A.W. Jose The Royal Australian Navy Vol. IX Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1928, pp. 96-97.
14. Ibid. pp. 239-248
15. For example, see Andrew Field Royal Navy Strategy in the Far East 1919-1939: PrepaingPreparing for War against Japan Frank Cass, London, 2004 which explores British planning in considerable detail and shows just how much effort went into the problem.
16. Perhaps significantly, many (if not most) of the first submarine experienced officers to achieve flag rank were posted to China or the East Indies. Dunbar-Nasmith VC served as C-in-C East Indies in 1932-34, Waistell as C-in-C China 1928-31, Little as C-in-C China 1935-38 and Layton as C-in-C China in 1940-41 (having served as Chief of Staff to C-in-C China 1931-33). Laurence served as Chief of Staff to C-in-C East Indies 1923-25.
17. Rear Admiral G.W.G. Simpson Periscope View: A Professional Autobiography Macmillan, London, 1972, p. 37.
18. Admiral Sir Frederick Dreyer The Sea Heritage: A Study of Maritime Warfare Museum Press, London, 1935, pp. 318-319. Dreyer was C-in-C China 1933-1936.
19. Between 1928 and 1938 a total of 31 boats (including the short lived 'X-1' cruiser submarine) were built for the RN and RAN for the Far East. This represented a substantial commitment of resources in a period of retrenchment and disarmament. See H.T. Lenton British Submarines MacDonald, London, 1972, p. 4 and pp. 39-53.
20. See also David Henry 'British Submarine Policy 1918-1939' Bryan Ranft (Ed.) Technical Change and British Naval Policy 1860-1939 Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1977, p. 92. See The Navy List for July 1939 (corrected to 18th June 1939) HMSO, London, 1939, pp. 244-247.
21. First Naval Member Minute to Minister 16 November 1922. Cited Michael W.D. White Australian Submarines: A History AGPS, Canberra, 1992. p. 117.
22. Stephen Roskill Naval Policy Between the Wars Vol. 1 The Period of Anglo-American Antagonism 1919-1929 Collins, London, 1968, p. 404.
23. James Neidpath The Singapore Naval Base and the Defence of Britain's Eastern Empire, 1919-1941 Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1981, pp. 51-52 and p.88.
24. The quality of the radio equipment was explicitly commented on by the Australian naval staff in 1929. See Michael W.D. White Australian Submarines: A History, Op. Cit., p. 160.
25. James J. Halley Famous Maritime Squadrons of the Royal Air Force Hylton Lacey, Windsor, 1973, p. 30.
26. Alastair Mars British Submarines at War 1939-1945 is particularly useful on British submarine training and operations in the Far East between 1937 and 1940. See pp. 21-23, 37-64 and 239-247.
27. Arthur J. Marder Old Friends, New Enemies: The Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy Vol. 1 Strategic Illusions 1936-1941 Oxford University Press, 1981, pp. 354-356.
28. Alastair Mars, while known for his forthright language, had a point when he labelled Otway an 'electro-mechanical monstrosity'. British Submarines at War, Op. Cit., p. 119.
29. Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) G.B.H. Fawkes, RN (writing as 'G.B.F.H.') 'Narrative in Log Form of Passage of Fourth Submarine Flotilla to Hong Kong, 1930' The Naval Review February 1931, Vol. XIX, No. 1, pp. 69-89. Even so, three out of four of the submarines experienced defects with their main motors on passage but, unlike the diesel defects of the early O class, they were rectified within a week at Malta.
30. B.N. Primrose 'Australian Naval Policy 1919-1942: A Case Study in Empire Relations' PhD Thesis, The Australian National University, 1974, p. 123.
31. Ibid. pp. 173-177.
32. The Sverdlov, as a post war designed and built ship, caused something of a sensation at the 1953 British Coronation Naval Review. Although some authorities were inclined to discount the type as an oceanic threat, the size of the construction program meant that it could not be ignored. See Wilhelm Hadeler 'The Ships of the Soviet Navy' M.G. Saunders (Ed.) The Soviet Navy Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1958, pp. 147-150.
33. First Naval Member to First Sea Lord letter of 25 June 1956 UK National Archives ADM 205/110. Cited Eric Grove 'British and Australian Naval Policy in the Korean War Era' T.R. Frame, J.V.P. Goldrick & P.D Jones Reflections on the Royal Australian Navy Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, 1991, p. 269. .
34. 'Report by the Joint Planning Committee at meetings during Tuesday 13th to Saturday 17th October 1959 re Report No. 77/59 - Composition of the Forces 75/59 - Proposed Introduction of a Submarine Service into the Royal Australian Navy.
35. Stephan Fruhling A History of Australian Strategic Policy since 1945 Australian Department of Defence, Canberra, 2009, p. 262.
36. See both 'The Strategic Basis of Australian Defence Policy (October 1975)' and 'Australian Strategic Analysis and Defence Policy Objectives (September 1976) Stephan Fruhling (Ed.) A History of Australian Strategic Policy Defence Publishing Service, Canberra, 2009, p. 536 and pp. 616-617.
37. For the story of SWUP see Michael W.D. White Australian Submarines: A History, Op. Cit., pp. 201-203; Peter Yule & Derek Woolner Steel, Spies and Spin: The Collins Class Submarine Story Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2008, pp. 23-26.









































































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