NAVY FOUNDATION DAY "CRESWELL ORATION"
106th. ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Vice Admiral Matt Tripovich AM CSC RAN
AUSTRALIAN NAVY FOUNDATION DAY
CAPABILITY - FROM CRESWELL TO TOMORROW VICE ADMIRAL MATT TRIPOVICH
AM, CSC, RAN CHIEF CAPABILITY DEVELOPMENT GROUP
you Christopher Creswell for your kind words of introduction.
Having the grandson of Vice Admiral Creswell here today adds real
meaning and a great sense of history to the occasion. It is a
true delight and privilege to have been asked to deliver the Creswell
Oration on the 107th anniversary of the foundation of the Australian
This morning's Thanksgiving Service was a wonderful occasion,
and I was so very pleased to be able to join many of you in expressing
our gratitude for those naval men and women who have served their
country in peace and war for more than a century.
Can I also, at the outset, thank Commander John Wilkins who on
behalf of the Australian Navy Foundation Day Organising Committee
invited me to present the 2007 Creswell Oration.
Many of you here will be more familiar than I with the details
of the life and career of Vice Admiral Sir William Creswell, our
first true 'navalist' and the first professional head of the Australian
Navy. In developing a theme for this year's oration, I was struck
by the parallels with the circumstances in which Admiral Creswell
found himself in the early 20th century in trying to determine
the capabilities that the fledgling Australian Navy needed, and
the work that I find myself doing as the Chief Capability Development
Group in Defence Headquarters in Canberra. I will stress that
I am in no way trying to develop a comparison between this humble
officer before you, who has been promoted beyond his wildest dreams,
with the great man to whom we pay homage by calling him the 'Father
of the Australian Navy'.
William Creswell had begun his naval career in the Royal Navy.
His father, who was the Deputy Postmaster General in Gibraltar
at the time, sent William home to England to join the Royal Navy
in 1865 as a 13-year old Midshipman. He visited Australia in HMS
Phoebe in 1869. He had an extraordinary career, involving as it
did service in the Channel Fleet, on the China Station where he
conducted operations against pirates, in ships that deployed to
India and service off East Africa where he chased slave traders.
He was wounded in action more than once during his career and
eventually was repatriated back to the UK in ill-health. He retired
from the Royal Navy in 1878 and the following year migrated to
Australia where he became a cattle farmer.
As has happened to many naval personnel who have thought they
had left the Service for good, the call of the sea was too strong,
and in 1885 he joined the newly formed South Australia naval service
as a Lieutenant Commander and as First Lieutenant of the ship
Protector. After a few years he moved to Queensland to become
Commandant of the Queensland Naval Forces.
Throughout these early years in the various colonial naval forces,
Creswell became a passionate advocate for the establishment of
a national naval force. The records show that he wrote frequently
in the press about it, and raised a number of submissions to various
state governments on the matter.
On the first of March 1901, the various States of the newly formed
Commonwealth of Australia transferred their 'naval forces and
everyone employed in their connection' to the Federal Government.
It was day on which life was breathed into the Australian Navy.
For the next three years the Navy was administered by the Commonwealth
Government using the various State legislations, with a senior
naval officer in each state looking after the men and equipment
In 1903, the Defence Act created a Naval Board of Administration
with three regular members headed by the Minister of State for
Defence. The position of Naval Officer Commanding Commonwealth
Naval Forces, later to become Director of Naval Forces, was also
created, and it was to this position that Creswell, by now a Captain,
was appointed in December 1904. Captain Creswell faced almost
insufferable difficulties and uncertain prospects for success.
The forces at his disposal were old and, in his judgement, inadequate
even for basic naval training.
The new Navy consisted of 11 ships, such as they were, and approximately
200 men, led by some 135 warrant and commissioned officers, most
of whom were not permanent. He set about bringing several old
gun boats and torpedo boats back into service and instituted regular
training exercises to improve the readiness of his men. Captain
Creswell recognised that to be able to truly develop as a nation,
a strong Australia needed a strong Australian Navy.
Australia's future was dependant on maritime trade and its security
lay in the protection of its sea lines of communication. In many
ways Australia's strategic circumstances have not changed in 100
years. The old State Navies of March 1901 did not even come close
being able to fulfil its fledgling mission. The nation's maritime
defence was actually provided by a Squadron of the Royal Navy,
permanently deployed on the Australia Station.
In 1905 and 1906 Captain Creswell wrote to the new Australian
Government on the requirement for an Australian Naval Force and
the capabilities needed in its ships. He supported his case with
a strategic assessment that 'For a maritime state unfurnished
with a navy, the sea, so far from being a safe frontier, is rather
a highway for her enemies; but with a navy, it surpasses all other
frontiers in strength'. He also mounted a case for a degree of
self-reliance, reasoning that if Great Britain found itself in
peril elsewhere, the Royal Navy detachment was likely to be withdrawn
and Australia would be left vulnerable.
Inter-service rivalry was already alive and well, although in
those days it might have been considered by Captain Creswell as
a useful strategy. He tried to convince the Government that more
money was required by the Navy, even if it had to come about by
reducing the Army's budget. The Navy's budget at that time was
approximately 40% of the Army's budget - yet Creswell had no doubt
where the priorities should lie. He challenged the prevailing
wisdom that a well armed citizen army should be Australia's first
line of defence, saying that 'The spectacle of some five million
Anglo-Australians, with an Army splendidly equipped, unable to
prevent the burning of a cargo of wool in sight of Sydney Heads,
is only the ordinary consequence of a policy of naval impotence'.
Captain Creswell understood Australia's maritime geography and
understood that Australian warships would need exceptional endurance
and the ability to operate under all conditions of weather and
In 1905 he proposed that Australia should have three 'cruiser-destroyers',
16 torpedo boat destroyers and 15 torpedo boats to provide a defence
for Australian ports and its coastal commerce. Creswell was pragmatic
about what was achievable, and he did not support the acquisition
of submarines due to their low speed and radius of action and
Captain Creswell did some further analysis of the Navy's requirements
and in 1906 he recommended to the Government that to protect its
offshore trade routes Australia needed three ocean-going destroyers
of 1300 tons and one ocean-going destroyer of 800 tons.
In an attempt to introduce what we now refer to as network centric
warfare, he lobbied for all of the vessels to be fitted with wireless,
to enable communications with shore and each other, and to allow
dispersed vessels to act together for greater effect. For defence
of ports he told the Government it also needed 16 coastal destroyers
of 550 tons and four torpedo boats. To enhance his vision for
an independent Australian Navy supported by a local industrial
base, he proposed that the first of the class of larger vessels
be built in the UK, but that the remainder should be built in
Australia. Creswell seems to have been relentless in his lobbying,
taking every opportunity to remind the Government of the consequences
of continuing to fund the expansion of the Army at the expense
of naval forces.
He eventually won through.
In 1907 Prime Minister Alfred Deakin accepted Creswell's views
in principle, although he had his own views on the nature of forces
that Australia should acquire. Deakin announced a three-year plan
to acquire six torpedo boat destroyers and, despite Creswell's
advice, nine submarines. The following year Deakin added plans
for two submarine depot ships. Despite the Government's decisions,
the federal political situation was, to put it mildly, 'fluid',
and various delays in acquiring the vessels followed.
In 1909 Creswell felt compelled to warn the Government that, 'should
war occur and the Imperial Squadron be ordered to rendezvous elsewhere,
the Commonwealth will be naked of sea defence.
The whole trade and business life of the Commonwealth, property
worth many millions, will be at the mercy of any raider, even
of the weakest, which would be able to carry out any of [a number
of attacks] with the most perfect impunity, and it must be kept
in mind that not one penny of the present expenditure on defence
will avail to prevent it', he said. The very day after Creswell
wrote these words, the Fisher Labor Government ordered two River
class destroyers of 600 tons to be built in Australia, and a third
to be shipped to Australia in pieces and put together at Cockatoo
Things seemed to be gathering momentum.
At the Imperial Conference in mid-1909 the British Admiralty finally
admitted that it might be unable to defend Australia in time of
war, and recommended the Commonwealth of Australia should acquire
its own Fleet Unit. The core of a truly ocean-going Navy, the
Fleet Unit was to comprise one heavily-armed battle cruiser, three
light cruisers, six destroyers and three submarines.
By 1910, the necessary orders had been placed. Creswell's vision
began to take form.
On 1 March 1911 Creswell was promoted Rear Admiral and appointed
as the First Naval Member of the Australian Naval Board.
On 10 July the same year, King George V granted the title of Royal
Australian Navy to the Permanent Commonwealth Naval Forces. Admiral
Creswell had been a tireless advocate for national maritime strength,
and had not been afraid to press his case with the Government
of the day.
The path he chose was not an easy one, but his assessment of the
need for Australia to be able to stand alone in a crisis had finally
been accepted. But Admiral Creswell didn't stop there.
In 1913, with war in Europe a real prospect, he ordered his naval
assistant and the Second Naval Member to join the Chief of the
General Staff on a tour through Northern Australia. Seeing for
the first time the length and barrenness of our northern coastline,
they decided that what was missing from Australian naval and military
policy was a coherent maritime strategy. They came up with a plan
for the defence of Australia through a combination of deterrence
and decisive action. The plan made use of several layers.
First, a trip wire consisting of coast watchers in the island
chains to our north would warn of an approaching invasion fleet.
Australia's fast battle cruiser, protected by the light cruisers,
would avoid slower moving enemy battleships and act as a powerful
striking force to smash through the enemy's escort screen and
attack his transports. The destroyers and submarines would make
use of local knowledge of the reefs to Australia's north to wage
a guerrilla war and further harass the enemy convoys by night
and day. Closer to the coast, a force of Australian sea planes
would bomb the enemy transports.
The final layer consisted of mobile land forces, which would use
the intelligence provided by the Navy to intercept those few troops
that managed to get ashore. The plan was based on a whole of government
approach and a joint outlook. Operations would be networked together
by wireless and thoroughly understood doctrine so that, in an
extension of Nelson's command philosophy, if wireless failed the
individual commanders would still know what to do.
The thinking behind the plan was well ahead of its time, but based
as it was on Australia's strategic geography, it reflects many
of the same strategies we use today.
Rear Admiral Creswell was created a Knight Commander of the Most
Distinguished order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in 1911.
He led the Royal Australian Navy for eight years until his retirement
in 1919, at which time he was created a Knight Commander of the
Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE). He returned
to the land as a farmer at Silvan in Victoria and in 1922 he was
promoted to Vice Admiral on the Retired List. He died in 1933
and was buried in Brighton Cemetery after a state funeral.
Admiral Creswell didn't do all of this work alone. Many others
could lay claim, but in my view Vice Admiral Creswell deserves
the title 'Father of the Australian Navy'. His passion, forethought,
approach to joint operations, and development of a capability
plan based on strategic requirements were modern even by today's
standards. He spoke and wrote passionately about Australia's needs
for an independent, indigenous naval capability, and pressed his
case with successive Governments until his views were accepted.
Without doubt he set the scene for the Navy, and indeed the ADF,
Many of the issues he dealt with remain relevant, and many of
the processes he put in place remain today, albeit with different
The concepts of the sea-air gap, the philosophy of the Defence
of Australia, the principles of self-reliance and an indigenous
industry capability to support the Defence Force all have a familiar
ring. Indeed, today's capability development processes follow
a similar path. Admiral Creswell's arguments were based on clinical
assessments of Australia's circumstances.
Last week, Defence embarked on a similar journey when a team of
military specialists and strategic analysts began work on the
next Defence White Paper. Many of the issues that Creswell's team
examined remain unchanged - Australia is still a very large continent,
surrounded by enormous expanses of ocean, and guarded to a degree
by an archipelago to the north.
Sea lines of communication remain the lifelines for Australia's
The wealth of our nation in the early 1900s was generated through
wool and wheat - today it's the mineral boom - but our economic
success remains dependant on shipping for exporting our produce
to the world's markets. The vast majority of our imports also
arrive by sea. Without the ability to export and import freely,
Australia could literally be strangled.
As part of the White Paper process, Defence will be doing a thorough
analysis of our strategic circumstances, analysing the capabilities
of our current forces, and interpreting the structure of the future
defence force needed to take the ADF forward for the next thirty
years - much the same way that Creswell did 100 years ago. We
already have some very significant capabilities in place in the
The fourteenth and final Armidale class patrol boat, HMAS GLENELG,
was commissioned last weekend. The four Adelaide-class FFGs and
the eight Anzac-class frigates are currently undergoing significant
upgrades to their warfighting capabilities to ensure their winning
edge until the end of their life. The Collins class submarines
are, after a difficult birth and a troubled childhood, now considered
to be the finest conventional submarines in the world. Our two
amphibious ships, Manoora and Kanimbla, have proved themselves
to be invaluable elements of ADF capability in both warlike and
humanitarian assistance operations. And our mine warfare and hydrographic
ships, our supply ships and our landing craft, our diving teams
and our aviation forces, are all repeatedly showing that we have
good reason to be proud of the Navy that Creswell forged.
Last year, the acquisition of two new Canberra-class amphibious
ships and three Hobart-class air warfare destroyers was approved,
and Capability Development Group has commenced work on determining
the characteristics of the Future Submarine to replace the Collins-class
in around 2025.
They will form the core of the Navy's future capability.
Today's Navy, and certainly tomorrow's, is far more capable than
the Navy Creswell left in 1919. But I wonder whether he would
view new philosophies such as joint operational concepts and Network
Centric Warfare as new thinking. I would imagine that he would
listen intently as we would explain how these 'new' ideas would
revolutionise the way we fought in the future, while reflecting
on how he had written many times about them 100 years ago. He
might even inwardly sigh at the thought that we are still trying
to achieve them. But I am sure that were he able to, he would
walk around today's Navy and see the magnificent capabilities
we do have, marvel at the technology that the new Air Warfare
Destroyers and amphibious ships promise, and revel in the quality,
enthusiasm and spirit in the men and women who serve in the Navy
that he so passionately fought for. I am sure that he would be
mightily impressed with what he would see, and we should be thankful
for the foundation that he created.
In closing therefore, ladies and gentlemen, let us give thanks
for the life of Vice Admiral Creswell, for his vision and for
his courage to speak up. On this the 107th anniversary of the
founding of Australia's Navy, rather than wonder what the Navy
will be like in another 100 years, we might do as Admiral Creswell
did and consider what we can do to influence the future. Whether
we are currently serving, or long since retired, or a member of
the public with an interest in the Navy and maritime issues, we
can all do our bit to continue to fulfil Admiral Creswell's vision.