"2008 Creswell Oration"
Vice Admiral Matt Tripovich AM CSC RAN
Chief Capability Development

(Verbatim as presented)


1 March 2008.


Thank 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 Navy.
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 homeported there.
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 sea.
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 high cost.
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 Island.
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, of today.
Many of the issues he dealt with remain relevant, and many of the processes he put in place remain today, albeit with different titles.
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 prosperity.
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 Navy today.
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.









































































Advisory Council President's Page Officers & Directors Naval & Maritime Links 'The Navy' Magazine Resolutions & Statements Navy League Awards mail us at : Sitemap Back to Main Menu Officers & Directors Branches Navy Cadet Corps Evnets Events Resolutions & Statements