30/01/2014 - 05:42

Treachery during wartime

30/01/2014 - 05:42


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Australian troops were fighting more than just the enemy on the battlefield during WWII, according to a new book by Hal Colebatch.

Treachery during wartime

I’ve known Perth author and historian Hal Colebatch for many years, during which time we have regularly discussed Australian political affairs.

So I had a fair inkling of what to expect when I opened his latest book.

The more I read, however, the more aghast I became at his findings, based on eyewitness accounts assiduously collected over years.

My feelings were like those of his publisher, former Trotskyist, Keith Windschuttle, now a noted Australian historian and editor of Quadrant magazine, Australia’s only learned public and literary affairs journal, whose remarks were carried in The Spectator (December 14-28 2013).

“The most shocking book of the year is Hal Colebatch’s, Australia’s Secret War: How Unionists Sabotaged Our Troops in World War II,” he said.

“I never knew until I read this manuscript that the trade union movement had stooped so low when Australia was fighting for its life.

“Most of the romantic leftism of my youth was disabused long ago, but I still found myself stunned by Hal’s findings.

“This book will change many readers’ idea of what it is to be Australian.”

My extensive readings of how pro-Hitler Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) and pro-Stalin’s communist fifth columnists inside besieged Poland betrayed my parents’ country during 1939 and after means news of this type no longer shocks me.

But I’d never encountered such a comprehensive account of Australian wartime fifth columnist bloody mindedness.

Consider the following typical cases of damaging strikes, pilfering, and loading refusal of crucial military equipment, plus other forms of backstabbing of wartime efforts.

Australian-manned No. 317 Radar Station, near New Britain, couldn’t guide a wing of American dive-bombers to safety after engaging the Japanese and encountered a tropical electrical storm.

Eighteen aircraft crashed. All 32 airmen perished.


Station 317’s radio valves were pilfered “by wharf labourers at Townsville.”

“On the same wharf, in August 1942, after soldiers with drawn bayonets had stopped them stealing food from stores they were loading, watersiders smashed vehicles of an army battalion being rushed to New Guinea by dropping them from winches.”

Colebatch recounts how “virtually every major Australian warship, including at different times its entire force of cruisers, was targeted by strikes, go-slows and sabotage.”

Warship servicing and repair remained a perennial wartime problem.

Rarely highlighted is the fact that HMAS Sydney in November 1941 was “delayed in convoying troopship Zealandia” to Sunda Strait by Fremantle strike action.

That strike meant Sydney, on her return voyage, would encounter, off Carnarvon, the German mine laying raider, Kormoran, which those on Sydney’s bridge mistook for an allied freighter, not realising they faced something that more than matched their cruiser’s fire-power at close range.

Sydney’s entire 645-strong complement perished.

Colebatch’s groundbreaking study carries scores of accounts by witnesses who’d encountered various stalling incidents at Australian ports.

Harassing military efforts was endemic throughout the war.

Little wonder The Sydney Morning Herald of February 271944, reported prime minister John Curtin saying: “Lawlessness, naked and unashamed … they were as much the enemies of Australia as those who have organised force majeure against it and against those whose aggression this nation has pledge itself irrevocably.”

Nor was this restricted to wharves.

By February 1944: “Curtin had delivered the second reading speech of the Coal-Production (War-Time) Bill which would allow the government to take over the mines.”

Don’t be mistaken, this wasn’t to fulfil Labor’s long-standing socialist clause but to ensure coal reached industry so lathes and other machinery could be operated, especially for war production.

Colebatch’s documented accounts of wilful hindrance exposes deeds of a small strategically-positioned coterie, who boosted the chances of Australia’s incorporation, with a puppet regime, into Tokyo’s East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.


Chapter 19, ‘The Other Side’, offers 13 truly thought-provoking explanations of these failed bids by Australian fifth columnists.

I quote only the second, and add, for consideration, the little-known fact that a Soviet master spy would be belatedly relocated by Moscow from Tokyo to Canberra.

Colebatch writes: “The Soviet Union, wholly or substantially controlling the Australian Communist Party, did not regard victory in the Pacific by the Western democracies as particularly helpful.”


But former Australian intelligence analyst Andrew Campbell has written elsewhere: “A key identity in Soviet espionage operations in Australia was Colonel Viktor Sergeivich Zaitsev, GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence) Rezident in Australia from 16 March 1943 to 11 April 1947.

“He was loquacious, had a wide circle of acquaintances and a spy’s greatest operational asset: access.

“Before coming to Australia, Zaitsev served in the Soviet embassy in Tokyo during 1940-41.

“His responsibility was to provide clandestine operational support for the Soviet undercover agent Richard Sorge, one of the greatest spies of the 20th century.”

Sorge, who was arrested by Japanese counter-intelligence and executed, alerted Moscow of Tokyo’s intentions, including to strike southward – towards Australia – not as sometimes contemplated, Soviet Siberia.

It can’t be discounted that Zaitsev’s Australia mission was to continue liaison work to block and/or retard, to the maximum, all efforts at reversing Tokyo’s southward putsch.


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