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Attitudes to the war
Pre-war Australian perception of the Japanese
Informed knowledge or actual experience of Japan was a rare commodity in pre-war Australia and common Australian perceptions of the Japanese were largely based upon derogatory racist stereotypes. Australian political elites had been concerned by Japan's growing military power since at least the Russo-Japanese war but the adoption of the 'Singapore Strategy' in the 1920s and its subsequent promotion by successive governments led to a degree of complacency in regard to the Japanese threat, at least amongst the wider public. This complacency was reinforced by popular stereotypes of the Japanese as physically inferior and technically backward. These attitudes were reflected in the information given to young Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen during their training both before and just after the outbreak of the Pacific War.

Corporal Jack Holmfield, 2/22nd Battalion AIF:

For a long, long time we didn't think that the Japanese were going to be anything anyway. We didn't really think the Japanese would be anything but, of course, we learnt very quickly.

Sergeant Bill Eliot, 53rd/54th Battalion AMF:

We were, we could see the writing on the wall, it was coming in closer. But we weren't actually that worried much because I don't think they realised like because ... well, we'd been told like, you know, I suppose it's [Singapore] impregnable, they can't get here and all that there. Anybody with a head on his shoulders could see that from island to island is just like walking across stepping stones, you can always get there. And, the Jap, he's no fool and a lot of people thought he was. All the propaganda, a little fellow with a big pair of glasses and a couple of buckteeth. My first Jap was six foot two, Mongolian (laughs).

Sergeant Jack Flanagan, 39th Battalion AMF:

I think most of us just had an idea that they were just little squibs and sort of no worry to us once we met them. But after we met them and we saw them we had to change our minds because they were fine strapping young men.

Flight Lieutenant Arthur Tucker, No. 75 (Fighter) Squadron RAAF:

I think the comment I would make now, and reading what the government had known for some years and Menzies' concern about Japan, I'm surprised that no one ever talked Japan to us. We never saw any reports of Japanese aircraft or tactics. I think it is true the tendency was to try to persuade us they were made of bamboo and spittle, and that the Japanese were short-sighted and couldn't see at night. I don't know whether those things were jokes or whether they were the ... what everyone was trying to believe, or whether somebody was trying to pull the wool over our eyes; but certainly I never saw anything technical on Japanese aircraft.

Sub-Lieutenant Bill Wreford, RAN:

We were told that the Japs were not a lot of consequence, you never saw a Jap who didn't wear glasses, they had primitive fire control on their ships. In actual fact, their fire control was bloody good, their torpedoes were faster, bigger, harder to detect, longer-range than anything the Allies had and, as fighters and as pilots, they were just damn good.

Captain Fred Field, 2/22nd Battalion AIF:

We thought they'd be treating you like ordinary normal prisoners of war. There was no thought otherwise.

Sergeant Alex Lochhead, 39th Battalion AMF and 2/2nd Battalion AIF:

Well, we didn't realise, or didn't know, the extent of the Japanese landing. We didn't know whether it was a large one or a small one. I think the general feeling was that once we got over the Owen Stanleys we could hold them and push them back into the sea. We were soon disabused of that theory when the remnants of B Company who had met the Japanese, came back through us as we got towards the other end - the north end - of the range.

Sergeant Victor Austin, 39th Battalion AMF and 2/2nd Battalion AIF:

By then what was the impression that you had as to the attitude of the Australians who were up on the Track regarding the Japanese. Earlier on the propaganda had been that they were terrible fighters, they were small, stunted and this and that and then they'd swept down and raced through south east Asia. What was, by this time, near the end of 1942, the attitude of the Australians towards the Japanese?

Oh naturally they had to totally revise that completely wrong opinion. Naturally they'd seen just how tough they were and how determined and they were opponents who you just couldn't underestimate...

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Australian Attitudes
Pre-war perceptions
Fighting Ability
Japanese POWs
Atomic Bomb

Attitudes links
Australian Attitudes
Tamura diary
Southern Cross
Midget Submarine

Click images to enlarge. Japanese doctors attend to their wounded during the fighting around Tientsin, China, 1900.  Japan supplied 10,000 troops to the international force organised to put down the Boxer Rebellion (1900-1901).  This resulted in the occurrence of Australia’s first (albeit brief) direct military contact with Imperial Japan when approximately 500 sailors of the New South Wales and Victorian naval brigades and the South Australian cruiser HMCS Protector were sent to China in August 1900 to join the British contingent.
AWM P00044.063
The Japanese light cruiser Hirado in dry dock at Cockatoo Island, Sydney, May 1917.  The British government welcomed Japan’s entry in to the First World War on the side of the Allies as it allowed the Royal Navy to concentrate on the European theatre while the Imperial Japanese Navy guarded the Pacific against German submarines and commerce raiders.  Japanese warships routinely escorted Australian and New Zealand troop convoys across the Pacific and Indian oceans and even patrolled off the coast of Australia at various times.
AWM H13971
A Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 Type 0 (usually referred to simply as the Zero) takes off from the deck of an Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier during the Battle of Santa Cruz, October 1942.  The Zero was a formidable aircraft that outclassed every Allied fighter sent against it during 1942.  Pre-war stereotypes suggesting Japanese pilots were poorly trained and flew copies of out-of-date western aircraft were brutally shattered by the appearance of the Zero and the obvious skill with which it was flown.
AWM P02887.001

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