What was it?
Canberra: Camp Bell Publishing, 2020
Paperback 278pp RRP $34.99
Reviewer: Michael O’Brien, October 2020
I wonder, as did the author, how many present-day Australians have ever heard of ANZUK, the Australian, New Zealand and UK force based in Singapore? I suspect the answer is alarmingly few. Yet the period in which this force existed (1971 -1974) was a most important one in Australian history.
This was a time of nation state political tension (particularly between Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia) and national policy upheaval. Great Britain signalled and implemented its withdrawal from ‘East of Suez’. The Australian political lead changed from Liberal to Labor and a range of defence-related departments were amalgamated as a Defence Department.
This book will redress this lack of knowledge about ANZUK. There is no doubt that most of those interested in this period will have their mind on the Vietnam War. It overshadows the concurrent defence involvement in ANZUK, in the Pacific Islands Regiment and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation.
Campbell traces the movements of the Commonwealth forces from Korea, their move to Malaya, then all the events through to the establishment of the ANZ Force in Singapore. The book goes on to describe how the ANZ Force became the ANZUK Force. He also explains the wider context and nuanced inter-relationships between SAETO, the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) and the Integrated Air (later Area) Defence System.
Pointing out the complexities of a combined and joint force, he examines HQ, Navy, Army, Air Force and the Support group. This is followed by information about the Lifestyle, Families, Sport and Recreation. ANZUK was force of over 3000 Australian service personnel in a total force of over 6000. The author gives a comprehensive analysis of all segments of the organisation, unusually emphasising the importance of its ‘less glamorous’ supporting elements.
The book then records how and why Australia withdrew from ANZUK and its subsequent collapse before drawing conclusions. He does not touch on – or delicately avoids – the question of whether ANZUK undertook operational planning or the collection of supporting intelligence.
There does not appear to be a definitive history of SEATO or the FPDA: that makes this book even more valuable. This book is a key to the wider political and military understanding of Commonwealth and Australian involvement in a time of forward defence and deserves to be studied in detail.
Campbell notes that while ANZUK was not recognised as a peacekeeping mission, it kept the region’s peace. One can but agree!
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.