The Battle of Bitapaka

Australia and Britain’s policy and strategic imperatives


Whatever hopes the German colonial outpost at Rabaul had of being left in relative peace far from the European war would prove to be vain for two reasons. The Rabaul area was known to British and Australian intelligence to be the site of telegraphic stations crucial to German global and naval communications in the Pacific; the area was also a strategically important coaling station for German commercial and naval vessels. No less importantly, the fledgling Australian nation was anxious to do whatever could be done to secure sovereignty over German colonial possessions in the Pacific region and most emphatically German New Guinea.

To add bite to those strategic needs and policy ambitions, Australia had become a Pacific naval power of a kind in 1913 when a squadron of British-built naval vessels formed the first elements of the Australian Navy. A celebration of the Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet arrival in Sydney was the subject of a Centenary in 2013. On 4 October 1913 the flagship, HMAS Australia, led the new Australian Fleet Unit comprising HMA Ships Melbourne, Sydney, Encounter, Warrego, Parramatta and Yarra into Sydney Harbour for the first time to be greeted by thousands of cheering citizens lining the foreshore. This was a moment of great national pride and importance, one recognised as a key indicator of Australia's progress towards national maturity. [See the Centenary celebrations.] With the outbreak of war between Britain and Germany just 9 months later, Australia was very quick off the mark to deploy both that squadron and to support it with and expeditionary military force.