Through ‘Plan Beersheba’, the Australian Army’s contemporary leadership embarked on the most wide-ranging change to its combat force structure since the very late 1970s. This plan has as its central features three similarly structured multi-role manoeuvre brigades and the Deployable Joint Force Headquarters (1st Division) as a joint formation. Yet their predecessors responded to their situation after Vietnam by forming three specialised brigades — one on higher readiness than the others — within an entirely Army-focused divisional structure. These differing responses invite interesting questions concerning the way Army leaders respond to risk and competing challenges in their force structure choices.
This study examines the three primary stages of development in shaping the 1st Division — the bedrock of Army’s force structure — between 1972 and 1980. The study illustrates how the 1st Division’s structure evolved as it moved from the ‘Tropical Warfare’ Division of the 1960s to the three specialised regular Army brigades of the early 1980s. It also shows that Army’s leaders developed a very different division as the basis for their doctrine. This doctrinal division was essentially a tool for mobilisation planning and training, but it was structurally out of kilter with the emerging priority for forces capable of dispersed operations against low-level incursions in the north of Australia. The study concludes with observations on how the Australian Army’s leaders of the post-Vietnam period responded to risk through force structure, and some insights into the enduring challenges of force structure decision-making.