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Mechanising An Army: Mechanisation Policy And The Conversion Of The Light Horse, 1920-1943

by Captain James C. Morrison
21 December 2016

As the Hardened and Networked Army comes into being at the start of the 21st century, it is useful to reflect on previous periods of great change in the Australian Army's proud history. Once such period is ‘mechanisation', where the horse power that moved troops, artillery, logistics and engineering support gave way to tanks, armoured cars, trucks and motorcycles, all in the space of two decades. There is much to learn today, on the eve of the era of network-enabled operations, about the impact new technologies have on unit organisation, procurement priorities and the development and adoption of doctrine.

This in-depth study uses archival material and historical analysis to trace the evolution of Army policy and doctrine during the Interwar Period. At a time when the Army was constrained by the Defence Act in its permanent force size, and largely composed of ‘hollow' militia units, how did senior commanders ensure existing capability whilst developing an entirely new set of technologies? How did they introduce current capability while also developing a nucleus force for tomorrow at a time of significant social, economic and political uncertainty?

Through the prism of the Light Horse, and exploring the tensions between militia and permanent forces, the drivers of change and stability are examined as the Army moved to mechanising its force structure in light of the lessons of the First World War. Challenging long-held perceptions that cavalry officers fought the loss of their mounts, this work throws new light onto the questions and concerns of senior officers as they struggled to balance the need to innovate with limited funds and competing demands, all while ensuring the defence of Australia and maintaining readiness to deploy and fight.

This study reveals the process of institutional adaptation, where new concepts and doctrine were debated, argued, and introduced, all in a time of manpower and fiscal constraints in a fluid strategic environment. Further, as our allies evolved their technologies and fully mechanised, how could the Australian Army remain interoperable? As a ‘lessons learnt' guide to the trinity of doctrine, training and organisation, the process of Army mechanisation in the Interwar Period has much to offer the Army of today and tomorrow.

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Last updated
21 December 2016

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