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A look back at Australia’s Chiefs of Defence Force (Part Four)

As General Angus Campbell, AO, approaches one year in the role of Chief of the Defence Force, Defence Connect is going to examine the history of the position since Sir Phillip Bennett assumed responsibility for Australia’s defence in 1984.

The Chief of the Defence Force has primary responsibility for the command of the ADF, with the role arising from section 10 of the Defence Act 1903, where the Chief of the Defence Force commands the ADF under direction of the minister. 

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The Chief of the Defence Force is also the principal military adviser to the minister and provides advice on matters that relate to military activity, including military operations.

Previously, the position was known as Chief of Defence Force Staff, between 1976 and 1984, and before that was called Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, which began in 1958 with Lieutenant General Sir Henry Wells.

However, this article will focus on the individuals who filled the “Chief of the Defence Force” role.

General Peter Gration

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GEN Gration entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1949, graduating three years later with the Queen’s Medal and posted to the Royal Australian Engineers, where he completed a Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree.

He would first see active service during the Malayan Emergency and was later posted to the British Army Staff College, Camberley, in 1964. 

As commanding officer of the 1st Australian Civil Affairs Unit as a lieutenant colonel, GEN Gration completed a tour of duty in the Vietnam War between 1969 and 1970, and following his “distinguished service”, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1971.

Two years later, GEN Gration was appointed Director of Engineers, a role he would fill for three years before being posted to a course at the United States Army War College.

In the 1984 Australia Day Honours List, GEN Gration was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia, for his service as Assistant Chief of the Defence Force Staff.

Later in 1984, he was promoted to lieutenant general and appointed Chief of the General Staff for the Australian Army.

Three years later, GEN Gration was promoted to general, and appointed Chief of the Defence Force, a role that he would serve in for six years and three days, becoming the longest-serving CDF (as well as the longest-serving head of the ADF under its previous titles).

In the Australia Day Honours of 1988, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia.

In 1993, GEN Gration retired from the Australian Army and active military service after 44 years of service.

General Phillip Bennett

GEN Bennett graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, as a lieutenant in 1948 and was posted to the 67 Infantry Battalion, The Australia Regiment, in 1949, before being sent to Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, Japan, following the end of the Second World War.

He served in Japan until September 1950, before embarking with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in Korea, where he served for a year.

During his service in Korea, GEN Bennett was wounded in action but remained on duty and was mentioned in despatches in 1951.

The next year, GEN Bennett would return to Korea as a Senior Instructor (and later Chief Instructor) with the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Junior NCO School while he was posted as a Tactics Instructor at the School of Infantry in Seymour, Victoria.

Returning to Australia in 1953, GEN Bennett was given the role of Adjutant of the 1st Battalion, Pacific Islands Regiment in PNG, before being posted the next year as Adjutant with the 16th Infantry Battalion (CMF).

In 1956, GEN Bennett served as Staff Captain A in HQ Western Command, before being posted to the United Kingdom with the Royal Marine Commandos, seeing active service in Malta and operational service in Cyprus.

From 1958 to 1961, GEN Bennett served as OC 2nd Commando Company, and then attended Australian Staff College in which he would become Senior Instructor (and later Chief Instructor) at Officer Cadet School, Portsea, from 1962-1965.

He would then be given command of 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, and was a key commander in the Battle of Coral-Balmoral in the Vietnam War, which was the largest unit-level action of the conflict for Australia.

GEN Bennett was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his service in Vietnam in 1968-69. And on return from UK Joint service training in 1971, he became Colonel Coordination in the office of Chief of the General Staff.

In 1974, GEN Bennett was promoted to brigadier, Chief of Staff at HQ Field Force Command, in Sydney until December 1975.

The next year, he would attend the Royal College of Defence Studies in the UK before returning to Australia to command the 1st Division for two years until 1979.

In 1979, GEN Bennett was appointed Assistant Chief of Defence Staff 1979-82, and from there, appointed as Chief of the General Staff until 1984.

In April 1984, GEN Bennett was promoted to general and appointed as Chief of Defence Force Staff, the final appointment in this role until 195 days later, when it became titled Chief of the Defence Force.

GEN Bennett would serve in this position for another two years and 168 days, before retiring from the Australian Army.

A look back at Australia’s Chiefs of Defence Force (Part Four)
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