Australia's involvment in the Pacific War

Discussions on WW2 in the Pacific and the Sino-Japanese War.
sand digger
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Post by sand digger » 01 Sep 2003 04:03

michael mills wrote:Larso wrote:
......................................

Did Larso's grandfather consider reporting his friend to the appropriate Australian authorities for the undeniable war-crime of murdering Japanese POWs?
Such 'war crimes' went on throughout the Pacific war and the knowledge of same was available to anyone who wanted to know. And such knowledge is still available in print today eg Tarakan, Peter Stanley, Allen & Unwin.

Larso
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Post by Larso » 01 Sep 2003 23:28

Hi Michael

I can remember the conversation quite clearly. The veterans words, at least as far as my Grandfather recalled, were "we were just as bad, I remember when.....". It seems therefore that the context of the conversation was 'war crimes' or something like it. So it appears that this individual harboured, if not guilt, some regret at his actions in the 1940s. Knowing my Grandfather, it was probably someone from his church, so there may have been an aspect of 'confession' to the story. I say this because when I interviewd a veteran from my Parish, who was part of 7th Field Engineers and spent 3 months on Kokoda, he revealed that it took him 5 years to get over the idea that he might have killed someone. At first he stated he didn't know whether he had, then he paused, looked sad and said, he knew he had (the fighting at points was no more than the length of a cricket pitch). Now he and the others were very clear in the belief that a Japanese victory meant terrible consequences for their families. So to still feel grief at killing such an enemy in such circumstances spoke volumes about his humanity. It was a very humbling conversation. Mind you this is contrasted by another veteran who I played golf with once. He allowed a group of Japanese to 'play through' then turned to me and said "John, I killed a lot of Japanese in the war. I just wish I'd killed a lot more".

Given that this last attitude is more representative of the attitudes of the time and reflected the Australian experience of Japanese conduct it is surprising that the other individuals ever felt as they did. Full credit to them.

Larso
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Post by Larso » 02 Sep 2003 01:58

Well so much for the lengthy Part 2 I typed up - my computer crashed and I lost it. Bugger.

Anyway in summary, I'd just like to address the comment about reportage of the incident described, as a war crime. I think it's useful to ask readers to remember my grandfather had a wife and four young children in 1942. He often spoke about the 'Battle of the Coral Sea' as being the saving of Australia and the great relief this brought. He was certainly fearful of Japanese intentions towards this country and would have been very aware of the extent of Japanese attrocities as they were revealed. Indeed very few Australians of this generation would not have been. Remember also 'war crimes' was a new concept created to describe the mind boggeling activities the totalitarian states committed. It would have been easy to view the two as different beasts alltogether. I again suggest we view the conversation in the light of the actions of Imperial Japan in the 1940s. Given this I consider it would have been inapropriate for my grandfather to have 'dobbed in' his friend. I also think he would have suffered significant community disapproval of such an action. While this should not necessarily be the criteria upon which such decisions are made, I think it reflects a fundamental reality of the times.

Michael Tapner
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Australians in the Pacific war

Post by Michael Tapner » 25 May 2004 11:23

Excluding the contribution of the Australian forces in Malaya, here is a brief synopsis of Australian involvement in the Pacific War. Details have been extracted from the Australian Official Histories, about 50 individual unit histories and over 100 archived war diaries.

RAN: After the losses of 1942 the RAN served extensively with the USN. The two forces on the whole integrated very well, with the outcome that they each named ships of their own service after events/ships of their partners service. The Shropshire gained particular credibility for accurate naval gunfire support while with the USN. Main Australian contingent consisted of Australia, Shropshire, Hobart plus the converted LSI’s Westralia, Manoora and Kanimbla. To top it off there were the numerous smaller vessels from destroyers down to the small ships squadron that served on coastal work right up to the Philippines campaign. In addition Australian industry manufactured over 1500 amphibious vessels, of which >90% were manned and used by American Forces.

RAAF: At the beginning of the Pacific War the RAAF boasted some 12 squadrons only. Quite feeble considering the nation had been aware of the growing Japanese threat and had been at war for over 2 years. However foreign sourced aircraft were naturally difficult to come by at that stage of the war and domestic aircraft production was only gearing up. By war end over 3,000 aircraft had been built domestically, ranging from outdated Wirraways through to souped up Mustangs. In all the RAAF had grown to over 50 squadrons by war end, with over 30 of these serving in the Philippines at the end of the war. It was in fact the RAAF personnel that worked most industriously towards cordial relations with US personnel as on the cramped island of Morotai all Australian personnel were given beer rations, something that was denied to their US compatriots.
The RAAF also fielded their own ground forces (engineers), at least one of which (the 3rd) saw combat operations in the Philippines in 1945.

Australian Army: Peak divisional strength amounted to 10 infantry divisions (1st through 12th, but not all in existence at the same time), 1 armored division and 2 cavalry divisions which converted in early 42 to motorised divisions and by the end of 1942 to armored divisions. As the war progressed, the army structure changed as units were converted to specialist roles. ‘Regular’ units such as infantry, artillery and armored battalions changed to form corps based assets such as water transport companies, antiaircraft assets, paratroops, machinegun battalions, combat engineers, commandos, coastal defense artillery and most importantly for the joint war effort – baseforces and docks/small ships companies for the growing shipping demand in the SWPA. A well kept secret is that as the war progressed Australian overseas troop commitment increased. Divisions serving Overseas from 43 onwards amounted to 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 11th XX. (4th is the tricky one, it served in the Torres Strait region, including units at Merauke in Dutch New Guinea). For what it is worth, Macarthur had plans for the 6th, 7th and 9th XX’s in the Philippines. Main Australian army hardware contribution to the war: The Owen gun. This gun was still in service at time of Korean war and was the basis for most western SMGs. Merit should also be given to the baby 25 pounders.
Major Australian army commitments in the Pacific were:
#1 Timor. 2 battalions of commandos killed some 2,000 Japanese troops between Feb 42 and July 42 without loss to themselves. Resulted in arguably the best Japanese division in the Pacific at the time, the 48th, being diverted from the SWPA to Timor in August 42. Australian troops pulled out in December 42
#2 Papuan Campaign. Involved 9 brigades under the banner of 7th division. Saw fighting at Kokoda, Milne Bay, Gona, Buna Sanananda.
#3 New Guinea campaign of 43. Began in January 43 with the battle for Wau. Progressed through to Lae and Finchhafen. Contributions from 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th divisions. Resulted in the shattering of 3 Japanese divisions and the division of the Japanese front.
#4 Borneo 45. 7th plus 9th divs plus corps assets.
#5 New Guinea, New Britain and Bouganville late 44-45. Involved the 3rd, 5th, 6th and 11th divs plus corps assets.

Australian Economy: Armed forces peaked in mid 1942 at ~1,000,000. Total population size was then 7,000,000. As the war progressed non essential personnel were gradually stood down and were replaced by VDC volunteers or WAAF’s. Armed forces personnel by war end amounted to a little over 400,000. As the war progressed the industry slowly changed. American forces began calling Australia home, with over 500,000 US personnel based in Australia from 1944 onwards. Australian industry was now being used to provide supplies for 1,000,000 American service personnel in the Pacific region.

Relationships between serving personnel:
Much has been said, mostly in broad sweeping terms about the relationship between the Australian and US armed forces personnel. Well I’ll add a few more broad sweeping statements :) :
Why things were bad:
Bad feeling only seemed to exist at the army level. There are two sources of conflict here: Disagreement at senior rank level (and I didn’t say the M word!!). As the war progressed and moved into a situation in 1943 where the Allies were assured of victory, ego took over in the generals of both sides. Silly reasons began appearing for why units could not work together. Fingers of blame were leveled at the other side when operations did not go as expected. This applied at the senior level, and tended to flow through into the Australian media, resulting in a small mount of discord between Australian and US personnel. Then there was the antagonism at the soldier level. Most of this had its roots in August-September 1942. Personnel of the 6th AIF div had just returned from overseas for the first time since January 1940. They were granted a couple of days leave in Melbourne before being shipped to New Guinea for the Kokoda and Milne Bay fighting. Now while on leave these men saw US service personnel dating married women. Women married to personnel from the 7th XX then fighting on the Kokoda Track. Rumours naturally spread like wild fire, about American personnel taking advantage of ‘our’ women while we were fighting to save the country. Such frustrations were dealt with by the unit officers in a reasonably prompt manner and were virtually forgotten from late 42 when the American 32nd XX began fighting around Buna.
Yes there are many one-off incidences of troops doing something to inflame inter-service relations. Most of these however can be put down to either an inexperienced person making a bad decision or the stresses of war leading to a bad decision. None were characteristic of the broader picture.

Good feeling existed pretty much between all service personnel at the front- because they were fighting a common enemy and their were no distractions (women). There was another major reason that the armies got on well. Early war American jungle green uniforms were appalling. They did not ‘breath’ and in the tropical heat they became intolerable. Now when one considers that soldiers had to remain fully clothed in the late hours of the day due to the risk of Malaria, it adds to the burden. Australian jungle greens on the other hand ‘breathed’ very well but they were beset with another problem. The Green dye that was used had a habit of staining a certain region of the male body green. Servicemen being what they are this caused grave concerns about future ability to ‘perform’. This resulted in a situation where the US and Australian servicemen were more than willing to swap trousers. Thus the servicemen were only happy when they could get into each others trousers.
Of course the other source of good feeling was Alcohol – which was given liberally to Australian soldiers and not at all to American soldiers. Australian soldiers appreciated American soldiers mostly for their far better food and rations. This was something that American forces were all to willing to share when they saw the slop that Australian personnel were expected to thrive on. This relationship of healthy respect and favour swapping was the norm throughout the conflict in the SWPA.

It must be remembered that many thousands of American servicemen fell in love with Australia in their time here, with some 10,000 staying or returning to call Australia home. In addition to this there were many thousands of war brides that packed up their belongings and went to America to be with their prince charming.

On Jungle Fighting ability:
Much has been said of the relative ability of the Australians/Americans as jungle fighters. What is most important is to look at the different structures before making a decision.
In brief the American divisions serving in 1942 in Papua were appalling. They had been trained and equipped for warfare in a more open environment, with their training happening in Australia in urban environments in the southern states. They were not trained or equipped for operations in the dense jungles of New Guinea, where the enemy is often the jungle, supplies are scarce and a magazine of ammunition fired at a ‘ghost’ might see a soldier without more ammunition for days or weeks. To make matters worse, they were often re-equipped with Australian equipment when they went into combat. Lack of familiarity with weapons does not help any soldier. They had to learn the hard way. By the time of the Philippines campaign in 44-45 the 32nd and 41st divs were vastly superior to their 42 equivalents.
By comparison from May 42 the Australian soldier was being trained for Jungle warfare. This involved a 3 month intensive course, which all soldiers and all commanders had to complete AND pass in order to be sent to the field. This jungle warfare training school was set, naturally, in a jungle. This tended to make the soldiers more at home with jungle conditions. Then there was the change in weapon balance. Australian jungle divisions had a shift in TOE to reflect the close quarter nature of their situation with every aspect of their weaponry. Divisional size was down by 2,500 (no drivers required in the jungle), front line manpower was up by 2,000. Number of soldiers equipped with a submachinegun was up to 2278. Portable 3” mortars were up from 18 per division to 81 per division. 2” mortar numbers were increased, as were light machinegun configuration. Soldiers were also well equipped with Ammonium Nitrate for bunker busting purposes. But this all came at a price. The divisions were lousy in open area conflict as they lacked the ability to defend in this sort of terrain. This was seen in the Borneo campaign

Hope this has provided a useful insight into Australian involvement in the Pacific war.

Larso
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Post by Larso » 29 May 2004 01:26

Thanks Michael, there were quite a few things new to me in your excellent post. I think though, the Commando units in Timor were reinforced companies rather than battalions.

I've been intending to post a complete order of battle for the Aust army for Sep 42 but I'll need to wait for my next holidays to tidy it up and post it properly. There's also a few battalions whose whereabouts is defying me at this time!!!

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Re: Australians in the Pacific war

Post by der Bilderstürmer » 29 May 2004 03:39

Interesting article, Michael. Your perception of Australian-American encounters is generally accurate, though some of it differs from what I've read.
Michael Tapner wrote:On Jungle Fighting ability:
Much has been said of the relative ability of the Australians/Americans as jungle fighters. What is most important is to look at the different structures


From what I can find, structure was much the same. Victor Austin's "To Kokoda and Beyond" describes the Australian 30th Brigade as garrison troops whose training was threadbare -- a 'scratch force' hastily cobbled together. The brigade was filled with teenage conscripts armed with World War I weapons, led by a nucleus of old codgers who served in the Great War. Austin says this mob was not even versed in proper camp hygiene, let alone assault tactics and bushranging.

The Victorian, Queensland and New South Wales militiamen who went ashore in January 1942 were, in fact, strikingly similar to the Wisconsin and Michigan National Guardsmen (32nd Infantry Division) who landed later. Other shared miseries included shortage of heavy weapons, poor medical care, and high losses from sickness and disease.
In brief the American divisions serving in 1942 in Papua were appalling. They had been trained and equipped for warfare in a more open environment


This is unfair -- because they were not as "appalling" as the Australian division destroyed in Singapore. Even after the Americans landed in New Guinea, there was not much difference between them and the Aussies, even though the latter were more experienced. Both armies were too light on fire support weapons and lacked effective bunker-busting equipment -- bazookas, flame throwers, bangalore torpedoes and rifle grenades that could shoot into the observation points.

There was a long period where the Americans had just one 105mm gun at Buna. The Aussies then had more artillery support, so the Americans later borrowed a few, but the 105mm and the 25-pounder guns were ineffective against fixed defenses. The shells often failed to penetrate the top of the Japanese dugouts. It took a long time to reduce the bunker network until light tanks and reinforcements arrived.
By comparison from May 42 the Australian soldier was being trained for Jungle warfare


Sorry to put a pointy tip on this, but the Australian Army was ill-prepared for bush warfare until later. They also relied heavily on the natives to teach them about junglecraft and survival skills. The Owen-Stanley mountain people were especially helpful to the Diggers and the Yanks.

Sure, the Australians arrived on New Guinea a bit earlier -- which meant they could probably identify a few more tropical plants and animals, but that had little practical value at Buna.
Then there was the antagonism at the soldier level. Most of this had its roots in August-September 1942. Personnel of the 6th AIF div had just returned from overseas for the first time since January 1940. They were granted a couple of days leave in Melbourne before being shipped to New Guinea for the Kokoda and Milne Bay fighting. Now while on leave these men saw US service personnel dating married women. Women married to personnel from the 7th XX then fighting on the Kokoda Track. Rumours naturally spread like wild fire, about American personnel taking advantage of "our" women while we were fighting to save the country


This seems a bit one-sided. Some of the Australian girls, whether single or married, threw themselves at the Americans. The Yanks were more affluent and all ranks had dress uniforms to wear when stepping out. The Yanks had more freedom to travel about the country, whereas Australians were often restricted to mandated areas which further limited their social opportunities. The response by Australian servicemen was as much a matter of jealousy as anything else. A few drinks caused some to act out their frustrations.

As you might expect, there are differing views of who started the trouble at various times. Probably the best known source is John Hammond Moore "Over-sexed, over-paid and over here: Americans in Australia, 1941-1945" (1981). Also worth a look is "Fleeting Attraction: A Social History of American Servicemen in Western Australia during the Second World War", Anthony Barker (1996).
Bad feeling only seemed to exist at the army level. There are two sources of conflict here: Disagreement at senior rank level (and I didn't say the M word!!)


Sounds about right. Dissent usually came from those in the rear, with the gear, the Sergeant Major, and the beer.

When the Diggers got bogged down it drew harsh criticism from MacArthur, who questioned their resolve. When the Americans got bogged down, General Blamey returned the serve. Those two should have spent less time sniping at each other so they could gain a better appreciation of the conditions closer to the smell of cordite. Going in, their technical knowledge of Japanese capabilities left much to be desired.

Blamey and MacArthur were slow to admit that Allied combined arms training was almost nonexistent. At times, they both dismissed the others' shortage of heavy weapons and supplies, as if that was an unnecessary luxury.

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Post by Michael Tapner » 29 May 2004 08:04

Larso wrote:Thanks Michael, there were quite a few things new to me in your excellent post. I think though, the Commando units in Timor were reinforced companies rather than battalions.

I've been intending to post a complete order of battle for the Aust army for Sep 42 but I'll need to wait for my next holidays to tidy it up and post it properly. There's also a few battalions whose whereabouts is defying me at this time!!!
The Independent companies are best thought of as understrength battalions rather than reinforced companies. Numbers were typically 280 - 300, however in Timor their numbers were augmented by survivors from the regular Australian, Dutch and even Portuguese units, thus their numbers were often a little higher.

What battalions are you missing? Let me know and I'll go through my notes - may save you a little time hunting through archives and chatting up librarians while you wait for books from State library Archives... :)

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Post by Michael Tapner » 29 May 2004 09:49

Interesting article, Michael. Your perception of Australian-American encounters is generally accurate, though some of it differs from what I've read.
MT: Thank you for your kind comments. I will entirely confess though that they are broard sweeping statements. One will find both positive and negative comments from the differing services in both American and Australian sources
From what I can find, structure was much the same. Victor Austin's "To Kokoda and Beyond" describes the Australian 30th Brigade as garrison troops whose training was threadbare -- a 'scratch force' hastily cobbled together. The brigade was filled with teenage conscripts armed with World War I weapons, led by a nucleus of old codgers who served in the Great War. Austin says this mob was not even versed in proper camp hygiene, let alone assault tactics and bushranging.
MT: Yes you are correct here. None of the Militia brigades or their components that went to Papua in 1942 had been Jungle trained. They were also structured in a similar way to the American divisions. Jungle Training began with the 16th and 17th Brigades in Ceylon and with the 7th division and its corps assets in May. The structure of the jungle divisions (and the Militia units in Papua began evolving as a result of experience from the fighting from Malaya, Timor and Papua and was not finalised until early 1942.

MT: For a good dose of heretical thinking, consider the following. Authors who have written on the Kokoda campaign draw heavily on the Australian Army OH covering the campaign. They also like noting how appalling the units were. Your quote above from Austin is very typical and describes the units as they existed as at May 1942. It is a little known fact that in June 42 a broom was put through all these formations. ~90% of the command posiitons and about a quarter of the manpower were replaced with veterans from the 2nd AIF. For proof of this look at the Australian OH's. If you want more broof, go to the unit diaries in the Australian War Memorial. They list the total number of AIF inductees in their pages. The official Histories give mini biographies on every soldier mentioned. A very high proportion of the soldiers from the militia brigades - once they hit combat - are 2nd AIF personnel. In short, the 2nd AIF that returned from Egypt in April 42 bought with it some 16,000 surplus, fully trained soldiers. (Some sources put this number at ~ 30,000 surplus). These were seeded out to all the militia units across Australia. Thus the militia units that enter combat are not really as 'green' as they are made out to be.

In brief the American divisions serving in 1942 in Papua were appalling. They had been trained and equipped for warfare in a more open environment

This is unfair -- because they were not as "appalling" as the Australian division destroyed in Singapore. Even after the Americans landed in New Guinea, there was not much difference between them and the Aussies, even though the latter were more experienced. Both armies were too light on fire support weapons and lacked effective bunker-busting equipment -- bazookas, flame throwers, bangalore torpedoes and rifle grenades that could shoot into the observation points.
MT: I will conceed 'Appalling' is a little harsh. But not too much over the mark. I would use exactly the same word to describe the Australian Militia units sent to Papua in 1942. To their credit the American formations were rebuilt. Look at the fate of the Militia units that fought in the Kokoda campaign - almost all of them were not rebuilt and by early 43 had been entirely disbanded. Bazoookas, Flame throwers etc did not see much action in the Papua campaign because of their lack of portability. It was only with the securing of Dobodura and Oro bay that heavier weapons could be bought in to play. Yes artillery was in short supply. The Australians had athe 1st Mountain battery join the American forces from late November. They were armed with 3.7" mountain guns. Later artillery support came from the 2/5th Artillery regiment (battalion) which had its batteries slowly moved in from January 43. If memory serves they also swiped a couple of 6" guns from one of the letter batteries and added those to the arsenal.

How would I compare the 8th division in Singapore with the 32nd and 41st divisions? This is an interesting question. In terms of the campaign in Malaya in January 42 I would say that the 8th division was better than the 32nd and 41st divisions. Well trained and officered for the task at hand. Served well to try and adapt and deal with the Japanese tactics. However the losses sustained by this unit (about half of the front line manpower) was made up by the raw recruits that had arrived from Australia only days earlier. Thus I would rate the 8th division in Singapore in Feb 42 as a worse formation than the 32nd and 41st divisions. Poor morale and non-existant training of the new recruits pretty much secured the downfall.
In the same breath I would say that I rate the 32nd and 41st divs of 44/45 as vastly superior to that of 42/43.
By comparison from May 42 the Australian soldier was being trained for Jungle warfare

Sorry to put a pointy tip on this, but the Australian Army was ill-prepared for bush warfare until later. They also relied heavily on the natives to teach them about junglecraft and survival skills. The Owen-Stanley mountain people were especially helpful to the Diggers and the Yanks.
MT: This influx of training from the Papuans and the New Guinea natives was not seriously noticed until early 1943. The reason was simple. The Papuan infantry 'went bush' and were not rounded up for months after the first engagment in July 42. The reason being that they were not sufficiently versed in the destructive ability of modern weapons and frankly found them terrifying. It was only from late 42 after Australian AIB units were functining and the natives found out for themselves what the Japanese were really like that their impact was felt. The impact of the PNG natives was best seen in the late war actions of 44 and 45 in New Guinea and Bouganville. I am in no way denying the service of the Papuans in 1942, however at this point in time it was mostly as carriers and guides.
Sure, the Australians arrived on New Guinea a bit earlier -- which meant they could probably identify a few more tropical plants and animals, but that had little practical value at Buna.
MT: The major enemy in jungle warfare was often nerves. The memoires of so many soldiers point again and again to this. Enemy soldiers could be just meters away and not be seen. One tactic used by experienced soldiers on all sides in close conditions like this was to throw stones or sticks. Inexperienced soldiers, startled, would often shoot in the direction of where the thrown item landed. This had 2 effects. It flushed out the oposition soldier and made him waste ammunition. Prior to the capture of forward airbases ammunition resupply was as long as a week away. Such was just one of the hazards of warfare in a confined nature. To quote from Eichelberger's book, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, "... Our patrols were dazed by the hazards of swamp and jungle.". Even Milner in "Victory in Papua" is not flattering of the Training of the units for the task in hand in 1942.
This seems a bit one-sided. Some of the Australian girls, whether single or married, threw themselves at the Americans. The Yanks were more affluent and all ranks had dress uniforms to wear when stepping out. The Yanks had more freedom to travel about the country, whereas Australians were often restricted to mandated areas which further limited their social opportunities. The response by Australian servicemen was as much a matter of jealousy as anything else. A few drinks caused some to act out their frustrations.
MT: Entirely correct. It goes both ways. However much of the jealousy thing was confined to the early months of the war. Large scale problems were not as evident after the Americans had also entered combat as they were seen to be doing 'their bit'. Your final statement sums things up best. Alcohol and home service caused things to boil over. This is nothing new. Go to any pub today at 11.30pm on a saturday night and you won't have to wait too long for a fight to start... :)
As you might expect, there are differing views of who started the trouble at various times. Probably the best known source is John Hammond Moore "Over-sexed, over-paid and over here: Americans in Australia, 1941-1945" (1981). Also worth a look is "Fleeting Attraction: A Social History of American Servicemen in Western Australia during the Second World War", Anthony Barker (1996).
MT: Also worth checking out is the appendix in the Australian Army OH "Kokoda to Wau". The volume contains quite a bit of information on the 'Battle for Brisbane'.
Bad feeling only seemed to exist at the army level. There are two sources of conflict here: Disagreement at senior rank level (and I didn't say the M word!!)

Sounds about right. Dissent usually came from those in the rear, with the gear, the Sergeant Major, and the beer.
When the Diggers got bogged down it drew harsh criticism from MacArthur, who questioned their resolve. When the Americans got bogged down, General Blamey returned the serve. Those two should have spent less time sniping at each other so they could gain a better appreciation of the conditions closer to the smell of cordite. Going in, their technical knowledge of Japanese capabilities left much to be desired.

Blamey and MacArthur were slow to admit that Allied combined arms training was almost nonexistent. At times, they both dismissed the others' shortage of heavy weapons and supplies, as if that was an unnecessary luxury
MT: For what it is worth, within the army ranks even today the most respected personnel were the division leaders, particularly Vasey and Wooten. Blamey was not earn himself any respect at all after an incident in September 42 when he berated some survivors of the Kokodfa campaign as being cowards. This statement went like wildfire through the ranks and it was something from which Blamey never recovered.

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Post by varjag » 29 May 2004 12:40

I believe this thread begun with Desert Fox's post some thirteen months ago. I replied then - that Australia's contribution to the Pacific War was insignificant. Despite all posts since - I stand by that interpretation. Innumerable conversations with Australian veterans and civilians that lived through the actual events have revealed a serous 'big-brother - little brother' complex in the Australian/USA relationship that is not at all unlike similar complexes elsewhere. "The Danish/French/Norwegian/Polish - resistance - won the war".... Likewise - Australian 'resistance' did not win the war in the Pacific. It was an almost feeble contribution to the American victory and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.

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Post by alf » 30 May 2004 04:25

I have read all the posts and do tend to side with Varjag on this, with a small point of dissention, I do think after late 1942, Australia particularily its Army was relegated to to backwaters, prior to then it did contribute in a meaningful way.

MY dad fought through the New Guinea campagain and Borneo, he was bitter about the sheer waste for no recognisable goals.

I remember Clive "Killer" Caldwell, the Australian fighter Ace, he led the Morotai mutiny in 1945, when a lot of 452 Squadron pilots (Spitfires) resigned their commisions. The fact that so many highly experienced combat pilots were excluded from battle and so resigned clearly shows that Australian forces were operating in backwaters. (The execption being some naval ships attached to US forces, their radar operators apparently were held in high regard)

MacArthur refused two Australian Divisons to fight in the Phillipines, so the major operations that the Australian Army would have fought next was the Invasion of Japan itself in late 1945

The Army took immense pride in its tactical battle skills, and deserveably so, but it was frittered on small battles that had no impact on the war after 1943.

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Post by Larso » 30 May 2004 10:21

THanks Michael, I'll look over my notes and see what's missing. The one that stands out and it drove me crazy one night surfing the net (it wasn't in any of my records), is the 10th Bn or 10/48 or whatever it was. Do you know what/where it was in Sep 42?

I certainly agree with comments regarding the militia units that started the Kokoda campagne. THey were used as wharf labourers or trench diggers and received almost no military training. I get a bit wild when certain groups in my country demand apologies for various 'misdeeds' over the years. Yet the commiting of these undertrained troops to battle - indeed the positioning of such troops in the region to start with is a bigger crime to me than the other stuff we have wheeled out all the time. Yet there's no knowledge of it outside a few history types.

I do dispute the claim that the 8th division was appalling. It was to my understanding one of the few effective units in Malaya. It stood and fought on several famous ocassions. It was badly positioned by the Brit command in the final battle and diluted with poorly trained emergency replacements (yet another tragic mistake by the 'generals'). It was recruited and trained just like the other outstanding AIF divisions though it was minus a brigade.

alf
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Post by alf » 30 May 2004 10:48

There were two militia battalions on the Kokoda Track , the 39th Victorian and the 58th (NSW), the 58th became known as "the greyhounds" as some of them ran so fast from the battlefield they trampled some of their own wounded, every Army has skeletons in its closet.

As to Malaya, there is the incident of the Malaysian Harriers, the mortar platoon of the 2/29th Battalion, who after being cut off, tried to get back to Singapore. When they learnt of its fall, they made their way back to Australia, an epic feat of human survial and determination (just look at a map).

How were they treated when they made it back to Australia as a intact military formation? They were condemned as cowards, none served in combat again and they are still to this day trying to clear their name (there is an excellent book on them called "The Malaysian Harriers")

I agree with Larso about the 8th Divison 2nd AIF , it did perform superbly against the Japanese on the Malay Peninsula, unfortunately for it, some of the raw reinforcements rushed from Australia just before the fall of Singapore behaved badly, panicing, looting etc, sadly people remember only that time. Few bother to study the trial it went through as POW's of the Japanese and how the men held their integrity and discipline in a literal hell, it was a magnificant division, equal to all of the Australian ones.

Michael Tapner
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Location: Sydney, Australia

Post by Michael Tapner » 30 May 2004 14:20

I also have no disagreement with Varjag. Australia's contribution to the surrender in Tokyo bay was insignificant in the scheme of things.

However the original request from Desert Fox was to get information about the Australian armed forces in the Pacific. I did not (and I do not know if others interpreted this way) see it as a request to bang the drum of Australian importance - more a request in search of understanding and knowledge.

While the Australian forces may have been inconsequential to the outcome, the forces still did serve. They did not pack up and go home as soon as the Americans showed up. Most of the history of Australian involvement is NOT readily available and all credit to those who want to learn more.

Alf, I have not read the book "The Malaysian Harriers". It sounds like it parallels the account of Gordon Bennett who escaped in a similar way after the surrender. Ended out in command of the armed forces in Western Australia and was not given another combat command for the remainder of the war. He resigned in disgust in late 44.

I should also apologize for my comments on the 8th div. They did a brilliant job in Malaya. Singapore was another matter - although Singapore had problems on a large scale and not only for the Australian forces.
The one that stands out and it drove me crazy one night surfing the net (it wasn't in any of my records), is the 10th Bn or 10/48 or whatever it was. Do you know what/where it was in Sep 42?
Larso, here is what I can tell you about the 10th, 48th and 10/48 battalion:
The 10th battalion began the Pacific war mobilising in South Australia. In May 42 it transferred to NSW and again in early September 42 the battalion transferred to the Northern Territory.
The 48th battalion began the war in South Australia and in late January 42 transferred to Victoria. From there it transferred to NSW in early May 42.
In late August 42 the battalion converted to the 108th AA battalion, with the excess personnel being sent in early September to the Northern Territory. In October 42 the 10th battalion merged with the cadre of the 48th battalion to form the 10/48 battalion. The combined battalion remained in the Northern Territory until late June 45, at which point it transferred to Southern Queensland, where it remained until wars end.
Source: AWM archives, War diaries for the 10th and 48th battalion

der Bilderstürmer
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Post by der Bilderstürmer » 30 May 2004 18:16

Larso wrote: I certainly agree with comments regarding the militia units that started the Kokoda campagne. THey were used as wharf labourers or trench diggers and received almost no military training. I get a bit wild when certain groups in my country demand apologies for various 'misdeeds' over the years. Yet the commiting of these undertrained troops to battle - indeed the positioning of such troops in the region to start with is a bigger crime to me than the other stuff we have wheeled out all the time. Yet there's no knowledge of it outside a few history types.

I do dispute the claim that the 8th division was appalling. It was to my understanding one of the few effective units in Malaya. It stood and fought on several famous ocassions. It was badly positioned by the Brit command in the final battle and diluted with poorly trained emergency replacements (yet another tragic mistake by the 'generals').
They were on a sinking ship. It wouldn't make any difference if the British repositioned them.

The Australian 8th Division was not properly schooled in jungle warfare. The Commonwealth strategy and tactics was not appropriate for the jungles of Malaya. They were trained for a European land battle that was slaved to the use of roads for supply arrangements, communications and sending reinforcements. The Japanese took full advantage of this -- they were not intimidated by the thick tropical forests. They did not limit their movements to roads alone and often appeared suddenly in surprise attacks. Despite being outnumbered by about 2 to 1, one of the most effective methods used by the Japanese was systematic ambushes on roads and trails.

The Australians had no better response to this than the British. It's not as if they could retrain and reorganize their forces in the middle of a battle. Putting them in charge of their own fate would not change the outcome.

Larso
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Joined: 27 Apr 2003 02:18
Location: Brisbane, Australia

Post by Larso » 31 May 2004 11:28

Thanks Michael!!

I take it the 10th/48th was with the 3rd Bde. Now that I've checked my notes, I also seem to be missing the 1st, 2nd and 18th battalions (again for Septemberish 42). The 19th also confuses me a bit. Traditionally it seems to have been the Sth Sydney Regt yet it is recorded on various sites as the Darwin Bn. Do you know anything about this?

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