Australia's involvment in the Pacific War

Discussions on WW2 in the Pacific and the Sino-Japanese War.
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Brian Ross
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Post by Brian Ross » 30 May 2005 12:10

varjag wrote: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.
There are several factors which should be considered in your statement. While Australia did not contribute all that much to the actual final offensives which won the war in the Pacific, that was not because of want of trying. From mid-1943 onwards, Australia found itself increasing excluded from the offensive against Japan. This was part of a deliberate policy on the part of the US Government, which believed that it should be the final arbitator of any peace settlement with Japan. In order to achieve that, it started to essentially "lock out" the two Pacific dominions, Australia and New Zealand from the war, relegating them to what were essentially perceived as garrison duties, in order to free American units which could then be used to continue the fight. The Australian and New Zealand governments, reacting to this perceived slight, which became most evident with the 1943 Cairo summit between the UK, USA and China, signed the ANZAC Pact, which formalised their views of how the post-war Pacific should be ordered. In turn, the USA reacted by delegating Australian and New Zealand forces to backwater theatres for the most part. Australia, still seeking to influence US thinking and the probable post-war settlement started to prosecute what has become known as the "unnecessary war" in the islands to the north-east of Australia, such as on Guadacanal, which has been alluded to. So, it wasn't a case of our contribution being insignificant, because we didn't make one, but rather that our contribution's significance was deliberately reduced.

This is particularly ironic when one considers that at the same time as US contributions to the Pacific War waxed and our's waned, we had been the major contributor. Indeed, as Eric Bergerud notes in his book, Touched by Fire, it was our contribution which essentially created a firm base from which the US could exploit and advance against the Japanese and in particular allowed Macarthur to fulfil his famous promise that he would return.

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Post by Brian Ross » 30 May 2005 12:17

Michael Tapner wrote: 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.
Well, the saga of Bennett is such that its difficult to differentiate a lot of fact from fiction. Personally, I feel he didn't get what he really deserved, which was to be cashiered. He deserted his men in order to further his own political ambitions in the hope that he would be given command of the Australian Army, instead of Tom Blamey. Blamey beat him back to Australia though, from the Middle East and was given command. I'm no fan of Tom Blamey either but if given the choice, would say he was the best pick of a poor bunch.

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Post by Larso » 30 May 2005 13:45

Hi Brian and welcome,

I'm fascinated that you've corresponded with Bergerud. Did he have anthing further to say about the topic given his later research? I also agree that Australian writers over the last decade or so have begun to critically examine Australian errors as well as US ones. I'm pleased to see myths challenged. It's also helped that many veterans reached that stage of their lives where they were prepared to tell their stories (and now free of the hierarchy that established the official line).

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Post by Brian Ross » 31 May 2005 05:22

Larso wrote:Hi Brian and welcome,

I'm fascinated that you've corresponded with Bergerud. Did he have anthing further to say about the topic given his later research? I also agree that Australian writers over the last decade or so have begun to critically examine Australian errors as well as US ones. I'm pleased to see myths challenged. It's also helped that many veterans reached that stage of their lives where they were prepared to tell their stories (and now free of the hierarchy that established the official line).
Prof. Bergerud didn't have much to add, having "moved on" so to speak to other projects. He acknowledged that his sources were a bit limited but pointed out that he had backed them up with some fairly extensive interviews for the personal stories in the book. To tell the truth, while I had been looking forward a great deal to reading Touched by Fire, I was rather disappointed when I read it. I was hoping for something new but from an Australian perspective, he was simply rehashing old information which had been printed 20-30 years before and not attempting to look beyond that. While he was critical of the "high command" he didn't sheet home to Macarthur sufficiently IMO, nor was he critical of the Australian government and military command.

The main point in the revision of our military history has, to be brutally honest, always occurred after the passing of the participants. Unfortunately, reputations need to be protected or some people believe and all too often we only hear the good stories and only rarely the bad ones. When the majority of veterans of WWI had died and now WWII, we've seen a blossoming of new historical research, without having to worry too overly much about petty jealousies or reputations.

As one British military historian said at the Chief of the Australian Army's Annual History Conference, "the role of the military historian is to disabuse the reader of the myths they have come to cherish and believe."

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Post by Graeme Sydney » 19 Jul 2005 12:43

[/quote]There are several factors which should be considered in your statement. While Australia did not contribute all that much to the actual final offensives which won the war in the Pacific, that was not because of want of trying. From mid-1943 onwards, Australia found itself increasing excluded from the offensive against Japan. This was part of a deliberate policy on the part of the US Government, which believed that it should be the final arbitator of any peace settlement with Japan. In order to achieve that, it started to essentially "lock out" the two Pacific dominions, Australia and New Zealand from the war, relegating them to what were essentially perceived as garrison duties, in order to free American units which could then be used to continue the fight. The Australian and New Zealand governments, reacting to this perceived slight, which became most evident with the 1943 Cairo summit between the UK, USA and China, signed the ANZAC Pact, which formalised their views of how the post-war Pacific should be ordered. In turn, the USA reacted by delegating Australian and New Zealand forces to backwater theatres for the most part. Australia, still seeking to influence US thinking and the probable post-war settlement started to prosecute what has become known as the "unnecessary war" in the islands to the north-east of Australia, such as on Guadacanal, which has been alluded to. So, it wasn't a case of our contribution being insignificant, because we didn't make one, but rather that our contribution's significance was deliberately reduced.

This is particularly ironic when one considers that at the same time as US contributions to the Pacific War waxed and our's waned, we had been the major contributor. Indeed, as Eric Bergerud notes in his book, Touched by Fire, it was our contribution which essentially created a firm base from which the US could exploit and advance against the Japanese and in particular allowed Macarthur to fulfil his famous promise that he would return.[/quote]

"From mid-1943 onwards, Australia found itself increasing excluded from the offensive against Japan." Is this historical fact, assumption or specualtion? My inderstanding this was more a 'Macarthur thing' rather than US policy. Macarthur was a pathological paraniod egoist - he didn't even want to share glory with the USN (mid pacific threatre) let alone Aus. And thats before we speak of other partical and military considerations.

"This was part of a deliberate policy on the part of the US Government, which believed that it should be the final arbitator of any peace settlement with Japan." Eh! Some policy! Two years before the final deed (or at least three according to the most optimistic pre-atom bomb military appreciations) and when facing loses of over a million cas, you reject the willing participation of a ease-to-manipulate stratergic/diplomatic featherweight. And then you invite in an unpredictable, uncontrollable Russian bear in for a free feed when victory is in sight (FDR to Stalin Tehran (?) conferrence). :?

"Australia, still seeking to influence US thinking and the probable post-war settlement started to prosecute what has become known as the "unnecessary war" in the islands to the north-east of Australia, such as on Guadacanal, which has been alluded to. " Your time scale is off. Guadacanal was the start of the "unnecessary war" and started Aug '42.

The "unnecessary war" of "advancing the air bases" along the north coast of Papua was MacArthurs idea as the most direct route back to the Phillipines. MacArthur had to fight FDR, US C of S and the USN to have the South Pacific front. It was agreed upon by all of these only after they couldn't agree on the one thrust through the central Pacific. Whatever Aus's thought on the matter I think it mounted to zip in Washington. The "unnecessary war" was something of an each way bet.

As it unfolded Australia's part in the "unnecessary war" of advancing along the north coast of Papua was very significant. Buna was US-Aus, but then Gona, Lae, Finschhafen and Nadzab were Aus exclusive ground battles (with much needed US log spt). The US then went Los Negros, Aitape (I think) Hollandia and Wakde Is. This made sense because these were amphibious ops with a large USN participation.

Cheers Graeme.

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Post by Brian Ross » 20 Jul 2005 11:30

Graeme Sydney wrote: "From mid-1943 onwards, Australia found itself increasing excluded from the offensive against Japan." Is this historical fact, assumption or specualtion? My inderstanding this was more a 'Macarthur thing' rather than US policy. Macarthur was a pathological paraniod egoist - he didn't even want to share glory with the USN (mid pacific threatre) let alone Aus. And thats before we speak of other partical and military considerations.
Well, actually Nimitz was no better in many respects. For him, the Pacific War against Japan was the US Navy's war. He was very loath to share resources with anyone, including Macarthur, let alone the Australian or even New Zealand military.
"This was part of a deliberate policy on the part of the US Government, which believed that it should be the final arbitator of any peace settlement with Japan." Eh! Some policy! Two years before the final deed (or at least three according to the most optimistic pre-atom bomb military appreciations) and when facing loses of over a million cas, you reject the willing participation of a ease-to-manipulate stratergic/diplomatic featherweight. And then you invite in an unpredictable, uncontrollable Russian bear in for a free feed when victory is in sight (FDR to Stalin Tehran (?) conferrence). :?
Both of the Pacific Dominions found themselves getting the short end of the stick. At one point, the US Navy recommend disbanding the entire RNZAF, simply because they believed it was a waste of resources which could be better utilised by the Navy itself to defeat Japan.
"Australia, still seeking to influence US thinking and the probable post-war settlement started to prosecute what has become known as the "unnecessary war" in the islands to the north-east of Australia, such as on Guadacanal, which has been alluded to. " Your time scale is off. Guadacanal was the start of the "unnecessary war" and started Aug '42.
Well, here we must disagree. Guadacanal in your time frame was not "unnecessary" IMHO. It was part of the Allied attempt to stem the Japanese advance.
The "unnecessary war" of "advancing the air bases" along the north coast of Papua was MacArthurs idea as the most direct route back to the Phillipines. MacArthur had to fight FDR, US C of S and the USN to have the South Pacific front. It was agreed upon by all of these only after they couldn't agree on the one thrust through the central Pacific. Whatever Aus's thought on the matter I think it mounted to zip in Washington. The "unnecessary war" was something of an each way bet.
Australian opinion was important when America needed Australia - first to provide fighting troops and a base then later, for something to keep Macarthur out of the US, so that he couldn't screw up the US Army (remember, he was the senior ranking US Army General).

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Post by EKB » 21 Jul 2005 00:34

Is there a reason why some of you guys must continuously flame the message boards?
dmsdbo wrote:It seems that the general consensus opinion amongst British, Canadian, Australian, NZ, SA vets is that the Americans had the best allied equipment, and there were good individual US soldiers and units (82/101 AB, Marines, vets from North Afrcia/Sicily), but on a grand scale they were not as good as the Commonwealth troops
But not a general consensus amongst the enemy. After he was wounded in Normandy, Erwin Rommel drew a point-by-point comparison of the American and British Commonwealth armies and how they performed in North Africa and France. It was not very flattering to America's allies.

After World War I, Erich von Ludendorff wrote:

".....It was assuredly the Americans who bore the heaviest brunt of the fighting on the whole battle front during the last months of the war. The German field army found them much more aggressive in attack than either the English or the French....."
Chadwick wrote:
It really saddens me to hear such disparaging comments come from Australia when my family members have only said good things about your country.
I agree and since Brian says you shouldn't take it personally, he won't mind if I quote several Australian researchers who can separate the facts from the flag-waving and chest-pounding in this forum.
Brian Ross wrote:
The US Army cops a lot of criticism. Some of it deserved. What is well known is that it is, all too often, very wasteful of its men, usually adopting tactics which would never be utilised in other armies. Some of them such as the use of massive, overwhelming material superiority are only useable by a nation which has the vast economy that your's does. Some, such as the use of its men essentially as "bait" to draw the enemy out where massive overwhelming firepower can eliminate him, sounds good, unless you're the bloke who's the bait.
Whatever the drawbacks of General Westmoreland's search and destroy strategy, it worked better than the enclave strategy pushed by General Wilton. Australia's Vietnam policy and the performance of their army has been condemned by your own historians.


From Peter King, 'Australia's Vietnam' (1983):

".....Australia had earlier taken the part of inciter and goad of its ally, yet while the Australian government wished and plotted for the Vietnam War before its entry, Australia became involved only marginally in the combat when America's war began in earnest....."

".....Frank Frost's painstaking evaluation of the military performance of the Australian Army Task Force in Vietnam brings out two serious failures of Australian policy. First, there was a lack of overall political or strategic guidance given to the Task Force command. Should it engage in battles with the main-force units of the guerrilla enemy, or undertake 'pacification' in the villages of the Phuoc Tuy province? The Task Force was not properly equipped for either role and, perhaps fortunately, it performed badly in both....."

Frost also wrote that in May 1971, a senior Task Force officer told The Australian that all villages in the Phuoc Tuy province still had a Vietcong chapter and party organization. He added that "the strongest element in the province has always been, and still is, the Vietcong infrastructure which is very difficult to come to grips with".


From Ian Mackay, 'Australians in Vietnam' (1968):

".....in Phuoc Tuy, a village taken today is reinfiltrated tomorrow. There is no way in the world of guarding every village, every square foot of land, and therefore no quick way of defeating the Vietcong....."


From John Murphy, 'Harvest of Fear: a History of Australia's Vietnam War' (1994):

".....The networks connecting the villages with the guerrillas tended to be re-established as soon as the cordon was removed....."


After the war, Lt. Colonel I. R. W. Brumfield, commander of Australian 1 RAR, admitted that the search and destroy policy used by the 173rd Airborne Brigade was superior to the Australian 'clear and hold' policy -- which was doomed from the beginning because not enough troops were available to hold most of the cleared areas after a search.

Even the official historian agreed on that point. From Ian McNeill, 'To Long Tan' (1993):

".....Westmoreland's endeavour to put the enemy off balance and the fire brigade tactics of 173 Brigade appeared to be more appropriate in 1965 than the slow and painstaking approach favoured by the Australians, which needed time and favourable conditions to achieve results....." .


In the first 18 months of combat, the Australians tallied less than 375 Vietcong dead in a province that was crawling with thousands of VC. The majority of enemy casualties were counted in just one battle at Long Tan, and most were hit by Allied artillery fire.

But, as you advised, don't take these criticisms too personally. The Australian Army's official line often paints a different picture, and is sometimes biased to the point where reputation is more important than the truth. Not much credit is given to the air power, artillery and tanks that so often saved Australian troops, especially when the help was delivered by American forces.
Brian Ross wrote:
Australian opinion was important when America needed Australia - first to provide fighting troops and a base then later, for something to keep Macarthur out of the US, so that he couldn't screw up the US Army
Those comments have no basis in reality.

1) Prime Minister John Curtin publicly appealed to the United States to protect Australia from Japan -- a country then viewed by Australians as the latest version of the "Yellow Horde". The paranoia of your politicians was legendary (see the White Australia immigration policy). The rise of communism guaranteed that China, Indonesia and Vietnam were added to Australia's Catalogue of Yellow Horde Hysteria.

2) MacArthur accomplished more than any Allied officer, with modest resources, and low casualties. Australia's best known general was not respected by the British or U.S. Joint Chiefs -- Field Marshall Alan Brooke said that Thomas Blamey was "entirely drink-sodden" at their first official meeting, and Sir Keith Murdoch called him "Boozy Blamey".

G'day mate,
Evan

" MacArthur has outshone George Marshall,
Ike Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, and
all other American and British generals "
~ Field Marshall Alan Brooke, 1945
Last edited by EKB on 21 Jul 2005 07:15, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by Peter H » 21 Jul 2005 01:27

Let's keep this topic about 1939-45.

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Post by Brian Ross » 21 Jul 2005 09:36

EKB wrote:Is there a reason why some of you guys must continuously flame the message boards?
Are you referring to me or someone else?
dmsdbo wrote:It seems that the general consensus opinion amongst British, Canadian, Australian, NZ, SA vets is that the Americans had the best allied equipment, and there were good individual US soldiers and units (82/101 AB, Marines, vets from North Afrcia/Sicily), but on a grand scale they were not as good as the Commonwealth troops
But not a general consensus amongst the enemy. After he was wounded in Normandy, Erwin Rommel drew a point-by-point comparison of the American and British Commonwealth armies and how they performed in North Africa and France. It was not very flattering to America's allies.
That may have been in the case in Europe. However we're discussing the Pacific War, where the reverse definitely was true. Particularly from late 1942 onwards, in most theatres, the Allies had the match of the Japanese and were pushing them back (the major exception was Burma but that was more becuase of logistics problems and the terrain, rather than anything else, I believe).

[non-WWII and non-Pacific points deleted]
Brian Ross wrote:
Australian opinion was important when America needed Australia - first to provide fighting troops and a base then later, for something to keep Macarthur out of the US, so that he couldn't screw up the US Army
Those comments have no basis in reality.
Really? How interesting. Obviously I failed to understand "reality" when I wrote my Honors thesis on the topic.
1) Prime Minister John Curtin publicly appealed to the United States to protect Australia from Japan -- a country then viewed by Australians as the latest version of the "Yellow Horde". The paranoia of your politicians was legendary (see the White Australia immigration policy). The rise of communism guaranteed that China, Indonesia and Vietnam were added to Australia's Catalogue of Yellow Horde Hysteria.
Curtin is now considered by most to have panicked. In reality, while he was afraid of the Japanese thrust, the truth was that it was already running out of steam, as he made that speech. While the Australian viewpoint bordered on xenophobia with indeed, its fear of the "yellow hordes", the reality was that Australia had already put in place the movement back home of its most capable troops, while the Japanese lacked the resources to mount a serious threat to the continent.
2) MacArthur accomplished more than any Allied officer, with modest resources, and low casualties. Australia's best known general was not respected by the British or U.S. Joint Chiefs -- Field Marshall Alan Brooke said that Thomas Blamey was "entirely drink-sodden" at their first official meeting, and Sir Keith Murdoch called him "Boozy Blamey".

G'day mate,
Evan

" MacArthur has outshone George Marshall,
Ike Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, and
all other American and British generals "
~ Field Marshall Alan Brooke, 1945
[/quote]

Debatable. However this still fails to detract from the point that Macarthur was not overly popular, nor was he as quite as brilliant as he himself believed or his personal PR machine made him out to be. While he was the ranking US Army officer and by rights, should have returned to Washington, once brought back into the US Army from retirement in IIRC 1940, to become the Chief of the US Army Staff, he was deliberately kept both by his own ambitions and by Marshall's wishes, at arms length and foisted upon the Australians. Not that we didn't accept him with open arms but it was done at its most basic level as a cynical ploy in the misunderstanding that in doing so, we'd gain greater access to Washington and US resources. The reality was we got neither. While being marginally higher than SEAC, on the pecking list, we were still a long way short of Europe's allocations or even the Mediterrean. While I agree it might have been wishful thinking that we were going to get those sorts of resources, it was deceitful of both Washington and to a lesser extent, London to not tell us of the "Hitler first" strategy until we heard of it second-hand in 1943.

As to Tom Blamey and drinking - I'm no fan of his, I can assure you. His only qualification for the job was that he was more ruthless than the other contenders. :lol:

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Post by Graeme Sydney » 21 Jul 2005 09:48

EKB wrote:
2) MacArthur accomplished more than any Allied officer, with modest resources, and low casualties. Australia's best known general was not respected by the British or U.S. Joint Chiefs -- Field Marshall Alan Brooke said that Thomas Blamey was "entirely drink-sodden" at their first official meeting, and Sir Keith Murdoch called him "Boozy Blamey".

G'day mate,
Evan
"MacArthur accomplished more than any Allied officer, with modest resources, and low casualties." against an enemy inferior in everything other than a fighting spirit and determination. Don't get me wrong; I think Mac did the best job, a great job, and better than most would have given the circumstances. Just that I think it is a apples and oranges comparison that serve no purpose and gives no real insight into his performance or others. (Besides, I think Gen Slim would have given him a run for his money using the criteria you describe.)

"Australia's best known general was not respected by the British or U.S. Joint Chiefs -- Field Marshall Alan Brooke said that Thomas Blamey was "entirely drink-sodden" at their first official meeting, and Sir Keith Murdoch called him "Boozy Blamey"." You might note that Sir Keith Murdoch was an Australian (haling from Adelaide and father of Rupert).

I think they did old Tom a great dis-service; he was also a womaniser :D

I don't know if you appreciate the irony of lauding Mac and lampooning of Old Tom; the paralels between the two are uncanny . Personalities like chalk and cheese but I would describe both characters as pathological paraniod egoists. Both great organsier etc, both played politics with the politicians, both used/controlled the media to self promote, both excelled at 'office politics' within the army which influenced their promotion/sink the opposition, both are controversial and equally loved, hated, loathed admired, respected etc. And to rate either as great or pathetic you have to choose a particular period of they life/career to make your case.

Cheers, Graeme.

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Post by Brian Ross » 22 Jul 2005 09:40

Graeme Sydney wrote: I think they did old Tom a great dis-service; he was also a womaniser :D
.
Quite a gambler as well, by all accounts. Not many vices old Tom didn't indulge in, particularly when he was Victoria's police commissioner.

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Post by EKB » 22 Jul 2005 23:23

Brian Ross wrote:
EKB wrote: But not a general consensus amongst the enemy. After he was wounded in Normandy, Erwin Rommel drew a point-by-point comparison of the American and British Commonwealth armies and how they performed in North Africa and France. It was not very flattering to America's allies.
That may have been in the case in Europe. However we're discussing the Pacific War, where the reverse definitely was true.
I don't see how. When MacArthur's ground forces invaded the Philippines in 1944, the Americans were outnumbered by the Japanese garrison led by Yamashita. That situation was reversed when Yamashita's ground forces invaded British Malaya and Singapore.

MacArthur made some serious blunders when Japan invaded the Philippines, but the British and Commonwealth generals did so at a more alarming rate, in the Pacific and elsewhere. After Major-General Gordon Bennett escaped from Singapore and returned to Australia, leaving his 8th Division to surrender, one of his initial reactions was to publicly vilify the British military leadership - which went from bad to worse when Japan invaded Burma - although in that case geography allowed parts of the Allied army to escape the Japanese pursuit.

The Australian ground forces sent to New Guinea were poorly trained and not very effective until after they were reinforced by combat-tested troops recalled from the Middle East.
Brian Ross wrote:
EKB wrote: 2) MacArthur accomplished more than any Allied officer, with modest resources, and low casualties. Australia's best known general was not respected by the British or U.S. Joint Chiefs -- Field Marshall Alan Brooke said that Thomas Blamey was "entirely drink-sodden" at their first official meeting, and Sir Keith Murdoch called him "Boozy Blamey".

" MacArthur has outshone George Marshall,
Ike Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, and
all other American and British generals "
~ Field Marshall Alan Brooke, 1945
Debatable. However this still fails to detract from the point that Macarthur was not overly popular, nor was he as quite as brilliant as he himself believed or his personal PR machine made him out to be. While he was the ranking US Army officer and by rights, should have returned to Washington, once brought back into the US Army from retirement in IIRC 1940, to become the Chief of the US Army Staff, he was deliberately kept both by his own ambitions and by Marshall's wishes, at arms length and foisted upon the Australians. Not that we didn't accept him with open arms but it was done at its most basic level as a cynical ploy in the misunderstanding that in doing so, we'd gain greater access to Washington and US resources. The reality was we got neither. While being marginally higher than SEAC, on the pecking list, we were still a long way short of Europe's allocations or even the Mediterrean. While I agree it might have been wishful thinking that we were going to get those sorts of resources, it was deceitful of both Washington and to a lesser extent, London to not tell us of the "Hitler first" strategy until we heard of it second-hand in 1943.
Validating someone's military performance is not contingent on winning a popularity contest with all allies and adversaries. As for the internal politics and intrigue, whether real or exaggerated, that is not unique to any particular organization.

Not many generals were universally respected, unfailingly brilliant, and consistently diplomatic, all at the same time.

EKB

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Post by Pips » 23 Jul 2005 01:53

The fact is that prior to 1943 America desperately needed Australian manpower, bases, industry and supplies etc if it was to prosecute the war. And so to achieve that end it played politics with our political and military leaders at a command level and at the national level. And we fell for it.

After 1943 it didn't. So it dropped all pretence, and egomaniacs like MacArthur and anglophile haters like King no longer had to pay lip service to that ploy.

It hurts the Australian ego to accept that. But in reality it is just another example of major poweres using minor countries to achioeve there own ends. The British had done the same to Australia in the Boer War and in WWI. The Americans did it to us in WWII.

And both are still doing it to us now. Poor old John Howard is running around the international scene rubbing shoulders with both Bush and Blair, thinking that he (and by default Australia) are part of the major players. We're not. We are still being used by countries far more powerful than us, for their own ends.

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Post by Brian Ross » 23 Jul 2005 09:42

EKB wrote:
Brian Ross wrote:
EKB wrote: But not a general consensus amongst the enemy. After he was wounded in Normandy, Erwin Rommel drew a point-by-point comparison of the American and British Commonwealth armies and how they performed in North Africa and France. It was not very flattering to America's allies.
That may have been in the case in Europe. However we're discussing the Pacific War, where the reverse definitely was true.
I don't see how. When MacArthur's ground forces invaded the Philippines in 1944, the Americans were outnumbered by the Japanese garrison led by Yamashita. That situation was reversed when Yamashita's ground forces invaded British Malaya and Singapore.
The problem is, why do you assume that all Commonwealth Armies are the same? The Australian Army earned the admiration of Rommel in the Desert, yet it wasn't present in 1944 in NW Europe. Therefore, should we allow the relatively poorer performance of the Commonwealth Armies in Normandy/NW Europe overshadow the reputation gained in the Desert? Further, the enemies faced in the Pacific and Europe were markedly different. The Germans and the Japanese can't really be compared. Also consider that for most of the fighting in the SW Pacific, the majority of Macarthur's ground troops weren't even American, so I'd suggest you're being a tad simplistic in you reasoning.
MacArthur made some serious blunders when Japan invaded the Philippines, but the British and Commonwealth generals did so at a more alarming rate, in the Pacific and elsewhere. After Major-General Gordon Bennett escaped from Singapore and returned to Australia, leaving his 8th Division to surrender, one of his initial reactions was to publicly vilify the British military leadership - which went from bad to worse when Japan invaded Burma - although in that case geography allowed parts of the Allied army to escape the Japanese pursuit.
All armies, except perhaps the Russians, seriously underestimated the Japanese. Malaya's garrison was made up of largely untrained and under-equipped troops, primarily Indian. So, its no wonder they were brushed aside. Further, the entire British plan of defence had been designed to be primarily based on first air and then secondarily naval forces, which weren't present when the Japanese attacked. So, the British were behind the eightball from the start. Fighting with numerical superiority their only advantage. Usually, its not surprising in that sort of situation when a better trained, better equipped and better led force defeats them, as occurred to the Italians in North Africa the year before, when O'Connor mounted his offensive.
The Australian ground forces sent to New Guinea were poorly trained and not very effective until after they were reinforced by combat-tested troops recalled from the Middle East.
Yes? And your point is? Australia had essentially two armies throughout WWII - the AIF and the Militia. The Militia had been stripped of its best men and weapons to provide the AIF with the best. While by the end of 1940, a great deal of that made good, the Militia's training was still a long way behind what it should have been. A fact that was acknowledged at the time but about which little could be done. It was a case of making do with what they had and more often than not, the Militia units rose to the challenge and performed very well in face of the determined Japanese advance. By 1945, when the problems of manpower, training and weapons had been addressed, there wasn't much to choose between most militia and AIF units, except the pay they received. When the AIF units returned from the Middle East, the Japanese found themselves facing a very different and much more capable enemy. One that went on the offensive and didn't stop until August 1945.
Brian Ross wrote:
EKB wrote: 2) MacArthur accomplished more than any Allied officer, with modest resources, and low casualties. Australia's best known general was not respected by the British or U.S. Joint Chiefs -- Field Marshall Alan Brooke said that Thomas Blamey was "entirely drink-sodden" at their first official meeting, and Sir Keith Murdoch called him "Boozy Blamey".

" MacArthur has outshone George Marshall,
Ike Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, and
all other American and British generals "
~ Field Marshall Alan Brooke, 1945
Debatable. However this still fails to detract from the point that Macarthur was not overly popular, nor was he as quite as brilliant as he himself believed or his personal PR machine made him out to be. While he was the ranking US Army officer and by rights, should have returned to Washington, once brought back into the US Army from retirement in IIRC 1940, to become the Chief of the US Army Staff, he was deliberately kept both by his own ambitions and by Marshall's wishes, at arms length and foisted upon the Australians. Not that we didn't accept him with open arms but it was done at its most basic level as a cynical ploy in the misunderstanding that in doing so, we'd gain greater access to Washington and US resources. The reality was we got neither. While being marginally higher than SEAC, on the pecking list, we were still a long way short of Europe's allocations or even the Mediterrean. While I agree it might have been wishful thinking that we were going to get those sorts of resources, it was deceitful of both Washington and to a lesser extent, London to not tell us of the "Hitler first" strategy until we heard of it second-hand in 1943.
Validating someone's military performance is not contingent on winning a popularity contest with all allies and adversaries.
It may not. However, most people don't go out of their way to grand stand and big note themselves. Macarthur did, to the point that he even annoyed his fellow Americans.
As for the internal politics and intrigue, whether real or exaggerated, that is not unique to any particular organization.
Perhaps not. However, it reveals that the alliance between Australia and the US was one of convenience, based upon common cause, rather than anything else.
Not many generals were universally respected, unfailingly brilliant, and consistently diplomatic, all at the same time.
Agreed. Very true in the case of Macarthur. Slim however was a whole different kettle of fish, being universally respected, unfailingly brilliant and consistently diplomatic, a face acknowledge by both friend and enemy who knew him.

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EKB
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Post by EKB » 24 Jul 2005 03:49

Brian Ross wrote:
EKB wrote:
Brian Ross wrote:
EKB wrote: But not a general consensus amongst the enemy. After he was wounded in Normandy, Erwin Rommel drew a point-by-point comparison of the American and British Commonwealth armies and how they performed in North Africa and France. It was not very flattering to America's allies.
That may have been in the case in Europe. However we're discussing the Pacific War, where the reverse definitely was true.
I don't see how. When MacArthur's ground forces invaded the Philippines in 1944, the Americans were outnumbered by the Japanese garrison led by Yamashita. That situation was reversed when Yamashita's ground forces invaded British Malaya and Singapore.
The problem is, why do you assume that all Commonwealth Armies are the same? The Australian Army earned the admiration of Rommel in the Desert, yet it wasn't present in 1944 in NW Europe. Therefore, should we allow the relatively poorer performance of the Commonwealth Armies in Normandy/NW Europe overshadow the reputation gained in the Desert?

I've read translated parts of Rommel's diary in the form of letters to his wife, and post-Normandy memoirs, so I know what he wrote about the Anzacs.

Rommel did not say the Commonwealth armies performed better overall in North Africa, when compared to Northwest Europe. He did not say that Australian generals were superior to British, Canadian, New Zealand or South African generals. He did not say that Australian officers were superior to the British, Canadian, New Zealand or South African kind.

On April 25th, 1941, Rommel mentioned that he saw a column of about 60 Australian prisoners. He described this particular group as "immensely big and powerful men who without question represented an elite formation of the British Empire, a fact that was also evident in battle". He did not make any blanket statements that the Australian Army was superior to the New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians, Gurkhas, Maoris, Canadians, etc.

On June 29th, 1942, Rommel implied that the entire New Zealand division was "among the elite of the British Army" and that he would have preferred if they were locked up in a POW stockade instead of facing him. But here again, Rommel did not say that New Zealand troops were better than Australians, South Africans, Indians, Gurkhas, Maoris, Canadians, etc.
Brian Ross wrote:
EKB wrote: MacArthur made some serious blunders when Japan invaded the Philippines, but the British and Commonwealth generals did so at a more alarming rate, in the Pacific and elsewhere. After Major-General Gordon Bennett escaped from Singapore and returned to Australia, leaving his 8th Division to surrender, one of his initial reactions was to publicly vilify the British military leadership - which went from bad to worse when Japan invaded Burma - although in that case geography allowed parts of the Allied army to escape the Japanese pursuit.
Malaya's garrison was made up of largely untrained and under-equipped troops, primarily Indian. So, its no wonder they were brushed aside. Further, the entire British plan of defence had been designed to be primarily based on first air and then secondarily naval forces, which weren't present when the Japanese attacked. Fighting with numerical superiority their only advantage.
British and Commonwealth troops were outfought in Malaya mainly because they expected to fight a European-style battle that relied too much on roads for movement and communications. Whilst the Japanese, when necessary, travelled off-road with their pack animal trains. The Allied generals (including Gordon Bennett) did not believe that the enemy could move so easily through thick jungle or mountainous tropical forests. The Japanese army exploited their ignorance to great effect, popping out of the bush and chopping the Allies to pieces with flanking movements and road blocks.

The Australian War Memorial concurs that "Bennett had as little success in preventing the Japanese southward advance as had his British counterparts". He did not come up with a better antidote to Japanese tactics.
Brian Ross wrote:
EKB wrote: The Australian ground forces sent to New Guinea were poorly trained and not very effective until after they were reinforced by combat-tested troops recalled from the Middle East.
Yes? And your point is? Australia had essentially two armies throughout WWII - the AIF and the Militia. The Militia had been stripped of its best men and weapons to provide the AIF with the best. While by the end of 1940, a great deal of that made good, the Militia's training was still a long way behind what it should have been.
I meant that the Australian militia sent to New Guinea in early 1942 were no better prepared than the American militia sent to New Guinea in late 1942. U.S. state militias are officially known as the National Guard. Because of the war emergency, many Guard units were appropriated by the U.S. Army and assembled into infantry divisions like the 32nd. Like your militia, ours had desperate shortages in certain types of heavy and light weapons, and remained so until after the seaport operations were shifted away from Australia.

Brian Ross wrote:
EKB wrote: Not many generals were universally respected, unfailingly brilliant, and consistently diplomatic, all at the same time.
Agreed. Very true in the case of Macarthur. Slim however was a whole different kettle of fish, being universally respected, unfailingly brilliant and consistently diplomatic, a face acknowledge by both friend and enemy who knew him.
Slim was a solid officer, but he was not the architect of any brilliant masterstrokes. His main contribution was to discontinue British tactics that did not work in the jungles, and improve their off-road capabilities. That did not take a genius and his solution was not an original one. To quote Louis Allen, "at Arakan in February 1944, the British stopped behaving according to the Malaya and early Burma pattern: retreating when surrounded, and being forced to fight through road blocks set up behind them. Instead, they stood and fought where they were, since they no longer had to rely on a road. Food and ammunition were dropped from the skies. Mutaguchi's plan was drawn up in 1943, before the Japanese could learn that lesson."

I get the impression that you think General Slim had a squeaky-clean reputation, but everyone has dirt on them, or in this case, soot. During the withdrawl from Burma, the longest retreat in the history of the British Army, Slim ordered his sappers to set fire to the oil fields at Yenangyaung. An environmental disaster that was actually applauded by British historians. I wonder if they had the same opinion when Saddam Hussein followed their example.

Other than Slim, the British High Command was very tentative about Burma and they were still waffling in 1944. It was Merrill's Marauders, backed by Chinese troops, who captured Myitkyina airfield -- the first objective taken in Burma that had strategic value. And Slim was not always diplomatic in his criticisms of subordinates, but he did agree with Stilwell that Orde Wingate's programme of hit-and-run raids was a waste of time and resources.

EKB

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