Monday, December 21, 2015

The war changes dramatically from November to December 1941

Some writers have criticized General Auchinleck's concern about a German attack from the north into the Middle East as a mistake. They said that he should have ignored the possibility and concentrated on the war in the Western Desert. We see now, though, that mainstream British opinion was very concerned about dealing with a German attack from Russia, either through Turkey or from the Caucasus. If he had not been planning for such an attack, he might have jeopardized his position as theater commander. The concern about a German attack was largely built on the lack of good information about the fighting in Russia. In fact, although there had been a large part of the Soviet Army that was poorly equipped (just as the Germans and British), the Russians had the best tanks and some of the best artillery in the world. The KV-I heavy tank and the T-34 medium tank were the best tanks in use in 1941. They were small in numbers at first, and some were thrown away in badly chosen situations, but they dominated the battlefield when they appeared in combat. The Germans scrambled to respond to them. In late 1941, the Germans were close to the high-water mark, although there would be further advances in the summer of 1942. The Soviet government and armed forces were not going to collapse. They had a hard core that would carry them through to better times and they started to receive British and American shipments of tanks and aircraft to supplement what they had.

Everything about the war changed after 8 December 1941 in the Far East, when the Japanese attacked. One immediate impact was that some of the Australian brigadiers from the Middle East were sent back to Australia. There were also discussions, very naturally, of sending men from the Middle East back to Australia. In January, the decision was made to send the 6th and 7th Australian Divisions along with the corps headquarters to Australia. The Australians in the Middle East had a hard time taking the Japanese threat seriously, as they could not conceive that the Japanese might invade Australia. One immediate effect was that the decision was made to replace the 7th Australian Division in Syria by the 9th Australian Division. The Australians were destined for Java, so General Lavarack and Allen set off by air. The divisions were sent in convoys for the Far East starting on 30 January. This last part is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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