Monday, January 11, 2016

The Tobruk and El Alamein volume of the Australian Official History

The Tobruk and El Alamein volume covers a long period, from March 1941 until December 1942. The second volume overlaps with this volume, in that it covered the Greek campaign, the battle for the island of Crete, and then the campaign in Syria and Lebanon against the Vichy French. Much of this volume involves the 9th Australian Division, from forming the unit until the division left the Middle East. This volume was published in 1965, so this was a period when anti-war fever was at a peak and some Australians apparently criticized publishing an official history about war. That attitude misses the point, though, because official histories chronicle the operations conducted by men, fighting against an enemy that needed to be beaten. The Australian volumes generally look in greater detail about operations than the British official history. That makes the Australian volumes more valuable, because they are a great learning tool that is available to us. They also describe the achievements and, yes, failures of men struggling in adversity. In this case, we know the outcome, and that it was successful. The author of this volume, Barton Maugham, was a veteran who served in the Western Desert, "mainly in the 2/13th Battalion". As we have said, Chester Wilmot was the intended author of this volume, but he died before he could start. Barton Maugham started the volume in 1955. Writing the volume was apparently a ten-year task. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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