Monday, December 03, 2018

Big changes for Australians in the Middle East from February 1942

The enemy was busy spreading rumors about Turkey and the Syrian coast. The British had heard about the possible German attack through Turkey from sources in the Balkans. Italians in Greece were also heard talking about "small-scale raids on the Syrian coast". The British believed that the main Axis effort was being spent on preparing for a new attack  in Western Cyrenaica. The rumors were sufficient to cause the 26th Brigade to have to supply a "mobile group" with an infantry company, a carrier section, and a machine-gun platoon. They had to be ready to respond with thirty minutes notice. In addition, they had to provide additional strength at the Tripoli port and at Chakka.
Australian security at the Turkish border were preventing couriers with letters from crossing into Syria. There were also deserters from the Turkish army. There was also constant attempts to smuggle items such as sheepskins. They were thought to be intended for the Germans in Russia.
22 February 1942 saw a big Australian milestone. General Blamey informed General Morshead that he was leaving the Middle East for Australia. It turns out that he also had his wife there with hem. Morshead was promoted to Lieutenant-General and "would become G.O.C., A.I.F. (Middle East). They had met in Cairo to talk about the future plans. General Morshead still had his smaller concerns to deal with. He complained to General Wilson that he needed three brigades to adequately defend Tripoli. General Morshead was then called back to Cairo for a three day meeting with General Blamey. He also spent time with ceremony regarding General Blamey's leaving the Middle East. Attendees included General  Auchinleck, General Freyberg and his wife, He wished General Blamey and his wife farewell when they flew from Cairo airport to South Africa on 7 March 1942. Because of security concerns, the general announcement about General Morshead's promotion was not made for three weeks. There were still 45,000 Australians in the Middle East at that date, but some ten thousand were due to leave for Australia. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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