Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Discussions and decisions made as events progressed in May to June 1941

The Australian envoy, Dr. Evatt was still in Britain in May 1942. There was a suggestion that Dr. Evatt be asked to discuss the 9th Australian Division situation with Mr. Churchill, but Dr. Evatt replied that such a discussion needed to be conducted from Australia. By 30 May 1942, General Blamey was agitating for the return of the 9th Australian Division to Australia, using a sham argument about the need to make decisions about "organization and the allocation of manpower in Australia" based on whether they had to send replacements to the Middle East or not. Mr. Curtin, the Australian Prime Minister held his war conferences at the beginning of June. You now had both General Blamey and General MacArthur pressing for the return of the 9th Division to Australia. We can imagine Mr. Churchill's discomfort with having to deal with General MacArthur, the highly experienced and decorated general officer.
The situation in the Middle East was in rapid change, as was the war in the Western Pacific. The Battle of Midway greatly improved the Allied situation, as the Japanese naval forces suffered severe losses in aircraft carriers, the new naval capital ship. By 11 June, General MacArthur was able to announce that due to the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, that Australia's defense was now secured. The situation in the Middle East now looked very bad, where the enemy was likely to seize major objectives by the end of June 1942. Generals MacArthur and Blamey now communicated that the 9th Australian Division should stay in the Middle East. The Australian government adopted that position on 30 June.
The 9th Australian Division was notified on 25 June to be ready to move to Egypt. The move would be in secret and an effort would be made to simulate the presence of the division in Syria, using communications. The cover story was that the move was a "training exercise". Some of the soldiers thought that they might be heading for Australia, but they could soon see that their destination was Egypt. The local citizenry knew about the Australian tan boots and wished them well: "Good Luck Australia". The 26th Brigade left first, heading for Cairo. They traveled by motorized transport. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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