Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The parade after the address, and then Christmas celebrations in late 1942

After the address, the men were called to "present arms". The bands played "Advance Australia Fair". The men then marched past the "saluting base". The men marched in groups "of 40 men abreast". Afterwards, the focus was "on preparing to celebrate Christmas". There was a church service and then the men enjoyed a big dinner. In some cases, officers worked on the meal "in men's messes". By 16 January 1943, the division moved to Egypt to be ready to embark on transports. The men were loaded on transports from 24 January to 31 January 1943. The ships anchored in the Maldives and took on fuel. The ships sailed unescorted through the Indian Ocean towards Australia. They had the best transports, including the Queen Mary.
On 28 September 1959, a funeral was held in Sydney for General Morshead, as he had died. General Morshead had taken a group of men and had organized them into a division and had trained them. He led them in battle, where they had fought the best of the enemy and had defended the fortress Tobruk. He had also led the division in the battles in the narrows at El Alamein, where they had played a large part in defeatin the Axis forces and breaking the enemy line and putting them into retreat.
The 9th Australian Division had lost 7,116 officers and men taken prisoner by the enemy. They had also lost men in Greece and Crete. In the desert, Rommel often interviewed Australian prisoners and treated the men well.  Rommel followed the rules of wars and did not commit atrocities or other violations. This is the end of our blogging about the 9th Australian Division. We will start next on blogging about the New Zealand Division based on their official history.

Monday, May 25, 2020

High-level consultations about the 9th Australian Division from October 1942 and later

The highest authorities in the UK and the United States were determined to not have to send the 9th Australian Division back to Australia. Mr. Curtin, the Australian Prime Minister was just as committed to returning the division to Australia. Running against him were the concerns about shipping resources. There was also a nasty push to keep the Australians in the Middle East until the campaign against Rommel was ended. There was also the issue about the division not being able to take equipment back to Australia from the Middle East. That impacted the shipping issue. Prime Minster Curtin was going to get General Macarthur and General Blamey involved in the conversation. It turns out that Generals Macarthur and Blamey mainly wanted the division back in Australia and they would handle equipment as they could.
The next event was that on 17 December 1942, the 9th Australian Division got a new Division Patch. The new patch had a "T" on it, and General Morshead said that it had to do with Tobruk and the division's role in defense of Tobruk.
The next major event was the opening of the railroad from Haifa to Beirut on 20 December. The railroad was built by Australians from their special railroad group. Two days later, there was a ceremony at Gaza where the division "took the salute". For the ceremony, the new division patch was a part of the display. After the speakers finished, General Morshead "took command of the parade". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Australian move to Palestine in November to December 1942

Very quickly, the Australians sent "advance parties" to Palestine. Prior to leaving they took care of some details like "Requium Masses" and "Memorial Services" at the cemetary at El Alamein. They actually started the move to Palestine on 30 November 1942. Every day, two convoys were sent off to Palestine until they had twelve convoys on the road. They would stop at night "bivouacking". They traveled until they arrived at Gaza after traveling for four days. The convoys traveled through Cairo on the way. Some Australians stole Egyptian headware from Egyptians they met. Despite the rowdy Australians, a message was published praising the Australians for good behaviour. After General Morshead arrived in Palestine, he took time to visit the Australian hospital "at Gaza".
The British and American leadership was opposed to sending the 9th Australian Division back to the far east. It was on 29 October 1942 that the Australian prime minister, Mr. Curtin, sent a message to Winston Churchill expressing his desire to have the 9th Australian Division returned to Australia. He wanted the division returned in good shape, and not having been affected by use in the Middle East. President Roosevelt sent Mr. Curtin and message saying that he believed that the overall cause would benefit the most by keeping the 9th Australian Division in the Middle East. Roosevelt promised to send an American division from Hawaii to Australia and expected that would remove the need to send the 9th Australian Division back to Australia. The Australian Prime Minister finally heard on 21 November that General Alexander had made a "firm committment" to send the 9th Australian Division back to Australia. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The pursuit and the absence of the 9th Australian Division

Yes, the Australian government had requested that the 9th Australian Division be returned to Australia. That request had been kept secret. Early on 6 November 1942, the division headquarters was moved to the position near El Alamein. The fighting units were moved to an area "between Sidi Abd Al Rahman and Tel el Eisa." The first job was to bury the dead and to clear away any remaining mines. That night a rainstorm filled lowspots with water and the wind blew down tents. The men were in good spirits bespite the storm, because they were happy to be removed from the battle. The rest of the week was spent salvaging equipment found in the former battlefield.
After General Morshead met with General Leese on 6 November, he returned and called a meeting. He informed his commanders that as of 9 November, they would need to be ready to move to Mersa Matruh "and possibly to Tobruk". In fact, nothing happened. They were first warned about the need to move to Sidi Haneish, but things changed as they were no longer in XXX Corps. With the division out of any current operations, General Morshead immediately started thinking about restarting training.  The local high command was thinking about sending the 9th Australian Division back to Syria. After meeting with General Alexander, he agreed that they division could "return to Palestine" and that they could consider giving men leave. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The cost of victory as of 8 November 1942

It was on 8 November 1942 that British tanks rolled into Mersa Matruh. The British had lost 13,560 killed, wounded, or missing. The fact that they had captured something like twice as many German and Italian prisoners. They had found "more than a thousand guns" and almost all of the enemy tanks (except perhaps a dozen). The British had found "about 450 enemy tanks at El Alamein.". The 9th Australian Division seems to have lost 620 killed, 1944 wounded, and 130 prisoners in the fight from 23 October to 5 November. To get some idea of the action involved, the enemy attacked Trig 29 some 25 times. Artillery fire was very important in the fighting. British counter-battery fire meant that the enemy was unable to do much shooting at night. They also found that the 6pdr anti-tank gun was extremely effective anti-tank weapon.
General von Thoma commented on Montgomery's cautious approach, but said that it had paid off for Montgomery in winning battles.One of the differences between Auchinleck's attack and Montgomery's was that the British had air superiority during the 2nd El Alamein battle. After the victory, the 9th Australian Division was recognized for their contribution. General Leese wrote a letter to General Morshead. General Leese asked Morshead to explain to his men the value of their contribution to the victory. General Leese credited the Australians with the success of their crumbling operations. It seems that the commanders were considering sending the Australians back to Syria. General Morshead was thinking about training his men. You have to think that there was probably going to be pressure to send the division back to Australia.  This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The enemy withdrawal on 4 to 5 November 1942

Prisoners taken by the Australians were from the Toscana Division that had just been brought in from Greece. Rommel had "sharp words" with Field Marshal Kesselring. He had arrived early on 4 November. Rommel blamed the air force for giving Hitler bad information about the situation. Up until Hitler's order, Rommel had "always had complete freedom of action". At the beginning, they had been able to stop the British armor. However, the British had "broken into XXI Corps. The British tanks "turned north" and hit the Ariete Division in their "open flank". By 2pm, the Africa Corps had been penetrated in multiple places. By 5:30pm, Rommel ordered a retreat to Fuka. Mussolini agreed to a retreat to Fuka, but asked that the units without vehicles be "extricated". Hitler sent a message that also approved the withdrawal to Fuka.
Rommel and his had a wild night drive to the west towards Mersa Matruh. They were under heavy air attack by the RAF. Most Italian units had been lost. As for German, there were mainly remnants. The Italian divisions Pavia, Brescia, and Folgore had forced to surrender. Five other Italian divisions managed to get some men to the west. Of the Germans, there were mainly remnants left to withdraw. The British were in such disarray that they were unable to take much of the German forces that were retreating. Montgomery did not have the expertise needed to conduct a successful move to capture retreating Germans. The British would keep changing orders. The British were not able to conduct a successful chase of the Germans. The lack of British "resolve" let the Germans escape. British tanks had arrived at Mersa Matruh by 8 November. This was the day that the Allied landings in French Africa had occurred. They celebrated in Britain, because there seemed to be good reason. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

4 November 1942 after the collapse

By early morning on 4 November 1942, the Australians found that there were no enemy units in the coastal area. There were only remnants left there. The enemy was holding a line to the west, about a mile away. During the night, the 24th Brigade was patroling and was cooperating with the divisional cavalry. The 24th Brigade was now occupying three posts "from Barrel Hill to the sea". They had found that the enemy had left the original front line. By 12:30pm, the 26th Brigade had "occupied Cloverleaf". This had been an inportant component of the enemy defense on the coast. A patrol had searched north from the Saucer and had only two Germans. In the afternoon, a patrol had pushed into the enemy area and had finally drawn some fire.
The decision was made to move forward in the evening and night to near the "new enemy line". The "new Australian line" would go to the northeast to the coast. A 2/43rd Battalion meeting was shelled and had killed "3 officers and wounded 4".
In the night of 4 to 5 November, patrols from one battalion had not found any enemy troops. They found by dawn on 5 November that the enemy had gone from the 9th Australian Division area. A patrol of carriers went out and captured 143 Germans at Sidi Abd el Rahman. They had been waiting for transport to pick them up. A company from the 2/15th Battalion was to "occupy the high ground round Sidi Abd el Rahman. The divisional cavalry was sent on to Ghazal. The divisional cavalry was equipped with a mix of Crusaders and Stuart light tanks. They were then ordered to push west to Daba. They were then ordered "to hold Landing Ground 105". They were to wait for the 151st Brigade to arrive. The 2/3rd and 2/13th Field Companies were sent to clear the landing grounds "between Rahman and Daba" of mines. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 04, 2020

4 November 1942 fighting at El Alamein

An attack started at 1:30am when the 5th Indian Brigade broke the enemy screen in the south, missing the enemy strength in the north. The 5th Indian Brigade was able to reach the Rahman track "on a four mile front". At dawn, the attack by a battalion, the7/Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was successful. They captured an enemy headquarters. As a result, the enemy defenses were described as "collapsing".
The 1st Armoured Division moved to the northwest to fight "the last engagement with German armor at El Alamein." The 8th Armoured Brigade pushed west, but was stopped at Tel el Aqqaqir. The 7th Armoured Division  crossed the Rahman track, hit the Italian XX Corps and defeated them. The Ariete Division was part of XX Corps.
The 4th Light Armoured Brigade pushed through at Tel el Aqqaqir. The units designated to participate in chasing the enemy traveled through minefield tracks "into the open". They included the New Zealand Division and the Highland Division and other smaller units. It was about midday that General von Thoma walked into the British lines and surrendered. He was the German Africa Corps commander. He had essentially given up, which was why he had surrendered. We know that from other sources.
The 8th Armoured Brigade had been ordered to move forward to Daba during the night. They wanted them to be there by dawn. During the night, the Royal Dragoons and 4th/6th South Africans (armored cars) had reached Fuka and were causing the enemy a lot of trouble by taking prisoners and doing damage.
By 5:30pm, Rommel had ordered a "general" retreat. That ended the battle at El Alamein. The 90th Light Division and 164th Division survivors, along with what was left of the German armored divisions, had escaped in the north. Because of Hitler's order, Rommel's plan to pull out the Italians, was circumvented and they were left behind to surrender. The Australians in the north found that enemy forces were holding a position about a mile to the west. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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