hawkeye (hawkeye7) wrote,

Blamey bashing

Another thing that won't appear in the thesis is a lot of Blamey and MacArthur bashing. The origins of this actually pre-date the war. In Blamey's case, much of it can be traced to his time as Chief of Police in Victoria.

I got this in the e-mail yesterday, from an anonymous address, so I'll reproduce the relevant part here:

I looked up Blamey because of a conversation I had with a man who served in the Middle East and New Guinea. He said Blamey sent the first troops into New Guinea in clothing they used in the desert which Blamey said was suitable. He ignored strong advice from people with personal experience in the region. My friend said they had no mosquito net, no jungle dress with long sleeves and in shorts. He said malaria took huge toll. Also .303's were not suited to jungle warfare. The latter probably could not be helped, but to think of the large number of men who died by Blamey ignorance or stupidity, my friend called it.

My thesis does not cover this period but the succeeding one from 1943 to the end of the war. Dr John Moremon has covered the campaign in Papua and this will appear as a book in due course. It covers all these issues and many more.

In 1942, the equipment required for jungle warfare was simply not available. It was not available because of the policies of the Australian government in the decade before the war. As a result, the Australian Army was not prepared to fight a war in 1939 in New Guinea, and in fact not anywhere. As late as 1940, the conservative government of the day refused to produce 25 pounders in Australia. The troops were equipped with what had been back from France in 1918, and from the Middle East in 1942. Put bluntly, the Australian people paid the price for their neglect of their Army in the 1930s.

General Blamey was personally involved in the procurement of suitable clothing, of submachine guns, of cookers, of and more. The man who had advocated the periscope rifle at Gallipoli had lost none of his determination to employ technology to the fullest to save the lives of his soldiers. Training was greatly improved and in 1943 the Australian Army would go into battle better trained and prepared. But in Papua, the Army was forced to fight while it was still together the logistical organisation

The SMLE .303 rifle, being originally designed as a carbine, was actually quite suitable for jungle warfare, and was not replaced during the war. However, the benefits of a rifle were somewhat reduced by the poor visibility in the jungle. Under conditions in which action was infrequent and at closer ranges, the submachine gun was favoured. The Australian Army procured large numbers of Thompson SMGs and the excellent Owen Gun was developed locally.

In the fight against Malaria, it was Blamey who gave the highest priority to anti-malarials in 1942 and he established the research organisation that developed Atebrine. The work undertaken by the Army at Cairns not only developed new anti-malarial but greatly enhanced the understanding of the disease, which was poor in 1942. The need to wear long trousers and long sleeves was not appreciated even by the experts. Attempts to secure adequate supplies of Quinine in Java in 1942 had miscarried in the chaos and operations began before the new anti-malarials were ready. Milne Bay especially was highly malarious. The toll taken by Malaria in 1942 plummeted in 1943 and 1944 with the help of Atebrine, and the Australian Army would pursue the Japanese into the most Malarious areas. After the war, Blamey pushed the foundation of the John Curtin School of Medicine so that this would not happen again.

At the time there was considerable criticism of Blamey for choosing to fight in New Guinea at all. It was felt that one division could have held Port Moresby Tobruk-style. Many armchair strategists felt that the large forces that Blamey had concentrated in New Guinea would be cut off by Japanese air and sea power like the troops in Malaya had been. I don't agree with this. My argument is that fighting a war of attrition in New Guinea led to the collapse of the Japanese war machine and an early victory in the war against Japan.

If you want to accuse someone of ignorance or stupidity, try the governments of the 1930s. Herein lies issue, for it is no secret that the Army currently suffers from a decade of neglect and yet is being committed to potentially costly campaigns without the resources it needs to fight them. In the event of another major conflict, the Army may once again be forced to trade the lives of its soldiers for the time it needs to rectify this situation.
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