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Issue #1913      May 4, 2020

AUSTRALIA PLAYED BIG PART IN DEFEAT OF NAZISM

Australians will ever be proud that our famous Ninth Division played a major part in Field-Marshal Montgomery’s first step on the march which ended on the River Elbe, Germany, with the capitulation of 2,500,000 fascist troops.

On July 10, 1942, the Ninth Division of the AIF joined in attack at El Alamein (Egypt) with Monty’s Eighth Army.

It was the turning point of the war in Africa, just as Stalingrad was for eastern front.

Monty’s Eighth went on to drive Rommel out of Africa and followed his troops into Italy.

Monty transferred to the Command of the British forces which opened the Second Front just two years after Alamein.

In that memorable battle the Ninth division faced the main mass of Rommel’s Panzer Corps.

The British official report on the battle stated: “The Ninth Australian division put up a magnificent effort. They fought themselves and the enemy to a standstill, till flesh, and blood could stand no more. Then they went on fighting.”

At the parade of the Division at Gaza on December 22, 1942, General Alexander said:

“The battle of El Alamein will make history and you are in the proud position of having taken a major part in that great victory.

“Your reputation as fighters has always been famous, but I do not believe that you have ever fought with greater bravery or distinction than you did during that battle, when you broke the German and Italian Armies in the Western Desert.”

In February the Ninth Division returned to Australia, to carry on the same fight but in a different sector of the war – a fight that still goes on today as our men face the enemy in Borneo, New Guinea and Bougainville.

BARDIA VICTORY

But the Ninth Divvy boys were not the only Australians to take part in the fighting against the Germans and Italian fascists.

When the Second AIF first went into action at Bardia a few days before Christmas, 1940, the Diggers marched into battle gladly, knowing that they were fighting fascism.

Advance guards of the Sixth Division had been in the Middle East since January, 1940, but Bardia was the first action, with Sixth Division units fighting alongside British Tommies.

Bardia, considered impregnable by Mussolini and his generals, fell in a few days. The Diggers had gloriously raised once more the flag that had won the admiration of the world on the rugged slopes of Gallipoli.

THE RATS OF TOBRUK

From Bardia the Australians and Tommies moved on to Tobruk, which fell in a few days. The 16th brigade stayed in Tobruk, with some seventh Division engineers. The advance across the desert continued for miles. The Ninth Division now fed the Sixth in Cyrenaica, the Sixth going to Greece.

Short of vehicles and weapons, the ninth were forced back, and then came epic siege of Tobruk. When the Italians failed to break through our defences, the Germans tried with tanks, flame-throwers, machine-guns,

But the Diggers, contemptuously referred to as “Rats of Tobruk” by Lord Haw-Haw, changed the name into a title of glory.

GREECE AND CRETE

Sixth Division landed in Greece in beginning of April, 1941. The Germans invaded Greece on April 6, with overwhelming ground and air superiority.

The Australians, fighting without sufficient equipment or reserves, under fire of their flanks, ceaselessly strafed from the air, were forced to withdraw and finally evacuate [from] April 24.

Many men had been killed, wounded, and left behind, and much equipment lost.

From Greece the Australians went to Crete, again to find themselves short of equipment. The Germans attacked with dive-bombers, paratroops, [among others].

Although short of food and water, Australians and New Zealanders (including Maoris) fought a successful counter-attack near Canea.

But it was a hopeless a fight, without proper ammunition, equipment, food, water, rest. It was not possible to evacuate all our men.

In Greece and Crete, our men had won glory in defeat.

The Axis had many advantages in Syria, where Vinchy leaders had taken control of all key positions, with [...] German “technicians” who were infiltrating into the country.

The Seventh Division, however, carried through its campaign successfully in five weeks, marching alongside Indians, British and Fighting French of [Brigadier general] Gaulle, and suffering 1600 casualties.

The came the story of El Alamein.

RAAF MEN FAMOUS

An outstanding feature of the war has been the magnificent contribution of Australian airmen to the European battles as well as to the conflicts nearer home. Our RAAF men have become famous and popular in every corner of the world.

Although increasing numbers of RAAF personnel are returning to Australia to take part in the mounting offensive against Japan, there are still [thousands of] RAAF air crew in the British theatre.

Of these, nearly 2000 are in Australian squadrons. Since their formation, RAAF squadrons in the United Kingdom have flown [countless] miles, and dropped 52,000 on Nazi-occupied territories.

Enemy trains, transformed stations, motor transports, and tanks have been destroyed by Australian Spitfires and Mosquito squadrons over France and Germany.

The first air squadron from a British Dominion to go into action against the Axis came from Australia. It was the now famous No. 10 Squadron of the RAAF.

Of three RAAF Spitfire squadrons in the United Kingdom, the best known was at one time led by the late Wing-Commander “Paddy” Finucane. The late Squadron-Leader “Bluey” Truscott was another member of this squadron, which shot down sixty-two enemy aircraft in eight months, and was the top-scoring squadron in Fighter Command for three months.

Development of the RAAF to forty times its pre-war strength has cost the Commonwealth Government over £350,000,000.

Apart from operations over Europe and the Middle East, the RAAF has played an important part in the war against Japan both in the Pacific and in India and Burma. And it will continue to do so.

NAVY IN ALL SEAS

When Australia entered the war in September, 1939, she had fifteen commissioned ships in her Navy. Today, the fighting tonnage of the RAN is more than 600 per cent greater, and her naval exploits have contributed to victory in all war theatres.

In the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Australian naval men have helped to man almost every type of ship in the British Navy. Over 200 of them took part in the invasion of Europe.

For 12 months HMAS Sydney fought up and down the Mediterranean, among her victims being the crack Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni.

At Tobruk, during the world-famous siege, five Australian destroyers and one sloop played a vital part in maintaining the famous Tobruk ferry service, one destroyer and the sloop being lost.

This article appeared in Tribune May, 1945.

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