New Georgia

Introduction

Some people claim that Americans are insufferably arrogant—but it may not be accurate except for Texans.  But even if it were true, American arrogance doesn’t hold a candle to the haughtiness of the Japanese.  In the First World War, the Empire of Japan aligned itself with the Allied powers; in World War II, they joined the Axis powers.  Given their history through the 1920s, the Japanese sense of superiority was second to none.  By 1930, the Imperial Japanese Army Staff was convinced that their island nation of 130 million people could conquer Korea, China, the Philippines, Indochina, and Burma — with a subsequent eye on India — and, while doing it, could also defeat the world’s two most powerful nations: the United Kingdom and the United States.

The result was inevitable.  Japanese arrogance led militarists to underestimate the industrial capacity and willfulness of the Allied powers while overestimating their own.  Until the Second World War, the Japanese had gotten away with their “sneak attacks” on China and Russia.  At a time when the United Kingdom had its hands full in Europe, the United States had only just begun to mobilize its armed forces.  The Japanese decided that the time was right to initiate another series of lightning assaults — and did so at Pearl Harbor, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Guam.  By late 1941, the Japanese scored victory after victory.  The success of these operations convinced the Japanese that their army, navy, and air forces were invincible.

Their first snag occurred on 8 December when the Japanese tangled with a battalion of 450 Marines at Wake Island.  It took the Imperial Japanese Navy fifteen days to take the island away from those Marines.  Japanese losses included two destroyers, one submarine, two patrol boats, 30 destroyed or damaged aircraft, and 551 men.  American casualties included 94 Killed or wounded Marines, 433 captured, twelve aircraft destroyed, 70 civilian construction crew killed, and 1,104 civilians interned (180 of whom died in captivity).

The Japanese might have learned something important from this misadventure were it not for their arrogance — but by then, they were already committed to a course of action that would become a disaster for the Japanese people.  Elsewhere, the Japanese seized the Netherlands Indies, and Malaya for much-needed oil.  Moreover, beyond their desire for self-sufficiency, Japan needed to consolidate its hold over Asian Pacifica. 

Consolidation meant setting up an Imperial defense structure — a line along which the Japanese could thwart any Allied effort to encroach into these new Japanese territories.  It was a very long defense line — looping from the Kuriles through Wake to the Marshall Islands, the Gilbert Islands, westward to the Bismarck Archipelago, Timor, Java, Sumatra, Malaya, and Burma.  The task of defending such a large area was far more than the Japanese military could handle.  By the time senior Japanese officers came to this realization (in the spring of 1942), it was already too late to change the game plan.  In any case, Japanese culture would not allow senior officers to acknowledge their errors.  Japanese arrogance hastened their ultimate defeat.

The Japanese Target Rabaul

In January 1942, Japanese troops overpowered an Australian garrison at Rabaul, located on the southwest Pacific Island of New Britain (now part of New Guinea).  Having taken Rabaul, the Japanese wasted no time transforming it into a significant base and anchorage and garrisoning the island with more than 100,000 troops.

Eighteen months later, the Imperial Japanese Staff ordered a withdrawal of their land forces back toward the home islands.  Within that time, allied forces thwarted the Japanese from taking Alaska, defeated the Imperial Navy in the Coral Sea, and sank four Japanese aircraft carriers during the Battle of Midway.  These losses were unrecoverable.  At Midway, Japan lost most of its experienced combat pilots.  The losses were substantial enough to cause Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to question his ability to engage the British and Americans head-on.

New Georgia

By seizing Rabaul, the Japanese painted a giant target on their backs.  The Allied commanders adopted an aggressive counteroffensive that called for a series of amphibious assaults on selected Japanese-held islands as part of a drive toward the Philippines and the Japanese home islands.  It was an island-hopping strategy that counted on the belief that isolating Japanese defensive forces (such as those at Rabaul) would be as effective as destroying them in combat — as far less costly to Allied troops.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed General Douglas MacArthur to serve as Commander, Southwest Pacific Area, and directed him to generate a plan to deal with Japanese objectives in that theater of operations.  While MacArthur was working up his battle plan, Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, then serving as the Chief of Naval Operations, began working on a plan of his own.  General MacArthur saw the task as suitable for an Army operation; King disagreed.  Island hopping would require the overall command of a Navy admiral.  Both officers petitioned the President for his approval.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt had already signaled his preference that the United States prioritize military and naval efforts against Nazi Germany.  He turned to the Army Chief of Staff, General of the Army George C. Marshal, to solve the problem.  Marshal developed a compromise plan involving three stages.  The first stage would be the responsibility of the Navy’s Pacific commander, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and the other two would proceed under MacArthur’s direction.

Allied leaders agreed that Japanese naval and military strength at Rabaul made New Britain a priority.  However, at this early stage in the war, the United States lacked sufficient amphibious landing craft and was still in the process of building combat divisions.  Taking Rabaul was simply not immediately feasible.  Instead, the Allies agreed to surround and cut off Rabaul through amphibious operations with limited objectives.  The effort became known as Operation Cartwheel and involved New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Stage One was Operation Watchtower — a naval campaign against Tulagi, Guadalcanal, and the Santa Cruz Islands.  The commander of Watchtower was Vice Admiral William F. Halsey.  MacArthur’s task was to capture the northeastern coast of New Guinea and the central Solomon Islands and, once accomplished, destroy, or disrupt Imperial Japanese forces at Rabaul and outlying air bases.  At this stage in the war, both Halsey and MacArthur competed for men and material adequate for their several tasks.

Guadalcanal turned into a long engagement (7 August 1942 – 9 February 1943), but the fighting wasn’t over when the Japanese withdrew.  Another long, grueling campaign opened in New Guinea and several islands in the Solomon Chain. 

Dislodging the Japanese from New Guinea became a monumental task involving the combined efforts of the army and naval forces of the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.  These tasks would last through late August 1945.

One crucial step in this process would be the capture of the New Georgia island group — and the most vital objective on New Georgia was the Japanese airbase at Munda Point, located on the main island’s southwest tip.  What made this a monumental battle was that most of the Allied land forces experienced combat for the first time.

Marine Raiders seized the Russell Islands on 21 February 1943, and although the Marines landed unopposed, the landing itself prompted the Japanese to begin fortifying their advanced bases by sea.

To counter the Japanese reinforcement effort, General MacArthur ordered air assaults against Japanese shipping and aircraft — known as the Battle of the Bismarck Sea (early March 1943) (see map).  Japanese losses in both men and material were significant.

Admiral Yamamoto countered by initiating Operation I-Go, an ongoing series of air attacks against Allied airfields and anchorages at Guadalcanal and New Guinea.  Isoroku Yamamoto was a distinguished graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy.  He was a wounded combat veteran of the Russo-Japanese War, a graduate of Harvard University, and served two tours of duty as a naval attaché in the United States.  His English was impeccable.

Admiral Yamamoto was not someone the Allies wanted to contend with.  Unbeknownst to the Japanese, high-ranking Allied commanders regularly read Japan’s coded radio signals.  When MacArthur became aware that Yamamoto was organizing a command liaison visit to Bougainville, having first obtained presidential authorization, he ordered the Army Air Corps to locate Yamamoto’s aircraft and shoot it down.  This was accomplished on 18 April 1943.  Yamamoto’s death was a massive blow to the Imperial Japanese Staff.  The only senior Japanese naval officer who came close to Yamamoto’s capabilities was Admiral Mineichi Koga. 

Vice Admiral Halsey’s task of capturing dozens of islands was a complicated undertaking — for a wide range of reasons.  While stateside commands and Pacific Area Commanders pushed forward the men and materials needed for the Solomon Islands campaign, it fell upon Halsey to protect these ships until off-loaded.  Moreover, shipping channels around the islands involved in the operations were narrow, making Halsey’s ships vulnerable to Japanese shore batteries, aerial attacks, and submarine operations.  Sub-surface coral reefs and barrier islands also impeded Navy operations.

Admiral Halsey decided to begin his assault by launching amphibious operations against smaller (outlying) islands before landing troops on the main island of New Georgia — the focus of which was to capture the Japanese airfield at Munda Point.  Munda Point would play a critical role as an Allied air base supporting ongoing operations toward Bougainville and Rabaul.

The campaign against secondary islands began on 30 June 1943.  The assault on mainland New Georgia started a few days later.  With Marine Corps attachments, the U.S. 43rd Infantry Division landed on the southern shore on 2 July.  The 1st Marine Raider Battalion, working with two battalions of the U.S. 37th Infantry Regiment, landed on the island’s northwestern coast on 5 July.

Both amphibious landings were successful, but simultaneous drives inland quickly bogged down.  The island’s terrain was rugged, with natural obstacles impeding progress.  Infantry, artillery, and logistical support troops fell prey to the tropical heat, malaria, ringworm, fungal infection, dysentery, and beriberi.  It wasn’t long before these young fighters became exhausted.  Japanese soldiers steadfastly resisted every foot of the Allied advance.  At night, when the Allied forces collapsed into the defensive fighting positions, endless Japanese banzai attacks shattered their morale, exhausted them even more, and the ever-present smell of death became a constant reminder of the horror of war.

In one incident involving the U.S. 43rd Infantry, crafty Japanese tactics terrorized the American soldiers and confused them to the extent of fighting and killing their own men, both by shooting them and stabbing them to death with their bayonets.  In one report, a regimental commander stated, “Some men knifed each other.  Men threw hand grenades blindly, often in the wrong direction.  Some grenades hit trees and bounced back and exploded among the Americans.  In the morning, there was no trace of dead Japanese — but dozens of dead and wounded Americans.”  The Allied advance bogged down even more as these troops exhibited shell shock and combat fatigue.

U.S. Army Lieutenant General Oscar Griswold, Commanding General XIV Corps, arrived on New Georgia Island on 11 July.  His assessment was depressing.  The U.S. 43rd Infantry Division was “shot.”  Shortly after receiving his report, Griswold was ordered to take over land operations in New Georgia.  His first act was to pull his men back for much-needed rest and resupply.  The delay was operationally justified but also gave the Japanese time to refine their defensive positions.

Griswold’s renewed attack began on 25 July 1943 with the U.S. 43rd Division, U.S. 25th Division, and U.S. 37th Division working as a team to provide mutual support.  U.S. Marine Sherman tanks, artillery, naval gunfire, and air support aided in the advance until the corps ran into heavily fortified Japanese bunkers.  As the Allies maneuvered for field advantages, Japanese snipers picked off soldiers carrying flamethrowers, and isolated tanks were overrun and destroyed.  Japanese night operations continued to play havoc among the American combat divisions during the advance.

But the Americans soon learned how to fight the Japanese and began to give as well as they received.  Young combat leaders learned how to coordinate their operations with adjacent units and became more efficient in delivering artillery and mortar fire.  It was a rapid (and deadly) learning curve.  In only four days, the Japanese began to pull back to their final defensive line before Munda Point.

The Japanese refused to give up anything without a massive fight, which the Americans gave them between 29 July and 5 August.  Within two weeks of the final battle, Allied aircraft were using Munda Point against Japanese forces at other locations in the Solomon Islands.

As the fight for Munda Point was going on, other Allied troops made amphibious landings in the northern portion of New Georgia at Viru Harbor (on the south coast), Wickham Anchorage (on Vangunu Island and Rendova).  Additional fighting erupted on Arundel Island in August and September.  After U.S. and New Zealand troops landed on Vella Lavella, the Allied Commander was able to terminate the operation on 7 October 1943.

Conclusion

It is not known when the Japanese realized that they could not hold on to their line of defense for the home islands, much less the Solomons, but what became readily apparent in short order was that the Pacific War campaigns became battles of attrition.  It may have been Yamamoto who first came to that conclusion.  The Japanese could not replace their war dead — and it was only a matter of time before Imperial Japan collapsed upon itself.  After the Solomon Islands campaign, the Japanese embarked upon a new defensive strategy: defense in depth.  The Japanese were willing to sacrifice everyone and take with them as many Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen as possible.

Soon enough, Admiral Yamamoto’s replacement, Admiral Mineichi Koga, would fall back to the island of Bougainville, where it would be easier to reinforce and resupply.  There were several problems with this Japanese thinking.  First, to briefly return to the arrogance problem, the Japanese had difficulty admitting to mistakes — especially those of high magnitude.  Second, after having embarked upon this ruinous course of action, there was no way to reverse course and “save face.”  Third, Admiral Koga was no Yamamoto.

In fairness to Admiral Koga, the entire Solomon Islands fight was overwhelming to the Japanese, whose industrial production was inadequate to the military’s demand.  In comparison, American shipyards were producing one Liberty ship per day.  Additionally, geography didn’t favor the Japanese strategic plan.  The Solomon Island chain included six major islands and dozens of smaller ones.  The distance of the chain was five-hundred miles.  North of Guadalcanal lay eleven “main islands” of the Central Solomons.  New Georgia was the largest of these.  Bougainville was the northernmost island in the chain, some 300 miles distant.  Bougainville is 130 miles long and 30 miles wide — and this is where Koga decided to fight.

Given his seniority, Admiral Koga was no student of warfare — or history.  In earlier decades, the Japanese were fascinated by the German war machine — and yet, the Imperial Japanese Staff seemed unaware of the lessons taught by Carl von Clausewitz.  The Japanese didn’t concentrate their limited forces on land or sea and suffered the consequences.  In this case, the effects were two massive atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  But even then, the fighting on Bougainville continued from November 1943 until mid-August 1945.

Note: For a treat in the history of the Pacific War, visit Pacific Paratrooper.

Australia and the Vietnam War

Background

One effect of the Truman Doctrine, although implemented during the Eisenhower Administration, was the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty (also the Manila Pact), signed on 8 September 1954.  The treaty sought to create bilateral and collective mutual defense treaties with member states in Southeast Asia.  The treaty not only formalized alliances but also sent an important message to Communist China that member states would not tolerate an expansion of communism through nefarious means.  SEATO was the brainchild of Soviet expert and historian George F. Kennan, who served in the Truman State Department but was implemented by Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles.  The model for SEATO was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

SEATO’s headquarters was located in Bangkok, Thailand.  Like NATO, SEATO was headed by a Secretary General, an office created in 1957 at a meeting held in Canberra.  An international professional staff supported the council of representatives (from member states) and various committees to consider and advise on such matters as international economics, security, and information/public affairs.  SEAT’s first Secretary General was a Thai diplomat named Pote Sarasin, formerly Thailand’s ambassador to the United States and his country’s prime minister from September 1957 to 1 January 1958.

Unlike the NATO alliance, SEATO had no joint military or naval command; no forces were standing by as a preventative measure; it was one of the organization’s significant fallacies.  As bad, SEATO’s response protocol in the event of communism presenting a common danger to member states was vague and ineffective — although the SEATO alliance did provide a rationale for large-scale U.S. military intervention between 1955-1975.

Despite its name, most of SEATO’s member states were located outside the region, interested in the area or the organization itself.  These were Australia (administering Papua New Guinea), France (recently having relinquished French Indochina),[1] New Zealand, Pakistan,[2] the Philippines, Thailand, the United Kingdom (administrator of Hong Kong, North Borneo, and Sarawak), and the United States.

The Philippines and Thailand were the only Southeast Asian countries participating in the organization — primarily because they were the only two member countries threatened by communist insurgencies.  Thailand was motivated to join SEATO by its fear of Maoist subversion in the Thai Autonomous Region.  Burma and Indonesia were more concerned about internal political instability than any threat of communist insurgency and rejected joining SEATO.  Malaya and Singapore also decided not to participate officially but maintained a close relationship with the United Kingdom.

Geneva Agreements prevented the newly created states formed from French Indochina (North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) from joining the SEATO alliance.  However, North Vietnam provided an ongoing domino threat, turning Indochina into a communist frontier — prompting SEATO to take South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos under its protection.  This argument, offered as early as 1956, prompted the United States to take a greater interest in involvement in South Vietnam.  In 1956, however, Cambodia had no interest in joining SEATO.

The majority of SEATO members were located outside Southeast Asia.  To the Australians and New Zealanders, SEATO was more satisfying than ANZUS.  The U.K. and France joined because of their colonies in the region.  The United States viewed SEATO as an instrument of containment.

The Vietnam War

Australia became involved in the Vietnam War because of concerns about the rise of communism in Southeast Asia following World War II and the fear of it spreading into Australia in the 1950s and early 1960s.

After World War II, France tried to reassert its control over its former colony, then named French Indochina.  During the war, French Indochina was controlled by the Vichy French government (an ally of the Axis Powers) and occupied by Japan throughout the war.  After the war, Vietnamese nationalists under Ho Chi Minh objected to the French reoccupation of its former colony — initiating the First Indochina War.  After France’s defeat in 1954, Geneva Accords led to the splitting of the country at the 17th Parallel North.  The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) was almost immediately recognized by the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the State of Vietnam.[3]

The Geneva Accord of 1954 imposed a deadline of 31 July 1956 for the governments of the two Vietnams to hold elections with a view toward re-uniting the country under one government.  In 1955, State of Vietnam Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem deposed Bao Dai and declared himself President of the Republic of Vietnam (also South Vietnam).  He then refused to participate in the national referendum, but in fairness, Diem and Minh had always had the same goal: to become the leader of one Vietnam.  Later, American politicians sold the idea of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam as necessary to “defend” South Vietnam from communist absorption.  It was a blatant lie — or, as John Paul Vann argued, “A Bright Shining Lie.”

Once the election deadline passed, North Vietnamese military commanders began preparing a plan for the invasion of South Vietnam.  Over the next several years, the northern attack took the form of an insurgency campaign, subversion, sabotage, assassination, and terror.  In 1957, President Diem visited Australia and received the strong support of Prime Minister Robert Menzies, the Liberal Party of Australia, and the Australian Labor Party.  Diem was notable among Australian Catholics for pursuing policies that discriminated in favor of Vietnamese Catholics against traditional Buddhists.

By 1962, the situation in South Vietnam had become so unstable that Diem submitted a request for assistance to the United States (and its allies) to counter the growing communist (DRV) insurgency and the threat it posed to South Vietnam’s security.  Following Diem’s petition, the U.S. began to send military advisors to provide tactical and logistical advice to the South Vietnamese military establishment.  At the same time, the U.S. sought to increase the legitimacy of the South Vietnamese government and discredit North Vietnamese propaganda.  Australia, as an American ally, joined the pro-Vietnamese Republic coalition.  In the ten years between 1962 and 1972, Australia committed 60,000 military personnel to the Vietnam War, including ground troops, naval assets, and air forces.

Australian Military Advisors

While assisting the British during the Malayan Emergency, Australia and New Zealand military forces gained considerable experience in jungle warfare and counter-insurgency operations.  This was particularly important to U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who in 1962 admitted to Australians and New Zealanders that the U.S. military knew very little about jungle warfare.  On this note, Australia and New Zealand believed they could contribute most to the Vietnamese emergency by providing military advisors with expertise in jungle warfare.

The Australian government’s initial response was to send thirty military advisors to Vietnam as the Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam (AATTV) — colloquially referred to as The Team.  These troops, both officers and NCOs, were experts in jungle warfare.  Led by Colonel Ted Serong, the advisors arrived in Vietnam in July and August 1962 — marking the beginning of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Generally, the relationship between AATTV and U.S. advisors was professional and cordial, with occasional differences of opinion about training and tactics.  Colonel Serong expressed doubt about the value of the U.S. Strategic Hamlet Program at a meeting in Washington, D.C., in 1963, drawing a “violent challenge” from U.S. Marine Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak.  As it turned out, Serong was correct in his assessments, and Krulak was wrong.  The Strategic Hamlet Program was a complete failure — as attested by both John Paul Vann and journalist David Halberstam.

Captain Barry Petersen was another interesting side note about the Australian military advisory period.  The 84-year-old Petersen (who died in 2019 while living in Thailand) was a former Australian Army officer who led top secret CIA operations in South Vietnam’s central highlands.  His work involved raising an anti-communist Montagnard force between 1963 and 1965.  Petersen, operating alone in the mountains, was so successful in organizing native Montagnard forces that within a year, he had more than a thousand militia fighters using the same guerrilla tactics as the Viet Cong: ambush the enemy and disappear into the jungle.  But, as with the fictional character “Colonel Kurtz” in the film Apocalypse Now, Captain Peterson “went native” and was so “out of control” that his CIA handlers eventually insisted that Petersen be tracked down and removed, dead or alive.[4]

Australian Warrant Officer Class Two Kevin Conway and Master Sergeant Gabriel Alamo, U.S. Army, were killed on 6 July 1964 during an attack on the Nam Dong Special Forces Camp.  Conway was Australia’s first Vietnam War battle casualty.

Australia’s Increased Commitment: 1965-1970

During mid-summer 1964, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) dispatched a flight of Caribou transport aircraft to the coastal town of Vũng Tau.  By the end of the year, nearly 200 Australian military personnel served in South Vietnam — including combat engineers, a surgical team, and a large AATTV team.  In November 1964, Australia imposed military conscription to provide an increased pool of foot soldiers.  It was not a popular move within the Army or in civilian society, but after that, all Australian units serving in Vietnam contained “national servicemen.” By December 1964, the AATTV increased to 100 men — reflecting that the war was escalating.

In late April 1965, Prime Minister Menzies announced that his government would send an Australian Army battalion to Vietnam.  He sold this idea to the Australian people by saying that a communist victory in Vietnam would threaten Australia’s security.  Which, of course, was pure poppycock.  In any case, Menzies decided against the advice of the Australian defense establishment.

Menzies’ decision resulted in the deployment of the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (also, 1 RAR).  Advance elements of the battalion arrived in South Vietnam in late May 1965, accompanied by a troop of armored personnel carriers from the 4th Battalion, 19th Prince of Wales Light Horse, and several logisticians.  In Vietnam, the Australians were attached to the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade (along with a Royal New Zealand Artillery battery) in Bien Hoa Province.  Throughout the year, Australians participated in combat operations in Gang Toi and Suoi Bong Trang.

1 RTR’s attachment to the U.S. Army revealed important differences between American and Australian military operations — without any detail of what these differences might have been, we only know that military leaders decided to employ Australian combat forces in a discrete province, and this would allow the Australian Army to “fight their own tactical war” independent from the American Armed Forces.

In the spring of 1966, the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) was established in Phước Tuy Province, at Nui Dat.  Ultimately, 1 ATF consisted of three rifle battalions, a squadron of armored personnel carriers, a detachment of the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), and logistical support units of the 1st Australian Logistics Support Group headquartered at Vũng Tau.  By 1967, a squadron of tanks joined 1 ATF, and a battery of New Zealand artillery joined and integrated with a firing battery of the U.S. 35th Field Artillery Regiment.  These combined forces were later designated “ANZAC Battalions.” Collectively, these units assumed responsibility for the security of the Phước Tuy Province.[5]

At the same time, the Australian air contingent was expanded to three squadrons (No. 35, No. 9, and No. 2), including Caribou, Iroquois, and Canberra Bombers.  At its peak, the RAAF included more than750 aviation personnel.  No. 79 Squadron (Sabre fighters) served at Ubon Air Base in Thailand as part of Australia’s SEATO commitment, withdrawn in 1968.

Australia converted the aged aircraft carrier, HMAS Sydney, to a troop carrier. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) contributed a destroyer, helicopter flight, and a diving team. Australian Army and RAAF nurses supported their ground and aviation forces from the outset of their country’s decision to join the war effort, including the 1st Australian Field Hospital (1 AFH) at Vũng Tau.

Vietnamization

After thirty years of frustration dealing with Vietnamese politicians and military leaders and a decade of lying to the American people and SEATO allies about the purpose behind the Vietnam War, the American President decided it was time to turn the war over to the Vietnamese.  If the Vietnamese wanted their freedom, they would have to win it.  Of course, that, too, was part of the lie.  President Nixon called this new policy Vietnamization.  It began in the latter days of the failed presidency of Lyndon Johnson, but even then, it followed an earlier French program called jaunissement (yellowing the war).  Lyndon Johnson’s departure did nothing to end the war; it only caused the war to spread into other areas.

Newly elected Nixon needed policy options, so through Henry Kissinger, he turned to the Rand Corporation (a think tank) for assistance.  The primary advisor from Rand was Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, who told Nixon and Kissinger that winning in Vietnam wasn’t one of the options.  In Ellsberg’s opinion, under two Democratic presidents, South Vietnam had become America’s tar-baby.  Accordingly, Nixon directed the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a six-step withdrawal plan.  Marine Commandant General Leonard F. Chapman remembered, “… the time had come to get out of Vietnam.”

Vietnamization was a process of turning the war over to the Vietnamese.  They would have to fight the land, air, river, and sea battles.  American and allied unit commanders began organizing procedures to turn over all equipment and regional combat authority to the Vietnamese counterparts.

Australia, keen to reduce its footprint in the failed war effort, began its withdrawal in November 1970.  Australia did not replace 8 RTR once it had completed its tour of duty and decided to reduce 1 ATF to two infantry battalions (although retaining significant armor, artillery, and air support).  The TAOR remained unchanged, which added to the burden of control with fewer troops, but in any case, the bulk of VC/NVA activities had ceased in the Bien Tuy area by 1971.[6]

One of the last fights involving Australian forces occurred on 6 – 7 June 1971 at Long Khanh.  In August, Australia and New Zealand correctly decided that if the U.S. was no longer serious about winning the war, there was no justification for keeping their forces involved in a lost cause.  Australian Prime Minister William McMahon announced that 1 ATF would cease operations in October 1971.  1 ATF handed over responsibility for Nui Dat to Vietnamese commanders on 16 October.  4 RTR remained in Vietnam until 9 December 1971.

Australian participation in the military advisory effort continued until the end of 1972.  On 11 January 1973, Australian Governor-General Paul Hasluck formally announced the cessation of combat operations, and the Australian Labor government under Gough Whitlam officially recognized the government of North Vietnam as the sole legitimate authority in Vietnam.  Australian troops remained in Vietnam at the Australian Embassy until 1 July 1973 — marking the first time since World War II (1939) that Australian troops were not involved in a conflict somewhere in the world.

In Remembrance

In total, some 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam between 1962 – 1972.  More than five hundred died in combat, 3,000 received combat wounds, and of the conscripts, 202 perished.  The remains of six missing in action Australians were returned home in 2009.  The war’s cost to the Australian taxpayer was around $300 million.

In 1975, Australia dispatched RAAF transport aircraft to South Vietnam to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees fleeing North Vietnam’s armed invasion.  The first aircraft landed at Tan Son Nhut Airbase on 30 March, but in mid-April, 8 Australian C-130s evacuated Vietnamese to Malaysia and continued supporting the effort by transporting supplies into refugee camps.  These mercy flights terminated when Australia withdrew its embassy from South Vietnam.

Australia’s withdrawal from South Vietnam became a contentious political issue during the elections of 1975.  Noting that 130 Vietnamese employees of the Australian Embassy in Saigon had been left behind during its evacuation, Liberal Malcolm Fraser viciously condemned Whitlam.  Ultimately, Fraser opened Australian borders to refugee settlement in 1975.  In June 2020, 270,000 Vietnamese-born ethnic Vietnamese people were living in Australia.

Endnotes:

[1] Primarily relinquished after the French Foreign Legion was overwhelmingly defeated by Vietnamese communists in 1954.

[2] Including East Pakistan through 1971 (now, Bangladesh).

[3] The State of Vietnam existed from 1949 to late October 1955, created by France as part of the French Union (colonial period).  Vietnam’s head of state was the wealthy playboy Emperor Bao Dai.  The state claimed authority over all of Vietnam during the First Indochina War, although in reality, most of the area was controlled by the DRV. 

[4] Source: The Sydney Morning Harald, 6 March 2019.

[5] Initially, the 1 ATF commander was Brigadier Oliver D. Jackson.  Below him, Lieutenant Colonel John Warr and Lieutenant Colonel Colin Townsend commanded 5 RAR and 6 RAR, respectively.  Jackson’s command also included the 1 APC  Squadron, 1st Field Regiment (RAA) (including the New Zealand 161st Battery) (105mm and 155mm howitzers), 3 SAS, 1st Field Squadron, 21st Engineers, 103rd Signals Squadron, 161st Reconnaissance Squadron, and an intelligence detachment.

[6] By 1971, the Viet Cong had been all but destroyed by American and allied forces.  All VC units became heavily reliant on re-staffing or reorganization by NVA units.


A Brave Australian

Captain Albert Jacka, V.C., M.C.

AUS ARMY 001I could not disagree more with the “journalist” Tom Brokaw when he labeled our fathers and grandfathers from World War II the “greatest generation.”  Sociologists and other eggheads want us to know that the greatest generation followed the lost generation of World War I and preceded the silent generation of the 1960s.  Balderdash.  There may have been good reasons for disillusionment among the World War I generation, it was, after all, a horrible war.  Bad memories plague all combat veterans for the balance of their lives.  The silent generation (1928-1945) was hardly silent in mounting massive numbers of anti-war protest in the 1960s[1].

My problem with Brokaw is that in singling out one generation over another he renders a tremendous disservice to those who fought in all our wars, beginning with the American Revolution.  A terrible price was paid in each of these.  Were the soldiers of World War I less brave than those of World War II?  Were the men of World War II any more courageous than those who fought in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq?  Personally, I have room in my heart for all these men; the horror of war significantly changed, and sometimes shortened, their lives.  They experienced diminished lifespans, painful war disability, and tormented sleepless nights for the balance of their time on earth.

Service men and women of all generations are worthy of our interest and respect.  Many of these stand out because they participated in momentous events, others because of their personal bravery.  Every combat soldier runs the risk of death or serious injury, and yet when it is time to muster for battle, they overcome their basest fears, they “fall in,” they perform their duty, and they stand as one.

Nearly all nations have decorations to bestow upon men (and now, women) who outperform all others during the crucible of war.  Countries assign seniority over their medals, a precedence from highest to lowest honors.  In the United States, we award Purple Heart Medals to those wounded or killed in action.  The highest decoration in the United States, awarded for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty is the Medal of Honor, first authorized by the Department of the Navy in 1861.

Victoria CrossThe highest military decoration of the British Empire[2] (now, United Kingdom-British Commonwealth) is the Victoria Cross, authorized in 1854 (during the Crimean War).  The Victoria Cross distinguishes those demonstrating conspicuous bravery, valor, self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.  It differs from earlier forms of recognition for gallantry in the sense that the Victoria Cross did not discriminate according to birth or class.  Queen Victoria presented the first medals at Hyde Park in 1857.  Today, the highest military decoration of Australia (a British Commonwealth nation) is the Victoria Cross of Australia, generally awarded by the Governor-General of Australia[3].

In 1915, Australia was part of the British Empire.  One hundred five years ago, the London Gazette published a brief announcement stating that King George V[4] had awarded Lance Corporal Albert Jacka the Victoria Cross.  No one in London knew who Albert Jacka was because he was a somewhat obscure young man from Australia.

Albert was born on a dairy farm just outside Winchelsea, Victoria, Australia on 10 January 1893.  He was the fourth of seven children born to Nathaniel Jacka and his English-born wife Elizabeth.  He attended primary school, as most children of that period did, and then began working with his father as a freight hauler.  When the Great War began, Albert was a 21-year old employee of the Forestry Department at Heathcote.  His work involved the installation of fencing, clearing fire breaks, and planting saplings.  At the time, he was one of twenty such employees.

JACKA A LCPL 001Albert enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) on 8 September 1914; after initial training, he joined the 14th Battalion, 4th Brigade.  Turkey’s affiliation with the Axis powers prompted the dispatch of the 4th Brigade to the Middle East as part of the 1st Australian Division.  Their mission was to guard the Suez Canal and undergo additional pre-combat training.  Jacka’s first combat action exposed him to violent brutality.  He was but one of thousands of young men who participated in the ill-conceived Australian landing at Gallipoli[5] on 25 April 1915, a battle that began the disastrous nine-month campaign that claimed the lives of more than 8,000 young Australians.

At 0330 on 19 May 1915, the Turks launched a small-unit assault against the ANZAC[6] line at Courtney’s Post.  After tossing hand-grenades into the Australian position, the Turks leapt into the trench.  Jacka’s squad received the brunt of the explosions; three of Jacka’s men died instantly from the effects of the grenades with the rest of them receiving wounds from grenade fragments and gun fire.  Lance Corporal Jacka alone remained unaffected.  Jacka ordered the evacuation of his men while he alone remained behind to provide covering fire.  He held off the Turks until the platoon commander sent up a few reinforcements.

Jacka Assault 1915Jacka was not a big man.  He stood just over 5’ 6” tall, but his pre-military service employment had developed him into a muscular man of considerable strength.  He was also a man devoted to his unit, his mates, and a man possessed of rugged determination.  With only three men initially sent to reinforce him, Lance Corporal Jacka ordered them to fix bayonets.  He would lead the charge back to Courtney’s Post, they would follow him.  With this small force of four men, Jacka launched a counterattack against the Turks.  In the ensuing fight, one additional Australian fell, mortally wounded; concentrated Turkish rifle fire forced Jacka to withdraw his fire team and call for additional reinforcements.

When those reinforcements arrived, Jacka organized them.  He instructed them to lay down a base of fire against the Turks.  After his men took up their firing positions, Jacka crawled out of the trench, crossed an area of “no man’s land,” and re-entered the trench behind the Turks.  He then assaulted the Turks, shooting five of them, bayoneting two others, and taking three prisoners of war.  Jacka then held Courtney’s Post alone until daybreak when additional soldiers re-manned the trench.

As the war continued, casualties mounted.  The Battle of Chunuk Blair, an Australian attempt to break out of the beachhead, added thousands more to the list of dead and wounded.  In their hemmed in positions, the Australians had no tactical advantage.  In recognition of his sustained courage under fire, Lance Corporal Jacka’s commanding officer promoted him to corporal in late August, again to sergeant two weeks later, and by mid-November, he served as company sergeant major.

In July 1915, the British government announced that King George had awarded Jacka he Victoria Cross.  He was then 22-years of age, making him the first Australian to receive the VC during World War I.  The award also entitled him to £500 per month, which at the time was an enormous sum of money.

In early December 1915, after nine months of fighting with no strategic or tactical gains, and with an excess of 26,000 casualties, the Australians began their withdrawal from Gallipoli.  Jacka’s battalion withdrew to Egypt where, after a few weeks, Jacka’s command assigned him to officer training school.  Passing with high marks, Jacka received his commission to second lieutenant.  During this time, the Australian Imperial Force received replacements and underwent a period of reorganization.  Some of the combat experienced men from the 14th Battalion transferred to the 46th Battalion; the 4th Brigade combined with the 12th and 13th to form the 4th Australian Division.

Over the next three years Jacka’s battlefield bravery in France and Belgium became an inspiration to those back home.  One Australian battalion began calling itself “Jacka’s Mob.”  Yet, despite becoming a hero to the folks back home, Jacka fell out of favor with the officers in his chain of command.  Apparently, Jacka began to criticize and question the orders passed down through the ranks, which in Jacka’s opinion, foolishly placed his men in harm’s way.

In late July, Jacka found himself embroiled in the Battle of Pozières near the French village of the same name during the Somme Campaign.  The costly fighting ended with the British in possession of a plateau north and east of the village and positioned to menace the German position at Thiepval.  According to one Australian historian, “the Pozières  ridge is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.”  Jacka again demonstrated exceptional bravery on 7 August.

In the early dawn hours, German troops swept through the ANZAC ranks and at one point, infiltrated Jacka’s position.  At the end of the assault, only seven Australians remained uninjured.  Jacka was one of the wounded.  As the Germans began rounding up Anzac prisoners Jacka formed the surviving men and led them in an attack.  Jacka’s small force made a vigorous assault upon the Germans and engaged them in hand-to-hand fighting.  Jacka received multiple wounds during the engagement and just as the Germans began to encircle the eight men, Aussie reinforcements arrived.  Many Germans were killed, more than fifty taken prisoner, and the Australian captives freed.

Jacka finally fell with his seventh combat wound when a bullet passing through his body just under his shoulder.  Four of the seven men who fought with him died in the assault.  As Jacka was lifted from the ground and placed on a stretcher, one orderly remarked that he must be the bravest man in the Australian Army.  Such a statement, obviously communicated with respect and admiration, is probably not true; there were many brave men serving in the Australian Army during World War I.  Not everyone’s courage was recognized or reported upon.  Nevertheless, Jacka’s superior officers remembered his border-line insubordination and, therefore, were hesitant to recommend him for a second combat award.

Medically evacuated to Britain, Jacka received the Victoria Cross at Windsor Castle in September 1916.  It was a great honor, of course, but he was at the same time resentful that his actions at Pozières were not similarly recognized.  Jacka received a promotion to lieutenant in December 1916 and resumed his regular duties.

In March 1917, Jacka was promoted to captain and appointed to serve as the 14th Battalion’s intelligence officer.  In early April 1917, the 4th Australian Division operated on the western front under the 1st ANZAC Corps of the British Fifth Army, which was then engaged in support of the Third Army in the Battle of Arras.  The operation called for a flanking movement and time was of the essence.  The lack of artillery dictated the use of a company of (12) tanks to crush the barbed wire and lead the attacking force into the Hindenburg Line.  The tanks were late in arriving, however, and the 4th Australian Division’s attack was therefore delayed.  The 4th Australian Divisions adjacent command, the 62nd Division did not receive the message to postpone the attack and its forward element advanced into the Bullecourt defenses resulting in 162 casualties before they withdrew back into the British line.  The mistake was costly too because by advancing before the Fifth Army was ready for a coordinated effort, the Germans were made aware of the Allied intention.

The German troops feared Allied tanks, the result of which prompted the Germans to concentrate their crew-served weapons on these terrifying weapons and the Germans learned that the tanks were vulnerable to armor piercing projectiles.  On the night of 8 April, Jacka conducted a reconnaissance patrol into “no man’s land” to investigate German defenses before a scheduled Allied attack.  While laying markers to guide assault troops, he captured a two-man German patrol.  For this action, Jacka would eventually receive a bar (indicating second award) of the Military Cross.  The Battle of Bullecourt, however, was a disaster for the Australians of the 4th Brigade … much of this attributed to the incompetence of the Fifth Army commander, some of it because the British were only beginning to come to terms with the concept of tank-infantry coordination.  Of approximately 3,000 Australians attached to the 4th Brigade, 2,339 men were either killed or wounded.

In June, Captain Jacka was appointed to command Company D, 14th Battalion and led his company through the Battle of Messines Ridge.  During this engagement, Company D overran several machine gun positions and captured a German field gun.  On 8 July, Jacka was again wounded by sniper fire near Ploeqsteert Wood.  After two months of hospitalization, he returned to the front in late September and took command of the 14th Battalion during the Battle of Polygon Wood.

In May 1918, Jacka suffered injury from a mustard gas attack outside the village of Villers-Bretonneux, his condition made worse by also being shot in the trachea.  His wound and condition were so severe that he was not expected to survive.  He was eventually returned to the United Kingdom for a long recuperative period.

Jacka returned to Australia on 6 September 1919 and he was discharged from military service on 10 January 1920.  Albert Jacka never fully recovered from his wounds, which were several and severe.  He passed away in 1932, aged 39 years.  Captain Jacka was one hell of a soldier, fierce and dangerous to an opposing enemy.  There are those in Australia who believe that Captain Jacka deserved three awards of the Victoria Cross; some argue that it was only British snobbery that kept him from being so recognized, but historians refute this claim.  Jacka’s superiors, the men he too-frequently criticized, were Australians and it was they who refused to recommend him for subsequent awards of the Victoria Cross.

Jacka A PortraitWar is horribly brutal.  War time events create memories that never go away.  People who experience war relive it in their minds for the balance of their lives.  They experience flashbacks and nightmares for the rest of their days.  People who never experienced combat may empathize with our combat veterans, but they will never fully understand combat.  If the folks back home fully understood war, they would never again allow their governments to send their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers or sisters into the jaws of death.  Lessons from the past are always useful in the present, but only if we are wise enough to learn from them.  So far in human history, we either have not learned anything, or we conveniently ignore the facts.

All the men and women of our armed forces are brave, no matter what war they fought in, irrespective of war time era and Tom Brokaw is wrong to suggest one greater than another.  If this were not true, then our young men and women would never don a military uniform.  That said, some of our men and women are more than brave; they are incredibly so.  One of these incredibly brave men was an Australian named Albert Jacka.

Sources:

  • Grant, I.  Jacka, VC: Australia’s Finest Fighting Soldier(South Melbourne, Victoria: Macmillan Australia, 1989.
  • Lawriwsky, M.  Hard Jacka: The Story of a Gallipoli Legend(Chatswood, N.S.W.: Mira Books, 2007.
  • Macklin, R.  Jacka VC: Australian Hero(Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2006.

Endnotes

[1] I often wonder if these people protested the wars in Korean and Vietnam as much as they protested having to serve their country.

[2] 1497-1997

[3] The Governor-General of Australia is the British monarch’s representative in Australia and serves as head of state.

[4] Grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II.

[5] The landing at Gallipoli was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, then serving as First Lord of the Admiralty.

[6] Australian-New Zealand Army Corps