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This week in history: our wartime heritage.

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Media Release The Hon Danna Vale MP   Minister for Veterans' Affairs Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence Federal Member for Hughes

VA161 Monday 10 December 2001

This Week in History - Our Wartime Heritage

Issued by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Danna Vale, to foster awareness of Australia’s wartime history and heritage during the Centenary of Federation.

14-20 December

16 December 1941: The 2/13th Battalion left Tobruk, the last of the Australians involved in the famous siege. Little more than a month later, Tobruk fell to the Germans and some 35 000 British and South African soldiers were taken prisoner. The fortress remained in German hands until November 1942, when it was recaptured following the Allied victory at El Alamein.

17 December 1941: Some 1170 members of Gull Force, including the 2/21st Battalion and detachments of supporting units, landed at Ambon to help Netherlands East Indies troops defend the island against a Japanese invasion. Despite numerous requests from Gull Force’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel L N Roach, Gull Force failed to get reinforcements and Roach was later replaced and returned to Australia. The Japanese invaded Ambon at the end of January 1942. Gull Force was split into two forces, both of which fought hard. Two companies defended an airfield at Laha, where they were surrounded and fought until 2 February, when a surrender was negotiated. Of the 309 Australian troops at Laha and four RAAF airmen who crash-landed there, more than 100 were killed or wounded in the fighting and the survivors of the battle were all executed. The main body of Australian troops surrendered on 3 February and were taken into captivity. Only 363 of the prisoners of war survived the war.

18 December 1942-2 January 1943: The Australian 18th Brigade and the 2/6th Armoured Regiment were involved in fierce fighting at Buna and Cape Endaiadere. American troops had attacked these points repeatedly, making some progress, but were exhausted by heavy casualties from battle and disease. The Australians also suffered heavy casualties in their first attacks but under the command of Brigadier George Wootten succeeded in capturing their first objective, an area between two airfields and the sea. An attempt to sweep westwards on 24 December stalled under heavy fire, which knocked out several 2/6th Armoured Regiment tanks. Another attempt on 29 December also failed and it was not until reinforcements for the 18th Brigade arrived that the Allies were able to silence the Japanese defences and secure the Buna area. At least 1390 Japanese were killed and only 50 prisoners were taken, testament to the determination of the enemy soldiers not to surrender. Allied casualties were 2870, with more than 300 Australians killed and hundreds of others evacuated wounded or sick.

18 December 1944: The 9th Battalion, a militia unit raised in Queensland, captured 'Arty Hill', a key Japanese position on the Numa Numa Trail, leading across central Bougainville. American forces had

begun the advance up the Numa Numa Trail in order to secure their base at Torokina. When the Australian 3rd Division took over the campaign, the Australians pressed on with the advance. Attacking uphill, the 9th Battalion, with air and artillery support, attacked enemy slit-trenches and bunkers on the ridge to push the Japanese out of Arty Hill, suffering a number of casualties in the process.

18-20 December 1915: The last Australian troops left Gallipoli. The evacuation of the Allied troops from Gallipoli was a triumph of careful planning, credited largely to an Australian officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Brudenell White. White’s plan involved a series of elaborate operations from late November to deceive the Turks into believing that the Allies were preparing for winter, rather than planning to leave. From early December, the number of men at Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay was reduced by half and then, on the last two nights, some 20 000 soldiers were taken off in rowboats in almost complete silence. The evacuation of the Anzac force was achieved with hardly a casualty. However, the end of the campaign was little cause for celebration among the Australian troops, many of whom recorded their shame at leaving behind their mates who had fallen in the eight months since the original landings on 25 April 1915. Total Australian casualties at Gallipoli included some 8 700 killed and more than 17 000 wounded.

Media Contact: Mark Croxford (02) 6277 7820 or 0408 645 78


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