7th_Division_(Australia)

7th Division (Australia)

The 7th Division of the Australian Army was formed to serve in World War II, as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF). The 7th Division was raised from regular army units and new, all-volunteer infantry brigades, from April 1940 onwards.

It is sometimes known by the nickname "The Silent Seventh", due to a perception that its achievements were and are unrecognised, in comparison to the other 2nd AIF divisions. The origin of this belief appears to be censorship of the reporting of the fierce fighting in the Syria-Lebanon campaign, in 1941. Senior Allied commanders and/or politicians believed that knowledge of fighting against Vichy French forces would have a negative effect on public opinion in Allied countries.

The 7th Division was one of only a few Allied units to serve with distinction in the Middle East campaign, North African campaign and the South West Pacific Area.

History

North Africa and Middle East

The 7th Division left Australia for the Middle East in October 1940. It was then sent to North Africa, and the 18th Brigade played a successful defensive role in the Siege of Tobruk, from May 1941. Meanwhile, the rest of the 7th Division formed the backbone of the Allied invasion of Lebanon and Syria; with British, Indian and Free French forces, the 7th defeated Vichy French land forces in the Middle East.

Lieutenant Arthur Roden Cutler won the Victoria Cross (VC) for his exploits in late June and early July in the Merdjayoun-Damour area, and was later seriously wounded. Corporal Jim Gordon also won a VC in the campaign.

Moshe Dayan, a member of the Palestinian Jewish unit Palmach (and a future Israeli General), was attached to the division during the Syria-Lebanon campaign as an interpreter. Dayan lost his left eye when he was hit by a sniper's bullet, while using binoculars. As a result, he adopted the black eyepatch that became his trademark. On the recommendation of a 7th Division officer, Dayan was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, one of the British Commonwealth's highest military honours, for his service during the campaign.

The Pacific War

In December 1941, as Japanese forces advanced rapidly in South East Asia, it was decided that the 6th and 7th Divisions were needed to defend Australia. Elements of the 7th Division were diverted to Java, and fought bravely alongside Dutch forces there, but were soon overwhelmed. The bulk of the division went straight to New Guinea. The 21st Brigade under Brig. Arnold Potts reinforced the reservists of the 39th Battalion, fighting a rearguard action on the Kokoda Track.

Simultaneously, the 18th Brigade, with a Militia brigade, Royal Australian Air Force planes and ground staff, and a US engineer regiment, successfully defended an airbase at the eastern tip of New Guinea from a major assault by Japanese marines - the Battle of Milne Bay was the first outright defeat of Japanese land forces in World War II. Corporal John French who was killed at Milne Bay, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross (VC).

Meanwhile, the Kokoda Track campaign had become a vicious, see-sawing battle, featuring fierce fighting around Kokoda itself and at Isurava where Private Bruce Kingsbury won a posthumous VC on August 29. The 25th Brigade relieved the 21st, and Australian forces began to gain ground.

The 21st Brigade returned for the Battle of Buna-Gona in late 1942, in which Australian and US forces suffered very high casualties, while capturing the main Japanese beachheads on the north coast of New Guinea. The Division was converted to a Jungle Division in early 1943 and during 1943-44, the whole 7th Division fought extensive and often bloody mopping-up operations against Japanese forces in the north east of New Guinea. The division conducted airborne landings at Nadzab, west of Lae, between 7-9 and 12 September, divisional troops were flown to the Ramu Valley and Markham Valley. Beginning at Nadzab — where Private Richard Kelliher won a VC — they successfully advanced to Lae and Madang simultaneous with the 9th Division, which fell on 16 September.

Another hard campaign, followed in the Finisterre Ranges campaign, including the intense battles on Shaggy Ridge.

Later in 1944, the 7th Division returned to Australia and retrained in north Queensland, including amphibious assault training. In July 1945, the whole division, with the Militia's 1st Armoured Regiment, was deployed in the Borneo campaign, and undertook the amphibious assault on Balikpapan, in Sarawak. Fighting continued until the war ended in August. The 7th Division, like most of the 2nd AIF, was disbanded during 1946.

Structure

Main divisional units (with state of origin, where applicable) Infantry units

  • 18th Australian Infantry Brigade – from 6th Division in 1941.
    • 2/9th Australian Infantry Battalion, Queensland (Qld)
    • 2/10th Australian Infantry Battalion, South Australia(SA)
    • 2/12th Australian Infantry Battalion Qld/Tasmania (Tas.)
  • 20th Australian Infantry Brigade – to 9th Division in 1941.
  • 21st Australian Infantry Brigade
    • 2/14th Australian Infantry Battalion, Victoria (Vic.)
    • 2/16th Australian Infantry Battalion, Western Australia (WA)
    • 2/27th Australian Infantry Battalion, SA
  • 25th Australian Infantry Brigade - from 9th Division, 1941.
  • Artillery regiments
    • 2/4th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery (RAA)
    • 2/5th Field Regiment, RAA
    • 2/6th Field Regiment, RAA
    • 2/2nd Anti-Tank Regiment, RAA
  • Other units
    • 2/2nd Australian Machine-Gun Regiment
    • 2/2nd Australian Pioneer Battalion, Vic.
    • 7th Australian Divisional Cavalry
    • Engineer companies
      • 2/4th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers (RAE), NSW
      • 2/5th Field Company, RAE, NSW
      • 2/6th Field Company, RAE, NSW
      • 2/2nd Field Park Company, RAE, WA

Corps level units attached to the division

  • Corps Troops Artillery
    • 2/9th Army Field Regiment, RAA (originally 8th Division)
    • 2/11th Army Field Regiment, RAA (originally 8th Division)
    • 2/13th Army Field Regiment, RAA (converted from 2/1st Medium Reg. RAA, Oct. 1940.)
    • 2/1st Survey Regiment, RAA
  • 1st Australian Anti-Aircraft Brigade
    • 2/1st Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RAA
    • 2/2nd Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RAA
    • 2/3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RAA
  • Corps Troops Engineers
    • General engineer units
      • 2/7th Army Field Company, RAE, Qld
      • 2/8th Army Field Company, RAE, Vic.
      • 2/9th Army Field Company, RAE, Tas./Vic.
      • 2/3rd Corps Field Park Company, RAE, SA
    • Base and Lines of Communications Units
      • HQ Railway Group
      • 1st Railway Construction Company, RAE
      • 2nd Railway Construction Company, RAE
      • 3rd Railway Construction Company, RAE
      • 1st Railway Survey Company, RAE
      • HQ Forestry Group
      • 1st Forestry Companies, RAE
      • 2nd Forestry Companies, RAE
      • 3rd Forestry Companies, RAE

Commanders

Maj. Gen. John Lavarack, February 1941-June 1941
Maj. Gen. A. S. "Tubby" Allen, June 1941-October 1942
Maj. Gen. George Vasey, October 1942-1944
Maj. Gen. Edward Milford, 1944-46

References

  • A Bastard of a Place: the Australians in Papua, by Peter Brune, Allen & Unwin 2003, ISBN 1-74114-403-5

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