Military History

This Week in History | Week 50

By The Cove December 7, 2020


Week 50 | 07 - 13 December

 

07 December 1941 | Pearl Harbour

On the morning of 7 December 1941, at 7.55am local time, 183 aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the United States Naval base at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Their intention was to destroy and damage as much of the US Pacific Fleet as possible, before it could respond to Japanese operations taking place on the same day against British, Dutch and US territories in southeast Asia.

This first attack wave began bombing the hangars and parked aircraft of the island’s airfields while at the same time launching torpedoes against the US warships moored in the harbour. In the first five minutes of the attack, four battleships were hit, including the USS Oklahoma and the USS Arizona. Minutes later, the Arizona exploded after a bomb hit its gunpowder stores, sinking the ship and killing 1,177 of its crew.

This devastating attack was followed an hour and a half later by a second wave of 170 Japanese aircraft. Within two hours, 18 US warships had been sunk or damaged, 188 aircraft destroyed and 2,403 American servicemen and women killed. Many of these ships were repaired and fought in later battles, and, crucially all three of the Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbour during the attack and so escaped damage. They were to prove vital in the upcoming Pacific Campaign.

 

08 December 1941 | Australia at war with Japan

Australia announces that it is at war with Japan. Some 17,000 Australians would die and 8,000 as prisoners of war captured during the three-and-a-half-year war against Japan, .

 

09 December 1997 | Death of Mr Ted Matthews

About 50,000 Australians served on Gallipoli. Approximately 8,000 died in 1915. Ted Matthews was the last survivor of those who landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. He passed away at the age of 101 years old. 

 

10 December 1941 | Siege of Tobruk ended after 242 days

Between April and August 1941 around 14,000 Australian soldiers were besieged in Tobruk by a German–Italian army commanded by General Erwin Rommel. The garrison, commanded by Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead, consisted of the 9th Division (20th, 24th, and 26th Brigades), the 18th Brigade of the 7th Division, along with four regiments of British artillery and some Indian troops.

It was vital for the Allies' defence of Egypt and the Suez Canal to hold the town with its harbour, as this forced the enemy to bring most of their supplies overland from the port of Tripoli, across 1500 km of desert, as well as diverting troops from their advance. Tobruk was subject to repeated ground assaults and almost constant shelling and bombing. The Nazi propagandist, Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) derided the tenacious defenders as 'rats', a term that the Australian soldiers embraced as an ironic compliment.

The Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy provided the garrison's link to the outside world, the so-called 'Tobruk ferry'. These ships included the Australian destroyers Napier, Nizam, Stuart, Vendetta and Voyager. Losses comprised two destroyers, including HMAS Waterhen, three sloops, including HMAS Parramatta, and 21 smaller vessels.

Half the Australian garrison was relieved in August, the rest in September-October. However, 2/13 Battalion could not be evacuated and was still there when the siege was lifted on 10 December, the only unit present for the entire siege.

Australian casualties from the 9th Division from 8th April to 25th October numbered 749 killed, 1,996 wounded and 604 prisoners. The total losses in the 9th Division and attached troops from 1st March to 15th December amounted to 832 killed, 2,177 wounded and 941 prisoners.

Source: Barton Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein, Australia in the war of 1939–1945, vol 3, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1966 (statistics page 401)

 

11 December 1952 | Operation Fauna, Korea

The 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment begins Operation Fauna in Korea, its objective is to capture prisoners and destroy enemy defences. Operation Fauna was a major trench raid on Chinese positions near Hill 355 to snatch a prisoner. Although no prisoners were taken, Chinese dispositions near Hill 355 were seriously disrupted.

 


Portrait

Biography

The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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