The Ninth Division, Second AIF
The 9th Division was the fourth new infantry
division raised by the Australian army after the outbreak of World War
The first two, the 6th Division (formed in
September 1939) and the 7th (March 1940) were dispatched to Palestine,
in the Middle-East, to complete their training before joining the
British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France. Together they formed the
1st Australian Corps, 2nd AIF. However, events overtook them, and France
fell to the Germans in July 1940 before the Australian Corps arrived.
This highlighted the seriousness of the situation in Europe, and
Australia immediately undertook to raise two further infantry divisions
and an armoured division for Imperial service overseas. These were the
8th and 9th Infantry Divisions, and the 1st Armoured Division. Further
Militia divisions were established for home-defence.
The 9th Division was first formed in the United
Kingdom during 1940, using one of the 6th Division units, the 18th
Brigade, as its core. A second Brigade was formed from other Australian
units then in Britain. Major General H.D.Wynter was appointed as
commander. Some shuffling of component units occurred, and by early
1941, when it arrived in North Africa the 9th Division consisted of the
20th, 24th and 26th Brigades. In February of 1941 Major General Leslie
Morshead became commander.
In March 1941 the 9th was ordered up to the
front line at Marsa Brega, on the Gulf of Sirte in Libya. This was the
furthermost point west that the Allied forces had advanced in pursuit of
the retreating Italian Army. The 20th Brigade (composed of the 2/13th,
2/15th and 2/17th Battalions) was initially posted to this front line,
but because it was so exposed, was withdrawn to safety by Morshead just
before the Africa Corps offensive opened on the 31 of March 1941. The
entire 9th Division began to withdraw eastwards toward Tobruk in good
order before Rommel's offensive. During this withdrawal the Australian's
first battle with German forces occurred - between the 2/13th Battalion
and Africa Corps armoured units, just east of Benghazi, on 4 April.
Later, some troops from the 2/15th Battalion were captured near Mechili,
but the bulk of the division was safely entrenched in Tobruk by the 11
of April 1941. They were ordered to hold the town until relieved by a
force from Egypt. Little did they know that the 9th Division would be
besieged until October, and that its last unit in Tobruk, the 2/13th
Battalion, would not be relieved until the siege was finally lifted in
December. This latter battalion was involved in the heavy fighting east
of Tobruk immediately before Rommel finally withdrew his forces
westwards. The 9th Division suffered heavy causalities at Tobruk -
amounting to 832 men killed, 2177 wounded and 941 captured.
Tobruk was the first place that the German Army
had been beaten, and became a ray of hope for all the Allied nations.
Indeed, the overall war situation was still extremely serious for the
Allies, but Tobruk gave some hope.
The Division was withdrawn to Syria to rest and
re-equip, and was still there when it learned of the later surrender of
Tobruk after Rommel's second strike eastwards in June 1942. As Rommel
closed to El Alamein the 9th Division was moved forward into Egypt and
positioned inside the Egyptian border for defence of Alexandria, being
then less than 100 miles from this important city. However, Rommel's
forces were in a difficult supply situation and the El Alamein line
became the scene of fierce, but static battles. The 9th Division was
involved in most of this fighting between July and September 1942, with
casualties exceeding 2,500 men.
On 23 October Montgomery open the Allied
offensive at El Alamein. The 9th Division, along with a New Zealand, a
South African, an Indian and a British division, grouped as the 30th
Corps, formed the main attack in the north. This attack was designed as
a feint to draw Axis forces northward away from the planned main
breakthrough point of the British 10th Armoured Corps. The fighting
lasted for ten days with Brigades of the 9th Division in the van.
Gradually the main force of the Africa Corps was drawn northwards to
counter this fierce fighting. The initial attack of the British Armoured
force further south, failed to break the Axis line. Then the New Zealand
2nd Division attacked to the left of the Australians, and forced the
opening through which the Armoured divisions of the Eighth Army finally
rolled forward. They did not stop again until the surrender of all of
North African Axis forces in Tunis in May 1943. The casualties of the
9th Division in the El Alamein battles equalled those of the entire
British 10th Armoured Corps which was tasked with the breakthrough.
Montgomery's first act after the battle was seen to be won, was to
travel to 9th Division HQ and thank them for their redemption of the
initially-failed 10th Armoured Corps attack. The commander of 30 Corps
stated that the El Alamein breakthrough was "only made possible by
the 9th Division's Homeric fighting".
By early 1943 the 9th Division was back in
Australia. It was stationed with the 7th at Atherton in North
Queensland, and training for the jungle fighting against the Japanese
yet to come north of Australia. Together they were formed into the 11th
Australian Corps, with the entire Corps being under the command of
Lt.General Morshead, the 9th Division's experienced North African
On 4 September 1943, the lead Brigade of the
9th Division (20th Brigade with 2/13th, 2/15th and 2/17th Battalions)
landed near Lae on the northern New Guinea coast. Lae was quickly
captured, and the 9th advanced to Finschafen and Sio on the Huon
Peninsula. On 21 January 1944, the division handed over to the
Australian 5th Division at Sio. They had suffered 1028 casualties
(including 283 men killed) since landing at Lae in September.
In May 1945 the Division was again in action,
this time in Borneo. The 26th Brigade invaded Tarakan Island on the east
coast to create a base for supporting operations elsewhere in Borneo.
Fighting was fierce and the Australians suffered nearly 900 causalities.
The balance of the 9th Division (the 20th and
24th Brigades) went ashore at Labuan Island and Brunei on the north-west
coast of Borneo on 10 June 1945. The opposition was sporadic, but
sometimes determined, and when the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945
ended the fighting in Borneo, the 9th division had suffered 114 men
killed during this final campaign.