Year

2013

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Arts, English and Media

Abstract

The first combat experience of many Australian and American infantry battalions in Papua in 1942-1943 was against the Imperial Japanese Army. It was a contest between recently raised battalions of citizen soldiers and a professional force of two-year conscripts with combat experience. The Allied battalions in Papua were not combat ready when they were first committed. Combat readiness and effectiveness are examined in the three components of Allied infantry in Papua: the Australian Militia, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the American infantry from the US National Guard. Their journey towards combat effectiveness was painful, as they faced superior Japanese fighting power.

Training an infantry battalion for combat has been usually assumed to be a process which takes men through recruit and basic infantry training, then collectively trains them in the combat skills of the battalion‟s tactical groups in a generally agreed amount of time: approximately six months. The battalions committed to combat for the first time in Papua had this amount of time yet they were not combat ready. The purpose of the research was to investigate what was lacking in the preparation for combat in Papua, by comparing the performance of inexperienced battalions from the Australian Militia, the AIF and the American Army with combat experienced battalions from the AIF. Four case studies compared two of the three Allied infantry components in the same first combat experience against the same Japanese force on the same terrain in the same time period and weather conditions.

The thesis argues that combat effectiveness depended on creating primary groups with fighting spirit suited to close combat in very difficult terrain, but this was neglected. Such primary groups existed where the organisational culture of a battalion fostered cohesive social structures in its primary groups and supported them with a cohesive secondary group. To achieve this before first combat the primary groups must rigorously train under their own leaders in physical circumstances which would be suited to the close country conditions encountered in Papua. Although there was time to achieve combat readiness, training at primary group level was neglected.

The Papuan campaign offers a rare opportunity. It was a campaign where American and Australian battalions were involved in the same episodes within the command of the brigades of the 7th Australian Division. From 1943, Americans would fight separately from the Australian army, and the Australian army did not mix AIF and Militia battalions in the same episodes of first combat as they had in Papua.

Some explanations that have been offered for the lack of combat effectiveness of the Militia and American battalions have been that the Australian Militia contained conscripts who, for that reason, lacked fighting spirit. Other explanations betrayed an anti-American chauvinism. In contrast, it has been assumed that the combat experienced battalions of the Australian Imperial Force were combat effective. This was not invariably true and this thesis argues that combat effectiveness is unstable because primary group cohesion and secondary group cohesion move in different directions during combat.

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