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Blamey, Thomas Albert (1884-1951)


Photograph of Thomas A. Blamey

Australian War Memorial. Via Wikipedia Commons

Thomas Blamey was born at Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. He was the son of a storekeeper and worked as a teacher before becoming an officer in the Australian militia in 1906 via competitive examination. He attended the staff college at Quetta, Pakistan in 1911-1913. During the First World War, he proved himself a capable staff officer in Egypt and at Gallipoli and rose the rank of colonel. After the war, he retired from the Regular Army to become the chief commissioner of police in Victoria and commander of 3 Division, a militia formation. He was fired from the police in 1936 following charges of corruption.

Recalled to duty when the European war broke out, Blamey was appointed commander of 2 Australian Imperial Force in 1940. The appointment was made on the basis of his administrative skill, but was controversial because of his lack of combat experience. It did not help that he was known as “Typhoid Tom” because of his tactless, rude, and self-aggrandizing behavior. Hastings (2007) describes him as "a conceited, corpulent, devious autocrat." He was briefly second-in-command in the Middle East under Wavell and helped organize the evacuation of Crete, but was accused of cowardice by his own chief of staff ("a coward and not a commander") and of favoritism for arranging the air evacuation of his son, a staff officer. Tedder, the air commander in the theater, described Blamey as "a rather unpleasant political soldier ... a tubby little man with a snub nose and expensive complexion, high blood pressure and a scrubby little white moustache. He has a certain amount of common sense and 20 years ago may have been fairly useful, but–!" Auchinleck and Brooke were also skeptical of his ability. He disgusted fellow officers with his appetite for alcohol and women even at the front.

With the outbreak of war in the Pacific, Blamey was recalled to Australia along with two of his divisions, arriving to take command of all Australian land forces in the Pacific on 27 March 1942. He directed the successful defense of Port Moresby and the counterattack along the Kokoda Trail. He was subsequently given command of all land forces in the southwest Pacific under MacArthur. He served in both positions through the remainder of the war.

MacArthur and Blamey came to cordially hated each other, and MacArthur worked with considerably success to marginalize Blamey. For example, MacArthur regularly assigned U.S. combat formations to “task forces,” which were sometimes the size of corps or entire armies, so that they would not fall under Blamey’s command. MacArthur’s attitude may have stemmed in part from the fact that Blamey, like virtually all Australian officers, was a civilian between the world wars. Blamey, in turn, was unimpressed by the MacArthur mystique.

Blamey's willingness to incur casualties by engaging in pointless offensive operations against isolated Japanese formations earned him the emnity of many of his countrymen. He became so unpopular that a demonstration was held against him in Sydney, and the official Australian war historian wrote that "On his head descended perhaps the strongest vituperation to which any military leader in that war was subjected by people on his own side." Blamey tried to justify the operations with the argument that Australia had a duty to liberate its own territory, and that clearing the Japanese from these areas would free the Australian troops for demobilization or participation in the invasion of Japan. In spite of this widespread hostility, Blamey became the only Australian officer to reach the rank of field marshal, in 1950.

Service record

1884-1-24     

Born at Wagga-Wagga, New South Wales
1899

Schoolteacher
1906

Commissioned in Australian Army
1910
Captain     

1911

Staff College, Quetta
1914-7
Major

1914-12

1 Australian Division, Egypt
1915

2 Australian Division, France
1918-5
Brigadier     

1925

Retires from Regular Army to become commissioner of police, Victoria
1931
Major general  (Citizen Forces)  
Commander, 3 Australian Division
1937

Retires from 3 Australian Division and as commissioner of police
1939-9
Lieutenant general
Recalled and given command of 2 Australian Imperial Force
1942-3-28

Commander, Australian Land Forces, Pacific
1942-4-18     

Commander, Allied Land Forces, Southwest Pacific
1945

Retires
1950
Field marshal
Recalled briefly to active duty
1951-5-27

Dies at Melbourne

References

Bergerud (1996)

Boatner (1996)

Dunnigan and Nofi (1998)

Dupuy et.al. (1992)

Hastings (2007)

Marston (2002)


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