anzac POW freemen in europe

Introductory Guide / Site Map

G. The Formations of the AIF

"The Numbers Game"

In World War I, the first AIF consisted of 5 Divisions and 60 Battalions. There were four Battalions to a Brigade and three Brigades to a Division.

When World War II broke out, it was resolved to form a second AIF, retaining the traditions and colour patches of WWI. The colour patches were placed on a grey background and each unit preceded its identification number by the number "2/". If a unit, as such, was not in existence in WWI, this number was dropped e.g. Light Anti Aircraft regiments had unit numbers without the precedent "2/". The tradition of Battalion numbers being allotted to each Australian state according to the number of enlistments was maintained and the AIF number allotted to an individual was preceded by two letters which denominated his enlistment state for service in the 2nd AIF.

But mainly, through geographical population changes, this was abandoned. Thus, the AIF Enlistment Number of the Recorder - VX39694 - and round colour patch of purple on the grey background coupled to that number, indicated that VX39694 Bill Rudd had enlisted into the AIF from Victoria and had been posted to an Engineers unit of the Ninth Division second AIF. (After the siege of Tobruk, the circular shape was changed to a "T" shape.)

But complications soon arose in the simple numbering and state allocation system, as Italy and then Japan entered the war. Convoys bringing Australian troops to the Middle East were re-routed to avoid using the Suez Canal.

Moreover, in March 1941, General Blamey was ordered to re-structure the second AIF by reducing the number of battalions to a brigade, from four to three. This re-shuffle had to take into account brigade battle experience, the state of arms and equipment and geographical distribution of unit, all leading to a weakening of the state allocation structure. The Seventh Division, which had originally been destined to go to Greece, ended up in Syria instead, with only its 18th Brigade actually fighting there. It suffered only one POW who died in captivity before Syria was liberated.

Thus by April 1941, the Sixth Division, raised in December 1939 comprised:

16th Brigade   NSW         2/1st Bn; 2/2nd Bn; 2/3rd Bn;
17th Brigade   Victoria     2/5th Bn; 2/6th Bn; 2/7th Bn;
19th Brigade   NSW/Vic    2/4th Bn; 2/8th Bn.; 2/11th Bn.

The Ninth Division, created later, consisted of:

20th Brigade  2/13th Bn (NSW); 2/15th Bn (Qld.); 2/17th Bn (NSW)
24th Brigade  2/28th Bn (WA); 2/32nd Bn (All States); 2/43rd Bn (SA)
26th Brigade  2/23rd Bn (Vic.); 2/24th Bn (Vic.); 2/48th Bn (SA).

AIF POW in Europe were basically from the earlier 1941 battles of Derna and Tobruk for the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Divisions, later in 1941 from the battles in Greece and Crete for the Sixth, while in 1942, after a rush back to Egypt from Syria from the battles of El Alamein, by the Ninth.

Finally, all three Divisions were withdrawn from the Middle East to the Pacific, the last to be withdrawn being the Ninth over Christmas, 1942.

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