Operation Pamphlet

This was the British first of a series of maritime undertakings to ship some 30,000 Australian troops of the Australian 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions from the port of Suez at the southern end of the Suez Canal in Egypt to ports in Ceylon and Australia as these formations were pulled out of Middle East operations for service against the Japanese (10 March 1942/27 February 1943).

After Japan’s entry into the war on 7 December 1941 and the growing threat to Australia which was soon perceived, the 2/5th Battalion of Major General Edmund F. Herring’s 6th Division left the Middle East on 10 March 1942 to defend Australia, but while still on passage was diverted to the defence of Ceylon between mid-March and early July 1942. Brigadier General J. B. Lloyd’s 16th Brigade and Brigadier M. J. Moten’s 17th Brigade were at first sent to garrison Ceylon, which was under threat of invasion.

Late in 1942 the 16th Brigade and other elements of the division were sent to New Guinea, initially to reinforce and relieve militia and 7th Division units on the Kokoda Trail.

Elements of Major General Arthur S. Allen’s 7th Division were diverted to Java, and fought beside Dutch troops before being overwhelmed, but most of the division went straight to Australia. Finally, during October 1942 the Australian government requested that Major General Leslie J. Morshead’s 9th Division be released from service in the Middle East and returned to Australia for service against the Japanese. Though Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt advised against this, the Australian prime minister, John Curtin, insisted and by mid-December it had been agreed that the 9th Division should be returned to Australia.

Late in December the division concentrated around Gaza, and as the beginning of ‘Pamphlet’ started to embark on 23 January 1943 in the 81,235-ton British Queen Mary, 43,450-ton British Ile de France carrying 6,543 troops, 36,287-ton Dutch Nieuw Amsterdam and 44,786-ton British Aquitania. These were accompanied by the 22,757-ton British armed merchant cruiser Queen of Bermuda, which also carried 1,731 troops. The eventual total of troopships included in ‘Pamphlet’ proper comprised 12 liners.

The last ‘Pamphlet’ convoy departed Suez bound for Sydney and Melbourne, and in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden had the anti-submarine escort of the destroyers Pakenham, Petard, Isis, Derwent, Hero and Free Greek Vasilissa Olga. The Indian Ocean escort comprised the heavy cruiser Devonshire and, from Socotra, the light cruiser Gambia, and cover was provided for this oceanic part of the passage by Force ‘A’ comprising the battleships Resolution, Revenge and Warspite, light cruiser Mauritius and six destroyers. Farther to the east Force ‘A’ was reinforced by the Free Dutch light cruisers Jacob van Heemskerck and Tromp as well as two destroyers.

On 18 February the convoy arrived in Fremantle, and from here proceeded round the south of Australia under escort of three light cruisers (Australian Adelaide and Free Dutch Jacob van Heemskerck and Tromp, and the Free Dutch destroyer Tjerk Hiddes. The covering force to the south of Australia was Task Force 44.3, comprising the heavy cruiser Australia and the US destroyers Bagley, Henley and Helm. From Melbourne the Free Dutch ships, with the exception of Jacob van Heemskerck, were detached, as was the Free French destroyer Triomphant. The convoy reached Sydney safely on 27 February.