In 1941, men of the three AIF divisions in the Middle East finally went into action. The locations and outcomes varied, but in all campaigns the Australians fought alongside British troops. The first to fight was the 6th Division, in Libya.
On the eve: Egypt 1940
By August 1940, the novelty of leave in Palestine had palled for Jack Ulrick and his mates. ‘We have seen so many ancient ruins and historical buildings that if anyone mentions ruins he is howled down,’ he wrote home. ‘All we want to see now’, he continued, ‘is the pyramids (and the Sphinx).’
By mid-September, this wish had been fulfilled. When the Italian Tenth Army launched an invasion of Egypt from Libya in early September, the Australian 6th Division began moving into Egypt. It was a gradual process, and only in November were all three infantry brigades there. In July and August General Blamey and senior British officers disagreed over British plans to detach individual brigades from the division and use them piecemeal. These plans went against the charter of the AIF given to Blamey by the Australian Government and agreed to by the British Army Council. The conflict was unknown to all Australians but the most senior officers of the 6th Division, which at first was sent to Helwan, near Cairo. When British senior commanders tried to move the 16th Brigade to Amiriya, on the eastern edge of the Western Desert, another disagreement about piecemeal deployment of Australian troops arose. As usual, Blamey stood his ground and won his point. In October the whole division was given the task of defending Amiriya, on the western approaches to Alexandria.