Monday, June 29, 2009

Major General Gordon Bennett AIF

A great controversy emerged in the last few days of the Battle of Singapore surrounding Maj. Gen. Gordon Bennett.

Below are some excerpts about the controversy:

When World War II broke out in 1939, although only 52, Bennett was passed over for command of the AIF, the position going to General Thomas Blamey. The Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Brudenell White seems to have been opposed to Bennett being given an active command. A. B. Lodge, Bennett's biographer in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) comments: "Because of his temperament, he was considered unsuitable for a semi-diplomatic command, and one that involved subordination to British generals. Bennett was as scathing of British officers as he was of Australian regulars."

Bennett was instead given a command in the Volunteer Defence Corps, the Australian version of the Home Guard. But General White's death in theCanberra air disaster of 1940 ended the obstruction of Bennett's career, and Bennett was appointed commander of the newly formed 8th Division, which was posted to Malaya in February 1941. Relations between Bennett and his superiors were not good. Lodge comments: "Bennett's dealings with British senior officers, especially with the general officer commanding, Malaya, Lieutenant General A. E. Percival, were devoid of harmony."

In December 1941 the Japanese invasion of Malaya began. Along with the rest of the Allied forces, Bennett's division was soon forced to withdraw toSingapore. On 8 February 1942 the Japanese landed in Singapore, and on 15 February Percival surrendered to the Japanese.

Bennett decided that it was his duty to escape from Singapore rather than surrender. He handed over command of the 8th Division to Brigadier Cecil Callaghan. With a few junior officers and some local Europeans, Bennett commandeered a sampan at gunpoint and crossed the Strait of Malacca to the east coast of Sumatra, where they transferred to a launch in which they sailed up the Jambi River. They then proceeded on foot to Padang, on the west coast of Sumatra. From there Bennett flew to Java and then to Australia, arriving in Melbourne on 2 March 1942.

The controversy over Bennett's actions became public in 1945, when the war ended and Percival was released from Japanese captivity. Percival, who had never got on with Bennett, accused him of relinquishing his command without permission. Blamey convened a court of enquiry under Major General V. P. H. Stanke, which found that Bennett was not justified in handing over his command, or in leaving Singapore.


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