A Tale Of Three Battalions: Combat Morale And Battle Fatigue In The 7th Australian Infantry Brigade, Bougainville, 1944-45
The Anzac tradition does not talk much about what happens when combat morale falters and battle fatigue undermines military effectiveness. Yet, despite the Australian Army's proud history, it has not been immune from such problems. Evidence of this is not, however, likely to be found in any official history or unit report. Fortunately, the 7th Australian Infantry Brigade's campaign on Bougainville, 1944–45, allows these issues to be studied in detail. The existence of candid personal diaries and memoirs written by the brigade commander, two of his unit commanding officers and a private soldier offer a rare glimpse into the realities of life on combat operations.
This paper traces the fortunes of the brigade's battalions and assesses their relative experiences: one disintegrated under the weight of combat stress, one was placed under considerable pressure and one appeared to escape relatively unaffected. In this tale of three battalions, the fate of each unit offers important insights into the nature of combat and the maintenance of morale and fighting effectiveness when soldiers are engaged in battle. It is not just an interesting story but offers much that remains relevant for the Australian Army's current leaders as they seek to face the contemporary challenges of the ‘Long War'.