George Alan Vasey

George Alan Vasey

Infobox Military Person
name= George Alan Vasey
lived= 29 March 18955 March 1945
placeofbirth= Malvern East, Victoria
placeofdeath= near Cairns, Queensland


caption= Portrait of Major General George Vasey by A. M. E. Bale
nickname= "Bloody George"
allegiance=Australia
branch=Australian Army
serviceyears= 1913-1945
rank= Major General
commands= Australian 19th Infantry Brigade
Australian 6th Division
Australian 7th Division
unit=
battles= World War I:
*Battle of Pozières
*Battle of Messines
*Passchendaele
*Spring Offensive
*Hundred Days Offensive
World War II:
*Battle of Greece
*Battle of Crete
*Kokoda Track campaign
*Salamaua-Lae campaign
*Finisterre Range campaign
awards= Companion of the Order of the Bath
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Mention in Despatches (3)
Distinguished Service Cross (United States)
War Cross (Greece)
laterwork=

Major General George Alan Vasey CB, CBE, DSO and Bar (29 March 18955 March 1945) was an Australian soldier. He rose to the rank of Major General during World War II, before being killed in a plane crash.

Early life

Vasey, known as Alan to his family, [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 8] was born in Malvern East, Victoria on 29 March 1895, the third of six children of George Brinsden Vasey, a barister and solicitor, and his wife Alice Isabel, née McCutcheon. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 4]

He was educated at Camberwell Grammar School and Wesley College, Melbourne, where his schoolmates included Robert Menzies and Edward James Milford. At Wesley, Vasey served in the Australian Army Cadets, in which he became a Second Lieutenant. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 8-9]

In 1913, he entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon in Canberra, Australia. Of 33 members of his class, in which Vasey graduated tenth, nine died in the Great War. Six later became generals: Leslie Ellis Beavis, Frank Horton Berryman, William Bridgeford, John Austin Chapman, Edward James Milford and George Vasey. The war caused his class to be graduated early, in June 1915. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 9-10]

World War I

Vasey was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Permanent Military Forces (regular army), and joined the First AIF. He was posted to the 2nd Division Artillery, and sailed for Egypt in December 1915. The 2nd Division moved to France in March 1916, where Vasey was promoted to Captain in August, and given command of the 13th Field Battery in November. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 10-13]

In February 1917 Vasey was posted to Brigadier General James Cannan's 11th Infantry Brigade as a trainee staff captain. This brigade, part of Major General John Monash's 3rd Division, was involved in heavy fighting at Messines and Third Ypres. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 10-18]

Vasey became Brigade Major of the 11th Infantry Brigade in August 1917, [LondonGazette|issue=30325|supp=yes|startpage=10351|date=5 October 1917|accessdate=2008-02-26] General Cannan having formed a high opinion of him. He was promoted to Major in September 1917. In July 1918 he was assigned to 3rd Division Headquarters as a staff officer (GSO3) but this appointment was brief; his successor at the 11th Infantry Brigade was wounded and Vasey returned to his former post. As such, he participated in the defence of Amiens, the Battle of Amiens in August 1918 and the attack on the Hindenburg Line in September. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 15-19] He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order [LondonGazette|issue=30716|supp=yes|startpage=6457|endpage=6461|date=31 May 1918|accessdate=2007-11-28] and was twice Mentioned in Despatches. He served for a time as GSO2 of the 3rd Division before embarking for Australia on 14 September 1919. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 19-20]

Between the wars

Vasey returned to the to PMF, in which he held the substantive rank of Lieutenant and the honorary rank of Major, by November 1934 his substative rank was that of Captain and he had a brevet Majority, and the local rank of Major, [LondonGazette|issue=34101|startpage=6985|date=2 November 1934|accessdate=2008-02-26] but he was not promoted to the substantive rank of Major until 1 March 1935. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 29] He became so discouraged at his prospects with the Army that, studying at night, he qualified as an accountant. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 22-23]

He married Jessie Mary Halbert at St Matthew's Church of England, Glenroy, Victoria on 17 May 1921. They bought a house in Kew, Victoria with a War Service Loan. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 23]

Between the wars, Vasey held a series of staff postings in Australia and India. He attended the Staff College at Quetta, India, from 1928 to 1929. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 23] In October 1934 he was appointed as a Brigade Major once more. [LondonGazette|issue=34112|startpage=7929|date=7 December 1934|accessdate=2008-02-26] Following a brief stint as a GSO2 on the headquarters of the 1st Indian Division, his final posting in India was again as a Brigade Major, [LondonGazette|issue=34291|startpage=3593|endpage=3594|date=5 June 1936|accessdate=2008-02-26] from April 1936 to March 1937. [LondonGazette|issue=34391|startpage=2632|date=5 June 1936|accessdate=2008-02-26]

Vasey was finally promoted to brevet Lieutenant Colonel on 12 May 1937, after nearly 20 years as a Major, although he was only promoted to the substantive rank on 2 November 1939. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 32] This fostered a sense of injustice and frustration among regular officers, who found themselves outranked by CMF officers who enjoyed faster promotion. [Long, "To Benghazi", p. 45]

World War II

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Blamey appointed Vasey to the 6th Division as his Assistant Adjutant General and Quartermaster General (AA&QMG). [Long, "To Benghazi", p. 50] As such, he was the senior logistics staff officer of the division. Vasey embarked for Palestine as commander of the advance party of the division in December 1939. [Long, "To Benghazi", p. 68]

Gavin Long noted that Vasey was "highly strung, thrustful, hard working... concealed a deeply emotional even sentimental nature behind a mask of laconic and blunt speech. Although he was appointed to head the administrative staff there burned within him a desire to lead Australian troops as a commander." [Long, "To Benghazi", p. 50] Nonetheless. Vasey remained AA&QMG during the Battle of Bardia. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 79-81] Following the capture of Tobruk in January 1941, he replaced Berryman as GSO1. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 81]

In March 1941, Vasey was promoted to temporary Brigadier and took command of the 6th Division's 19th Infantry Brigade following the departure of Horace Robertson to Australia on medical grounds. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 87-88] He led it in Greece, suffering a defeat at the Battle of Vevi. The 19th Infantry Brigade was evacuated to Crete, where his brigade in the Battle of Crete. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 90-131] Vasey was commended for his work in Crete and was among the last to be evacuated from there, but some 3,000 Australians were taken prisoner. [Long, "Greece, Crete and Syria", p. 316] Although it was a bitter defeat, Vasey's performance was considered outstanding; he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), [LondonGazette|issue=35120|supp=yes|startpage=1865|endpage=1866|date=28 March 1941|accessdate=2008-02-26] and awarded a Bar to his DSO, [LondonGazette|issue=35333|supp=yes|startpage=6357|date=31 October 1941|accessdate=2007-11-28] and later the Greek War Cross.

Vasey returned to Australia in December 1941 to become chief of staff of Home Forces, with the rank of Major General, which became substantive on 1 September 1942. At age 46, this made him the youngest general in the Australian Army for a time. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 163] His new command had the role of training and organising the Army in Australia, a task which became urgent with the entry of Japan into the war. In March 1942, Vasey, along with Major General Edmund Herring and Brigadier Clive Steele, approached Army Minister Frank Forde with a proposal that all officers over the age of 50 be immediately retired and Major General Horace Robertson appointed Commander in Chief. The "revolt of the generals" collapsed with the welcome news that Blamey was returning from the Middle East to become Commander in Chief. [Horner, "Crisis of Command", pp. 57-58]

In the reorganisation that followed his return, Blamey appointed Vasey as Deputy Chief of the General Staff (DCGS). [Horner, "Crisis of Command", p. 299] The two men worked closely, with Vasey conveying Blamey's orders to commanders in the field. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 172-175] With the establishment of Advanced Land Headquarters (Landops) at St Lucia, Queensland, Vasey became the principal operational staff officer there. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 175-176]

In September 1942, Blamey decided to send the 6th Division to Papua to help stem the Japanese advance. Blamey visited Lieutenant General Sidney Rowell, commander of I Corps, in Port Moresby and asked him who he would prefer to command the division. Rowell selected Vasey, so Vasey became commander of the 6th Division, and was replaced as DCGS by Major General Frank Berryman. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 190] Blamey relieved first Rowell, replacing him with Herring, [Horner, "Crisis of Command", pp. 181-188] and then Major General Arthur "Tubby" Allen of the 7th Division, which was fighting along the Kokoda Trail. On 27 October, Vasey flew up to Myola to relieve Allen. [Horner, "Crisis of Command", pp. 203-204]

Under Vasey's command, the 7th Division recaptured Kokoda on 2 November. [McCarthy, "South West Pacific Area - First Year", pp. 314-315] It pushed on towards the north coast of Papua, only to be stopped by the Japanese short of their ultimate objective. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 218-219] The division was forced to fight a bloody battle around Buna, and, together with American troops under Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, ultimately defeated the Japanese and captured Gona. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 235-237]

After the campaign, the 7th Division returned to Australia. The men went on leave before reassembling for training on the Atherton Tableland. Vasey went on leave in Melbourne but wound up being admitted to the Heidelberg Military Hospital for treatment for Malaria. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 239]

By July 1943, the 7th Division was on its way back to Port Moresby. Vasey flew up to work out arrangements with Herring and the air commander in New Guinea, Major General Ennis Clement Whitehead of the US Fifth Air Force. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 258-259]

The new campaign opened in spectacular fashion on 5 September 1943 with a parachute drop of the US 503rd Parachute Infantry in broad daylight to seize the airstrip at Nadzab in the Markham Valley. They were soon reinforced by Australian and Papuan troops that had advanced overland from Wau, and then by the 7th Division's 25th Infantry Brigade, which flew in by air. [Dexter, "The New Guinea Offensives", pp. 344-346]

The 25th Infantry Brigade advanced down the Markham Valley and entered Lae on 16 September. [Dexter, "The New Guinea Offensives", pp. 380-392] The division then advanced up the Markham Valley and down the Ramu Valley. A series of brilliant operations followed. First, commandos of the 2/6th Independent Company seized Kaiapit in the Battle of Kaiapit on 19 September. Vasey flew there on 21 September in a Piper Cub, followed by his 21st Infantry Brigade, under Brigadier Ivan Dougherty. [Dexter, "The New Guinea Offensives", pp. 414-425] The 21st Infantry Brigade advanced on Gusap and then Dumpu, where Vasey established his headquarters on 10 October. Finally, it pushed on into the Finisterre Range, where it was halted by logistical difficulties. [Dexter, "The New Guinea Offensives", pp. 426-443] In the Finisterre Range campaign, the 7th Division captured Shaggy Ridge and advanced across the mountains towards Madang. [Dexter, "The New Guinea Offensives", pp. 689-712]

Despite his achievements, Vasey was twice passed over for promotion. In November 1943, the announcement of the appointment of Lieutenant General Iven Mackay as High Commissioner to India, and the subsequent elevation of Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead to command New Guinea Force and Second Army, created a vacancy at II Corps, which was filled by Lieutenant General Frank Berryman. [Dexter, "The New Guinea Offensives", pp. 594-595] Then in February 1944, the appointment of Lieutenant General Sir Edmund Herring as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, led to a vacancy at I Corps, for which General Blamey nominated both Vasey and Major General Stanley Savige, but recommended the latter. [Dexter, "The New Guinea Offensives", p. 780] Army Minister Frank Forde queried Blamey's recommendation, which was very unusual, and asked who was the senior officer. On being informed that Savige was senior to Vasey — although not as senior as Arthur "Tubby" Allen or James Cannan— he dropped his objection. [Keating, "The Right Man for the Right Job", p. 137] General Douglas MacArthur considered Vasey's supersession "outrageous". [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 306]

Yet Blamey had not lost faith in Vasey. Asked at a social function about his opinion of Vasey, Blamey called out to him across the room. "There, ladies and gentlemen," Blamey declared, "is my ideal fighting commander." [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 308]

Blamey had reason to be concerned about Vasey's health. Vasey was drinking heavily, [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 319] and was hospitalized in New Guinea in February 1944 with a skin condition, [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 305] and in Australia in March 1944 with a respiratory tract infection. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 307] In June 1944, he became seriously ill with malaria and acute Peripheral neuropathy, and for a time was not expected to live. 7th Division soldiers in the hospital constantly asked the nursing staff about his progress. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", pp. 310-314] The men called him 'Bloody George', not after his casualties, but after his favourite adjective, and Vasey's personable style of command attracted immense loyalty from his men. "Vasey owns the 7th," wrote a Melbourne jounalist, "but every man in the division believes he owns Vasey." [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 308] He was again Mentioned in Despatches on 21 July 1944. [LondonGazette|issue=36615|supp=yes|startpage=3378|date=18 July 1944|accessdate=2008-02-26]

Vasey slowly recovered and in February 1945, Frank Forde pressed for Vasey to be given another active command. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 318] Blamey appointed him to command the 6th Division, then in action in the Aitape-Wewak campaign. Vasey flew north to take up his new command.

His aircraft, RAAF Lockheed Hudson A16-118 (VMZI-FM), took off from RAAF Station Archerfield on the afternoon of 5 March 1945. Due to a cyclone that was ravaging the Queensland coast at the time, the aircraft crashed into the sea about 400 metres out from Machan's Beach, just north of the mouth of the Barron River, 2 km short of the Cairns Airport.

Vasey was killed in the crash along with all those on board. He became the fourth most senior Australian officer to die in World War II, after General Sir Cyril Brudenell White, Lieutenant General Henry Douglas Wynter, and Major General Rupert Downes (who died in the same plane crash as Vasey). [cite web|url=http://www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=2243600|title=Commonwealth War Graves Commission - casualty details|publisher=Commonwealth War Graves Commission|accessdate=2007-11-28] Vasey's body was recovered from the crash site and was buried with full military honours in Cairns cemetery along with Downes and Lieutenant Colonel G. A. Bertram. Generals Blamey and Morshead were chief mourners. For pall bearers, Vasey had Major Generals Edward Milford and George Wootten and Brigadiers Frederick Chilton, Ivan Dougherty, Kenneth Eather, John O'Brien, Henry Wells and David Whitehead. [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 323]

The Mulgrave Shire Council (Cairns) named the esplanade at Trinity Beach "Vasey Esplanade" in his honour and erected a plaque on a brick memorial wall to commemorate all eleven service personnel lost in the crash.

Legacy

Vasey's concern for his men outlived him. Jessie would go on to found the War Widow's Guild, serving as its president until her death in 1966. Thus, "the legacy of George Vasey's war was a more compassionate Australian society." [Horner, "General Vasey's War", p. 333]

As a military commander, Vasey demonstrated beyond all doubt that a regular officer could be an "ideal fighting commander" and not just a competent staff officer. Vasey hastened the post-war transition of the Australian Army to a professional force dominated by regular soldiers. Although his reputation has faded away with time, the Australian Army's benchmark for the fighting commander remains where he left it.

Today, Vasey's papers are in the National Library of Australia. His decorations are in the Australian War Memorial. A final Mention in Despatches was published three days after his death. [LondonGazette|issue=36972|supp=yes|startpage=1305|date=6 March 1945|accessdate=2008-02-26]

Notes

References

* cite book
last = Dexter
first = David
authorlink =
date = 1961
url = http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/chapter.asp?volume=22
title = The New Guinea Offensives
format = PDF
work = Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army
publisher = Australian War Memorial
location = Canberra

* cite book
last = Horner
first = David
authorlink = David Horner
title = Crisis of Command: Australian Generalship and the Japanese Threat, 1941-1943
year = 1978
publisher = Australian National University Press
location = Canberra
isbn = 0708113451

* cite book
last = Horner
first = David
authorlink = David Horner
title = High Command: Australia and Allied strategy 1939-1945
year = 1982
publisher = Allen & Unwin with the assistance of the Australian War Memorial
location = Sydney
isbn = 0868610763

* cite book
last = Horner
first = David
authorlink = David Horner
title = General Vasey's War
publisher = Melbourne University Press
date = 1992
location = Melbourne
isbn = 0 522 84462 6

* cite book
last = Long
first = Gavin
authorlink = Gavin Long
title = To Benghazi
url = http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/chapter.asp?volume=17
series = Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army
format = PDF
year = 1952
publisher = Australian War Memorial
location = Canberra

* cite book
last = Long
first = Gavin
authorlink = Gavin Long
title = Greece, Crete and Syria
url = http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/chapter.asp?volume=18
series = Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army
year = 1953
publisher = Australian War Memorial
location = Canberra
format = PDF
isbn = 0 00 217489 8

* Cite book
last = McCarthy
first = Dudley
url = http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/chapter.asp?volume=21
title = South-West Pacific Area - First Year
series = Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army
year = 1959
publisher = Australian War Memorial
location = Canberra
format = PDF

External links

* [http://www.awm.gov.au/people/330.asp Vasey Biography at the Australian War Memorial]
* [http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A160532b.htm Vasey Biography at the Australian Dictionary of Biography]
* [http://home.brisnet.org.au/~dunn/5mar45.htm 5 March 1945 - Crash of a Hudson into the sea at Machan's Beach, just north of the Barron River, killing Major General George Alan Vasey]


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