Arnold William (Pottsy) POTTS DSO, OBE, MC, MiD

POTTS, Arnold William

Service Numbers: 1853, WX700102, WX1574
Enlisted: 18 January 1915, Perth, Western Australia
Last Rank: Brigadier
Last Unit: 2nd/16th Infantry Battalion
Born: Peel, Isle of Man, 16 September 1896
Home Town: Kojonup, Kojonup, Western Australia
Schooling: Guildford Grammar School
Occupation: Farm hand/Grazier
Died: Natural causes (stroke), Kojonup, Western Australia, 1 January 1968, aged 71 years
Cemetery: Karrakatta Cemetery & Crematorium, Perth, W.A.
Memorials: Claremont Teachers College War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

18 Jan 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 1853, Perth, Western Australia
19 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 1853, 16th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
19 Apr 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 1853, 16th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Argyllshire, Fremantle
28 Jul 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 1853, 16th Infantry Battalion, ANZAC Gallipoli
7 Aug 1915: Promoted AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, 16th Infantry Battalion
10 Oct 1915: Promoted AIF WW1, Sergeant, 16th Infantry Battalion
20 Jan 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 16th Infantry Battalion
30 Aug 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 4th Light Trench Mortar Battery, Take command of 4th LTMB
15 Nov 1916: Wounded Lieutenant, 4th Light Trench Mortar Battery, Flers/Gueudecourt, Remaining on duty
10 May 1917: Promoted AIF WW1, Captain
1 Mar 1918: Transferred 16th Infantry Battalion, Returned to 16th Battallon
6 Jul 1918: Wounded Captain, 16th Infantry Battalion, "Peaceful Penetration - Low-Cost, High-Gain Tactics on the Western Front", 2nd occasion - GSW (abdomen)
9 Mar 1919: Discharged AIF WW1, Captain, 16th Infantry Battalion, Arrived in Albany on HMAT Lincolnshire

World War 2 Service

1 May 1940: Enlisted 2nd AIF WW 2, Major, SN WX700102, Perth, Western Australia
2 May 1940: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Major, SN WX1574
12 Dec 1945: Discharged 2nd AIF WW 2, Brigadier, SN WX700102, 2nd/16th Infantry Battalion

A.W. Potts Kokoda Track Memorial Statue at Apex Park, Kojonup, Western Australia on 6 May 2007.

Extract from a speech delivered by His Excellency, Major General Michael Jeffery AC CVO MC on the occasion of the official unveiling of the A.W. Potts Kokoda Track Memorial Statue at Apex Park, Kojonup, Western Australia on 6 May 2007.

Tough and resolute, Arnold encouraged initiative in his troops, and he was renowned for his thorough approach to training. His men not only respected him as their leader, they trusted his decisions and knew that they would be well-represented by him in the higher councils of the military command chain.

In August 1941, Arnold was promoted Lieutenant Colonel to command the 2/16th but this was short-lived. With the return of the 7th Division to Australia prior to the Pacific Campaign, Arnold in April 1942 was promoted temporary brigadier to command the 21st AIF Brigade comprising the famous 2/14th, 2/16th and 2/27th Battalions.

After the naval battles of Coral Sea and Midway in May-June 1942 had prevented a sea borne assault on Port Moresby, the Japanese High Command had determined on an overland assault on Moresby via the Kokoda Track, in conjunction with an amphibious attack on Milne Bay to capture its important airfields. The 13,500 Japanese troops who landed at Gona on 21 July and fought the Kokoda campaign were strong, fit and battle-hardened. Most had been in action since 1937 and were expert in jungle warfare.

The Supreme Allied Commander in the South West Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur knew that if the little-known Kokoda Airfield was seized by the enemy, then Port Moresby would be under direct threat, along with his future plans for an offensive against the major Japanese base in Rabaul. This clearly was not acceptable.

MacArthur therefore ordered immediate action from the Commander Allied Land Forces, General Sir Thomas Blamey, who in turn directed Major General Basil Morris, the local commander in New Guinea, to prevent Japanese access across the Track by defending the Kokoda area, roughly half way between Port Moresby and the northern coastal village of Buna. To do so, Morris rushed Maroubra Force - two largely untrained and ill-equipped militia battalions – the 39th and 53rd – to the area.

These troops had been employed as wharf labourers and on other manual tasks before finding themselves rushed forward, poorly equipped and trained to meet a tough and battle experienced foe.
To its everlasting credit, the 39th was the first to move and acquitted itself brilliantly from its first contact with the enemy north of Kokoda village. However, skirmishing and several fierce assaults by the Japanese caused the outnumbered Australians to fall back through Kokoda. The 39th soon re-took the village but after two days a renewed Japanese offensive forced the Australians to withdraw. Kokoda was captured by the Japanese on July 29.

Conditions at this point are best summed up Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner, Commanding Officer of the 39th Battalion:

“Physically, the pathetically young warriors of the 39th were in poor shape. Worn out by strenuous fighting and exhausting movement, and weakened by lack of food and sleep and shelter, many of them had literally come to a standstill. Practically every day, torrential rains fell all through the afternoon and night, cascading into their cheerless weapon pits and soaking the only clothes they had.”

But although desperate, greatly outnumbered and under-resourced, the resistance was such that, according to captured documents, the Japanese believed they had defeated a force more than 1,200 strong when, in fact, they were facing just 77 Australian troops.

With the Kokoda Airfield now lost, the newly-appointed New Guinea Commander, Lieutenant General Sydney Rowell, immediately dispatched the 21st Brigade to re-take the village of Kokoda. Potts reached Alola, some 10 km south of Kokoda, on the Owen Stanley Range on 23 August and immediately took command of the remnants of the exhausted Maroubra Force. On 26 August, he reinforced the 39th Battalion with his own 2/14th; fit, tanned and superbly trained from the Syrian Desert. Although outnumbered five to one and without supplies of food and ammunition, they held Isurava for four days of bitter fighting against fanatical Japanese attacks where hand-to-hand combat using bayonet, boot and grenade was a regular occurrence.

In deciding his future course of action, Arnold elected to conduct a fighting withdrawal rather than obeying impossible orders from higher command to move forward and attack a greatly superior and better armed enemy. He formulated a tenacious withdrawal strategy with carefully planned ambushes and vicious limited assaults as the appropriate tactic. The commanding officer of the 2/27th Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Geoff Cooper, recalls Arnold’s astute leadership:

“It rapidly changed from a situation where the Australian Force Headquarters thought attacks against the enemy with the loss of few men would destroy the Japanese and remove the threat, to a situation where a major threat from the enemy with a fairly complete freedom of movement was in danger of overrunning our force and reaching Moresby. Arnold Potts understood this. The withdrawal was a delaying tactic he had to employ; and he did it well. He had to concentrate his force, hold as long as possible, make minor counter-attacks and not get overrun. He had to destroy, delay and then set up and do it all over again.”

When Arnold and his now greatly diminished 2/14th and 2/16th Battalions withdrew to Mission Ridge (Brigade Hill) roughly 30 km south of Kokoda Village, he was then reinforced by his 2/27th Battalion. Under the most trying conditions, he fought a short desperate brigade defensive battle that inflicted further delay upon the Japanese. With heavy casualties on both sides, this critical hold-up in time finally exhausted the tenuous supply line of the enemy commander, General Horri, who had necessarily relied on a strategy of speed with its attendant risks to his logistics to capture Port Moresby.

Demoralised, starving and diseased the Japanese withdrew back along the Track, vigorously followed up by fresh battle-trained troops of the 25th and 16th Brigades. More heavy fighting was to follow, but the threat to Port Moresby was over.

Meanwhile by 16 September, Arnold and his 21st Brigade had been withdrawn to Sogeri at the start of the Kokoda Track some 46 km from Port Moresby, to re-form, re-fit and prepare for further action.

Yet, sadly, Potts’ success would go unrecognised. Fighting in conditions so terrible and beyond the comprehension of Headquarters to imagine, Arnold came under criticism for conducting a fighting withdrawal. He was recalled to Port Moresby days later to explain. He then rejoined his Brigade for a short period, but was personally relieved of its command on 22 October 1942 by General Blamey and posted forthwith to Darwin where he later commanded with distinction the 23rd Brigade of II Corps in action in Bougainville, being twice mentioned in dispatches for his inspiring leadership and tactical acumen. His deeds at Kokoda remained inappropriately, unrecognised.

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Biography contributed by Steve Larkins

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Brigadier Arnold William Potts

Arnold William Potts (1896-1968), army officer and farmer, was born on 16 September 1896 on the Isle of Man, younger child of William Potts, schoolmaster, and his second wife Mary, née Matthew. In 1904 the family migrated to Perth. Educated as a boarder at Guildford Grammar School, Arnold began work at Fairbridge Farm School, Pinjarra.

On 18 January 1915 Potts enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to the 16th Battalion. He served at Gallipoli from July and was promoted sergeant in October. Commissioned in January 1916, he was sent to the Western Front where he commanded the 4th Light Trench Mortar Battery as a captain. For his actions in August at Mouquet Farm and at German Strong-Point 54, on the Somme battlefield in France, he won the Military Cross. In February 1918 he rejoined the 16th Battalion. He was severely wounded at Vaire Wood, near Hamel, in July and evacuated to England in August. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Western Australia on 9 March 1919. He had been mentioned in dispatches.

Although Potts was still classified as 20 per cent disabled, he went jackerooing on Boolaloo station, about 150 miles (241 km) south-east of Onslow. In 1920 he bought a property just west of Kojonup and called it Barrule after the twin peaks on the Isle of Man. At the chapel of his old school on 9 November 1926 he married Doreen Helena Wigglesworth with Anglican rites.

Potts joined the 25th Light Horse (Machine-Gun) Regiment in April 1939 and was appointed temporary major in December. He transferred to the A.I.F. on 1 May 1940 and was posted to the 2nd/16th Battalion which sailed for the Middle East in October. For his leadership during the Syrian campaign in June-July 1941 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and again mentioned in dispatches. In August he was placed in command of the 2nd/16th and promoted lieutenant colonel. Back in Australia, he was granted the temporary rank of brigadier and given command of the 21st Brigade on 6 April 1942.

The 21st Brigade was sent to Papua early in August and Potts was ordered to recapture the village of Kokoda from the Japanese. Reaching Alola on the Owen Stanley Range on 23 August, he took command of Maroubra Force (then comprising two beleaguered Militia battalions and some Papuan troops). Because of inadequate supplies, he could only take defensive action. When the Japanese attacked on the 26th, the timely arrival of leading elements of two battalions (2nd/14th and 2nd/16th) of his brigade enabled him to hold his ground. After four days of fighting, often hand-to-hand, at Isurava, he retreated along the Kokoda Track to Efogi, maintaining a tenacious rearguard action. On 5 September part of the 2nd/27th Battalion joined him at Mission Ridge (Brigade Hill). When his headquarters came under attack three days later, he withdrew his force to Menari on the 9th.

On 10 September 1942 Potts was instructed to report to headquarters, New Guinea Force, Port Moresby. He later rejoined his brigade which had been withdrawn to Sogeri to re-form. General Sir Thomas Blamey criticized him, and notified him on 22 October that he was to be relieved of his command and sent to Darwin next day. 'Pottsy's' removal grieved him and angered many of his men. In a letter to his wife he wrote: 'the reason for my dismissal is political mostly. Heads were needed . . . and mine was one of them'.

Blamey was under intense pressure from the Australian government and General Douglas MacArthur to bolster resistance in Papua. Lieutenant General (Sir) Edmund Herring, who succeeded (Sir) Sydney Rowell as commander of N.G.F., later claimed to have initiated Potts's replacement in the belief that he needed resting. None the less, Potts thought that the actions of the high command amounted to 'moral cowardice'. His superiors showed little understanding of the difficulties he had confronted and a lack of awareness of his valiant and inspiring leadership. Potts took over the 23rd Brigade in Darwin and led it on Bougainville from September 1944 until he left for Australia on 5 December 1945. He was twice mentioned in dispatches for his service in this campaign, but his deeds in Papua remained unrecognized.

Potts resumed farming at Barrule. In 1949 he stood unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives seat of Forrest as a Country Party candidate. He later became involved in numerous community organizations and was appointed O.B.E. (1960). After suffering two strokes in December 1964, he was confined to a wheelchair. Survived by his wife, and their son and two daughters, he died on New Year's Day 1968 at Kojonup and was cremated.

 

Select Bibliography
D. M. Horner, Blamey (Syd, 1998)
B. Edgar, Warrior of Kokoda (Syd, 1999), and for bibliography.

Citation details
W. J. Edgar, 'Potts, Arnold William (1896–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/potts-arnold-william-11448/text20405, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 December 2016.

This article has been amended since its original publication.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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Biography contributed by John Edwards

"Arnold Potts rose to prominence as the commander of Australian forces on the Kokoda Trail in 1942. He had served on the Western Front in the First World War and was a farmer in peacetime. Potts was born on 16 September 1896 on the Isle of Man. His family moved to Perth in 1904 when he was eight years old.

Potts enlisted in the AIF on 18 January 1915. Posted to the 16th Battalion, he arrived at Gallipoli in July. In October he was promoted to sergeant; the following January, Potts was commissioned. He served on the Western Front as a captain in command of the 4th Light Trench Mortar Battery and was awarded the Military Cross for his performance at Mouquet Farm and on the Somme.

By February 1918 Potts was back with the 16th Battalion. In July he was shot in the chest by a sniper, the bullet narrowly missing his spine. After a month in a French hospital, he was evacuated to England. Despite being classified as 20 per cent disabled and in receipt of a pension, Potts worked as a jackeroo on his return to Western Australia before buying his own farm in 1920. He married Helena Wigglesworth in 1926.

Potts also continued soldiering in the militia forces. He transferred to the AIF on 1 May 1940, was posted to the 2/16th Battalion as a company commander, and sailed for the Middle East in October. A respected officer, Potts encouraged initiative in his troops and subjected them to tough training. His unit served in Syria against the Vichy French, where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Mentioned in Despatches. Potts was promoted to lieutenant colonel in August 1941 and given command of his battalion..." - READ MORE LINK (www.awm.gov.au)

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