LIEUTENANT GENERAL GEORGE H. BRETT
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2
Photo AWM:- ID Number: 011744
Lt. Gen. George H. Brett
George H. Brett was born in Cleveland, Ohio, USA on 7 February 1886. General George H. Brett's father was a famous Librarian in Cleveland, Ohio. His father was the first public librarian to allow patrons direct access to the shelves of books. He also set up the first "branch libraries" and children's sections of US libraries.
George H. Brett graduated at VMI in 1909. He was appointed as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Philippine Scouts on 22 March 1910. He became a 2nd Lieutenant of the Cavalry Regiment in the Army in 1911.
He became Commanding Officer of Crissy Field from 1921 until 1924. He graduated from the Army War College in June 1936. He became Assistant Chief of Air Corps in January 1939. He became the Chief of the Air Corps in May 1941. Brett was the acting Chief of Air Corps from November 1939 to May 1941 when Arnold was serving as Acting Additional Deputy Chief of Staff (Air) on the Army's General Staff. Brett was a Major General at the time.
After the arrival of the Pensacola Convoy in Brisbane, Queensland on 22 December 1941, the initial American headquarters in Australia for US Army Forces in Australia (USAFIA) was established in Lennons Hotel, in George Street, Brisbane. General Barnes relocated USAFIA headquarters to Melbourne on 3 January 1942.
On 31 December 1941 (another source suggsted 28 December), Lt. Gen. George H. Brett arrived in Darwin, Australia after meeting with Sir Archibald Wavell, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in Chunking. Brett was appointed Deputy Supreme Commander on 1 January 1942 for the American British Dutch and Australian Command ABDACOM that was established that same day. Brett was promoted to Lieutenant General on 7 January 1942.
Brett then moved to Lembang, in West Java in January 1942 to join Sir Archibald Wavell the Supreme Commander of ABDACOM. The surrender of Singapore on 15 February 1942 disrupted the ABDA Command and General Wavell resigned as Supreme Commander on 25 February 1942 and control of the former ABDA Area reverted to local Commanders. General Brett had departed for Australia a few days earlier on 23 February 1942 arriving in Melbourne on 24 February 1942 to take command of all United States forces in Australia. General Barnes became his Chief of Staff and General Lewis Hyde Brereton was in command of all Air Forces. General Brett became the Commanding General, US Army Forces in Australia. Brett commanded the ground and air forces of the US Army and their supporting service support in Australia.
The Americans needed to establish an organisation structure to distribute supplies and personnel throughout Australia. They eventually set up what was known as numbered Base Sections of the United States Army Forces in Australia (USAFIA).
In April 1942, Brett became the Commander of Allied Air Forces in Australia. The Allied Air Headquarters, SWPA was established on 20 April 1942 and was located in Victoria Barracks, in Melbourne. Bostock was appointed as Brett's Chief of Staff. Air Commodore Hewitt was appointed as Director of Allied Air Intelligence.
General Brett established two US Air Commands on 4 May 1942 to enable flexibility of control of offensive operations. No. 1 U.S. Air Command was established in Darwin under the command of Colonel (later Brigadier-General) Albert L. Sneed. No. 2 U.S. Air Command, under the command of Brigadier General Martin F. Scanlon, established itself in the Operations and Signals Building at 3 Ramsay Street in Garbutt in Townsville.
In the United States, officers of Lieutenant General or higher are appointed to positions of "importance and responsibility" which means every time they are assigned to a position, they are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate in the grade and in the position. Should they vacate the position, they lose the grade. They are thus reappointed to grade each time they change assignments at that level. Brett was appointed a lieutenant general in the position of Commanding General, US Army Forces in Australia and reappointed the next November as a lieutenant general in the position of Commanding General, Caribbean Defense Command. He retained the position of USAFIA while he served from April to July as Commander-in-Chief, Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific Area under General DouglasMacArthur.
The concept of the U.S. Air Commands was to place a mobile command with the combat units. The mobile command would move forward with the combat units in a leap frog fashion to assume command at the next forward base acquired in an offensive campaign. The concept quickly proved impractical and after only a few months, the U.S. Air Commands were dissolved.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, the future 36th President of the United States, hitched a ride back to Australia from New Guinea in General Brett's B-17D Flying Fortress, "Swoose", #40-3097 after being involved in a bombing raid on Lae on 9 June 1942 in a different aircraft. The pilot of "Swoose", Captain Frank Kurtz, got lost on his way to Cloncurry and when they almost ran out of fuel, he decided to land in the bush at Carisbrooke Station near Winton.
While in Brisbane General Brett lived at one of Brisbane's finest residences, "Braelands". Apparently someone called Robinson had secured "Braelands" for Brett. (Can anyone confirm the location of "Braelands"?). Brett was given a farewell cocktail party at "Braelands" on the evening of 3 August 1942. General George C. Kenney attended the party. Brett had been given the Silver Star Medal earlier that day by General Douglas MacArthur. High ranking officers from the American and Australian, land, sea and air forces along with some representatives from GHQ attended the farewell party for Brett.
At daybreak on 4 August 1942, Brett flew back to the USA in his B-17D, Flying Fortress "Swoose" piloted by Major Frank B. Kurtz. Brett took Brigadier General Edwin S. Perrin back to the States with him. Others on board were Lt. Col. L.B. Kelly, Major John De Vos (Brett's Aide-de-camp), Lt. Marvin McAdams (co-pilot), Lt. Harry Schreiber (Navigator) and Sgts. Aubrey J. Fox and H.M. Varmer (crew members). They landed at San Francisco and broke the Australia - United States record of 51 hours 49 minutes set by the Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith. The B-17 was also known as "Alexander The Swoose".
"Swoose" is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum (N.A.S.M), in Washington. "Swoose" had previously been assigned to the 19th Bomb Group. On that same day General George C. Kenney officially took over as Allied Air Force Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area.
In November 1942 he became the Commanding General of the Caribbean Defense Command and Panama Canal Department.
He was decorated with the DSM, Silver Star and DFC.
General Brett had a son, Devol "Rock" Brett who also achieved three-star Lieutenant General status in his Air Force career. "Rock" flew P-51s in Korea and F-4s in Vietnam. He was shot down in Vietnam but avoided capture.
General Brett retired to Winter Park, in Florida, USA where he was later buried.
I'd like to thank Martin G. Kemplin of Winter Park in Florida, USA, for his assistance with this page.
I'd like to thank Mike Johnson, Fallon, Nevada, USA for his assistance with this home page.
"General Kenney Reports - A Personal History
of the Pacific War"
by George C. Kenney
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"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 15 September 2001
This page last updated 24 January 2020