*** World War II -- Australia

World War II Country Trends: Australia

Australia World War II
Figure 1.--Here Australian children are riding on a miniature train at Sandringham near Melnourne. The photograph is undated, but was probably taken in 1943. A year earlier, Australia had been on the front line and bracing for a Japanese invasion. Only three American carriers stood between Australia and the Japanse. The train ride was organised for the 'Bomb Children of Britain' charity. Children turned over a toy for a train ride. The charity was operated during 1943 and 44 by British immigrants Robert and Madge Edwards. The boy driving the train in their son Bill. Notice the toys the children awaiting their turn are holding.

Australia joined Britain in fighting NAZI Germany after the German invasion of Poland (1939). As in World War I, the draft became a potent political issue. War with Italy followed after Mussolini declared war and invaded an already defeated France (June 1940). Australia's small army was deployed to Egypt and played a major role in the defense of the Suez Canal against Rommel's Afrika Korps. Other Australia units were deployed to the British bastion at Singapore. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Singapore quickly fell. Perhaps the greatest disaster to British arms in the War. The British and Australians taken in Singapore were brutally treated by the Japanese. The fall of Singapore meant that Australia itself was largely defenseless, Its army was either in North Africa or captured along with the Singapore garrison. After seizing the Dutch East Indies and much of New Guinea. The Japanese bombing Darwin and other cities in northern Australia. The Japanese next targeted Port Moresby to complete their conquest of New Guinea in preparation for an eventual invasion of Australia. The country was vulnerable because the Australian Army was largely in North Africa fighting the Afrika Korps. The Australians had also been weakened by the surrender in Singapore. At the time the only meaningful force between Australia and the Japanese were two American carriers Yorktown and Lexington. These carriers alerted by American code breakers and intercepted the Japanese in the Coral Sea (April 1942). Although Lexington was sunk and Yorktown badly damaged, the Japanese invasion force turned back. This gave the Australians time to train a new army and for American troops and supplies to arrive in Australia to build a creditable force. The Australians then turned back a Japanese effort to seize Port Moresby in an overland attack and played an important role in the reconquest of New Guinea.

World War I (1914-18)

World War I was the most costly war ever fought by Australia. Australia's population in 1914 was less than 5.0 million people, less than Belgium. Conscription proved to be highly controversial. Australians reacted to the outbreak of the War in Europe with a wave of enthusiasm to support Britain. Over 0.4 million men enlisted. The Army set very demanding physical standards. The first Australian troops were deployed to Egypt to protect the Suez Canal which was threatened after the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers. The Australians were rushed to Egypt with little military training. They were trained after arriving in Egypt. The Australians were used along with New Zealand, British, and French troops in the costly Gallipoli campaign (1915). After Gallipoli the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was reorganized. Reinforcements arrive from Australia expanded the force from from two to five infantry divisions. The AIF was shifted to France, beginning in March 1916. There they participated in the bloody engagements on the Western Front. Casualties totaled 60,000 killed, four times that of Belgium where much of the War was fought. Another 156,000 men were wounded or captured. The trasuma of Wirld War I would dominate ASyustralian thinking in the uinter-War era.

The Depression (1930s)

Australia was among the countries most severely impacted by the Depression. The economic problems, however, did not begin with Wall Street Crash. The country's economy was based on exporting agricultural and raw materials. Wheat and wool were especially important. After World War I there was about of infatuation and recession. The economy began to recover 1923. The returning soldiers were given blocks of rural land. The Government sponsored some 0.2 million British immigrants, many settling in small towns. As Europe began to recover from the War and production levels returned to normal, prices began to fall, affecting wool, wheat and other export markets. Britain returned ti the gold standard (1925). As the Australian pound was tied to the British pound, this caused further problems. This was especially severe because Australia was a deeply indebted nation, perhaps the most indebted nation in the world even before the Depression. This left government at all levels less able to deal with the mounting problem. Major loans had been contracted to power the country's infrastructure building -- among the projects the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Federal and state, governments after World War I borrowing from international lenders in Britain and America to fund infrastructure projects. Australia was the largest borrower from London banks during the 1920s, but when commodity prices plummeted (late-1920s), loan funds began to dry up. The value of the country's wheat and wool exports halved in 1929 and 1930 from already low prices. And as people lost jobs and companies experienced hard times. tax revenue also declined. The money to repay those loans was becoming a major problem. The same occurred in America with the agricultural sector. Unlike the cities where industry experienced the Roaring Twenties, the agricultural sector experienced hard times. And Australia had little heavy industry. The economy was primarily based on agriculture and animal husbandry--especially sheep. Then the American stock market crashed (1929), Government policies turned an ordinary recession into a world-wide Depression. And with the Depression export markets dried up and with them jobs. At the peak of the Depression in 1932, a third of the nation was unemployed. People could not pay their mortgages and rents and were losing their homes and out on the street. Australian incomes declined by a third. Some 40,000 men moved around the country looking for jobs. Shantytowns appeared at the edges of cities and towns. By 1932 more than 60,000 men, women and children were dependent on the sustenance (welfare) payments known as the 'susso', a state-based sustenance payment that enabled families to obtain the bare minimum of food. The susso was not unemployment insurance and varied somewhat from state to state . It was a feeding program, only available to people in the most dire circumstances. People jobless for an extended period with no family assets. A secession of sort-lived governments proved incapable of reversing the decline. The major effort was to control the Federal deficit. Conditions did not approve, however until Australia major export markets began to recover (beginning about 1937). This was when Britain began rearming, although on a slower trajectory than NAZI Germany. State-funded public works were also important. Public works funded by state and local governments that brought about the slow recovery. By the start of the Second World War unemployment was down to 11 per cent. The Depression had caused Australia to cut the already military spending to the bone. Most people saw no prospect of war at the time. This meant that Australia would be more unprepared for war than virtually any country. Other countries cut military spending during the Depression, bu Australia unlike many other counties that participated in the War did not have a strong industrial base and could not produce modern arms in substantial quantity as Britain and America were able to do.

Declaration of War (1939)

Australia joined Britain in fighting NAZI Germany after the German invasion of Poland (September 1939). Like Britain, Australia did not deckare war on the Soviert Union which also invaded Poland. The Australian experience in World War I had created a considerable pacifist sentiment in Australia, but news of Hitler and the NAZIs had also alerted Australians to the nature of the NAZI regime, alyhough not the full dimensiions of the evil involved. Thus when Britain declared war on Germany, the Australian Government followed Britain head long into the greatest conflict in history. Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced, "Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially, that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result, Australia is also at war. No harder task can fall to the lot of a democratic leader than to make such an announcement." (September 3, 1939). The Australian Parliament for some reason had not ratified the 1931 Westminster Statute, and so lacked an independent foreign policy. The Prime-Minister recognised this when he simply said that as Britain was at war with Germany, so Australia was at war with Germany. There was no serious oposition in Parlament to this, but there was no actul vote. And unlike the declaration of war, conscription would prove an issue. At the time the Australian focus was on Europe. And the population still considered themselves secure behind the protective shield of the Brtish Royal Navy. But Britain like Australia had cut military spending to the bone and that shield it would soon prove was not what it once was. Most Australians still felt that Britain was the mother country and guaranted Australian security. Must less attention was focused on Japan which had invaded China. This changed dramatically after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 1941). Now the War was no longer on the other side of the globe and Australia would be in the thick of it. More than 2 years later after the Japanese launched the Pacific War, Australia ratified the Westminster Statute, backdated to 1939.

Political Consequences

Australia was an idolated cirner of the Brutish Empire. Very few Austalians had traveled abroad. And very few Ameruicans or Europeans had been to Australia. There had been great enthusiasm for coming to Britain's assistance when World War I broke out in Europe (1914). Most Australians were still of British stock and still saw Britain as the mother country. The fact that Britain declared war for Australia did not come into political focus until the conscription debate and even more so after the War. Australians as people in other countries, including Britain and America, after the War began to see it as a huge mistake. This provided great support for the Labour Party which like the British Labor Party with its Socialist underpinnings approached pacifism. The war crisis woud change that as in Britain. Most Austrlians were still of British stock. And the country's customs and traditions were largely British. Many Australians began to question Australia's constitutional status and ties with Britain, especially when Britain proved unable to quarantee Australian security. Prime-Minister John Curtin (1941-45) who became Australia's prime-minister only 2 months before Pearl Harbor would lead this fundamental change. Ironically, he had been an outspoken crituc of World swar II, but would be Australia's war-time prime-minister. And he right away would have major disagreements with British Prome-Ministrer Winston Churchill. This reorientation not only occurred at the top, but with the population as a whole. The 1 million American servicemen that would pass through Australia during the War would play a role in the monumental changes underway.


Most Australians had rallied to aid Britain during World War I. There was wide spread support for forming a voluntary army to fight in Europe. Conscription was, however, highly controversial. Australian law permitted conscription, but not outside of Australia. There were bitter debates in Parliament as well as street demonstrations. Australian voters in a national vote rejected compulsory military service twice (1916 and 1917). World War II was a very different conflict. The Australian Army was deployed in the Western Dessert when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and moved south toward Australia. For a time only a few American carriers stood between Australia and the Japanese. With the Japanese threat Australia confronted the issue of conscription again. This time the Japanese were moving toward Australia itself and actually invaded New Guinea, an Australian protectorate. Australian conscripts were used there and played a key role in preventing the Japanese from seizing Port Moresby, from where they would have threatened northern Australia. The Cabinet proposed major changes in the conscription law. The Defense (Citizen Military Forces) Act 1943 included provisions allowing the use of in the South West Pacific Area during the War. A provision of the Act provided for the rescinding of this authority 6 months after the end of the War. As the fighting moved away from Australia in 1943, the issue arose of using conscripts in the new theaters further north. As American conscripts were fighting in these areas, still much closer to Australia than America, limitations on conscription seemed to represent a lack of commitment on Australia's part. The Government had the votes in Parliament, but the issue had been so contentious during World War I, Prime Minister Curtin from the Labour Party was reluctant to act. Curtin had been a vocal opponent of conscription in World War I. Instead he staged a debate within the Labour Party. Opposition proved so limited that the Government proceeded to amend the conscription law. The area was expanded, but there was still significant limitations. There proved to be no substantial objection to conscription during the War--in sharp contrast to World War I.

Strategic Position

Australia had a very small military force. Britain as the the war progressed in Europe found itself in mortal danger. Australia had to decide whether to commit its small force to assist Britain or to keep it in the Pacific area because of the threat from Japan. British military planners assured the Australian Government that the bastion of Singapore would prevent the Japanese from expanding south. Of course the Americans in the Philippines was another barrier to Japan. Australian security was improved when the United States moved its Pacific Fleet headquarters west to Pearl Harbor. As a result, much of Australia's small army was deployed to Singapore and to North Africa to assist the British. What the Australian Government like the Americans and British did not fully appreciate was the full extent of Japanese naval power--especially the Kido Butai, their powerful carrier force. Australia's geographic location was of no real importance as long as the War, like during World War I, was being fought in Europe. After Japan launched the Pacific War, Australia's geographic location became of great importance. The Japanese Offensive in quick succession rolled over Allied positions in the South Pacific, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippine Islands. Australia was the only important position left in the South Pacific. And the Japanese saw that Australia was a threat to the vast territories they had conquered--especially the oil fields in Borneo and the Dutch East Indies. The Australians braced for invasion and Britain could offer no real assistance as the Japanese had driven the Royal Navy out of the Indian Ocean (March 1942) and most of the Army was in North Africa fighting the German Africa Korps. And given the barbarity exhibited by the Japanese military, he prospect was terrifying. It is then that the Americans began arriving. Australia would slowly shift from a target, to the vital springboard launching the drive toward Japan. At the same time the U.S. Marines engaged the Japanese on Guadalcanal, the Australians stopped the Japanese at Milne Bay and the Kokoda Trail--the first land reverses suffered by the shocked Imperial Army. This was not what the Japanese War Lords had signed on for when they attacked Pearl Harbor. .

Sea War

The Royal Australian Navy was put under the operational control of the British Royal Navy with the outbreak of World War II (1939). This changed with Pear Harbor (1941). First ABDACOM, ajoint command was firnmed. Then Australian naval forces were put under the operationl command of the U.S. Navy. Australia was not a major naval power, but the Royal Australia Navy played an important role in both theaters of the War during the critical years before the engine of American industry began turning out ships beyond the capability of the Germans and Japamese to cope. Both the Germans and Japanese gave little attention to the Dominions in their military assessments, but the Dominions taken together were essentailly like another major power on the Allied side. And in fact all punched abiovde their weight. In naval terms, it was Canada that was the major player, but Australia played an importantant role in the Meditrarranean (1940-41) and the South Pacifuc when British and Amerucan seab power was at uts nadir (1942). The Scrap Iron destroyer flotilla was of grreat value to the hard pressed Royal Navy in the Mediterraanean (1940-41). It is in the Pacific, however, that the Australians played a crucial role (1942). Australia lost four cruisers in a very short period. The first two without major imoact. The second two were involved in two crucial engagements, helping to save the U.S. Marines on Guadalcanal. The actions in the Solomons during 1942 were some of the fiercest in naval history and were fought at a time when it was the Japanese that had the superior forces. After new U.S. ships begam arriving in quantity (1943), the RAN played a valuablee, but minor role..

The Mediterranean (1940-41)

The British Royal Navy (RN) was stretched to the limit by the German U-boat attacks in the North Atlantic. Italy's declaration of war, however, significantly changed the strategic naval balance. The defeat of France had removed the French fleet from the Allied order of battle. It also meant that the British now faced the powerful Italian fleet in the Mediterranean. There was no realistic prospect for the British to deploy meaningful forces in the Pacific in case of war with the Japanese. In fact, units of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) were deployed westward to the Mediterranean to participate in operations against the Italian fleet. In a series of ferocious naval battles, the Italian Fleet was defeated (1940-41). The Australian Army units in the arez the best known Australian contribution in to the Western Desert. The RAN also made a contribution--notably the 'The Scrap Iron Flotilla'. This was a RAN destroyer group that operated first in the Mediterranean during World War II. The name was bestowed on the group by of all people NAZI Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels making the case that the British were scraping the bottom of the barrel. The RAN flotilla was made up of five aging RN World War I destroyers. The RN thinking that because of SONAR (ASDIC) that U-boats were no longer a threat and escorts were no longer needed in numbers, transferred the bas ically obsolete destroyers to the the RAN (1930s). The Austraklian Scrap Iron Flotilla played an important role in the Meduitarrean sinking Azis sunmarines. They also plasyed a an important role in the British victory in the desuve Battle of Capoe Matapan. The then helped escort supply ships to the beleagered Tobtuk garrison. HMAS Waterhen was sunk suring one of thise runs when set upon by 19 German stukas (November 1941). The defeat of the Italian Navy allowed the RAN destroyers to be transferred back into the Indian and Pacific Islands. The Indian Ocean was vital in 1942 because American and British supplies for the British Eighth Army in the Western Desert had to be delivered through the Indian Ocean. HMAS Vampire was sunk in the Indian Ocean (1942). HMAS Voyager was sunk near Timor (1942). HMAS Stuart and HMAS Vendetta managed to survived the War. 【Moyes】

The Pacific

After Japan launched the Pacific War, Australia's geographic location became of great importance. The Japanese Offensive in quick sucession roled over Allied positions in the South Pacific, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philipine Islands. Austrlia was the only important positiion left in the South Pacific. And the Jaonese saw that Australia was a threat to the vast territiruies they had conquered--especilly the oil fields in Borneo and the Dutch East Indies. The Australians braced for invasion and Britain could offer no real assistance as the Japanese had driven it out of the Indian Ocean (March 1942). It is then that the Americans began arriving. Australia would slowly shift from a target, to the vital sprigboard launching the drive toward Japan. The RAN fleet consisted mostly of small ships. Its largest ships were crisers, two of which were lost with no readeaming gain. The light cruiser HMAS Perth was sunk by a German raider (November 1941). Then HMAS Perth was sunk with the USS Houston in the fight for the Dutch East Indies. But it was the fight For Guadalcanal that the RAN played a vital role. Australian cruisers and destroyers helped escort the invasion fleet. After the Marines landed (August 8). the Japanese sent a cruiser force down the slot which could have destroyed the cargo ships still unloading men and material. The Japanese decimated a blocking force inclusing including HMAS CaAnberra, but the Japanese turned around leaving the transports untouched. RAN cruisers were heavily involved in the South Pacific provoding critical assisatnce to the hugely depleted American Pacific fleet before new ships from American shipyards began arriving in numbers. Australia could not build cruiisers, but they built more than 50 corvetts which played an important role in keeping the sea lanes to American open.

Air War

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has origins dating to the Imperial Conference held in London just before World War I (1911). One of the decisions reached was that aviation capability should be developed within the armed forces of the British Empire, primarily the Dominions. Australia was the first Dominion to comply. The Government established the Australian Aviation Corps beginning with the Central Flying School at Point Cook, Victoria (1912). By the time of World War I. Australia was operating the Australian Flying Corps (1914). Australia mobilized eight squadrons during the War, half of which was action in the Middle East and on the Western Front. Four of the eight squadrons were still training when the War ended. Some 200 Australians served with British flying service. The Australian Flying Corps was part of the Australian Army during the War. It was disbanded after the War. The Australian Air Corps (AAC) was formed (1920). The Australian Air Force was formed (1921) and King George V . on 31 March 1921. King George V approved the prefix 'Royal' bring the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The RAAF then became the second Royal air arm to be formed in the British Commonwealth, after the British Royal Air Force. It was equipped with World War I aircraft. Australia did not have the industrial or technological capability to build modern high performance aircraft or the desire to commit funds to building a modern air force. Australia's defense policy was to rely on the British for defense, primarily the Royal Navy and the Singapore bastion. Australia did purchase a few modern ships for the Royal Australian Navy. When Hitler and Stalin launched World War II, the War seemed far away from Australia (September 1939). The Australian Air Board had only a few facilities. There was the RAAF Station Laverton, RAAF Station Richmond, RAAF Station Pearce, No. 1 Flying Training School RAAF at Point Cook, RAAF Station Rathmines and five small units. The RAAF had an assortment of mostly obsolete aircraft. Worse still, Britain was hard pressed. It also had not made the military a priority and incredibly almost entered the War with biplanes. They were unable to deploy substantial naval unis, modern aircraft or heavy equipment to the Pacific. Not only was Australia not supplied, but neither was the Singapore bastion. The focus on Europe, at first defending France and than Britain itself. Australia joined the Empire Air Training Scheme. Air crews could not be easily trained in Britain under war conditions. Flight crews received basic training in Australia and then went to Canada for advanced training. A few Australian airmen flew in the Battle of Britain (July-September 1940). The war in the Western Desert began when Italy entered the War (June 1940). Australian served in the Desert Air force with modern British aircraft. The Luftwaffe did not badly damage the RAF or the British Aircraft industry in the Battle of Britain. The RAF was more effective after the battle than before and aircraft production increased. Australians also served in RAF Bomber Command and for reasons we do not fully understand sustained very heavy casualties. 【Stephens, p. 96.】 But the British struggled to meet the needs of the RAF for European/North African operations. As it became apparent that Japan was preparing to launch the Pacific War (1940), the Australian government established the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP). This was what was to become the Government Aircraft Factories to supply Commonwealth air forces (1941). 【Dennis, p. 277.】 The RAAF was eventually provided with large numbers of locally built versions of British designs such as the DAP Beaufort torpedo bomber, Beaufighters and Mosquitoes, as well as other types such as Wirraways, Boomerangs, and Mustangs. Australian did not have the technological capability to design aircraft, but they developed the capability to manufacture aircraft. But this had only began when the Japanese struck a Pearl Harbor and the planes built were not at beginning the match of the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero, in part because of tactical doctrine (December 1941). And in only a few months, Japanese aircraft were in range of northern Australia. This meant that the Australian Homeland was threatened for the first time. The War was no longer halfway around the world. And with the fall of Singapore, Britain could not be of assistance. The RAAF was unprepared for the emergency, They initially had negligible forces available to defend the country. The Australian Army was in the Western Desert and the RAN suffered serious losses. The RAAF did not have modern aircraft or much in way of air bases in the north when the Japanese began bombing. The RAAF had started to develop a series of military airfields across North West Australia under the Aerodrome Development Program (1940). The initial series of five major air fields were built between Adelaide River and Birdham to enable aircraft from Darwin to be relocated in the event of a Japanese raid. The Japanese struck only 3 months after Pearl Harbor. Japanese bombers hit Darwin (February 19, 1942). The airfield construction program was accelerated. These airfields would as the Australians expressed it, enabled the RAAF "Air War over the Top End and to take the fight to the enemy." Over 40 airstrips were eventually built along the length of the North-South road, most at the Top End. Fortunately American aircraft were beginning to arrive. The U.S. Navy carriers at considerable cost blocked a Japanese amphibious attack on Port Moresby that would have given the Japanese airbases to bomb Australia. And American C-47 transports supplied Australians on the rugged Kokoda Trail. The Japanese without any air support began to starve on the Trail Not only did the Australians began building a major air force, but a steady transports from America built up a major American air command in Australia --the Fifth Air Force. The Americans also established numerous airfields in Australia, at first for the collective defense of the country after the disasters in Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines. But as the RAAF and the American 5th Air Force built up its strength, offensive operations began. At the end if the War, over 215,000 men and women served in the RAAF. Nearly 11,000 were killed in action. The RAAF formed 76 squadrons. Over 152,000 personnel operated nearly 6,000 aircraft. It was the world's fourth largest air force. The RAAF alone exceeded the Imperial Japanese Air Force at the peak of its power. That important force, however, remained in the southwest Pacific and did not join the Americans in the Central Pacific and the strategic bombardment of the Japanese Home Islands.

North Africa and the Mediterranean (1940-42)

The Australian Army was not engaged in combat until Mussolini declared war on Britain and France and invaded an already defeated France (June 1940). Next the Italians invaded Egypt from Libya in an effort to seize the Suez Canal (September 1940). The British with a small force aided by the Indian Army managed to defeat the much larger invading Italian Army (December 1940). The Australian 6th, 7th, and 9th Divisions joined British forces n the Mediterranean and North Africa. Australia's divisions played a major role in the defense of the Suez Canal and the defeat of the Italians forces invading Egypt. The British had the opportunity to finish off the Italians, but Churchill honored a commitment to the Greeks and transferred troops to Greece (April 1941), including Australians. There the Germans quickly defeated the Greeks and British and they had to be evacuated, first from Greece and then from Crete. This provided the respite needed for the Germans to reinforce the Italians. Mussolini had rejected German offers earlier, but faced with defeat he finally accepted German assistance. The Germans began landing mechanized units which would the Afrika Korps (March 1941). The commander was Gen. Erwin Rommel who had distinguished himself in France. Australians participated in the Allied invasion of Syria which was controlled by Vichy France (June-July 1941). By this time Rommel's Afrika Korps had scored some important victories and was preparing a second invasion of Egypt. About 14,000 Australians and other Commonwealth troops held Tobruk against repeated German attacks (April-August 1941). They were surrounded, but supported by the Royal Navy. British control of Tobruk greatly complicated German operations into Egypt. The British mounted another offensive and relieved Tobruk. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor opened the Pacific war. This was a dangerous time for Australia because it faced a Japanese offensive at a time when most of the combat units were in North Africa. The Australian 6th and 7th Divisions were shipped back from North Africa to Australia to serve as the backbone of Australian operations against Japan. The Australian 9th Division remained in North Africa and played an important role in the Allied victory at El Alamein (October 1942). The 8th Army pursued the Afrika Korps west. The Australian 9th Division after El Alamein was also reassigned back to Australia. Thus the only Australians left in North Africa were three squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) or a few Australians in British RAF.

The Home Front

Australia and the other Dominions declared war to support Britain (September 1939). Few felt actually endangered. Thus Australia was one of the few countries that was involved in the War from the onset. At the time, the War in Europe seemed very far away. Many Australians remembered very well what had happened in World War I and the terrible losses and like the British entered the War reluctantly. It did not at first have a great impact unless they had family members deployed overseas. The Australian Army was sent to the Middle East which helped the hard-pressed British facing the Germans on the Western Front. For many the major impact was rising prices. The fall of France changed the strategic balance (June 1940). And although Britain survived because of the Channel and Royal Air Force, bad news kept coming. The failure of the Greek campaign hit Australia hard as there men were involved (April 1941). The Casualties in the Western Desert continued. Then the Japanese menace grew with the seizure of Indo-China. Australians began feeling vulnerable in a way they had not in World War I. The primary feeling had been disgust over the casualties during World War I. Now many began to fear a Japanese invasion. The Australian Government conscripted both men and women into industries essential to the war effort. The Government converted factories to war productions. Many civilians signed up for voluntary work. Political changes occurred. Prime Minister Robert Menzies resigned in favor of Arthur Fadden, the leader of the Country Party (August 1941). The Labour Party leader, John Curtin, became the new Prime Minister (October 1941). He would lead the country through the War. Soon after Japan launched the Pacific War by striking the American naval base at Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941). Japanese forces launched an offensive that would bring them to the borders of Australia. The fall of Singapore (February 1942) removed the bastion that most Australians saw as vital to their defense. Australians suddenly saw the War very differently. The Government and military chiefs braced for a Japanese invasion. The Government began conscripting engineers and laborers into the Civil Construction Corps. They performed a range of tasks, including building landing strips, and roads. This was especially important after Pearl Harbor to connect Darwin where a Japanese invasion was foreseen to the rest of Australia by land. Before the War sea transport had been the major connection. Women began working in the war industries. Many began factory work for the first time. The Government using the British example formed the Women's Land Army. This allowed farmers to replace the men joining the services so agricultural production could be maintained. Food production was an important part of the war effort. After the fall of Singapore, preparations to fight off a Japanese invasion began. Te Government introduced blackout restrictions (February 1942). Air raid warning instructions were developed and issued. The military began stringing barbed wire across many east coast beaches as the Japanese occupied the Dutch East Indies. The Government urged all Australians, men, women and children, to put their backs into the war effort and mobilized the adult civilian population. The Government encouraged everyone to go 'all in' to support the war effort. Women enlisted to serve as nurses. Others enlisted in all the services (Air Force, Army and Navy) to serve in support roles, primarily at bases in Australia. Thousands of young women joined the women's auxiliary services - the WAAAF (Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force), the AWAS (Australian Women's Army Service) and the WRANS (Women's Royal Australian Naval Service). Others joined voluntary organizations such as the Red Cross. Others assisted the military to erect and patrol coastal defenses. Civilians also helped spot aircraft and shipping. Children pitched in as well, collecting bottles, newspapers, old tires (rubber with the fall of Malaya was in short supply), and metal, especially aluminum need for aircraft construction. Demand increased exponentially for food and other agricultural products like cotton. Australia not only had to produce, but also finance the war effort. The Government issued 'Austerity' war loans. Australia had to supply not only the men serving in the Middle East, but the American troops sent ton defend th country. They began arriving in large numbers. Well welcomed, American were accustomed to a life style and diet that Australia struggled to provide. The Government introduced rationing (June 1942). Ration books were issued to civilians for food and clothing.

Japanese Carrier Forces: Kido Butai (1941)

Japan in 1941 had the largest, most advanced carrier force in the world. The commander of the Imperial Fleet, Admiral Yamamoto, was a proponent of naval aviation. The Imperial Navy had 13 carriers. It was not just that the Japanese had more carriers, but they had higher performance aircraft and more experienced pilots. The carriers had Mitsubishi Zero fighters which out performed any fighters available to either the U.S. Navy or the U.S. army Air Corps had. Japanese carrier pilots went through a rigorous training program. Many had combat experience from operations over China. The Japanese pilots were the most skilled naval aviators in the world. The U.S. Navy Pacific fleet had two carriers, Lexington and Yorktown. Rising tensions in the Pacific caused the Navy to shift Enterprise to the Pacific to join them. The significance of this disparity in forces was not fully appreciated in 1941 because most naval planners still considered the battleship to be the capital ship. Also most Americans did not consider the Japanese to be capable of building high quality ships or planes or the Japanese to be effective fighters.

Japanese Imperial Conference (July 2, 1941)

The Japanese decided on a "southern advance" policy with the understanding that this could lead to war with the United States. Japan had earlier acted to safeguard its northern territories by signing a neutrality pact with the Soviets (April 13, 1941). The NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22) provided further assurance that there would be no danger of interference from the Soviets if Japan moved south.

Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)

The United States by 1941 was the only country with the naval power needed to oppose Japan and protect Australia. The Japanese carrier strike on the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor was devastating. All eight American battleships were sunk. Large numbers of aircraft were destroyed. The battleships were put out of action, but only two were destroyed. Even more importantly, the American aircraft carriers were not at Pearl. Largely unnoticed by the Japanese was that the American Pacific fleet was disabled but not destroyed. The Pacific Fleet would be unable to effectively oppose the Japanese offensive which took the Philippines, Dutch West Indies, Singapore, and much of New Guinea. It would, however, succeed in stopping the Japanese drive on Australia.

Japanese Offensive (December 1941-May 1942)

The immobilization of the U.S. Pacific Fleet after Pear Harbor permitted a massive Japanese offensive in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. The Japanese invaded British Borneo (December 16). The Japanese invaded Hong Kong (December 18). The Japanese launched invasion of Luzon in the Philippines (December 22). After an initial repulse, the Japanese took Wake Island (December 22). The British surrendered Hong Kong (December 25). The Filipino Government declared Manila an open city (December 26), but the Japanese bomb it (December 27). The Japanese take the American naval base at Cavite and enter Manila (January 2, 1942). The Japanese launched their offensive against the American and Filipino forces that had withdrawn to Bataan in the Philippines (January 7). The Japanese invades the Dutch East Indies and Dutch Borneo (January 11). The Japanese began an advance into Burma through Thailand from Indochina (January 16). Japanese took North Borneo (January 19). Japanese began the Solomons campaign by taking Rabaul on New Britain (January 23). The Japanese were to turn Rabaul into the most powerful military base in the South Pacific. The Japanese also invaded Bougainville, the largest island in the Solomons. The Japanese invaded Java in the Dutch East Indies (February 2). The Japanese invaded Sumatra in the DEI (February 14). The Japanese invaded Bali (February 19). Surviving Allied naval units attempted to slow down the Japanese in the DEI. The Japanese emerged victorious in the Battle of the Java Sea (February 27- March 1) The cruiser Houston, the largest American warship (except the carriers) still afloat in the Pacific, was sunk. The British are forced to evacuate Rangoon (March 7). Rangoon was the principal port in Burma. Without Rangoon, the British position in Burma was untenable. It also effectively severed the Burma Road, cutting off China from American war materials. The Japanese landed at Salamaua and Lae on New Guinea (March 7). The Dutch on Java are forced to surrender (March 8). The Japanese invaded the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal (March 23). The Japanese move into central Burma (April 29). They occupy Mandalay May 1). They then proceeded to drive the British out of Burma, reaching India (May 20). Here the Japanese were stopped, in part by British and Indian forces and in part by the difficulty of transporting supplies. As a result the Japanese decide to construct the Thailand-Burma railroad using POWs and local conscripts as a labor force. The Japanese move south into the Solomons, taking Tulagi (May 3). This was at the southern end of the Solomons next to Guadalcanal. The Japanese had successfully carved out a huge empire in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. They now had the territory with the raw materials they so craved including oil. It is at this point that the Battle of the Coral Sea (April 1942) first slows the Japanese advance and the defeat at Midway (June 1942) disastrously weakens the Imperial Fleet on which this offensive was based. Even so the offensive had brought Japanese forces perilously close to Australia as they commanded the DEI, most of New Guinea and the Solomons.

Singapore (January-February 1942)

Australia units were deployed to man the key British bastion at Singapore. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they also moved on Singapore which was central to the British and Australian strategic position in the Pacific. The Singapore defense plan involved the use of heavy guns were sited for a sea attack. The Japanese, however, attacked by moving down the supposedly impassable Malayan Peninsula to Singapore. British forces proved inept and unprepared for the jungle fighting in the Malay Peninsula. The British withdrew into Singapore (January 30). The Japanese with command of the sea began the siege of Singapore. Japanese attacked the Singapore (February 8/9). Singapore quickly fell. General Percival surrendered at Singapore (February 15). Singapore fell with relatively little resistance. It was perhaps the greatest disaster to British arms in the War. Australians were shocked. It in effect meant that Australia was on the front line of the War. Australia had fought World War I far removed from the front lines. World War II was very different.

Malay Barrier

In between Australia and the Japanese Central Pacific Islands was what the British called the Malay Barrier a notional line running down the Malay Peninsula, through Singapore and the southern-most islands of the Dutch East Indies. Singapore was the Keystone in the Malay Barrier. The forces needed to stop the Japanese were the Brutish forces located in Malaya and Singapore, but they proved inefectual. This left the weakly defended Dutch Indies and New Guiuna all that stood between the Japanese and Australia. ABDA/ABDACOM was organized to defend the DEI, but to little affect. The Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) did not have the men, equipment, or training to put up a serious defence. The The Webb Report was a Commonwealth effort to collect information on Japanese atrocities.

The Philippines (January-May 1942)

Next to Singapore, the other bulwark to Japanese expansion was the Philippines, at the time an American Commonwealth. The Japanese attack on the Philippines began with the destruction of Americans planes clustered together at Clark Field. With the Japanese commanding the sea and the air forces largely destroyed, the Philippines was cut off and incapable of preventing a Japanese invasion. General MacArthur decided to withdraw his outnumbered forces to Bataan. The problem was that there had been no planning for this. The defense plan had involved an air force and the Pacific Fleet. Now both were gone. MacArthur was able to withdraw to Bataan. He was unable, however, to get adequate supplies there. The American and Filipino forces managed to hold out on Bataan against the larger and well supplied Japanese forces for 3 months. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered General MacArthur out of the Philippines (February 22). He was spirited off Corregidor by PT boats (March 11). He was ordered to Australia to oversee Allied operations, initially the defense of the Australia. General Jonathan Wainwright replaces MacArthur as the U.S. commander.The Japanese launched a massive offensive (April 3). The American forces on Bataan running out of food and ammunition finally had to surrender (April 9). The Japanese forced the starving, sick prisoners on a forced march that became known as the Bataan Death March (April 10). Over 76,000 POWs were forced to march in hot, tropical conditions without adequate food or water over 60 miles. Over 5,000 American died. The Japanese take Corregidor (May 6). General Wainwright after the Japanese threaten to massacre the Corregidor garrison including the Army nurses unconditionally surrenders all U.S. And Filipino forces in the Philippines (May 6).

Nature of the War

Most accounts of World War II find that the Pacific War was fought more savagely than the European War, especially the fighting between the Germans and Western Allies. The differences can be exaggerated. There were German atrocities in the West (Oradour-surGlane and Malmedy). Both the Germans and Allies carried out air raids on civilian populations. There are, however, reasons to conclude that the fighting in the Pacific Theater reached a level of savagery not normally experienced in the Western Front of the European War. A range of explanations have been offered to explain the savagery of the conflict. Race certainly was a factor. The overwhelming factor, however, appears to be the Japanese martial code (Bushido) and the assumption as in the case of the NAZIs that the War was won and Japan would never have to answer for the horrific atrocities committed. In fact Japan has a nation has never come to terms with the atrocities committed by the Imperial army in its name.

Statute of Westminster (1942)

The British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminister (1931). his gave the Dominions full control over their fioreign policvy. Home ruikle was long since established. Fir some reason, the Australlian Parliment did not ratify it. The Australian Army was committed to the British effort in the Western Desert defending the Suez Canal and played a key role in the campaign (1940-42). Deploying the Army to North Africa, however, left Australia largely undefended when the Japanese declared war. Before the War, Australians had looked on Britain and the Royal Navy as their primary defense. After Pearl Harbor, however, the Royal Navy proved incapable of resisting the Japanese. The Japanese seizure of the British bastion at Singapore left Australia exposed to the Japanese. Prime-Minister Curtin wanted them back leading to a row with Prime-Minister Chuchill. The Japanese Navy prevented America from resupplying and reinforcing Gen. MacArthur in the Philippines. MacArthur was ordered out of the Philippines and undertook command of Australian and American units in the South Pacific. The Japanese Army was badly over extended. As a result, Australia had the men needed to defend their country. Australia, however, did not have the needed industy to build ships, planes, and heavy weaponns need to fight the Japanbese. Here Amoerica was needed. American servicemen and supplies in quantuty began arriving (April 1942). The U.S. Navy turned back a Japanese naval task force in the Coral Sea (May 1942). The Japanese persisted with ground firces. Ausr=tralian infantry would do much of the fighting in New Guina. American men and material did flow into Australia. Australian politicians decided that in the future the country had to have greater control over declaring war and deploying its military forces. Parliament finally adopted the Statute of Westminster, giving it complete authority over its own affairs. The Australian Government backdated it to 1939 to pass their own Declaration of War.

Defense of Australia

Australians were shocked by first Pearl Harbor and then the amazing Japanese successes in the Pacific, especially Singapore where some of their troops were sent. The fall of Singapore meant that Australia itself was largely defenseless, Its army was either in the Western Desert or captured along with the Singapore garrison. With the fall of the Dutch East Indies and much of New Guinea, Australia was within range of Japanese bombers. Only Port Moresby in southern New Guinea protected by the Own-Stanley Mountains remained in Australian hands. People looking at the map realized that Australia was next. The situation was dire. Not only was most of the Australian Army in the Western Desert, but there was no substantial Royal Navy force to oppose the seemingly invincible Imperial Fleet. The Japanese launched the largest air raid since Pearl Harbor. They targeted the northern Australian city of Darwin (February 19). Australians saw this as the prelude to an invasion. President Roosevelt ordered General MacArthur to escape from Corregidor in the Philippines to organize the defense of Australia. He escaped by PT boats (March 11, 1942). They managed to elude Japanese patrols and reached Mindanao. There a B-17 Flying Fortress. took him, his family, MacArthur arranges for himself and his family, and a handful of selected military aides. MacArthur arrived in Australia expecting to find a combat-ready force force waiting for him to launch an offensive against the Japanese to relieve the Philippines. He found that American troops and equipment have not yet arrived in force and that the Australian Army was in the Western Desert. He announced to the public about the Philippines, "I shall return." Typical for MacArthur, it was "I' not "we". President Roosevelt appointed MacArthur appointed commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater (March 18). While MacArthur brought no military forces with him, his appointment and assignment was critical for Australia. It meant that Australia would not face the Japanese alone, but would be supported by United States of America. At first it was only symbolic. The Japanese at this point of the War were indecisive. They had not anticipated the full extent of the success that they achieved. Their primary goals were Borneo, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, the Philippines, and Singapore. The key was Borneo and the DEI because of the oil. A cursory look at the map leads to the obvious observation that the newly-won territories were not secure with Australia still in Allied hands. That was obvious to the Japanese who debated not whether, but the timing of invading Australia. The problem for the Japanese was that first most of their army was in China and secondly the Japanese merchant marine (maru) fleet was hard pressed to supply the Japanese forces now spread all over the western Pacific and Southeast Asia. This meant that launching another major offensive was very difficult in 1942. The Japanese did begin to bomb Port Moresby in New Guinea and Darwin in northern Australia. The Japanese inability to launch an immediate invasion when Australian and American forces were still weak proved critical. It gave the Americans and Australians badly needed time. The first U.S. troops arrived in Australia (April 6). They were followed by a steady stream of troop and cargo vessels which rapidly built up a military creditable force. Until this time Australia had always looked at Britain for its security. The first force to make that commitment meaningful in World War II were two American carriers in the Coral Sea (May 1942).

Coral Sea (May 7-8, 1942)

The Japanese next targeted Port Moresby to complete their conquest of New Guinea in preparation for an eventual invasion of Australia. The country was vulnerable because the Australian Army was largely in North Africa fighting the Afrika Korps. The Australians had also been weakened by the surrender in Singapore. At the time the only meaningful force between Australia and the Japanese were two American carriers Yorktown and Lexington. These carriers alerted by American code breakers and intercepted the Japanese in the Coral Sea (May 7-8, 1942) Although Lexington was sunk and Yorktown badly damaged, the Japanese invasion force turned back. The Japanese only lost a small carrier, but the damage was much more severe. One of their front-line carries was badly damaged and the air crew of a second was mauled. This meant that two of Japan's major carriers were not available for the Midway Operation or to interdict the American men and supplies streaming into Australia in quantities that the Japanese never perceived.

Midway (June 1942)

Admiral Yamamoto was convinced that the remaining American carriers could be brought to battle and destroyed at Midway. The Japanese plans were based on achieving an element of surprise and on the fact that two American carriers had been destroyed in the Coral Sea, in fact the Yorktown, although heavily damaged had not been sunk. American code breakers had alerted the Americans to the Japanese plans. Admiral Nimitz positioned Enterprise and Hornet, along with the hastily patched up Yorktown northwest of Midway to ambush he Japanese. The American carrier victory at Midway dealt a crippling blow to the Imperial Navy. The Americans sank four first-line Japanese carriers, killing most of the well-trained crews. While the Imperial Navy still held an advantage, it was no longer an overwhelming one. Meanwhile American shipyards were turning out the new Essex class carriers that would engage the weakened Imperial Navy in 1943.

Allied Buildup

The Japanese war plan envisioned a quick victory after which the Allies would sue for peace. Most realized that Japan could never win a war of attrition. They assumed in 1941 that Britain would have difficulty surviving let along be able to project its power into the Pacific again. They also calculated that America would not have the stomach for the daunting and costly operations needed to retake the islands being fortified. Here the Japanese grossly miscalculated. Before Pearl Harbor, America was a divided nation with string isolationist and pacifist sentiment. After Pearl Harbor America was a united nation, determined to use its industrial strength to wage war. The Allied war plan involved giving priority to the European theater. Even so America rapidly shifted its economy into a war mode and vast quantities of supplies streamed out of American ports to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, and India. The naval battles at Coral Sea and Midway, the Australians time to train a new army and for American troops and supplies to arrive.

Mrs. Roosevelt Visit (September 1943)

The United States did not have diplomatic relations with Australia until World War II (1940). Before this, issues were addressed through the British Government. After Pearl Harbor and the fall of Singapore, the defense of Australia fell largely on the United States. Unlike America, Australia was in real danger during the War. And at a low point in the Allied situation, the precious carriers of the American Pacific fleet showed up in the Coral Sea to defend Australia (May 1942). (The Japanese did not pick up on why the Americans had deployed their carriers there.) The security situation had changed dramatically (1943). And soon Mrs. Roosevelt began planning a trip to emphasize the American commitment to Australia. The U.S. War Department opposed the idea of the First lady's trip to the South Pacific. The First Lady, however, was adamant. She undertook a grueling, 5-week tour of the South Pacific for the Red Cross in (August-September 1943). She had 17 stops, including Bora Bora, Fiji, Samoa, New Caledonia, Christmas Island, Guadalcanal, New Zealand, and Australia. She reportedly spoke some estimated 400,000 people. Admiral William F. 'Bull' Halsey, U.S. commander in the South Pacific, noted for his gruffness, opposed her visit. He said that he had a war to fight, and no time to waste welcoming a visiting 'do-gooder'. When Mrs. Roosevelt showed up and went to work, meeting with wounded men, he changed his opinion. Mrs. Roosevelt reached Australia (September 1943). She reaffirming the strength of the Australian-American partnership at the highest levels of the Australian leadership. She planted a famous Pin Oak. Mrs. Roosevelt made it irrefutable that the United States would stand by Australia come what may. She put a emphasis on visiting wounded soldiers. She made a point to recognizing the war work Australian women were doing. She stated during a Sydney event, "Perhaps here is the germ of an idea that in the postwar period women will be encouraged to participate in all activities of citizenship." She was a huge success. On the way home she insisted on visiting Guadalcanal and her new admirer Adm. Halsey made it possible.

South Pacific (1942-45)

Australia's participation in the Pacific War was conducted in the South Pacific. Control of the South Pacific, what Japan called the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ) was the reason Japan launched the Pacific War. The SRC had many resources the Japanese wanted, but the primary recourse needed was oil and there were important oil fields on Borneo (a shared British and Dutch island) and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). The longest campaign of the Pacific War was the struggle for New Guinea. The Japanese began landing along the northern coast. The Australians only defended Port Moresby along the Southern Coast. The Japanese first attempted an amphibious operation and then an overland assault. Both failed. The struggle for New Guinea was primarily an Australian operation until 1944. It began at Milne Bay (August 1942). The Australians also played an important role in the New Britain campaign. As American forces concentrated on the Central Pacific, the Australians assumed the role of dealing with isolated Japanese garrisons. The fighting in the South Pacific was vicious with terrible atrocities, very difficult logistics, men suffering from malaria and dysentery struggling to move heavy guns and supplies forward over difficult terrine.

Port Moresby

Japanese operations in New Guinea were their last offensive operations in the Pacific War, landing at various locations along the northern coast with little opposition. Due north of Port Moresby, on the northeast coast is Huon Gulf and the Huon Peninsula. The Japanese entered Lae and Salamaua, two locations on Huon Gulf, unopposed (early-March 1942). The Japanese wanted Port Moresby so they could expand their bombing campaign on Australia. They were, however, thwarted in their amphibious operation to take Port Moresby by American carriers in the Coral Sea (May 1942). They then launched an incredible land attack on Port Moresby involving moving on the Kokoda Trail across the towering Owen Stanley mountains. The Australians turned them back only a few miles short of Port Moresby. The Australians then launched their own overland attack along the Kokoda Trail. Australian infantry stopped them a few miles outside of Port Moresby.

Guadalcanal (August 1942)

Virtually no Americans and few Australians had ever heard of the Solomon Islands, let alone Guadalcanal. The Solomons were British territory administered from Australia. The Japanese seized the Solomons (January-May 1942). Rabaul in the north was turned into a major base from which to support the conquest of New Guinea and then Australia. The Japanese after Midway had to reassess their strategy. The loss of four carriers meant that they were no longer the overweeningly dominant naval force. They knew that American forces were flowing into Australia by sea. They decided to build an air strip on the southern-most island in the Solomons--Guadalcanal. Interestingly the Japanese never deployed their powerful submarine fleet to interdict the American convoys in a meaningful way. When American reconnaissance aircraft spotted the airstrip being constructed, the American marines training on New Zealand were ordered to launch the first Allied offensive of World War II. The American 1st Marine Division land at Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the southern Solomons (August 7). The Marines take the unfinished Japanese airfield on Guadalcanal and rename it Henderson Field after Maj. Lofton Henderson, a pilot killed at Midway (August 8). The American invasion surprised the Japanese. But air attacks from Rabaul destroyed or drove off the supply ships leaving the Marines without much of their supplies and equipment. The Japanese Navy moved down the slot and destroyed the Allied naval force covering the landings in a savage night action--the battle of Savo Island. The Japanese were highly skilled in night fighting and the Allies were not yet exploiting their advantage with radar to best effect. Eight Japanese ships manage to sink three U.S. heavy cruisers, an Australian cruiser, and one U.S. destroyer. This all occurred in one disastrous hour. In addition another U.S. cruiser and two destroyers were damaged (August 8-9). This serious impaired the Navy's ability to support the Marines on Guadalcanal. The Japanese did not have a substantial garrison in Guadalcanal and the Marines had destroyed the force on Tulagi. The Japanese quickly landed ground forces and attack the Marines who had dug in to defend the airfield (August 21). The Japanese landed substantial forces on Guadalcanal, but they were committed peace-meal. The terrain also made it difficult for the Japanese to move artillery and other heavy guns forward. The Japanese were also unable to adequately supply the forces landed. As a result the Marines were terribly mauled, but were able to hang on. The Japanese had superior naval forces in the Solomons, especially after the Battle of Savo Island. The U.S. And Japanese carriers fought the Battle of the Eastern Solomons (August 24). This discouraged the Japanese from fully committing their naval forces for the effort to retake Guadalcanal.

New Guinea (1942-45)

Perhaps the most unlikely battlefield of World War II was New Guinea one of the most remote and primitive places on earth. Not only was New Guinea a major battlefield, but the battle lasted more than 3 years. Many Pacific islands that became caught up in World War II were small islands some like Iwo Jima were not even populated. This was not the case of New Guinea. The island was a huge island with a substantial, albeit primitive population. It was perhaps the most isolated corner of the world, virtually unknown to the rest of the world. This changed suddenly after Pearl Harbor. The Japanese lunched an offensive that swept over the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. The Allies suffered one stunning defeat after another. It was on New Guinea and Guadalcanal that the Allies first succeeded in stopping the Japanese. This set up a 2-year struggle for the island. The Japanese Army succeeded in taking the western and northern sides of the island. The New Guinea Campaign was a joint American-Australian campaign. And until 1944 the Australians provided the bulk of the ground forces.

New Britain (1943-45)

The New Britain campaign was part of Operation Cartwheel. The goal at first was to seize Rabaul on the eastern portion of New Guinea. The Japanese has seized Rabaul soon after Pearl Harbor (January 1942). They built a major naval base there and ringed it with protective army bases and air fields. The Japanese garrison there exceed 100,000 men and that was after sending nearly 40,000 men to Guadalcanal ad massive naval forces fir sea battles fought off Guadalcanal. Eventually the Allied objective was changed to isolating the Japanese in Rabaul. The New Britain part of Cartwheel was conducted in two phases (December 1943 - August 1945). American forces began the campaign by landing and securing bases around Arawe and Cape Gloucester in western New Britain (December 1943). Further landings took place (March 1944 around Talasea). This basically defeated the Japanese forces in the eastern part of the island. The island is very rugged with virtually no roads. This meant that the large Japanese garrison in Rabaul did not have the ability or supplies to get at the Allied forces in eastern New Britain, although there were raids. The Allies, however, from air bases in eastern New Britain and other islands could bomb Rabaul. And growing Allied naval dominance made it impossible for the Japanese to supply and reinforce Rabaul. The Australian 5th Division took over from American troops (October 1944). They undertook a Landing at Jacquinot Bay (November 1944). They then carried out a limited offensive to secure a defensive line across the island between Wide Bay and Open Bay. This they contained the numerically superior but poorly supplied Japanese forces until Japan surrendered. The Japanese for their part began digging in at Rabaul. This was partly because of intense Allied bombing and their expectation that the Allies would attempt to seize the base, an attack which never came. Historians today debate the necessity of the campaign. The Australian forces left on the island criticize the limited air and naval support, meaning what Gen. MacArthur allocated.

Stranded Japanese Garrisons (1945)

The Australian Army in the last year of the War amounted to six divisions and two armored divisions. They were primarily deployed to engage stranded Japanese garrisons on New Guinea, New Britain (Rabaul), and Bougainville. General Sir Thomas Blamey primarily pursued a policy of retaking islands that had been under Commonwealth Administration before the Pacific War. He was anxious to limit casualties, but thought the Japanese if left alone could prepare counter attacks. This seems unlikely to any significant extent. Japanese garrisons were cut off and not receiving the supplies needed for any significant offensive. In fact many of the garrisons were beginning to starve. They had little or no air support. And the Imperial Fleet after the battles of the Philippines Sea (June 1944) and Leyte Gulf (October 1944) was no longer a substantial force. General MacArthur felt the Australians were not sufficiently offensive minded and suggested redeploying some of the units to the Philippines. The Australians for their part were understandably not anxious to return to MacArthur's control.

Borneo (May 1945)

The Joint Chiefs saw Australian operations in New Guinea as largely pointless. And six divisions in Pacific Island terms was a substantial force. They decided to ask the Australians to plan an operation on Borneo. It was before the War split between British and Dutch administration. MacArthur endorsed the operation, seeing it as the first step toward the eventual retaking of the Dutch East Indies. Borneo was chosen because of the oil fields, refineries, and air bases. There was also a resistance movement on Borneo, which was not the case in the other islands of what is today Indonesia. The resistance included Chinese refugees (ethnic Chinese were targeted by the Japanese throughout Southeast Asia), Allied soldiers who had not surrendered, and Dyak tribesmen. In other areas of the DEI there was considerable collaboration with the Japanese by nationalist groups. (This was in sharp contrast to the Philippines.) An Australian corps with Allied naval and air support landed on Borneo (May 1945). Australian casualties were light compared to the Central Pacific campaign, but not inconsequential. A real concern was the Allied POWs and civilian internees who were dying in large numbers as the result of the brutal Japanese camps. The Japanese killed about 3,500 POWs and civilian internees on Borneo and Ambon Islands before Allied special forces could reach them.

Submarine Campaign

Although it does not get the attention it deserves, the submarine campaign played a huge role in the Allied Pacific War victory. Japan went to war to obtain the resources of the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ) which they achieved through their offensive in the first 6 months of the War. Although it took way to long to turn into a successful campaign, the largely American submarine campaign began cutting the Japanese trade routes to the extent that by 1944, the coveted resources of the SRZ were not getting through to the war factories of the Home Islands. The Japanese did not have the capacity to invade Australia after Pearl Harbor, but the Japanese correctly assessed the strategic situation. And bases in Australia were a thret to the expanded empire. The Royal Australian Navy due to poor strategic planning did not have submarines and did not participate in the Pacifuc submarine cmpasuign. 【Submarine Association of Australia】 Given that Australia could not compete in capital ship construction and without major industries to build armaments itself, it would seem obvious that Australia's defense should be premised on attacking the naval forces and logistical system of any aggresor nation. That almost by definituion meant submarines, especially as they were the vessel type that was relatively cheap to build and thus afordable for a small country like Australia. But when war came, the Royal Australian Navy did not have a single operational submarine or plans to acquire them (1939). And when the Japanese struck 2 years later, there were still no Australian submarines (1941). Australia did provide two of the major bases sustaining the Allied Pacific submarine campaign -- Brisbaine (Queensland) and Freemantle (Western Australia). Some 122 United States Pacific Fleet, 31 British Royal Navy, and 11 Royal Netherlands Navy submarines eventually operrated from these two bases (1942-45). The Royal Navy submarines were at first based in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), but eventually bolstered by ships transferred from Europe beginning in 1943 with the Axis surrender in North Africa. The expanded Royal Navy force joined the Americans and Dutch at Freemanle. A great deal has been written about the American submariners. We know less about the Dutch and Royal Navy submariners. Fremantle was the second most important Allied submarine base in the Pacific after only Pearl Harbor. 【Davison and Allibone, p. 219.】 In the last year of the War as the fighting shifted north into the waters off Japan. The Australian bases began to decline in importance. The British moved many of their submarines to Subic Bay in the liberated Philippines Islands. Some remined in Freemantle which became aemore rear base as the Americans bypassed the DEIto engage the Japanese in the Central Pacific. The Japsnese were, however, still occupinng the DEI. It was of little strategic value because of the destruction of the Japanese maru fleet. The Japanese had no way to get the resources of the DEI to the war factories on the Home Islands.


Davison, John and Tom Allibone. Beneath Southern Seas: The Silent Service (University of Western Australia Press: 2005).

Dennis, Peter, Jeffrey Grey, Ewan Morris, Robin Prior, and Jean Bou. , Jean (2008). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History 2nd ed. (Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Moyes, John F. Scrap-Iron Flotilla (Sydney: N.S.W. Bookstall Co. Pty. Ltd, 1943).

Stephens, Alan. The Royal Australian Air Force: A History (London: Oxford University Press, 2006).

Submarine Association of Australia. "Up periscope".


Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main World War II country page ]
[Return to Main World War II displaced children page]
[About Us]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]

Created: 6:12 PM 11/9/2005
Spell checjed: 8:36 PM 10/7/2020
Last updated: 8:06 AM 6:00 PM 6/14/2023