A. Why was Australia involved in WW2?
1. The road to war in Europe:
German army marches into Warsaw
German army marches into Warsaw

During the 1930s, while Australia was slowly recovering from the devastating Depression, there was trouble in Europe - particularly in Germany (our enemy in WW1). After the First World War, the nations of the world ("The League of Nations") placed heavy fines [reparations - involving loans with interest] on Germany. The Great Depression made these repayments unsustainable, and caused the German economy to collapse; a new leader came to power promising revenge and glory for Germany...Adolf Hitler. Across Europe and England, alliances between nations were made and armies and weapons were increased as the threat of war grew.
Britain maintained a policy of appeasement but watched as Germany rearmed and annexed neigbouring regions/nations.
When Germany invaded Poland on 1st September 1939, England declared war.
Explore this website for a deeper understanding..
After a few months of apparent quiet, the advance of the German armies into France, Poland and other territories from May 1940 ff was fast and devastating - known as Blitzgrieg, lightning war.
British forces were driven back to the beaches of western France at Dunkirk - leading to their dramatic and famous evacuation.
Hitler followed in July with an aerial attack on Britain - the Battle of Britain began [there were members of the Australian airforce involved]. The German airforce was narrowly defeated. Germany followed up with a sustained bombing of London - the Blitz [air raids ].

2. Close ties with Britain

Most Australians had close family ties to Great Britain, and Australia was part of the British Empire. England's enemies were our enemies - we tended to follow their foreign policy. The Prime Minister at the time was Robert Menzies. He solemnly
Menzies as PM, making a broadcast, 1939.
Menzies as PM, making a broadcast, 1939.
announced on the radio:

"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.".
listen and read the transcript.

Australians at War - part 1 Video - here we go again

B Where Australians fought: 1939-1941[Europe and North Africa]

Strong alliance with Great Britain meant that with the outbreak of war, the majority of Australia's defence forces [the 6th 7th and 9th Divisions] were sent to fight in Europe and the Middle East to aid Britain against the Germans. Their training began in Palestine. Watch Australians at war - part 2 great footage of training and the battle in Bardia.
*What role did the Australian Armed Services play here?
Search this site..
1. 2nd AIF helps fight Nazis and their allies
  • FInd out about Bardia, El Alamein, Egypt and Lybia, the Mediterranean Sea, desert, successes, capturing Italians. In 1941 Hitler sent Rommel back to North Africa to regain what the Italians had lost - learn about the "Rats of Tobruk" OR Australians @ War Part 4

2. RAN in Greece - read what happened here
Watch Australians at war - part 3. Reinforcements sent to Singapore: the disastrous attempt to defend Greece against the German advance [@3 mins]

3. RAAF – dangerous missions in the air

Investigate here..

Find out about the disastrous campaign in Greece, and the victories in Tobruk and El Alemein.
When the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, visited the troops here, he took home movies. Watch!!
Try this tricky puzzle - just for fun!

C. How did the entry of Japan into the conflict affect Australia -1942-1945?

New website dedicated to "The Battle for Australia" - an excellent resource for your essay

1. The threat of Japan’s expansion in Asia
Throughout the 1930s Imperial Japan was expanding its empire through China, Korea and down through Malaya. Australian troops - the 8th Division - were attempting to hold them back - but were driven back to Singapore.
There were three dramatic events that caused Australia great alarm:

bombing of Pearl Harbour
bombing of Pearl Harbour
he bombing of the American naval base in Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941

(watch this scene from the movie)
  • *only one day later Japan attacked in Malaya and marched south. On 15th February 1942, the fall of Singapore occurred- with the surrender/capture of all troops there (this was the British naval base). 10 minute video: Tobruk and the fall of Singapore - Australians at war part 6
*only 4 days later, the bombing of Darwin by Japanese planes shocked all Australians.

Try this interactive site. In pairs find out who can work out the best defensive plan for Darwin, and compare with what actually was done.
Watch footage from a news report on the 70th anniversary.
news report

Over the next 18 months Australia experienced other attacks by air and sea. From the 15th February 1942, PM John Curtin declared that "The Battle for Australia" had begun. Watch this video about this so called "Battle for Australia"
Where did attacks occur and what was the result? Explore a useful website here.

2. Government response - new strategic priorities, new alliance
Menzies lost the election of October 1941, and John Curtin became the new [Labour] Prime Minister. On 26th Dec 1941, he wrote in a newspaper article:
'Without any inhibitions of any kind I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.`
This caused some controversy especially in the British Government. Over the next few months the ties between Australia and the USA became stronger, as they shared the goal of defeating Japan. Australia became a major base for US troops in the Pacific.

During January and February 1942, the 6th and 7th Divisions of the Second Australian Imperial Force were sailing from the Middle East to protect British interests in the Dutch East Indies. After the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, Curtin asked Churchill to send the troops home to defend Australia from the steadily advancing Japanese.

Instead, Churchill diverted the 7th Division towards Burma without first seeking Australian approval. Curtin was outraged. Top secret cables flashed between the two leaders. On Curtin's insistence, the ships were turned away from Burma and Churchill reluctantly agreed to their return to Australia. The 6th Division was allowed to aid in Singapore on its way home; many ended up being captured in the fall. The remaining 6th and 7th divisions arrived in Australia in March, and were rested and prepared to head north to help defend Papua New Guinea from the Japanese advance. All RAN ships in the Mediterranean were also recalled to defend Australia's coast line.

In addition the Government introduced emergency powers to expand the army and airforce. The CMF [Citizens Military Force] had been recruited at the start of the war to defend at home. This was compulsory military service, and was known as the militia - much like army reserves. Now the Government sought to make it much larger and to send it into battle. They were sent to defend Port Moresby.

3. Kokoda - defending Port Moresby a priority

Japan continued to attack the north of Australia and New Guinea, trying to take control of Port Moresby. Their land troops were trying to move south over the mountainous track known as the Kokoda Track. From July to November 1942, Australian militia troops attempted to stop them. It was difficult and dangerous, as this site shows. Australian troops were being driven back - but engaged in a fighting retreat. Reinforcements began to arrive from August, redeployed from the Middle East. Eventually an exhausted and overstretched Japanese army was stopped - virtually within site of its goal - Port Moresby.
Explore this site for video and interactive learning about the Kokoda Track.

*The Battle at Milne Bay
This was important because the Japanese had landed here in August 1942, on the eastern tip of New Guinea and Australian troops supported by the RAAF, defeated the attack. It was the first land victory against the Japanese and helped turn the tide.

4. Defending our seas - the RAAN and Merchant Navy

Explore this site for photos, film and sound...


* watch
The Merchant Navy and regular navy worked together ...
- carrying troops to and from battle zones
- carrying vital supplies and arms from the USA to Australia
-attacking enemy ports and ships - in the Mediterranean and in the Pacific and Indian Oceans

*What was the merchant navy?
- these were transport ships with non-military personnel. Important in providing supplies.
*What ships were lost?
- the Germans sank 2 Australian ships in the Mediterranean with over 100 men killed. Germans also sunk the HMAS Sydney off the Coast of Western Australia - and all 645 crew members died. In 1942 the ships also engaged in battles against the Japanese. Five ships were destroyed. The Kattabul was a ferry being used to house sailors. It was blown up in Sydney Harbour by a Japanese midget submarine - 22 sailors died. Other ships were bombed and some lost over the next years. In 1943 Australia was shocked when the Japanese sank a hospital ship, 'the Centaur" off the Queensland Coast.
Kamikaze pilots - who flew their planes loaded with ammumition directly into ships on suicide missions - did a lot of damage. Watch here
*How was the Japanese navy defeated?
The main force was the US Navy. Fortunately the two huge aircraft carriers were not in Pearl Harbour when it was attacked. After the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway in 1943- which involved dramatic aerial battles, and at Guadacanal - where Australian ships fought and were hit - the Japanese navy had to retreat from its plans to control this part of the Pacific (and cut Australia off from the USA!)

5. Civilian life changed - "EMERGENCY - All in!"
Events of 1942 reinforced the idea of imminent danger of invasion. Listen to Prime Minister Curtin urge all Australians to do their part.
-air raids: how would these have affected Australians' views about the war?
-attacks onSydney: how did these events bring the war home?
-and on the coast! Read and watch what happened in Newcastle and Port Macquarie. What was the response?

-Wartime government controls were introduced under "Emergency" provisions of the constitution. This allowed the government to control life in ways it was normally not able to: e.g. the army could take over your school!
*conscription - Menzies introduced compulsory miliary service for all 21 year old males, giving them 3 months training. But as the situation worsened the question of sending the militia into battle against the Japanese arose. But this time, the move to send conscripts to war met with little oppostion. Why? Read the documents from the time.
*manpower - men and women ordered into essential industries
*rationing - precious resources were needed for troops; purchases required coupons issued by the government. War bonds were offered to Australians to help raise funds. PM Curtin spoke of the need for 'AUSTERITY' -and people learned to do without.
*censorship and propaganda: information was controlled and given "spin" to protect important information from falling onto enemy hands and to boost morale and national feeling.
*enemy aliens (people of German, Italian or Japanese nationality) were locked up in "Internment Camps" .Why?
- in addition, women and men unable to enlist were encouraged to volunteer in different ways. Australia was called "The New Front Line" by the new Department of Home Security. In what ways could civilians contribute to homeland security?

6. New roles for women
One group whose lives were especially changed by the war, were women...
The sense of crisis meant that the government was forced to open new areas of opportunity to women, to maximise their contribution so the war effort. This went far beyond the cooking and knitting and nursing (only a few hundred nurses) done by women in the First World War. For the first time in our history, women were urged to join the armed services - to take non-combattant (not actually fighting with weapons) roles - so that men could be freed up to fight. Look at this site and list all the areas where women could serve. What work did they do? This was paid employment - though their wages were lower than that paid to men. Over 36000 women served during WW2, as well as 3000+ nursing and medical staff. For the first time, some of these served in overseas thatres of war. Nurses suffered the highest rate of casualties, when ships were torpedoed or as prisoners of war.

Providing food was seen as vitally important, and with so many rural men fighting overseas, the government created the "Australian Womens' Land Army". Many also worked in essential industries such as making munitions (weapons and ammunition). Others had jobs as travelling entertainers. All these meant new roles and experiences for women, who til now had traditionally seen themselves as housewives only.
In addition to these paid jobs, other women were urged to volunteer (see above) in one of the many war time oganizations.

D. The Horrors of War
*Prisoners of War


*Hiroshima, Nagasaki - atomic bombs dropped on these Japanese cities
*the Holocaust

E. A cautious inclusion of Aboriginal volunteers...
Although they were not classed or treated as Australian citizens, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women fought and died for Australia during World War II. Records reveal a reluctance at first by the Government and the military to allow the involvement of Aboriginals. Some feared they might unwittingly aid the enemy! Read about this here.

F. Victory - and the final cost
Almost 1 million Australians served during WW2. Australia lost 34,000 service personnel during World War II. Total battle casualties were 72,814. Over 31,000 Australian became prisoners-of-war. Of these more than 22,000 were captured by the Japanese; by August 1945 over one third of them had died in the appalling conditions of the prisoner-of-war camps.
Germany surrendered on 8th May 1945, and Japan on 15th August 1945. The war's end was greeted with great celebration, though rationing and government control continued for some years.

G. Changing international relationships: Britain - USA
The war had caused Australia to reconsider its place in the world - part of the British Empire, but independent and now with a strong alliance to the new world superpower - the USA.
For a deeper understanding of these new policies, explore here.