|Full Name||Commonwealth of Australia|
|Alliance||Allies - Minor Member Nation or Possession|
|Possessing Power||United Kingdom|
|Entry into WW2||3 Sep 1939|
|Population in 1939||6,936,000|
|Military Deaths in WW2||39,366|
|Civilian Deaths in WW2||735|
Contributor: Morgan Bell
On the first day of the 20th century, 1 January 1901, six states, former British colonies, on the Australian continent forged a federation known as the Commonwealth of Australia. As Australian citizens celebrated the birth of their new, federated nation, contingents of troops provided by various Australian states were fighting for their lives in the name of the British cause in the Boer War. The strongest argument for federation that its advocates, such as the New South Wales premier, Henry Parkes, most frequently utilized was that a Commonwealth of Australia would more efficiently recruit large amounts of troops and manage the combined pool of military resources of the Australian states. Britain granted Australia the status of self-governing dominion, bestowing upon it the political benefits common amongst democratic states in the British Commonwealth. Not all those populating the Australian continent at that time were granted citizenship in the Commonwealth of Australia, the original inhabitants on the Australian continent, the Aboriginies, were denied citizenship in the dominion. The new nation decided upon its own constitution through a convention. The Australian Constitution placed the British monarch as head of state, with executive powers of the Crown exercised by a governor-general. The constitution could be amended later in the life of the young nation by a referendum put to the people, which required both a majority of popular votes for the yes case, and a majority of states approving the yes case, for the Constitution to be successfully amended, incorporating the proposal into the body of the document. Legislation that was to become part of the legal code of Australia was to be debated in the national parliament. At the country's birth the parliament passed the Immigration Restriction Act, the cornerstone of the legislation that became known as the White Australia Policy, a series of laws which restricted the immigration to Australia of people of non-British background, keeping the demographic of Australia's tiny population at 96.5% Anglo-Celtic heritage. Due to this citizens of Australia saw themselves as both Australian and British. The defence policy agreed upon was imperial defence: in which the Royal Navy would send capital ships to deter aggressors if a dominion of the British Commonwealth became imperiled, and the dominions would recruit expeditionary forces from among their population and make them available to the mother country if she should find herself embroiled in a war. Australia was unique among the self-governing dominions of the British Commonwealth in its vast distance in nautical leagues from the United Kingdom. It lay beyond the extent to which the Royal Navy could project naval power. In 1903 a Defence Act passed by the Australian Parliament provided for a militia to defend Australian territory while the capital ships were en route if aggressive action ever took place against Australia's shores. In 1908 Alfred Deakin proposed a more comprehensive Defence Act, allowing for a small navy, and compulsory service for the militia. With changes of governments, the bill was not passed until 1910. The Australian Military Regulations in the successive Defence Acts forbade the enlistment into the military, either militia or expeditionary force, of persons "not substantially of European descent or origin", blocking Aboriginies from taking up arms in the forces, except as a member of a specifically designed unit which accommodates Aboriginal membership, such as the Torres Strait Islander Light Infantry Battalion.
Although 1901 was the year of Australia's actual birth, 1915 was the year that laid the foundation of Australian identity. The Australian prime minister at the time the First World War was unleashed on an unsuspecting world, Andrew Fisher, vowed to support Britain to the last man and last shilling. Immediately after the outbreak of the First World War Australia, similar to many European nations, experienced the spirit of 1914, an exuberant outpouring of happiness for the arrival of war. It was accompanied by enthusiastic rush of young men, eager to prove their mettle in warfare for their country. Men were not the only contributors to the nation's war effort, Australian women's patriotic duty was manifest through the provision of items of comfort to be mailed to the Australian troops at the front: knitting of socks, wrapping of parcels, etc. Upholding its end of the imperial defence bargain, Australia rapidly recruited five divisions of infantry, forming the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), an expeditionary force made available for use under British command. Britain combined the AIF with the expeditionary force from New Zealand to form the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), employing them amongst the assaults on the beaches on the Gallipoli Peninsula, in an attempt to assist the British seaborne attack on the Dardanelles. Even though the entire Gallipoli operation was pronounced a failure, the ANZAC forces on the beaches of ANZAC Cove displayed a spirit that Australians regard as epitomizing core Australian values: mateship, courage and endurance in the face of hardship, good humour, and compassion. This patriotic code of ethics is known to Australians as the ANZAC legend. The day, 25 April, the ANZAC forces stormed the beaches of the cove that has, henceforth, borne their name is commemorated every year in Australia with traditions founded during the First World War: ANZAC Day marches, the playing of the Last Post on a bugle during a dawn service at local war memorials, and later participating in a game of two-up. After evacuation from Gallipoli, the AIF fought in the trenches of the Western Front, where another Australian tradition was founded: Australians call their troops of all wars "diggers". The average Aussie digger got a reputation for larrikinism even in the horrible conditions of wartime on the front. With reports of the ravages of the trenches of the Western Front breaking the hold of the spirit of 1914 on Australians' minds, recruits began dwindling. 80,000 reinforcements were needed quickly. The government had to raise more troops for the AIF quickly. Two factions appeared in the government ranks: One faction with significant influence believed compulsion for military service was needed to raise more reinforcements, that this was vital to prove Australia's commitment and resolve; the opposing faction was convinced that conscription was not necessary as Australia was not threatened. The minister who had succeeded Fisher as Australian prime minister, Billy Hughes, decided to put the issue of conscription for overseas service to a referendum on 28 October 1916. With parlimentarians opposing it and activists protesting, the no case prevailed by a margin of 72, 476 popular votes. In 1917 recruiting was flagging again, so Billy Hughes decided to put the issue to a second referendum, held on 20 December 1917. When the results were tallied, the margin of the popular votes for the no case inched up to 94,152. The results of the referenda split the Australian Labor Party (ALP), putting a halt to the momentum it had gradually built since Federation. Since then, conscription for overseas service has been a politically untouchable issue in Australia, it was believed that it should only be permitted for the defence of the nation. Australia could send such a large force that so far from home that it did during the First World War, not in the expectation that the Royal Navy would send capital ships to Australia's assistance, but because the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 was in force. The Japanese navy guarded British interests in the Pacific, Japanese ships even escorted troopships carrying the AIF to Egypt. In 1919 the former head of the Admiralty, Admiral Jellicoe, submitted a report warning that if war broke out in Europe and the Pacific simultaneously, the Royal Navy could not spare capital ships to defend the dominions in the Far East. As the war concluded Billy Hughes, who suspected a threat from the direction of Japan in the post-war world, attended the peace conference in Paris that decided the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. He argued that Australia should reap a harvest for the lifeblood of their diggers sown in the soil at Gallipoli. He had the German territories on the islands to the north of Australia in mind. Australian administration of the German territory in New Guinea, dubbed Papua, and the island of New Britain was established through a League of Nations mandate.
In the atmosphere of disarmament that gripped the world during the peace between the world wars, with the aim of preventing another costly war, the nations that possessed the most powerful navies in the world's oceans met at the Washington Naval Conference in 1922 to limit the strength of their navies - the Royal Navy retained parity with the United States Navy in might of battleships, size of battleships, and amount of such vessels; Japan's navy assumed the position as next mightiest navy, but was still sufficiently powerful to cast an ominous shadow across Asia and the Pacific, but the naval treaty was an official admission that the Royal Navy was not powerful enough to challenge the combined might of the next two most powerful navies in the world's oceans. The Anglo-Japanese alliance was not renewed, posing a geopolitical problem for the British dominions in the Far East, much to the protest of Australia and New Zealand. The dominions' shrill protests ringing in the mother country's ears, the United Kingdom trusted in the strength of the United States in the Pacific as a check on Japan. Britain announced the construction of a naval base at Singapore. From the Australian perspective Singapore looked suitably positioned to project British power across the Pacific, but from the perspective in London, Singapore appeared well positioned, across the gateway to the Indian Ocean, to effectively keep a threat from Japan away from Britain's Indian Ocean empire, a move that would bottle the Japanese navy up in the Pacific. Despite the gloomy outlook for Australia's prospects for security in the imperial defence paradigm, Australian governments were loathe to dedicate more spending to local defence from the public purse in a time of economic hardship. During the Great Depression, British ministers saw the rest of the Commonwealth as a solution for their nation's ailing economy.The Ottawa economic conference of 1932 established a system of imperial preference, where Britain would purchase primary produce from the dominions and the dominions would provide a tariff-free market for British manufactured goods. While this superficially seems beneficial to Australia, the benefit in the short term conceals a long term detriment: relying on British manufactured goods so heavily left Australian secondary industries underdeveloped, leaving the dominion's war effort without a firm economic base at the beginning of the Second World War. Primary produce from the dominions was easily undercut in prices, as Britain had other, cheaper sources of primary produce: even in 1938, six years after Ottawa, Britain got 61% of their raw materials from non-imperial sources. During the discussions to achieve the aims of the Ottawa economic conference, Australian representatives revealed their lack of skill in diplomacy and statesmanship by increasing tariffs on non-British goods instead of lowering tariffs on British goods, leaving British manufacturers only partially satisfied, while antagonizing Japan for higher tariffs on textiles and the United States for higher tariffs on automotive parts, enraging a potential enemy and offending a potential ally if there was conflict in the Pacific. While Britain was lacking in means to assist Australia's defence and economy in the peace between the wars, ceremonially it occupied centre stage: Australian statesmen settled upon Australia's permanent national capital of Canberra, in rural New South Wales, as a suitable location for the running of the federation, the Duke of York officially opened Australia's new Parliament House in 1927. With a federal bureaucracy already established in Melbourne, the Australian Naval Board and Department of Defence remained there. During the Depression, and as the Second World War began the federal government in Canberra was dominated by the conservative United Australia Party (UAP) usually in coalition with the Country Party. Frustrated from taking government themselves, the ALP remained in the political wilderness in the role of Opposition since the conscription referenda of 1916 and 1917. In 1935 John Curtin was elected leader of the ALP, his leadership uniting the ALP into an effective Opposition that would endure into the early years of the war. This arrangement had implications for the Second World War, as the members of the UAP usually trusted in the policy of imperial defence, spending on local defence was seen as a horrible waste in a time of economic hardship, so spending fluctuated throughout the period: in 1927-28 defence spending was 1.04% of the gross expenditure of the national budget, in 1932-33 it was 0.61%, and by 1937-38 it had increased to 1.09%. Defence spending had increased as events revealed war on the horizon, but spending was less than other dominions of the British Commonwealth not in the perilous position Australia was in. Being so far from the mother country, so close to the front line of a Pacific war, and so vast in size meant that already low Australian spending was far from adequate. The war broke this cycle of apathy in spending for defence, the percentage in 1939-40 was 4.9%, by 1942-43 that figure will have attained the dizzying height of 36.8%. Due to the conservative political attitude, in 1933 former conservative prime minister, S. M. Bruce, was appointed to represent Australia in London in the role of Australian high commissioner. In the five years prior to the war, the poor global economic situation promoted Italian immigration to Australia. This immigration swelled the Italian community's numbers by ten thousand, making Italians the largest non-British ethnic group in Australia. As the demographic of Australia changed, the final attempt, until that point in time, to assimilate the continent's original ethnic group was in progress: due to pressure from humanitarian societies and Aboriginal pressure groups, the thirties was a decade of numerous state Aboriginal Affairs Acts, policy which was formally incorporated into a federal policy in 1939. Richard Broome termed this policy "the climax of legislative control over Aboriginies".
Similar to many participating countries, the beginning of the Second World War ended the endemic social distress of the interwar years in Australia. By September 1939 only ten percent of male union members were still unemployed. At this time 644,000 women, the majority working class, had paid employment. Eighteen percent of these women were occupied with domestic services. However, the end of the Depression did not mean prosperity for all the inhabitants of Australia, the Second World War began almost unnoticed by one of the most impoverished, disenfranchised groups in Australia: the Aboriginies; the war was a coup de grace for the Aboriginal Affairs policy initiatives of the thirties. The beginning of the second war of the twentieth century to encompass the entire globe did capture the attention of the majority of Australia's population. As the voice of Neville Chamberlain crackled its way through the British declaration of war on Germany while Australians sat around their shortwave sets tuned to the BBC World Service in September 1939 a variety of different emotions would have been identifiable among the Australian population: fear of a repeat of the tragedy of the First World War, especially if they thought it might be their own friends or sons doing a portion of the fighting, bleeding, suffering and dying; disappointment that the diplomatic efforts of the British and French to preserve the peace after that previous war had failed; pride that Australia might be called at any moment to run to the mother country's side and again prove that Britain has no sturdier sons than Australia and its citizens; or a desire to go to Britain's aid. Those holding that last hope did not have long to wait in expectation. The Australian prime minister, Robert Menzies, should have felt apprehension about supporting Britain in this war, as Chamberlain's ultimatum to Germany had been a reversal, without adequate warning, from the imperial policy of the previous year: appeasement. Yet Menzies was sufficiently confident to commit Australia to the war beside Britain without parliamentary debate, so announced to the nation on 3 September
Menzies was a lawyer, and could not conceive a situation where the King was at war in Britain and at peace in Australia. Menzies added "Where Great Britain stands, there also stands the people of the British world". The Australian declaration of war by Menzies was made under immense pressure upon his six month old minority government, his tenure depended upon the seats of the Country Party, who represented the farmers who made a living selling their produce, a sizable portion of which went to Britain, so they would have pushed to decide to declare war on Germany alongside Britain as tenaciously as the conservatives from Menzies' own party, who believed that upholding Australia's end of the imperial defence bargain was vital to Australia's defence. Menzies' declaration of war was representative of the Australian public's opinions at the time. Menzies' decision without parliamentary debate was criticized later in the war, however, in 1939 the support for war against Germany was strong across the entire spectrum of Australian society. When parliament reconvened on 6 September, no parliamentarian challenged the Australian declaration of war. Even the leader of the opposition, John Curtin, observed that "there is no alternative but for this dreadful affliction to come to mankind". Outside the walls of Parliament House in Canberra, the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), who opposed the war in its later years, did not oppose the declaration of war in 1939, having been schooled by Moscow to co-operate with social democratic governments to oppose fascism and Nazism whenever possible. Among the general population of Australia, there was a resigned, even restrained, acceptance of the war. Feelings of guilt after reflecting upon the enthusiastic response following the outbreak of war in 1914, in light of the knowledge of the tragedy of that war which were well known by that war's conclusion, contributed to Australians measured response to war in 1939. As yet, there was no decision made about the Australian contribution to the war against Germany, only that there would be war against Germany, but Menzies' government took a course of incremental contribution. On 8 September the British Admiralty requested that Royal Australian Navy (RAN) vessels be made available for service outside Australian waters. As it had been assumed by defence planners in the interwar years that in a state of war the RAN would be an integral part of the Royal Navy, the Australian government, after some deliberation, agreed on permitting one of the RAN's cruisers, HMAS Hobart, and five destroyers to be made available for service outside Australian waters. These ships eventually departed on 13-14 October, bound for Singapore, but diverted to the Mediterranean before they reached their destination. On 7 November the naval contribution became greater, when the Australian war cabinet surrendered strategic control of all RAN vessels to the British Admiralty. The Australian government retained the right to decide if a vessel can leave Australian waters or not. The Australian Naval Board in Melbourne consisted of Royal Navy officers on secondment, so decisions made concerning all RAN vessels would be discussed and finalized in the context of the needs of the Royal Navy, rather than Australian national interest. On the same day that the British Admiralty enquired about Australia's initial naval contribution to help deal with external enemies, 8 September, the Australian Parliament passed the National Security Act, a set of sweeping, albeit temporary, regulations to prepare Australian society for wartime, and confront perceived internal enemies through such methods as surveillance, propaganda, censorship, and coercion. People of non-British origin residing in Australia were classified as aliens. Aliens were considered potential saboteurs, a threat to Australia's war effort. Moulded after the British model, aliens were classed either as allied, neutral or enemy. Of the 52,000 people classified as aliens in Australia during the war, 22,000 or 43% fell, at some stage, into the category of enemy. While an individual in this group may have been hard-working, law-abiding, and supportive of Australia's war effort, all enemy aliens were subject to surveillance and infringements on their civil liberties. They needed to obtain permission to travel from their district of residence; they were not permitted to own automobiles, boats, cameras or radios; their mail was intercepted. Internment was the most severe method the authorities used to deal with enemy aliens throughout the duration of the war. Menzies told parliament in 1939 that internment was only for male enemy aliens participating in acts of sabotage. Originally those interned were those who showed signs of being sympathetic to national-socialism or fascism, but as Sharon Bevege shows, internment rates increased overall because Australia's security needs had changed and public opinion demanded it. Authorities, of the opinion they needed internments at these times, increasingly interned as many enemy aliens as they could locate, regardless of political views, focusing on those who had immigrated most recently. Local forces also shaped regional internment rates, internment statistics vary among states depending on cultural influences, localized public opinion, pressure groups, and the shapers of policy: Throughout 1939-45, 2.9% of all eligible male enemy aliens in Victoria were interned, 11.7% in New South Wales, 15.6% in South Australia, 32.6% in Western Australia, 34.3% in Tasmania and 43.1% in Queensland. Victoria and NSW were the states with the highest number of enemy aliens, making them seem like a greater threat, the lower internment statistics showing that there was no universal measuring stick to assess enforcement of this policy throughout Australia. The lower figure for Victoria is mostly due to a campaign by the Roman Catholic Church to protest internment, led by Archbishop Daniel Mannix, who argued that Christian tolerance should be shown to those classified as aliens; Victoria's economy depended upon Italian market gardens as well as Italian labourers, so there was economic interest in being lenient in the application of internment as a security measure. At the other end of the scale Queensland was more isolated, as well as being one of the states at the forefront of the expected Japanese invasion if it eventuated. Even though Menzies urged Australians to "not take the law into their own hands", people classified as, or with the appearance of, an enemy aliens unfortunately suffered discrimination at the hands of an individual or group among the majority of the population. Physical violence, intimidation, vandalism of property, loss of employment or employment opportunities were an all-too-common list of indignities suffered by suspected enemy aliens during the war. Prosperous German communities received more tolerance from average Australians than Italian immigrants. To gain employment many Italians claimed they were Swiss or Greek, in one case those of Greek descent were assaulted as their attackers mistook them for Italians, Greek businesses frequently displayed signs making the public aware of their ethnicity.
After the declaration of war, Menzies came under domestic pressure to form a 2nd AIF to be dispatched for Britain's use in the war on Germany. Such an argument not only had force in Australia. In London, Winston Churchill was elevated to the position of First Lord of the Admiralty in Chamberlain's cabinet, a position he held during the First World War, when he orchestrated the Dardanelles campaign, the operation that employed ANZAC troops in land battles on the Gallipoli Penninsula. Churchill, eager in 1939 for the forces of the entire Commonwealth to be exerted upon Germany in pursuit of total war as soon as possible, wondered why an Australian commitment of troops was taking so long. Australian politicians feared that sending forces to Britain's aid would leave Australia exposed to the threat of invasion from Japan should she attempt to advance her territorial ambitions in the Pacific while the European powers were preoccupied in a war against Germany in their own region. As Menzies told the Australian high commissioner in London, S. M. Bruce, an expeditionary force along the lines of the previous war cannot be decided until the "position of Japan has been cleared up". Australians had been suspicious of the Japanese since their victory over the Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905, and subsequent aggressive moves by Japan confirmed that. Australia's defences included 3,572 permanent army officers; 80,000 men in the militia, who had trained for twelve days each year; 373 operational combat aircraft, none of which were modern fighter planes, Australia's first line fighters were seven Wirraways, locally manufactured training aircraft with modifications to allow weaponry for their use as fighter planes; six cruisers over a decade old; five destroyers that dated from the First World War, and no battleships or aircraft carriers. The ALP in opposition had advocated local defence, which would suffer with the dispatch of an expeditionary force. On 15 September, Menzies attempted to placate these radically opposing viewpoints by announcing the formation of a "special force, for use at home or abroad", Menzies thought this force, which he hoped would amount to at least 20,000 men, would be useful to the British war effort: either fighting the war in France; manning British garrisons in Egypt or on Pacific islands; possibly even, as lip service to local defence advocates, be used to supplement the militia in Australia. The spirit of 1914 was absent in 1939. Recruiting for the 2nd AIF was less than expected, much less than 20,000 men. Reasons for this slow pace of recruitment proposed by historians include uncertainty of the purpose of the special force, higher rates of pay in the militia, coming out of the Great Depression some felt obliged to keep occupations, and during the Phoney War that encompassed the first eight and a half months of the Second World War from September 1939 to May 1940, Britain's plight did not seem sufficiently threatening to warrant an emotional response to bother signing up. Before sending the troops, Menzies wanted more definite information about Japanese intentions and another assurance of British willingness and capability to send a fleet to Singapore if Australia faced an invasion from Japan, so he sent the minister for supply and development, Richard Casey, to London to attend a meeting between dominion representatives and British ministers. The British war cabinet debated amongst themselves the details of the dominion contributions. Churchill observed "Australia appeared to be forming only one division, and even that was remaining at home for the present", urging the British cabinet to "press them strongly to do more". Casey was adamant that he could not advise the Australian government to dispatch its best trained and armed troops until the intentions of the Japanese government had been determined and the assurance of the British fleet had been given. As First Lord of the Admiralty, it fell to Churchill to put Casey's mind to rest. Churchill was keen to secure Australian troops for the fight against Germany, and dismissive of the Japanese navy, he was convinced all the Japanese could achieve was "a tip-and-run attack", Australia, in Churchill's view, being too large in landmass and too distant from Japan to be considered a viable target for Japanese invasion. Churchill gave Casey his best qualified assurance that Britain would abandon the Mediterranean if Japan invaded Australia, hedged with enough provisos so he could wriggle out of the assurance in the event that what he considered unlikely occurred: Japan invaded Australia. Churchill explained that it was only on the condition that Italy remain neutral, in which case Britain would no longer need to remain in the Mediterranean to challenge Mussolini's claim to mare nostrum; and Japan would need to invade Australia not just declare war, by then the chance of dislodging Japanese forces from Australian soil would be minimal. Churchill then proceeded to share the outcome of discussion with Casey with his war cabinet colleagues They protested, pointing to assurances to France and Turkey requiring a British presence in the eastern Mediterranean. Churchill pointed out that the deal with Australia was not intended to be an official assurance, but was meant to assure Casey so there was "nothing to prevent the dispatch of an Australian force to the Middle East". The afternoon after the cabinet meeting, Churchill met with Casey again to make clear that Royal Navy ships could only be sent depending on circumstances. In the interval during which Churchill was reassuring his nervous cabinet colleages, Casey had received cabled instructions from Menzies, who wanted to know Britain's reaction if Japan attacked the Netherlands East Indies, while leaving British possessions unmolested. This would leave the Japanese juggernaut camped on Australia's doorstep, leaving no time to prepare any defence. Churchill said Britain could make no assurance without discussing the matter with the United States. British ministers found Casey "very tiresome", but his cables reveal that he made every effort to fit the Australian contribution in with the imperial war effort. Casey cabled Menzies with the details of his discussion with Churchill. Adding what he considered an important fact he had learned on his mission, New Zealand had already agreed to the dispatch of their expeditionary force, Casey considered British interests above Australian in his cables to Menzies. Yet, he made no decisions that Menzies could not announce without experiencing discomfort politically. Casey and Bruce met with Chamberlain to confirm final negotiations. Casey promised Chamberlain that he would cable Menzies, advising that the "wise and proper course for them would be for them now to authorize the dispatch to Europe of the Australian expeditionary force", but Menzies had not completed shoring up his political fortunes. Although it supported a declaration of war alongside Britain, the Country Party opposed the dispatch of an Australian force out of concern that the resultant labour shortage would interfere with the harvest. On 21 November, Menzies sent the British a cable claiming that the situation in France, where the German attack had not yet been revealed, did not seem "sufficiently urgent to justify us incurring risk to our own defensive position.", adding that Australia would be willing to accept this risk if Britain agreed to purchase the wheat harvest, an excessive amount in 1939, which would otherwise be left to rot on Australian docks for want of shipping. The British war cabinet was so desperate to secure Australian troops to help fight against Germany that they agreed to purchase the Australian wheat in amounts far beyond the demand of the British population and the capacity of merchant shipping to transport. At the time, Britain's principal wheat supplier, Canada, had just negotiated to allow for the mother country to purchase wheat from the dominions at prices above the market price, so Menzies was fortunate in his timing of this deal. Menzies thought that should placate the Country Party for now, and the Labor Party's concerns would be eased a little by the assurance that the Royal Navy would abandon the Mediterranean to reinforce Singapore if Australia were threatened. The deal was concluded on 28 November when Menzies committed the special force in the war on Germany and Italy. The men that had been recruited until that point were grouped together into the 6th Division, labeled in succession after the five Australian divisions sent overseas during the First World War. The 6th Division was dispatched in January 1940 bound for Egypt to man the garrison there, and relieve British troops for use in France. Command of the 6yh Division, expected to be the first echelon of a 2nd AIF, was assigned to Thomas Blamey, whose charter as commander of the 2nd AIF in the Middle East placed him subordinate to British commanders, yet responsible to the Australian government. The conclusion of the Phoney War with the German invasion of the Low Countries, and the defeat and surrender of France transformed the ethos of 2nd AIF recruitment in Australia. The Phoney War over, the mother country seemed under direct threat. From the Australian perspective it seemed like only a matter of time before Hitler started a German invasion of the British Isles. Only the English Channel stood between Hitler's victorious armies and the mother country. Hitler himself had removed, through the success of the German armed forces, the main reason earlier recruitment of the 2nd AIF in Australia had been so slow. By March 1940, one in six men of military age had enlisted. Between June amd August, an additional 102,000 men had enlisted. The acceleration in recruitment concerned the government, for the reason that the influx of recruits might affect the militia, so the war cabinet halted recruiting for the 2nd AIF on 11 July. Even before the government's intervention, by September three more AIF divisions had been formed and dispatched: the 7th in February, the 8th in May, and the 9th in September. The 8th Division was committed to Malaya, and the remainder to the Middle East. The Middle East was considered vital to Australian defence as well as imperial defence, as the lines of communication and supply between Britain and the Far East ran through the Suez Canal, making the Middle East the axis of the British Empire.
The Menzies government was not content just to offer Australian naval and land forces, but also determined to be on the cutting edge of the contribution to the imperial war effort.in the skies. The first non-British squadron belonging to any air force of the British Commonwealth to go into action against the pilots of an Axis nation was the No. 10 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), who was in England taking a delivery of Sunderland flying boats when they were assigned to the RAF's Coastal Command. When war was declared, the RAAF owned only 373 operational combat aircraft. None of these were modern fighter aircraft, the RAAF's first line fighters were Wirraways, which were training aircraft modified for aerial combat. Britain had a high level of production of modern fighter aircraft, but was low on the amount of pilots to fly them. Around this time two dominion high commissioners claimed to have developed a Commonwealth-wide version of the interwar programmes to train dominion pilots in Britain. S. M. Bruce, the Australian high commissioner and Vincent Massey, the Canadian high commissioner staked a claim to have formulated an idea to provide the RAF with green pilots from the dominions for the war against Germany, while training them for aerial service for the air forces of their own nations, in what became known as the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) or the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Menzies announced on 11 October 1939 that Australia's participation in the scheme would set Australia on the path to becoming a great air power, and would be "a powerful deterrent against aggression". The Plan was formalized in the Ottawa Agreement, signed on 27 November. It trained men recruited from Australia, Canada, and South Rhodesia for service within mostly distinctive national squadrons of the RAF. Australia contributed 27,000 aircrew through the scheme, but a few details of the scheme mean it did not equip the RAAF adequately for service in the Pacific. Although Canada asserted their rights for a Canadian air group commanded by a Canadian air vice-marshal; Australia was not as assertive, it had only seventeen squadrons in the RAF with a majority of Australians, many Australians were scattered throughout other RAF squadrons. When the time came to return home to the war in the Pacific the scheme recruits could not easily be transplanted as a complete air group from Europe. No Australian held a high level command in the RAF - the highest command in the RAF any Australian EATS graduate achieved was the rank of wing commander - to compensate, the government appointed, in Febuary 1940, Air Chief Marshal Burnett on secondment from the RAF to head the RAAF. Burnett's main role was to train aircrew for EATS, he was less interested in local defence. 6,500 Australians perished in the war against Germany in Europe and the Middle East in this program, a further 3,500 were lost serving in Bomber Command in the strategic bombing of Germany. This latter figure was more than Australian aircrew losses in the Pacific war. The scheme still multiplied the amount of trained Australian aircrew available to the RAAF by eleven times.
Although the government was doing its utmost to recruit for the traditional services, there were groups in society precluded from endorsed service that began forming units and organizations to serve as an outlet for their patriotic duty. Veterans from the First World War, above the threshold of the upper limit for the acceptable age range to be permitted into the 2nd AIF felt a patriotic kinship with Britain's plight most keenly. They formed localized units among their communities, met in RSL halls, and appointed or elected officers. The government had no desire to have private armies within Australia. Menzies tried to combat this trend by official recognition long after the veteran units began forming, in August he created the Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) to "act to preserve law and order", to protect public utilities, and to prevent subversive acts by aliens or other disaffected parties. Menzies took this action in recognition of what had already happened, and it was better to have these private armies with a specific function under government control. Other citizens ineligible for service began forming groups as a channel for their patriotic duty in the hope Menzies would recognize them with government sanction, like Menzies had done with the VDC. Australian women, precluded from frontline military service due to the risk, realized that they could perform less risky, but necessary, jobs in society to make a man available to enlist. Hoping they could eventually find a useful task suited to their skills in the services if the government would open recruitment to women, women's volunteer organizations were founded all around Australia: such as the Women's Emergency Signalling Corps, a Sydney-based club consisting of three hundred members trained in all forms of signalling techniques so men could be freed from post offices and other employment requiring signalling skills to enlist; the Women's Flying Club, another organization consisting of three hundred women, not, as the name would suggest, trained in flying aircraft, but in mechanical repair; and the Women's Transport Corps, whose members had passed rigourous driving tests conducted by the National Roads and Motorists Association, so could fulfill driving tasks necessary for the function of Australian society, such as truck driving, lorry driving, and ambulance driving. These groups adopted pseudo-military ranks, uniforms, and honours, but thus far, had not received official government recognition. However, it was difficult to gauge the membership of these organizations, as there was no method of overseeing membership. In New South Wales, where these pseudo-military women's volunteer organizations were most prevalent, that state's governor's wife, Lady Wakehurst, supported the formation of the Women's Australian National Services (WANS). Despite the name suggesting that the founders of WANS hoped it would encompass all of Australia, Menzies, not keen to formally endorse women in the services, even performing auxiliary tasks, vetoed its national recognition. The NSW government supported WANS through the use of facilities, such as state schools, for training or organizational purposes. Enthusiasm for war was not the only difficulty the government encountered from groups in society, there was outright opposition to the war from a group holding a shared political philosophy that Menzies did not mind persecuting: the CPA had supported the declaration of war with its relatively small membership in 1939. Once the implications of the Nazi-Soviet Pact had sunk in, its attitude to the war had changed dramatically. The conflict was now considered by diehard communists to be imperialist. The CPA, which had gained influence in the union movement during the Depression years due to a lack of strong leadership within the trade unions, made a concerted effort to disrupt the Australian war effort by interrupting production in vital industries. Menzies saw justifiable cause to deal with the CPA under the National Security Act, once and for all. On 22 June 1940 Menzies declared the CPA illegal. While Australian communists were persecuted in mid-1940 due to the possibly subversive acts of the political movement with which they were associated, another broad group were persecuted without regard for the individual's political beliefs: when Italy became a belligerent in June 1940 after the fall of France, Italians in Australia were classified as enemy aliens, and generated suspicion and animosity in the general public. Many were interned on the basis of their ethnicity, and their political sympathies were disregarded. A number of Italians opposed to fascism were interned alongside committed fascists. A string of events in Canberra during the months preceeding the 1940 general election depreciated Menzies' prospects as prime minister considerably. In late 1939 Earle Page had been succeeded as leader of the Country Party by Archie Cameron, prompting a reorganization of the UAP-Country coalition in March. Cameron wanted an overwhelming war effort to help Britain defeat Germany, and was described as "a powerful locomotive, with a head full of steam, but no rails on which to run". This placed the government in a position where it had to elevate inexperienced, inferior politicians to ministry posts, which weakened the cabinet. Cameron himself was given the post of minister for commerce. This weakness was compounded on 13 August when three UAP ministers and the Chief of the General Staff died in a plane crash outside a Canberra aerodrome. The losses of Minister for Air, J. V. Fairbarn; Minister for the Army, G. A. Street; Minister for Information, Henry Gullett; and Chief of the General Staff, General Brudenell White were not only personal losses for their family and friends, and losses for a nation in the grip of a struggle for survival, but a loss for Menzies' political aspirations in Australia for the immediate future. With a general election looming in September a weakened ministry would not help Menzies' re-election campaign. The issue presented to the electorate by the ALP before they went to the polls on 21 September was if the nation trusts Menzies and the parties that support him for the running of Australia's war effort. Menzies' campaign suggested the ALP was being disloyal to Britain, running with the slogan "Labor fiddles while London burns". Despite Menzies' best efforts, the swing towards Labor was very slight, except one case: all of Western Australia experienced a swing back towards the government, so the eight thousand votes John Curtin had won in his Freemantle seat during the previous election was decimated, leaving him with very little electoral support, standing on shaky ground. Fellow ALP parlimentarians offered him safe Labor seats, but the principled Curtin refused, deciding to stick to Freemantle's vote. That is how the result initially appeared and is likely to remain, patience to stay and watch the effects of time reversed an unsatisfactory result, as the days passed and the absentee ballots came in, Curtin pulled ahead of his opponent, R. Lee. At the final count, Curtin had won by a mere six hundred votes. The ALP campaign still two seats away from under UAP members and a further two were won running against members of the Country Party, reducing Menzies' already tenuous hold on government. The result created a hung parliament, forcing the government to rely upon two independent parlimentarians to vote with them on a range of issues. Calls for a national administration in the mould of Churchill's administration in Britain were put aside for the time being, but Curtin prosposed another solution: an advisory war council consisting of four government members and four opposition members. It was eventually formed on 28 October, and met to discuss vital war matters the entire length of the war. It was around this time that the British and Free French held a failed seaborne assault on Vichy-held Dakar. The attack involved the RAN's flagship, the heavy cruiser, HMAS Australia. Menzies first learned of this as he read the morning newspaper, galling treatment from a country he had supported and been devoted to for so long. In a fit of rage brought on in the aftermath of the 1940 election results, Menzies cabled Churchill on 29 September complaining of the lack of consultation between Whitehall and Canberra, and questioning Churchill's strategic decisions "without overwhelming chance of success". Churchill interpreted it as undermining the head of the British Commonwealth, and fired an equally angry response, denying Menzies accusations. Menzies presumably realized that it was a minor incident that produced the diplomatic spat between Canberra and London, because he sent a cowardly reply that amounted to a humiliating backdown, appealing to the political situation in the wake of the 1940 election, and admitting that none of his accusations had any basis in fact, and adding gushing praises of Churchill's leadership. The Dakar incident was not a vital war issue to warrant a quarrel with Britain about, Australia did have genuine grievances to discuss with Whitehall, such as the impact of the Tripartite Pact, signed by Germany, Italy and Japan on 27 September. Curtin realized that it was only a matter of time before Japan made aggressive movements southward, and knowing Australia's own defences were hideously thin, he feared Australia had placed itself in an unfavourable defence position. The United States, receiving reports from the US ambassador in Canberra, Clarence E. Gauss, was reaching the same conclusion as Curtin. One of Gauss' reports observed:
Menzies was aware of the nation's poor defence position, but trusted in British promises about Singapore's capability to operate as a naval shield against Japan in the Far East. However, that same month, Japanese forces had landed in northern French Indochina, placing Japanese aircraft within reach of Singapore. With Britain preoccupied with Germany, the Japanese could carve up the British Commonwealth unhindered, but Churchill took heart from the clauses concerning the United States, knowing it was only a matter of time until the Americans' industrial might was brought into the war against the Axis powers. Even before Japan signed the pact, Japan displayed signs of a desire for aggression towards the British Commonwealth. Australia was gradually moving in the months prior to the election towards a settlement in the Pacific acceptable to Australia. Menzies had made provisions diplomatically to achieve a general settlement in an increasingly dangerous Pacific. With the absence of a British fleet at Singapore, Australian politicians hoped the US Pacific Fleet in Hawaii could ensure their county's defense, so in June, Richard Casey was appointed to the position of first minister to Washington. Although his appointment was intended to be as a representative through which Australia could deal with the United States in Australia's interest, his time in Washington was spent working in conjunction with the British ambassador, Lord Lothian, providing an independent Australian face to promote British initiatives, such as convincing suspicious American audiences of the arguments in favour of the United States joining the war against Germany. It was in pursuit of promoting Britain's cause in an Australian voice that Casey convinced the government to establish the Australian News and Information Bureau in New York in December 1940. Menzies agreed to this move because, if a defeat of Britain occurred, he foresaw the possibility of a realignment of English speaking peoples, of which Australia and the United States were a significant part. Although such a defining label was not as uniform as Menzies suggested, as the war would show, he did see the Allies as the countries with a way of life loosely similar to British civilization. Despite being a British mouthpiece, Casey was the first to realize, from Washington, that Australia and Britain had conflicting interests. The belated appointment of John Latham as minister in Tokyo was hoped to arrest significantly deteriorating relations with Japan. After putting off the appointment for almost a year, at the urgent insistence of Whitehall, Menzies thought the appointment would prove beneficial at this juncture. Even though his mission held such importance, it was four months before Latham presented his credentials in Tokyo. The delay was out of a need to wait for the outcome of the election to receive instructions from the incoming government, and the habit of organizing travel to Japan's capital by a British ship, which took 38 days, where a Japanese ship would have taken fourteen. Latham's appointment in the midnight hour of the deteriorating relations with Japan was not expected to achieve peace, his instructions were to gain time for Australia to build its strength.
Events in 1941 tipped the scales of the war in the Allies favour, bringing the Soviet Union and the United States into the war against the Axis powers, but in the first month of 1941 the United Kingdom's situation was already looking considerably brighter. The Battle of Britain had been fought to a successful conclusion, with Britons trudging their way through their lives in the final months of 1940 as explosions from German bombs violently shook their island home, and RAF fighter planes valiantly repelled the Luftwaffe intruders from the British skies. Invasion by Germany was now not plausible until the spring of 1942. Australia's position was not looking so bright. War with Japan appeared to be only a matter of time. While the British Army had 36 divisions for use anywhere in the world for their nation's war effort with only four being employed outside the United Kingdom (three in Egypt, one in Iceland to prevent a possible German invasion there), the remainder defending home soil; Australia also had four divisions deployed overseas (three in the Middle East, one in Malaya), but this represented the entirety of its battle hardened, fully trained troops. Australia's defence was in the hands of the militia, who received twelve days of training a year and had no armoured units whatsoever. Seven weeks after Menzies had ordered the local production of tanks the first wooden mock-up was nearing completion. Menzies, taking advantage of the end of the German bombing of Britain, was determined to personally travel to London to try to advance the Australian defence position diplomatically. S. M. Bruce advised against the trip, fearing an argument with Churchill, who had been elevated to the position of prime minister on 10 May 1940, after Chamberlain had resigned due to controversy over the failed invasion of Norway which, ironically, Churchill had planned. Of the British politicians who stood a chance to succeed Chamberlain, only Churchill wanted total war with Germany, and he hoped to bring the United States into the European war to vanquish Germany. Bruce also warned of the possibility of a large military operation in the Mediterranean involving Australian troops over the coming year. Ignoring Bruce's advice, Menzies explained to the advisory war council that his trip would aim to convince British industrialists and government to transfer workmen and machine tools from the factories of established aircraft and ship manufacturers in Britain to Australia, where they were free to produce war equipment to fill British orders far from the reach of German bombers; to assess the position of the 2nd AIF in the Middle East; and to see the viewpoint of the Far East from London. These were the reasons he could vocalize to his colleagues. Menzies secretly hoped to restore his sagging political fortunes, either at home by gaining political victories to improve Australia's defence position or, by finding fresh political pastures in London. He would be leaving the leader of the Country Party and former Queensland accountant, Arthur Fadden, as acting prime minister. Menzies boarded a QANTAS Empire Airways flying boat in Sydney's Rose Bay on 24 January to embark on a trip which he held great hope for his own political position, as well as Australia's defensive position. There were also significant political and physical risks in traversing a world in conflict, Menzies noted this in his diary by writing "for the first time in my life I am embarking on a chancey undertaking". In his journey to London there were two stops of great importance to Australia's war effort. His first stop was Singapore, where he saw first-hand just how inadequate the defences were. While he had dismissed this inadequacy over the course of the previous year, Menzies now saw with his own eyes the state of the fortress' defences. Around the time Menzies departed Sydney, the British military chiefs had reduced the number of aircraft necessary for Singapore's defence from 567 to 336, and this number was expected to provide air cover for adjacent Burma. As Menzies' flying boat sped away from the vital imperial fortress with humid tropical atmosphere, he pondered some questions plaguing his mind in his diary:
His next stop was to visit the 2nd AIF troops stationed in the Middle East. The 2nd AIF in the Middle East amounted to 50,000 troops, with a further 60,000 in AIF training camps around Australia to provide reinforcements. As Menzies surveyed this large contingent in the desert, he realized the folly of Churchill's promise to abandon the Mediterranean if Australia became imperiled. The 2nd AIF in the Middle East would need constant supply, so the Royal Navy would need to keep the Mediterranean secure. The Italian forces in Libya that had tried to drive the outnumbered British forces from Egypt on 13 September 1940 was, in turn, driven back in the first few months of 1941 by a British and Commonwealth force numerically five times smaller. Together the Australian 6th Division and British 7th Armoured Division pushed the Italians along the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, past Bardia and Tobruk, all the way to Benghazi, obliterating an Italian army of ten divisions, taking 130,000 prisoners of war, including 22 generals. Hitler pledged assistance to the beleaguered forces of his Italian ally, Benito Mussolini, in North Africa. He dispatched the elite Afrika Korps to North Africa, commanded by the celebrated German general, Erwin Rommel. Alerted by Ultra intelligence to more German assistance to the Italians, this time in Greece, where the Italian forces were having trouble with the Greeks, Churchill had sent Anthony Eden to Cairo to discuss with military leaders about planning an operation in Greece to oppose the Germans. Menzies was in Cairo at the time, to take advantage of opportunities with the victorious Australian troops, collecting political credits and taking many reels of film congratulating the diggers of the 2nd AIF; so he missed the opportunity to question Eden and British military figures about operations fast approaching that may involve Australian troops, forgetting the warning Bruce had cabled him about before he left Australia. Boarding his flying boat to make the final leg of his trip to London Menzies had a number of bones of contention that he was going to feed to the British Bulldog. He landed in London in early February, having a meeting with British military chiefs and service ministers on 7 February in which they trotted out before him a polished version of Churchill's promise to abandon the Mediterranean, which Menzies knew was not possible. The more Menzies pressed British ministers to explain how the Royal Navy could abandon the Mediterranean without leaving the 2nd AIF in the Middle East unsupplied, the more reluctant they were to do so. So profound was the effect on Menzies of hearing of the victories in the Middle East, and witnessing the endurance amidst destruction in London, that he absolved Britain of its promise. Within a month of it becoming apparent to Menzies that Churchill's promise to abandon the Mediterranean was impossible, the US naval squadron had arrived in Sydney and Brisbane to an enthusiastic welcome. The little Australians knew of Americans, they obtained from Hollywood movies. Before he left London, knowing it was impossible to secure ships for Singapore, Menzies tried to obtain aircraft, securing a promise from Churchill to supply Hurricane fighters to the imperial fortress in the Far East. Back in Australia the advisory war council functioned under Fadden like it never did under Menzies. Fadden came to the Country Party leadership as a compromise candidate between two rival factions, so was able to provide a spirit of compromise that the arrogant Menzies never could. Curtin exploited this new atmosphere to push initiatives for local defence. When the Japanese seemed poised to strike at possessions of the British Commonwealth, Curtin urged the council to release a press statement calling for "the greatest effort of preparedness this country has ever made". The statement hit newspaper headlines on the morning of 14 February. The council's public appeal was well timed, appearing about ten months before Pearl Harbor. In London as Menzies read the news, he might have been wondering what Fadden was doing. Half a world away from Australia, in April, another issue that threatened to drive a wedge between Britain and Australia was underway: the Germans invaded Greece on 6 April, so British military commanders committed Commonwealth troops there to honour commitments to the Greeks. Australian and New Zealander troops comprised most of the Allied force to fight in Greece. Rapidly outflanked by mechanized divisions and overwhelmed by enemy air superiority, the new ANZACs were soon retreating through snow-covered mountains, fighting rear-guard actions as they escaped to nearby ports. Like Gallipoli a generation earlier, the Greek campaign ended in defeat, five thousand troops needed to be evacuated to the island of Crete on ANZAC Day, 25 April, from where Churchill hoped to stem the German thrust southward. A daring German paratrooper operation to capture the island's airfields cut off the evacuees from Greece on Crete from escape. Greece and Crete accounted for eight thousand Australian casualties, sixty percent of the Australian prisoners of war captured during the war against Germany and Italy were taken in these campaigns. The Greek campaign compromised the British and Commonwealth position in the Middle East. Entire divisions were shifted across the Mediterranean to take part in the operation. Tasks for the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean increased, and ships needed to be redirected to evacuate troops. All these factors weakened the British and Commonwealth position around the Mediterranean. At this crucial moment, Rommel launched an offensive towards Cairo, leaving many British and Commonwealth troops in the distance behind him. 20,000 Allied troops, including the Australian 9th Division, retreated to Tobruk, a strategic port city, which was instantly recognized by the Desert Fox as a valuable strategic base from which supplies could be shipped in by sea, shortening his supply line, eliminating an important factor in the desert war: supply. For such a plan to succeed, Tobruk needed to be in his possession. In April he ordered the Afrika Korps to besiege it. The commander of the 9th Division, Leslie Morshead, organized the Commonwealth defence of the city. RAN destroyers and transports, under aerial bombardment of the Luftwaffe, kept the defenders of Tobruk supplied in a supply run by the Royal Navy and RAN known as the Tobruk Ferry. Many Australian ships were sunk in this supply run: Two destroyers including HMAS Waterhen; three sloops including HMAS Parramatta; and 21 smaller ships. The siege lasted eight months, the longest single operation the Australian army has ever been involved in. The German propagandist, William Joyce, gave the defenders of Tobruk the derogatory name "the Rats of Tobruk", due to their stubborn defence. The Australian defenders wore the label as a badge of honour. Morshead reported severe wastage, which would render further defence ineffective, amongst the garrison at Tobruk, requiring relief. Blamey championed the relief of the 9th, seeing advantage of unifying all the divisions of the 2nd AIF in the Middle East into a single corps. Fadden hounded London for relief of the 9th Division, but Churchill prevaricated, needing Tobruk held for military purposes until Auchinleck's counter-offensive in North Africa, and needing the political victories that a successful offensive against Rommel would win. Relief finally came for the 9th Division in mid-1941. The only remaining Australian unit when the siege was lifted on 10 December by Auchinleck's offensive was the 2/13 Battalion. The Australian casualties in the Tobruk operation were 3,009 killed or wounded, and 941 prisoners of war. While in London Menzies had searched in vain for satisfactory answers in the issues he had made his dangerous journey for. His political ambitions in London were repeatedly frustrated. His plans to relocate British factories to safe Australia were seen as unrealistic by the British government, it was much better to purchase war materials from existing suppliers in North America, a short trip across the Atlantic, than place orders from distant Australia. Its location was the primary downfall to Menzies' idea. What he really desired was a place in the British war cabinet. As a means to this end, he presented himself as a dominion representative speaking for a council of dominion prime ministers. Even though many senior political and military figures in Britain held high hopes for him as an alternative figure for the British public to gather behind than Churchill, whose command of grand strategy they objected to, Churchill held him at arm's length. Depressed that his London trip had come to naught, and concerned about his slipping position in Australia, Menzies' plane left Bristol bound for Australia via the United States and New Zealand on 3 May. During his months away from Australia, Menzies had gained little to show for it. When Menzies' plane landed in Sydney he was in for an unexpected shock. Fadden was shown to be a popular and energetic national leader who allowed his ministers more freedom to use their initiative than Menzies did. Fadden had convinced the two independent parliamentarians that Menzies' administration relied upon to vote against the government. When he set out at the beginning of 1941, Menzies expected to find political stability, either in London or Canberra, but upon his return, he found himself trapped in political quicksand, struggling for a breath of fresh air as he was gradually pulled below the surface. Although the London trip was Menzies' political loss, it would be revealed as an immense benefit to Australia's war effort, the stay in bomb ravaged, yet enduring, London changed Menzies' attitude to the approach to war, and with these new attitudes, he made changes within the final few months he was to remain in power in Australia. Menzies had been impressed with the total effort by British society to wage war on Germany, including the presence of women in the services. After witnessing how this previously untapped resource might be employed, Menzies reversed his previous thinking on women's volunteer service organizations, now he was willing to support the untapped resource of women's service organisations to contribute to Australia's war effort by freeing men for more rigourous service. He created the Women's Auxilliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) to make servicewomen available for administrative duties for the RAAF, to make men available for more strenuous duties. The Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) to fulfill a similar role for the army. With the failure in Greece, British planners expected an Axis pincer movement surrounding the British and Commonwealth troops in the Middle East with a breakthrough through the Balkans. Planners thought that the best way to prevent this was an Allied assault on Vichy held Syria. A 34,000 strong Commonwealth force attacked the mountainous French colony through June and July, expecting little resistance. Australia contributed 18,000 troops, the 7th Division spearheaded the assault, and elements of the 6th Division participated. The Australian crew of RAN ships operated of the Syrian coast. In Syrian skies RAAF pilots participated in the attack on Syria. Even though Syria was eventually captured, Allied casualties were high, and Australians amounted to two-thirds of the casualties. British strategists were expecting a large German offensive in the mould of Rommel's North African offensive. On 22 June the Wehrmacht launched Operation Barbarossa, armoured columns penetrating deep into Russia. Even though the fighting was far from the theatre that Australian troops were engaged in, the conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union had a profound effect on Australia's war effort. Hindsight being 20/20, the German attack on Russia, bringing the might of the Red Army against the Wehrmacht, made a significant contribution to the Allies' final victory. Churchill thought Stalin might capitulate and the Soviet Union would collapse like a house of cards. However, Churchill could not deny the military value of Germany occupied with the Soviet Union. If he could keep the Red Army supplied and fighting, Germany might be distracted from the British position in the Middle East. Australia's perspective was completely different: The Red Army consumed a generous portion of the mountain of munitions being accumulated in Britain and the United States, in terms of importance Australia was provided less munitions and war equipment; Soviet force were drawn out of the Russian Far East to European Russia, freeing Japanese troops for military expeditions elsewhere; and the merchant ship carried through the icy wastes of Arctic waters to the northern city of Murmansk, requiring escorts from the Royal Navy. As the Red Army became a powerful military resistence to Nazi Germany, the Communist Party of Australia discarded the heavy mantle of enemies of the state. In August, Churchill pledged two hundred Hurricane fighters for the Red Army to Stalin, on top of the forty that had been delivered already, along with two hundred Tomahawk fighters. This pledge negated the effects of Churchill's earlier promise to Menzies to send Hurricanes to Singapore, which he eventually did, unconstructed and still in crates, and too late to prevent the British surrender. This was not the only effect Churchill's pledge to Stalin had on the defences of Singapore, the British military chiefs informed the commander-in-chief of the Far East, Robert Brooke-Popham, that the reduced target of 336 aircraft was no longer feasible, due to demand elsewhere. With Australia's defence position deteriorating when it seemed it could go no lower, Menzies tried to convince the Advisory War Council to allow him to return to London to try to reduce the risk of war with Japan, but the ALP members vetoed the idea. Menzies made his final offer of a national administration, this time with Curtin as a leader. Curtin replied if Menzies could not lead the country he should resign. Menzies finally bowed to the inevitable, and resigned as Australian prime minister on 28 August, enabling Fadden to resume the role of prime minister of Australia, relying on the seats of the two independents that he turned against Menzies to attempt to force his resignation. Fadden quickly earnt the animosity of the two independents his administration relied upon, so they voted against the government, causing the Fadden government to topple after the budget was being presented to parliament on the night of 3 October. Curtin was asked by the governor general, Alexander Hore-Ruthven, to step into the breach to form a government with an ALP ministry. Curtin became prime minister on 7 October. Curtin had an amazing capacity for organization and hard work, but he was a chronic worrier. His front bench consisted of his deputy of the ALP, Frank Forde, as army minister; Ben Chifley as treasurer; and the energetic H. V. Evatt as attourney-general and external affairs minister. Caucus elected a fiery NSW ALP politician, Eddie Ward, to the ministry. He became the Minister for Labour and National Service, his confrontational attitude bringing him to blows with Curtin on a number of occasions. Even though Curtin's government was not dependant on the votes of independents like Menzies and Fadden, Curtin had little more political security than his predecessors. Evatt, Ward, and others within the ALP were vocal in their opposition of him. On 19 November radio contact was lost with the RAN cruiser, HMAS Sydney, last known to be operating off the coast of Western Australia. In a time of deteriorating peace in the Pacific, the worst scenarios were envisioned. Japan had been at war with China since the thirties. The United States desired a Chinese victory. In an attempt to discourage Japan's aggression in China, President Roosevelt enforced a trade embargo upon Japan in July 1941, and many European powers followed suit. Japan's war machine consumed large amounts of oil, rubber, and ore. Her stocks of these vital war resources dwindled as the war in China dragged on. Japanese war-hawks believed Japan should go to war while she could, forcefully taking the resource-rich territories of South East Asia to keep her war machine in operation. It was discovered that the Japanese were not involved with the disappearance of the HMAS Sydney, the cruiser disappeared beneath the waves of the Indian Ocean with 645 crew aboard after an engagement with a German armed merchantman. With Japan's supplies of key resources reaching critically low levels and the European powers preoccupied with the war against Germany and Italy, the time when Japan would strike out seemed imminent. The Netherlands government requested that Australia send aircraft to Ambon to resist a Japanese landing. In response, the RAAF flew No. 13 Squadron, operating Hudson bombers to Laha Field in Ambon. The 2/13 Brigade of the 8th Division was divided up and battalions of Australian troops sent to Ambon and Timor. The 2/21 Battalion, named Gull Force, was sent to Ambon and the 2/40 Battalion, named Sparrow Force, was sent to Timor, an island visible from the north coast of the Australian mainland. Churchill predicted that "The Japs will shout and threaten, but will not move". Churchill's confidence was misplaced. Far from just shouting and threatening, the Japanese did move. In a rapid conquest that surprised many Western commentators, Japan seized territory after territory in South East Asia, incorporating them into the Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Consequent events showed that Australia was not to become part of Japan's new order for Asia, but it certainly was not impossible, as highlighted in late October by the spokesman of the German Admiralty, Friedrich Lutzow, in a propaganda message, most likely intended to alarm Australia and convince the dominion to withdraw its forces that were supporting the mother country
This alarming message did not indicate that Japan would inevitably attack Australia, but in the light of Japan's territorial ambitions, the threat seemed credible at the beginning of 1942. Australia, to the Axis powers' dismay, did not panic at this attempt to have them withdraw their divisions. In a meeting with the Japanese ambassador in Canberra, Tatsuo Kawai, Curtin and Evatt stood firm in their resolve, Evatt saying "The invitation for Japan to invade us is nothing short of an invitation for Japan to commit national suicide". Evatt delivered a firm bluff, knowng how little Australia held in its hand. Meanwhile, Japan was about to play a mean round of poker with an expansion that lay down a humiliating challenge to the traditional powers dominating South-East Asia: a Japanese army under the command of General Homma invaded the Phillippines; a carrier task force commanded by Admiral Nagumo launched an aerial bombardment of the US Pacific Fleet while it was moored at Pearl Harbor on 7 December, with the aim of damaging or sinking as many battleships in port as possible. As the only fleet in the Pacific with sufficient power to resist Japan, Japanese navy planners hoped to deal it a devastating blow before its power could be brought to bear against Japan. Hearing about Pearl Harbor, Churchill, in 10 Downing Street, was elated, saying "so Britain has won after all!" He hoped to use the outrage of the American public against this aggressive act to entice the US into the war against Germany, while attempting to discourage the Americans from diverting too much personnel and resources to avenge Pearl Harbor in the Pacific. It was not an easy task, there were a myriad of negative connotations attached to a European land war in the view of the American public. In a Melbourne hotel, Curtin received the news of the attack at Pearl Harbor with bleak resignation, saying "Well, it has come". The Australian war cabinet met in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor to discuss the implications for Australia. Some monumental decisions were made that night. The head of the Department of Defence, Frederick Shedden, emphasized to Curtin that this war with Japan was a "new war", not merely an extension of the war against Germany. He believed this required a strong response from the Allies. Furthermore, Shedden announced there was seven militia divisions available for the defence of Australia, but they were insufficiently trained and had rudimentary equipment. Curtin said that he was not going to attempt to recall the AIF divisions from the Middle East. In an attempt to provide a strong response to the Japanese threat, on 8 December, Curtin declared war on Japan, announcing "men and women of Australia" it was now Australia's turn to endure its "darkest hour" through which an "all-in effort" would "hold this country, and will keep it as a citadel for the British-speaking race and as a place where civilization persists". Curtin's declaration in Australia's interest, with no prior declaration from London stands in stark contrast to Menzies' declaration of war against Germany in September 1939. It was not until 11 December when the war cabinet discussed a report by the Australian military chiefs assessing probable Japanese actions against Australia and the region it occupied, it assessed the most highly probable Japanese actions in these terms:
The report recognized Darwin as an attractive target for the Japanese if the Malaya barrier had been breached. The Malaya barrier was the theoretical defensive line that ran down Malaya, Sumatra, Timor and Cape York Peninsula. Landing in northern Malaya, a Japanese army under General Yamashita was about to breach this theoretical defensive demarcation, the Japanese army in question captured airfields along the Malayan Peninsula, enabling the Japanese to easily establish air superiority and begin a south-bound offensive along the Malayan Peninsula. Japanese torpedo bombers launched from the captured airfields engaged Force Z, a naval force with the British battlecruisers, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, at its core. The RAN destroyer, HMAS Vampire, was part of Force Z. The Australian destroyer avoided wounding, as the bombers focused all their torpedoes on the larger vessels. The battlecruisers Australia had placed their hope in were sunk on 10 December. With the British ships on the bottom of the ocean, the Japanese navy had mastery of the sea, providing the Japanese offensive vital naval support. Divisions of the British Commonwealth were startled by the rapidity of the Japanese advance along the Malayan Peninsula. The Australian government was mortified when they received reports of events unfolding. The Rapid Japanese advance in South East Asia prompted the Australian government to increase the intake of the militia, an additional 100,000 Australian men were conscripted for the defence of Australia and mandated territories. This, along with the previous recruiting of the 2nd AIF, RAAF and RAN serving overseas, caused a manpower crisis, a shortage of the labour needed to maintain primary production output, industrial capacity, and ensure the smooth function of Australian society. To meet this crisis, Australian employers in rural, industrial, and commercial sectors, as well as services, turned to other alternatives to aquire labour that was needed. Many stores and factories began employing women, even middle class women with children, in the first two years of war, 100,000 many women entered the workforce, in some cases receiving the first wage they had ever earnt, many in previously male-dominated occupations. 17,000 Italian prisoners of war, captured from North Africa and transported to Australian camps were used as labour on Australian farms, in many cases developing friendships with the Australian farmers. In many cases, these farmers sponsored the Italian POWs' immigration to Australia after the war. Although prior to the war, Aboriginal men had found employment in agricultural and pastoral jobs, and Aboriginal women in domestic services, with the need for labour, they found employment in a variety of occupations previously not available to them, thereby gaining diverse experience. The government also made allowances for Aboriginies aimed towards easing the crisis by easing the Australian Military Regulations, so by 1945 three thousand Aboriginals had served in the 2nd AIF, opening an avenue previously closed to them. While employers looked desperately for labour and made compromises to secure it, the Australian government was stubbornly adhered to an old policy, foolishly unwilling to change in order to meet the labour situation. The government initially refused asylum to Jewish immigrants affected profoundly by war, including three hundred French children, despite eloquent requests made on their behalf. With the intervention of British diplomats, Australia eventually accepted 100,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria, and for want of a "refugee" category among those classified as aliens, many were labelled "enemy" owing to their German ethnicity, and some were interned alongside committed national-socialists. As the sparsely spread Australian population wrestled with the implications of the Japanese advance, the sparse forces of the British Commonwealth wrestled with Japanese forces under Yamashita's command in Malaya. Despite the dark outlook for Australia, Britain was still heavily figuring in Australian defence considerations, two-thirds of the Australian 8th Division had been assigned to Johore, in the south of the Malayan Peninsula. The battalions of the remaining brigade of the 8th had been sent, previously, to the strategic islands of Ambon and Timor, when the Netherlands government requested defences to be sent to these islands. In Malaya the 8th Division fought the Japanese at the Maur River for a week. While the Australians amounted to fourteen percent of the Commonwealth forces in the Malayan campaign, they suffered 73% of the deaths. The 8th Division conducted a successful ambush at Gemas, trapping approximately a thousand Japanese troops on bicycles as they crossed a river on 14 January 1942, detonating charges on a bridge after they crossed it. The British commander-in-chief in Malaya, General Percival, ordered all Commonwealth forces to retreat to Singapore Island. Yamashita ordered his troops to besiege the fortress. In the face of British impotence to meet the Japanese threat, Curtin appealed to the United States through an article in the Melbourne Herald on 27 December, writing:
Both Curtin and Churchill were looking eagerly to the United States to assist their respective nations in the war most threatening to those nations. This would place them in a headlong competition for resources and control of strategic direction of the war. Churchill saw this competition as potentially damaging to his strategy of enticing the United States into the war against Germany, so he visited Washington to take part in the First Washington conference, known as the Arcadia conference, with Roosevelt, where the beat-Hitler-first strategy was enshirined in a formal agreement, the document detailing these plans being called "W.W.I". Although many US military and naval figures explained the American agreement to this plan as a wily Churchill's scheming pulling the wool over the eyes of a compassionate, yet easily led, Roosevelt to ensure the US would commit to the European theater. From the perspective of the entire global conflict, the idea of focusing maximum offensive power against Germany while fighting a defensive war in the Pacific against Japan does seem to make perfect military sense. Nazi Germany was a powerful central European nation that could, and in many cases did, expand in any direction. Japan is a nation in the north Pacific, already in a war with China that had increasingly become a military quagmire for Japan. This east Asian nation, surrounded by large bodies of water and with few resources of its own, could easily be blockaded by the Allies. Of course, it is tragically convenient that this pragmatic view in a global context is beneficial to the nation represented by one of the signatories, Churchill. Australia did not possess the convenient position of Britain and the United States, it could not afford to wait to be retrieved by Britain after a Japanese invasion. Despite this formal commitment to taking the offensive against Germany, US military planners were beginning to see Australia as a well-positioned and willing territory from which an Allied offensive could be launched against Japan and its massive, recently acquired empire in South-East Asia. By February, Roosevelt had publicly pledged that the defence of Australia was an aim of his administration. US servicemen began pouring into Australia, and this trend continued throughout 1942, the figures rising as the year passed, culminating to a peak in 1943. An Australian guidebook was distributed to them, which contained in its pages a waring that US troops were not here to save Australia, Australian troops have an excellent fighting record from the war underway. The author of the guidebook retells a conversation overheard in a King's Cross pub, two Americans swagger into a bar, spot an Australian, and say "two Americans swagger into a bar, spot an Australian, and say 'You can go home mate, we're here to save you', the Australian looked them up and down, commenting 'I thought you were refugees from Pearl Harbor'". Unlike the arrival of the US naval squadron, the arrival of US servicemen was not announced for security reasons, it was not until March 1942 that the Australian press announced their arrival to the world. Even if the GIs were not greeted with an emotional outpouring, the Australians were friendly enough to their Pacific partners, at least initially, many Australians competed with neighbours to see who could be the first to invite a Yank for a family meal. Through awareness of cultural differences between two societies that accompanies close contact, many Australians began to notice the disparities between the Hollywood image and reality: the US army had more lavish pay scales than the Australian army; GIs had better access to goods; and with many Australian men serving overseas or within Australia, many Australian women opted to fraternize with the sexually sophisticated, relatively wealthy Americans, which, contrasted with the enduring stereotype of the Australian digger who prefers the company of his mates, the Americans being a rare phenomenon prior to the war. The general public complained of women being too friendly with the Americans, showing outrage at this "moral madness". It is little wonder that Australian diggers felt resentment. Groups of them roamed about, acting like moral police: separating embracing couples, and teaching the Yank that public spectacles like that was not welcome here in Australia. The problems were not all one-sided: US troops resented inflated Yank prices in Australian stores; Americans were genuinely puzzled by industrial strikes and stoppages during the war; and, as conscripts themselves, hated with a passion the Australian tradition of refusing to send conscripts overseas. Clashes, occasionally devolving into full blown riots, occurred between GIs and diggers, the general public becoming involved in many cases. Similar to the British population, who witnessed a large American build-up in their country during the war, the Australians' opinion of US servicemen was "overpaid, oversexed and over here". The police were more concerned with individual women's sexuality than cleaning up the professional sex trade, which had grown significantly around military bases. While Curtin turned his attention from Australia's traditional protector, London, to Washington, the Australian 8th Division was heavily involved with a British Commonwealth force, fighting for a common imperial cause, the defence of the fortress on Singapore Island. With almost a million civilians, 85,000 troops, and refugees from Malaya escaping the Japanese, on the island, acute food shortages, and the water supply obtained from the mainland, the military appreciation of the circumstances was grim. On 15 February 1942 General Percival surrendered Singapore to the Japanese. Most of the Australians within the fortress at the time, as well as some British troops, were dragged to Changi prisoner-of-war camp. Occupying twenty-five square kilometers on the peninsula at the eastern end of Singapore Island, Changi POW camp is seven camps instead of only one. As far as Japanese POW camps operating during the Pacific war go, Changi was relatively benign. It was a camp intended to temporarily house POWs before transportation to other camps in South-East Asia, there were 5,549 Australian POWs remaining in Changi and other camps on Singapore Island and Malaya by the end of the war. With the imperial defence strategy in ruins, the fortress that was the centerpiece of the strategy a captured prize for the Japanese, and Australia's fate uncertain, the troops and officers of the AIF 6th and 7th divisions in the Middle East demanded to return to the Far East to defend their homeland. Strangely enough after he had fought so hard for a single Australian division for the Middle East, Churchill obliged, agreeing to send the Australian 7th Division, and elements of the 6th Division within the hulls of seventy ships of varying size across the Indian Ocean, surrounded by waters full of lurking Japanese submarines, and under skies patrolled by Japanese aircraft searching for Allied ships. The division's original destination was Java, to assist Allied operations in the soon-to-be-formed command in the south-western Pacific, the divisions being loaded aboard the ships with artillery transported separately for relatively rapid transport. As the Australian divisions embarked upon their long voyage, the remnants of the defeated Commonwealth defenders of Singapore sought scapegoats for the defeat of the fortress that had long been boasted of by the British as impregnable. The British commanders accused the Australians of looting, rape, murder, defying orders, fighting their way onto civilian evacuation ships, and other breaches of discipline. The 8th's commander, Major-General Gordon Bennett, who should have been setting a good example, fled on an evacuation ship, making his way back to Australia via Sumatra and Java, later claiming his knowledge of effective tactics for fighting the Japanese were necessary in Australia. Bennett, in turn, accused the British commanders in Malaya of a "retreat complex". Later, in June 1942, Wavell unfairly apportioned blame to for the fall of Singapore to the Australians. Unlike Australian politicians, Churchill accepted that Singapore was lost, and the Japanese assault on Rangoon in adjacent Burma competed with Singapore for British reinforcement, the British prime minister arguing that "In the widest view, Burma was more important than Singapore". The Australian government was of the opinion that Singapore should be reinforced at all cost, though all was already lost. Churchill advocated evacuating Singapore for the benefit of Burma. If Singapore was evacuated, reinforcements could be diverted to Burma, and victorious Japanese troops would be employed in capturing the latest Japanese prize, rather than join the Japanese army in the offensive against Rangoon in Burma. In Australia, a stressed Curtin was convinced to take a recuperative trip by train to his home city of Perth. Warned by Australian representatives in London of the British prime minister's intentions for Singapore, a cabinet without Curtin's moderating influence drafted a cable to send to Churchill. With a great deal of input from the aggressive Dr Evatt, it indicated that an evacuation of Singapore would be regarded as
Churchill, after receiving a cable by the governor of Burma, was about to outdo the betrayal of evacuating Singapore. After resting in Perth for two weeks, Curtin travelled by train to Melbourne. The war weighed heavily upon him, he complained to a friend that he "was not trained to be a warlord, but fate has given me the appearance of one". He was not well as the train approached Melbourne, and, upon arrival, he was confined to his hotel room. He was later taken to hospital, where it was discovered that he had suffered a severe heart attack. When the situation appeared grave, circumstances distant from Australian shores made Curtin stress more. The ships that bore the 7th Division and elements of the 6th Division were well positioned to serve Churchill's agenda seen through the prism of his view of global strategy. On 16 February, the British governor of Burma sent a cable outlining the gloomy situation of the British garrison in Rangoon as it faced the Japanese offensive in Burma. Churchill believed the Australian divisions being transported in ships could be diverted there to aid the British cause in Burma, in a quick decision, sensing the urgency of the situation, he diverted, mid-journey, the ships to Burma, hoping the Australian troops would be able to assist the crumbling defences turn back the Japanese offensive before Rangoon, thereby sparing India, and avoiding uncomfortable questions from the Americans about why the British permitted the Japanese operations to close the only supply line between the western nations and China, the Burma Road. By the time the Australians were due to arrive in Burma, the governor of Burma had cabled to London "there is no more than 50% chance of resisting enemy assault on Rangoon", and the divisions would have landed without artillery or heavy equipment, as it was loaded separately in the hull of another ship in the convoy. The Japanese held air superiority, and naval superiority in the Bay of Bengal. Sheepishly, Churchill informed Curtin that the extra travel-time for the diversion meant the AIF divisions could not arrive in Java without first refueling in Ceylon. The communication between Australia and Great Britain over the diversion issue devolved into a five day cable war between Churchill and Curtin, which represented the most controversial encounter, in the form of the proverbial "irresistible force meets immovable object" archetype, of the wartime Anglo-Australian relationship. Churchill, in the irresistible force role, attempted to persuade Curtin, the immovable object, to give in to the British judgement, resorting to gain leverage from other avenues to convince the Australian prime minister to allow the diggers in transit to continue to Rangoon. Churchill applied increasing pressure as time passed: first admitting that the ships had been diverted, and to turn back would put the divisions in a greatly increased danger; then convincing Australian representatives in London of his side of the argument; finally cabling Roosevelt, urging him to intervene to convince the reluctant Australians to reconsider in order to further the Chinese war effort. With this pressure before him, Curtin was a rock, immovable. No Australian digger would be diverted to Burma, the ships bearing the Australian troops would resume their journey to their original destination of Java. Curtin's strength and defiance had a price though: the cable war aggrevated his heart condition, he was in and out of hospital for the rest of 1942. Before the Australian divisions arrived in Java, a permanent officer of the Australian army, John Lavarack, visited Wavell's command in Batavia, cabling Australian army authorities about the inadequate military position in Java, urging that the Australian troops should be diverted elsewhere before they arrived in Java. The general who had been assigned to the position of chief of the General Staff after the death of Brudenell White on 13 August 1940, General Vernon Sturdee, had written, from his office in Melbourne's Victoria Barracks in Melbourne, on the day following the fall of Singapore, observing:
Sturdee advised the war cabinet to divert onto Australia the ships bearing Australian troops to Java. In Australia they had benefits of familiar terrain, existing transportation system, certain communication & supply, and a friendly population. Sturdee was so adamant that they had to come to Australia that he threatened to resign if the diggers in transit were not brought home. As the Commonwealth troops retreated to Singapore Island, another Allied retreat was occurring elsewhere: General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines retreated to Bataan and Corregidor. Unlike the retreat proceeding Singapore's defeat, MacArthur's retreat showed strategic brilliance, while the Americans held their positions, their artillery overlooked Manila, and the Japanese were denied use of Manila harbour. President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to escape, travel to Mindinao to organize the resistance, and proceed by plane to Australia. Even though MacArthur knew leaving the Philippines would mean abandoning the men under his command, MacArthur also knew disobedience would mean certain court martial, and obedience, even if the implications are distasteful, is bred into army officers. It was not long before MacArthur, his family and closest fellow officers were packed like sardines in a plane, heading southwards, soaring far above the Japanese conquests that had taken the colonial powers by surprise. These colonial powers had reacted by forming the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) area in the south-west Pacific in January 1942, an area stretching from Burma and Malaya in the west, to New Guinea and New Britain in the east, from the Philippines in the north to Java in the south, the command was intended to retain, out of Japanese hands, the territories and dependencies in the ABDA area of the powers that possessed them through the combination of the powers' military and naval forces. Despite the efforts of Wavell and the staff within the ABDA command, the command was not effective in achieving its aims. Australia, not included in the ABDA area, was affected by a number of events that occurred in early 1942 within the ABDA area to the dominion's north. Over five thousand Japanese troops stormed the Australian outpost of Rabaul in New Britain on 23 January, supported by a hundred aircraft launched from two aircraft carriers, with eight cruisers, twelve destroyers, and nine submarines as support. The Australian defenders, which amounted to a single battalion and eight Wirraway aircraft were overwhelmed by the enemy force, the RAAF commander requesting fighter planes able to adequately challenge the Japanese Zeroes. He was informed by the Department of Defence in Melbourne "You would get them if we had them". Rabaul was captured by the Japanese, and with its harbour and numerous airstrips, Japan acquired a major naval and air base close to Australia's shores that extended Japanese air superiority as far as Port Moresby and over the Coral Sea. Due to the potential of Port Darwin, as well as the airfields that surround it, to impede the progress of the Japanese operations of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), 188 carrier aircraft descended upon Darwin like vultures on a carcass on 19 February, with fifty-four land based bombers being launched from the Celebes later in the day. On 1 March, a combined fleet of ships under the ABDA command fought in the Battle of the Java Sea, after which the HMAS Perth was sunk in the Sunda Strait with the USS Houston, casualties of the Japanese naval forces aiding the invasion of Java. As MacArthur's bomber flew far above this area, the rapidly growing Japanese empire in South-East Asia alarmed Australian citizens, from those elected officials in public office to the lowest-paid workers and almost every person in between, could see a long line of dominoes falling to the Japanese, and wondered if the wide, brown land they called home was next. The events in and around Australia were seen by its citizens in light of this paradigm, so the nation beneath the gaze of the southern cross seemed to be under constant threat of Japanese invasion throughout 1942. Stories of Japanese savagery elsewhere in South-East Asia, coupled with a conviction that the society the British had planted in the antipodes represented the entirety of civilized peoples that had occupied the Australian continent, produced a concern that the Australian way of life that had risen since the birth of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 would be washed away in the face of Japanese invasion at any moment. Every effort of government ministers, down to the average Australian was oriented towards ensuring that Australia and its citizens were secure against the threat of invasion. Government propaganda reinforced the image of a nation under constant threat, so Australians old enough to remember those times recall the sense of unity of all Australians through the war years. The Curtin government had developed the Brisbane Line strategy in an effort to find a feasible way to ensure the vitality of future Australian resistance to the Japanese forces that may attempt to occupy all, or part, of the Australian continent. This strategy was developed on the assumption that Australia had too few army units to effectively occupy all of the territory on the Australian continent, so instead a defensive line was drawn around the industrial areas of Australia that were decided by the government to be vital for an effective war effort, within the Brisbane-Melbourne-Adelaide triangle. In the event of a Japanese invasion, militia units throughout the country would take positions behind this defensive line and keep it at all costs, so future generations of Australians, it was thought, could take up the fight to expel the Japanese. It could not have been an easy pill to take, but the Curtin government inherited an unpleasant situation from the Menzies and Fadden governments. The existence of this strategy was dragged through the mud of political gains: MacArthur, probably genuinely fearful of the defence position of his command when he was first informed of the Brisbane Line strategy, later announced it in a way in which he could reap the maximum personal benefit; even one of Curtin's own ministers, Eddie Ward, accused the Menzies government of adopting a different form of the Brisbane Line strategy, an east-west line drawn slightly north of Brisbane where Australia defends the more heavily populated lands to the south of this defensive line, and Japan could keep the more sparsely populated areas to the north, similar to the occupation pact the Vichy government signed with the Germans in France. This is the most popularly remembered version of the Brisbane Line, probably due to its simplicity and the large amount of media coverage of Ward's vocal crusade. MacArthur's arrival in Australia, similar to the arrival of the average US serviceman, was greeted in this context, except the concern had been transformed into relief and jubilation. As the bomber that had carried MacArthur and his entourage from the Phillippines approached Australian shores, Japanese bombers from Timor were conducting a raid on Darwin, prompting the pilot of MacArthur's plane to continue on his course southwards, beyond Darwin. MacArthur finally alighted from the B-17 that had carried him in the ten hour flight from Mininao onto Australian soil for the first time on 17 March at Batchelor Field, fifty kilometers south of Darwin. The northern terminus of the Central Australian Railway, Alice Springs, was still a distant location. The time it took MacArthur and his entourage to arrive there, the only regular passenger service, the Ghan, capable of carrying MacArthur's party closer to somewhere that more resembled civilization, Adelaide, had departed a day earlier, and it ran weekly. MacArthur was surprised at how primitive technology and civilization was in this part of Australia, but was assured that a passenger train would be sent from Adelaide. The long trip southwards in the primitive carriage, although preferable to being packed like sardines in the belly of a long-range bomber far above the ABDA area, was less than comfortable. When the train stopped at a town outside Adelaide where the railway gauge changed, MacArthur alighted and gave an impromptu press conference to waiting Australian reporters, eager for a scoop. He said, in words he had scripted upon arrival in Australia, delivered for maximum PR value:
These last words were repeatedly broadcast in the Phillippines, where the population was enduring life under Japanese rule, and needed the hope and promise of future liberation to buoy the underground resistance. As his words were heard on Filipino radios, MacArthur's train sped through the final leg of his Australian odyssey, to Melbourne. Upon arrival, MacArthur was greeted enthusiastically by Australians, who initially greeted the Americans with open arms. An armed guard of honour of United States and Fillipino soldiers was waiting for him as MacArthur's train pulled into a Melbourne station on 21 March. The army minister, Frank Forde, welcomed him on behalf of the Australian government. Since the first Darwin raid the government were concerned that it meant a Japanese invasion of the Northern Territory was imminent, but, MacArthur knew from recent experience that the Northern Territory was too distant from Australia's population centres to be a viable target for Japanese invasion. As the march of time would reveal, the first Darwin raid was merely the first in a campaign of 97 raids on important ports or aerodromes across northern Australia during 1942-43, from which the United States might launch attacks on the newly acquired Japanese empire which could gradually wear down the Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. During these Japanese raids, many Australians in the north of the continent were evacuated to the southern states. Aboriginals on Christian missions had been evacuated, with part-Aboriginals being assimilated amongst the majority of the population, while the remainder, of full-Aboriginal parentage, was housed in a camp in Balaclava, in South Australia. Without evidence, some authorities claimed some Aboriginal people on missions were sympathetic to the Japanese, so many were interned unjustly. As the raids were happening men, women and children of Japanese origin in pearling centres of Darwin, Broome and Thursday Island were interned for the duration of the war, only being transported to Japan when the war had ended. As Attourney-General, H. V. Evatt, announced that "internment was only necessary when probable damage to Australia was undeniable". Although this sentiment initially appears to be a more humane policy of internment than in 1939, as the external threat to Australia rose throughout the war, the more authorities and interest groups, such as the pro-internment RSL, could argue that enemy aliens were undeniably damaging the country's war effort. In the role of Attourney-General, Evatt also lifted the ban on the Communist Party of Australia. MacArthur, taking advantage of even greater press coverage in Melbourne than his first Australian press conference, had prepared an address that he delivered to the assembled crowd, designed to appeal to the population of Australia, just as his comment in the previous press conference was designed for Fillipino radios. He stated with certainty that his command needed the co-operation of the Australian government as much as it needed him. It responded to his call for more efficient management of resources through the creation of the Manpower Directorate, an administrative body to manage the list of reserved occupations, vocations vital to the war effort, which workers were excused from recruitment in the defence forces, so the labour could be ensured to perform them. The Manpower Directorate imposed industrial conscription: workers were issued identity cards, told where to work, were unable to quit or exchange jobs, and were rounded up for evading work at pubs, hotels or racetracks. In Manpower's search for more plentiful sources of labour, it turned to women, formalizing the wider female entry into the workforce since the beginning of the war. Many women preferred to be employed directly and avoid Manpower totally, only ten percent of all women in the workforce found employment through Manpower. The ALP policy was that women should be paid equal pay for equal work that a man would do in that job otherwise, yet there were interest groups within Australian society that sought to dictate conditions upon women's wages that the ALP needed to take into consideration: employers viewed women as a cheap labour source, wanting their wages to stay low; the male dominated trade unions did not want women to drive male wages down or replace men while they were at war; feminist groups wanted female wages to be as high as possible; if the government, the largest employer of women, agreed to pay equal pay for equal work, it would quickly bankrupt the public purse. To address women's wages in various industries while taking these groups into consideration, Curtin decided he needed an institution to decide these matters justly. Instead of introducing precedents into the body that determines wages under ordinary conditions, the Arbitration Court, and complicate the issue, Curtin created the Women's Employment Board (WEB). Charged with the task of determining women's wages within each industry, the WEB was intended to fix women's wages at eighty to a hundred percent of the level of male wages in that industry, in accordance with the demand for that labour. In munitions production, in response to an urgent need for labour, the WEB set women's wages at ninety percent of the male wage. Since the arrival of war in the Pacific that precipitated Australia's manpower crisis, 88,000 American GIs had streamed into Australia, but these servicemen needed to be supported with food, services and accommodation, quite a daunting task for the tiny Australian economy. It was these US soldiers MacArthur had expected to command. However, on 17 April, after much discussion in Canberra and official sanction from Washington, Curtin informed MacArthur of his appointment, effective from midnight, to the position of supreme commander of Allied forces within the newly created South-West Pacific Area (SWPA), an area that encompassed the southern portion of the now-defunct ABDA area and Australia, placing him, not only in command of the US troops within Australia, but in charge of Australia's war effort. Roosevelt had assigned the PR-conscious MacArthur to the SWPA command to disguise from both the Australian and US public the relative paucity of US resources and personnel sent to the SWPA command. Evatt was the first minister who grasped the potential bargaining chip Australia held, in MacArthur, the US public would not permit the US government to leave the lion of Luzon underresourced. This meant Evatt would attempt to wring greater reinforcements from the United States. Curtin commissioned Evatt to travel to Washington and London to try to obtain vital war resources, specifically modern fighter aircraft, to effectively challenge a Japanese invasion of Australia. On this first mission, Evatt's voice was drowned out by the out by other delegates demanding similar resources on the newly formed Pacific war council in Washington, but time and again Evatt hit his head on the invisible barrier of the beat-Hitler-first policy outlined in the W.W.I document he had not seen yet. He finally laid eyes on it when he traveled to London, where he horrified the British ministers with his aggressive parochialism. Churchill, in an effort to placate Evatt, suupplied three squadrons of Spitfires to the RAAF. The Spitfires, more adequately suited to challenge Japanese aircraft types, than the Australian built Wirraways. The newly acquired aircraft allowed EATS trainees, such as Clive "Killer" Caldwell, to finally play a role in the Pacific war when the personnel arrived back in Australia. After the success of gaining the Spitfires, which the ambitious Evatt used to gain the maximum political points upon return to Australia, he did not tell Curtin the contents of the W.W.I document. Revealing documentary evidence of a formal agreement to the beat-Hitler-first strategy between Churchill and Roosevelt would possibly show Evatt's victory in a negative light. In MacArthur's first duty of the SWPA command, MacArthur assigned staff in the SWPA headquarters. He placed Thomas Blamey in command of all allied land forces in the SWPA. Upon his return from the Middle East the Australian government had appointed Blamey commander-in-chief of the Australian army on 28 March. MacArthur disliked Blamey, agreeing with Major-General Robert C. Richardson's opinion of the hard-living chief of the Australian Army as "a non-professional Australian drunk", to place him as commander of allied land forces in the SWPA, where he would command United States troops, a situation which MacArthur considered "was an affront to national pride and the dignity of the American Army". However Blamey was one of the few Australians with the administrative skills required for a senior staff position. Due to this, the only other Australian to hold a senior staff position was the chief of staff, W. D. Bostock, of the commander of allied air forces for the SWPA. The remaining positions on the senior staff of the SWPA were assigned to members of the Bataan Gang, the fourteen officers that accompanied MacArthur from the Phillippines. This was a peculiar bunch of men: Willoughby admired the Spanish fascist, Francisco Franco; Sutherland believed that the United States should be ruled by a right-wing dictatorship; in the words of Clark Lee each gang member "carries a chip on both shoulders". MacArthur did not choose them for their personalities, he valued personal loyalty, bordering on idolatry, from his staff above all else, qualities not possessed by most Australians. While retaining its structure as a coherent entity, the RAAF was incorporated into the USAAF. MacArthur established SWPA command headquarters at 401 Collins Street in Melbourne on 18 April. Rapidly, a 30,000 strong garrison of US troops was stationed in Melbourne. This capital of Victoria was one of the first Australian city to acquire a large collection of GIs. As the American "invasion" of Australia was underway, events that were suspected to be in the opening moves of a Japanese invasion of Australia's heavily populated eastern coast alarmed the Australian government. A carrier battle took place in the Coral Sea on 8 May, in which the US carrier Lexington was incinerated and Yorktown was badly, though not mortally, damaged. Despite greater numerical losses for the Americans, the naval encounter was a strategic victory for the Allies, as the Japanese naval force assigned the task of launching a naval assault against Port Moresby turned back to Rabaul after it was intercepted by US, Australian and New Zealand warships, its task incomplete. It was speculated at the time that the Battle for the Coral Sea was the beginning of an invasion of Australia's eastern coast by Japan. In 1942 and 1943, Japanese naval vessels and submarines operated along the eastern seaboard of Australia between Brisbane and the Victorian border. Australian shipping was interrupted, the Japanese sinking twenty-two ships during these two years. Japanese ships shelled Newcastle, an important industrial centre, and Sydney, where housing prices and rents dropped in the city's prestigious eastern suburbs, Bondi and Woollahra saw many residents sell their property cheaply and move inland, to a presumably safer location. With its famous bridge spanning it, Sydney Harbour is often considered one of the most spectacular harbours in the world, but on 31 May chaos reigned in its waters, early that morning the Japanese submarines I-24 and I-27 had released three midget submarines east of Sydney Heads, hoping they could engage and sink or damage naval vessels as possible in the harbour. Even though the heavy cruisers HMAS Canberra had been moored in Farm Cove and USS Chicago at the Man-of-War anchorage adjacent to Garden Island, the three midget submarines did not achieve their objective: one was entangled in the submarine net at the entrance of the harbour, the second fired a torpedo at HMAS Canberra, the shot going wide and sinking a ferry; the conning tower of the third was spotted by the Australian submarine hunter, HMAS Yandra, which released a depth charge, damaging the craft, the crew eventually shooting themselves as the explosion had blocked a torpedo tube, rendering the objective unachievable for that tiny vessel. To add extra pressure on MacArthur, in mid-1942 in Melbourne three women were found murdered, and a US serviceman, Eddie Leonski, was linked to the sensational sex crimes. MacArthur ordered Leonski tried post haste, for fear that a delay of justice might further sour American-Australian relations. Leonski was found guilty and hanged. Needing a headquarters closer to the fighting, MacArthur decided to move SWPA headquarters from Melbourne to Brisbane. The staff departed Melbourne on 20 July. Establishing the new SWPA headquarters in Brisbane on 21 July, MacArthur and his family occupied four suites of Lennon's Hotel. The relocation of SWPA headquarters to Brisbane caused a shift of the focus of US servicemen northwards. 96,000 of the 119,000 GIs in Australia at that point were located in Queensland. The Australian government was pleased with this relocation, and not just due to the majority of Japanese air raids being focused in the northern portion of the continent. The implications of Australian enforcement of the White Australia Policy for so long affected their attitude to MacArthur's racially segregated force, which consisted of African-Americans, which comprised ten percent of the amount of US servicemen in Australia. After unsuccessfully attempting to disallow their entry to Australia, the government tried to have them relocated to labour battalions in the country's north, away from the majority of the Australian population. Even the African-American soldiers among the US troops in Brisbane were confined to a "coloured zone" south of the river. But the gulf between GIs and diggers remained, for similar reasons as it sprung up in Melbourne. Tensions between both sides of the alliance kept building, with an explosion almost inevitable as soon as a spark appeared. On the same day as the one that SWPA staff arrived at their new headquarters in Brisbane, a foe that would indirectly decide the majority of the Australian military commitment in the SWPA in 1942, Major-General Tomitaro Horii, landed with the South Seas Detachment on the northern coast of New Guinea, establishing beachheads at Buna and Gona, assigned to take Port Moresby by treacherous overland route, over the jagged spine of the Owen Stanley mountain range, along the primitive path known as the Kokoda Trail, around the dense blockade of jungle surrounding Port Moresby, in an attempt to overcome the town's garrison. The Kokoda Track, named after a villiage in the northern foothills of the Owen Stanley mountain range near the end of the trail, covers a range of climates, from biting cold in the heights of the Owen Stanleys to the oppressive tropical heat and humidity of the coastal regions. The majority of the track is covered by a thick mire that slurped and oozed with each step. Tropical diseases silently hunted troops from both armies, infections festered in undressed battle wounds. Elements of the 39th and 53rd Australian militia battalions and 300-strong Papuan Infantry Battalion formed the Maroubra Force and rushed to engage the Japanese as they advanced along the track. Pressing over the Owen Stanley mountain range, the Australians encountered their real enemy from the desert war in North Africa: supply difficulties. The food and ammunition the diggers could not carry in their swag was hauled from Port Moresby by native carriers, while the Japanese lines of supply and reinforcement were shortened. In August the Australians were driven back, outnumbered and short on food and ammunition. Horii's force, recently reinforced, amounted to five battalions. The last defensible position established by the Australians beyond the Owen Stanley mountain range was at the villiage of Isurava. The Japanese landing at Milne Bay, on the eastern tip of Papua, hampered Allied operations on the Kokoda Track further. The Japanese landing was opposed by nine thousand Allied troops. This, and the demands placed upon the Japanese by US marines landing at Guadalcanal influenced decisions made in the Japanese High Command in Rabaul concerning operations in New Guinea. The British general, William Slim, was referring to Milne Bay when he claimed, ignoring the accomplishments of US marines in Guadalcanal earlier in the month and the presence of 1,400 US troops at Milne Bay, that "it was the Australian soldiers that broke the spell of the invincibility of the Japanese army". On the Kokoda Trail, the diggers were driven out of Isurava on 1 September. An order given from Horii's headquarters is an indication that the Japanese were already having supply issues:
With no shipment of supplies due for the next eight days, the daily rice ration was cut to one cup per man, barely subsistence level. Although he had to reduce the rations of the soldiers under his command, Horii did not relinquish the initiative that the Japanese began the Kokoda campaign with. The Australians retreated to Imita Ridge on 13 August, the last natural obstacle along the track, only eight kilometres from Port Moresby. On 16 September, they dug in, establishing a defensive position. Here circumstances swung into the Australians favour. Their lines of supply and reinforcement had vastly shortened, and the Japanese positions were now in range of the Australian artillery at Owers Corner, the junction in the track just outside Port Moresby. MacArthur was livid at the news of the Japanese advance, fearing the damage to his professional reputation if Port Moresby fell to a Japanese advance. Erroneously believing that the Australians outnumbered the Japanese, MacArthur was disparaging of the Australian troops. He pressured Curtin to send Blamey there to take command. Despite being content with the leadership of New Guinea Force in the hands of Major-General Sydney Rowell, when Blamey visited Port Moresby a week prior, he had little choice but to go. His command was coveted by a number of senior officers in the Australian army, and several members of the new ALP government were hostile to him. Upon his arrival in New Guinea on 23 September, there was a fiery confrontation between Blamey and Rowell in which Rowell was relieved of the command of the New Guinea Force. Blamey jealously guarded his own position as commander-in-chief of the Australian army. Blamey wrote of Rowell's reaction to the events:
For his part, Rowell was of the opinion that Blamey's debauched lifestyle was not befitting a commander of his position. Many historians have apportioned blame to either of these men for the situation. Blamey has been accused of eliminating a potentially rebellious subordinate while he had the opportunity. Others have castigated Rowell for being unaware of how political considerations can affect a military commander's standing, some even going so far to propose that Rowell indirectly sacked himself. Historian Peter Brune has suggested the problems arose from the "total surrender [by the Australian government] of military power to General MacArthur". Coincidentally, at the time of Rowell's dismissal, the Australians took the initiative on the Kokoda Trail. With elements of the 7th Division, the Australians launched an offensive, retrieving the ground that had been lost, discovering the debris of the former skirmishes on that ground. US bombing had interrupted Japanese lines of supply and communication. However, the failure of the landing at Milne Bay and the savage fighting with American marines on Guadalcanal had prompted the command in Gona and Buna to reconsider, prompted by the High Command in Rabaul, in mid-September the campaign in Papua, ordering their forces to withdraw to the beachheads on the north coast of New Guinea. The Australians reached Kokoda on 2 November. This advance was not rapid enough for MacArthur, who wanted publicity showered upon him. Again, he pressured Blamey, who removed Arthur "Tubby" Allen from command of the 7th Division, replacing him with Major-General George Vasey. The campaign in Papua not only revealed tensions between the AIF and militia on the ground: the former saw themselves as the elite Australian troops, and disparaged the militia soldiers, which due to conscription could not be employed overseas, so the AIF troops disparaged the militia conscripts, calling them koalas, an animal that cannot be exported or shot at, or chocolate soldiers, implying they will melt as soon as they see action. The militia soldiers berated the AIF because they were perceived to be signing up for steady wages after a time of severe economic hardship, calling them "five bob a day tourists" or "five bob a day murderers". In Canberra, the Opposition raised issues in parliament of the disparities between the two elements of the Australian army: the militia and the AIF. The former amounted to 262,333 men in October, and could not be employed outside Australia or its mandated territories. The latter amounted to 171, 246 men in October, and could be employed anywhere in the world. The members of the federal Opposition argued that these distinctions were illogical, and unfair to Australia's allies to expect them to send conscripts overseas when Australia would not. Frank Forde rejected the argument, saying it was "the foolish clamour of political opportunists". In November Curtin emerged as an advocate of the reform. In a Special Federal Conference of the ALP he proposed that the geographical restrictions on the use of the militia include "such other territories in the South-West Pacific Area as the Governor-General proclaims as being territories associated with the defence of Australia". These words provoked passionate denunciation, both from idealists who fought conscription during the First World War, and realists who remembered the schism in the ALP that the conscription debates caused in 1916-17. Curtin shepherded the limited conscription proposal through the cabinet, the machinery of the ALP, and the trade union movement. With parliamentary approval of the policy, on 4 January 1943 another Special Federal Conference of the ALP endorsed the legislation. Reasons for Curtin's support of this move, even though he had been incarcerated for protesting conscription during the First World War, proposed by historians are both internal and external. Paul Hasluck suggested it was domestic political factors, that it was a response to pressure from the federal Opposition, in an attempt to maximize the ALP's chances in the 1943 general election. Curtin's own professed motives were strategic necessity and opinion in Allied nations. In October-November 1942 there had been articles in US and British newspapers criticizing Australia's war effort. Recent research indicates that MacArthur, fearing that American criticism of the Australian war effort would hinder US resources from being allocated to the SWPA. It is doubtful whether this policy had significant military benefit, MacArthur stated that he would only need existing AIF divisions and US troops. Although Kokoda retains the dominant location of the epitome of the display of attributes of the ANZAC legend during the Second World War in the public mind, the beachhead battles at Gona, Buna and Sanananda were fought against a fanatical enemy, who would rather die fighting than surrender, entrenched in easily defended positions. It took the 7th Division a month of heavy fighting to capture Gona, which fell on 9 December 1942. Buna, however, was more intractable, elements of the American 32nd Division made attack after attack to no avail. Blamey took this opportunity to repay MacArthur for his disparaging comments about the Australians during the see-sawing Kokoda Trail campaign. With reinforcements and an overhaul of US command Buna fell on 2 January 1943. The Japanese defence at Sanananda, which was blockaded, resisted the Allied offensive until it was eliminated on 22 January 1943. Sixty-two percent of Australian losses in Papua were sustained in the course of eliminating these beachheads. By the time Japanese forces were evacuated from New Guinea, fourteen thousand casualties of the sixteen to seventeen thousand troops committed there had been suffered, mostly due to disease and starvation. For the Allies, the losses were significantly smaller, although they encountered similar difficulties as the Japanese. Australian casualties in New Guinea amounted to 2,065, and the US, despite making significant contributions to aspects of the campaign, suffered 930 casualties. Despite Australia's relatively tiny amount of influence in Allied strategy in comparison to its powerful allies, it contributed to the fighting in the New Guinea campaign significantly. The campaign in New Guinea, along with the US victory in Guadalcanal, took the initiative in the Pacific and put Japan on the defensive. The time around 1942-43 was a worldwide shift of the initiative from the Axis powers to the Allied nations. In the Middle East and Europe the battles of 2nd El Alamein and Stalingrad respectively turned the tide against Nazi Germany. The 9th Division, well known from Tobruk, had remained in the Middle East to participate in the Battle of El Alamein as part of the Eighth Army. Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, where SWPA headquarters were located, was, in reality, only a tiny provincial town, as far as capitals go. Its population of 325,890 in 1938 had to accommodate almost ninety thousand US personnel. The glut of mouths to feed, people to house, and services to provide for, placed a strain on the city's infrastructure. The general population of the city complained of lack of accommodation, entertainment, and food. Australians were not familiar with seeing public displays of affection, and Australian troops performed the function of moral police, separating embracing couples, and showing Yanks how that sort of behaviour was not welcome in Australia. In the hands of US provosts was the unenviable task of separating these opposing groups, allegedly in alliance, apart. A hundred Australian citizens, consisting of military personnel and civilians, rioted outside a US Post Exchange (PX), on 27 November, breaking windows and looting. The situation quickly degenerated into an outbreak of violence known as the Battle of Brisbane. To retain control, US provosts fired wildly at the main instigators in the crowd with pump action shotguns. The crowd displayed outrage at this use of force, and attempted to relieve Private Norbert Grant of the 738th MP Battalion of his weapon. Grant, understandably terrified at the size of the Australian mob, fired his weapon into the crowd. Not a positive step to resolve the conflict. As the crowd cleared, the corpse of Private Edward Webster of the Australian 2/2 Anti-Tank Regiment was left in the dust, a gaping wound in his chest. For all the concern in 1942, a Japanese invasion of Australia never took place. Australia was certainly battered and bruised by the events in 1942, fearful, but not in submission. There certainly particular Japanese senior officers from both the army and navy, such as Yamashita and Yamamoto respectively, that entertained thoughts and plans for an invasion of Australia, but the Japanese High Command was against such a course of action, through interception of Japanese diplomatic signals from Magic, US intelligence knew this from mid-April. The Imperial Navy was officially opposed to an invasion of Australia due to the extra demand it would put on shipping, and the army officially opposed an invasion because of the increased manpower demand on the armed forces: the Japanese army had two and a half million men in the field already, mostly in China or against the Soviet army, occupying Australia and securing it against Allied invasion would place an additional burden on Japan's population. The official Japanese strategy for dealing with Australia was to sever lines of supply between Australia and the United States, and the armed forces of Japan went to great lengths to achieve this. The Japanese attempts to cut Australia off from its powerful ally include: trying to take Port Moresby, and numerous operations in the Solomons. Due to the dramatic Japanese expansion into South-East Asia in late 1941, Australians saw these moves as designs upon their homeland. However, the Japanese intended isolation for Australia in 1942, not capture.
In 1943, Australia was still haunted by continuation of the relevant issues of the war for Australians in 1942: fighting in New Guinea continued; the Japanese continued their bombardment of strategic locations in northern Australia; and the campaign against shipping continued unabated. On the morning of 14 May, approximately a year after the Japanese campaign had begun, the most memorable victim of this campaign was sunk. A hospital ship, the Centaur, was torpedoed without warning, costing 268 lives, the unfortunate ship sinking before the lifeboats could be launched. It was displaying appropriate, internationally-recognised lights to indicate what type of craft it was. A howl of outrage arose from the Australian public, the consequences of a barbaric war struck home. As the barbarities of war was fully realized through personal loss, hearts softened towards the plight of others within their nation's borders: treatment of those classified as aliens improved considerably mid-year, as a judicial body providing a right of appeal for those classified as aliens of any category, the Aliens Tribunal, unknown in the earlier years of the war was established. The belated inclusion of the "refugee" category to the list of broad headings under which aliens could fall, enabled those fleeing war and persecution to find a humane, free home in Australia. Although the likelihood of national security seemed uncertain, the Australian government no longer feared invasion. There were 150,000 US troops in Australia. The 9th Division of the AIF had returned home, and was serving on the Huon Peninsula in New Guinea. Evatt was sent on his second mission to London and Washington, not to secure Australia against invasion, but to aquire the wherewithal to pursue the retreating Japanese forces. The year deepened the trends in Australian party politics that had developed during the war. Leading up to the 1943 general election, a faction, the "National Service Group", emerged from the UAP ranks due to the perceived failure of party leadership. As the name implies, this faction supported unlimited conscription, and intended to appoint Menzies leader again. Fadden launched his campaign on 22 June, advocating the formation of a single army, a review of wartime restrictions, and a method of financing the war. Curtin campaigned with the slogan "victory in the war and victory in the peace". After four years of war with Japan, the electorate was desperate for victory. The ALP won a substantial two-house victory with fifty percent of the vote, an increased margin from their 1940 result. The ALP's 1943 result was the first time in three decades, since 1913, the ALP held a majority in both houses. The Labor electoral legitimacy, and the success it entails, transcended the barriers between branches of government, it was not only the federal ALP that enjoyed the fruits of wartime success, many states featured Labor administrations during or after the war: William John McKell's Labor government came to power in New South Wales in 1941 after almost a decade of conservative dominance, and retained government until 1947; Labor governments retained power in Queensland all throughout the war, until 1960.
Despite the wartime relationship with the United States, the Curtin administration in Canberra was mistrustful of Yankee dollar capitalism. Evatt arranged a conference in Wellington between representatives of the ALP government of John Curtin and New Zealand's Labour government of Peter Fraser in January 1944. The representatives whose homelands are separated by the Tasman signed the Anzac Agreement, a mutual agreement to limit the US influence to the north Pacific, while the Commonwealth would wield influence in the south Pacific. Curtin was concerned about the US reaction to this conference, at the same time the federal Opposition were accusing Curtin's administration of disloyalty to Great Britain. Curtin was in the difficult position of appearing to remain on friendly terms with the United States, and appear loyal to Australia's traditional ally, Britain. Curtin decided to reconcile Australia to both estranged allies with a visit, personally, to the Allied capitals. He appointed Frank Forde acting prime minister in April, Curtin traveled to America by troopship, then, in light of a dread fear of flying, by train to Washington, spending seven days there. Confronting his fear of flying, he flew to London to participate in an Imperial Conference. Curtin presented a vision of a Commonwealth of equals, not just equal dominions following the lead of the mother country, Great Britain, which, in Curtin's vision, would be just another nation in the Commonwealth, not the leader. Concurrently, Forde's actions unwittingly made Curtin's time in London difficult. The manpower crisis in Australia was being alleviated: 50,000 women were serving in the auxiliary forces; and 855,000 were employed in the workforce, only four percent of which were performing domestic tasks. The amount of female labour in the workforce at this time was only a five percent increase on the amount of women in the workforce in 1939. The WEB's task was a temporary one, so WEB was disbanded in this year and the wages of women placed alongside all wages, under the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court. Even though the Governor-General had awarded MacArthur a knighthood during a state dinner on March 17, to commemorate the two year anniversary of his arrival in Australia, throughout the year it was evident to the officials of the armed forces, federal political figures, and even the mass media that MacArthur did not plan to utilize Australian forces in his final offensive against the Japanese in the Pillippines, despite his earlier assurance to do so. He used the hard-won territory of New Guinea as a springboard to launch the US drive to Japan. His legendary ego forbade him to share the final victory over Japan with anyone but US army troops: the Australians, or even the United States Navy. The AIF was assigned to unnecessary, wasteful mopping-up operations. MacArthur justified his actions by pointing to lack of Allied shipping, as well as Blamey refusing to allow the AIF divisions to be deployed as separate divisions. This was a heavy burden for the Australian economy, besides maintaining the US troops, twelve Australian divisions, along with fifty-three RAAF squadrons, were greedily consuming public funds daily, unused. The availability of unused Australian troops allowed diggers of the AIF to be demobilized and incorporated back into Australian society, lack of manpower was no longer an issue in Australia. Forde took advantage of this situation by making assurances to address domestic concern about sluggish discharges into industry. He specifically mentioned the dairy industry. Churchill was livid upon hearing these events half a world away, with the war incomplete, Australia was demobilizing to reap economic advantage, through discharges into industry, to provide "butter for Britain's bread". With Curtin at hand in the British capital, Churchill launch an unofficial investigation into Australia's contribution to the Pacific war, with all the passion of a personal vendetta. First he asked the British chiefs of staff on 1 May to provide their assessment of Australia's wartime performance. Churchill bemoaned that Australia had only maintained three divisions outside the country, while he was of the opinion that five was a more realistic contribution for a country of Australia's population. The chiefs did not share Churchill's opinion, informing him that considering the terrain and medical considerations in New Guinea, maintaining two or three divisions in the field there was "a very remarkable achievement", and the chiefs were looking forward to incorporating Australian forces into the British Commonwealth occupation force of Japan. Not to be foiled in his aim of gathering statistics to use in his discussions with Curtin, Churchill intensified the search by instructing General Ismay on 4 May to assign
Again, London's military officials exonerated Australia's war effort, with Ismay noting that "the [proportional] degree of mobilization for the war is greater in Australia than in the United States in both armed forces and munitions", but only if mobilized manpower employed in Allied food production was counted in the total mobilized manpower. With signs that the end of the war, visible from Australia, was fast approaching, the emergency wartime legislation with which the ALP implemented social reforms while the war lasted would cease with the arrival of peace. Evatt proposed a referendum to amend the Constitution to permit the Commonwealth government in the postwar reconstruction and beyond to wield a variety of powers over the running of the nation, powers which were the states' right to implement. A. W. G. Martin argues that it was "an article of the [Labor] party's faith that the social policies it favoured could only be effectively put into force by the Commonwealth". In the 1944 referendum a twelve point list of powers to concede to the Commonwealth government was proposed. The powers were put in an all-or-nothing fashion, and included the power over organized marketing of primary produce, social services, and industrial employment. The referendum gave the conservative parties a chance to mobilize. Menzies, by then leader of the UAP again, took up the struggle against the ALP's centralist tendencies. The popular decision favoured the no case, as did four of the states. Only South Australia and Western Australia supported the yes case. The state branches of the UAP had prepared the groundwork in 1942 for a reformed conservative party capable of realistically challenging an almost untouchable wartime ALP. The conservative victory for the no case in the 1944 referendum provided momentum for a reformed conservative party, unifying the non-Labor forces into a credible Opposition, just as Curtin had done with the ALP immediately before the war. A conference was held in Canberra in October, in which the Liberal Party was formed, the name alluding to great democrats of the days of Australia's federation, such as Barton and Deakin, but in reality the new party was composed of liberals and conservatives. Another conference was held at Albury, on the border between Victoria and NSW, in December to decide upon political ideology to govern it. Although the decisions of these two conferences were made by a number of figures in conservative political circles, Menzies made important contributions. He spoke of the "forgotten people", an entire class of salary-earners overlooked by the government while the ALP retained almost unassailable power and ruled in the name of the working class. The Liberal Party, in coalition with the Country Party, was strong enough to challenge the ALP for federal government from 1949 to 1972, long after the Second World War had concluded. Curtin was not the only one possessing formidable power: the scientists associated with the Manhattan Project conducted a successful test of their new weapon in the desert of New Mexico at Los Alamos, producing a number of atomic bombs, the product of worldwide co-operation: the ideas were mostly German; the funding, American; the motivation, Japanese fanaticism and the size of the Soviet Union. The uranium, however, needed to come from somewhere. His belief in the war-winning power unleashed by splitting a uranium atom meant Churchill desperately wanted atomic bombs for Britain. While in London during 1944 Curtin agreed to develop Australian production of uranium, and make the resource available for Britain's use only. He had a meeting with Churchill on the day before leaving London, 28 May, where the British prime minister finally conceded that Australia could reduce its forces to six divisions in total, three being kept in the field, yet keeping the RAAF at 53 squadrons, and the RAN being kept at present strength plus the ships being constructed in Australia at the time. Backflipping on his earlier stance on Forde's release of diggers into the rural labour force, Churchill suggested to his Australian counterpart that Australia make an effort to, at least, maintain the amount of 1944 Australian food exports to Britain, even doubling the volume of Australia's share in the British market. Before leaving London, Curtin addressed the meeting of the Empire Parlimentary Association in the House of Commons, hoping here to bridge the gaping chasm that had formed between Australia and Britain during the war, saying
Menzies could not have said it better himself. As Curtin confidently assured British MPs that Australia remained a microcosm of Britain in the Far East, Australia displayed evidence of the wartime relationship with the United States. Two-thirds of Australian imports came from the US.
Curtin was recuperating when 1945 began, he was absent from the duties of office between November 1944 and January 1945. When he resumed office, he took up the woes of being the national leader again. He had been captain at Australia's helm when the nation's chances of survival were at their lowest point, through a prolonged war with Japan, when Australia seemed to be under the constant threat of invasion, when he took the suffering upon himself of every man, woman, and child that called Australia home, every Australian casualty suffered in the course of taking up arms against the enemy, victim of hardship in a Japanese POW camp, or civilian casualty of Japanese bombing or shelling of Australian cities and towns. He continued to display this compassionate trait for a foreign kindred spirit, the US wartime president, when the news arrived of Roosevelt's sudden death due to a massive stroke on 12 April. Curtin was hit hard by the US president's passing, saying the event "lessened, to some degree, mankind's hopes of a better day". Curtin must have felt his own health problems loosening his grip on life: he was a heavy smoker, an ex-alcoholic, and the anxiety over the events of the war would not help. Not all his ministers were present in Australia to help with the duties of government: Evatt was leading the Australian delegation to the San Fransisco conference on 25 April, where he contributed significantly to the UN Charter. Curtin was rushed to hospital with a congestion of the lungs on 29 April. He was permitted to return to the Lodge, but could not leave his bed. The ailing man who had been prime minister for so long during the war told concerned colleagues who visited him that he wanted Chifley to succeed him as leader of the federal ALP, thus making him prime minister. During the Australian wartime stateman's physical decline, MacArthur continued the marginalization of Australian forces, planning to utilize I Corps in an operation in Borneo that was later discovered to be unneccessary. It was considered pointless, as the oil it denied Japan could not reach the home islands anyway, as they were blockaded. As far back as 21 March, MacArthur's headquarters released a plan for a three-phase operation to secure key locations around the coast of Borneo to the commander of I Corps, Lieutenant-General Leslie Morshead. First, the 2/26 Brigade of the 9th Division were ordered to capture the airstrip on Tarakan Island on 1 May, off the north-eastern coast of Borneo. This objective could then assist the remainder of the 9th Division to capture Brunei, in the north of Borneo on 10 June. The third phase was to take the Dutch oil port of Balikpapan. For twenty days before the 7th Division stormed the shores at Balikpapan, the RAAF dropped two hundred tons of bombs on average a day, then the US Seventh Fleet and Australian and Dutch cruisers fired 45,000 shells at the port installation. This bombardment from the sea smashed buildings to a pulp, largely negating the effort and munitions expended. Blamey had questioned the strategic value of the Borneo operations prior to implementation, particularly the action at Balikpapan, but MacArthur insisted they would be executed. 229 Australians had been killed and 634 wounded at Balikpapan. Many Australians who were casualties on Borneo were POWs. Throughout 1942 and 1943 approximately two thousand Australian and British POWs from Changi on Singapore Island had been transported to Sandakan, a POW camp on Borneo to the north of Tarakan when the 2/26 Brigade was there undertaking their orders. Australian intelligence knew they were there, but in the time it was decided not to retrieve the POWs the camp guards had taken two groups of the POWs well enough to walk in Sandakan at the time on forced marches to a village called Ranau, the trek was so grueling that most POWs were reduced to walking skeletons. By the time intelligence decided to go to Sandakan, only six POWs, all Australians, were left alive. Back in Australia, Curtin passed away at four in the morning on 5 July, six weeks before the Japanese surrender and the end of the war in the Pacific that Curtin had worked so hard to lead Australia through. Australian and US newspapers proclaimed him a war casualty, implying the stress of the role of prime minister during wartime contributed to his death. Like Roosevelt, Curtin did not see the final victory over Japan that he fought so hard for. A week after Curtin's passing, on 12 July, the ALP caucus elected with 45 ballots, compared to fifteen for Frank Forde and two for Evatt, Ben Chifley as successor to Curtin as leader of the federal ALP. Chifley assumed the role of prime minister the next day. Forde became deputy prime minister, while Evatt ranked third in the Chifley government. Chifley's tenure began as the sun set on the Second World War, leaving him to make the final decisions of the war in Australia. Despite elements of the British Labour Party initially arguing against colonialism for fiscal reasons as the end of the war approached, as the Pacific war drew to a close, the Atlee government received reports from the Admiralty that Hong Kong and Singapore should be retained if possible for fiscal reasons, as inexpensive ports of call for British ships operating in the Pacific, fulfilling treaty obligations to the Russians and Chinese. Retaining Hong Kong may depend on the Japanese garrison surrendering to Commonwealth forces flying the Union Jack, not Chinese forces. The nearest Commonwealth forces were the Australians on either Borneo or Morotai. The Atlee government requested the assistance of the Chifley government in the matter, which placed the Australian government in a quandary. Australia was committed to a postwar British Commonwealth, by taking Hong Kong on behalf of the British colonizers, Australia may incur Chinese anger, which may question the White Australia Policy. It also threatened to slow Australian demobilization. Evatt, a vocal leader in the postwar international organization, the United Nations, also had difficulties posed by this request: he had been a forceful advocate at San Fransisco for the destruction of colonialism, he could hardly argue to back the British over Hong Kong; yet he required British support in the UN to achieve a satisfactory organization to guide international relations. The Chifley government refused the request for assistance of Australian forces, so the British needed to send a fleet to Hong Kong. This was in stark contrast to the willingness of Australia to go to great lengths, even at great cost to itself, to support Britain's empire in 1939 and prior to the beginning of the war. When the issue of a Commonwealth occupation force of Japan arose, further Australian unwillingness to support the nation that the citizens of Australia formerly called the mother country was exposed for all to see. When the Atlee government proposed a British Commonwealth occupation force for Japan (BCOF) under the command of a British officer, the Australian chiefs of staff gave their recommendation with this framework in mind. The Chifley government, responding to grievances caused by London and Washington's lack of consultation with Australia during the war, unilaterally decided to double Australia's contribution to the occupation of Japan, albeit under the command of an Australian officer directly answerable to MacArthur. This force, consisting of two cruisers, two destroyers, two brigades of infantry, and three squadrons of Mustang fighters, was hoped in Canberra to place Australia amongst the pantheon of the principal Pacific powers. On 17 August, Chifley made divisive public comments. S. M. Bruce begged Chifley to refrain from such comments, fearing they would suppress the "favourable atmosphere" that had developed in London since Churchill's electoral demise. The dispute confirmed to ministers in the Atlee government that Australia was intent on being unhelpful to wider imperial purposes. The British government, hoping Australian forces would disguise their small contribution to the occupation of Japan, offered compromises: such as an Australian military commander, but still a British officer in overall command; or finally the combined BCOF with an Australian officer in overall command. This final offer had some a catch: the Australian officer was responsible to the British chiefs of staff. Chifley was suspicious of this final offer, citing that no Canadians or South Africans counted among BCOF's ranks, so the force could not be considered a truly Commonwealth force, so Chifley pressed ahead with the separate force. The Australian chiefs of staff pointed out to the Chifley government that doubling their recommendations would slow, possibly even halt, demobilization. The Chifley government was forced to endure a humiliating backdown, accepting the final offer, on the condition that BCOF's headquarters staff were all Australian, and the commander was responsible to the Australian chiefs of staff. The Australian change of heart brought relief in London, with Lord Alan Brooke saying "Thank heaven, for if they had been allowed to refuse our final offer of an Australian command and a combined chiefs of staff organization…it would have been the end of all imperial co-operation". Lieutenant-General John Northcott was appointed as the Australian officer to be commander-in-chief of BCOF. He remained in the position until 1946. Chifley led Australia through the postwar reconstruction and established the nation on the road towards the new peace. By far, Chifley's greatest contribution was in the postwar period. The wartime manpower crisis suggested to many in politics that Australia needed to increase its population. Chifley created the Department of Immigration, and implemented the assisted immigration program, intending to turn Australia into a welcome prospective home for a multitude of displaced non-British European immigrants whose homeland had been ravaged by the war in Europe. Straight after the war 200,000 immigrants graced Australian shores: Italians, Greeks and Eastern Europeans contributed to the development of Australia, the White Australia Policy no longer limited Australia's population, in size or diversity. Chifley planned industrial development of Australia, so immigrants could find employment, he instituted the Snowy Mountains Scheme: a plan to construct a hydroelectric dam at Jindabyne in NSW that provides power to Canberra and the east coast of Australia. Many new Australians worked on the project, the largest engineering project completed in Australia. These first steps towards a racially diverse, modern nation were a far cry from the multicultural society that Australia is today, although it is uncertain if these steps would have occurred without the challenges the war posed.
Between 1939 and 1945, the demands of the global war challenged the political structure which Australia was part of, the British Commonwealth. The Royal Navy, which enforced the imperial defence policy could not cope with simultaneous threats on opposite sides of the world. In Australia the conservative UAP supported the policy of imperial defence, so when Britain's promises were revealed to be empty, the UAP lost the dominance it held in the Depression years. To provide credible resistence to the Japanese threat in the Pacific, Australia needed to adopt a policy of self-reliance in defence and foreign policy. Given the diminutive size of Australia's economy, powerful, centralized social planning was needed, a plan more in keeping with the ALP's political philosophy, allowing the ALP to rise above the party's time in the wilderness since the conscription referenda of 1916-17. Due to its tiny population, the most recognized Australian wartime prime minister, John Curtin, needed to appoint the United States general, Douglas MacArthur, as supreme commander of Australia's war effort, and allow entry into the country large amounts of US servicemen. They were initially welcomed as saviours, but eventually disputes broke out on the ground. This quixotic relationship among the troops of both nations within the joint Pacific venture mirrors the, at times, immature disputes between MacArthur and Blamey. As the war came to a close in 1944-45 MacArthur's ego, which forbade him sharing the victory with anyone, was brought about by the unbalanced nature of American-Australian relations during the war. Domestic polititics and international relations are merely influential aspects of Australia's war effort in the Second World War. The efforts of the Australian population contributing towards an Allied victory were considerable in proportion to the tiny size of its population. They were the recruits enlisting for service either close to, or far from, Australia's shores. They were the labour that toiled as Australia sunk into a manpower crisis, many from sections of society that had never taken home a wage for a day's work before. They were the volunteers in organizations and charities, who dedicated their time and money to aid others through the war years. They were among the 22,000 Australian POWs in South-East Asia who endured an existence of hardship, waiting for the war to end or the dim hope of repatriation to occur. The manpower crisis produced by the war helped governments of Curtin and Chifley to see the need for an increased Australian population, Chifley pursuing this goal through a policy of increased immigration. Although the war brought animosity and persecution to the non-British elements of the population, in the long term the war led to the first steps being taken towards a modern and racially-diverse nation.
Source: M. McKernon, All in! Australia during the Second World War, The Australian Bureau of Statistics, B. Wurth, 1942: Australia's Greatest Peril, D. Day, The Politics of War: Australia at War 1939-45: from Churchill to MacArthur, The Australian War Memorial, J. Beaumont, Australia's War: 1939-45, P. Thompson, Pacific Fury, Wikipedia.
Events Taken Place in Australia
|Attack on Darwin||19 Feb 1942|
|Battle of Brisbane||26 Nov 1942 - 27 Nov 1942|
|Anzac Conference||19 Jan 1944 - 21 Jan 1944|
|The Cowra Breakout||5 Aug 1944|
|Cruiser Mk I Sentinel||Light Armored Car (Aust) 'Rover'||Scout Car S1 (American)|
|Austen Submachine Gun||Owen Machine Carbine Submachine Gun|
Territories, Possessions, and Nations Under the Influence of Australia
|Australian New Guinea||Australian Papua|
Australia in World War II Interactive Map
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944