Australia’s Participation in the Second World War, 1939‒45 - dummies

Australia’s Participation in the Second World War, 1939‒45

By David Horner, Angus Houston

Part of Australia’s Military History For Dummies Cheat Sheet

During the Second World War Australia sent contingents from the three services to assist the British Empire in Europe and the Middle East, and then fought with the allies in the Pacific. Major theatres of war were:

  • Middle East and Mediterranean, 1940‒42. Key naval battles were HMAS Sydney sinking an Italian cruiser (July 1940), Australian ships fighting in the battle of Crete (May 1941) and the resupply of Tobruk (April to November 1941). Troops from the 2nd AIF, under General Sir Thomas Blamey, fought in North Africa, Greece, Crete and Syria. Significant battles were Bardia (January 1941), Tobruk (January and April to October 1941), Greece withdrawal (April 1941), the defence of Crete (May 1941), Merjayoun (June 1941), Damour (July 1941) and El Alamein (July and October to November 1942).

  • Europe 1940‒45. Based mainly in Britain, Australian airmen served in British Bomber, Fighter and Coastal Commands, operating over Germany and other countries. Australian airmen also served in North Africa, Syria and Italy.

  • Pacific 1941‒45. Australian troops served in Malaya, Java, Timor, Ambon, New Guinea and Borneo. Major land battles included Muar (January 1942), Singapore (February 1942), Kokoda Trail (August to October 1942), Milne Bay (August to September 1942), Buna, Gona, Sanananda (November 1942 to January 1943), Wau (January 1943), advance to Salamaua (April to September 1943), Lae (September 1943), Finschhafen‒Sattelberg (September to November 1943), Shaggy Ridge (October 1943 to March 1944), Slater’s Knoll (March 1945), Wewak (May 1945), Tarakan (May to June 1945), Brunei‒Labuan (June to August 1945) and Balikpapan (July to August 1945).

    The RAN fought numerous battles including Sunda Strait (February 1942), Coral Sea (May 1942), Savo Island (August 1942), Leyte Gulf (October 1944) and Lingayen Gulf (January 1945). The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) supported the Allied campaigns throughout and its most noteworthy battle was in the Bismarck Sea in March 1943. Between April 1942 and August 1945, the Australian forces were under the command of US General Douglas MacArthur.