Australian Participation in the World War II in the Pacific

Strategic and Armed Forces Situation in March 1942. – When General Mac Arthur arrived in Australia on March 17, one could think that the Japanese, having completed the occupation of the Solomons and New Guinea, would have proceeded further and landed in the north of the Australian continent. In New Guinea there were only a few thousand soldiers of the Australian militia and indigenous troops: Port Moresby was nothing but a mediocre aircraft refueling station: in the Solomon Islands, a British possession (except Bougainville), the situation was no longer brilliant. The 6th and 7th division with gen. Blamey had returned home a few days, except for some departments that arrived in April: the 8th division had suffered the fate of the Singapore defenders; the 9th was still in North Africa and did not return until February 1943. The warship had lost the cruiser Sydney, sunk by a German ship 300 miles off the Australian coast; the cruiser Perth, sunk, together with the English Houston, by the Japanese in the battle of the Sunda on February 27, 1942; the destroyer Thanet, sunk to the east of the Malacca peninsula, while the Vampire fighter was lost in the Bay of Bengal. In addition, the two notices Paramatta and Yarra and many smaller units had been sunk. In conclusion, two heavy cruisers remained: Australia and Canberra (later replaced when sunk by Shropshire, ceded by Great Britain), the cruiser Hobart and 3 destroyers of the 5 existing at the beginning of the war.

Overall, the air force situation was better. The embargo placed by Great Britain in November 1940 on raw materials and semi-finished products for Bristol-Beaufort appliances, which the Bristol company had undertaken to build in Australia, was the incentive to become independent, also for the type, from the motherland, while initially relying on the United States in terms of engines. In May 1941 the first Beaufort bomber was delivered: but only in September these aircraft had the equipment for launching torpedoes. General Mac Arthur, upon his arrival in Australia, found 400 efficient workshops working for fighter aviation and training aircraft, then suspended as it was established that the training center was in Canada: while the mass construction of the Wasp engines was not far off. The aircraft that had participated in the military actions in the Mediterranean were then recalled home, with the exclusion of those serving in Iceland, the Azores and even Russia. Australia had also ensured that its overseas aircraft were collected under the command of Australian officers.

Australian participation in the war in the Pacific. – The hints made so far allow us to remember that the armed forces of Australia participated in the campaigns of Malacca and Java, and opposed the Japanese conquest of the Bismarck Islands with their weak forces; they also carried out continuous air raids against the Carolines and the islands of Insulindia occupied by the Japanese and participated in the US air and naval action of January 1, 1942 against the Marshall and Gilbert Islands. Under the imminent threat, important reinforcements (taken from divisions returned home from the Middle East) and air forces were sent to Port Moresby and Milne Bay to reinforce their garrisons. And that this was all the more urgent was demonstrated by the battle of the Coral Sea (7-8 May 1942), in which a mixed allied division made up of two Australian cruisers and three destroyers and an American cruiser participated, and the attempted landing of Japanese troops in Milne bay. It is also largely thanks to the Australian soldiers and planes that the Japanese expedition, which departed from the northern coast of Papua, was stopped a few kilometers from Port Moresby and then pushed back to the ports of origin Buna, Gona and Sanananda beyond the mountains. Owen Stanley (August-October 1942). The three ports were reconquered by the Australians in December 1942-January 1943. This success was the beginning of the successful reconquest of New Guinea: the occupation of the Trobriand and Woodlark islands gave the navy and the Australian-American Air Force the bases to cut off the traffic of supplies between Rabaul and New Guinea and instead feed that of the Allies, who took advantage of it for the start of those amphibious “ram jump” operations, consisting in the carrying out of landings of American troops beyond the point to be captured, while the Australians proceeded regularly along the coast so that the enemy was caught between two fires. This was the strategic plan that allowed the gen. Mac Arthur, to reach the extreme western limit of New Guinea, the Vogelkopf Peninsula, on July 30, 1944.  For Australia 1997, please check

Logically, the reconquest of New Guinea had to be accomplished hand in hand with that of the Solomon Islands, Bismarck and the Admiralty, in order to repel the Japanese invaders to the north of the equator. Only in this way could Australia be considered safe from Japanese landings on the east and south-east coasts of the continent. The Solomons’ campaign was initiated and completed (8 August 1942-late 1943) by the United States Navy with the collaboration of the Australian Navy. Beyond Canberra, sunk on 8-9 August 1942 during the battle of Savo, all the Australian ships participated in the aforementioned campaigns: of New Guinea, of the Solomons and of the Bismarcks. In the course of the war, the Australian troops and fleet took part in the occupation (11 September 1944) of the Morotai island of the Halmahera group (Gilolo). The air forces cooperated in the attack and landing on Leyte in the Philippines (October 19, 1944) and in all operations prior to the invasion of Luzon, therefore in the march on Manila. The ground forces did not intervene and were instead used in May 1945 to expel the Japanese from the island of Tarakan, British Borneo and Sarawak; in July to retake Balikpapan.

The elimination of the Japanese presidencies, surrounded by Bougainville, Rabaul, Kavieng and Wewak, was also entrusted to the Australian troops who replaced the American ones that had been immobilized for about a year. The struggle was very hard, especially in Bougainville and lasted beyond the capitulation of Japan and the first landing of American troops in Tōkyō Bay (August 28, 1945).

The losses suffered by the Australian forces during the Second World War amounted to 92,200 men, including 21,415 dead; of the 26,000 prisoners, 20,000 fell into the hands of the Japanese.

Australian Participation in the World War II in the Pacific

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