Australia’s Military History For Dummies®

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organised

Part I: The Essentials of Australian Military History

Part II: The Wars of Colonial Australia

Part III: The First World War: Australia’s Greatest Tragedy

Part IV: The Second World War: The Empire Beckons

Part V: Our War in the Pacific

Part VI: The Aussies Do Their Bit in the Cold War

Part VII: On Overseas Service

Part VIII: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where To Go from Here

Part I: The Essentials of Australian Military History

Chapter 1: Exploring Why Australia Goes to War

Where Australians Have Fought

Why Australians Have Fought

Australianists and Imperialists

Global conflicts that shaped the nation

Supporting our friends

Doing good in the world

Remembering Our Military History

Revisiting the stories of Australia at war

Honouring the Anzac legend

Chapter 2: Coming to Grips with the Military

How Do We Fight?

Fighting alongside allies

The pollies are in charge

Her Majesty’s Forces Down Under

Royal Australian Navy

Australian Army

Royal Australian Air Force

Forming the Australian Defence Force

The Diggers

Amateurs, Regulars and Nashos

On the front-line: Those doing the fighting

Knowing when to salute

Honouring the brave

Part II: The Wars of Colonial Australia

Chapter 3: Colonial Conflicts

Garrisoning the Colonial Outpost

The Battle of Vinegar Hill

The Rum Rebellion

Defending Sydney

Securing the vast continent

Soldiers versus miners — the Eureka Stockade

Raising volunteers

Building forts

Skirmishes and Massacres — the Frontier Wars

Aboriginal warfare

Settler, military and police methods

Pacifying the frontier — 130 years of warfare

The massacre at Myall Creek

The great Australian silence

Responding to the Call of Empire

To New Zealand, for Empire and a farm

Soldiering in Sudan

Getting ready for Federation

Beating the Boxers at Beijing

Chapter 4: Battling the Boers, 1899–1902

Sending Colonial Volunteers

The Black Week of the British Empire

Asking and offering: The colonies come to the party

Questioning our involvement

Arriving in South Africa

Skirmishing at Sunnyside

Advancing to Pretoria

Winning respect at Colesberg

Marching hard to Bloemfontein

Riding with Hutton’s mounted brigade

Countering the Boer Raids

Enter the Bushmen

Learning a lesson at Koster River

Defending Eland’s River

Patrolling the Veldt

Continuing the commitment

Pursuing General de Wet

Humiliation at Wilmansrust

Breaker Morant breaks the law

Australian Commonwealth Horse

Counting the Cost

Part III: The First World War: Australia’s Greatest Tragedy

Chapter 5: Australia Goes to War, 1914

Defending the Commonwealth

An Army for a nation

Compulsory service for boy soldiers

A Navy of our own

Joining the Empire’s War — To the Last Shilling

Looking After our Backyard

Mounting the first expedition

Seizing German New Guinea — No more ’Um Kaiser. God save ’Um King

Falling In with Britain

Raising the Australian Imperial Force

Sydney versus Emden — ‘Beached and done for’

Anzacs in Egypt — desert marches and pyramids

Chapter 6: Creating the Anzac Legend at Gallipoli, 1915

Landing at Anzac Cove

Clambering ashore under fire — the stuff of legend

Thrusting inland: The confusing first day

Digging in for life

Our daring submariners — entering the Sea of Marmara

Holding On

Charging the Turkish line at Helles

Repelling the Turkish attack at Anzac

Surviving the worst conditions

False Hope in the August Offensives

Seizing Lone Pine for no advantage

Dying at the Nek for no purpose

Climbing Chunuk Bair for no gain

Sneaking Away

Reporting unpalatable truths to London

Deciding to depart

Tricking the Turks

Reassessing and Remembering

Chapter 7: Enduring the Horrors of the Western Front, 1916–17

Adapting to a New Theatre

Enlarging the AIF

Deploying to France

Attacking Under Fire

Australia’s worst day: Tragedy at Fromelles

Attempting the impossible on the Somme

A nation divided: Voting for or against conscription

The Coldest Winter

Advancing to the Hindenburg Line

Bungling and bravery in the Bullecourt battles

Success Ends in Failure in Flanders

Making their mark: The 3rd Division at Messines

Side by side on the Menin Road

Struggling through the mud to Passchendaele

Modern Industrial Warfare

Living in the trenches

Dominating the battlefield: The big guns

Gas, gas, gas!

Above the maelstrom: The air war

Chapter 8: Riding to Victory in Palestine, 1916–18

Our Light Horse Tradition

Setting up the Light Horse

No place for horses at Gallipoli

Clearing the Turks from Sinai

Reforming the mounted troops

A decisive victory at Romani

Marching across the desert to Magdhaba

Third Time Lucky at Gaza

Disappointment at the first battle of Gaza

The second battle of Gaza and the Desert Mounted Corps

Charging the enemy lines at Beersheba

Pausing for Breath in Palestine

Christmas in Jerusalem

The Australian Flying Corps over the desert

Raiding beyond the Jordan River

A Perfect Victory

Deceiving the Turks: Planning the breakthrough

The greatest cavalry feat in history

Entering Damascus in triumph

Chapter 9: Hammering the Huns, 1918

Crushing the German Offensive

Determination at Dernancourt

Saving Hazebrouck

Valour at Villers-Bretonneux

The Counteroffensive that Won the War

Trying out new methods at Hamel

Black day for the Germans at Amiens

Storming Mont St Quentin

Breaking the Hindenburg Line

Gallant Airmen: The Australian Flying Corps

Sailing the Seas: The Navy’s Experience

Lest We Forget

Counting the casualties

Reaping political benefits

Commemorating the fallen

Part IV: The Second World War: The Empire Beckons

Chapter 10: Winning the First Battles, 1940–41

Australia Neglects Its Security

The war-weary nation

Still tied to Britain

Penny-pinching depletes our defences

Belatedly re-arming

Not Another War!

Gearing up

Recruiting a new force

Training in Palestine

Supporting the motherland

Gaining Control of the Oceans

Patrolling the coast at home

Contesting the Mediterranean

Sinking Italian ships

Helping out at Berbera

Fighting the French at Dakar

Backing a coup in New Caledonia

Upholding the Digger Legend in the Middle East

Baptism of fire at Bardia

Capturing the fortress at Tobruk

Outmanoeuvring the Italians

Sideshow at Giarabub

Chapter 11: New Theatres, New Allies and New Enemies, 1941

Blitzkrieg and Bombing in Greece

Reviving the Anzac Corps

Meeting the German panzers at Vevi

Plugging gaps in northern Greece

On the run

Last stand at Brallos


Desperate Defences in Crete

Digging in with the Kiwis again

Shooting German paratroopers

Futile defence at Retimo

Saved by the navy

Fierce battles at sea

Invading Syria

Crossing the frontier

The French counterattack at Merjayoun

Closing in on Damascus

Victory at Damour

Watching over the Persian Gulf

The Jitters Set in at Home

Recognising the Japanese threat

Reinforcing Malaya

Changing our political leaders

Kormoran sinks Sydney

Chapter 12: Defeating the Afrika Korps, 1941– 42

The Benghazi Handicap: Australia’s Part in the Retreat

Deploying to the desert

Falling back to Tobruk

Surviving the Siege of Tobruk

Repulsing the Desert Fox’s tanks

Patrolling the perimeter

Running the gauntlet — our ships sustain the garrison

Demanding relief — Blamey becomes the most hated man in the Middle East

Scaling Down Australia’s Forces in the Middle East

Bitter Battles: Preventing the Germans from Reaching the Nile

Keeping the Germans off-balance at Tel el Eisa

Losing a battalion at Ruin Ridge

Australian airmen patrol in the desert

Winning at El Alamein

Plans and preparations

Crossing the start line

Drawing in the German reserves

Breaking through the line

Heading home

Chapter 13: Our Airmen in Europe, 1939 – 45

An Air Force of Our Own

Forming the Royal Australian Air Force

Struggling for survival

A Last Call of Empire: The Empire Air Training Scheme

Losing our identity

Training and serving around the world

Fighters and Flying Boats

A few of the few: Our airmen in the Battle of Britain

Finding tasks for the fighters

Searching the seas: Coastal Command protects the convoys

Bombing: The Deadliest of Jobs

Night stalking

Bomber Command’s war

Surviving a sortie over Germany

Supporting the Normandy landing

Strategic bombing: Necessary evil?

Part V: Our War in the Pacific

Chapter 14: The Japanese are Coming! 1941– 42

Reeling from the Japanese Thrust

Jungle ambushes

Trapped at Parit Sulong

The worst disaster: The fall of Singapore

Garrisoning the Islands to the North: Hostages to Fortune

The shock at Rabaul

More troops are sacrificed: The loss of Ambon

Caught unawares in Darwin

Guerrilla war in Timor

Overpowered in the fight for Java

Curtin demands that our troops come home

Uncle Sam to the Rescue

MacArthur takes charge

The Yanks are here!

Thwarting Japan’s Plans

Assessing enemy intentions

Saving Port Moresby: The Battle of the Coral Sea

Threatening our shores: Submarines sneak into Sydney Harbour

Breathing more easily: The Battle of Midway tips the balance

Chapter 15: New Guinea Battles — A Jungle Hell, 1942– 44

Halting Japan’s South Pacific Offensive

The Japanese landing at Buna

Guadalcanal and the sinking of HMAS Canberra at Savo Island

Breaking the Japanese spell at Milne Bay

Retreating over the Kokoda Trail

MacArthur Orders a Counterattack

Regaining Kokoda

Trapping the enemy at Oivi–Gorari

Stalemate at Buna, Gona and Sanananda

A costly victory

Figuring Out Jungle Warfare

Air power wins the battle at Wau

Destroying enemy shipping in the Bismarck Sea

Closing in on Salamaua

Seizing the Enemy Base at Lae

The preparation: Training and planning

Devastating air attacks on Wewak

Landing our troops near Lae

Paratroops secure Nadzab

Racing to take Lae

Forcing the Enemy from the Huon Peninsula

A close shave at Finschhafen

Scaling the heights of Sattelberg

Stepping up the pace of the advance

Into the Finisterre Range: The 7th Division’s Offensive

Quick thinking captures Kaiapit

Chasing the Japanese through Death Valley

A one-man front on Shaggy Ridge

The final prize: Madang

Chapter 16: Fighting to the Finish, 1944 – 45

With MacArthur to the Philippines

Our ships at Leyte: The greatest sea battle

Combating Kamikaze attacks at Lingayen Gulf

Mopping Up in New Guinea and the Islands

Resenting every death in Bougainville

Keeping watch over Rabaul

Slogging it out at Aitape and Wewak

Unnecessary Battles in Borneo

Seizing Tarakan for oil and airfields

Regaining British Borneo

Against our wishes — fighting the last battle at Balikpapan

Dealing with a Defeated Japan

Joining the British Pacific Fleet in Japanese waters

Taking the Japanese surrender

Punishing the war criminals

Chapter 17: The Civilian Side of the War

Governing the Nation during War

Involving the Opposition

Curtin and his War Cabinet

Conscription for overseas service

Wartime politics

Cooperating with Allies

Handing control to MacArthur

Balancing the war effort

Marshalling the Nation’s Resources

Building wartime industries

Regulating all aspects of life

Conscripting the workers

Rationing and restricting

Serving in Other Ways

Lost at sea — our merchant navy’s war

Allowing women to do men’s work

Working for no pay: The volunteers

Reshaping the Nation

Calculating the cost

Opening our doors to migrants

Part VI: The Aussies Do Their Bit in the Cold War

Chapter 18: Taking up Arms for the United Nations in Korea, 1950–53

The Occupation of Japan

Signing on for more military service

Living with the former enemy

Seeking Future Security

Pinning our hopes on the United Nations

Restructuring our defences

Responding to the Cold War

Breaking the Berlin Blockade

The Korean War — The Cold War gets Hot

Winning friends in Washington

Sending our forces to Korea

The Royal Australian Regiment’s First War

Advancing to the Yalu River

Retreating to Seoul

Kapyong — a remarkable achievement against great odds

Showing great skill and determination at Maryan San

Raiding, patrolling and probing on the Jamestown Line

Holding on at the Hook

Remembering the forgotten war

Cementing our Alliance with the United States

Chapter 19: Backing the Brits in Malaya and Borneo, 1950 – 66

The British Empire’s Last Gasp

Defending the Middle East from Malta

Protecting the countries to our north — ANZAM and SEATO

Countering the ‘CTs’ in Malaya

The Malayan Emergency

Bombing the jungle

Contributing to Malaya’s Defences

Sending our soldiers to Malaya

Tracking and ambushing in the jungle

Maintaining our presence in Malaya

Avoiding Conflict with Our Indonesian Neighbours

Reluctantly edging into war

Patrolling the borders of Borneo

The Special Air Service’s secret missions

Watching the waterways

Securing the peace

Chapter 20: Fighting Alongside the Yanks in Vietnam, 1962–72

Advising and Training the South Vietnamese Army

The advisers take to the field

Commanding a Montagnard battalion

Sending Combat Troops

A contentious decision

The first battalion

Dominating Phuoc Tuy Province

Building the Task Force base at Nui Dat

Desperate defence at Long Tan

The two-edged sword — the disastrous barrier minefield

Our Contest with Victor Charlie

The grunts carry the load

Patrolling and ambushing

Search and destroy

Hitting the enemy hard — the guns in the jungle

Bushrangers and dust-offs — helicopters prove their worth

Challenging the Enemy’s Main Force — the Tet Offensives

Street fighting in Baria and Long Dien

Coral and Balmoral — the biggest battles

The enemy confronts our tanks at Binh Ba

Striking the Enemy from Sea and Air

The Air Force’s war

The Navy’s war

Protest and Dissent

Opposing conscription

The moratorium marches

Our troops go home

Part VII: On Overseas Service

Chapter 21: Peacekeeping Near and Far, 1947–2010

Observing and Reporting when the Fighting Stops

The first peacekeepers — the mission in Indonesia

In the mountains of Kashmir

Keeping the Arabs and the Israelis apart

Policing in Cyprus

Monitoring the ceasefire in Zimbabwe

Overseeing the end of the Iran–Iraq war

Hopes dashed in Western Sahara

Unarmed in Bougainville

Rebuilding Shattered Nations

Supervising elections in Namibia

Resolving the conflict in Cambodia

Clearing landmines in Afghanistan

Enforcing Peace

Guarding aid workers in Somalia

Genocide in Rwanda

Safeguarding the new nation of East Timor

Quelling unrest in the Solomon Islands

Chapter 22: Flying the Flag in Iraq and Afghanistan, 1990–2010

Iraq Invades Kuwait — We Defend our Vital Interests

Reaffirming our friendship with the United States

Boarding and searching — our ships in the Gulf of Oman

A small part in the Gulf War

Twisting Saddam Hussein’s Arm

Humanitarian relief in Kurdistan

Disarming Iraq — sanctions and weapons inspection

Terror Attacks in the United States: the Start of a New War

Joining the Americans in Afghanistan

Invading Iraq

Dealing with the insurgency in Iraq

Returning to the enduring war in Afghanistan

Part VIII: The Part of Tens

Chapter 23: Ten Top Australian Military Leaders

Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey (1884–1951)

General Sir Harry Chauvel (1865–1945)

Vice-Admiral Sir John Collins (1899–1989)

General Peter Cosgrove (1947–)

Lieutenant General Sir Talbot Hobbs (1864–1938)

General Sir John Monash (1865–1931)

Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead (1889–1959)

Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Scherger (1904–84)

Major General George Vasey (1895–1945)

General Sir John Wilton (1910–81)

Chapter 24: Ten Famous Australian Battles

The Landing at Gallipoli



Mont St Quentin

Sinking the Bartolomeo Colleoni


El Alamein

Bismarck Sea


Long Tan

Chapter 25: Ten Myths of Australian Military History

The Aborigines Didn’t Resist White Invasion

Breaker Morant Wasn’t a War Criminal

Incompetent British Generals Recklessly Sacrificed First World War Diggers

Monash Could’ve Commanded the British Army on the Western Front

Curtin Demanded that Churchill Return Our Troops from the Middle East

HMAS Sydney was Sunk by a Submarine

The Battle of the Coral Sea Stopped the Japanese from Invading Australia

The Kokoda Battles Saved Australia

The Menzies Government Planned to Defend Australia from the Brisbane Line

The Whitlam Government Withdrew the Troops from Vietnam

Australia’s Military History Dummies®

About the Author

David Horner is Professor of Australian Defence History in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. A graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, the Australian Army’s Command and Staff College, the University of New South Wales and the Australian National University, he served as an infantry platoon commander in Vietnam in 1971 and had various regimental and staff appointments until he retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1990.

He is the author or editor of 28 books on Australian military history, strategy and defence, including Crisis of Command (1978), High Command (1982), SAS: Phantoms of the Jungle (1989), Inside the War Cabinet (1996), Blamey: The Commander-in-Chief (1998), Defence Supremo (2000), Making the Australian Defence Force (2001) and Strategic Command, General Sir John Wilton and Australia’s Asian Wars (2005). He is the editor of the Australian Army’s military history series and has been the historical consultant for various television programs. As an Army Reserve colonel, from 1998 to 2002 he was the first Head of the Australian Army’s Land Warfare Studies Centre.

In 2004 Professor Horner was appointed the Official Historian of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations, and in 2009 was made Member of the Order of Australia for service to military history.

He lives in Canberra, with his wife, Sigrid.


To the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, who serve the nation at home and overseas with professionalism, dedication and sacrifice.

Author’s Acknowledgements

Publisher’s Acknowledgements

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Project Editor: Catherine Spedding

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Cartoons: Glenn Lumsden

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• Cartographer: GIS Services, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University

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It has been very pleasing over the past decade to see greater interest in Australian military history. During this time, attendance of Australians at Anzac Day services, Remembrance Day events, and individual war and battle commemorations has risen. Additionally, increasing numbers of books, television programs and movies have chronicled some of our most important and iconic battles. I consider this to be vitally important, because sadly, as the years go by, we are losing our direct link to our past. Already gone are our Veterans from the First World War and the number of Second World War, Korea and Vietnam Veterans diminishes every year. As the experience of these wars continues to recede, it is essential that we remember and honour these major aspects of our military history which saw the tragic loss of more than 100,000 Australian men and women. This is a debt we owe to all those who have sacrificed their life for our nation.

Additionally, as the Chief of the Defence Force, I am very happy that our increased commitments over the past decade have meant that we are currently enjoying a rejuvenated interest in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), our people and our operations. I firmly believe that Australia’s armed forces are more professional, more capable and more ready to respond to unexpected demands than at any time in our history.

In the first decade of the 21st century the ADF has once again been at war. Following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Australian Special Forces took part in a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan in order to deny the country as a safe haven for terrorists. In support of this operation, other units, including ships and aircraft, went to nearby areas in the Persian Gulf. In 2005, ADF men and women went back to Afghanistan and since then our people have made contributions to international campaigns against terrorism, countering piracy in the Gulf of Aden and maritime security in the Middle East Area of Operations. Additionally, in 2003, Australian forces also took part in one of the most complex operations ever undertaken by the ADF — Operation CATALYST. During the course of this six-year operation, thousands of Australian servicemen and women were instrumental in developing a secure and stable Iraq.

We have also had an increased commitment to peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. Over the past two decades Australia has been involved in more than two dozen other peacekeeping missions. Our largest was in 1999, when the ADF led the International Force for East Timor, which was our most significant military undertaking since the Second World War. We have also contributed to many humanitarian emergency relief operations both here at home and around the world. In 2009 alone, we assisted with the Victorian Bushfires, the Samoan earthquake, the Tongan Ferry Sinking, a plane accident in Papua New Guinea and the earthquake in Padang, Indonesia.

In all manner of operations our men and women in uniform have been at the forefront of Australia’s engagement with the world. When I visit our people on operations I am struck by their courage, professionalism, dedication and pride in serving the nation. They are conscious of our military history and want to uphold the high standards of those who have served before them.

In this book David Horner, Professor of Australian Defence History at the Australian National University, provides a comprehensive but accessible guide to Australian military history. He has undertaken a significant service in explaining how the Australian military has served the nation in war and peace for more than two centuries. He explains what it means to serve in the military and chronicles Australia’s role in all our wars and campaigns. I am particularly pleased that he has included vivid and detailed accounts of Australia’s most recent operations. This is a scholarly book written by a highly skilled and knowledgeable author. Those familiar with the ADF and our operations will delight in the detail and insight Professor Horner provides.

Equally important though, is that his easy-to-read style and detailed narrative ensures that this book will also appeal to readers without any background knowledge or military experience. The hallmark of the For Dummies books is that they are written by experts. I am delighted that the publishers have seen fit to include Australian military history among their list of publications, thus making this aspect of Australian history more accessible to all Australians.

I commend this book to all readers. I consider it to be vitally important that all Australians understand and appreciate the role of the men and women of the ADF — both past and present — in keeping our nation and our national interests secure. I am immensely proud of every one of them, and the people of Australia should be too.

A G Houston, AC, AFC

Air Chief Marshal

Chief of the Defence Force

June 2010


Few countries celebrate their military history with as much enthusiasm as Australia. Most Australians possess at least a vague knowledge of the landing at Gallipoli in 1915 and the fighting on the Kokoda Trail in 1942. If you have ever glanced at television on Anzac Day you would be aware of some of the great iconic names of Australian military history. But for the average Australian the details of their military history can be daunting. And this is a shame, because Australians know that their military history is important.

Sure, plenty of good books are available to read, but most tell the story of just one aspect. The real challenge is to grasp the broad sweep of Australian military history — to understand why the nation went to war, why Australians were willing to sacrifice their lives, and how Australia’s involvement in war has helped shape and form our society.

I have a passion for Australian military history, which is just as well because I earn my living writing books about it. But I enjoy it not because it pays the bills. I would write about Australian military history even if I were not paid (but don’t tell my publishers). I’m enthralled by Australian military history because in the most dramatic and exciting manner it tells the story of who we are as Australians. There is nothing like the stress of battle to bring out the true character of a person, just as there is nothing like a war for survival to test the mettle of a nation.

About This Book

The essence of writing history is to decide what to leave out. Obviously I cannot include every battle or issue in this book. However, the story of Australia’s experience of war is not as extensive as, say, Britain, France or the United States. Australia was settled by Europeans not quite two and a quarter centuries ago. Australia has never had a civil war like the United States, nor has it been invaded like France, or fought numerous colonial wars like Britain. So with judicious selection I am able to include every war and military campaign conducted by the Australian armed forces, even though it might be mentioned only briefly. If you have heard of a particular large battle or campaign you will probably find it mentioned in this book, and you will be able to see where it fits in the bigger picture. In other words, this book is a ‘one-stop shop’ for military history. If you don’t know much about Australian military history, this is the place to start.

Military history is not just about dates and names of units. To understand why military history is important we need to answer some questions:

Why did Australia become involved in a particular war?

Why was the campaign or battle conducted in a particular way?

What are the connections between the different battles and campaigns?

How did a particular battle affect the soldiers?

What did a battle or campaign achieve?

What effect did a battle, campaign or war have on the development of Australia?

To answer these questions I have focused on the how and the why. You might not always agree with my conclusions, but they will at least provide a starting point for debate.

Conventions Used in This Book

Military history is full of its own peculiar conventions. For example, military units — squadrons, battalions, brigades, divisions, fleets — are usually described in particular ways. I have used these conventions, but you don’t need to know them. (I explain what all these units mean in Chapter 2.) However, some conventions in writing military history make sense. Certain facts about a battle need to be explained before we can answer some of the questions posed in the preceding section. These include:

What was the battle trying to achieve?

What military units were involved?

Who was in charge?

What actually happened during the battle?

How many casualties did our forces suffer?

In describing most of the battles mentioned in this book I have tried briefly to set out the answers to these basic questions before I get on to the more interesting issues of how and why things turned out the way they did.

What You’re Not to Read

If you really want to understand exactly how a campaign or battle was fought you need a list of the units that took part and their assigned missions. But such detail is not really necessary if you just want to get a feel for the battle and to appreciate what it was like and how it influenced other battles. I have put icons called Technical Stuff beside those passages that describe the details of units or command structures, indicating that you can easily jump over them and still pick up the general story.

Australian military history is full of interesting people and incidents that are not crucial to the overall story, but which I can’t resist including. You’ll find them in the sidebars — the shaded bits that appear here and there. You can skip the sidebars and not lose something from the main story.

Foolish Assumptions

Although Australian military history is a relatively small subject by the standards of countries such as the United States or major European nations, it’s still not that small. Huge numbers of books are available in bookshops and libraries, which is an indication of the subject’s popularity. New books appear each week and no-one can possibly keep up with it all. Because you picked up this book I assume that one or more of the following is true:

You want a general overview of Australian military history that deals with the major issues of who, what, where, why, when and how.

You want a quick reference book so that you can quickly locate and place some battle or campaign in the broader story of Australian military history.

You’re interested in discovering how war and the military have shaped Australia as a nation.

You want to brush up on your knowledge of Australian military history without needing to wade through heavy academic books, or consult unreliable websites, or try to decipher a whole lot of impenetrable military jargon.

How This Book Is Organised

I have organised this book into eight parts, which cover either a specific topic or deal chronologically with a particular period of Australian military history.

Part I: The Essentials of Australian Military History

In this part I give you some of the basic information that will help you make sense of the rest of the book. I explain some of the key questions, such as why Australia has gone to war and why Australians are fascinated by their military history. I introduce you to the mysterious world of the military, with its different weapons, ranks, uniforms, medals and its very own language.

Part II: The Wars of Colonial Australia

Many people think that Australia’s military history began with the Gallipoli landing in 1915. But it really began more than a century before, with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. In this part I explain how the 19th century Australian colonies had their own military history, ranging from the frontier wars with the Aborigines and the activities of the British garrisons, to the despatch of volunteers to fight in New Zealand, Sudan, China and South Africa as part of the contribution to the defence of the Empire.

Part III: The First World War: Australia’s Greatest Tragedy

The First World War is remembered because of the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and because of the huge numbers of Australian casualties suffered there and on the Western Front. From a population of fewer than 5 million, Australia lost almost 60,000 killed. But the war involved more than just Gallipoli and the casualties. In this part I describe the whole Gallipoli campaign, the many battles in France and Belgium culminating in the war-winning offensive of 1918, and the fighting by the Light Horse in the Middle East.

Part IV: The Second World War: The Empire Beckons

The Second World War began in September 1939 and ended in September 1945. Until Japan entered the war in December 1941 Australia sent forces to help the British Empire in the war against Germany and Italy. In this part I describe the role of the Navy, Army and Air Force in the Middle East and Europe. I discuss the Army’s part in the campaigns in North Africa, including the battles of Bardia, Tobruk and El Alamein, and in Greece, Crete and Syria. I also describe the Air Force’s part in the bombing offensive over Germany, which resulted in some of Australia’s heaviest casualties of the war.

Part V: Our War in the Pacific

Once Japan joined the war in December 1941 Australia put most of its effort into fighting in the Pacific. For the first time since white settlement Australia faced the possibility of invasion. In this part, I describe how Australian troops suffered heavily in the early stages of the Pacific War. They provided the majority of American General Douglas MacArthur’s land forces in 1942–43; halted the Japanese advance in New Guinea; and led the counteroffensive in 1943. The Pacific War became Australia’s largest ever military undertaking and decisively influenced the nation’s development for the next half-century.

Part VI: The Aussies Do Their Bit in the Cold War

The Cold War between the American-led Western Alliance and the Soviet bloc lasted from soon after the Second World War in 1946 until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. As a member of the Western Alliance, Australia played its part in the Cold War, deploying troops to the Korean War (1950–53), the Malayan Emergency (1950–60) and the Vietnam War (1962–72). Australia also helped Britain deal with Indonesia’s Confrontation with the new nation of Malaysia. Australia’s commitment to these wars was part of a policy known as ‘Forward Defence’.

Part VII: On Overseas Service

Australia’s involvement in international peacekeeping activities began in 1947, but became larger and more frequent in the late 1980s and during the 1990s. Ignored in earlier histories, peacekeeping missions are now seen as a legitimate part of Australian military history. After the Vietnam War it seemed that Australia would never again send forces overseas to take part in foreign wars, but in 1991 Australian ships served in the Gulf War. In 2001 Australian troops began operations in Afghanistan, and troops were still serving there in 2010. In 2003 Australia joined the invasion of Iraq, and troops withdrew from Iraq in 2009. The new millennium heralded another phase in Australian military history.

Part VIII: The Part of Tens

In this part, I provide lists of ten top military leaders, ten famous battles and ten myths about Australian military history. Lists are fun because they’re always open to debate. But this part also offers a chance to look across two centuries of history, and to highlight some important people and incidents. You could read this part for entertainment, or you could read it first to gain a taste of what appears in the other parts of the book.

Icons Used in This Book

To help you get your mind around the diverse aspects of Australian military history I have added icons, or little pictures, beside some paragraphs to draw attention to four different themes. The icons are easy to identity:

geni003.aiThis icon focuses on how military campaigns were planned and how battles were fought, and indicates where the hottest action took place.

geni004.aiMilitary history is replete with curious incidents or interesting comments that illuminate the nature of the campaign or the character of the people involved.

geni002.epsAt various points I describe how the forces were organised, or who was commanding the units, or the command structure, or which units were designated to take part in a battle. I have called this technical stuff. You can skip the technical stuff information if you want to move quickly through the story, but you may want to study it further if you have the time.

geni001.aiEvery now and again I describe some key decision or activity that had a long-term effect on Australian military history, or some battle or incident that shows something special about the Australian military.

Where To Go from Here

I have written each part so that it makes sense without having to read the other parts. All you need to do is consult the Table of Contents. So if you want to find out why Australia has gone to war, and what its armed forces consist of, you can get the information from Part I. If you’re particularly interested in Australia’s part in the First World War, consult Part III.

Within each part, the chapters generally follow the story chronologically, although a few chapters, such as Chapter 13, which deals with the Royal Australian Air Force’s war in Europe, and Chapter 17, which summarises the home front in the Second World War, are thematic. If your father or uncle served in the Vietnam War you can find out the sort of experiences he might have had from Chapter 20. You can, of course, read the whole book as one amazing story of Australia at war. It’s up to you.

Part I

The Essentials of Australian Military History


An arsenal of Aussies

In this part . . .

Australian military history is the story of Australians fighting to defend the nation. It includes wonderful stories of bravery, inspiring stories of triumph over tragedy, and some less edifying accounts of blunders and even dark deeds. But if you’re really going to understand Australian military history you need to get your mind around some of the nuts and bolts of the military.

In this part I explore why and how Australians have gone to war, and explain why Australians think their military history’s important. I then introduce the strange and mysterious world of the military. With this background you’ll be better able to appreciate the finer points of our two centuries of military history as you work your way through the remainder of the book, or even if you just want to dip into one or two chapters.