From the Middle East to the Pacific: Australia’s Role in World War II

If you are researching your family history, you may want to focus on searching war records at some point. Records from World War two, including hospital admissions, discharge registers and historic documents such as accounts of battles, can help you to get more insight into the role people in your family played during the war.

Before you begin your search, it may help to have a good general overview of Australia’s role in the war, which can help you to direct your research.

War Is Declared

Australia’s war began on September 3rd, 1939, soon after Poland was invaded by Germany. When Britain and France declared war, Prime Minister Robert Menzies quickly announced that Australia was also at war.

The main decision for Australia was whether to focus on home defence or to commit troops to Europe. Japan was at the time neutral, and Britain had assured Australia that it would protect it from any Japanese advance. As a result, the British took control of the Royal Australian Navy. RAAF men were sent to help the RAF, and they would fly many dangerous missions in Europe over the following years.

Australia’s War in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East

Later on in the war, Australia fought with the United States and Britain against the Japanese. However, up until 1942, troops mainly fought in Europe and in North Africa. Between 1940 and 1941, most units fought alongside the British in the Mediterranean before later spreading to North Africa and then the Middle East. Many Australians also fought in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Australian troops fought against the Italian navy from 1940 to 1942, and after being sent to the Middle East in 1941, they defeated the Italians at Benghazi. One of the biggest challenges was fighting the Germans attempting to take Tobruk, but the Australians managed to hold off the attacks.

One of the worst episodes for the Australians was the defence of Greece and Crete in 1941. The campaign was a disaster, it left many dead and many more taken prisoner before they were forced to retreat.

By 1942, the threat from Japan was mounting, and many troops returned home to defend their country. But at the same time, Axis forces entered Egypt, leading to the battles of Al Alamein. After the second battle, Australia’s main role in the area came to an end, but many troops still remained fighting in the area.

The War in the Pacific

In 1942, the war in the Pacific began, and the Australians turned their focus here to fight the Imperial Japanese Navy. Japan was attempting to obtain raw materials for its industrial expansion, and it had its sights set on its own empire. Following the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese later reached the British fortress in Singapore, and over 15,000 Australians and other allied troops were made prisoners.

The advance of the Japanese was eventually stopped in New Guinea, but not before submarines attacked Sydney harbour in May 1942.

On the home front, everyone played their part. Women worked as nurses, in factories and in the Women’s Land Army, and many even joined the army, navy and air force in support roles. Many people volunteered in some way and supported the troops.

Overall, over 27,000 service men and women lost their lives during the war, and just over 23,000 were wounded.

See What You Can Uncover by Searching the War Records

Many records may still be classified, but there is still a great deal of information you can find by searching war records. So search the records and see what you can find out about the history of your family members during World War II.

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