Australian home front during World War II

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Australian women were encouraged to contribute to the war effort by joining one of the female branches of the armed forces or participating in the labour force Victory job (AWM ARTV00332).jpg
Australian women were encouraged to contribute to the war effort by joining one of the female branches of the armed forces or participating in the labour force

Although most Australian civilians lived far from the front line of World War II, the Australian home front during World War II played a significant role in the Allied victory and led to permanent changes to Australian society.

Home front

Home front is the informal term for the civilian populace of the nation at war as an active support system of their military. Military forces depend on the home front so they can live.

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

Contents

During the war the Government of Australia greatly expanded its powers in order to better direct the war effort, and Australia's industrial and human resources were focused on supporting the Allied armed forces. While there were only a relatively small number of attacks on civilian targets, many Australians feared that the country would be invaded during the early years of the Pacific War.

Government of Australia federal democratic administrative authority of Australia

The Government of Australia is the government of the Commonwealth of Australia, a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. It is also commonly referred to as the Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government, Her Majesty's Government, or the Federal Government.

War effort Coordinated mobilization of societys resources towards supporting a military force

In politics and military planning, a war effort refers to a coordinated mobilization of society's resources—both industrial and human—towards the support of a military force. Depending on the militarization of the culture, the relative size of the armed forces and the society supporting them, the style of government, and the popular support for the military objectives, such war effort can range from a small industry to complete command of society.

Pacific War Theater of World War II fought in the Pacific and Asia

The Pacific War, sometimes called the Asia–Pacific War, was the theater of World War II that was fought in the Pacific and Asia. It was fought over a vast area that included the Pacific Ocean theatre, the South West Pacific theatre, the South-East Asian theatre, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the Soviet–Japanese War.

Menzies Government

Robert Menzies broadcasting to the nation the news of the outbreak of war, 1939. (See quote to right). Nla.pic-an23217367-v.jpg
Robert Menzies broadcasting to the nation the news of the outbreak of war, 1939. (See quote to right).

Robert Gordon Menzies was sworn in as Prime Minister of Australia for the first time on 26 April 1939 following the death of Joseph Lyons. [1] He led a minority United Australia Party government, after Country Party leader Earle Page refused to serve in a Coalition government led by Menzies. On 3 September 1939, Australia entered World War II, with Menzies making a declaration of a state of war in a national radio broadcast:

Prime Minister of Australia executive head of the Government of Australia

The Prime Minister of Australia is the head of government of Australia. The individual who holds the office is the most senior Minister of State, the leader of the Federal Cabinet. The Prime Minister also has the responsibility of administering the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and is the chair of the National Security Committee and the Council of Australian Governments. The office of Prime Minister is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia but exists through Westminster political convention. The individual who holds the office is commissioned by the Governor-General of Australia and at the Governor-General's pleasure subject to the Constitution of Australia and constitutional conventions.

Joseph Lyons 20th-century Australian politician, 10th Prime Minister of Australia

Joseph Aloysius Lyons was an Australian politician who served as the 10th Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1932 until his death in 1939. He began his career in the Labor Party, but became the founding leader of the United Australia Party (UAP) after the 1931 party split. He had earlier served as Premier of Tasmania from 1923 to 1928.

United Australia Party former Australian political party (1931-1945)

The United Australia Party (UAP) was an Australian political party that was founded in 1931 and dissolved in 1945. The party won four federal elections in that time, usually governing in coalition with the Country Party. It provided two Prime Ministers of Australia – Joseph Lyons (1932–1939) and Robert Menzies (1939–1941).

Earle Page as leader of the Country Party and John Curtin as leader of the Labor Party both pledged support to the declaration, and Parliament passed the National Security Act 1939 . A War Cabinet was formed after the declaration of war, initially composed of Prime Minister Menzies and five senior ministers (RG Casey, GA Street, Senator McLeay, HS Gullet and World War I Prime Minister Billy Hughes). When Page still refused to join a government under Menzies, he was replaced by Archie Cameron as leader of the Country Party on 13 September 1939, allowing the conservative parties to re-form a Coalition by March 1940. [3]

Earle Page Australian politician, 11th Prime Minister of Australia

Sir Earle Christmas Grafton Page, was an Australian politician who served as the 11th Prime Minister of Australia, holding office for 19 days after the death of Joseph Lyons in 1939. He was the leader of the Country Party from 1921 to 1939, and was the most influential figure in its early years.

John Curtin Australian politician, 14th Prime Minister of Australia

John Curtin was an Australian politician who served as the 14th Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1941 until his death in 1945. He led the country for the majority of World War II, including all but the last few weeks of the war in the Pacific. He was the leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) from 1935 to 1945, and its longest serving leader until Gough Whitlam. Curtin's leadership skills and personal character were acclaimed by his political contemporaries. He is frequently cited as one of Australia's greatest prime ministers, and is the only prime minister to represent a constituency in Western Australia.

Richard Casey, Baron Casey 16th Governor-General of Australia

Richard Gavin Gardiner Casey, Baron Casey was an Australian statesman who served as the 16th Governor-General of Australia, in office from 1965 to 1969. He was also a distinguished army officer, long-serving cabinet minister, Ambassador to the United States, member of Churchill's War Cabinet, and Governor of Bengal.

The recruitment of a volunteer military force for service at home and abroad was announced, the Second Australian Imperial Force, and a citizen militia was organised for local defence. Menzies committed to provide 20,000 men to augment British forces in Europe, and on 15 November 1939 announced the reintroduction of conscription for home-defence service, effective 1 January 1940, freeing volunteers for overseas service. [4]

Second Australian Imperial Force expeditionary force during World War II

The Second Australian Imperial Force was the name given to the volunteer personnel of the Australian Army in World War II. Under the Defence Act (1903), neither the part-time Militia nor the full-time Permanent Military Force (PMF) could serve outside Australia or its territories unless they volunteered to do so. The Second AIF fought against Nazi Germany, Italy, Vichy France and Japan. After the war, Australia's wartime military structures were demobilised and the 2nd AIF was disbanded, although a small cadre of its personnel became part of the Interim Army that was established in 1947, and from which the Australian Regular Army was formed in 1948.

By June 1940, Germany had overrun the Low Countries, Norway and France leaving the British Empire standing alone against Germany. Menzies called for an ‘all in’ war effort and, with the support of Curtin, amended the National Security Act to extend government powers to tax, acquire property, control businesses and the labour force and allow for conscription of men for the "defence of Australia". Essington Lewis, the head of Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd was appointed Director-General of Munitions Supply to assist with mobilisation of national resources. [3] However, in spring 1940, the coal miners under communist leadership struck for higher wages for 67 days. On 15 June 1940 the Menzies government suppressed 10 communist and fascist parties and organizations as subversive of the war effort. Police and army intelligence made hundreds of raids that night, and later broke up public meetings in the capital cities. [5] In July 1940, the Menzies government imposed regulations under the National Security Act placing virtually all of Australia's newspapers, radio stations, and film industry under the direct control of the Director-General of Information. Newspaper publishers complained it was a blow struck at the freedom of the press. In January 1941, new regulations were directed against speaking disloyalty in public or even in private. The regulations were aimed at "whisperers" who undermined morale by spreading false rumours. [6] During World War II many enemy aliens were interned in Australia under the National Security Act 1939. Prisoners of war were also sent to Australia from other Allied countries as were their enemy aliens for internment in Australia. About 7000 residents were interned by Australia, including more than 1500 British nationals. A further 8000 people were sent to Australia to be interned after being detained overseas by Australia's allies. At its peak in 1942, more than 12,000 people were interned in Australia. [7]

Low Countries Historical coastal landscape in north western Europe

The Low Countries, the Low Lands, or historically also the Netherlands, is a coastal lowland region in northwestern Europe, forming the lower basin of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers, divided in the Middle Ages into numerous semi-independent principalities that consolidated in the countries of Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, as well as today's French Flanders.

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

In customary international law, an enemy alien is any native, citizen, denizen or subject of any foreign nation or government with which a domestic nation or government is in conflict and who are liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured and removed. Usually, but not always, the countries are in a state of declared war.

With the 1940 election looming, a Royal Australian Airforce crash at Canberra airport in August 1940 resulted in the death of the Chief of the General Staff and three senior ministers. [3] The Labor Party meanwhile experienced a split along pro- and anti-Communist lines over policy towards the Soviet Union for its co-operation with Nazi Germany in the invasion of Poland. At the 1940 federal election in September, the UAP–Country Party Coalition and the Labor parties each won 36 seats and the Menzies Government was forced to rely on the support of two Independents to continue in office. [8]

Menzies proposed an all party unity government to break the impasse, but the Labor Party refused to join. [3] Curtin agreed instead to take a seat on a newly created Advisory War Council in October 1940. [8] Cameron resigned as Country Party leader in October 1940, to be replaced by Arthur Fadden, who became Treasurer and Menzies unhappily conceded to allow Page back into his ministry.

In January 1941, Menzies flew to Britain to discuss the weakness of Singapore's defences and sat with Winston Churchill's British War Cabinet. He was unable to achieve significant assurances for increased commitment to Singapore's defences, but undertook morale boosting excursions to war affected cities and factories. Returning to Australia via Lisbon and the United States in May, Menzies faced a war-time minority government under ever increasing strain. In Menzies's absence, Curtin had co-operated with Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Fadden in preparing Australia for the expected Pacific War. With the threat of Japan imminent and with the Australian army suffering badly in the Greek and Crete campaigns, Menzies re-organised his ministry and announced multiple multi-party committees to advise on war and economic policy. Government critics however called for an all-party government.

After Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Australian trade unions supported the war. Australian Women's Army Service was formed in August 1941 as a non-medical support service for the military.

In August 1941, Cabinet decided that Menzies should travel back to Britain to represent Australia in the War Cabinet, but this time the Labor caucus refused to support the plan. Menzies announced to his Cabinet that he thought he should resign and advise the Governor-General to invite Curtin to form Government. The Cabinet instead insisted he approach Curtin again to form a war cabinet. Unable to secure Curtin's support, and with an unworkable parliamentary majority, Menzies resigned as prime minister and leader of the UAP on 29 August 1941. He was succeeded as prime minister by Fadden, the leader of the Country Party, who held office for a month. Billy Hughes, then aged 79, replaced Menzies as leader of the UAP. The two independents crossed the floor, bringing down the Coalition government, and enabling Labor under Curtin to form a minority government.

Curtin Government

1942 Australian propaganda poster. Australia feared invasion by Imperial Japan following the Fall of Singapore. He's coming South.jpg
1942 Australian propaganda poster. Australia feared invasion by Imperial Japan following the Fall of Singapore.
The Bombing of Darwin, 19 February 1942. Darwin 42.jpg
The Bombing of Darwin, 19 February 1942.
HMAS Kuttabul, sunk by a Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour, 1942. Kuttabul (AWM 042975).jpg
HMAS Kuttabul, sunk by a Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour, 1942.

Eight weeks after the formation of the Curtin Government, on 7 December 1941 (eastern Australia time), Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the US naval base in Hawaii. On 10 December 1941, the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse sent to defend Singapore were sunk by Japan. British Malaya quickly collapsed, shocking the Australian population. British, Indian and Australian troops made a disorganised last stand at Singapore, before surrendering on 15 February 1942. On 27 December 1941, Curtin demanded reinforcements from Churchill, and published an historic announcement: [9]

Curtin predicted that the "battle for Australia" would now follow. Australia was ill-prepared for an attack, lacking armaments, modern fighter aircraft, heavy bombers, and aircraft carriers. Most of Australia’s best forces were committed to fight against Hitler in the Middle East. On 19 February, Darwin suffered a devastating air raid, the first time the Australian mainland had ever been attacked by enemy forces. Over the following 19 months, Australia was attacked from the air almost 100 times. Most elements of the Australian I Corps, including the 6th and 7th Divisions, returned to Australia in early 1942 to counter the perceived Japanese threat to Australia. All RAN's ships in the Mediterranean were also withdrawn to the Pacific but most RAAF units in the Middle East remained in the theatre. [11]

U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt ordered his commander in the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur, to formulate a Pacific defence plan with Australia in March 1942. Curtin agreed to place Australian forces under the command of General MacArthur, who became "Supreme Commander of the South West Pacific". Curtin had thus presided over a fundamental shift in Australia's foreign policy. MacArthur moved his headquarters to Melbourne in March 1942 and American troops began massing in Australia. In late May 1942, Japanese midget submarines sank an accommodation vessel in a daring raid on Sydney Harbour. On 8 June 1942, two Japanese submarines briefly shelled Sydney's eastern suburbs and the city of Newcastle. [12]

U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of Allied forces in the Pacific, with Prime Minister Curtin Curtinmacarthur.jpg
U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of Allied forces in the Pacific, with Prime Minister Curtin
Prime Ministers Curtin, Fadden, Hughes, Menzies and Governor-General The Duke of Gloucester in 1945. Curtin GGPrinceHenry Fadden Hughes Menzies.jpg
Prime Ministers Curtin, Fadden, Hughes, Menzies and Governor-General The Duke of Gloucester in 1945.

In an effort to isolate Australia, the Japanese planned a seaborne invasion of Port Moresby, in the Australian Territory of New Guinea. In May 1942, the U.S. Navy engaged the Japanese in the Battle of the Coral Sea and halted the attack. The Battle of Midway in June effectively defeated the Japanese navy and the Japanese army launched a land assault on Port Moresby from the north. [9]

The Australian Women's Land Army was formed on 27 July 1942 under the jurisdiction of the Director General of Manpower to combat rising labour shortages in the farming sector.

The Battle of Buna-Gona, between November 1942 and January 1943, set the tone for the bitter final stages of the New Guinea campaign, which persisted into 1945. MacArthur to a certain extent excluded Australian forces from the main push north into the Philippines and Japan. It was left to Australia to lead amphibious assaults against Japanese bases in Borneo.

Curtin went on to lead federal Labor to its greatest win with two thirds of seats in the House of Representatives and over 58% of the two-party preferred vote at the 1943 federal election in August.[ citation needed ] Labor won 49 seats to 12 United Australia Party, 7 Country Party, 3 Country National Party (Queensland), 1 Queensland Country Party, 1 Liberal Country Party (Victoria) and 1 Independent. The Labor Party also won all 19 of the seats contested for the Senate. [13]

Concerned to maintain British commitment to the defence of Australia, Prime Minister Curtin announced in November 1943 that Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the brother of King George VI, was to be appointed Governor-General of Australia. He arrived in Australia to take up his post in January 1945. Curtin hoped this might influence the British to despatch men and equipment to the Pacific, and the appointment reaffirmed the important role of the Crown to Australia at that time. [14]

The British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable passing through the anti-submarine boom in Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) in 1945 Formidable Sydney Boom (AWM P00444-047).jpg
The British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable passing through the anti-submarine boom in Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) in 1945

As the end of the war approached, Curtin sought to firm up Australian influence in the South Pacific following the war but also sought to ensure a continuing role for the British Empire, calling Australia "the bastion of British institutions, the British way of life and the system of democratic government in the Southern World". In April 1944, Curtin held talks on postwar planning with President Franklin Roosevelt of the US and with Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain and gained agreement for the Australian economy to begin transitioning from military to post-war economy. He returned to Australia and campaigned for an unsuccessful 1944 referendum to extend federal government power over employment, monopolies, Aboriginal people, health and railway gauges. [9]

Prime Minister Curtin suffered from ill health from the strains of office. He suffered a major heart attack in November 1944. Facing the newly formed Liberal Party of Australia opposition led by Robert Menzies, Curtin struggled with exhaustion and a heavy work load – excusing himself from Parliamentary question time and unable to concentrate on the large number of parliamentary bills being drafted dealing with the coming peace. Curtin returned to hospital in April with lung congestion. With Deputy Prime Minister Frank Forde in the United States and Ben Chifley serving as acting prime minister, it was Chifley who announced the end of the war in Europe on 9 May 1945. [9]

When Curtin died towards the end of the Second World War in July 1945, Forde served as prime minister from 6–13 July, before the party elected Ben Chifley as Curtin's successor. [15] Following his 1945 election as leader of the Labor Party, Chifley, a former railway engine driver, became Australia’s 16th prime minister on 13 July 1945. [16] The Second World War ended with the defeat of Japan in the Pacific just four weeks later. Curtin is widely regarded as one of the country's greatest prime ministers. [17] General MacArthur said that Curtin was "one of the greatest of the wartime statesmen". [18]

Air raids

The Japanese air force made 97 air raids against Australia over a 19-month period starting with Darwin in February 1942 until 1943. The Darwin area was hit 64 times. Horn Island was struck 9 times, Broome and Exmouth Gulf 4 times, Townsville and Millingimbi three times, Port Hedland and Wyndham twice and Derby, Drysdale, Katherine, Mossman, Onslow, and Port Patterson once. [19]

Military production

Production of selected weapons for the Australian Army [20]

Weapon1939194019411942194319441945Wartime total
Lee–Enfield .303 rifle n/a20 94279 858101 600145 90047 06015 690411 050
Vickers MMG n/a8461 97133 562 2241 9931 04611 436
Bren LMG 1 0775 6156 8123 15277817 434
2 pounder AT gun 576924801 580
6 pounder AT gun 192708900
17 pounder AT gun 128
25 pounder field gun 8773135521 905
25 pounder field gun (short) 1931127532219
Bofors 40 mm AA gun 111867518290
3.7 inch AA gun 401381851313497
Owen SMG 10215 09621 5558 71045 463
Austen SMG 2 28316 5651 05719 905
2-inch mortar 1 2837172 000
3-inch mortar 1 444932837933 006
4.2 inch mortar 170229300
Machine-gun carrier 1 5442 2511 0841044 983
Sentinel tank 254065
Rover Light Armoured Car 238
Dingo scout car 245

Australian aircraft production during World War II [21]

Boomerang fighters under construction at Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation's Fisherman's Bend factory Boomerang construction (AWM 043183).jpg
Boomerang fighters under construction at Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation's Fisherman's Bend factory
Aircraft1939–401940–411941–421942–431943–441944–45Wartime total
Beaufort 7628531227700
Beaufighter 3281329
Wirraway 752253203060717
Wackett 13187200
Boomerang 10510243250
Mustang 418
Tiger Moth 845350866351 070
Dragon 8787
Mosquito 682115

See also

Notes

  1. Martin, A.W. (2000). "Menzies, Sir Robert Gordon (Bob) (1894–1978)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Volume 15. Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press. pp. 354–361. ISBN   9780522844597.
  2. Frank Crowley (1973). Modern Australia in Documents 1939–1970. p. 1. Wren Publishing , Melbourne. ISBN   0-85885-072-9
  3. 1 2 3 4 "In office - Robert Menzies". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  4. Long (1961). p. 39.
  5. F.K. Crowley, ed., Modern Australia in Documents: 1939–1970 (1973) 2: 23–24
  6. F.K. Crowley, ed., Modern Australia in Documents: 1939–1970 (1973) 2: 29–30, 35–36
  7. "Wartime internment camps in Australia". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  8. 1 2 "Before office - John Curtin". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  9. 1 2 3 4 "In office - John Curtin". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  10. Cited in Frank Crowley (1973) Vol 2, p.51
  11. Beaumont (1996). p. 17.
  12. "Midget Submarines history at". Home.st.net.au. Archived from the original on 13 April 2010. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
  13. "Elections - John Curtin". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  14. Cunneen, Chris (1996). "Gloucester, first Duke of (1900–1974)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Volume 14. Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press. ISBN   9780522847178.
  15. "Francis Forde". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  16. Waterson, D. B. (1993). "Chifley, Joseph Benedict (Ben) (1885–1951)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Volume 13. Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press. ISBN   9780522845129.
  17. "John Curtin". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Archived from the original on 26 July 2010. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  18. General Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences, Heinemann, London, 1967. Page 258.
  19. [ "Air raids on the Australian mainland". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  20. Beaumont (2001), p 321.
  21. Beaumont (2001), p 453.

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References

Primary sources