Australian involvement in the Second World War began on 3 September 1939, when Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced to Australians that Great Britain had declared war on Germany and “as a result, Australia is also at war”.
Australian servicemen and women were operational in Europe from early in the war until Victory in Europe on 8 May 1945. Australians fought and died in the skies over Britain, north west Europe, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, on land in North Africa, Greece and Crete and in the Middle East and at sea.
The sailors of the Royal Australian Navy established a reputation for determination and gallantry in many actions. They braved enemy aircraft and submarines to get supplies to the ‘Rats of Tobruk’ and evacuate troops from the beaches of Greece and Crete. They participated in dangerous patrols and escort operations in the Atlantic. By late 1942, most Australian warships had left to serve against the Japanese; however, in 1943 eight Australian
corvettes supported the Allied invasion of Sicily, the first step in the Allied advance through Italy. Merchant seamen also contributed to Allied war efforts, as they transported men and supplies from Australia, carried supplies through the Arctic Ocean to Russia’s northern ports, and sailed in Atlantic convoys between Britain and the Americas.
Thousands of Australians took part in the war in the air. Before the war started, a small number of Australians had joined the Royal Air Force and some of these men took part in the Battle of Britain and other early aerial encounters. They were joined by thousands of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) men, many trained in the Empire Air Training Scheme. Some Australians flew with the Desert Air Force over North Africa, the Mediterranean and Italy. Others went to the UK to serve in Fighter, Bomber, Coastal, Transport or Training Command. Most Australian airmen flew with Bomber Command, some in Australian squadrons but the majority in RAF units.
V for Victory
Victory in Europe brought liberation for Australians who were prisoners of war in Germany or eastern Europe. Most were soldiers captured in Greece, Crete and North Africa, but there were also many airmen among them, taken prisoner after their aircraft were shot down. VE Day meant those still serving in the European theatre could return home.
On the path to this victory some 10,000 Australians lost their lives, at least 10,000 more were wounded and another 8,000 became prisoners of war.
Australians who served
- Australians from each of the three services and from the merchant marine served in the war against Germany and her European allies.
- More than 39,000 Australians died during the Second World War.
- Some 10,000 Australians lost their lives in the European theatre during the War.
- Some 10,000 Australians were wounded and another 8,000 became prisoners of war while serving in Europe or the Mediterranean.
- The Australian 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions served in the war against Germany and her allies, as did significant elements of the Royal Australian Navy, including HMAS Sydney, and RAAF personnel operating out of bases in the Mediterranean and north west Europe.
Key battles across Europe, North Africa and the Atlantic
- Syria and Lebanon
- The Battle of Britain
- Defence of Tobruk
- Battle of Cape Spada
- Greece and Crete
- El Alamein
- Battle of the Atlantic
- Battle of the Ruhr
- Battle of Berlin
- Normandy D-Day Landings
- Five Australians received the Victoria Cross in the war against Germany and her European Allies. Jack Edmondson VC, Roden Cutler VC, James Gordon VC, Hughie Edwards VC, Rawdon Middleton VC.
- 8 May 2015 marks the 70th Anniversary of Victory in Europe in the Second World War.