70th anniversary of the turning of the tide in the war in the Pacific
This year is also the 70th anniversary of the year the war in the Pacific switched from a defensive war to one in which Australia and the United States commenced a process of pushing the Japanese military back out of the lands they had won in 1942.
New Guinea offensives
In ‘New Guinea Offensive’ Peter Stanley explains how in September 1943 in and around the New Guinea area, Australian forces began a series of offensives which over the following six months overwhelmed the Japanese Eighteenth Army and gave General Douglas MacArthur’s forces ‘a firm base’ from which to launch an offensive against Japanese occupation of the Philippines (Wartime, No. 23, 2003).
The leading Australian and American elements closed up to the three Japanese enclaves at Buna, Gona (which took place at the end of 1942) and Sanananda in mid-November.
On 2 January 1943 Australian and American forces took the village of Buna on the north coast of New Guinea from determined Japanese defenders after two weeks of savage fighting at a cost of 2870 Allied battle casualties, including 913 Australians.
Other battles fought between Japanese and Australian forces in 1943 included:
Sanananda (12–18 January): 2100 Allied casualties, including 1400 Australians, 600 of whom were killed or missing. The Australian War Memorial’s Craig Tibbitts calls this battle ‘The toughest battle of all’ (Wartime, Issue 38, April 2007).
The defence of Wau (28 January–1 February) successfully halted a Japanese attack and laid the foundation for the campaign to capture Salamaua. A thorough description of this battle can be found in: The battle for Wau: New Guinea's frontline 1942-1943 by Phillip Bradley (Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Lae and Salamaua (4–11 September): on 4 September elements of the Australian 9th division began an amphibious landing on beaches to the east of Lae which was the focus of a major land, sea, and air operation by Australian and American forces. This occurred in conjunction with operations against another major Japanese base on the Huon Gulf at Salamaua which was captured five days before the successful capture of Lae.
Finschhafen (22 September–2 October): after the capture of Lae, the next goal for Australian forces was the capture of Finschhafen which it was hoped would provide a base for future air and naval operations by the US Sixth Army against Japanese forces on New Britain. Finschhafen was captured after eleven days by the 20th Brigade of the 9th Division at a cost of 358 casualties, 73 of whom were killed.
Sattelberg (3 October–25 November): after the fall of Finschhafen the Australian 9th Division turned its focus to the mountain mission station at Sattelberg, 9000 metres above sea level. Lieutenant Thomas Currie ‘Diver’ Derrick won a Victoria Cross for his actions at Sattelberg. A vivid description of Derrick, the action for which he won his VC and his subsequent death can be found in Soldier of 'utmost courage': 'diver' Derrick by Peter Stanley (Wartime, July 2005).
In ‘The Naval campaigns of New Guinea’ David Stevens ‘briefly examines some of the major issues surrounding the operations of Allied and Japanese naval forces during the war in New Guinea from 1942 to 1944’ (Journal of the Australian War Memorial, No. 34, June 2001).
The Battle of the Bismarck Sea was a naval action in which a Japanese convoy of sixteen ships bound for New Guinea, consisting of eight transports carrying up to 7000 Japanese army and marine reinforcements and eight escorting destroyers, were virtually annihilated by allied air attacks. Nearly half of the Japanese troops on the convoy ships were believed to have been killed.
Japanese bombers attacked the West Australian coast around Exmouth Gulf in May and September 1943, but with no damage or casualties.
September 2013 is the 70th anniversary of Operation Jaywick, a daring special operations raid carried out against Japanese ships in Singapore harbour by Australian and British army and navy personnel, led by a British officer, Major Ivan Lyon. The Allied party used a former Japanese fishing vessel, renamed the Krait, for their perilous voyage from Exmouth in Western Australia. Seven enemy ships were sunk by mines which the raiders had attached to the ships. The Krait is part of the collection of the Australian War Memorial, on loan to and moored at the Australian National Maritime Museum. In ‘Operation Jaywick’, Brad Manera outlines the fate of Lyon’s subsequent doomed mission, Operation Rimau (Wartime, No. 23, 2003).
Loss of the Centaur
The 14 May 2013 marks the 70th anniversary of the loss of the Australian hospital ship Centaur which was sunk off the Queensland coast by a Japanese submarine, despite the Centaur’s Red Cross markings. The successful search for the wreck of HMAS Sydney prompted calls for a similar search for the Centaur. On 20 December 2009 a search led by David Mearns found the wreck of the Centaur about 30 nautical miles off the southern tip of Moreton Island.
Three Australians won Victoria Crosses in 1943:
- Flight Lieutenant William Ellis Newton, No. 22 Squadron, RAAF, 16 March 1943, for actions on Salamaua Isthmus, New Guinea
- Private Richard Kelliher, 2/25th Battalion, 13 September 1943, for actions near Nadzab, New Guinea (Wartime, No. 25, January 2004) and
- Sergeant Thomas Currie (‘Diver’) Derrick, 2/48th Battalion, 24 November 1943, for actions at Sattelberg, New Guinea.
60th anniversary of the Korean armistice
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the 1953 Korean War armistice, which brought an end to hostilities on the Korean peninsula. From 29 June 1950 to July 1953, some 17 000 Australian service personnel served in the Korean War. Although the armistice negotiations began in July 1951, they were not completed until two years later. In all, 340 Australians lost their lives and 1216 were wounded in the Korean War.
Australians fought in difficult conditions, as described by Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Daly, the first Australian commander of the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade—‘the dust, the heat, the enervating humidity, the bitter cold of winter when the men slept with their boots on and weapons cradled lest they should be found frozen in an emergency…’ (cited on page 1 of Ben Evans et al., Out in the Cold, Department of Veterans Affairs, Canberra, 2000).
The Australian Army distinguished itself in the 'stepping stone' phase of the war at Sariwon, Yongu, Pakchon and Chonhju; in major battles, such as Kapyong (April 1951) and Maryang San (October 1951); and in the 'static' phase of the war at Hill 227 and the Hook. The RAN and RAAF played roles supporting Australian and United Nations forces, with naval and air dominance a critical factor in the outcome of the war.
Australian service personnel did not return to the rapture that had welcomed Australians after the Second World War. As in the United States, the Korean War in Australia became known as 'the forgotten war'. It was not until April 2000 that a memorial to the Australians who served in the Korean War was unveiled on ANZAC Parade in Canberra. However, the importance of that sacrifice is today evidenced by a much more powerful dedication. South Korea, the country that young Australians went to defend, is today a vibrant, free and prosperous state. It is Australia's third largest export partner and a beacon of democracy in Asia. It is in the context of the poverty, hunger and oppression that those in North Korea still live, that the Australian sacrifice to defend freedom and liberty in South Korea should be remembered.
50 years since the withdrawal of Australian forces from anti-insurgency activities.
There are several small wars which some veterans claim to be ‘forgotten’. One of these is the Malayan Emergency. This conflict started in June 1948 and officially ended in July 1960. During this period, about 7000 Australians served alongside British, New Zealand, Ghurka and Malayan forces against Communist insurgents.
The Malayan Emergency started after the murder, on 16 June 1948, of three European plantation managers by guerrillas of the Malayan Communist Party. This followed a period of increasing unrest. A State of Emergency was declared in several districts, and then on 18 June it was extended to the whole of Malaya. British, Ghurka and Malayan military personnel and police then began operations against Communist insurgents.
The first direct approach for Australian assistance in the Malayan Emergency was made in April 1950, when the British Government asked for reinforcements for Royal Air Force squadrons operating in Malaya. It was politically expedient for Australia to demonstrate commitment to the defence of Malaya, which was ‘an active front in the “cold war” of Communism’. The British asked for a squadron of Dakota transport aircraft for dropping supplies to troops operating in the Malayan jungles and for general transport duties; a squadron or flight of Lincoln bombers to assist the RAF Lincolns bombing insurgent camps and supply lines; and additional ground staff to assist in maintaining RAF aircraft. Australia agreed to send the Dakotas and Lincolns, with air and ground staff, but instead of sending additional ground staff, the government instead authorised RAF Lincoln bombers to undergo maintenance in Australia.
Dakotas from No. 38 Squadron RAAF and Lincolns from No. 1 Squadron RAAF were deployed during 1950, and proved effective in their respective roles. Australia’s commitment was increased in 1955 with the deployment of ground forces. By then, the Communist insurgency had largely been checked with military, political and ‘hearts and minds’ actions. The challenge was to track down and combat the increasingly small groups of insurgents operating in jungle areas.
The Malaysian government declared the Emergency over on 31 July 1960 but ADF personnel remained in Malaysia until August 1963 when 2RAR was withdrawn from anti-insurgency operations.
45 years since the Vietnam War actions of 1968
In ‘Tet turning point’, Chris Coulthard-Clark describes the activities of Australian forces during the Tet Offensive in early 1968 and argues that ‘if there was any one point when the Vietnam War was lost for the allies, the Tet Offensive of 1968 was probably it’ with Tet being a case ‘where defeat came wrapped up in apparent victory’ (Wartime, No. 20, 2002).
Fire Support Bases ‘Coral’ and ‘Balmoral’
May 2013 will mark the 45th anniversary of the battles between Australians and attacking communist forces at Fire Support Bases ‘Coral’ and ‘Balmoral’, which became known as the ‘Mini-Tet’ offensive.
In Fire support Bases Coral and Balmoral—May 1968: 1st Australian Task force in defence of Saigon, Lex McAulay explains that Australian forces had to very quickly adapt from patrolling and searching for the enemy to defending themselves against attacks from enemy forces of battalion and regiment size (paper presented to the Australian War Memorial History Conference, 6–10 July 1987).
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs Coral and Balmoral website has information on commemorative events planned for the 40th anniversary in 2008, historical background and a list of units involved in the battles which cost 25 lives and more than 100 casualties.
Australia’s participation in the war was, in a formal sense, ended by a proclamation by the Governor-General on 11 January 1973.
This year is also the 50th anniversary of Australia’s first operational death in Vietnam—Sergeant William Francis Hacking who was killed on 1 June 1963 while with the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV).
It is 10 years since the US-led invasion of Iraq. The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History describes the reasons for Australia’s decision to offer military support to the US led-invasion of Iraq in the following terms:
(Prime Minister) Howard saw the Iraq conflict as another phase in a battle against worldwide terrorism that commenced after Al Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in 2001. Under Howard the Australian Government reverted to the policy of forward defence of the Menzies era. He accepted that the basis of Australian national security included national interest not just physical territory. The support of Australia’s alliance with the United States was a cornerstone of his national security policy.
To that end an announcement was made on 1 February 2003 by Defence Minister, Senator Robert Hill, on the planned forward deployment of some RAAF units to prepare for a potential military campaign against Iraq. On 7 February 2003 the Defence Minister announced the final forward deployments of a Special Forces Task Group, a Navy clearance diving team and other elements.
Operation Catalyst began on 16 July 2003 as the successor to Operations Falconer and Bastille. Operation Bastille was the name given to the forward deployment of ADF assets and personnel between January and March 2003. Operation Falconer, which began on 18 March 2003, was the name given to Australia’s contribution to the coalition to disarm Iraq. Australian combat troops were to stay in Iraq until June 2008.
On 11 May 2009 the Department of Defence announced that Operation Catalyst would cease on
31 July 2009 with the withdrawal of the last service personnel. The only ADF personnel left in Iraq were those guarding the Australian Embassy and two people attached to the United Nations mission. More than 20 000 ADF personnel saw service in Iraq during these years.
Private Jake Kovco died when his pistol discharged in Iraq during April 2006.
SAS Warrant Officer David Nary died in a vehicle training accident in Kuwait during November 2005.
Private Kovco and Warrant Officer Nary are both included in the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour.
Flight Lieutenant Paul Pardoel died when his British RAF Hercules transport plane was shot down in Iraq during January 2005.
Private Jay-D Ornsby-Adkins was killed-in-action on 28 April 2007 while serving with the United States military.
Flight Lieutenant Pardoel and Private Ornsby-Adkins were serving in foreign military forces and are both included in the Commemorative Roll.
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