Anzac Day 2019: Military anniversaries in 2019: a quick guide

16 April 2019

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David Watt (with assistance from Lisa Richards)
Foreign Affairs, Defence & Security


After four years of activities commemorating the centenary of the First World War it is perhaps inevitable that military anniversaries in 2019 form a less thematic group than has been the case during the past four years. In this quick guide we have chosen not to cover First World War anniversaries because these have been thoroughly covered during the years of the Centenary of Anzac, including by the Parliamentary Library:

A quick guide to military anniversaries in 2017

Anzac Day 2018: a quick guide to military anniversaries in 2018

The end of the First World War and the Armistice: a quick guide

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs website contains information about Anzac Day commemorations, which are scheduled to be held in a variety of locations.

While the 100th anniversary of 1919 contains some well-known events, such as the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, it also contains others that are less well-known, such as the service of some Australians in North Russia during the civil war that followed the Bolshevik revolution. It is also the 75th anniversary of various Second World War actions, some of which are noted below.




5 June 1919

British North Russian Relief Force arrives in Russia

Although no Australian units fought in the civil war that followed the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, a number of Australian servicemen volunteered to fight in the British units that went to Russia to assist the White Russian forces. The British had sent the North Russian Expeditionary Force in 1918 (which included nine Australians). When this force had to be withdrawn in 1919, the all-volunteer North Russian Relief Force was raised and sent to assist the safe withdrawal of the first force. The NREF included 100 to 120 Australians, all of whom had been discharged from the Australian Imperial Force prior to enlisting. These forces were withdrawn from Russia by 27 September 1919.

Two of these Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross—Corporal Arthur Sullivan and Sergeant Samuel Pearse.

J Grey, A ‘pathetic sideshow’: Australians and the Russian Intervention, 1918–1919, Australian War Memorial, October 1985.

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) played a role during this conflict, mainly in the Black Sea. A general description of this can be found in G Swindon, ‘Semaphore: RAN in Southern Russia 1918–20, Semaphore, 3, 2018.

28 June 1919

Treaty of Versailles signed

The Paris Peace Conference of 1919–20 commenced on 18 January 1919 and although the most important issues were decided during the first six months, negotiations did not end until 21 January 1920, some days after the founding of the League of Nations and the entry into force of the Treaty of Versailles (or, as it was more properly known, the Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany, and Protocol). Australia played a role in the negotiations (perhaps its first on the international diplomatic stage) with Prime Minister Billy Hughes leading an Australian delegation which included Deputy Prime Minister Sir Joseph Cook and the solicitor-general, Sir Robert Garran. Hughes did not always make himself popular with other leaders. Hughes insisted that Germany pay the entire cost of the war (this did not happen) and advocated the removal of the racial equality clause from the charter of the League of Nations (which clashed with the White Australia policy) and that Australia be granted a mandate over the former German colonies in New Guinea.

J Cotton, Australia in the League of Nations: a centenary view,  Research paper series, 2018–19, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2018.

January 1944

Shaggy Ridge, New Guinea

Shaggy Ridge is a long ridge line which is the highest part of the Finnistere Ranges in what was then north-eastern New Guinea. It is steep and difficult terrain and during December 1943 and January 1944 it was the scene of intense fighting as the attacking Australians pushed towards the north-east coast attempting to wrest the Huon Peninsula from the Japanese. During the second half of January 1944 the 18th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Frederick Chilton, took part in Operation Cutthroat. The aim of this operation was to capture Kankiryo Saddle, at the northern end of the Ridge. The Japanese defenders contested this advance with great vigour. When the 18th had taken Kankiryo Saddle the Japanese continued to fight from Crater Hill, which overlooked the saddle. By this time they were all but surrounded, and by 31 January those who had not been killed or wounded, retreated. The 18th Brigade suffered 46 deaths and 147 casualties. The Japanese are thought to have suffered up to 500 casualties.

D Dexter, The New Guinea offensives, Australian War Memorial, 1961, pp. 680–755; Australian War Memorial, Shaggy Ridge operations; Department of Veterans’ Affairs, To Shaggy Ridge, Australia’s War 1939–45.

E Campbell, ‘The hell of Shaggy Ridge’, Australian War Memorial website.

28 March–9 May 1944

First Victory loan launched

The First Victory Loan aimed to raise a record £150 million for the war effort. During the course of the war there were four Liberty Loans, four Victory Loans and one Austerity Loan. These were designed to supplement the Government’s borrowing and to reduce pressure on inflation.

Victory Loan’, The West Australian, 18 January 1944, p. 2.

3 June 1944

Last major air combat by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in the Second World War

South of Biak Island, fifteen P-40 Kittyhawks from No. 78 Squadron attacked 15 Japanese aircraft (12 fighters and three dive-bombers) and succeeded in shooting down seven fighters and all of the dive-bombers with the loss of one P-40 and its pilot, Flight Sergeant William Harnden. This was the highest number of aircraft shot down by Australians in a single encounter in the South West Pacific during the war.

6 June 1944


Relative to the total numbers of people involved in the D-Day landings—170,000 soldiers and 190,000 naval personnel—Australian involvement was small. Approximately 3,300 Australians took part in the
D-Day landings
. This number comprised some 2,800 RAAF personnel serving in six squadrons, 500 members of the RAN serving directly with the Royal Navy, and 13 army officers on attachment to the British Army. Fourteen Australians were killed on

The Australian War Memorial will focus three last post ceremonies on the D-Day landings. These ceremonies will be held on 3–5 June 2019.

5 August 1944

Prisoner of war breakout at Cowra

On 5 August 1944 Japanese prisoners of war housed at the detention camp in Cowra, NSW, attempted to escape. Many of the POWs were armed and the guards opened fire on the would-be escapees. Some 231 prisoners were killed, along with four Australians. Private BG Hardy and Private R Jones, two of the Australian soldiers killed in the breakout, were awarded the George Cross for their actions.

S Bullard, Blankets on the wire: the Cowra breakout and its aftermath, Australia Japan Research Project, Australian War Memorial, 2006.

Australian War Memorial (AWM), ‘Cowra breakout’, AWM website.

National Archives of Australia (NAA), Cowra breakout, 1944—fact sheet 198, NAA.

 October 1944


Leyte Gulf, October 1944


Australia’s main contribution to the campaign to retake the Philippines involved the RAN and the RAAF. Many of Australia’s casualties in the campaign were the result of kamikaze attacks, the majority of which were against the Country Class heavy cruiser HMAS Australia.

The Americans decided that the initial attack would be at Leyte Island for the simple reason that they had identified that Japanese defences there were weak. The target date, named ‘A-Day’, was set for 20 October 1944.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs provides some background to Australian involvement on its Australia’s War 1939–45 website:

As the naval invasion fleet approached Leyte, at its forefront was a hydrographical survey group plotting and marking the approaches to the beaches. It included the Australian frigate HMAS Gascoyne and Fairmile motor launch HDML 1074 laying buoys to mark the approach channels. The ships that followed delivering American troops included the three Australian landing ships, or LSIs (Landing Ships, Infantry), HMA Ships Kanimbla, Manoora and Westralia. As well as the Americans on board, they carried landing craft to ferry the troops ashore. On board also were several Australian soldiers who served in landing craft liaison teams. Protecting the force were many more Allied warships including the Australian cruisers HMA Ships Australia and Shropshire and the destroyers HMA Ships Arunta and Warramunga. The warships bombarded enemy positions on the shore before sailing further out to sea to protect the flanks of the invasion fleet. In the days that followed, the Allied ships endured repeated air attacks as the Japanese reacted to the landing. The Australia became the first Allied warship struck by a kamikaze (suicide) aircraft when it was rammed on 21 October. Thirty of Australia’s crew, including Captain Emile Dechaineux DSC, were killed or died of wounds. Another 64 men, including a soldier who was a member of a liaison team from the Army’s 1st Australian Naval Bombardment Group, were wounded; 26 of these were classified as seriously wounded with burns and shrapnel wounds. Badly damaged, the Australia was escorted out of the battle area by the Warramunga for repairs. The Shropshire and Arunta stayed on battle station and took part in the Battle of Surigao Strait, part of the wider Battle of Leyte Gulf, in which the Allied naval forces defeated the Imperial Japanese Navy’s attempt to attack the invasion fleet.

R Nichols, ‘The first kamikaze attack’, Wartime, 28, 1 October 2004.

Royal Australian Navy, ‘HMAS Australia (II)’, RAN website.

15 November 1944

Australian Government approves sending Australian Women’s Army Service members overseas

Members of the Australian Women’s Army Service went to Lae, New Guinea, and served in the forward area for the first time. Members of the Australian Army Nursing Service and the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service were already serving in New Guinea.

6 June 1969

Battle of Binh Ba, South Vietnam

Binh Ba, located six kilometres north of the Australian base at Nui Dat was the site of a battle between an Australian Ready Reaction Force and a combined force of Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese Army troops who had occupied the village. The enemy were driven off after more than a day’s fighting.

B Davies and G McKay, Vietnam: the complete story of the Australian war, Allen & Unwin, 2012,
pp. 439–448; A Ekins and I McNeill, Fighting to the finish: the Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1968–1975, Allen & Unwin and the Australian War Memorial, 2012, pp. 210–230; Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Battle of Binh Ba June 1969, Australia and the Vietnam War.

There will be a national service to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Binh Ba held at the Australian Forces Vietnam National Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra on 6 June 2019.

11 June 1999

Australian Defence Force (ADF) commitment to East Timor

Indonesian President Jusuf Habibie allowed a referendum on self-determination to take place in East Timor on 30 August 1999. The United Nations, with Portuguese assistance, formed a mission to East Timor on 11 June 1999—the UN Assistance Mission to East Timor (UNAMET)—to assist the plebiscite. Australia provided military air transport for UN officials during the referendum, as well as air-lift support to the UN officials and staff of the non-government organisations during 6–8 September 1999, after violence marred the province following the referendum. (P Dennis, J Grey, E Morris and R Prior (with J Bou), eds, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, 2nd edn, OUP, Melbourne, 2008, pp. 191–193; 528–529).

The UN, with Australia’s extensive diplomatic assistance, responded to the crisis by establishing an Australian-led International Force East Timor (INTERFET) to restore order and security in East Timor. Australia’s initial deployment to East Timor under INTERFET—commanded by Major-General Peter Cosgrove—began in Dili on 20 September 1999. INTERFET also included contributions from other countries in Southeast Asia, while some, such as Malaysia, expressed displeasure with Australia’s involvement in East Timor. At the time, the INTERFET mission was Australia’s largest single military deployment since 1945, peaking at 5,500 ADF personnel (out of a total of 11,500).

UNAMET officially ended on 25 October 1999, to be replaced by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), which included an Australian contribution of about 1,600 ADF personnel. UNTAET officially assumed control of East Timor on 23 February 2000 and was in turn succeeded by the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET).

P Londey, Other people’s wars: a history of Australian peacekeeping, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest (NSW), 2004, pp. 231­–261.


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