and Aussie forces took the brunt of it for no good reason whatsoever.
As Geoff said, the British, French and Indians were deployed in the Dardanelles campaign in larger numbers than the Australians and New Zealanders. Because Australian history and Australian media dominates the international telling of the Dardanelles campaign, this is often overlooked.
Before Gallipoli, Britain in Australia was viewed as some mythical camelot home country. Gallipolli and later the Somme is noticable for introducing the average Australian to British fallibility. Something the tommies had been putting up with for a while and now the digger was exposed to.
The Breaker Morant story has since been told in these terms. At the time in Australia the Morant and Handcock trial was viewed as those two getting what they deserved. Nowadays that story is told very differently with Morant and Handcock assumed as dominion scapegoats for Britains political purpose.
though I haven't ever seen the stats on that. In fact
Over 45 days in 1916 during the Somme offensive, the AIF lost 23,000 men in area no wider than a mile. While the Australians distrusted many British Generals after this, Australian Generals were just as capable of killing Australians as the British Generals were.
On the other hand, Australia was bombed in WW2. How can you not make a big deal of that?
In World War I most of what Australia did was a success and gained greater position for Australia. Australia combined the older bush ethic with the ANZAC spirit to make a powerful cultural combination that ended up being the celebration of a nation blooding itself. Australians went over to WWI thinking they were British and discovered they were Australian, so there is cultural recognition of a national culture. Much of the friction between the British and Australians on the subject of discipline were essentially cultural clashes.
Those Australians in WWI validated the Australian way of doing things, the Australian way held up under the extreme stress of combat and didn't fail, the AIF actually over-achieved which has also wound itself into the ANZAC legend.
Australia also forced itself onto the global stage, Billy Hughes signed the Treaty of Versailles as an independant nation rather than a British dominion. Australia was the only dominion to set up an independant air service. Australia asserted the Australian soveriegnty over their Australian troops refusing to allow them to be absorbed into the British forces. There was much to be proud of in Australia asserting itself as an independant nation and recognizing it's growth as an independant nation.
This of course was only 13 years after Federation, but I am still uncertain what role this played in Australian assertion of independance of spirit and character. I think it is more along the lines of the culture was ripe and with 300,000 Australian going overseas ( about 8% of the population ) they got a good dose of the world and the world got a good dose of Australia.
Not to mention the huge forces they deployed in the Pacific.
At the height of US build up in New Guinea, Australian troops outnumbered US troops 3:2. When Guadalcanal was being defended by one lone USMC squadron, New Guinea was being defended by one lone RAAF squadron. At the Armistice, the RAAF was the fourth largest air force, mainly because of it's need to defend the Australian continent and territories.
I'm totally guessing as to motivation here, but in WWI, Australia could be seen as playing a rather signifcant role.
This is the conundrum. In WWI Australia played an insignificant role in terms of allied strategy and tactics. Australian had neither the numbers of the British or French forces, it didnt raise the hardware assets such as aviation or naval that the British of French pushed into action.
A good amount of AIF forces were deployed in Palestine and Syria, but that was a war of logistics which wasnt mastered until Allenby came to the front and the water pipelines and rail were built to support the British and Dominion forces.
In WWII, Australian forces were far more significant to allied strategy and ability to pursue second fronts in 1941 and 1942. By 1943, the US ability to bring arms into place and Australia's lack of ability to replenish manpower made this less obvious but in 1941-1942 Australia was extremely important. However this position of strength in the allied cause by Australia was not used to Australian advantage by Menzies or Curtin. The opposite actually occurred both handed over Australian soveriegnty of forces without any return.
In 1940-1941 it was the movement of Australian divisions to North Africa that gave the allies enough manpower to pursue a second front after the failed Greek and Macedonian campaigns. It was these numbers of Australian forces which helpled route the Italians and Free French in North Africa and Syria, forcing the movement of the Afrika Korps to that front.
The "Rats of Tobruk" were the Australian 7th and 9th Divisions. Apparently Rommel made the remark that if he had a division of crazy Australians he would be in Cairo within a month. The highest scoring squadron of the North African campaign was an Australian squadron as well, plus there was Australian naval assets moved into the Mediterrainian.
This was the time that Menzies and Blamey should have pushed that position of bargaining strength for Australian purposes. Such as greater involvement in strategy at higher levels and for the movement of sorely needed aircraft to Australian shores. Both Churchill and Menzies were Imperialists, and Churchill treated Menzies like a colonial PM. Menzies lost his government over it.
Menzies had also bled most of his military command of the assertive pro-Australian leaders and replaced with with hacks from England who saw Australian policy as Imperial policy first. Replacing the pro-Australian Richard Williams with the British hack Charles Burnett is a good example. Burnett was so bad the Biritish didnt want him, but Menzies being Imperialist knew everything British was better than Australian(my emphasis).
Burnett went in May 1942 but not after the Empire Air Training Scheme had been passed and Australia gave it's young pilots directly to the British Forces. Compare that to WWI when the AIF wouldnt let the RFC recruit into the AIF and wouldnt let RFC officers transfer or command AFC units. Rather than Australian empowerment in WWII we have the cultural cringe.
At the same time as Pearl Harbour was struck, the Japanese invaded Malaya. British, Australian and Indian troops were the main defenders until Singapore when that was surrendered. Again Australians got exposed to British fallibility which had been learnt in 1915, but forgotten by future Australians. It is a fact of martial history Australians perform better when they are managing and leading themselves, however Australian governments past and present do defence on the cheap limiting Australian management of Australians and hence Australian effectiveness and independance.
By May of 1942, Australia had the most troops in the South Pacific, New Guinea was entirely garrisoned by Australian troops, Australia lacked in air and naval assets. The RAN had been tied to RN integration so was useless as an independant fighting force, but it slipped into the USN easily. HMAS Australia was the leading Battle Cruiser in the Coral Sea strike force.
Again Australia was in a position of negotiating strength with it's allies. If the US wanted to pursue a two front war in the Pacific with New Guinea and Guadalcanal it couldnt do it without the Australian Army. This should have been used to negotiate for aircraft to protect Australia's northern shores.
Reinforcing this was the fact that the first allied land victories against the Japanese were by the Australian Army. Milne Bay was the first instance of a Japanese landing force being forced back into the sea.
Instead Curtin handed over sovereignty of Australian troops to MacArthur, probably the worst person to do it to. He treated Curtin like he had the Phillipinos and later the Japanese. Again the cultural cringe, but this time to the US instead of Britain.
MacArthurs vanity knew no bounds, supposedly during the Battle of Brisbane MacArthur hearing the gathering commotion on the street came to his balcony to wave to the admiring throngs. In reality his two main forces, Australian and American were busy fighting each other with fists, clubs and eventually guns.
With the Japanese coming over the Kokoda Track neared Port Moresby, MacArthur feared for his own command with another defeat and ordered Blamey to take over the defence of Port Moresby, this was just as Rowell had got the Japanese to retreat. Again Curtin and Blamey should have said no and allowed Rowell the Australian victory. Again mismanagement on Australia's part.
By the end of 1943, Australian manpower was exhausted from fighting since 1940 in two torrid fronts, and US application of might through aircraft carriers was greater than anything Australia could muster. So Australia's relevance was minimal after Japan broke it's back on Guadalcanal. Australia actually started disbanding troops in 1944 to go back to the home front industries and agriculture to help support the US forces logistical needs such as shoes, carry sacks, food etc.
When you study Australia in WWI you can't study it without ending up interpreting national identity and national growth of independance. One of the major themes is despite the mismanagement of Australians by British, Australians still over achieved. More importantly it is the triumph of Australian independance and the Australian way of doing things.
The reality is slightly different of course, the Australia Corps was led by Monash from mid 1918 and Chauvel was the ranking AIF officer in Palestine. Le Hamel was an Australian victory orchestrated by Monash, as the last successful cavalry charge at Beersheeba was orchestrated by Chauvel.
Compare the themes in WWI to WWII. In WWII we have Australians achieving despite Australian mismanagement at the highest levels. Worse the mismanagement often resulted in the capitulation of Australian sovereignty of Australians to British or US forces.
This is the total opposite of the common notion of the Australian experience of WWI. I dont think Australians want to recognize just yet, the endemic incompetence at highest levels in WWII nor the limited belief in Australian achievement or independance Curtin, Menzies or Blamey showed.
I have also noticed that language in which history is termed is dominated by the nation that puts the most positive spin on their experience. In WWII this is the US, the US tells it's story of WWII in terms of it's notions of liberation and coming of age as a superpower.
In this language the Australian involvement in the South Pacific is often drowned by Pearl Harbour, Midway, Coral Sea, Guadalcanal and Okinawa. This langauge also dominates the popular view of the French, often being seen in light of the defeat in 1940. In WWI the French Army was large, covered the greatest area and took the brunt of most of the German offensives yet still held.
Interesingly I have noticed that other nations are starting to adopt Australia's language on WWI. This is also despite the lack of media saturation that Australia can bring to bear on the world.
In Europe, while some Australian troops landed at Normandy, once the beachhead was established they were in a more-or-less auxilliary role.
I dont believe any AIF troops took part in Normandy nor were any stationed in Europe. RAAF units were, but not infantry.
WWI studies for Australians are fascinating as it isnt solely about martial history it involves so much more, which is probably why they are written about so much. After looking at this in preview I realise I have written a lot! :)
Freedom, Liberty, Equity and an Australian Republic
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