World War II
North African Campaign
Greece and Crete Campaigns
Dutch East Indies
New Guinea Campaign
Sir Thomas Blamey
Second Australian Imperial Force
Second Australian Imperial Force (Second, or 2nd, AIF) 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.
1.2 Public opinion and the Australian Militia
1.3 Effect of the fall of France on enlistment
3 Weaponry and equipment
4.2 Serial numbers
4.3 Women in the AIF
5 Uniforms and insignia
5.1 Shoulder patches
10 External links
Main articles: Military history of Australia during
World War II
World War II and
Australian Army during World War II
A Second AIF recruiting poster
At the outset of World War II, there was controversy over whether
Australia should concentrate on forming an expeditionary force for
overseas service to fight Germany in Europe or a home defence force to
fight Japan. Prime Minister
Robert Menzies decided to do both,
although the experience of the Great War indicated that Australia did
not have the resources to do either.
On 15 September 1939, Menzies announced the formation of the Second
AIF, an expeditionary force of 20,000, to consist of one infantry
division and any auxiliary units that the
Australian Army could fit
into it. On 15 November 1939, Menzies announced the reintroduction of
conscription for home defence service effective 1 January 1940.
Unmarried men turning 21 in the year ending 30 June 1940 would be
drafted into the Militia. Because of this, the AIF could not accept
personnel who were in reserved occupations.
Public opinion and the Australian Militia
Although the AIF had priority for scarce personnel and equipment over
the Militia, many Militia commanders were reluctant to release any to
the AIF. Although the government had hoped that half of the new force
would be drawn from the Militia, it was soon clear that this would not
be achieved. The public was torn between the dangers presented by
Germany and Japan. After an initial rush, enlistments tapered off. For
these reasons, the Second AIF possessed only one division, the 6th
Division, for nearly a year.
Effect of the fall of France on enlistment
The fall of France shocked both the government and the people into
action. A huge surge of enlistments—48,496 in June 1940—provided
enough personnel to fill not only the recently formed 7th Division,
but also to form the 8th and 9th Divisions as well, and the government
ordered units to the United Kingdom to assist in its defence.
1st Armoured Division M3 Grant tanks in June 1942
Thomas Blamey was given command of the Second AIF
on 13 October 1939 and retained it throughout the war. As such, he was
answerable directly to the Minister of Defence, rather than to the
Military Board. He was given a charter based on that given to Major
William Throsby Bridges
William Throsby Bridges in 1914. Part of his charter required
the Second AIF to be kept together, but a series of political and
military crises resulted in the divisions rarely fighting together,
with individual divisions, brigades and even battalions deployed in
different sectors or even different theatres. This resulted in
conflicts with British commanders, particularly the Commander-in-Chief
General Sir Claude Auchinleck, most notably over the
relief of Tobruk.
The 6th and 7th Divisions departed for the Far East in January 1942,
followed by the 9th Division in February 1943. The last AIF units,
three forestry companies, returned via the United States in late
1943. All units of the Second AIF were thereafter deployed to
the South West Pacific theatre, although some individuals remained in
other theatres on exchange or liaison duty, such as Vernon Sturdee,
who was head of the Australian Military Mission in Washington, D.C.
from 1942 to 1944.
A controversial decision of the Menzies government was that senior
commands in Blamey's 6th Division would be restricted to Militia
officers. This upset many PMF officers. However, when the 7th
Division was formed in May 1940, a regular officer, Lieutenant General
John Lavarack was appointed to command it. Blamey appointed two
regulars, Major Generals
Vernon Sturdee and
Henry Wynter to command
the 8th and 9th Divisions, but Wynter became ill and Sturdee was
appointed Chief of the
General Staff following the death of General
Brudenell White in the 1940 Canberra air disaster. The commands
then went to two CMF soldiers, Major Generals Gordon Bennett and
The Second AIF's main strength consisted of a Corps Headquarters and
1st Armoured Division
Divisions numbered 1st to 5th were Militia divisions, which had been
raised during the inter-war years and perpetuated the numerical
designations of the First AIF units that had fought during the First
World War. In addition, the 10th through 12th and the 2nd and 3rd
Armoured Divisions were also Militia formations.
Organization at the outset of World War 2
There were three brigades in each division. Brigades were numbered
from 16 onwards so as not to be confused with extant Militia brigades.
There were at first four infantry battalions per brigade but this was
soon reduced to three.
Units of the Second AIF prefixed their numbers with a '2/' (pronounced
'second') to distinguish themselves from Militia units. Where such a
unit did not exist in the First AIF or the Militia, the '2/' was not
initially used, but later it was adopted as identifying a unit of the
After the war with
Japan began, large numbers of experienced AIF
officers were posted to Militia units. As a consequence, units in
which more than 75% of their personnel were AIF volunteers were
permitted to call themselves AIF units. By November 1944, 20 of the
Militia's 33 infantry battalions were entitled to call themselves AIF.
At this time the Army was 423,000 strong, of whom 25,000 were women,
and 307,000 were members of the AIF.
In the South West Pacific, the Army found that its force structure was
unbalanced, with a preponderance of operational units and a grave
shortage of logistical units. The Army was also faced with government
requests to release manpower to industry, and later to discharge
long-serving personnel. This was remedied by disbanding operational
From 1 May 1945, the Army's monthly quota was 420 men and 925 women.
As its wastage was greater than this, units were disbanded for
Weaponry and equipment
See also: Historical weaponry of the Australian Army
Unlike in 1914, Australia did not possess a stock of modern weapons
and equipment at the outbreak of the war. As in 1914, the British Army
was unable to help much in the initial stages, as it was preoccupied
with its own mobilisation. The Treasury Department opposed the
diversion of large numbers of men and women from industry, the
conversion of industries to production of weapons, and the expenditure
of large sums on defence. It took time for the Army to overcome its
objections, and modern weapons, such as the 25 pounder, were soon
coming off the assembly lines in Australia. In the meantime, the AIF,
like the Militia, made do with the weapons that the First AIF had
brought back from the Great War.
The 1st Armoured Division was formed at
Puckapunyal in 1941 after the
German blitzkrieg had demonstrated the value of armour in modern
Infantrymen from the 6th Division at Tobruk, January 1941
Personnel were required to be between 20 and 35 years old on
enlistment, although there were many cases of this being evaded. A
large number of personnel were aged 20 on enlistment, and many former
members of the First AIF joined up, a practice encouraged by some unit
commanders, who liked to have some old hands around.
Although volunteer militiamen were paid 8s per day, an unmarried
private in the AIF was paid 5s per day in Australia, with an extra 2s
per day after embarkation for overseas. This was less than the 8s 6d
per day dole, not to mention the average basic wage of £2 16s.
All members of the Second AIF were allocated a serial number. The
first letter represented the state of enlistment: N – New South
Wales; V – Victoria; Q – Queensland; S – South Australia; W –
Western Australia; T – Tasmania; D – Northern Territory. The
serial numbers of female soldiers followed this with an F. AIF serial
numbers then had an X. A low number indicated an early enlistment.
General Blamey was VX1. Soldiers transferring from the Militia often
kept their old number with 100,000 added, while PMF officers had
Women in the AIF
See also: Women in the Australian military
From the first, women served with the AIF in the Australian Army
Nursing Service. The
Australian Army Medical Women's Service was
formed in 1942, and the
Australian Women's Army Service
Australian Women's Army Service on 13 August
1941. The latter had a strength of 24,000. Some 35,000 women served in
the Army, making up about 5% of the force.
Uniforms and insignia
The 2/3rd Infantry Battalion's Unit Colour Patch.
Units wore the shoulder patch of the corresponding unit of the First
AIF, with a grey border to distinguish the unit from the Militia unit
wearing the same patch. The shape of the grey indicated the division,
which sometimes differed from that of the coloured part. Later, AIF
personnel in Militia units were authorised to wear the grey border,
resulting in some units wearing the same patches. The 9th Division
replaced all its patches with a new type in the shape of a "T". As
there were more units in the Second AIF than the First, many units
wore patches of a new design.
The 6th Division, under
Iven Mackay fought in the
Western Desert Campaign
Western Desert Campaign at Bardia,
Tobruk and Benghazi. It
experienced many casualties in the Greek Campaign, where 3,000
Australian soldiers were taken prisoner.
After refitting in Syria, the 6th Division was recalled to Australia
to take part in the
Pacific War in February 1942. Its 16th and
17th Infantry Brigades were temporarily diverted to garrison
Ceylon. The 19th Infantry
Brigade was sent to Darwin, except for
its 2/11th Infantry Battalion, which went to Western Australia.
When the remainder of the 6th Division returned, it was committed to
the fighting in New Guinea. The 16th Infantry
in the fighting on the Kokoda Track and at Buna. The 17th Infantry
Brigade fought in the
Battle of Wau
Battle of Wau and the Salamaua campaign.
Guns of the 2/8th Field Regiment at El Alamein in July 1942
The 7th Division, under
Major General Arthur Allen and other
Australian units formed the body of the Allied invasion of
Syria in 1941. The division's 18th Infantry
Brigade fought at
Following the outbreak of war in the Pacific, elements of the 7th
Division were sent to the Dutch East Indies, reinforcing a few 8th
division units. The bulk of the 7th Division was deployed in
support of Militia battalions engaged in a rearguard action on the
Kokoda Track Campaign
Kokoda Track Campaign in New Guinea. With elements of the 1st Armoured
Division and 6th Divisions, and Militia, it formed a large part of the
Allied forces which destroyed the major Japanese beachhead in New
Guinea, at the Battle of Buna-Gona.
Most of the 8th Division was sent to Malaya to strengthen the garrison
prior to war with Japan, while the remaining battalions were deployed
Dutch East Indies
Dutch East Indies and New Guinea. Consequently, most of the
division was lost at the
Fall of Singapore
Fall of Singapore in February 1942, where the
division lost 1,789 killed and 1,306 wounded; another 15,395 were
captured. The divisional commander,
Major General Henry Gordon
Bennett created an enduring controversy by escaping.
A small, lesser-known force known as Mission 204 was drawn from units
in Malaya, including forty men of the 8th Division. It served in
China, advising the Chinese Army, until it was withdrawn in October
Troops from the 7th Division are cheered by civilians as their train
passes through Adelaide in March 1942
The 23rd Infantry
Brigade remained, but without battalions, as these
had been lost when Ambon, Rabaul and Timor fell. It was
filled up with Militia battalions, and it and other remaining elements
of the 8th Division participated in the campaigns in the South West
Pacific. The 8th Division was reformed after the war to process
prisoners of the Japanese.
Australian prisoners of war, like other Allied prisoners of the
Japanese, were often held in inhumane conditions, such as Changi
prison or in Japan. Some were subject to forced labour, including the
Burma Railway or forced long distance marches, such as on
AIF Independent companies continued guerrilla operations in East Timor
for many months until being evacuated in January 1943. Independent
companies played an important part in the defence of New Guinea,
initially occupying several locations to Australia's north to provide
an early warning capability in the months prior to the outbreak of the
Pacific War, and then, after the fighting had started, fighting
several delaying campaigns in Timor, New Guinea, and New Britain.
Later in the war, these units were converted into "commando" units,
subsequently fighting several campaigns in New Guinea, Bougainville
The 9th Division fought in the
North African campaign
North African campaign under Major
Leslie Morshead and distinguished itself first at the Battle
of Tobruk, where it became the first Allied unit to resist German
Blitzkrieg tactics. The Axis leader in North Africa, Lieutenant
General Erwin Rommel, described the 9th Division at
"immensely big and powerful men, who without question represented an
elite formation of the British Empire, a fact that was also evident in
The 9th also served with distinction at the First and Second Battles
of El Alamein. It returned to Australia in early 1943 in a convoy
operation designated Operation Pamphlet.
In 1943, the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions were reunited on the Atherton
General Douglas MacArthur,
Supreme Allied Commander in the South West
Pacific Area depended on the AIF as the spearhead of his land forces
in 1942 and 1943. The 7th Division, now under
Major General George
Vasey, fought at Nadzab and in the Finisterre Range campaign.
Meanwhile, the 9th Division, now under
Major General George Wootten
fought at Red Beach and then in the Huon Peninsula campaign.
Members of the 7th Division at Balikpapan in July 1945
MacArthur deployed the AIF divisions in secondary assignments during
1944–45, where they often fought what many considered to be
pointless battles. A shortage of first operational units and then
logistic units caused the 6th Division, now under
Major General Jack
Stevens to be committed to the
Aitape-Wewak campaign despite
MacArthur's efforts. He employed the 7th and 9th Divisions in the
Borneo Campaign (1945).
A planned invasion of the Japanese home island of
Honshū in 1946,
Operation Coronet, would almost certainly have included an "Australian
10th Division", made up of experienced personnel from the three
existing divisions. However, the Japanese surrendered before the
invasion took place.
Most Second AIF personnel were demobilised by the end of 1946. The
Second AIF ceased to exist on 30 June 1947. All Second AIF personnel
still on full-time duty were transferred to the Interim Army on 1 July
1947; this force was used to form the foundation of the Australian
Regular Army in 1948.
^ Long, To Benghazi, pp. 33–39
^ Long, To Benghazi, p. 39
^ Long, To Benghazi, p. 61
^ Long, To Benghazi, pp. 86–87
Tobruk and El Alamein, pp. 380–382
^ "Forestry Unit in New York". Sydney Morning Herald. 2 October
^ "Forestry Unit Back from Scotland". The Herald (Melbourne). 8
South West Pacific Area
South West Pacific Area – First Year, p. 140
John Lavarack to Gavin Long, 6 August 1953, AWM93 50/2/23/63
^ Long, To Benghazi, p. 84
^ Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust, p. 32
Tobruk and El Alamein, p. 8
^ a b Johnston, The
Australian Army in World War II, p. 6
^ a b Lambert, The Birth, Life and Death of the 1st Australian
^ a b Hopkins, Australian Armour: A History of the Royal Australian
Armoured Corps 1927–1972, p. 104
^ a b Kuring, Redcoats to Cams, p. 138
^ Burness, The Battle of Bardia, p. 27
^ Long, To Benghazi, p. 51
^ Long, The Final Campaigns, pp. 19–20
^ Long, The Final Campaigns, pp. 34–81
^ Long, The Final Campaigns, pp. 30–34
^ Long, To Benghazi, pp. 40–41, 53, 88
^ Hopkins, Australian Armour: A History of the Royal Australian
Armoured Corps 1927–1972, pp. 39–47
^ Long, To Benghazi, p. 58
^ Long, To Benghazi, p. 66
^ Long, To Benghazi, p. 63
^ Bomford, Soldiers of the Queen, pp. 5–6
^ Glyde, Distinguishing Colour Patches of the Australian Military
Forces 1915–1951: A Reference Guide, pp. 17–23
^ Long, To Benghazi, pp. 163–304
^ Long, Greece, Crete and Syria, p. 316
^ Long, Greece, Crete and Syria, p. 550
^ McCarthy, South–West Pacific Area – First Year: Kokoda to Wau,
pp. 77–79, 118–119
^ McCarthy, South–West Pacific Area – First Year: Kokoda to Wau,
pp. 8, 15, 21, 25–26
^ Long, Greece, Crete and Syria, p. 244
^ Long, Greece, Crete and Syria, pp. 244–449
^ McCarthy, South–West Pacific Area – First Year: Kokoda to Wau,
^ Long, Greece, Crete and Syria, pp. 333–522
Tobruk and El Alamein, pp. 101–375
^ Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust, pp. 447–457
^ Johnston, The Silent 7th, p. 250
^ Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust, pp. 28–61
^ Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust, p. 382
^ Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust, pp. 650–652
^ Morgan, A Burning Legacy: The Broken 8th Division
^ Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust, pp. 643–645
^ Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust, pp. 418–441
^ Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust, pp. 392–417
^ Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust, pp. 466–494
^ Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust, p. 490
^ NAA (ACT) A2653/1 M246/1945
^ Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust, pp. 511–642
^ Dennis et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History,
Tobruk and El Alamein, p. 210
Tobruk and El Alamein pp. 542–746
Tobruk and El Alamein, pp. 748–754
^ Dexter, The
New Guinea Offensives, pp. 15–17
^ Dexter, The
New Guinea Offensives, pp. 326–762
^ Long, The Final Campaigns, pp. 271–387
^ Long, The Final Campaigns, pp. 388–583
^ Robertson, Australia at War, 1939–1945, p. 196
^ Sligo, The Development of the Australian Regular Army 1944–1952,
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World War II
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