The World at War

Australian Timeline 1918-48

Australia's Day on WorldAtWar!

During this celebration of Australia’s Day, the World at War is proud to announce the publication of a selection of works from Down Under. While not large in number they are far ranging in subject and locale. From Garth we learn, most of us I’m sure, for the first time, of the Australian Ski Troops who were formed to oppose the powerful Vichy French forces in Syria. Moving on, Paul B. A., another contributor to our forum, has given us an excellent synopsis of the complicated command problems experienced by Australia as her forces served under a variety of British and U.S. commanders. Last, but certainly not least we are happy to publish for the first time anywhere, as complete a history of the development and deployment of Australian armor as exists anywhere on the web. This fine piece of writing will stand as a ready resource for future students of the Pacific Theatre whenever the subject is Australians at war. Please enjoy them with our compliments.


    Given the restraints imposed by the period under discussion on this website, 1918 to roughly 1948, we will not venture back to very earliest beginnings of Australian nationhood even less to it's aboriginal antecedents. That is not our mission here. Rather we wish in the most general way to introduce the reader to some of more salient features of the Australian experience by the use of this timeline. Not every important event is included and good men can differ on what is most important.

From the turn of the 20th century until 1914 nearly 400,000 people started a new life on the shores of Australia. No less than immigration trade was an important element in the national life of Australia. Raw materials comprised the bulk of the goods being exported. While Australia traded with many nations her main trading partners during the pre-war period were, in order of importance, Great Britain, United States, Japan and Germany.

It is certainly no exaggeration to say that the Australian nation was born on the battlefields of the Great War. Over 330,000 Australians will take a direct part in the war fighting for the first time as an Australian army rather than part of the British army on battlefields ranging from Palestine to the Gallipoli to the Western Front. World War One is the great turning point in Australian history after which she will forge her own road to destiny while maintaining her close ties with Great Britain.

At home the war will reveal fractures in the body politic. Debate will rage on the question of conscription versus volunteerism and on the proper method of financing the war. The financial needs will be met by a combination of War Bonds, higher taxes and increased printing of bank notes. On one hand the war serves to bring the nation together while on the other reveals deep differences in thought. As a consequence the political system will see the formation of distinct political parties such as the National Labor Party (split off from the Labor Party) and the Country Party. In the twenties the state will undertake many large scale projects and assume a mounting burden of debt. All important branches of the economy with the exception of wool depend on state subsidies financed by bonds floated on the London exchange. With the onset of the economic crises of 1929, Australia, like most of the rest of the developed world will enter a time of severe hardship. Unemployment will reach 25% and credit will be unattainable. As the crisis deepens the central and state governments will be forced to cut all expenses including wages and pensions by the drastic figure of 20%. For the first time immigration falls below that of emigration. While the economy will see a slight improvement through the 1930's, it is only the demands of the coming war with the Axis that will pull the nation back into harness. By 1942 the economy has been centralized with state budgets falling under the hand of the central government.

It is fair to say that many Australians felt let down by Great Britain's failure to live up to her security commitments in the Pacific Theater. As a result, Australia felt more as an independent nation than ever before. Looking for their own security rather than that of the Commonwealth, Menzies, once again Prime Minister, looked for closer ties with the United States and was instrumental in the formation and implementation of ANZUS treaty between the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

Global Timeline 18-48


1899 Britain’s colonial war with the Boers broke out in October. The Australian colonies are quick to offer army contingents.
1901 January 1 The "Commonwealth of Australia" is formed as a federation. This changes the status of the former British colonies to a united member of the British Commonwealth.
Due to rivalries between Sydney & Melbourne a site will be chosen for the new capital.
29 April An united Australian Parliament convened by proclamation at the Victorian House of State Parliament Melbourne. In attendance is His Excellency Earl Hopetoun Governor-General of Australia.
9 May The first united Australian Commonwealth Parliament opened with public rejoicing all-round by HRH Duke of Cornwall and York (later George V) at the Melbourne Exhibition Building, erected to house the Great (Empire) Exhibition of 1880.
Non-indigenous population Australia: 3,773,801 persons.
1902 Anglo-Japanese alliance.
Women’s suffrage adopted for Federal elections.
The Immigration Restriction, the ‘White Australia’ Act passed in Parliament.
1903 Deakin succeeds Barton as PM.
1904 First cabinet of the Labor party with John Christian Watson as PM.
1905 Deakin once again becomes PM, this time for the Labor party.
The Introduction of the "Arbitration Court" to solve tariff conflicts. Since only organisations are allowed to plead, this leads to the growth of the labor unions.
1906 Australia government gains sovereignty over the British territory of Papua, part of the New Guinea island.
1907 September 26 Australia becomes a Dominion.
1908 The United States ‘Great White’ Fleet visits Australia.
Introduction of mandatory ‘Old Age and Invalid Pension Act’.
Federal Parliament agrees to locate the capital near Yass, NSW.
Andrew Fisher becomes PM in the second Labor government.
1909 Britain accepts concept of separate Australian navy with the Empire.
Compulsory military training of youths enacted.
1911 Australia’s population 4,455,000 million persons, not including the Aborigines.
1912 Federal transcontinental railway work began to connect the state of Western Australia to the rest of the nation.
1913 October 4 The new Royal Australian Navy Squadron enters Sydney Harbour.
The new capital of Australia, the projected site, had the Governor-General of Australia lay the first foundation stone and Lady Denman gave the new place a name chosen by Federal Cabinet, Canberra.
1914 Norfolk Island becomes a territory of Australia, situated off the east coast.
August Australia enters the Great War alongside the British Empire.
Australia sends small expeditionary force to capture the German colonies in the southwest pacific and neutralise German naval wireless communications.
The PM Fisher pledges Australian support of the British Empire, "to the last man and the last shilling"
HMAS Sydney sinks the German raider Emden.
1915 April 25 Landing at Gallipoli.
1917 May The newly formed Nationalist Party wins the elections under W.M.Hughes
1918 July 4 Monash in command of an Australian Army.
1919 At the peace conference at Versailles, Australia demands the annexation of the former German colonies. It is granted a 'C class mandate for Papua & Bougainville.
Australia enters the League of Nations as a full member.
1921 First women elected to the Australian parliament.
Britain decides to build a naval base at Singapore.
1922 Federal cabinet supports PM Hughes in offering Australian troops for British security in Asia Minor.
1923 February S.M.Bruce becomes Prime minister and forms a coalition government with the Country Party.
Imperial Conference agrees the Dominions can appoint their own diplomatic representatives and negotiate treaties with foreign powers.
1926 Imperial Conference defines status of Britain and the Dominions.
1927 May 9 The Federal Office of Australian Government moves from Melbourne to Canberra. The Duke of York opens the Parliament House in the new federal capital.
1929 October The Wall Street crash.
A new government is formed by the Labor Party under James Henry Scullin. The party is split between the faction that demands deficit spending and the deflationist faction. In November Sculling puts up the protective tariff and cancelled the connection from the Australian currency to the Gold standard.
1930 April Restrictions on imports are introduced.
December 2 Sir Isaac Isaacs, Chief Justice of Australia, becomes the first Australian born Governor-General.
1931 June Central and state governments agree to cut all expenses (including wages and pensions) by 20%. In December, due to a vote of no-confidence new elections are called. J.A.Lyons wins and leads a coalition of the Country Party and the newly formed United Australia Party (former Natinalist Party with some conservative elements of the Labor Party).
The British government declares the political independence of the members of the Commonwealth. It is not ratified until 1942, which leaves the external policy of Australia entirely to Great Britain. Despite this, Australia builds up own diplomatical representations in many contries.
1932 March Sydney Harbour Bridge, a symbol of national pride attracts huge crowds for opening.
1933 January The international game of test cricket attracts political controversy with the ‘bodyline’ series.
The economy is slighly recovering.
1938 April Robert Menzies leads a diplomatic mission to Nazi Germany.
1939 April Robert Menzies becomes Australia's Prime Minister when Lyons dies. He will eventually become his nation's longest serving Prime minister.
September 3 When Great Britain declares war on Germany, the Dominions including Australia enter the war, too. PM Menzies words on a national wireless broadcast: "It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequences of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain had declared war upon her and that, as a result, Australia is also at war."
1940 Australia sends the second AIF to support British war effort in Europe, especially in the Western Desert of North Africa, Greece & Crete, on Cyprus and the Middle East.
December Wavell has the Australian 6th AIF Division assault Bardia.
1941 January 4 Tobruk falls to Australian infantry forces.
Australia sends ground forces to Malaya.
With the increase in Japanese power and influence in Southeast Asia Australia begins to feel pressured.
August -
A war coalition ‘no confidence’ in R.G.Menzies causes a change of leadership. After a short interlude of Arthur Fadden, John Curtain (Labor Party) eventually is appointed new PM.
October HMAS Sydney missing believed sunk.
December 7/8 Japan enters the war with devastating offensive actions throughout the Pacific Rim.
December 10 British battleship "Prince of Wales" and battle cruiser "Repulse" are sank by the Japanese Air Force off the coast of Malaya.
December 27 PM Curtain appeals to the United States.
1942 January 11 Japanese reconnaissance landings on New Guinea start a bloody campaign that will directly threaten the Australian homeland.
January 25 In the wake of total mobilization of Australia for the war effort the central government assumes control of all state budgets
February 7-15 Singapore falls to Japanese troops. General Percival capitulates with 70,000 men, among them the Australian AIF 8th Div.
May As a consequence of the battle in the Coral Sea the Japanese give up their plans for conquering the south of New Guinea with a naval landing force.
July A Japanese land force under Major General Horii tries to reach Port Moresby from Buna via land, using the Kokoda track. In two months of savage fighting the Australian defenders manage to stop him some 48 km short of Port Moresby. Horii falls back to Buna and digs in.
1943 January Buna & Gona fall to Australians after heavy fighting.
April - April 44 In a series of small, but severe battles combined Australia & US forces manoeuvre by land, sea & air and finally conquer the Japanese strongholds of Lae and Madang.
1944 April - June In operation "Hollandia" the US with Dutch cooperation capture the airstrips and supply bases of the Japanese army in northern New Guinea & West Irian Jaya, NEI, defeating the bulk of this army without further fighting.
1945 Australian forces inflict defeats on the Japanese cut off from their homeland islands, on Bougainville & New Guinea and in several selected amphibious landings on Borneo.
May 7 VE Day
An Australian contingent marches in the ceremonial Victory Day Parade in London past HRH George VI and the national flags of all Allied nations.
July Curtain dies while PM. Joseph Benedict Chifley becomes caretaker PM. He puts up an immigration program to draw immigrants from other European countries beside the traditional Great Britain and Ireland. The intent is to counter the newly independent and populous Asian countries like China, India or Indonesia.
August 15 VJ Day. Australia has suffered the loss of 30,000 dead in World War Two.
1946-47 Australia’s first term on the UN Security Council.
1948 September H.V.Evatt is elected President of the UN General Assembly.
November PM Chifley inspects the first Australian manufactured car at the GM-Holden plant in Melbourne.
1949 September Minister for Immigration Arthur Calwell welcomes the 100,000th migrant to Australia since the invitation was announced after the war. As a consequence of Chifley’s immigration program, roughly half a million immigrants arrive, mostly refugees from war-torn Italy and now communist dominated eastern Europe.
December With the Liberal Party winning the elections, Robert Menzies returns to the office of Prime Minister.

Global Timeline 18-48



  • Peter Dennis, et al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, Oxford University Press, Australia, Melbourne, 1995
  • G. Long, The Six Years War: Australia in the 1939 - 1945 War, Australian War Memorial Press, Canberra, 1973
  • J. Robertson, 1939 - 1945: Australia goes to War, Doubleday Australia, Sidney, 1984

    Other Sources

  • Dr. Karl Julius Ploetz, Der Grosse Ploetz, Verlag Ploetz Freiburg, 1986
  • Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, F.A. Brockhaus Mannheim, 1987

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