About The War in the Pacific (1941-1945)
From the inception of World War II in 1939, Australian troops had been deployed to North Africa, the Middle East and Europe to fight alongside their European allies, especially the British, in combating the axis powers of Germany and Italy. On 7 December 1941 Japan provoked war in a new theatre, launching a brutal attack on Pearl Harbor, disabling much of the American naval force and aircraft in the region, and drawing the US and its allies, including Australia, into a War in the Pacific. Japanese forces proceeded to surge through the Pacific and by the beginning of 1942 they had captured Guam, Wake Island, Hong Kong, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, Singapore and Burma.
When this War in the Pacific began, the majority of Australian troops were still deployed in North Africa and the Middle East, leaving the Australian mainland vulnerable to attack. This vulnerability was further exacerbated when the vast majority of the Australian 8th Division was captured or killed by Japanese forces during the fall of Singapore and Malaysia. Prime Minster John Curtin demanded that the Australian 7th Division return home to aid in the defence of the nation and, despite British Prime Minister Winston Churchill insisting that they be deployed to Burma, Australian troops began to arrive home in late February 1942.
Image: State Library of Queensland South West Pacific Campaign Memorial, Anzac Square, Brisbane
During the War in the Pacific, six Australian divisions, supported by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), played a crucial role in repelling Japanese forces. Australian troops were particularly well known for their efforts in the Papua New Guinea campaigns of 1942: Kokoda and Milne Bay. In late 1944, Australian forces took over American bases in Bougainville and New Britain; their aim was to defeat the large number of Japanese forces that remained in the area. Australia’s largest campaigns of World War II took place in 1945 when troops launched three military actions against Japanese positions in Borneo, Labuan-Brunei Bay and Balikpapan.
Fighting in the Pacific brought the war to Australia’s doorstop and the nation faced the genuine threat of invasion by an external aggressor. In fact, the Australian mainland, domestic airspace, offshore islands and coastal shipping were attacked 97 times by Japanese aircraft during this conflict. The fear of invasion was prevalent throughout the country, leading to coastline fortifications, the construction of air raid shelters and the establishment of various civic defence organisations, such as the Volunteer Defence Corps and the Welfare Organisation of Queensland. Women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers taking up civil occupations, which allowed more men to enlist and ensured society continued to function. Australia also became home to almost one million American servicemen as the government forged a new military alliance with the United States.
By 1945, Japanese forces had suffered several significant defeats, including in the South West Pacific, the Marianas Campaign and the Philippines campaign. Their Navy, merchant shipping and Air Force had largely been destroyed. The allied naval blockade of Japan and intensive bombings of Japanese cities had also crippled its people and economy. On 6 and 9 August 1945, the United States detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cites of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in the deaths of between 129,000 and 226,000 people and widespread destruction. On 15 August 1945 the official hostilities of World War II came to a close when the Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced the unconditional surrender of Imperial Japan.
Almost one million Australians served in the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during World War II, with 500,000 of these individuals involved in overseas campaigns. The casualty rate for Australians during World War II was staggering. By the conclusion of the war 39,429 Australians had perished and another 66,563 had been wounded. The War in the Pacific accounted for 17,000 of these deaths. An additional 22,000 Australians were taken as prisoners of war by Japanese forces, with 8,000 of these individuals dying in captivity.
1945 VP Day Celebrations: The War is Over
On 15 August 1945 Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley announced on radio that Japan had unconditionally surrendered to allied forces. After three years of brutal fighting the War in the Pacific was finally over. This day, which has become known as VP Day, was marked with jubilant celebrations across the nation as citizens looked towards a future free of conflict and fear of invasion. To manage celebrations authorities closed pubs, as they had on VE Day. However, this did not dissuade individuals from partying, with crowds gathering in streets and strangers dancing together, including in front of the Criterion Hotel in Brisbane and Anzac Square.
Celebrations took place throughout Queensland, including a Victory Fair held in Bundaberg and a peace procession in Chinchilla. Feelings of joy and relief were particularly apparent in Brisbane where many of the Pacific Campaign operations had been based. Flags and streamers were used to decorate Heindorff House on Queen Street, where the Allied Intelligence Bureau was based. The following day 60,000 civilians packed the streets of Brisbane’s CBD to watch 9,000 service personnel take part in the “Victory March”. A special civic thanksgiving service was also held in King George Square that evening with thousands in attendance, entertained by fireworks and music from the Salvation Army’s Brisbane City Temple Band.