My hypothesis is that Australia does not follow a “tradition of impulsive involvement in international conflict regardless of the nation’s state of preparedness”. Australia had extremely close ties with Britain and felt a duty to the “mother land” which it fulfilled twice following the out break of two major conflicts. It was bound by foreign policy to enter WW1and WW2 and to fight to defend the empire. In our next major conflict, Vietnam, Australia gave support to America due to our eagerness for them to stop the spread of communism.
In all involvements Australia’s military earnt a fine reputation, and until Vietnam, enjoyed considerable support from home. Australia’s military manpower at the time was not strong, but when WW1 began people rushed to enlist and go on an adventure. It has been recorded that Australia prepared for only six weeks for the expected outbreak of WW1, however this is not true. Australia began planning and preparing for the out break of war (expected to start in 1915), in June 1911, after a conference in London.
The Australian Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, gave an assurance that an Australian expeditionary force would be ready to fight with Britain in the opening battles of the war. Australia’s first contingent of 12 000 men, was extremely well prepared. It was said that “No troops ever went to the front more generously equipped than the Australian first contingent” (Mordake, 1992:xvi). This was the product of the 3 years of planning and preparing. All of the above was kept secret from the public, due to the opposition it was feared it might cause in Australia.
As a cover story for the preparation, the government said it was all necessary to defend Australia from Japan, no mention was made of the looming crisis in Europe. The Australians’ resourcefulness and frontier qualities made them top class fighters. As desert fighters the Australian Light Horse were excellent, and had no equal. In fact it is commonly said that, apart from Gallipoli, wherever Australian troops went they conquered. They were responsible for breaking the Western front and putting Turkey out of the war by controlling the desert. Back in Australia, home guard units were not properly outfitted.
Commonly they did not have enough ammunition, boots or uniforms. Unfortunately between the wars Australia’s military standards were allowed to slip. The tactics of trench warfare (WW1) were superceded by evolving warfare tactics in WW2. Britain remained convinced that an army should be based on infantry, using tanks, cavalry and artillery only as support and between the wars continued teaching these tactics. Unfortunately this meant Australia also continued to teach these outdated tactics. At the start of WW2, Australia realised that it did not have an effective defence policy.
As a result of this, Australia’s defence was taken into consideration when conceiving new foreign and other policies. Lack of funding meant the new army was in trouble. The Australian army had only weapons and equipment from WW1, which were seriously outdated and lacked the latest technologies. Australia was badly prepared for the out break of another world war. It is for this reason that the Australian government of the day increased the defence budget by 62. 5 million pounds ($128 million), a huge amount at the time. The RAAF, (Royal Australian Air Force), suffered much the same problem.
They were equipped with old planes from WW1, and badly needed new, more advanced planes. On a brighter note the RAN, (Royal Australian Navy), was well funded and outfitted. The militia forces, men who joined and went straight to the front were under trained and under equipped. The Australian regular infantry were well trained, and consequently had many victories over Italy and Japan. Capturing 1,000’s of useable weapons and vehicles along with taking 100,000’s of prisoners. Leading into WW1 and right through to the start of WW2 Australia did not have a foreign policy distinct from that of the imperial government in London.
Basically Australia’s foreign policy was the same as Britain’s. Our foreign policy was composed mostly in London under British supervision. Australia also did most of our military exercises and operations with Britain. When the Labour Party came to power in the 1940’s, Australia’s foreign policy was changed. Prime Minister John Curtin wanted a more independent foreign policy than the previous one, one designed for Australia by Australia. When drafting a new foreign policy at least three main points were taken into consideration. These were; the international status of Australia; internationalism and relations with the nations of Asia.
Defence was a major issue in the new policy along with other things, such as economics. Even with a new foreign policy Australia still had strong ties with Britain. This included declaring war when Britain did and entering hostilities. WW2 greatly shaped the new foreign policy. During WW2 Australia unofficially turned to a new “great and powerful friend”, America, for support instead of Britain – as Britain was fighting for survival with Germany in Europe. This shift in dependancy was strengthened when Britain proved incapable of holding the Japanese threat with the loss of ‘fortress’ Singapore.
This was a monumental victory for Japan and a massive defeat for Britain. After losing Singapore much of the Allied Nations confidence was lost, and much of Australia’s confidence in Britain was lost. Following WW2 Australia and New Zealand signed the ANZUS Pact with America in 1951. This stemmed from our fear of growing communism and our unease of being the only European settled country in Asia. ANZUS led to Australia having some involvement in the Korean conflict. Commitment to anti communism activities in Malaysia and Borneo followed before our increasing commitment to the anti-communist Vietnam conflict under the Menzies government.
When WW1 broke out Australia rushed to help Britain. The populace was very enthusiastic and overwhelming support for the war was given. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher said we will help to our “last man and our last shilling” The fact that Australia, although not public knowledge, had been preparing for 3 years for the war is proof we, as a nation, were ready for the conflict. The Australians sympathised with Belgium (as it was small with a small military and the first country Germany invaded) and a deep hatred of Germany developed.
They wanted to fight and, although physical standards were very high, over 50 000 men enlisted very quickly – some coming hundreds of miles, walking or riding. When the conscription vote was taken the citizens voted no. The realisation that it was not a game or an adventure and people were killed, changed the public’s attitude to war. Yet many men still enlisted to fight for their country and the “mother land”. At the start of WW2 the people agreed that they should fight to help Britain and stop Germany for the second time.
Much support was given to the war effort and many of the local merchant ships were converted to help transport troops to and from battle. As the war progressed more and more support was given – after hearing about the victories over Italy, Germany and eventually Japan. The nation was ready for the conflicts in Europe and with Japan. Each time the Australian’s fought valiantly and were labelled heroes. In Australia the people gave support and did a fine job in producing all the equipment and necessities needed for the war effort and consequently our nation played a significant role in the Allied war effort in every conflict they took part in.