Second Australian Imperial Force

The Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) was the name given to the volunteer units of the Australian Army in World War II. The 2nd AIF was formed, from 1939 onwards, to fight overseas: most army units were Militia (reserve) units and under Australian law at the time, Militia troops could serve only in Australia, or its overseas territories. The 2nd AIF fought mostly against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Japanese Empire.

The 2nd AIF's main strength consisted of four divisions raised in 1939–40: the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th. Major General Thomas Blamey was officially the first commander of the 2nd AIF, although in reality divisions rarely fought together at the operational level, and individual brigades or battalions were deployed in different theatres.

From late 1940, the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions, as the Australian I Corps under Blamey, faced Italian, German and/or Vichy French forces in the Middle East, Greece, and/or North Africa. The 6th Division exerienced many casualties in mainland Greece, and on Crete, and 3,000 of its personnel were taken prisoner in the Greek campaign. The 7th Division and other Australian units formed the body of the Allied invasion of Lebanon and Syria in 1941.

In 1941, the 1st Armoured Division began to be raised as part of the AIF.

Prior to war with Japan, most of the 8th Division was sent to Malaya to strengthen the garrison; the remaining battalions were deployed in the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea. Consequently, most of the division was lost at the Fall of Singapore in February 1942. The divisional commander, Maj. Gen. Henry Gordon Bennett created an enduring controversy by escaping, while 15,000 of his men were taken prisoner. The 6th and 7th Divisions were recalled to take part in the Pacific War. Elements of the 6th were temporarily diverted to garrison Ceylon for a few months.

Elements of the 7th Division were sent immediately to the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea, reinforcing a few 8th division units. Thousands of Australians were taken prisoner when Java, Ambon and Timor fell, although some continued guerrilla operations for many months. However, the bulk of the 7th Division was deployed in support of Militia battalions engaged in a rearguard action on the Kokoda Track in New Guinea, which was an Australian territory at the time. The 7th Division was also responsible for the breakthrough victory over Japanese land forces at the Battle of Milne Bay in August 1942.

Elements of the 1st Armoured Division first saw action in late 1942, in New Guinea. The 6th and 7th Divisions, with elements of the 1st Armoured, formed a large part of the Allied forces which destroyed the major Japanese beachhead in New Guinea, at the Battle of Buna-Gona. An embryonic 10th Division was disbanded due to heavier than expected losses in other units.

The 9th Division remained in North Africa under Maj. Gen. Leslie Morshead and distinguished itself at the Battles of Tobruk and El Alamein, until victory over Rommel was assured, and returned to Australia in 1943. Later that year it was pitched into battle against Japanese forces in New Guinea. By 1944, the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions had been reunited at the operational level.

General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander in the South West Pacific, was criticised for his use of Australian forces. Although he had initially depended on the Australian Army for all of his ground forces, MacArthur deployed them in secondary assignments during 1943-45, where they often fought what many considered to be pointless battles. The campaigns in Bougainville, Sarawak, British Borneo, Brunei and on other islands in the region are said to be examples of this.

Australian prisoners of war, like other Allied prisoners of the Japanese, were often held in extremely inhumane conditions, such as Changi prison, or in Japan itself. Some were subject to forced labour, including the Burma Railway, or forced long distance marches, such as on Sandakan.

A planned invasion of the Japanese home island of Honshu in 1946, Operation Coronet, would almost certainly have included an "Australian 10th Division", made up of experienced personnel from the existing divisions. However, the use of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki meant that Japan surrendered before the invasion took place. Most of the AIF personnel were demobilised by the end of 1946.

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