Overview: Australian Operational Theatres in WW1
In 1914, Australia’s Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, immediately promised Australian support for Britain ‘to the last man and the last shilling’. Australian troops were subsequently deployed in three main operational theatres: The Dardanelles, the Western Front, and the Middle East. The Australian population in 1914 was less than five million. A summary of the numbers of those who served and of the numbers of deaths and other casualties makes it clear that Australia made a major sacrifice for the Allied war effort:
- Enlisted and served overseas: 324,000
- Dead: 61,720
- Wounded: 155,000 (all services)
- Prisoners of war: 4,044 (397 died while captive)
In September – November 1914 Australians defended Papua New Guinea, Nauru and Samoa. Early operation involved the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force and the major offensives included Rabaul, Toma and Bismarck Archipelago.
In 1915 Australians became involved in an Anglo-French campaign at Gallipoli to ease Turkish pressure on Britain’s ally, Russia. Members of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) landed at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915, about 300km south-west of Constantinople (Istanbul). Many came ashore on 25 April 1915 at what became known as Anzac Cove and established a tenuous hold on the steep slopes above the beach. The most successful operation of the campaign was the evacuation which ended on 19-20 December 1915, conducted under a well-planned deception operation. The eight-month-long campaign cost more than 26,000 Australian causalities, including some 8,700 deaths.
The Western Front
Following the Gallipoli campaign, a large part of the AIF transferred from Egypt to the Western Front in France and Belgium. Their first major battle was on 19 July 1916 at Fromelles. The aim was to prevent the Germans sending reinforcements to the Somme but the attack was a complete failure and within 24 hours the AIF had suffered more than 5,000 casualties, and was forced to retreat. In 1917 a further 76,000 Australians became casualties in battles at Bullecourt, Messines, and the four-month campaign of the 3rd Battle of Ypres in 1917 (commonly known as the ‘Battle of Passchendaele’). The Allies launched a major offensive in August 1918, beginning 100 days of operations that ended with the Armistice on the 11th November 1918.
The Middle East
In 1916 Australian troops participated in the defence of the Suez Canal and the reconquest of the Sinai Peninsula. The following year, Australian troops advanced into Palestine and assisted in the capture of Beersheba, Gaza and Jerusalem. By 1918, along with the rest of Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force, they had occupied Lebanon and Syria, and on 30 October 1918 Turkey sued for peace.