Honouring those who defended Australia during the Second World War

Wednesday, September 1 2021

The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel

Today marks Battle for Australia Day when we pause to remember the bravery of the thousands of Australians who defended our country from direct attack by the Japanese during the Second World War and in campaigns to our nation’s north.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Andrew Gee said these attacks brought the war to Australia’s doorstep and posed a real threat to the Australian people.

Land, air and sea battles were fought against the Japanese as they advanced through the islands to the north including the Dutch East Indies, Papua and New Guinea as well as the Coral Sea.

This was the first time in the history of European settlement that the Australian mainland came under attack. On the morning of 19 February 1942, Darwin and its 2,000 civilian residents came under attack from 188 Japanese aircraft, with the city suffering devastating casualties.

Around 250 Australians and other nationals were killed on that day, and further lives were lost as the Japanese air raids continued across northern Australia in 1942 and 1943.

Bombing raids were sustained from Townsville and the Torres Strait in the east, to Port Headland, Broome and Derby in the west.

On 1 June 1942, Sydney was also placed on the front line when HMAS Kuttabul was sunk in the harbour following an attack by Japanese midget submarines. This resulted in the tragic deaths of 19 Australian and two British sailors. Just one week later, Newcastle was also shelled by a Japanese submarine on 8 June 1942.

During the Pacific war, Australians fought in treacherous conditions and jungle terrain along the Kokoda Track as the Japanese attempted to advance south towards Port Moresby.

The six month battle fought along this mountainous trail resulted in victory for Australia, despite the Japanese being almost in sight of Port Moresby.

Australia’s losses were heavy with more than 2,165 killed alongside 930 Americans who died during the fighting in Papua.

Critical battles including the Battle of the Coral Sea, Milne Bay and the Kokoda Track helped turn the tide in the Pacific war, with the Battle of Milne Bay recognised as one of the first Allied land victories against the Japanese.

In March 1943, Australia joined our US allies in a strike force to repeatedly attack a convoy of 16 Japanese ships carrying essential supplies and reinforcements. The two day Battle of the Bismarck Sea resulted in Australian and US forces sinking and damaging the enemy’s ships in what was to be the last occasion the Japanese attempted to reinforce their military operations in Papua.

At a time when our nation was under direct threat, thousands of Australian men and women served and protected our shores from invasion.

The Australian War Memorial estimates that in the Second World War 3,000 to 4,000 Indigenous Australians enlisted to serve.

As we mark this anniversary it is important to recognise that the families of serving Australians should never be forgotten, and those who were left to experience the grief and unimaginable trauma of losing loved ones who fought to secure Australia’s freedom.

Almost one million Australians served, overseas and at home, during the Second World War and over 39,000 Australians lost their lives. We will always remember their courage and selfless sacrifice in the defence of our nation.

Australians commemorate the Battle for Australia Day on the first Wednesday of September each year.

For more information on the Battle for Australia Day and the stories of veterans who served, go to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Anzac Portal.

Media contacts

Minister Gee’s office: 0459 966 944
DVA Media: 02 6289 6466
Office of the Hon. Andrew Gee, Canberra ACT.

Open Arms — Veterans and Families Counselling provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546) or visit www.OpenArms.gov.au