A Chronology of Australian Armed Forces at War 1939-45

By Bruce T. Swain | Go to book overview

badges issued the numbers of those who were known to have died overseas, and by making other adjustments:

In the war against Germany and Italy, ships of the Royal Australian Navy served in the Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and in the North, Mediterranean, Aegean, Caribbean and Red Seas. Involved were 2 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 12 destroyers, 2 sloops and 9 corvettes; additionally, men of the RAN manned the armed merchant cruiser Kanimbla, although she operated as a unit of the Royal Navy.

The cruiser HMAS Sydney achieved the first notable success against the Italian Navy when she crippled the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni in July 1940; she also sank an Italian destroyer, a tanker, and a convoy of 4 merchant ships. Light cruiser HMAS Perth and 5 destroyers were involved in the evacuations of Greece and Crete, and no fewer than 9 RAN ships played an integral part in keeping the Tobruk garrison supplied during the siege, making a total of 139 trips on the 'Tobruk Ferry'.

By the end of 1941 all the RAN ships had been withdrawn from European and Mediterranean theatres, but 4 destroyers returned briefly to the Mediterranean in 1942 and 9 corvettes supported the Allied landings on Sicily in 1943.

Three ships—destroyers Nestor and Waterhen and sloop Parramatta—were lost in the Mediterranean, while Sydney was sunk by a German disguised raider in the Indian Ocean. All the other ships that fought against Germany and Italy subsequently fought in the war against Japan.

The Australian Army sent three AIF divisions—the 6th, 7th and 9th—to the Middle East, and between December 1940 and November 1942 these divisions played a vital part in all the land operations of that period.

The 6th Division took part in the capture of Bardia, Tobruk, Derna and Benghazi between December 1940 and February 1941, then fought in the ill-fated campaigns in Greece and Crete where it suffered heavy casualties. The 7th Division was the major force in the successful campaign against the Vichy French in Syria in June and July 1941, and it was mainly the 9th Division that successfully held Tobruk during the most perilous months of the siege from April to August 1941. The 9th then played a major role in blunting Rommel's offensive at El Alamein in July 1942, and then contributed greatly to the final victory over the Germans and Italians in November 1942.

In the European and Mediterranean theatres, 26 RAAF squadrons were involved in all types of operations—fighter, army co-operation, strategic bombing, anti-submarine and

-xiv-

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