Enlistment / Embarkation WW2
World War 2 did not break out unheralded. The resurgence of Germany under Hitler had begun in earnest in 1933. The in rapid succession, its territorial ambitions in Alsace-Lorraine (French border) "Sudetenland" in Czechoslovakia and the Munich Crisis were a portent of war. When Nazi Germany invaded Poland, they pulled the trigger for the British declaration of War, followed immediately by Australia and the rest of the Commonwealth, initiating global conflict for the second time in just 25 years.
Australia, and the rest of the Western World, was not well prepared for War. Almost by definition it is only the aggressors who ever are well preapred. Its military forces had been run down and everyone seemed to have hoped, if not believed, that war might be averted.
With war in Europe declared, attention was turned to raising the forces required. Some had a weather eye on Japan, an Ally in the First World War, but now it was engaged in an imperialist conflict of its own creation in Manchurai and China since 1936. Most ominously, it had entered into an Alliance with Germany and Italy, becoming the so-called Axis Powers.
As a result of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, on 3 September 1939 Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced on national radio that Australia was also at war.
The Universal Training Scheme had been suspended 10 years earlier and Australia’s regular army was only 3000 men; an Instructional Corps to support and train the Militia or CMF. The CMF stood at 80,000, but it had a poor reputation and was under-equipped and inadequately trained by contemporary standards.
The Royal Australian Air Force had 3500 men, though it lacked effective aircraft. Its newest aircraft, state of the art Short Sunderland Flying Boats, were being accepted for service in the United Kingdom when war broke out, and in the end they remained tthere for most of the war playing a key role in the Battle for the Atlantic.
The Royal Australian Navy had 5400 regulars and although its ships were few – effectively two heavy cruisers and four light cruisers, plus some older destroyers and sloops - the major ships were relatively modern.
On 20 October 1939 Menzies announced the reintroduction of compulsory military training, known as the Universal Service Scheme, to commence from 1 January 1940 for 'eligible males'. The arrangements required unmarried men turning 21 to undertake three months’ training with the CMF.
Once again, there was to be no conscription for service beyond Australia and its territories. Crucially, that included Australian territories in Papua and New Guinea.
Opposition Leader John Curtin, who had also opposed conscription during the First World War, voiced his party’s opposition to the move. He was also opposed to overseas service, even for volunteers.
Conscription was limited to the Militia. The 2nd AIF, RAAF and RAN remained volunteer services throughout.
The Second AIF
At the same time, the government raised a new volunteer army for service overseas. This was the Second AIF.
It was the result of a concerted recruitment campaign, though with unemployment being so high, the government had little trouble filling the ranks.
In effect this created two armies. The Second AIF considered itself to be elite, (which given most of them had either militia or no previous military training at all, was at that point, baseless) describing the CMF troops as either ‘chocolate soldiers’ (who would melt in the heat of battle) or ‘koalas’ (protected animals that could be neither shot at nor exported). Excellent examples of the petty parochialism at which Australians, particularly in the context of interstate rivalry, excel.
By the time Japan entered the war in in December 1941, the entire AIF was overseas, with the 6th 7th and 9th Divisions in the Middle East. The 8th Division was ultimately destroyed in the catastrophic Malaya Singapore campaign, with most of its men going into captivity. The 6th and 7th and much later the 9th Divisions were brought home, but ultimately it was the 'chockos' who held the Japanese advance on the Kokoda Track in 1942 until relieved by 2nd AIF Brigades as they returned from the Middle East. 'Chockos indeed'. This wholly unnecessary division caused a schism in the Army that has persisted into the 21st Century.
Concurrently the minimum age for conscription was lowered to 18, and the Army's ranks swelled dramatically. Ultimately most young Australian men were drafted at 18 into the militia from where tens of thousands transferred to the 2nd AIF, the RAAF and even to the RAN. Later in the war the definition of where the Militia could serve was expanded and ultimately militia units fought throughout the SW Pacific area, with many of the men being 'enlisted' into the 2nd AIF in the field and remaining with their militia units, which ultimately served overseas contrary to the original intent of conscription, but bowing to necessity.
The Empire Air Training Scheme
It is said that the Army 'equips the man' and the Navy and Airforce 'man equipment'. Both are inherently 'technical' services and that demands intensive training to take a civilian to a comptetent combat airman or sailor. That requires time, equipment and facilities on a huge scale. The British had foreseen that in the event of war with Germany, it would lose the numbers game in the air. The solution was to draw on the young men of its Empire in one of the most visionary and successful mobilisation schemes in history; The Empire Air Training Scheme.
Established in 1940, training facilities sprang up all over the UK, Canada and Australia in particular as well as Rhodesia, South Africa, and New Zealand. Australia alone produced 27,000 trained aircrew in just over four years of operation of the scheme.
More to follow........