Thousands of Australian soldiers saw combat in a series of battles in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Their service is less well known as it has tended to be overshadowed by the later battles in New Guinea and the Pacific.
History Guild has created a public education project, supported by the Victorian Veterans Council, to increase awareness of the vital part that Australian’s played in this theatre of WW2.
We have published articles, podcasts, videos and an eBook that tell some of the incredible stories from this time. You can find them all below.
While serving within the Royal Australian Navy as a Signals Officer, Captain Hector MacDonald Laws Waller served with distinction aboard several warships of the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Navy during both the First World War and the Second World War. Having graduated from the fledgling Royal Australian Naval College during the First World War, his posting would be to the Royal Navy Battleship HMS Agincourt, and would predominately perform escort duties for the duration of the war.
Thousands of Australian soldiers saw combat in a series of battles in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Their service is less well known as it has tended to be overshadowed by the later battles in New Guinea and the Pacific. History Guild has created and published this eBook which tells the stories of the determination, resilience, bravery and sacrifice of the Australians who served in the Mediterranean theatre of the Second World War. It is available as a free download below.
The Battle of Crete saw around 40,000 Allied troops, including over 6,500 Australians, defending against a German airborne invasion. The Allies fought valiantly, but were eventually overcome by the German paratroopers. However, they inflicted such severe casualties on the Germans that they never again used their airborne forces on a large scale.
During the 1st Battle of El Alamein the 9th Australian Division was tasked with the capture of Ruin Ridge. Despite heavy fighting during the opening stages they achieved some of their objectives, but their successes obliged General Rommel to divert large numbers of troops to contain the Australian advance. The fighting then became desperate, leading to heavy casualties and the near decimation of one battalion.
The 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment were the first unit of the AIF to see action in the Western Desert in 1940. This is their story.
Reading time: 8 minutes
One of the more impressive feats of arms during the second World War was the way in which the people of Crete fought a guerrilla campaign against the German occupation force. With help from the allies, the Cretans — men, women and even children — fought a brutal and bloody campaign against the invader. In this article, we look at what happened through the eyes of some of the people who participated, Cretan, British and Australian.
Anyone looking at the old, small and slow destroyer group would think the same. Soon, however, the Axis and the rest of the world would learn just how formidable it was. The ‘Scrap Iron Flotilla’ and those who manned it proved just how much grit, determination and valour can achieve.
There were six Australian VC recipients during the Mediterranean and North African Campaigns of the second world war. From the heroics of Lt. Roden Cutler in Damour, Corporal Edmondson of the Desert Rats defending Tobruk in 1941 to Sgt. Kibby with his tommy-gun in El Alamein. Learn more about Australian gallantry in the Deserts of North Africa.
Operation Exporter was a little known, but very important campaign for the Australian military. It involved Australian’s fighting a strange war against confused Frenchmen who were not supposed to be our enemy. France had been defeated and subjugated by the Germans. The new French government, installed at Vichy, was answerable to the Führer. With France vanquished, the fate of their territories in Syria and Lebanon became uncertain.
As the Allied armies fought across North Africa, first against the Italians and then the Vichy French and Rommel’s Afrika Korps, one squadron of the RAAF was there from the beginning. No. 3 Squadron was the first RAAF squadron to leave Australia and played an important part in many of the important battles from 1940 to 1943 across North Africa, Tunisia and Sicily.
Reading time: 8 minutes
Wherever they fought in the Second World War, Australian troops acquitted themselves well. They escaped the clutches of the Afrika Korps in the Benghazi handicap and soon after helped hold back Rommel at the second battle of El Alamein. Even certain defeat couldn’t stop Australian troops, like in Crete, where they and their New Zealand counterparts fought a rearguard action that delayed the German war effort considerably.
Reading time: 8 minutes
The battle of El Alamein in late 1942 was the turning point for the North African campaign, which saw the fighting rage back and forth between Libya and Egypt. As with most of the battles in the region, Australians played a vital role in the eventual Allied victory. In this article, we go over their experiences during this pivotal battle.
Reading time: 7 minutes
The North African campaigns during the Second World War have a reputation for being “clean” wars, free from the atrocities we see when studying the Eastern front or the Pacific theatre. However, when we look a little more closely, we can see this romanticized image is a little tarnished in places; we’ll take a look at what the historical record can tell us, as well as some details shared by Australian veterans of the conflict.
Reading time: 3 minutes
History Guild is supporting a conference examining the part played by Australian’s in the Mediterranean theatre of WW2. This conference is presented by Military History & Heritage Victoria in Melbourne, Australia on the 9th and 10th of April 2022. It will be held in person and features a conference dinner on the 9th of April. History Guild is subsidising conference registration fees for students and early career researchers. This will allow more history students to study and research this important part of Australian history.
Reading time: 19 minutes
It began, as it sometimes does, with an old photograph.
Three men dressed in khaki uniforms standing in front of an exotic facade in some distant land. The man in the middle – hands in pockets, slouch hat tilted at a jaunty 45 degree angle – is my uncle.
Reading time: 9 minutes
The North African campaigns of WW2 were two years of back and forth action across Libya and Egypt, with offensives, counteroffensives and sieges throughout and Australians in the thick of it. When the end eventually came to this seesaw action at El Alamein in 1942, again it was Australians who held the day; in this article we’ll see this pivotal battle through their eyes.
Retreat doesn’t always mean defeat, sometimes it can be a victory to withdraw in good order and deny your enemy a total victory. This is was the outcome for the allied forces in Greece during April 1941, thanks in part to textbook rear-guard actions fought by Australian units, which allowed 50,732 men to escape the grasp of the advancing superior Axis force. But why were Australian units involved in Greece in the first place?
ESCAPE FROM GREECE – PODCAST This podcast episode tells the story of Shanghai born John Robin Greaves, ‘Jack’, who emigrated to Australia in 1939 and volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force to serve overseas. The army would send Jack to the Middle East, then to Greece, where he would be captured Germans along with thousands of other […]
Reading time: 12 minutes
The Nahr al-Kalb, or ‘Dog River’, meets the Mediterranean Sea just north of Beirut, after meandering thirty kilometres downstream from its wellspring in the Lebanon range. A four-lane highway overpass runs along this stretch of coast, and tentacles of concrete obscure the river mouth. The strip of land to the north and south has been reclaimed from the sea. It’s a flat, featureless stretch of windblown sand and garbage. In ancient times, though, the view was very different. The steep riverbanks dropped straight into the ocean, and the Lycus, as the river was then known, was a significant obstacle to conquering armies.
AUSTRALIA’S WAR WITH FRANCE: THE CAMPAIGN IN SYRIA AND LEBANON, 1941 – PODCAST Operation Exporter was a little known, but very important campaign for the Australian military. It involved Australian’s fighting a strange war against confused Frenchmen who were not supposed to be our enemy. France had been defeated and subjugated by the Germans. The […]
The Benghazi handicap is the name Australian soldiers gave to their race to stay ahead of the German Afrika Korps in Libya, 1941. They won the race, but the reward was just to be besieged in the city of Tobruk for 241 days, the longest siege in British military history. In this article, we use the words of veterans themselves to describe these events, and how the Rats of Tobruk experienced the siege.
Just over 80 years ago, Australian forces fought their first major battle of World War II. Bardia, a small town on the coast of Libya, some 30 km from the Egyptian border, was an Italian stronghold. The Australian troops occupied Bardia, defeating the Italians in a little over 3 days. Australian veteran, Phillip Wortham, simply […]
This project commemorating the service by Victorians in the Mediterranean theatre of WW2 was supported by the Victorian Government and the Victorian Veterans Council. Sign up to the newsletter at the bottom of the page to be notified when the next article in this project is released.