Number of Soldiers: 3,854
Number of Fallen: 134
Number of Medal Holders: 60
The Australian Army in World War II was built and organized similarly to the British Army, and based on 3 arms.
Close to a million Australians fought in World War II, against Germany and Italy in various Theatres in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, and against Japan in Southeast Asia and in other parts of the Pacific Ocean.
The Australian continent proper first endured direct attacks by the Japanese when Japanese planes bombed targets and population centers in Northwestern Australia and Japanese midget-submarines attacked Sidney Harbor.
Like the rest of the Allied Forces, Australian Army forces fought under British (in North Africa and Europe) or American command (in the Pacific Ocean).
Australia declared war on Germany right after Britain, in September, 1939, but it took some time until Australian forces started taking part in the battles.
The fighters aboard ships of the Australian Navy were the first to enter combat when they were sent to operate in the Mediterranean Theatre within the framework of the British Navy, and they participated in operations against Italy, which had already joined the war in June of 1940, and later on also against the Germans. Squadrons of the Australian Air-Force participated in the “Battle of Britain” in the months of August and September of the same year.
The Australian Army entered combat in 1941, when an Australian expeditionary force was sent to fight overseas and arrived in Egypt as Australian 1 Corps (while the Homeland’s Army remained in Australia). It included the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions that joined Allied Forces’ operations in the Mediterranean and North African Theatres.
After initial success against the Italian Army in Libya, the 6th Division was sent to Crete and the 7th Division to Syria. The 9th Division stayed in Tobruk.
In the campaigns in Greece, in Crete and in North Africa the Australians (together with the other Allies) suffered defeats at the hands of the Germans.
In July, 1941, the Australians participated in the successful invasion of Syria and Lebanon, which were under a Vichy French – and German Ally – Mandatory Government (Operation Exporter).
Between April and August, 1941, 14,000 Australians were held under siege in the city of Tobruk, facing repeated attacks by the Germans, who, after bypassing the city on their way to Egypt, were determined to conquer it.
Following the start of the war in the Far East it was decided to transfer the 6th and 7th Divisions from the Mediterranean Theatre to the fighting against Japan. The 9th Division stayed behind and took an important part in the battle of El Alamein in October, 1942, before it too transferred to fight in the Pacific Ocean Theatre. The only Australians who remained to fight in the Mediterranean Theatre at the end of 1942 were air crews serving in either the British or the Australian Air-Force.
The Japanese offensive that started in December, 1941, and continued until March, 1942, began with a series of swift victories, whose outcome was the conquest of Southeast Asia in its entirety and extensive parts in the Pacific Ocean.
Malaya and Singapore fell in February, together with the Australian 8th Division that surrendered to the Japanese.
After the Japanese bombing of Darwin Harbor in Northern Australia all ships of the Australian Navy were ordered to leave the Mediterranean Theatre and return home to defend the homeland, which faced the real danger of a Japanese invasion.
Under the circumstances, the Australian Government decided to declare a widening of Army and Air-Force ranks and to mobilize the entire national, economic and industrial potentials and bind them to the war effort.
During the battles in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), part of the 7th Division that has just arrived from the Mediterranean Theatre was taken prisoner.
The Japanese expansion was halted in March, 1942, after the occupation of Indonesia, something that somewhat calmed Australian fears of a perceived invasion. This feeling was strengthened when the United States assumed responsibility for the defense of Australia and began sending reinforcements and supply.
General Blamey, who was Commander of the Australian 1 Corps, was appointed Commander of MacArthur’s Ground Forces and he now organized the forces for the defense of Australia in 2 Armies, which were established and based primarily on the Homeland’s Army (Militia Divisions and the 6th and 7th Divisions), and on American forces that started arriving to this continent.
The threat of invasion was diminished with the Allies’ initial success in the battles to halt the Japanese in the Coral Sea, Midway and New Guinea, and consequently, in 1943, the scales started to tip in their favor. Australian forces fought in Papua-New Guinea and won victories against the Japanese in various islands in the region.
In 1944, the Australian Army began a series of additional campaigns against a number of isolated Japanese Garrisons that were spread out from Borneo to Bougainville. The first campaign in the series was held in Bougainville and in New Britain.
The second campaign which the Australians fought, to capture Borneo in 1945, was not concluded until the Japanese surrender at war’s end.
Overall, about 691,000 men and about 36,000 women were enlisted to the Army in the course of the war.
Although the Australian principal war effort after 1942 was directed against Japan, thousands of Australians continued to fight in the European and Middle Eastern Theatres within the ranks of their Air-Force.
And although many more airmen fought in the East against Japan, the casualties among those who fought against Germany were much larger.
The proportion of Australians within the framework of the British Bomber Command was most considerable and in this Command’s assault on Western Europe about 3,500 Australians were killed.
About 190,000 men and about 27,000 more women served in the Australian Air-Force in the course of the war.
About 46,000 men and about 3,000 more women served in the Navy.
The Australians had a sum total of about 27,000 dead, about 17,500 of them in the fighting against Japan, and about 8,000 of them died in captivity.
During the course of the war, 2,936 Jews enlisted in the Australian Army, 846 in the Air-Force and 724 in the Navy.
134 Jewish soldiers fell in the war and 60 were awarded with various decorations and medals of distinction.
The Jews of Australia served in all corps and forces and reached senior command ranks.
Australian born Jewish fighters, who excelled in combat:
JULIUS ALLAIN COHEN
On 18 February 1941, officer-pilot, Lieutenant Cohen was presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross decoration by King George the 6th of England in a modest ceremony at Buckingham Palace. This decoration is awarded to members of air-crews who have shown daring or courage above and beyond their call of duty during flight when serving in the Air-Forces of The British Commonwealth.
How did a Jewish-Australian pilot reach such a distinguished status?
Julius Allain Cohen (in 1947 he changed his name to Richard Kingsland) was born on 19 October 1916, in Murray County, in the State of New South Wales, Australia. He enlisted in the Australian Air-Force on 15 July 1935. After completing pilot and officer training he was posted for service on sea-planes.
With the eruption of World War II Australia began mobilizing its Army and dispatching it to England to fight against Nazi Germany as part of the British Army. One of the first units sent was Sea-Plane Squadron No. 10, which was stationed in southern England and equipped with “Sunderland” airplanes. But the arrival of this Squadron in England was accidental. In the middle of 1939 Cohen was sent to England together with most of his pilot-friends to receive the new Sunderland sea-planes that have been acquired for the squadron. At the end of their period of training and acceptance of the planes into service, World War II broke, and the Australian Government, in a burst of spontaneous identification, ordered the Squadron to stay in England and support the British Air-Force and even sent the remaining personnel to Britain to complete the Squadron. Julius Cohen served in Mount Batten Base near Plymouth in southern England, where he was mostly occupied flying maritime reconnaissance flights against German submarines and escorting convoys that were making their way to ports of Britain.
On 10 May 1940, the Germans attacked France and within 45 days defeated the Armies of France and Britain. Most of the British Army managed to retreat to England (without the heavy arms and equipment) whereas the French Army surrendered and a new Government rose to power in France headed by Marshal Petain, whose policy stood for cooperation with Nazi Germany. On the eve of the assembly of this new Government, 27 members of Parliament and Ministers of the former Government escaped to Morocco aboard the Cruiser, Mallissia, in the hope of avoiding cooperation with the Nazis. Among the escapees were also Georges Mandel, the Jewish Minister of Interior, the Jewish Mendes France, and others. Winston Churchill, who has meantime been elected Prime Minister of Britain, sent his Minister of Information, Duff Cooper, to Morocco, together with Lord Gort, the Commander of the British Expeditionary Force to France (from where he had just escaped by the skin of his teeth), in an attempt to meet with the exile French Statesmen and perhaps establish with them a political body that will continue the war against Germany. The two personalities, Duff Cooper and Lord Gort, were flown to Morocco’s Capital, Rabat, on 26 July 1940, by a Sunderland airplane under the command of Julius Cohen. The flight to Morocco passed uneventfully, but when they arrived the harbor looked full of small ships and fishing boats and there was a problem finding a suitable landing area. With Lord Gort’s approval, Cohen landed in a drainage canal of the Bou-Regreg River, which was very narrow (only 10 meters wider than the Sunderland) and suffered from cross wind gusts. The high-ranking guests were welcomed coolly by the Authority’s French officials, flags were lowered to half-mast and in the local Cathedral a prayer of mourning was held in view of the falling of France. Once the two personalities’ entourage disembarked from the plane local policemen tried to move it aside 50 meters, to a place from which it will not have the possibility of an immediate take-off. Cohen, who found the Frenchmen’s attitude unacceptable, refused to move, and, knowing that the plane contained enough fuel for a flight all the way to Gibraltar, also refused to refuel and thereby create dependence on the local authorities. At 2100 hours Cohen received a telegram in the plane ordering Gort to return immediately because of the Authorities’ hostility in Morocco and the imminent danger. Upon receiving the telegram, Cohen got into the Sunderland’s little rubber dinghy and headed to the pier but a police boat intercepted him and ordered him to return back to the plane. Realizing that the situation is deteriorating and is liable to go dangerously out of control, Cohen seized a French police officer as hostage and at gun-point, with the help of his co-pilot, broke his way into the British Consulate in town. Inside the Consulate he was informed that Cooper and Gort have gone to separate meetings in town. At this stage the police surrounded the airplane with great force and threatened that if the captain and co-pilot did not return to the plane immediately they will detain the aircraft and tow it away. After a brief consultation, co-pilot Stewart presented himself as the Captain and said he would return to the plane but Cohen must stay and deliver the message to Gort. The police agreed to that but left two patrol cars watching at the front of the Consulate.
Hiding under a blanket in the back seat of a Consulate car driven by a woman from the Embassy’s staff, Cohen made his way to the hotel where Gort’s meeting was taking place. But the police, who became suspicious of the car and the reason for the woman’s trip, followed the vehicle and when Cohen got out the policemen opened fire on him. Hiding in the entrance of an adjacent building, Cohen returned fire with his service pistol, and hopping from cover to cover he made his way into the hotel. In the hotel, Cohen found Gort speaking to a small gathering of skeptical individuals and after showing him the telegram the two of them left the hotel.
The police, who was waiting for them outside the hotel, meant to catch them but once again Cohen seized a policeman as hostage. On the way they collected Cooper with their car and quickly returned to the airplane with the whole Rabat Police chasing them. At 270400 hours they were on the plane, ready for take-off. The French policemen, who were already very irritated, surrounded the plane from both sides of the river’s canal in an attempt to prevent them from escaping, but luckily they refrained from opening fire on the plane for some reason and just organized around it waiting for orders from above. The French Lieutenant Governor, Morris, who had already informed Gort earlier that he was loyal only to General Nogues, the Commander General of (Vichy) France Forces in North Africa, was waiting for orders from his master. Cohen realized that time was running out and they had to take immediate action before it was too late. After a consultation with the co-pilot, they decided to start the plane’s four mighty Bristol-Pegasus engines all at once and to take off and escape from there in the noise and chaos that will ensue before the French could recover. With the starting of the engines, the giant aircraft began to advance and the police boats were literally tossed aside, and Cohen began to steer the plane out of the canal towards the packed harbor. There was not enough space for take-off in the harbor but enough room for the police boats to maneuver and chase them. Keeping open throttles, the plane made its way to open sea where it could take off. Unfortunately, they could not avoid all the boats entirely. Towards the harbor exit, the plane collided with one of them and one of the landing floats was torn off its moorings. From this moment on there was no choice but to continue and complete the take-off since stopping would have caused the wing to sink into the water and totally destroy the aircraft. Now only a sandy bar was left between them and the open sea. The plane did not collect enough speed yet, but Lieutenant Cohen managed to bounce it over the bar and become airborne with vaults off the wave crests of the open sea.
Without thinking much the two pilots opened throttles entirely, and riding on the great power of the four engines they took off towards Gibraltar – the British Colony at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. While in the air, they radioed Gibraltar and explained their situation. The reply was that they should not worry for they will be received appropriately. And indeed, they were helped down in a creative fashion. As they approached landing, a low lying boat covered with many layers of blankets and upholstery sailed towards them and positioned itself perfectly under the float-less wing so as to allow Lieutenant Cohen to land with a patrol boat cruising at his landing speed being one of his floats.
Lieutenant-pilot Julius Allain Cohen was thus awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by King George, for saving from the hands of the enemy two of Britain’s most high-ranking personalities during that period, in a resourceful, exemplary act under pressure and in superior professionalism as a pilot. (Gort was appointed High Commissioner in Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel, at the end of the war.)
Until the end of the war Julius Cohen advanced in ranks and assignments up to Wing Commander and retired from service in 1947.
Born in Australia, 1919
Born in Perth (Western Australia), to his parents, Hannah and Mordechai (both natives of Israel who had been compelled to immigrate to the Australian Continent; father Mordechai had written the Hebrew songs, “Enchantment on the Sea of Galilee”, and, “Hora Hadera”). From his childhood, he absorbed love and longing for Zion. With great devotion he fought his Australian friends more than once, when those offended his People. He was among the best pupils in his class and skipped grades three times. At the age of 12, he immigrated to Israel with his family and lived in the city of Hadera. At the age of 14, he participated in a course for sports instructors under the auspices of the “Maccabi”. In the middle of the course, a ship of Ma’apilim (a blockade running ship of illegal Jewish immigrants) arrived to the shores of Tel-Aviv. During that whole night, Amichai and his friends engaged in swimming to and from the ship until they finished transferring the Ma’apilim to safe harbor. Amichai fulfilled his high-school years at the “Kaduri” Agricultural School. During the events of “Tartsav-Tartsach”, the Arab revolt of 1936-1939, he participated in the defense of the school and warding off Arab attacks. At the completion of his studies, he worked for a while in the British Mandate’s Agriculture and Fishery Department.
At the outset of World War II, even before the arrival of the mobilization order from the Jewish Agency, he volunteered to the British Air-Force (Royal Air-Force) and was sent to flight school in Egypt. From there he was dispatched to the Air-Base in Habania (Iraq), where he got his “Wings”. When he returned to Egypt, he received the rank of Sergeant and was then dispatched to the Western Desert front. Amichai participated in many combat flights, in which he bombed enemy concentrations in Tobruk, Benghazi and more. One day he flew out with a squadron of bombers to bomb an air-base that was preparing for an attack. Heavy fog rested over the enemy camp, a wind-storm was blowing madly and it was impossible to find the exact location. Having no alternative, the planes turned around and flew back to their base, all apart from Amichai, who stayed in the area, found the enemy base and emptied his entire bomb load on it. That bombing “softened” the German positions and made it possible to capture them. For this operation Amichai was awarded the highest decoration – the Distinguished Flying Medal (D.F.M.). Jewish and English newspapers, from America to Australia, were replete with the pictures and the feats of “the bearded hero”.
Following a ten day leave, Amichai was dispatched, as the most able pilot in his unit, to the flight school in Kenya to become an instructor. A year later, he insisted on returning to the front and flew out to attack the enemy bases in Greece.
On 30 August 1943, at 7:27 hours, four airplanes under the command of Officer Amichai Honig took off from Barka for a flight of reconnaissance and attack along the western coast of Greece. At 9:44 hours, they flew towards the western coast of Lefkada Island. By the end of the reconnaissance, at 10:26 hours, a cruiser ship was spotted leaving the Lefkas Canal area. Arrangements to attack it were made immediately. Each plane was carrying 250 pound bombs. Amichai, the Commander, was first to attack and he activated the guns. Traces from his shells were clearly visible on the ship’s deck, but the bombs he dropped did not explode. As the second plane entered the attack, the pilot saw Amichai’s plane going up in flames and crashing into the water. As the fourth plane entered the attack, the pilot believed he caught sight of an inflatable rubber dinghy and two bodies floating ten yards away from it among the fragments of Amichai’s aircraft. Attaining information about the fates of Amichai Honig, the pilot, and Sergeant Finlay, was not made possible. For seven years Amichai was considered missing and no one knew whether he was alive or dead, if he sank into the sea or was buried in Greece. The parents wanted to go to Greece in order to obtain information about their son, but the Greek Government refused to grant them an entry visa. Eventually, they did manage to get the visa. For four weeks they traveled from place to place, talked with villagers, talked with fishermen and interrogated members of the Greek Underground. Finally, in a spacious field close to the homes of one village, they found the grave of a British pilot. A Greek boy, who had been present there when the British pilot was buried, had witnessed how the Italians stripped him off his uniform and buried him. He revealed the grave to the parents and to the police. The parents identified their son’s body, collected bone after bone from the soil and brought him home to be buried among the graves of World War II and War of Independence Fallen in the soil of Hadera.
Paul Alfred Cullen
Born as Paul Alfred Cohen. He enlisted in the Australian Army in 1927. In 1939 he was an Infantry Company Commander in the 16th Regiment of the 6th Division, which was the first Division to arrive in Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel. He arrived with his unit to Julis to perform basic exercises, and was a Staff Company Commander in the 2nd Battalion of the 16th Regiment (generally, he is the most senior Company Commander; after you become a regular Company Commander you progress to become a Staff Company Commander; a Staff Company is also in charge of all the auxiliary forces). As a Staff Company Commander in the 2nd Battalion, he participated in Operation “Compass”, the operation that overpowered the Italians. Its Commander – O’Connor – was the Commander-in-Chief of the Western Desert Force, under whose command they succeeded in outflanking and defeating the Italians in North Africa, capturing close to 100,000 Italians and about 1,500 cannons, and conquering all of Cyrenaica. Legend has it, that he entered Bardia, in Libya, to the sound of bag-pipes playing the soundtrack from the motion-picture, “The Wizard of Oz”, with Judy Garland. For his action there, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order Decoration. On 21-22 January 1941, by the end of Operation “Compass”, he participated in the capturing of Tobruk. Later on, with the assignment of Assistant Battalion Commander, he was dispatched with his unit to Greece, from where they retreated to Crete, from where they also retreated, while a large part of his troops was captured and killed. From there, they returned to Eretz Israel for reorganization, and it was there that he decided to change his name from Cohen to Cullen, fearing the possibility of being captured with a clearly Jewish name… From here, he continued to fight in Indonesia, as a Battalion Commander. In 1945 he became a Colonel, and in 1955 a Major General.