Australian Imperial Force

Australia's regular army was formed in 1901 and was backed-up by a part-time volunteer militia. All males of combat age were required by law to undertake military training on a regular basis. On the outbreak of the First World War the Australian government immediately offered to supply Britain with 20,000 troops. As the regular army was organised solely for home defence, a new overseas force, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was formed.

The first Australian Imperial Force troopships left Australia on 7th November 1914. These troops were sent to Egypt for training with British weapons. It was decided to put Australian and New Zealand forces together to form the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). Some were used to defend Suez but most of them were sent to the Gallipoli Front under General William Birdwood. The ANZACs suffered over 33,600 losses (over one-third killed) by the time they were ordered to withdraw in January 1916.

The Australian Cavalry were transferred to Palestine and served under General Sir Edmund Allenby. The Australians fought with distinction and played an important role in the highly successful Battle of Gaza.

The Australian Navy contributed a battlecruiser, five cruisers and six destroyers. Three of Australia's submarines were lost in naval operations at the Dardanelles.

The Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was founded in 1914 and contributed pilots and aircraft to the Mesopotamian Front, Palestine and the Western Front. About 60 aircraft were lost over France during the war. The leading Australian Flying Aces included Robert Little (47), Roderic Dallas (32) and Arthur Cobby (29).

After Gallipoli, most of the ANZACs were sent to the Western Front and took part in several of the major offences in 1916. In May 1918 General John Monash and the Australian Corps led the important counter-offensives at Le Hamel.

During the First World War Australia contributed 322,000 soldiers, of whom more than 280,000 were casualties. Just under 60,000 Australians were killed, the highest death-rate suffered by any national army in the war.

Primary Sources

(1) In an interview in 1993, William Brooks argued that the Australians were critical of the way the British Army treated its soldiers.

The Yanks and the Aussies were disgusted at the way our officers treated us. There were cases where British officers tried to put Yanks or Aussie soldiers in front of a firing-squad but couldn't get away with it. If they had, I reckon those countries would have pulled out of the war and left us to it.

There was a big riot about September 1917 by the Australians at a place called Etaples. They called it "collective indiscipline", what it was was mutiny. It went on for days. I think a couple of military police got killed. Field Marshall Haig would have shot the leaders but dared not of course because they were Aussies.

Haig's nickname was the butcher. He'd think nothing of sending thousands of men to certain death. The utter waste and disregard for human life and human suffering by the so-called educated classes who ran the country. What a wicked waste of life. I'd hate to be in their shoes when they face their Maker.