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2012 marks the 70th anniversary of Kokoda, one of the most iconic and significant military campaigns for Australia during WWII. The campaign began with the Japanese landing in the north of Papua New Guinea in July 1942 in an attempt to capture the capital city, Port Moresby in the south. Had they succeeded, Australia’s mainland east coast would have come under direct threat.
The barrier between the Japanese in the north and Port Moresby on the south coast was the Owen Stanley Range, a steep rugged mountain range only ever crossed by foot tracks, the most important of which was the 96km Kokoda Track. It was here that the Australian Army fought in what is described as some of the most difficult and treacherous terrain in the world.
Despite being plagued by supply shortages and out-numbered by an estimate of five soldiers to one, the Australian troops of the 39th Battalion, fresh from training at home, fought to hold off the Japanese. In arduous jungle warfare, they awaited the arrival of the battle-hardened AIF troops from North Africa. The conditions along the Kokoda Track were, according to many soldiers, more frightening than the enemy itself.
After months of fierce fighting the AIF troops eventually managed to defeat the Japanese invaders, who were also stretched to their limit by the conditions, forcing them to withdraw from Papua New Guinea and end their campaign for Port Moresby. Approximately 625 Australians were killed along the Kokoda Track and over 1,600 were wounded. Tropical disease outbreaks of dysentery and malaria forced close to 5,000 Australians to be evacuated from Papua New Guinea.
To commemorate this significant occasion a limited edition 70th Anniversary Kokoda badge was made available as part of the 2012 ANZAC Appeal badge range.
On 25 April 1915 following the Gallipoli campaign, Australians served in the other theatres of operations of the war, most notably, the Western Front and the Middle East. Members of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) landed at Gallipoli together with troops from New Zealand, Britain, and France. This began a campaign that ended with the evacuation of troops on 19 and 20 December 1915. The First World War remains the most costly conflict in terms of deaths and casualties for Australian. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.
Almost a million Australians, both men and women, served in the Second World War. They fought in campaigns against Germany and Italy in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, as well as against Japan in south-east Asia and other parts of the Pacific. Australian Naval and Air Force members served in all thatres of the war. The Australian mainland came under direct attack for the first time, as Japanese aircraft bombed towns in north-west Australia and Japanese midget submarines attacked Sydney Harbour.
Participation in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) marked the first time that Australians were involved in the military occupation of a sovereign nation which it had defeated in war. The entire force totalled 45,000, from Britain, India, New Zealand, and Australia. For two-thirds of the period of occupation the Commonwealth was represented solely by Australians, and throughout its existence BCOF was always commanded by an Australian officer. At the peak of its involvement the Australian component of BCOF was responsible for over twenty million Japanese citizens and 57,000 square kilometres of country.
The Korean War began on 25 June 1950, when North Korean forces launched an invasion of South Korea. Personnel from the Australian Army, RAAF, and RAN fought as part of the United Nations (UN) multinational force, defending South Korea from the Communist force of North Korea.
Lasting 13 years, the Malayan Emergency was at the time the longest continuous military commitment in Australia's history. Thirty-nine Australian servicemen were killed in Malaya, 15 of these deaths occurred as a result of operations, and 27 were wounded, most of whom were in the army.
Between 1962 and 1966 Indonesia and Malaysia fought a small, undeclared war which came to involve troops from Australia, New Zealand and Britain. Twenty-three Australians were killed during Confrontation. Because of the sensitivity of the cross-border operations, which remained secret at the time, Confrontation received very little coverage in the Australian press.
From the time of the arrival in 1962 almost 60,000 Australians, including ground troops and air force and navy personnel, served in Vietnam. Australia's military involvement in the Vietnam War was the longest in duration of any war in Australia's history.
Iraq invaded its rival oil-exporting neighbour Kuwait on 2 August 1990. The invasion was widely condemned, and four days later the United Nations (UN) approved a trade embargo against Iraq. Australian forces were deployed in the First Gulf War under the support of the UN. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) provided vessels for the multi-national naval force, which formed an interception force in the Persian Gulf to enforce the UN sanctions.
Since the first peacekeepers left Australia for Indonesia in September 1947, over 30,000 Australians have been involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) have been involved in over a hundred operations, providing forces and leadership for peace observation and enforcement, weapons destruction, demining, training, and disaster relief all over the world.
For further information on Australia’s military history please visit The Australian War Memorial site http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/