The Australian Republic (République Australienne) declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 in solidarity with France. In the ensuing 6 years of war, Australian troops fought all over the world, on both sides. The war saw great political controversy, and change culminating in the rise of the Second Republic. Australia also changed a great deal economically during the war, gaining a much higher level of of industrialisation which it has sought to maintain to this day.
The Australian Republic was represented at the surrender of Japan by Général d'armée Jean-Charles Jacquinot. He signed the Instrument of Surrender for an Australia that had resolved many of its pre-war divisions, and appeared ready to take a new place on the world stage.
1918: Armistice and PeaceEdit
At 11:00 on 11 November 1918, the guns fell silent. At that moment, hundreds of thousands of Australians in Northern France, and the Middle East breathed a sign of relief - as did their relatives at home. The First World War represented a major commitment for Australia. Every community in Australia had been touched by the war, most families had at least one member in the Legion Australienne, and the bitter fighting on the Western Front meant that many of those families had lost someone. Every city, town, and village in Australia had planned its Monument aux morts to commemorate its fallen. The trauma of these losses deeply affected Australian thinking over the coming decades.
Less obvious than Australia's commitment of men to the French cause in World War One was its financial and economic commitment. Australian people and institutions lent large sums to the governments of Australian and France to enable them to fight the war.
In the South Pacific during 1914, Australian forces, in cooperation with the British dominion of New Zealand, captured most of Germany's south pacific colonies - particularly German New Guinea.
In the peace talks that led to the Treaty of Versailles, Australia hoped for a share of war reparations, and control over most of Germany's former South Pacific colonies. In the event, Australia received German New Guinea, and Nauru as League of Nations Mandates, not as colonies. Australia did not receive a share of war reparations. This added to Australian frustration at the mother country, France, with phrases like "France will fight to the last Australian" becoming popular. Many believed (with some justification) that Australia's high casualties were due to French mismanagement. This created the impetus for full independence, and the creation of the First Australian Republic.
Between the WarsEdit
Australia's experience during, and immediately after the First World War created a consensus towards full independence. Prior to this, Australia had partial independence. It wrote its own laws, had its own currency (albeit pegged to the French Franc), and ran its own domestic affairs and it own military affairs, at least where continental defence was concerned. Technically, the President of the French Republic was Australia's head of state, and commander in chief of its armed forces. In addition, the French Parliament had the power to overrule the Assemblée nationale d'Australie.
The Assemblée nationale d'Australie passed a law in 1920 calling for an independent constitution. A committee of politicians from all parties, distinguished lawyers and judges, civil servants, and community representatives was appointed in 1920. The Comité de la Convention constitutionnelle (Committee of the Constitutional Convention) was to examine options for a full Constitutional Convention. After nearly three years of squabbling, infighting, and deadlock, the Committee advocated what was essentially a replica the French Third Republic. A west coast newspaper, "Le occidental" noted "Three years of 'effort' and millions of Francs for something we could have had for the price of a cyclostyle!"
The Assemblée nationale d'Australie the constitution, and issued a declaration of independence which France accepted. As an independent country, Australia stepped into the 1920s confident in its ascendancy. The prosperity and cultural openness of the Roaring Twenties took away much of the sting of the blood letting of the First World War. Australia embraced the new technologies of the time, especially in the area of transport. Australia's first major airlines were formed in the interwar period, the privately-owned Services aériens de l'ouest et du nord de l'Australie SA, and and government-owned Air Australie. Aviators such as Lieutenant-colonel Charles LaFromboise became household names through accomplishments such as his Trans-Pacific Flight.
If the new Australian Republic was confident in the twenties, it was a false confidence as the crash of 1929 would show. In hindsight, Australian society had become complacent. Australia's government entered the Great Depression deep in debt, and its economy deeply dependent on export markets which dried up after the crash. Businesses failed, banks foreclosed on farmers, and unemployment rose sharply.
Politically, capital sought to defend itself from inflation, workers from unemployment, farmers from banks. This lead to a rise of radical political groups, such as the Parti communiste d’Australie, and the fascist Parti républicain du corporatisme. While these, and other radicals, could not achieve power themselves, they could deny parliamentary majorities to the major parties, and generally create chaos in the National Assembly. It was the era of the "Gouvernement de la porte tournante" (revolving door government). Fear and division fettered Australia's leadership when the need to rearm arose.
Rearmament of the Armed Forces began in 1933, and was governed under a strategy that had several premises behind it:
- The principal threats to Australian Republic were
- Japanese expansionism
- Internal strife
- War in Europe was unlikely
- It was unlikely that Australia would be called on to send another Army to the aid of Metropolitan France
As such, the preference of the main political parties was to favour the refurbishment of the Marine de la République australienne and the Armée de l'Air d'Australie, and a closer relationship to Britain and New Zealand. According to the then Chief of the Staff, Vice-Amiral d'escadre Ernest Toutain "If the Japanese were to come, best to stop them in Indochina, if not, Malaya, or Singapore." He also said the Japanese could never get past Singapore. It did not escape the notice of the politicians that the Navy and the Air Force were incapable of launching a coup - which was certainly not true of the Army. Modernisation of the Army was kept down to such matters as replacing its small arms and motor transport, as well as providing a number of armoured cars. Mechanised forces, such as those being developed by Britain and Germany were seen as unnecessary. The rearmament program appeased the moderates on both sides. The left because the new warships and planes were to be built in Australia - providing more employment for industrial workers, and the right because they favoured a stronger military.
With ill-disguised glee, the British agreed to let Francophone Australia into its Singapore strategy. The Japanese invasion of China in 1937 seemed to confirm the wisdom of the government's policy. Fleet exercises with the British, French, and New Zealand showed cooperation in what some called "L'entente du Pacifique". The new warships seemed to show that the République Australienne was coming into its own as an independent nation. The Australian-made aircraft heralded technological progress.
In 1937-1938, the world edged closer to war. Hitler moved into Austria, and the Sudetenland Land, while Japan continued its bloody war in China. Australian society was particularly shocked by the Rape of Nanking. Some still hoped that no great war would happen, and the then Prime Minister Pierre-Marie Gainsbourg promised just that in the National Assembly.
1939 proved to be the year of decision. The war in China escalated, Hitler moved into Czechoslovakia. In Australia, Robert Meignot narrowly gained power in a coalition government. While not regarded as incompetent, or corrupt, some did criticise what they perceived his excessive closeness to France, where he had spent much of his adult life. Meignot persuaded the National Assembly to substantially increase military preparations during the Polish Corridor crisis, including mobilisation of reservists.
Declaration of WarEdit
When French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier, Australian Prime Minister Robert Meignot followed suit. Meignot cited before the public and the National Assembly the growing threat posed by countries like Germany and dictators like Hitler. It was essential, he said, to stop such dictators because their ambitions had no limits. Meignot announced general mobilisation, and the dispatch of an army to France. The Communists and fascists objected immediately, the former due to the Ribbentrop-Stalin Pact, and the latter due to ideological sympathies with Germany. Socialists emphasised the need to defend Australia first, and suggested (to Meignot's disgust) that France may well fight to the last Australian. More pointedly, the Socialists disclosed that the French had brought in more troops from Senegal, and Chad, and were recruiting Foreign Legionnaires faster than ever. Nevertheless, Meignot had the support of a majority of the Assembly for his declaration of war, which the President duly proclaimed.
The Fall of FranceEdit
The first draft of reservists mobilised before war was declared set off for France within days of the declaration of war. They joined air and ground crews of the Armée de l'Air d'Australie who were in France training on the new Dewoitine D.520 fighters and Bloch MB.210 bombers. More airmen were set to join them. By the German invasion in the West, the Australian force in France, dubbed the Deuxième légion australienne, eventually numbered 8 divisions of ground troops, plus 6 squadrons of airmen. At Toulon, the Marine de la République australienne had amassed 5 modern destroyers and 3 almost new light cruisers to support the French Marine nationale.
The 8 divisions of the Deuxième légion australienne were not deployed together. Three divisions were deployed in the Maginot Line, three more were attached to the forces on the Belgian border. The remaining two were kept with the French reserve. These numbers are impressive because they come from a population of less than 7.5 million. However, such numbers could not compensate for the fact that their equipment was largely obsolete. The vast majority of the troops carried Lebel and Berthier rifles, and only a few machine gunners carried the new FM Mle 1924 Châtellerault, most still used the unreliable Chauchat. The main artillery piece was still the Canon de 75 modèle 1897 - the famous Soixante-Quinze. The primary Australian tank was the First World War Renault FT.
The overall story of the German invasion of France is well-known, and need not be rehashed. The Australian divisions in Belgium moved, with much of the rest of the Anglo-French force towards Dunkirk. Most of those troops managed to get away during the Dunkirk evacuation. When those troops reached England, the French wanted them repatriated to France along with their own troops, but the Australian Government objected. Meignot supported the French, but much of his cabinet, and the governing parties believed that France was likely to be defeated. These people believed that, in the event of a French defeat, Australian troops were likely to be captured, and unlikely to be allowed to return to Australia during the war. The concern they had was that, in the event of a Japanese attack, these troops had some experience of combat and would be invaluable in protecting the Republique Australienne from any Japanese invasion. In the event, Meignot was unable to persuade his colleagues to follow his policy, and rather than face defeat in the cabinet room, or the National Assembly, he relented. At the time, it was not feasible to return them to Australia. Australian troops were to remain in England until further notice. Notwithstanding this decision, some Australians returned to France voluntarily. For them, the Dunkirk Evacuation was nothing more than a short English holiday in preparation for defeat.
The rise to power of Marshal Petain demonstrated to Australians across the political spectrum the folly of further commitment to fighting for France. Prime Minister Meignot told the National Assembly "Gentlemen, I must report that Prime Minister Reynauld of France has resigned. France’s new Prime Minister is Marshal of France Philippe Petain. He favours an armistice, and has asked the enemy for a truce. The Government of our Mother Country, our dear France, has been placed in the hands of a man resigned to defeat. I do not propose to send more of our sons to France."
A contingent of Australian on troopships en route to France were diverted to Algeria and Syria. Further drafts were to be kept at home.
Appeal of 18 June and Armistice of 22 JuneEdit
Former Prime Minister Reynauld's Under-Secretary of State for War and National Defence, General Charles de Gaulle issued his appeal for Frenchmen to rally to him to continue the fight against the Germans. The Australian Government, which was the world's only independent Francophone government in conflict with the Germans, made no official response. Nevertheless, some Australians joined the Free French Forces, either from England, or by paying their own way from Australia.
The Australian Ministre plénipotentiaire attempted to take part in the armistice negotiations with the German Wehrmacht. However, the Germans refused to acknowledge him. The terms of the Armistice referred to the French Armed Forces, and all associated forces - this included the independent Republique Australienne. In practice, this meant that over 70,000 Australians would be interned in German prison camps, and used as slave labour. In contrast to the French prisoners of war, who could be repatriated in exchange for French civilians under the Service du travail obligatoire program, there was no provision for Australians to be released prior to a final peace treaty. Moreover, the Australian Ministre plénipotentiaire had intended to negotiate the 'release' of Australian warships presently in Toulon, with the concession that they were to be used for defending Australian territory only. This could not be negotiated, which forced many of Australia's most modern warships to remain disarmed in French ports, giving an advantage to Japan.
The Australian fallout of CompiègneEdit
At home, the news of the debacle in Compiègne broke. Several of Meignot's supporters threatened to vote him out, as did the Parti Agricole d'Australie. Meignot lost a vote of confidence, and François Gué was elected in his place. He attempted to negotiate with the Germans for the release of Australian prisoners of war. The Germans insisted on the evacuation of all Australian troops from England and North Africa (no mention of the Levant), access to Australian ports for repair, resupply, and rearmament for German warships and for the warships of any third country that Germany deemed desirable (i.e. Japan). Finally, the Germans wanted a pledge that no Australian residing in France would participate in resistance. This, the Germans said, should be enforced by Australia paying compensation for resistance attacks initiated by Australians in France. Prime Minister Gué believed that the offer was made bad faith, and said as much to the National Assembly. He had misjudged the mood of the Deputies, who were afraid of what the Germans could do to the men being held as "hostages", and who had given up on the war. The Socialists, led by Jean Blanchard, moved a vote of no-confidence in him, which was successful. Jean Blanchard became the third wartime Prime Minister of the Republique Australienne.
Jean Blanchard, claiming to face the reality that 70,000 Australian soldiers were in German captivity and at least 20,000 Australian civilians lived in the occupied part of France, decided to collaborate with the Germans. The Australian troops in Algeria and Syria were placed under Vichy command, and access to Australian ports was provided to German warships. This was used by German raiders and U-boats attacking cargo ships on the routes between India and New Zealand and Britain. Blanchard broke off diplomatic relations with Britain over the Mers el Kebir attack, in which the Marine de la République australienne experienced its first loss of the war. Later, Blanchard opened Australian ports to Japanese warships.
Japan attacks in the PacificEdit
The Japanese invasion of Indochina was neither condemned, nor supported by the Blanchard government. However several of Australia's trade unions did oppose it. To anti-Axis Australians, the attack on Indochina represented the first move towards Australia. The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union finally turned all of Australia's unions - including the Communist-controlled unions - against the government. The strikes are kept at low key, but this was changed by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, and against the European colonies of South East Asia. The US, and New Zealand pressure Australia to join in the war, while Japan pressures Australia to maintain neutrality. Blanchard's political situation was worsened by news of German atrocities in France - the victims of which included Australians.
At the waterfront, on the West Coast, the workers on the wharf formed a picket to prevent the passage of oil and victuals to Japanese ships in Australia. The Blanchard Government sent in the armed riot squads of the Sûreté nationale d'Australie, the Groupes de réserve mobiles de la Sûreté nationale d'Australie. However, the staunchly working class policemen refused to use force to break the picket line, so the government sent in the militarily disciplined Gendarmerie. The picket line was broke by the Gendarmerie Mobile using live ammunition. Five of the picketers were killed, at least a dozen were wounded. Rumours circulated that a general strike would break out. In response to the rumours, Prime Minister Blanchard persuaded the President to declare a state of emergency. The provisions of the emergency law were severe. The Sûreté was placed under the command of the Gendarmerie - and therefore the military. A nightly curfew was instituted in all large cities. Constitutional freedoms such as free speech, freedom of assembly, and privacy were suspended. The National Assembly was suspended to prevent the removal of Blanchard by parliamentary means. The decree was intended to last for one year. In the meantime, the Japanese were moving through the Dutch East Indies.
"La patrie en danger"Edit
The first half of 1942 saw Australia's republican constitution in ruins, division in Australia's political and military establishments, Japan's forces coming south, and the US - along with its allies, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, increasingly exasperated with Australian neutrality. Prime Minister Blanchard could control the politicians through his emergency laws. The military were heavily divided. The Armée de terre d'Australie were deeply stung by the defeat of France, and the fact that, although they had surrendered, their men were still being held by Germany. Stories of Australian soldiers fighting with the Free French resonated with the Australian people. Australian Generals, while no longer in control of the Australian units of the Free French Forces, saw possibilities in the exploits of Australian Free French soldiers. They saw the possibility to avenge the honour of Australia's Army, and to inspire further resistance against Germany. A pro-de Gaulle element began to take hold in the Armée de terre d'Australie. In contrast, the Marine de la République australienne was heavily pro-Vichy. The loss of Australian sailors to British guns at Mers-el-Kébir engendered a deep Anglophobia in the Navy.
The Japanese attack on Indochina fueled anti-Axis sentiment in Australia. It had been noted that Indochina was run by a pro-Vichy government, and that government had made an agreement with Japan - as Germany's ally - for basing Japanese troops and warships in Indochina, and closing the Chinese-Indochinese border, yet Japan attacked anyway.
After the attack on Pearl Harbour, Japanese forces moved south quickly. This Japanese advance created immense anxiety in Australia, both in Continental Australia, and its overseas provinces Nouvelle-Calédonie, and Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinée.
The Blanchard government's foreign policy was to try to appease Japan and Germany. Japanese and German ships could refuel in Australian ports, and raw materials were delivered to Japan. This created the threat of blockade by the US and the British Empire. Blanchard's policy at home was to keep his government in office as long as possible. The veteran of the trenches, thinking mainly of the blood letting of the Great War, believed that only he could save Australia from another disaster. Plans were made to deal with strikes and civil disorder, which were to be carried out by the Gendarmerie and the Army. Rumours spread that negotiations with Japan over basing in Nouvelle-Calédonie would soon take place. Then Chief of Staff of the Army, Général de corps d'armée Thomas Bertrand, asked Blanchard for policy guidance to make contingency plans for threats to Nouvelle-Calédonie, and Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinée by Japan. Blanchard told him that he intended to negotiate a solution. Bertrand sought clarity as to whether they would resist the invasion, what forces could be made available, and whether it was possible to bring in the US, UK, and New Zealand. Blanchard offered no definite reply, he said he preferred to "await events". According to a post-war account, Bertrand told a colleague that "Gamelin preferred to 'await events' too."
The invasion of British Burma, the Dutch East Indies, the Solomon Islands and captured Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Rabaul increased anxieties in Australia, especially among the Army. The fall of Singapore prompted General Bertrand and his confederates to begin planning for the defence of Australia themselves. He also began to sound out his closest associates about removing the Blanchard government.