The central column of the Australian Memorial New Zealand commemorates the Anzacs. Other columns commemorate the theatres and operations in which Australians and New Zealanders have served alongside each other.
Anzac is the acronym formed from the initial letters of ‘Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’. This was the formation in which Australian and New Zealand soldiers in Egypt were grouped before the landing on Gallipoli in April 1915. The acronym was first written as ‘A & NZ Army Corps’. However, clerks in the corps headquarters soon shortened it to Anzac as a convenient telegraphic code name for addressing telegram messages. Today Anzac is emblematic of the long and close relationship between the two nations and their shared goals in peace and war.
Theatres of war and operations in which Australians and New Zealanders have served together
Australian and New Zealand forces have served together since the South African War at the turn of last century. Keep reading for information about the numerous conflicts and operations that Anzacs have served in.
- South Africa
- Northern France
- North Africa
- Air war in Europe
- East Timor
- Solomon Islands
From 1899 to 1902 at least 16,000 Australians served in the South African War (also known as the Boer War) as part of the forces of the British Empire, first representing the individual colonies and from 1901 the federated Australian nation. Serving mostly in mounted units, the colonial troops were valued for their ability to shoot and ride. This cost more than 600 Australian lives. The first Victoria Cross awarded to an Australian was earned by Captain Neville Howse in South Africa in 1900.
In 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The ultimate objective was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany.
The Australian and New Zealand forces landed on Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. A stalemate ensued and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated, after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. 8700 Australian soldiers died alongside 2779 New Zealanders.
Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its objectives, the Australian and New Zealand actions during the campaign left their nations a powerful legacy. The creation of what became known as the ‘Anzac legend’ became an important part of the identity of both nations, shaping the ways they viewed both their past and their future.
The Anzac experience of Flanders centred on the town of Ypres in Belgium and the section of the Western Front known as the Ypres Salient. It was in this area in that the Third Battle of Ypres was fought from July to November 1917. Despite Anzac success at Broodseinde Ridge, Australian and New Zealand forces sustained enormous losses in an unsuccessful effort to capture Passchendaele in October. Fighting in appalling weather, the New Zealand Division suffered 845 men killed and almost 1900 wounded in a single day. These casualties amounted to five percent of New Zealand's total casualties in the entire First World War. In nine weeks of fighting Australia suffered 38,000 casualties, with 6,673 dying in October alone.
After the withdrawal from Gallipoli, the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force were redeployed to the Western Front in France and Belgium. For most of the war, these forces served separately, rather than as combined Anzac forces. Australia’s first major engagement, the disastrous Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916, the worst day in Australian military history, saw more than 5,500 casualties. Both nation’s forces endured great hardship and learned bloody lessons on the Somme in 1916, where at Pozieres 23,000 Australians were killed or wounded in six weeks.
In March and April of 1918 Australian and New Zealand troops would each fight decisive battles to counter the great German spring offensive, nowhere to greater effect than on the Somme. At Hébuterne an Australian brigade fought alongside the New Zealand Division, and, together with the Australian battles at Dernancourt and Villers-Bretonneux, halted a major German breakthrough on the Somme and helped determine the outcome of the war. Both forces played decisive but costly spearhead roles in the following breakthrough ‘Advance to Victory’ which led to the end of the war.
In the Middle East from 1916 to 1918, in conditions completely different from the mud and stagnation of the Western Front, Australian and New Zealand mounted formations led the Allied advance from the Suez Canal, through the Sinai and Palestine and into Syria, which broke the Turkish Ottoman Army. By the standards of the Western Front, casualties were comparatively light, with 1,394 Australians killed or wounded.
When the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War, British and Indian troops were sent to Mesopotamia (Iraq) in an attempt to secure the recently discovered oil fields. In 1915 Australia contributed the Mesopotamian or Australian Half Flight, the first Australian operational air deployment of the war and other elements. The first air crew losses were Lieutenant G. P. Merz of Australia and Lieutenant W. W. A. Burn of New Zealand who died alongside each other after their aircraft was forced down.
Hastily organised Anzac and British forces arrived in Greece shortly before the German invasion began on 6 April 1941. Vastly outnumbered, the Allies were unable to halt the rapid German advance and were later evacuated by British and Australian warships and transports. In Greece 320 Australians were killed and 2,030 Australian troops became prisoners of war.
Many of the Australian and New Zealanders evacuated from Greece in 1941 found themselves in Crete preparing for its defence. German paratroopers commenced large-scale landings on 20 May 1941. Anzac troops inflicted very heavy losses on the German forces, and a gallant rear-guard action by the 2/7th Battalion, AIF, and the New Zealand 28th (Māori) Battalion allowed many of the withdrawing Allied forces to reach the evacuation point in Suda Bay. By the time the island fell on 29 May, 274 Australians had been killed and over 3,000 taken prisoner.
Australians and New Zealanders served in both land and air campaigns in North Africa against Germany and Italy, and at sea in the Mediterranean. Both nations’ forces played critical roles at El Alamein, the decisive battle of the North African campaign which led to eventual victory in North Africa, before the bulk of Australian forces would return to Australia to counter the threat from Japan. The Australian 9th Division suffered 2,700 casualties killed, wounded or missing at El Alamein.
When Japan entered the war in December 1941, the Pacific became the focus of Australia’s war effort. Australians served on land, at sea and in the air from Singapore to the Solomon Islands. The surrender of Singapore in February 1942 saw more than 15,000 Australians taken prisoner. The war struck home to Australia, Darwin was bombed and Japanese submarines entered Sydney Harbour. Between July and November 1942 fierce fighting on the Kokoda Track in Papua and New Guinea turned back the Japanese overland advance on Port Moresby. Bitter fighting at Buna, Gona and Sanananda and later around Lae enabled the successful advance along the North Coast of New Guinea and subsequent operations in Borneo and Balikpapan.
Australians and New Zealanders served with distinction in the skies over Europe in the Second World War. Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) airmen flew in British, Australian and New Zealand squadrons of Coastal, Bomber and Fighter Commands. Most served in Bomber Command, taking part in the costly air war against Germany. The 3,846 Australians killed in Bomber Command accounted for almost 20 per cent of Australian combat deaths, but represented less than two per cent of enlistments.
In 1950 Australian and New Zealand forces joined a United Nations force to support South Korea following its invasion by North Korea. Later, China joined forces with North Korea. New Zealand artillery support was central to Australian and Canadian success at the battle of Kapyong in 1951 and Australian operations until an Armistice in July 1953 ending the fighting. A final agreement – a peace treaty – has yet to be signed. Over 17,000 Australians of the army, Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and RAAF served during the Korean War, of whom 340 were killed and over 1,500 were wounded.
Australian air and later ground forces served in Malaya from 1950 until the Malayan Emergency concluded in 1960. Alongside British and New Zealand forces, they fought what is now recognised as a skilful and highly successful counter-insurgency campaign against the communist insurgency that had begun in 1948.
British, Australian and New Zealand forces in served an undeclared counter-insurgency war in Borneo following Indonesian raids into Malaysian territory in 1963. Australian forces were committed to this campaign (known as ‘Confrontation’) in 1965 until Confrontation formally ended in August 1966. It was the last occasion in which Australians and New Zealanders fought for what was essentially a British cause – the fate of former British colonial possessions in Southeast Asia.
Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War began in 1962 when 30 advisers were sent to support South Vietnamese forces. By the time the main body of Australian forces had departed in 1972, around 60,000 Australians had served in Vietnam. Australians and New Zealanders served alongside one another in Anzac battalions, and New Zealand artillery support was central to Australian success in the epic battle at Long Tan in 1966. Australia sustained 3,500 casualties in Vietnam, 521 of whom lost their lives.
Many Australians served in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, during the Second World War against the Japanese. Post-war, tensions between Bougainville and Papua New Guinea turned to separatist insurgency in 1989, to become one of the most serious conflicts in the South Pacific region since the Second World War. Australia led a brief peacekeeping force in October 1994 (Operation Lagoon), followed by a New Zealand-led Truce Monitoring Group in late 1997 and an Australian-led Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) from early 1998 until 2003. The PMG comprised service personnel and civilians from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu. The PMG created the conditions for the establishment of the Autonomous Bougainville Government.
Read more about the war in Bougainville on the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website and Te Ara
Following 25 years of Indonesian rule in East Timor, Indonesia allowed the territory to vote for its independence in 1999. The vote was conducted by the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), to which Australia contributed police. The outcome led to a campaign of violence by pro-Indonesian militias. With Indonesia’s agreement, Australia then led INTERFET, the International Force for East Timor, from September 1999. At its peak, there were more than 11,000 troops deployed by 23 contributing countries, including New Zealand. Australia’s deployment reached a peak of 5,700 troops in November 1999. The last Australian troops to leave East Timor returned home in 2012.
From July 2003 Australia led the Regional Assistance to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) mission assisting the government of the Solomon Islands to restore law and order. The operation was supported by fifteen countries from the Pacific region, with troop contributions from five countries: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tonga. RAMSI transitioned to a policing mission from July 2013.
Elements of the RAN, RAAF and the Australian Army participated in the First Gulf War in 1991 in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait the previous year. In 2003 Australia joined the 'Coalition of the Willing' to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. All three services participated in Australia's involvement from July 2003 to July 2009. Both RAN and Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) ships served in the Multinational Interception Force – Persian Gulf. Members of the New Zealand Defence Force served in Iraq in 2003–04 providing reconstruction assistance.
Australia joined the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC. In time, the international coalition would comprise 49 nations, including New Zealand. Personnel from each of the Australian services served in Afghanistan over the years to 2014. From counter-insurgency through reconstruction and mentoring, Australians in Oruzgan province and New Zealanders and others elsewhere worked to create a democratic and stable Afghan nation. The mission aimed to assist the people of Afghanistan, but also to promote the security of the region, diminish the influence of terrorist groups, and create a safer global environment. Australia’s longest war cost 42 Australian lives, with more than 260 wounded.
Read more about the missing in Afghanistan on Australian War Memorial
Both Australia and New Zealand share a long and distinguished history of participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, many conducted under the banner of the United Nations. From Australia’s participation in the very first United Nations peacekeeping mission in Indonesia in 1947, it has contributed to more than 60 United Nations and multilateral missions, many involving Anzac contingents, in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Central America, Europe and the Middle East.
Updated on 6th October 2021