Compare and contrast the experiences of Australian soldiers at Gallipoli and Kokoda Just the words Gallipoli and Kokoda evoke such vivid imagery in our minds of war, hardship and struggle. Australia’s involvement in Gallipoli suggests a sense of mate ship,an Anzac legend, created out of total confusion. Kokoda however calls to mind a war of ideologies and of survival. But both events have their similarities and differences – how and why they started, troop experiences and how they ended and what and why we remember them are some examples .
The British Gallipoli campaign of WWI was the scene of the first major fighting by Australian soldiers. Devised by the British. The plan was intended to push enemy forces to Turkey’s capital, for Turkey to capitulate which would bring the war to an early end. The forces comprised Australian and New Zealand troops; given the name ANZACS. Alternately the Kokoda Campaign was to prevent Japan from gaining control of the administrative capital of Papua, Port Moresby. If the Japanese gained control of Port Moresby, they could use the city as a base for further attacks on Australia.
Australian troops bravely fought in tremendously difficult conditions in Papua New Guinea. Both campaigns exemplified the Australian spirit and saved countless lives whilst losing many in warfare. At the time of WWI, Australia was still a young country; for just over a century Australia had enjoyed peaceful growth and development but in 1914 it was still isolated from the rest of the world. To most Australians the war origins remained unclear, yet there was almost universal agreement on what Australia’s role would be. Whatever happens’,’ said the Prime Minister Cook, ” When the empire is at war, all our resources are in the Empire and for the preservation and security of the Empire. ” Australia was swept by a wave of emotional support for the Mother Country. Soldiers joined for different reasons. For some it was a great escape to an exciting adventure, to others it was the pay of four shillings a day, but most men were motivated by a deeply felt sense of loyalty towards Britain, a question of honour. ” Those that come back from this war will be men of the right sort that anyone would be proud of. In WWII, although some people thought that Australia should remain uninvolved feelings of British loyalty were still strong and Australia became the first country in the British Empire to declare war against Germany. Compared to the outbreak of world war 1, Australians accepted the news calmly. Now, just over twenty years later, Australia was once again at war with Germany and all its allies. However the start of WWII, held some differences. With a restless and aggressive Japan advancing, for the first time in history, Australia itself was now threatened.
Whilst Australia fought in Gallipoli to support Britain, Kokoda was fought to protect our own shores. Troop experiences in both campaigns had some similarities. Life at Anzac Cove was desperately hard. Surrounded by constant danger, the troops survived in trenches and dugouts protected by sandbags. They lived on irregular supplies of food and water that had to be shipped 1100km from Egypt. Their health also suffered, and with the coming of hot summer months plagues of flies helped to spread dysentery and other diseases. But war in Gallipoli followed the traditions of trench warfare.
Conversely, Kokoda was Jungle warfare. The troops also suffered greatly from extreme sleep deprivation, from inadequate shelter, food, and medical supplies. But in addition to these hardships, the Kokoda troops in the jungle had to carry their equipment on their backs. They battled the constant wetness, knee deep in mud, and tortuous terrain of the Owen Stanley Ranges. There was also the sheer mental and physical exhaustion of fighting this new type of warfare with the enemy ever present and attacking on all fronts day and night.
An aspect of Kokoda, that was different to Gallipoli was the experience of thousands of Australian prisoners of war captured by the Japanese. Some 22,000 Australians became prisoners of war, experiencing starvation and torture. At the end of the war 34% of the prisioners captured by the Japanese were dead and almost 1/3 of the 27000 Australian soldiers who died in WWII died in Japanese prison camps. Another aspect of Kokoda that differed from Gallipoli was the change of alliances. One of the most defining moments of WWII for Australia was John Curtins ‘Australia looks to America’ speech in December of 1941.
After Britain failed to provide any assistance to Australia, when threatened by Japan, Curtin saw that Britain considered Australia to be expendable. He made a speech acknowledging the limits of the British power and influence and looked to the United States as the only other power that could give Australia the support and protection it needed. Another feature of the two campaigns was how they ended – one in glorious defeat, the other in an unimaginable victory -both defining events for Australia and Australians.
By Late August 1915, the entire Gallipoli campaign had failed to achieve its objectives with combined British, French and Anzac troops barely establishing a foothold on the Gallipoli peninsula. No major military gains had been achieved in almost a year so with winter approaching the decision was made to withdraw, on the night of the 19th December 1915. In what proved to be the most successful part of the Gallipoli campaign, both Anzac Cover and Sulva Bay were evacuated without one casualty. Conversely, in September 1942, things began to move in favour of the Australians.
Being closer to Port Moresby they gained reinforcements and artillery guns . The Japanese were suffering from lack of food and disease and gradually, the Australians pushed the Japanese back along the track. At Milne Bay, the Japanese were denied the airfield and on 6th September they were forced to retreat. By November the Australian flag flew at the village of Kokoda. The victories on the Kokoda Track and at Milne Bay meant that Port Moresby never fell to the Japanese and the possibility of attack on Australia was reduced. WWI and WWII affected Australians differently.
Each war has its successes and its failures. The Australian people responded to WWI with great emotion. In WWII Australia announced its newly found nationhood to the world through the deed of its young soldiers. In WWI 417 000 volunteers, enlisted and some 60,000 were killed. The war left a permanent scar on the nation with the tragic loss of so many young men. If Australia had been trying to prove itself as a nation in WWI, WWII was a test of nationhood. For the first time in its history the nation came under direct threat and attack.
Civilians were killed and affected by the war in a more direct way. WWII however was less of an ordeal than WWI, with some 540,000 Australians enlisting and 33 826 casualties, about half the number Australia lost in WWI. What was similar between Gallipoli and Kokoda was that same Australian spirit. A spirit of bravery, humour, resourcefulness, mateship, equality, endurance and a belief in democracy. These qualities born from the struggle in the bush and reinforced by the struggle of the battle, became the characteristics of the true Australian.