Battle for Australia Day


Every year on the first Wednesday of September, we commemorate the Battle for Australia. We reflect on the bravery of those who served on Australia's home front, and the islands, the seas and in the skies to the north. It's an important reminder of a challenging time for Australians between 1942 and 1945.

Significance of the day

Thousands of Australians were engaged in actions against Japanese forces during the Battle for Australia. This includes those who served to defend the Australian mainland against attacks.

Battle for Australia Day commemorates the first time in the history of European settlement that Australia came under direct attack and the campaigns to the north of Australia.

It's a time for us to recognise those who served in the defence of the Australian mainland, and in land, air and sea battles in the Coral Sea, Papua and New Guinea. These actions stopped the Japanese southward advance.

Their efforts contributed substantially to the defeat of Japan.

Australia at war

After Japan entered the war in December 1941, Australia's economy was fully mobilised towards defence.

A generation of Australians left their homes to work or serve in defence of their nation.

Late 1941 and early 1942 was a dramatic time for Australia. As Germany advanced closer to European domination, Japanese forces moved swiftly south. Australian prisoners of the Japanese began their long ordeal.

On 15 February 1942, Singapore fell to the Japanese. This defeat prompted Australia's Prime Minister, John Curtin, to declare that the battle for Australia had begun.

Australia under attack

Then Australia suffered a series of direct attacks. Cities and towns were bombed and shelled. Vessels of the Royal Australian Navy and merchant ships were sunk in the waters around the mainland and off the islands to the north.

On 19 February 1942, Darwin, with a population of only 2000, was raided by 188 Japanese aircraft. Japan sought to destroy Darwin's airfields before its attack on Timor. Around 250 Australians and personnel of other nationalities died.

Other areas of northern Australia suffered air raids throughout 1942 and 1943.

When the Japanese attacked Broome on 3 March 1942, 88 people were killed, including many Dutch refugees.

By November 1943, more northern Australian towns and locales, including Port Hedland, Derby, Katherine, Horn Island and Townsville, had all been attacked.

In late May and early June 1942, Japanese Midget submarines launched a surprise attack on Sydney Harbour. They sunk HMAS Kuttabul, and 19 Australians and two British sailors died.

Battles around Australia

Often described as the battle that saved Australia, the Battle of the Coral Sea is the largest naval battle ever fought off Australia's shores.

On 4 to 8 May 1942 in the waters south-west of the Solomon Islands and east of New Guinea, the Allies prevented a Japanese seaborne invasion of Port Moresby. No Australians were killed, but the aircraft carrier, USS Lexington, was sunk.

Australian service personnel also played a key role in the battles on the Kokoda Track, Milne Bay and Buna, Gona and Sanananda in Papua, and in New Guinea in places like Wau, the Huon Peninsula, Wewak and Bougainville.

Remembering those who served

The war ended on 15 August 1945, but Australia will never forget the significant role the country played in World War II and how it helped to shape our nation.

If World War I was responsible for establishing important elements of Australian national identity, World War II weakened our ties to Britain and shaped the way in which Australia's defence came to rest on an alliance with the United States.

Over 39,000 Australians died during the war, most of them in the campaigns in Asia and the Pacific. Many more were wounded in action - some so seriously as to end their service. Some 22,000 Australians became prisoners of the Japanese during the war, of whom some 8000 lost their lives.

Last updated: 17 November 2022

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2022), Battle for Australia Day, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 28 May 2023,
Was this page helpful?
We can't respond to comments or queries via this form. Please contact us with your query instead.