1943: Paths to Victory in the Second World War

 

This year marked a clear turning point for the Allies in the Second World War. Japanese forces in the Pacific and the Axis forces in Europe were now on the back foot. Both were struggling against the Allies' superior numbers and overwhelming industrial might. On the Australian home front, industrial unrest increased. John Curtin's government won a landslide electoral victory. Australians were being told that they were no longer threatened by invasion.

Turning in the Allies' favour

Depicts the Hospital ship, 'Centaur' being attacked by the Japanese off the coast of Queensland, during the Second World War. In the water, below the ship, are some nurses and sailors from the ship.

Work, save, fight and so avenge the nurses! recruiting poster, c1943-45. AWM ARTV09088

Emphasis on the Pacific region

The war in the Pacific shifted significantly in the Allies favour in the early months of 1943.

The United States (US) defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Battle of Midway in June 1942 had destroyed the Japanese Navy's ability to conduct further offensive action.

In January 1943, United States and Australian forces overcame the final Japanese stronghold in Papua at Sanananda. In February, the Japanese abandoned Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, ending 7 months of bitter fighting there.

Between 2 and 4 March, American and Australian aircraft attacked a Japanese troop convoy in the Bismarck Sea, inflicting heavy losses. General Douglas MacArthur described the action as 'the most decisive aerial engagement' fought so far in the South West Pacific region.

Japanese submarines still posed a threat to Allied shipping along Australia's coast. On 14 May, a torpedo from a Japanese submarine sank the Australian hospital ship AHS Centaur. The action killed 268 people. There were only 64 survivors.

The 9th Division arrived in Fremantle in February. This completed the return of Australian infantry from other theatres to fight in the war against Japan. To further help in that aim, the Australian Government passed a new law, the Defence (Citizen Military Forces) Act 1943. This empowered the government to send the Militia to serve anywhere in the South West Pacific.

Domestic politics

The tensions of the war were entwined with domestic politics. Female munitions workers in Melbourne went on strike in March over a pay dispute. In Sydney, striking waterside workers were threatened with losing their exemption from military service and soldiers were called in to keep the docks open.

Prime Minister John Curtin's Labor Party won a landslide victory at the federal election in August. The next month, Curtin announced to his Cabinet that the danger of invasion had passed and Australia was no longer threatened.

Events in Europe

In March, on the other side of the world, the Battle of the Atlantic reached its peak with heavy Allied losses in shipping. The air war over Europe also intensified. Australian naval and merchant navy personnel, and air force personnel, served in these struggles.

By mid-year, the war against the Axis powers had turned increasingly in the Allies' favour.

The German surrender at Stalingrad in February had marked the beginning of the end of Adolf Hitler's Reich. German and Italian forces surrendered in Tunisia in May.

On 9 July, the Allied invasion of Sicily in Italy began. No 3 Squadron RAAF, No 450 Squadron RAAF and 8 Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ships were involved in that campaign.

Asia-Pacific region

In the latter half of 1943, the Australian Army fought many heavy actions in New Guinea. The fighting had shifted westward. The Allies tried to conquer Japanese bases at Lae and Salamaua in the Huon Gulf, Finschhafen at the tip of the Huon Peninsula, and Madang, further west along the coast at Astrolabe Bay.

In October, construction of the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway was finished. Over 2000 Australian prisoners of war (POWs) died in the completion of this monumental exercise in human cruelty.

A Japanese air raid on Darwin occurred on 12 November. It was the 64th air raid since February 1942, and the last made on Australia during the war.

Photo essay: what people did

We've collated images of our veterans in the European and Pacific campaigns of the Second World War. Browse the image gallery.

In the press: what people read

Clipping of a 1943 article from The Argus newspaper published in Victoria

MUNITIONS WOMEN CEASE WORK, 23 March 1943, The Argus (Melbourne), p.3 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11331345

Clipping of a 1943 article from The Albany Advertiser newspaper published in Western Australia

THE FEDERAL ELECTIONS, The Albany Advertiser (WA), 23 August 1943, p.1 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70437871

Newsreels: what people saw

This United News footage records the opening of the Allied attack on Japanese forces at Lae, New Guinea. This is where Australian ground troops met with American paratroopers to help secure the area. US National Archives and Records Administration 1943 - ARC 38977, LI 208-UN-70.

No 10 Squadron RAAF served in the United Kingdom from the start of the war. It participated in the Battle of the Atlantic and played a vital role in defending the British coast throughout the war. British Pathé FILM ID: 1629.13

Veterans' stories: what people remembered

Norm Anderton was a prisoner of war (POW) who worked on the Burma-Thailand Railway. He recalled the introduction of 'speedo' to hasten the completion of the railroad.

John Cummins was in the Merchant Navy during the Second World War. He sailed in some Atlantic convoys. He recalled the constant threat of German aircraft and submarines.

More stories of our veterans

We've produced over 100 commemorative and education resources in the past 20 years, most of which are now available free online.

Discover Australia's military history through the experiences and stories of those who served in our armed forces.

Australian Prisoners of War 1941-1945

This is part of the series, Australians in the Pacific War. It gives a narrative and pictorial account of life in POW camps north of Australia during World War II. Includes Changi, the Burma-Thailand Railway, Sandakan, Timor, Ambon, Rabaul and Japan, and the prisoners who died at sea. Read it online or download the PDF file.

Other titles

Other resources commemorating Australians who served in the later years of World War II:


Last updated: 3 August 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), 1943: Paths to Victory in the Second World War, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 14 August 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/commemorative-stories/vp75-paths-victory/1943-paths-victory-second-world-war
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