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
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.
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.
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
Newsreels: what people saw
Veterans' stories: what people remembered
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 resources commemorating Australians who served in the later years of World War II:
- Australia's Home Defence
- Battle of the Beachheads 1942-1943
- Bomber Command
- Borneo 1942-1945
- Bougainville 1942-1945
- Burma and India 1941-1945
- New Britain 1941-1945
- Royal Australian Air Force 1941-1945
- Royal Australian Navy 1939-45
- Royal Australian Navy in the Atlantic and Mediterranean
- Sandakan 1942-1945
- Stolen Years: Australian Prisoners of War
- United Kingdom: Australians in World War II
- Huon Peninsula 1943-1944
- The Markham and Ramu Valleys 1943-1944