1944: Paths to Victory in the Second World War
The war had turned in the Allies' favour by 1944 but there was still much hard fighting ahead. Australians were engaged in draining campaigns along the coast and in the mountains and jungles of New Guinea. By year's end, Australian troops were also engaged in Bougainville and New Britain. A breakout of Japanese prisoners at the Cowra prison camp brought the war back to Australia. In Europe, Australian aircrew, naval and merchant navy personnel participated in operations related to the D-Day landings, the Battle of the Atlantic, and the air war over Germany and occupied Europe.
Pacific campaigns and D-Day in Europe
Australians in New Guinea
The campaigns in New Guinea continued into 1944.
In January and February, the 9th Australian Division secured the Huon Peninsula. On 23 January, the Australian 7th Division cleared the razor-backed Shaggy Ridge, bringing an end to the Markham and Ramu Valley – Finisterre Range campaign.
In April, along the northern coast of New Guinea, Australian forces captured Madang and Alexishafen.
On the home front
By this stage of the war, northern Queensland had become a massive staging depot for the Allied war against Japan. Troops trained in jungle warfare on the Atherton Tablelands. Along the tropical beaches, they practised for the amphibious landings that were still to come.
On 29 April, Prime Minister of Australia, John Curtin, arrived in London to attend the Commonwealth Conference between the respective prime ministers. He was away from the country for just over 2 months, returning on 3 July 1944.
In August, the war had returned to Australia in an unexpected way. Japanese prisoners at Cowra prisoner-of-war camp, New South Wales, attempted a mass breakout. Tragically, 234 were killed and 108 were wounded. Four Australian guards also died in the Cowra breakout.
On 17 September, Australian camera operator, Damien Parer, was killed. He had been filming American troops in action on Peleliu Island. Parer's film, Kokoda Front Line!, had won an Oscar for best documentary at the 1943 Academy Awards. It had brought home to many people the conditions in which Australian troops were fighting in the Pacific.
In November, the Australian Government approved sending Australian Women's Army Service members overseas.
On 8 November 1944, the iconic 'G for George', a Lancaster bomber that had survived 90 operations, arrived at the Amberley air base in Queensland on a fundraising tour.
Americans and Australians in the Pacific
In October, Australian troops arrived in New Britain. The island had become known as the 'Japanese Gibraltar' because of the large number of Japanese troops stationed there.
US General Douglas MacArthur and 80,000 troops of the US 6th Army landed on Leyte, the Philippines, in October. This signalled the start of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Royal Australian Navy (RAN) vessels were involved. HMAS Australia was subject to what is thought to be a kamikaze attack by Japanese planes, which introduced a horrific new tactic to the Pacific war.
In December, Australian troops landed on Bougainville island to relieve US forces.
War in Europe
By 1944, the war in Europe had clearly turned in the Allies' favour.
Bombings of German cities, ports and military installations continued. Australian aircrew paid a heavy price in these raids. Bomber Command suffered huge casualties. Of some 125,000 Allied aircrew, 55,000 were killed on air operations. Of these, around 3500 were Australian. This made the bombing campaign against Germany and Italy Australia's costliest campaign of the Second World War.
The Allied invasion of Italy saw Mussolini's government overthrown. Italy joined the Allies.
On 6 June, the D-Day landings occurred in France. It was the largest amphibious operation in world history, opening a new front against the Germans, whose armies were being pushed back by the Russian Army on the Eastern Front.
Photo essay: what people did
We've collated images of Pacific campaigns and Australians contributions to D-Day in Europe during 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 a 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
- Australian Prisoners of War 1941-1945
- 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