Little-known operations 1939-1945

Several thousand Australians served in locations remote from the main areas of Australian operations during World War II. They served in places like China, Russia, the Faroe Islands, Madagascar, Burma, the West Indies, Iraq, Kenya, the Azores and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) personnel were the more likely to serve in far-flung locations. For instance, the crew of HMAS Perth spent the first six months of the war escorting tankers between Trinidad in the West Indies and Venezuela in South America as well as duties in the western Atlantic. HMA Ships Napier, Nizam and Norman participated in the invasion of Madagascar in 1942. Other RAN personnel served in British and Allied ships including convoy escorts from the South Atlantic to the Arctic and even a mini-submarine raid in Indo-China (Vietnam).

Aircrews trained under the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) could be sent literally anywhere with Royal Air Force (RAF) units. Most served in Europe and the Mediterranean but others, such as Flying Officer John Richard Hutchins, served in diverse locations. Hutchins became the only Australian serviceman lost off the coast of Brazil after his RAF Transport Command aircraft crashed. Several thousand Australians served with squadrons in India and Burma.

Members of some Australian Army units also spent time elsewhere. The 7th Division Cavalry Regiment was in Cyprus in 1941 and the 16th and 17th Infantry Brigades served in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) during 1942. Others were posted to special duties in even smaller groups, such as the officers and men from the 8th Australian Division sent to China with 'Tulip Force' during 1941-1942.

Trainee Rhodesian, Australian and British air crews on the ranges with their guns during the early stages of their training. The men are grouped around a British .303 Browning gun. Rhodesia, c1940

Rhodesia, South Africa Trainee Rhodesian, Australian and British air crews on the ranges with their guns during the early stages of their training. The men are grouped around a British .303 Browning gun. Rhodesia, c1940. [AWM MED0010]

Mission 204 - 'Tulip Force'

A small group of Australians from the 8th Australian Division was posted to the Bush Warfare School in Burma in 1941. The men were trained in demolition, ambush and engineering reconnaissance during October and November. The two officers and 43 men became part of 'Tulip Force', a top-secret mission to train Chinese guerrillas to fight the Japanese. The British provided equipment, supplies and the remainder of the men. In February 1942, the men travelled in trucks up the Burma Road towards China for 18 days, covering more than 3000 kilometres. From there they travelled another 800 kilometres by train into China before trekking into the mountainous border region to join the Chinese 5th Battalion commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Chen Ling Sun. They travelled with eight tonnes of equipment and their explosives were packed into small square coolie baskets and carried with them.

The Australian Minister in Chungking, Sir Frederick Eggleston, visited the men in their camp at Kiyang at the end of May. After his visit to Kiyang, the Australian Minister sent another cable to Australia recommending that the men remain there.

The Australians remained in the mountains with the Chinese guerrillas until September 1942, when the project was abandoned. The Australians did not participate in any of the Chinese guerrilla activities; they suffered from malaria, dysentery and typhus; and they had no confidence in the Chinese commander under whom they were to serve.


Last updated: 12 October 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Little-known operations 1939-1945, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 29 October 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/events/little-known-operations-1939-1945
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