The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force was the first military unit raised in 1914 for service overseas. The Australian Government began recruiting sailors and troops a week after Britain entered the war. The men captured and occupied German New Guinea and Nauru in September 1914.
Recruitment of the force
Being at war with Germany made the Australian Government feel threatened by the presence of German navy ships and colonial outposts nearby in the Pacific region.
The government formed the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) in response to those perceived threats.
The men who enlisted in the AN&MEF were trained in a hurry - ready for action.
Before recruiting began, hundreds of men registered their interest to serve in the inevitable war. They signed up with the army, navy and other organisations, such as the South African Soldiers' Association. Mostly these men were members of the Citizen Forces or the Naval Reserves, or veterans of previous conflicts.
On 11 August 1914, Frederick Tickell, the Director of Naval Reserves, reported his plans to the government. Tickell said he could quickly raise a naval contingent of 500 men for the AN&MEF by recruiting:
- 200 men from Sydney
- 100 men from Melbourne
- 300 men from the other states
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) advertised in newspapers from 12 to 17 August, asking for volunteers to join the new force:
NAVAL RESERVES. CHANCE FOR SERVICE. Naval reserve men who want to see service will have a chance of joining the Australian Expeditionary Force. Captain Brownlow, the District Naval Officer, intimates that time-expired Royal Navy seamen and sea men belonging to the Naval Reserves of Great Britain and Australia should report to him at once at Edgecliff if they wish to be considered.
[NAVAL RESERVES, The Sun, Sydney, 12 August 1914]
The government opened recruiting offices at army barracks around the country on 11 August 1914. Thousands of men tried to enlist in the forces.
The AIF had strict enlistment standards. Only the fittest and most suitable men were selected for the:
- AN&MEF - to serve in operations to seize German possessions in the Pacific
- Australian Imperial Force (AIF) - to serve overseas in other wartime operations
First commitment to action
The New South Wales infantrymen made a celebrated march through Sydney streets to their ship, HMAS Berrima (later HMAT Berrima). They embarked for training on Palm Island, Queensland, on 19 August 1914.
The new unit was to comprise:
- 1000 infantrymen who enlisted in Sydney - the 1st Battalion
- 500 naval reservists and time-expired Royal Navy seamen - who served as infantry
- 500 volunteers from the 3rd Queensland (Kennedy) Regiment - which had garrisoned Thursday Island when the war began
After less than 2 weeks of basic military training in Queensland, the unit departed for Port Moresby.
(The expedition leaders decided to leave behind the 500 recruits from the Kennedy Regiment. The men were deemed undisciplined after a mutiny on the ship from Thursday Island.)
Operation in New Guinea
The most important task for the Australians was to destroy German wireless communications. This would disrupt the operation of the East Asiatic Squadron - Germany's most powerful fleet in the region.
Transported on HMAS Berrima, the force was escorted by:
- HMA Ships Australia, Sydney, Encounter, Warrego, Yarra and Parramatta
- HMA Submarines AE1 and AE2
- one store ship
- three colliers (coal-carrying cargo ships)
The conquest was not as easy as the government had expected.
Naval troops from HMA Ships Sydney, Warrego and Yarra landed at Herbertshoe and Kabakaul on the island of New Britain on 11 September to search for radio stations.
The AN&MEF was superior to the German troops and their Melanesian militia stationed in New Guinea. But the Australians met unexpected resistance at Kabakaul, in the Battle of Bitapaka.
Troops from HMAS Berrima occupied Rabaul on 12 September.
After a few days, the Australians established control over most of the German protectorate.
Many members of the AN&MEF continued to serve Australia during the war as part of the AIF.
First Australian casualty - and the first medal
Able Seaman Bill Williams, aged 28, was wounded by German sniper fire at Bita Paka on 11 September. He died on HMAS Berrima the same day - the first recorded Australian casualty of World War I.
Lieutenant Thomas Bond, aged 52, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his bravery at Bita Paka. With one officer and one man, he disarmed eight Germans. This would have humiliated the Germans in front of the 20 Micronesian militia who accompanied them.
Bond had the honour of receiving the first Australian decoration of the war. He later joined the 1st Royal Australian Navy Bridging Train (RANBT) and served in the Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine campaigns.
First naval loss
On the evening of 14 September 1914, the navy lost a vessel. HMA Submarine AE1 sank without a trace off Neulauenburg (modern-day Duke of York Islands), north-east of New Guinea.
Other German outposts in the Pacific
A force of New Zealand troops, escorted by 5 RAN ships and a French ship, captured and occupied German Samoa on 30 August 1914.
On 9 September, a landing party of 25 naval personnel from HMAS Melbourne landed on Nauru. They arrested the German administrator and destroyed the wireless equipment. Australian troops occupied the island until the end of the war.
The Japanese had declared war on Germany by 23 August 1914. Japan took control of all Germany's colonial possessions in East Asia and Micronesia. These actions annoyed the commanders of the Australian mandated territories because the East Asian sites were valuable.