As a member of the British Commonwealth, Australia entered World War II when Britain declared war on Germany. The Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Gordon Menzies, made the announcement on September 3, 1939. In total, almost 1 million Australians served during the war in Europe, North Africa, Southeast Asia, and throughout the Pacific region. Precise statistics vary across research sites, but approximately 39,000 were killed, and 30,000 were taken prisoner.
Within the country of Australia, the war in Europe seemed remote, but when Japan entered the war in December 1941, invasion loomed as a very real threat. The first attack on the mainland occurred in the northern city of Darwin, which was bombed by Japanese warplanes on February 19, 1942. In that attack, approximately 200 civilians were killed. Other attacks of northern Australian cities followed.
Because Britain was unable to send troops to aid in Australia's defense, the United States assumed responsibility for the protection of the country, sending ships, aircraft, equipment, and reinforcements. By 1943, 250,000 US soldiers were stationed in cities on the east coast. Numerous Allied victories around the Pacific theater began to reduce the threat of imminent invasion.
Short term effects of the war in Australia included the rationing of meat, sugar, tea, butter, and other commodities. Barbed wire was placed upon eastern beaches, and blackouts were imposed. Many individual families dug air raid shelters. The Australian government imprisoned citizens born in enemy countries such as Japan, Germany, and Italy in internment camps. The government also censored the news.
As in the United States, wartime brought economic prosperity to Australia as industries ramped up production of wartime needs. Many jobs were created, and because so many men were overseas fighting, women entered the workforce as never before. Women also joined the military forces, although only in noncombat positions.
Long-term effects of the war included mental instability, post-traumatic stress, suicidal tendencies, and alcoholism in returning servicemen. The Cold War, which altered diplomatic relationships around the world, also impacted Australia.
With the awareness that Great Britain was unable to protect Australia in times of distress, the war weakened Australia's relationship with Great Britain. Instead, Australia developed a stronger relationship with the United States. The Australian economy continued to prosper in the wake of the industrial surge during the war.