A little known chapter in Australia’s military history is the Occupation of Japan immediately after World War Two. In February 1946 Australia entered an important phase of national maturity when the first members of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) arrived in Japan to disarm the former foe and to establish order in the region. Australia was about to withdraw most forces in 1950 when the Korean War erupted on 25th June 1950.
The United Nations intervened in Korea and Australia was committed within days. By late September 1950 Australian Diggers were in action and rapidly helped push the North Koreans back to the Yalu River. Numerous RAN ships were deployed while the RAAF also expanded and continued in support. On 1st November 1950 the Chinese Communists entered the war and reversed earlier gains with a famous defensive battle fought by the Australians at Kapyong. A stalemate was soon reached. After protracted peace negotiations an uneasy peace was declared on 27th July 1953. 340 Australians lost their lives in the conflict.
A cruel guerilla war in the Malayan Peninsular between the British Commonwealth and Communist Terrorists (CT’s) lasted from 16th June 1948 to 31st July 1960. Australia’s involvement began in 1950 with the arrival of RAAF aircraft. In October 1955 the first land combat troops arrived in Penang and the Australians enjoyed considerable success. Several RAN ships also served in Malayan waters. A total of 39 Australian service personnel died serving in the Malayan Emergency.
In 1964 Indonesia launched a campaign of Confrontation against the newly created Federation of Malaysia. The Malaysian Government requested Australian support and in January 1965 Australian troops were deployed to Borneo to thwart enemy incursions into Sarawak and Sabah. Highly classified cross border operations were untaken by the Australian and other British troops until the conflict formally ended in August 1966. Throughout the period from 1962 to 1966 and beyond ships of the RAN served in surrounding waters and several RAAF squadrons were also involved. A total of 23 Australian service men were killed during Confrontation.
Following the defeat of the French in 1954, Vietnam was partitioned at the 17th Parallel with the Communists to the North and the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) in the South. There followed growing unrest in the South spawned by the Communist National Liberation Front. At the request of the RVN Australian advisers arrived in South Vietnam on 3rd August 1962. The deteriorating military situation in late 1964 resulted in sizeable US and Australian ground forces being deployed. The commitment continued to grow with RAN ships providing logistic, blockade and counter battery fire support. The RAAF also made a significant contribution with bomber and transport aircraft plus the ubiquitous Iroquois helicopters. From the beginning the Australians clashed frequently with small groups of VC and North Vietnamese Army regulars. Despite tactical successes, public opinion in Australia and the US became stridently anti-war and was exacerbated by the divisive Conscription issue and mounting casualties. From November 1970 there began a run down of Australian land forces. Despite the apparent success of the Paris Peace talks the NVA started a concerted effort to overthrow the RVN government in early 1975 and Saigon fell on 29th April 1975. More than 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam with over 500 fatalities and 3,129 wounded.
Since the inception of the United Nations Security Council after World War Two member states have taken responsibility for defence of other states against aggression as well as internal civil wars and disaster situations. The more significant UN operations involving Australia have the Korean War and the two Gulf Wars. The role of observers in the Middle East and Kashmir has been ongoing for many decades and there is the continuing conflict in Afghanistan. Less significant commitments have taken Australian troops to dozens of separate operations or missions in areas as diverse as the Balkans, Rwanda, Somalia and Haiti.