Australian soldiers in North Africa looking over a JU 87D dive bomber from StG 3, 3rd Dive Bomber Wing shot down in the Western Desert.(Photo courtesy of the collection of the Australian War Memorial).
The Stuka, as this plane was known, was already obsolete when the war broke out although it was used to deadly effectiveness in the Blitzkrieg as “flying artillery.” Nonetheless, with a fixed undercarriage the plane averaged 240 miles per hour which meant it could only be employed if the Germans had full control of the air. In the Battle of Britain, the Stukas proved so vulnerable to RAF fighters that they had to be withdrawn from service in the West.
Australian troops fighting with the British 8th Army made heroic contributions to Allied campaigns in North Africa, Crete, Greece and the Italian Campaign. According to the official Australian history of World War Two, 9,572 Australians were killed in action fighting against Nazi Germany (and Italy). More than twice that number, 17,501 were killed in action fighting the Japanese.
Many photos from the war in North Africa were taken by Australians because Australian forces were employed in the Western Desert campaign as part of the British Eighth Army. Great Britain had appealed to the self-governing Dominions (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and others) to send troops to bolster the British Army. The dominions complied with the proviso they could get their soldiers back if they needed them.
Australian soldiers on a wrecked German Ju 87B Stuka dive bomber, Libya, circa 1941
Photo by P. W. Kendall courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.
While still provoking controversy today, British generals considered Imperial and Commonwealth troops to be far better assault troops than the average British divisions. Actually, they considered them better assault troops than any British divisions except the most elite British forces such as the Guards Armored Brigade, composed of men from the Royal Household troops. (These are the soldiers who stand guard in redcoats at Buckingham Palace and other places). The Australians were favored over all dominion troops except for the New Zealanders who were thought by many to be the toughest fighting troops in the British Empire.
Australian troops moving up to the front lines during the Battle of Tobruk
(photo courtesy of Australian War Memorial)
We forget that at the beginning of World War Two there was only one super power: the British Empire. Without the massive help which came from all colonies of her Empire, Britain would have had difficulty staying in the war until the USA came in.