World War II: Country Pages--The British Dominions

Figure 1.--Churchill talked about fighting Hitler alone after the fall of France. This little girl in many ways symbolizes the British resistance to the NAZI onslaught. In fact, however, the British were never entirely alone. The Dominions were with her from the start. And while small in population, taken as a whole they brought substantial manpower and resources to the fight. The British Dominions (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa) were by the time of World War II all self governing. In World War I they had not been asked, in World Wat II they joined Britain on their own initiative. They were not immediately threatened by Germany, but they all decided to support Britain in her hour of need. The Canadians played the most immediate role. But it was largely up to Britain and the RAF to stop the Germans after the fall of France with only limited assistabce. And despite the Blitz against all odds, the British did just that. After this the substantial resources of the Empire could be brought to bear on Germany. America would help keep Britain solvent and supplied. That commitment would endanger Australia and New Zealand as their army was in the Middle East when the Japanese launched the Pacific War. It would be the U.S. Pacific Fleet not the Royal Navy that would stop the Japanese onslaught. First in the Coral Sea and then at Midway.

When Britain declared war against Germany in World War I (August 1914), the entire British Empire was automatically at war also. This meant that the dominions of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa were also at war with Germany. The role of the Dominions ws very important in the Allied War effort. While the Dominions proudly gave great service during the war, this automatic commitment became a source of irritation to Dominion nationalists. The Dominions by the Statute of Westminster won the right to be consulted in 1931. In World War II they thus made their own declarations of war, around the same time as Britain in September 1939. They were not required to do so, but loyally followed Britain into the War. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand strongly backed Britain. There was considerable support for the Germns among the Afrikaaners in South Africa, even after the NAZIs invaded the Netherlands. . Indian support of Britain was severely impaired by the growing independence movement which was strongly pacifistic. The Dominions again played a major role in the War, although Austrlian support of Britain meant that the Audtralian Army was in Egypt when the Japanese attacked. As in World War I, the contributions of the individual Dominions by themselves was not decisive, but the combined contribution of the Dominions to the British war effort was very substantial.


Australia joined Britain in fighting NAZI Germany after the German invasion of Poland (1939). As in World War I, the draft became a potent political issue. War with Italy followed after Mussolini declared war and invaded an already defeated France (June 1940). Australia's small army was deployed to Egypt and played a major role in the defense of the Suze Canal against Rommel's Afrika Korps. Other Australia units were deployed to the British bastion at Singapore. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Singapore quickly fell. Perhaps the greatest dusaster to British arms in the War. The British and Australians taken in Singapore were bryrally treated by the Japanese. The fall of Singapore meant that Australia itself was largely defenseless, Its army was either in North Africa or captured along with the Singapore garrison. After seizing the Dutch East Indies and much of New Guinea. The Japanese bombing Darwin and other cities in northern Australia. The Japanese next targeted Port Moresby to complete their conquest of New Guinea in preparation for an eventual invasion of Australia. The country was vulnerable because the Australian Army was largely in North Africa fighting the Afrika Korps. The Australians had also been weakened by the surrender in Singapore. At the time the only meaningful force between Australia abd the Japanese were two American carriers Yorktown and Lexington. These carrers alerted by American code breakers and intercepted the Japanese in the Coral Sea (April 1942). Although Lexington was sunk and Yorktown badly damaged, the Japanese invasion force turned back. This gave the Australians time to train a new army and for American troops and supplies to arrive in Australia to build a creditable force. The Australians then turned back a Japanese effort to seize Port Moresby in an overland attack and played an important role in the reconquest of New Guinea.


Canada loyally followed Britain into World War II. The controversy over conscription became a major political issue which impeded the Canadian war effort. French Canadians in particular were unenthusiastic about fighting in what they saw as a British war. Canadian ports and the Canadian Navy played an important role in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Royal Canadian Navy almost did not exist before the War and was rapidly expanded to a major naval force. The Canadians also hosted a major effort to train the air crews for the Strategic Bombing Campaign. Canadian industrial and agricultural production and raw materials were important to the British war effort. Some British children were sent to Canada for saftey early in the War, but this was discontinued when children were lost to U-boat attacks and the threat of NAZI invasion receeded. Canadian units were badly mauled at the poorly conceived Dieppe landings (August 1942). The Canadians played a major role in the D-Day, landing at Juno Beach. They went on to form an important part of Montgomery's First Army in the liberation of France and the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands) and the final push into NAZI Germany.


The independence movement led by Mahatma Ghandi and the Congress Party gained considerable strength during the 1920s and 30s. The British were having increasing difficulties governing India. The Congress Party while refusing to support the War efort, decided not to actively oppose it or to take advantage of British defeats in the early stages of the War. Some Indian POWs taken by the Japanese were recruited by anti-British nationalists and formed the Free Indian Army. Under Subhashchandra Bose, they fought alongside the Japanese in Burma. Overall, India played an important part in the Allied war effort. Indian units fought with other British Empire forces in both the Pacific and European theaters. About 2.5 million Indians (including modern Pakistan) were mobilized. Some Indian units played important roles in the early stages of the War before Britain had fully mobilized and American joined the War. The Fifth Indian Division ngaged the Italians in the Sudan ans subsequently the Germans in the western Desert. The Indians played a major role in quelling a pro-NAZI revolt in Iraq. A successful revolt would have cut the British off from the Iraqi oil fields whigh would have undermined the naval and land defenses of Egypt and the Suez Canal. the Division along with eight other Indian Divisions fought in Burma. After the Japanese surrender, the Indian forces then disarmed the Japanese forces in Malayia and Java. India provided important bases for the recinquest of Burma and delivering supplied to the Chinese. India also was a source of food and other supplies for British and Commonwealth forces as well as the British homefront.

New Zealand

New Zealand following the NAZI invasion of Poland was one of the first countries to join Britain after it declared war in Germany (September 1939). New Zealand played a role in the Battle of Britain. New Zealand like Australia also was an important part of the British forced that fought in North Africa. As a result, New Zealand and Australia found itself inmperiled after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor (December 1941). Only the remaining American fleet stood between the Imperial Fleet and Australia and New Zealand. The Japanese turned back after the Battle of the Coral Sea (April 1942). The immediate danger was not releaved until the American Navy devestated the Japanese carrier force at Midway (June 1942). American men and material poured into New Zealand in preparation for the Allied offensive in the South Pacific.

South Africa

The Union of South Africa was created after the Boer War (1910). The Union consisted of the Cape Colony, Natal Colony, and the Boer republics of the Orange Free State, and Transvaal. The two major political parties, the South African Party and National Parties, merged to form the United Party in an attempt to untite Afrikaners and English-speaking whites (1934). The union did not last long, the two parties split only 5 years later (1939). The issue that split the United Party was joining Britain in war against the Germans. The Afrikaner dominated National Party sympathised with NAZI Germany in part because of the importance the NAZIs placed on race. Hertzog did not want to join the British in the War. He proposed that South Africa should remain neutral. Smuts wanted to support the British. Smuts won a narrow parliamentary vote. Smuts was appointed prime minister and South Africa declared war. The National Party left the United Party and continued to be pro-Germany even after the NAZIs invaded and occupied the Netherlands. South African units played an important role in early phases of the War before Britaon had fully mobilized its forces. The South Africans played a key role in the British campaign which defeated the Italians in East Africa (1941). They then proceeeded to play an important role in the Western Desert (1941-43). The South Africans also fought in the Italian campaign (1943-45). The South African forces were segregated. White troops (135,000) served in combat units. Africans and Coloreds (70,000) served in labor and transport units. South Africa was an important source of raw materials (platinum, uranium, and steel). South African ports (Durban and Cape Town) were also an import part of the Allied supply lines. This was especially important when the Axis had closed the the Mediterranean and supplies to the Desert Armybhad to flow around the Cape of Good Hope. They continued to be useful to supply Allied forces in India and Burma. Soviet Union


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Created: 1:14 AM 4/23/2006
Last updated: 1:14 AM 4/23/2006