Australia’s involvement in the First World War began when Britain and Germany went to war on 4 August 1914, and both Prime Minister Joseph Cook and Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher, who were in the midst of an election campaign, pledged full support for Britain. The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia, as in many other places, with great enthusiasm.
The first significant Australian action of the war was the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force’s (ANMEF) landing on Rabaul on 11 September 1914. The ANMEF took possession of German New Guinea at Toma on 17 September 1914 and of the neighbouring islands of the Bismarck Archipelago in October 1914. On 9 November 1914 the Royal Australian Navy made a major contribution when HMAS Sydney destroyed the German raider SMS Emden.
On 25 April 1915 members of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) landed on Gallipoli in Turkey with troops from New Zealand, Britain, and France. This began a campaign that ended with an evacuation of allied troops beginning in December 1915. The next year Australian forces fought campaigns on the Western Front and in the Middle East.
Throughout 1916 and 1917 losses on the Western Front were heavy and gains were small. In 1918 the Australians reached the peak of their fighting performance in the battle of Hamel on 4 July. From 8 August they then took part in a series of decisive advances until they were relieved in early October. Germany surrendered on 11 November.
The Middle East campaign began in 1916 with Australian troops taking part in the defence of the Suez Canal and the allied re-conquest of the Sinai Desert. In the following year Australian and other allied troops advanced into Palestine and captured Gaza and Jerusalem; by 1918 they had occupied Lebanon and Syria and on 30 October 1918 Turkey sued for peace.
For Australia, the First World War remains the costliest conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.