Karl James

Karl James is a Senior Historian in the Military History Section, where he has worked since 2006. A graduate of the University of Wollongong, he has specialised in Australia’s involvement in the Second World War.

His forthcoming book, Double diamonds: Australian commandos in the Pacific war, 1941–45, will be published by NewSouth Books in August 2016. Richly illustrated, this work tells the stories of the famed Australian independent companies and commando squadrons that served in Timor, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Borneo in the Second World War. Karl’s previous book, The hard slog: Australians in the Bougainville campaign, 1944–45 was published by Cambridge University Press in 2012 as part of the Australian Army History Series.

Karl has also worked on several Memorial exhibitions. He was the curator for the special anniversary exhibition Rats of Tobruk, 1941, on display during 2011, and the refurbishment of the Second World War Galleries in 2010. He is also a member of the editorial staff for the Memorial’s magazine, Wartime. From 2013 Karl became a Departmental Visitor with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies at the Australian National University, Canberra.

Karl is currently working on an edited volume of Kokoda and the campaigns in Papua during 1942, and is the curator for a special exhibition on Australian Special Forces from the Second World War through to Afghanistan. Karl also has a long-term research interest in the siege of Tobruk. Please feel free to contact him if you have unpublished documents relating to either of these topics.

Selected publications


The hard slog: Australians in the Bougainville campaign, 194445, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2012

Book contributions

“More than mopping up: Bougainville” in Peter J. Dean (ed.), Australia 1944–45: victory in the Pacific, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2015

"Galleghan: hero of Changi" in Lachlan Grant (ed.), The Changi book, NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, 2015.

“‘I hope you are not too ashamed of me’: Prisoners in the siege of Tobruk, 1941” in Joan Beaumont, Lachlan Grant and Aaron Pegram (eds), Beyond  surrender: Australian prisoners of war in the Twentieth Century, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2015

“The Salamaua magnet” in Peter J. Dean (ed.), Australia 1943: The liberation of New Guinea, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2013

“On Australia’s doorstep: Kokoda and Milne Bay” in Peter J. Dean (ed.), Australia 1942: In the shadow of war, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2013

“Winnie the war winner” in Nola Anderson (ed.) Australian War Memorial: Treasures from a Century of Collecting, Murdoch Books, 2012

“The unnecessary waste: Australians in the late Pacific campaigns” in Craig Stockings (ed.), Anzacs dirty dozen: Twelve myths of Australian military history, NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, 2012


Curtin + MacArthur + Blamey, Wartime 73, 2016, pp 44-50.

"Lauded legacy", Portrait: magazine of Australian and New Zealand portraiture 50, 2015, pp 22-27.

"World War II generation fading quietly away", Sydney Morning Herald, 14 August 2015; The Age, 14 August 2015; "A great generation might quietly pass without notice", The Canberra Times, 15 August 2015: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/world-war-ii-generation-fading-quietly-away-20150814-giz0nx.html.

"Australia and the Second World War", Wartime 71, 2015, pp. 1823.

“The Kokoda Trail", Australia: the story of us 3, 2015, pp. 5865.

"Taking MacArthur back", Wartime 68, 2014, pp. 6065.

"The war that shaped Australia", Sydney Morning Herald, 5 September 2014; The Age, 5 September 2041; The Canberra Times, 6 September 2014: http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-war-that-shaped-australia-20140904-10c1wx.html.

"Spitfires on the Continent", Wartime 66, 2014.

[With Lachlan Grant], “The liberation of Australian New Guinea”, Wartime 64, 2013.

General Clowes of Milne Bay”, Wartime 59, 2012.

“Desert war”, Capital 52, 2011.

“The great siege”, Wartime 54, 2011.

“The Grecian disaster”, Wartime 54, 2011.

“The six year war”, Capital 48, 2010.

“Those ‘army-navy freaks’“, Wartime 51, 2010.

“The first kill”, Wartime 49, 2010.

“The greyhounds of Kokoda”, Wartime 48, 2009.

Kokoda ‘Track’ or ‘Trail’?”, Wartime 48, 2009.

Hell was let loose’: the RAN Beach Commandos at Balikpapan, July 1945”, International Journal of Naval History, vol. 8, no. 2, 2009.

“‘The track’: a historical desktop study of the Kokoda Track”, report commissioned by the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 2009.

“Soldiers to citizens”, Wartime 45, 2009.

Gallant fighter”, Wartime 43, 2008.

“Australia’s other Asian wars”, Wartime 41, 2008.

“The ‘atmosphere of the place and the spirit of the people’: why historians visit battlefields when writing operational history”, Sabretache 48, 2007.

“The army’s ugly duckling”, Wartime 37, 2007.

“Hell at Porton”, Australian Army journal 3, 200506.

“A ‘prend’ indeed”, Wartime 33, 2006.

“‘Uncle Stan’ and the Staff Corps”, Sabretache 45, 2004.

“‘White, black, and brown’: attitudes to race as reflected during the Bougainville campaign, 19441945”, Alpheus 1, 2004.

Conferences and seminars

"The war that shaped Australia" in Victory in the Pacific: war and art symposium, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 15 August 2015.

"No parade-ground soldiers: Australian commandos in the Pacific war, 194145" in AsiaPacific war, 19311945 international conference, Australian National University, Canberra, 911 July 2015.

“‘Australian has got to play her part’: Australia’s late Pacific campaigns, 194445”, BAE Systems Theatre, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 2 December 2014.

"The Kokoda campaign and key military battle sites", Kokoda military heritage workshop, Kokoda Initiative, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, 11 November 2014.

"The 7th Division on the Kokoda Trail", 7th Australian Division AIF Association, 7th Division Memorial Wall, Bass Hill, Sydney, 25 October 2014.

"They also returned: Australians in the liberation of the Philippines", BAE Systems Theatre, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 21 October 2014.

“Not just ‘mopping up’: Australian aspirations and frustrations in the Pacific war, 194445” in 1944: Seventy years on international conference, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Camberley, Surrey, United Kingdom, 1417 April 2014.

“‘I hope you are not too ashamed of me’: Prisoners in the siege of Tobruk, 1941” in Prisoners of war: a conference on the Australian experience of captivity in the 20th century, Australian National University, Canberra, 56 June 2013.

“A terrible experience: the battle of Eora Creek” in Kokoda: beyond the legend international conference, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 67 September 2012.

Tour historian, 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion Association Java pilgrimage, Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours, Java, Indonesia, 2329 July 2012.

“Morshead at Gallipoli”, Australian War Memorial/Imperial War Museum Gallipoli Study Tour, Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli, Turkey, 24 May to 3 June 2012.

“On Australia’s doorstep: Kokoda and Milne Bay” in In the shadow of war: Australia 1942, Military History and Heritage Victoria, Melbourne, 2122 April 2012.

“Resources on the war in the Pacific at the Memorial” in War in the islands: the Second World War in the Pacific, Australian National University, Canberra, 9 February 2012.

“Australia’s Thermopylae: the Kokoda Trail” in The Iiternational conference on World War II: from Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal, National WWII Museum, New Orleans, LA, United States of America, 79 December 2011.

“The Rats of Tobruk” in History Teachers Association of NSW state conference 2011, University of Sydney, 2223 July 2011.

“The ‘immortal Kokoda Trail’: the riddles of Kokoda” in Contested memories: case studies from the World Wars, University of Queensland, 20 November 2009.

”Heroes and villains: Australian militia battalions in the Kokoda campaign, JulyAugust 1942” in Constructing the past, Australian Historical Association conference, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, 30 June to 3 July 2009.

“'Hell was let loose.' Making order from confusion: the RAN Beach Commandos at Balikpapan, July 1945” in 2007 Naval History Symposium, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD, 2022 September 2007.

(with Kazuhiro Monden) “Return to New Guinea: comparing Australian and Japanese memories of the New Guinea campaign” in War and our world, University of Manchester, UK, 1921 July 2007.

“‘To sniff or not to sniff’: should historians visit battlefields when writing operational history?” in Genres of history: Australian Historical Association 2006 biennial conference, Australian National University, Canberra, 37 July 2006.

“Gavin Long and the ‘Bean’ tradition” in Mars and Minerva: intellectuals and war in Australia and New Zealand, University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, 46 February 2006.

“‘Fellow citizens, the war is over’: Bougainville, August 1945” in Canada and Australia: experiences of war, University of Wollongong, New South Wales, 10 November 2005.

“‘It is considered that no nurses or AWAS should be brought into the area until American Negroes have departed’: attitudes to race as reflected during the Bougainville Campaign, 194445” in Visions: 12th biennial national conference of the Australian Historical Association, Newcastle, New South Wales, 59 July 2004.

“Uncle Stan and the Staff Corps” in Feast by the Murray: Australian Historical Association 30th anniversary conference, Mildura, Victoria, 28 September to 1 October 2003.

“Australia’s war in the south-west Pacific, 19441945: a work in progress” in People and war: aspects of military history, University of Wollongong, New South Wales, 1618 July 2001.