A new book explores how the Australian Army became the world’s deadliest jungle fighting force.
In Jungle Warriors, Victoria University historian Dr Adrian Threlfall uncovers the extraordinary transformation of our soldiers during the Second World War to become some of the most feared jungle fighters.
“What’s so fascinating is how quickly the Australian Army transforms itself from a mostly part-time military force totally unprepared for conflict of any kind in 1939 into a professional, experienced and highly skilled jungle warfare force by 1945,” Dr Threlfall said. “It’s a story of adaption and ingenuity.”
Jungle Warriors - which was launched in March at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance - takes us from the Australian training camps to the battlefields of North Africa and the Mediterranean to Milne Bay, Kokoda, and final victory in Borneo, Bougainville and New Guinea.
Along the way it shows how Australian soldiers evolved from being trained for and fighting European and desert wars, to fighting in open country in large numbers, to the very close warfare of jungle combat over the course of the Second World War.
Interestingly, it notes how effectively the force adapted to each situation, but especially to jungle fighting after Japan entered the war in 1941.
“There was an extraordinary array of changes to weapons, equipment, tactics and training over just a few years, as well as some very painful lessons that resulted in the unnecessary deaths of so many Australian men,” Dr Threlfall said.
“The combined impact of all this was one of the most remarkable transformations for any modern army.”
Dr Threlfall has researched this area of military history since his PhD thesis at Victoria University, which he completed in 2008. He is also a member of the education team at Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance.