Anzac Day Celebrated Across The Pacific

admin's picture

First Australia, New Zealand victory of WWI nearly forgotten

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, April 25, 2014) – Dawn services have been held across the Pacific to commemorate the contribution of Australians, New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders during both World Wars.

While Anzac Day commemorates the landing in Gallipoli in 1915, Australia and New Zealand's first involvement in World War I came months earlier in the Pacific.

After the outbreak of war, Britain tasked Australia and New Zealand with destroying German radio and re-fuelling stations in Germany's Pacific territories.

Dr Christine Winter, a Senior Research Fellow at Sydney University, says the goal was to eliminate the threat of German cruisers to merchant shipping in the region.

"They controlled and allowed the German navy to operate, and the main wireless station was in German New Guinea," she said.

"So when you get the wireless station, the ships can't be coordinated and the navy can be busted."

New Zealand's Samoa Expeditionary Force began the occupation of German Samoa in August 1914, after the German's refused to surrender but offered no resistance.

Meanwhile, the 2,000 men of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force targeted wireless stations in Yap, Nauru, and Rabaul in what was then German New Guinea.

In September 1914, Australian forces attacked German New Guinea, first encountering a force of German and Melanesian policemen at the Battle of Bita Paka.

Six Australians were killed in the fighting, while Dr Winter says the German side also suffered heavy losses.

"But the names actually of the largest group of first casualties in World War I, 33 New Guinean men, are not known," she said.

"Neither then, nor today, do we really know where they're from, what their names are - we know they're German colonial police, but that's about it."

The German forces retreated to Toma, where they were besieged by Australian troops and cruisers, forcing them to surrender.

"After that initial battle, the New Guinean Police decided that this is not worth pursuing, so they retreated, and put down their arms," Dr Winter said.

"So really, the first surrender is by New Guineans in World War I."

Other German Pacific territories continued to fall soon after, and Samoa and New Guinea remained occupied until the end of the war.

Dr Winter says while it was seen as an important victory at the time, events in Europe soon overwhelmed the Pacific campaign.

"With the war starting in the Pacific, in our own backyard, there was a lot of optimism, there was a lot of talk in the community," she said.

"But over time, the horrors of the Western Front and the loss of life layered different images into the public.

"Also, while the Pacific campaign was very successful, it was ultimately boring - nothing really happened."

Dr Winter says she hopes that Australia, PNG and Germany may one day hold joint commemorations of this early action in World War I.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment