During World War II, the United States Army Air Forces established a series of airfields in Australia for the collective defense of the country, as well as for conducting offensive operations against the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. It was from these airports and airfields in Australia, that Fifth Air Force was able to regroup, re-equip and begin offensive operations against the Empire of Japan after the disasters in the Philippines and Dutch East Indies during 1942.
Following the Japanese conquest of the Philippines, the remnants of the USAAF Far East Air Force relocated southwest to bases in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). United States Army Air Forces units in Australia, including Fifth Air Force, were eventually reinforced and re-organized following their initial defeats in the Philippines and the East Indies. After those islands also fell to Japanese forces early in 1942, FEAF headquarters moved to Australia and was reorganized and redesignated Fifth Air Force on 5 February 1942 under General George Brett in Melbourne. On paper, Brett had several hundred military aircraft of all types, but only a few of them were operational〔American Caesar, Wm. Manchester, 1978, Little Brown Company, pp.300–307: ''On and about July–Dec 1942 and Kenney's impact on MacArthur and the war, his support for Guadalcanal and his daring offensive gamble in going to meet the Japanese in the difficult jungles of New Guinea in defense of Australia, rather than risk a war of maneuver when he had insufficient forces to move around.''〕 although replacements were in the logistics pipeline inbound on freighters
Headquarters, Fifth Air Force was re-staffed at Brisbane, Australia on 18 September 1942 and Fifth Air Force was placed under the command of 52-year-old Major General George Kenney on Tuesday, 28 July and Kenney had an immediate impact. Within a month, he had his command striving for, or at least seriously thinking about seizing air superiority over New Guinea and parity over the Solomon Sea and September saw the Fifth placing several dozen bombers over New Britain and Rabuul whereas in July mere handfuls could be fielded.〔 By the end of August, before the retreat began of the Japanese attacking over the Owen Stanley Mountains, he'd established five airfields at Port Moresby, more than necessary for its defense, but a good start for staging to forward bases.〔
General Kenney encourage MacArthur to conduct a forward defense and meet the Japanese along the choke points among the jungles of New Guinea, and provided planning for airlift to put the ground forces in forward positions and supply them by air transport if necessary.〔 This model would be utilized throughout the coming two years offensives as MacArthurs ground forces conducted Leapfrogging maneuvers and used combined arms tactics while strategically bypassing Japanese strong points and forcing them to attack his defensive works as he placed forces astride their supply lines. The Fifth Air Force kept pace moving from forward air base to forward air base, repressing daylight activity by the Japanese on Land, Sea and Air. When he first proposed air supply (since sea lanes were not safe because of the position of the Japanese bases in the Solomon Sea) to an objection that his C-47 airlift units could not move trucks as well as men and materials, Kenney immediately responded that they could—by cutting the truck frames in half with torches and welding them together again on Papua.〔 By November the Fifth was in forward Headquarters in Port Moresby, though the official HQ remained in Brisbane.〔
In addition to the Air Force units, many United States Army forces embarked in Australia, using it as a base of operations prior to their deployment to New Guinea in 1942, and other islands in the Southwest Pacific, driving the Japanese forces north towards their home islands. As the ground forces moved forward, the tactical air units of the AAF moved with them, providing the necessary air support for the ground operations.
Throughout the Pacific War, Australia remained an important base of operations, but with the advance of the Allied Armies, the air bases in Australia were returned to the Royal Australian Air Force once the Allied forces deployed north during 1942 and 1943. Today, most of the airfields in the Northern Territory have returned to their natural state, being abandoned after the war, but most of the airfields in Queensland and the other Australian states and territories still exist as civilian airports or military bases.
Later, during the Cold War, the United States Air Force assigned a small number of personnel to Australia for communications duties and logistical support. Today, USAF units routinely visit Australia for joint exercises with the Australian Defence Force, with a few personnel assigned for military liaison duties.
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