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Research essay
Official Australian records of the Pacific War
Dr David Horner

The purpose of this paper is to describe and assess the value for particular kinds of historical inquiry of the official Australian records of the Pacific war held at the National Archives of Archives (NAA) and the Australian War Memorial (AWM). [1] The paper is divided into four sections. The first is an introductory section on the Pacific war. The next two sections cover the two main repositories (NAA and AWM) and are organised in terms of agencies and series. The final section covers historiography.

Official records refer to records raised by official government agencies, including the armed forces, and are the basic primary source for historical studies of Australia at war. Official records are not infallible; they are not always as comprehensive as the researcher might wish; they are not always as accurate as the public might expect; and they never tell the full story. Histories can always be illuminated further by reference to private letters and diaries, by published accounts by individuals and by interviews with participants. Nonetheless, the overwhelmingly prime source for reliable information is the official record. The two main repositories for official records relating to the Pacific war are the NAA and the AWM in Canberra. The NAA has offices in each state and territory but, as explained below, the principal sources for Pacific war research are at the national office in Canberra and at the office in Melbourne. Before considering these records, some comment is necessary about the Pacific war.

The Pacific war

For Australia, the Pacific war began officially on 8 December 1941 (Australian time) with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and Malaya, and ended with the signing of the surrender document in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. However, a number of qualifications must be made about these dates and about the concept of a Pacific war. The first is that the Pacific war was just part of the Second World War. Until Japan’s entry into the war, Australia’s military endeavours were focused primarily on the war against Germany and Italy, and, even after 1941, Australia maintained substantial military commitments to the Middle East and European theatres. Study of Australia’s experience of the Pacific war can never be completely insulated from consideration of events in Europe. Nonetheless, from 1941 onwards the Pacific war became the overriding focus of the Australian war effort.

The second qualification is that it is impossible to study Australia’s experience of the Pacific war without considering events well before 1941. Some historians might claim that the Pacific war began in Manchuria in 1931 or with Japan’s attack on China in 1937. Others might argue that the Australia–Japan conflict stretches back to fears roused by the Sino-Japanese war of 1898. This paper does not follow either of these broad interpretations. However, any effective study of Australia in the Pacific war must at least begin in 1939, when the government, after assessing the likely threat from Japan, decided to deploy forces to Europe. Australia’s structure for the higher direction of war was established in 1939 and developed during the next two years, so that it was largely in place by December 1941. Many decisions made during 1940 and 1941 directly affected the course of the war. For example, the decisions in 1940 and 1941 to deploy troops to Malaya had a profound effect on the shape of Australia’s war with Japan. Furthermore, to understand why Australia seemed largely defenceless in 1942 it is necessary to appreciate why large numbers of forces were sent to Europe or the Middle East. Just as December 1941 is not a convenient date to start research, research should not cease at September 1945. The war crimes trials, conducted for several years after the war, are part of the history of the Pacific war.

The third qualification concerns the fact that Australia was a junior partner in an Allied coalition. It is impossible to consider the higher direction of Australia’s war without taking into account that, until December 1941, the major strategic decisions were made in London and, thereafter, in Washington. This relationship was shown in October 1943 when the Australian War Cabinet agreed to restructure Australia’s war effort. In April–May 1944, the Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, travelled overseas to seek approval from the British and American governments. A full understanding of this aspect must take into account records held in the Allied countries (even though this is outside the scope of this paper).

Furthermore, within the major theatre of operations involving Australia – the South-West Pacific Area – there was an American commander-in-chief, General Douglas MacArthur, who commanded all Allied, including Australian, forces. Decisions about the size and deployment of Australian forces were made not by the Australian high command alone, but in consultation with MacArthur and his staff. Australia could deny the use of its forces, such as when it refused troops for MacArthur’s operation to invade Java. But the Australian government could not decide where its forces would be employed. For example, MacArthur did not use Australian troops in the Philippines despite Australia’s wishes, and indeed MacArthur’s promises, that they would be used. A full understanding of this issue demands research in the Allied records.

The fourth qualification, linked to the third, is that Australia and Japan were in an asymmetric adversarial relationship. From Australia’s perspective, from December 1941 Japan was the major enemy, and the war with Japan was the principal focus of Australia’s war effort. By contrast, Australia did not figure prominently in Japan’s strategic planning. In the early months of 1942, Japan had to decide whether or not to attack Australia, but thereafter Australia declined in importance. Thus, while Australia’s war with Japan is perhaps the most important historical event in Australian history, Japan’s war with Australia does not have quite such a central place in Japanese historiography.

A final comment must be made about the relative importance of the three services in the Pacific war. During the Second World War, over 700,000 Australians spent some time in the Australian Army; at its peak, over 500,000 Australians served in the Army at one time. In November 1944, when the Army numbered 423,000, the RAAF had a strength of 163,000, including 24,000 serving outside the South-West Pacific Area. In October 1943, the total strength of the RAN was about 35,000. Furthermore, the Army had a much greater opportunity to conduct independent operations. The major RAN elements normally operated as part of a US Navy task force. The RAAF’s offensive operations were carried out under US direction. While MacArthur had overall direction of the theatre’s operations, Australian Army units operated under Australian formation commanders, the highest being at army level, such as New Guinea Force and First Army. Inevitably, official records concerning Army operations are more substantial than those of the other two services.

In considering Australian official records and how they might assist research, it is convenient to consider a number of research categories such as:

• Australian higher direction and policy
• campaign studies
• unit histories
• technical studies into such matters as command, tactics, logistics, artillery, aircraft, ships, medicine etc.
• intelligence and special operations
• sociological studies into particular groups such as women, indigenous peoples, foreignors etc.
• studies into the effect of the war on Australian society
• the prisoner of war experience.

The official records are the basic, and in most cases the prime, source for all these areas of research. Research into higher direction and policy should be carried out at the NAA (Canberra) and the AWM. Research into campaigns and unit histories will rely primarily on material at the AWM, although RAAF research will also need to be carried out at the NAA (Canberra). Technical studies are best carried out at the AWM, but specific files will need to be examined at the NAA in Canberra and Melbourne. Intelligence and special operations pose considerable problems because many files have been destroyed, while some have not yet been released. Research should begin at the AWM, but there is some information in the NAA at Canberra and considerably more in Melbourne. Sociological studies and studies into the effect of the war on Australian society will need to be more wide-ranging than in the official records described below. Official records of government departments (such as the Attorney-General’s, Interior, Labour and National Service, External Territories, Home Security and War Organisation of Industry) not mentioned below might need to be consulted, but a discussion of them is beyond the scope of this paper. Studies into these subjects will also need to draw on non-official sources. The following comments about official records endeavour to consider their utility in the light of the categories listed above.

National Archives of Australia (Canberra)

The NAA is the repository of the records of all Commonwealth departments, offices, Royal Commissions and statutory authorities. Records are held at repositories around Australia. Files created by the Department of Defence in Victoria, for instance, are held in the Melbourne repository. Under the Archives act 1983, the public has right of access to records over thirty years old with some exceptions, such as records which could cause damage to Australia’s security or defence if they were released. The NAA holds a number of guides to the relevant series. There is also a useful guide at Appendix D to David Horner, Inside the War Cabinet, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1996. The NAA organises Commonwealth records according to the government office (known as the agency) that created and maintained them.

The agencies’ records are organised into series, and individual files in the series are known as items. Thus the file on “The defence of Queensland in 1942” is item 14/301/238 in Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) A816 (correspondence files 1924–1940) in Commonwealth Agency (CA) 37, Department of Defence Coordination, Central Office (1939–1942). When seeking official records, researchers need to provide the series and item numbers, but not the agency numbers. The list of agencies and the series contained in them can be examined by using the National Archives database RecordSearch, which is also available on the NAA internet home page (

The main groups of NAA records relating to the Pacific war are the Shedden papers, the War Cabinet records, and the records of the departments of Defence, Navy, Army and Air Force. The principal holdings in these groups are held in Canberra, except for the Navy and Army records, which are held in Melbourne. The key record group is the Shedden papers.

Shedden papers

Sir Frederick Shedden was Secretary of the Department of Defence from 1937 to 1956. He was also Secretary of the War Cabinet throughout the war, Secretary of the Advisory War Council after it was formed in 1940, and maintained the records of the Prime Minister’s War Conference (1942–43). His papers (CRS A5954) are in effect the files of the Office of the Defence Secretary and amount to over 2,500 boxes, or 200 metres of shelving. Their sheer volume makes them difficult to comprehend fully; the list of boxes alone comes to 140 pages. There is no comprehensive list of files except on the National Archives database, RecordSearch, which can be queried by keywords. However, the formal War Cabinet Minutes have been photocopied and are available on shelves in the NAA research centres.

The Shedden papers include formal minute and agenda files of the War Cabinet and Advisory War Council meetings (as well as the handwritten notes of the meetings). The papers also include the top-level correspondence between the Australian wartime Prime Ministers (Menzies and Curtin, both of whom were also Defence ministers), and senior military figures such as Generals MacArthur and Blamey. There are copies of the cabled communications between the Australian and Allied governments. There are also files on high policy issues and reports of military campaigns. In short, the Shedden papers are the most important papers for research into Australian higher direction and policy, and are also useful for studies of campaigns, intelligence and technical issues such as command.

War Cabinet records

Apart from the Shedden papers, the records of the War Cabinet and the Advisory War Council are found in 35 series from three agencies, CA 3 (Secretary to Cabinet/Cabinet Secretariat (1906–1968)), CA 1468 (War Cabinet Secretariat (1939–1946)) and CA 495 (Advisory War Council (1940–1945)). Until the Shedden papers became more accessible, these files were the key sources for Australian higher decision making. Researchers might now find it easier to use the Shedden papers. The main series are:

• CRS A2670, reference set of War Cabinet agenda with minutes, annual single number series, 28 Aug 1939–19 Jan 1946
• CRS A2671, War Cabinet agenda files, annual single number series, 28 Aug 1939–19 Jan 1946
• CRS A2676, War Cabinet minutes without agenda files, Sep 1939–Jan 1946
• CRS A2680, Advisory War Council agenda files, 29 Oct 1940–30 Aug 1945.

Department of Defence records

Although the Defence Department moved from Melbourne to Canberra in the mid-1950s, the NAA Canberra office hold records for most of this century, including the records pertaining to the Pacific war. The two agencies are CA 37, Department of Defence Coordination Central Office (1939–1942, and CA 46, Department of Defence Central Office (1942– ). Within these agencies the key series are:

• CRS A663, correspondence files, multiple number series with “O” prefix, 1940–1947
• CRS A664, correspondence files, multiple number system, 1924–1940
• CRS A816, correspondence files, multiple number system, 1935–1957
• CRS A2031, Defence Committee minutes, 1926
• CRS A5799, Defence Committee agenda, 1932 and after.

Lists of items in these series are available in the various NAA offices or can be accessed on RecordSearch (not all files are listed on RecordSearch). The files are useful for research into higher direction and policy, campaign studies, technical studies, intelligence, special operations, sociological studies and the effect on Australian society. In some respects, the files complement those held in the AWM; for example, official reports of military campaigns can be found in both the AWM and in Defence files in the NAA. However, the internal Defence files showing the policy-making process are generally not available in the AWM.

Department of the Air records

Unlike the Army and Navy records, which remained in Melbourne, the Department of the Air records were transferred to Canberra when the Department moved there in the 1950s and were later deposited in the Canberra Archives office. The following are the most important file series:

• CRS A4181, copies of Air Board agenda (1920–1976)
• CRS A705, correspondence files, multiple number (Melbourne) series (1922–1960)
• CRS A9186, RAAF unit history sheets (1925– )
• CRS A1196, correspondence files, multiple number series (classified), (1935–1960)
• AA1969/100, RAAF unit records.

To some extent, the units records duplicate those in the AWM, but together these files series constitute the most important records for research into the RAAF in the Pacific war. Series A4181, A1196 and AA1969/100 are valuable for higher policy and campaign studies. Series A9186 is valuable for unit histories, campaign studies and technical studies. Series A4181, A705 and A1196 are valuable for administrative matters.

Other departmental records

Pacific war researchers may need to consult the records of other government departments. In the Prime Minister’s Department these could include:

• A461, correspondence files, multiple number series (third system), 1934–1950
• A1209, correspondence files, annual single number series (classified), 1957–
• A1606, correspondence files, two-number system with letter prefix, secret and confidential (third system), 1926–1939
• A1608, correspondence files, multiple number system with alphabetical and general prefix “SC” (secret and confidential), 1939–1945
• CP290/6, miscellaneous cables, 1937–1943 (“CP” stands for Commonwealth Person)
• CP290/7, cables from Prime Minister of Great Britain and Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, 1939–1943
• CP290/9, cables to and from Rt Hon. R.G. Menzies and party during visit to London
• CP290/16, papers relating to wartime policy
• M1415, folders of miscellaneous correspondence of Rt Hon. J.A. Curtin, alphabetical series, 1941–1945
• M2319, folders of reports, correspondence, agenda and conference papers maintained by J.A. Curtin during World War Two, 1941–1945.
In the Department of External Affairs these could include:
• A981, correspondence files, alphabetical series, 1927–1942
• A989, correspondence files, multiple number series with year prefix, 1943–1944
• A1066, correspondence files, multiple number series with year and letter prefixes, 1943–1944
• A3300, [Australian Legation, United States of America (Washington)]; correspondence files, annual alphabetical series, 1939–1948.

These files relate mainly to matters of high policy but also touch on specific issues which might pertain to lower level studies.

Army Department files held in Canberra do not relate specifically to the Pacific war, but the Directorate of Military Intelligence agency has two useful series: CRS A3269, which contains files on the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) and the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD), including an internal official history of SRD; and CRS A6923, which is good for signals intelligence.

National Archives of Australia (Melbourne)

The service departments remained in Melbourne slightly longer than the Department of Defence and hence the files of the departments of the Army and the Navy for the wartime period are in the NAA in Melbourne. Both agencies contain valuable files concerned with the Pacific war. The Army files supplement and in some cases duplicate those in the AWM. Researchers interested in administration, organisation, home defence, intelligence and security should consult the Army files held in Melbourne. Most of them can be accessed by RecordSearch, but the file lists held in the Melbourne office should be consulted. The Navy files cover similar ground to the Army files, but are even more important for the areas of security, intelligence (including signals intelligence) and special operations. The key series are:

• CA 36; Department of the Army, Central Office (1939–1973)
• MP508/1, general correspondence, 1939–1942 (MP stands for Melbourne permanent)
• MP742/1, general correspondence, 1943–1951
• MP729/6, Defence—Army series (401), 1937–1955
• MP729/7, Defence—Army series (401), 1936–1944
• MP729/8, Army series (2nd AIF), 1940–1942
• CA 38; Navy Office [IV], Department of the Navy [II] (1939–1973)
• MP151/1, general correspondence, 1923–1950
• MP981/1, general correspondence, 1923–1950
• MP1185/8, secret and confidential correspondence files, multiple number series, 1923–1950
• MP1185/9, correspondence files, multiple number series (201 Class), 1923–1950
• MP1049/5, correspondence files (general), 1923–1950
• MP1049/9, correspondence files (general), 1923–1950
• B3476, AIB and Coastwatcher files, single number series, 1946–1949 (contents 1919–1965)

A small but important agency is CA 7137, Fleet Radio Unit, Melbourne, which includes the series B5555; it has translations of selected cipher messages and is useful for research into signals intelligence in the Pacific war.

Australian War Memorial

The official records held in the AWM, located in Canberra, are described in two AWM publications: A chronological guide to official records in the Australian War Memorial’s collections (1993) and Ian K. Smith, Records of war: a guide to military history sources at the Australian War Memorial (1996). The official records in the AWM are part of one of the Commonwealth agencies, but in many cases the records in the AWM are artificial series and have been assigned at a later date to a Commonwealth agency. In some cases, AWM series have been assigned to CA 616, in which the AWM is the agency. Files series in the AWM generally have the prefix AWM, and broad descriptions are available on the NAA database . The following information is a brief outline only.

2nd AIF (Australian Imperial Force) and CMF (Citizen Military Forces) unit war diaries, 1939–1945 war (CA 356; series: AWM 52)
This is one of the most important series for any research into Australia’s role in the Pacific war. The diaries consist of two parts—monthly summaries of daily activities and operations; and appendices containing field returns, operational reports and orders and administrative instructions. Diaries are held on almost all units of the Australian Army, including AIF and CMF units (there are a few gaps) and are the essential source for research into the history of individual units. The diaries of the higher headquarters—from brigade through to army level—usually give information on the planning, conduct and assessment of campaigns. The diaries occupy 454 metres of shelf space but are presently being copied onto microfilm.

Written records, 1939–45 wars (CA 616; AWM 54)
Depending on the purposes of the research, this series is perhaps even more important than the war diaries. The series was complied by the official historian soon after the Second World War by extracting wartime records from headquarters and other units of the Australian Imperial Force. The series includes material copied from the files of headquarters South-West Pacific Area. The series has important information about the RAAF and to a lesser extent the RAN. It is arranged by subject with file numbers assigned to different subject areas. It can be accessed by RecordSearch or by card indexes held in the AWM Research Centre. Files from this series, which occupy 143 shelf metres, are crucial for research on higher policy, campaign studies, technical studies, intelligence and special operations, and prisoners of war.

RAAF formations and unit records (CA 35; AWM 64)
These records are analogous to the army war diaries and were maintained by all RAAF units and formations. They are the main source of information on RAAF units and their operations. Squadron records usually contain a record of the sorties flown, targets, results, aircraft losses and enemy attacks. The records occupy 27 metres. The records are valuable for unit histories and broader studies of air operations. They are copies of records held in the NAA (see above).

RAAF miscellaneous records (CA 616; AWM 66)
This series was passed to the AWM from the RAAF in 1961, and consists of operational records, intelligence records, log books and miscellaneous records from RAAF headquarters, commands, installations and units. It is useful for research into RAAF operations. It occupies 43 metres.

Reports of proceedings, HMA ships and establishments (CA 38; AWM 78)
As with the previous series, this series is analogous to the army war diaries, providing monthly reports for ships and quarterly reports for shore establishments. They are valuable for unit histories and broader studies of naval operations. The records also include reports from the commanders of HMA Squadron and from Task Force 74 that operated with the Americans in the Pacific war. The series occupies 32.8 metres.

Official history, 1939–1945 war: records of Gavin Long, general editor (CA 7040; AWM 67)
The series consist of records collected by Gavin Long, the general editor of the official history of Australia in the Second World War. The most useful records are the notes of Long’s interviews with major military and civilian figures, and Long’s correspondence with similar figures in the post-war period. The series is extremely useful for research into higher policy, command and campaigns. There is a separate published guide to this series.

Other records
There are almost 100 official series and numerous private records in the AWM pertaining to the Pacific war and it is not possible to mention all of them in this paper. In addition to Gavin Long’s papers, the papers of the other official historians are very useful. The records of the official historian for the RAN volumes, G. Hermon Gill, (AWM 188) and the Navy’s historical collection (AWM 124) are good for the naval war. RAAF operations are covered in RAAF War History Section briefs and narratives (AWM 173) and in the Air Historical Branch (RAF) narratives and monographs, (AWM 220). The publications and documents of the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (AWM 55 and AWM 56) provide a good picture of the Japanese side of operations. War crimes trials are covered in the Records of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (AWM 83), Records of the Adjutant General (AWM 166) and the records of war crimes enquiries and trials (AWM 226).

Private records
A number of private records at the AWM contain substantial quantities of official records. The official records held within private records have been assigned a series, AWM 92, within CA 616. In addition, the donated records are described by the prefix DRL (donated records list) or PR (private records). The papers of Field Marshal Thomas Blamey (3DRL6643 – occupying 15 metres) are listed as private records but are in fact the official records of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief. This is a key series for understanding the Australian Army’s role in the Pacific war. The papers are crucial for any research into higher policy and campaign studies, and also important for technical studies, intelligence, special operations and even sociological issues (e.g. women etc.). There is a complete and useful guide to the papers. Research into higher policy and campaigns should take note of the papers of Lt-Gen Frank Berryman (PR84/370), who was Blamey’s chief of staff, Lt-Gen Leslie Morshead (3DRL2632), who commanded at corps level in New Guinea and Borneo, Lt-Gen Iven Mackay (3DRL6433) who commanded New Guinea Force in 1943, Lt-Gen Sydney Rowell (3DRL6763), who commanded New Guinea Force in 1942, and Lt-Gen Stanley Savige (3DRL2529), who commanded at divisional and corps level in New Guinea and Bougainville. While there are a considerable number of private collections of lower ranked officers and soldiers, these are less likely to contain official records.


It is not the purpose of this paper to provide a comprehensive survey of the hundreds of books on Australia in the Pacific war. This short survey is intended only to indicate how the official records have been used and what books might be consulted to give researchers an insight into how they might approach their own research in the official records.

The principal secondary source for Australia in the Pacific war is the official series, Australia in the war of 1939–1945, edited by Gavin Long, published by the AWM between 1952 and 1977. This 22-volume series covers both the European and Pacific wars. Both RAN volumes (by Hermon Gill) cover the Pacific war; four of the seven Army volumes (by Lionel Wigmore, Dudley McCarthy, David Dexter and Gavin Long) deal with the Pacific war, while two of the four RAAF volumes (by Douglas Gillison and George Odgers) cover the Pacific war. Of the four medical volumes (all by Allan Walker), one deals specifically with the Pacific war, but the rest also touch on it. The RAN, Army, RAAF and medical volumes rely primarily on material held in the AWM. Indeed, in many cases, the records were created by the official history unit. When using the AWM records, researchers should make themselves familiar with the relevant volume of the official history series. Unfortunately, the official histories provide no detailed references to the official records.

There are five civil volumes in the official history series, the two volumes of The government and the people by Paul Hasluck, the two War economy volumes by S.J. Butlin and C.B. Schedvin, and The role of science and industry by D.P. Mellor. These volumes rely far more on sources held in the archives than in the AWM. Unlike the operational volumes, the civil volumes have useful footnotes which quote sources, such as war cabinet agendum numbers, even though the file reference numbers are not used.

The official histories were written with full access to official records that in many cases were not available to public researchers until the 1970s. Since then, numerous books have been written on all aspects of Australia’s involvement in the Pacific war. The books mentioned below provide the best starting point for research into the official records. The most important of these relate to Australian higher direction and policy and include: Roger Bell, Unequal allies, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1977; John Robertson, Australia at war 1939–1945, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1981; David Horner, High command, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1982 and Inside the War Cabinet, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1995; and David Day, The great betrayal, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1988, and Reluctant nation, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992. These books have generally used material from a wide range of sources, but have relied heavily on information in the NAA.

A number of campaign studies have relied on official records, including: David Horner, Crisis of command, ANU Press, Canberra, 1978; Peter Charlton, The unnecessary war, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1983; Alan Powell, The shadow’s edge, Melbourne University Press, 1988; Peter Stanley, Tarakan, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1997. The prime source for these studies has been the official records in the AWM, supplemented by material from the NAA. Lex McAulay, Blood and iron, Hutchinson, Sydney, 1991, shows what can be done with the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section reports in the AWM. There are few studies of RAN or RAAF campaigns that make extensive use of official records

It is not possible to list all the unit histories, but these have generally been based on unit war diaries held in the AWM and personal reminiscences. Usually, these histories make no mention of the AWM sources used in their production. The unit history with perhaps the best guide to its sources is Margaret Barter, Far above battle, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1994.

Biographies have usually been based on private papers, but those on individuals who played a major role in the Pacific war and make extensive use of official records include: John Hetherington, Blamey, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1972 (although not footnoted fully); Brett Lodge, The fall of General Gordon Bennett, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1986, and Lavarack, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1998; and David Horner, Blamey, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1998. The private papers used by Ivan Chapman in writing Iven Mackay, Melway, Melbourne, 1975, are held in the AWM.

Books on intelligence and special operations relying heavily on official records include: Barbara Winter, The intrigue master, Boolarong, Brisbane, 1995; Alan Powell, War by stealth, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1996; and Desmond Ball and David Horner, Breaking the codes, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1998.

Other books that make particular use of official records include: Robert Hall, The black diggers, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1989; Joyce Thomson, The WAAF in wartime Australia, Melbourne University Press, 1991; Margaret Bevege, Behind barbed wire, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1993; A.T. Ross, Armed and ready, Turton & Armstrong, Sydney 1995.

Selected official records have been reproduced in the series of books, Documents on Australian foreign policy 1937–1949, published by the Australian Government Publishing Service for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade between 1975 and 1989. Volumes I to VIII cover the period from 1937 to 1945. Also useful is John Robertson and John McCarthy, (eds), Australian war strategy 1939–1945: a documentary history, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1985.


Taken together, the official records described above provide a most comprehensive picture of Australia’s involvement in the Pacific war. Researchers should be able to focus their research on specific file series depending on their areas of interest. The records are concentrated in Canberra (at the NAA and the AWM), but for specific topics researchers will need to visit Melbourne. Records are held in the National Archives offices in the other capital cities, but, except for specific topics, such as internal security, internees, and matters specific to those states, researchers will not generally need to travel to the other states.

This paper has not attempted to discuss private records on the Pacific war (except to note a few instances in the AWM where private records contain official records). In addition to the AWM, useful private records are held in the National Library of Australia, the Latrobe Library in Melbourne and the Mitchell Library in Sydney. Searches for private papers can be carried out through the Register of Australian Archives and Manuscripts (RAAM), which is available on

As mentioned earlier, Australia was part of a coalition war effort, and researchers interested in high policy, intelligence, special operations and, in some cases, campaign studies and technical issues, might need to conduct research in the United States, Great Britain or other Commonwealth countries. A description of records on the Pacific war held in those countries is beyond the scope of this paper, but some microfilms of key records are held in the AWM.

The paper has attempted to indicate the most important files series of official records, but there are far more series available than are mentioned in this paper. Serious researchers are advised to consult the staff of the NAA and the AWM before finalising their research programs.


1. In March 1998, the Australian Archives changed its name to National Archives of Australia. The earlier title is likely to be used for some time in various publications and citations of National Archives material might still use the prefix AA.

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