MIGHTY HISTORY

US troops in Australia got lucky thanks to rationing

While Australian troops were short pay and couldn't access rationed items, the U.S. troops could get more alcohol and romantic presents with their higher pay and their access to post exchanges. That made American troops popular with Australian paramours but decidedly unpopular with Australian troops.

While no one was keeping good track of exactly how often troops got laid in World War II, historians studying tensions between U.S. and Australian soldiers in northern Australia have noted that rationing, combined with differences in pay and uniform design, gave at least the impression that U.S. soldiers were getting a leg up in romance down under.


Men of USS Northampton and USS Salt Lake City were welcomed when their ships visited Brisbane.

(Australian War Memorial)

First, let us say that there's no appearance that anyone was doing this on purpose so Americans could bring adorable wallababies back home after the war. But a series of decisions and facts combined to make a perfect storm.

Number one: U.S. troops were sent to help defend Australia from Japanese incursions, necessarily putting them in proximity with Australian civilians, including the female ones they were most likely to pursue romantically.

Number two: U.S. troops were paid much better than their Australian counterparts with privates collecting about three times as much if they flew Ol' Glory instead of whatever Australia calls their flag.

Number three: U.S. troops had access to Post Exchanges that sold items, like pantyhose, at low prices that weren't available at any price to an Australian soldier (unless the Aussie bought it from an American). And, U.S. rationing of alcohol and other consumables was generally done on a unit-per-time scheme, such as two drinks per day, while Australian troops could consume a set amount at a very specific time, like X number of drinks during this specific hour.

U.S. military police outside the Central Hotel, Brisbane.

All of this combined meant that an Australian soldier who wanted to woo a woman could invite her out to a date, but had to be careful about costs. They could invite her to drinks, but the couple could only drink for a very limited period at a specific place. And he could give her a gift, but typically just items that were available in the Australian civilian market.

An American soldier, on the other hand, could spend more money, could get more alcohol in a more flexible way, and could purchase gifts made of silk or nylon that would otherwise be nearly impossible for the woman to procure.

Believe it or not, historians think this might have been the cause of some of the tensions between U.S. and Australian troops in World War II. If you've never heard about those tensions, whoa boy. This'll be fun.

U.S. troops disembark at New Britain in December 1943 where they worked with Australian troops.

(Harold George Dick, Australian Government)

U.S. and Australian troops had such a fraught relationship that the military dedicated multimedia efforts to trying to keep them tied together, putting out comics, pamphlets, and other short materials to try to bridge the gap between them. Slang translation guides were released, and U.S. troops were told how key Australia was to Allied victory.

Japan, meanwhile, knew about some of the tensions and released propaganda with an opposite message: U.S. troops are there to steal your women and destroy your culture. Kick them out or risk the unmaking of your society.

On at least one occasion, this tension erupted into violence. The "Battle of Brisbane" was a riot in that Australian city that raged for two days between U.S. troops and Australian troops and civilians. A number of the Australian complaints during the riot are listed above, including the presence of the American PX mentioned above.

U.S. and Australian troops celebrate 100 years of "Mateship" in 2018.

(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

One person died, and at least 18 were seriously wounded. Rioters in some places beat U.S. soldiers to the point of hospitalization, and U.S. military police fired weapons at a crowd at one point, injuring eight and killing one. We won't go through the whole thing here (Blake Stilwell already did a good job of it last year), but it's a good example of the tensions between the forces overflowing.

But of course, Australian and American soldiers were able to get along when it counted, especially when they were deployed too far forward to fight over women. U.S. and Australian troops fought near each other during landings in North Africa and Sicily as well as in Europe. The bulk of Australian service was in the Pacific, and U.S. fought hand-in-hand with Australia against Japan at the Solomons, Borneo, and other areas.

And now, Australian soldiers have the same access to nylons that the U.S. does, so it's probably not an issue anymore.