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History - Military
History - Naval
Lt Col Peter Sweeney RFD (Ret'd), MA (Mil Hist) Grad Dip Mgt (Def Studies) Dip Acc, is a retired Australian Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel (Infantry Corps), military historian, battlefield tour guide and noted speaker on Australian military history.

He completed a Master of Military History degree through the Australian Defence Force Academy Canberra campus of the University of New South Wales in 2018.

Peter has made over three hundred presentations on significant Australian WWI & WWII land and sea battles to a variety of community groups in Australia, including Probus, Rotary, Lions, Veterans Associations, high school students and council libraries since 2014. He is a past member of the board of the Royal United Service Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies in New South Wales and chairs their military history special interest group.

Peter is an associate member of the UK based International Guild of Battlefield Guides and is co-owner of the battlefield touring company Battle Honours Australia Pty Ltd, see He has guided groups on WWI and WWII battlefields in Europe, Turkey, Asia and the Pacific.

He has been a guest speaker on Princess Cruises voyages to the Pacific, Royal Caribbean voyage to Singapore, Captain’s Choice river cruise of the Western Front. He most recent engagement was as the Viking Resident Historian on Viking Orion cruise from and to New Zealand in February 2020.

Click here to visit Peter's website >>

As a guest speaker, Peter informs audiences of the history of strategic campaigns of both World War I and World War II as the ship cruises near the battlefield sites. Peter uses informative PowerPoint presentations, including maps, diagram and photos, which cover the Strategic Plan, Opposing Forces, the Battles, Analysis and Aftermath of each campaign.

World War I
The Gallipoli Campaign November 1914 – January 1916
The landing at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915 has entered Australian folklore and is the focus of remembrance across Australia each year. The term ANZAC is synonymous with courage, devotion to duty and mateship.
For the Australians, the campaign lasted from April to December 1915.
Inexperienced Australian commanders made tactical errors on the first day which saw the Turks restricting the ANZAC troops to a narrow beach head.
The August Offensives resulted in success for the Australians at Lone Pine and tragedy at The Nek.
The evacuation without loss in December was the most successful element of the Campaign.

The WWI Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force in Rabaul
The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) was a small volunteer force of approximately 2,000 men, raised in Australia shortly after the outbreak of the First World War to seize and destroy German wireless stations in German New Guinea in the south-west Pacific. Britain required the German wireless installations to be destroyed because they were used by Vice-Admiral Maximilian von Spee's German East Asian Cruiser Squadron, which threatened merchant shipping in the region.
The task force reached Rabaul on 11 September, finding the port free of German forces. HMAS Sydney and the destroyer HMAS Warrego landed small parties of naval reservists at the settlements south-east of Rabaul. The Australians were resisted by a mixed force of German reservists and Melanesian native police, who forced them to fight their way to the objective. By nightfall the radio station was reached, and it was found to have been abandoned. The mast had been dropped but its instruments and machinery were still intact. During the fighting seven Australians were killed and five wounded.
The Germans had withdrawn inland to Toma where the show of Australian firepower was sufficient to start negotiations, ending the Siege of Toma. Terms were signed on 17 September and all military resistance ceased.
The losses of the AN&MEF were light in the context of later operations but were sufficiently heavy given the relatively modest gain. These losses were further compounded by the disappearance of the Australian submarine HMAS AE1 during a patrol off Rabaul on 14 September, with 35 men aboard.

Battle of Villers-Bretonneux 24th-26th April 1918
On 21 March 1918, reinforced with divisions from the Eastern Front, the Germans launched a great offensive against the British forces which withdrew across the 1916 Somme battlefield towards the major city of Amiens.
The Australian units were hurried south to help hold back the German advance north of the Somme at Dernancourt and Morlancourt.
If the Germans could capture Villers-Bretonneux and reach the edge of a plateau, Amiens would be within range of their artillery.

Battle of Fromelles 19th-20th July 1916
The worst twenty-four hours in Australia’s entire history occurred 100 years ago at Fromelles.
The Australians suffered 5,533 casualties in one night.
The Australian toll at Fromelles was equivalent to the total Australian casualties in the Boer War, Korean War and Vietnam War put together.
It was a staggering disaster.
It was, in the words of the Comd 15th Aus Bde, Brig-Gen ‘Pompey’ Elliott, a “tactical abortion”.
Battle of Hamel 4th July 1918
The battle was an ‘All Arms’ battle where all the military resources available – infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft – were utilised in a coordinated attack.
It was a small scale, brilliantly successful advance made by the Australian Corps under the command of Lt-Gen John Monash.
The purpose of the attack was to take the high ground east of the village of Hamel, an important ridge to the Germans if they intended an attempt to capture Amiens.

Battle of Amiens 8th August 1918
The Battle of Amiens, which began on 8 August 1918, was the opening phase of the Allied offensive later known as the ‘Hundred Days Offensive’ that ultimately led to the end of the First World War.
Allied forces, including the Australian Corps of five divisions, advanced over 11 kilometres on the first day, one of the greatest advances of the war.
This led Erich Ludendorff to describe the first day of the battle as “The Black Day of the German Army”.

The 1st AIF in The Last 100 Days
The period from the Battle of Amiens on 8th August 1918 until the Armistice on 11th November 1918 is known as the ‘Last 100 Days’.
Following the Battle of Amiens, the Australian 2nd Division captured Mont St Quentin in a stunning attack.
Following that battle, Lt-Gen Monash, due to falling reinforcements from Australia and Gallipoli veterans returning home, was forced to order the disbandment of some AIF Battalions to reinforce other battalions. This resulted in a number of mutinies by diggers in protest.
The Australian Corps of five divisions commanded by Lt-Gen Sir John Monash, subsequently broke through the last defensive system of the Hindenberg Line and in their final battle captured Montbrehain village.
Withdrawn for rest and reinforcement, the Australian Corps was re-entering the front line when the Armistice was declared.

World War II
The Malaya Singapore Campaign, December 1941 – February 1942
Part I
Tracks the advance of the Japanese down the Malaya Peninsula starting with the landings at Kota Baru on 8 Dec 41 and the ‘driving charge’ down the peninsula which:
• destroyed the 11th Ind Div at the Slim River;
• forced the British to withdraw south;
• overcame resistance from the Australian 8th Div despite successful ambushes at Gemas and Bakri;
• crossed the Muar River forcing the British back to Johore on the southern tip of the peninsula forced the British back to Singapore Island.
The campaign in Malaya ended with the British withdrawal across the causeway to the Island of Singapore on 31st January 1942
Part II
The Japanese lead the British to expect a landing the north east sector of Singapore Island. However, 8th February 1942 the Japanese landed on the north west sector defended by the Australian 8th Division. The Japanese were able to
• force the Australians to withdraw from the coast;
• breakthrough of the Jurong Line;
• capture the water reservoir and surround the city of Singapore;
• continuously bombard the city inflicting civilian casualties.
General Percival surrendered the British, Australian and Indian forces to General Yamashita on 15th February 1942. The Japanese subsequently carried out several massacres of captured troops and imprisoned all POWs in Changi prison.

Battle of the Coral Sea, 4th-8th May 1942
The first major naval battle in the Pacific Theatre of World War II.
Japanese forces had decided to invade and occupy Port Moresby in New Guinea. The plan to accomplish this, called Operation MO, involved several major units of Japan's Combined Fleet, including two fleet carriers and a light carrier to provide air cover for the invasion fleets. The US learned of the Japanese plan through signals intelligence and sent two United States Navy carrier task forces and a joint Australian-American cruiser force, under the overall command of American Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, to oppose the Japanese offensive.
HMAS Australia and HMAS Hobart, cruisers of the Royal Australian Navy, were part of the joint cruiser force.
This sea battle was the first naval action involving aircraft carriers, the first naval battle 'fought in the air', as well as the first in which neither side's ships sighted or fired directly upon the other.

Battle of Guadalcanal – August 1942 – February 1943
The Guadalcanal Campaign was the first major offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan.
On 7 August 1942, Allied forces, predominantly US Marines, landed on the islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida in the southern Solomon Islands, with the objective of denying their use by the Japanese to threaten Allied supply and communication routes between the US, Australia, and New Zealand. The Allies overwhelmed the outnumbered Japanese defenders, who had occupied the islands since May 1942, and captured Tulagi and Florida, as well as an airfield (later named Henderson Field) that was under construction on Guadalcanal. Powerful American naval forces supported the landings.
The Japanese made several attempts between August and November to retake Henderson Field. Three major land battles, seven large naval battles (five night-time surface actions and two carrier battles) were fought. The Australian cruiser HMAS Canberra was sunk in the naval Battle of Savo Island. The decisive Naval Battle of Guadalcanal was in early November, in which the last Japanese attempt to bombard Henderson Field from the sea and land with enough troops to retake it, was defeated. In December, the Japanese abandoned their efforts to retake Guadalcanal and evacuated their remaining forces.

Battle of Milne Bay 25th August – 7th September 1942
The first defeat of the Japanese army in a land battle in the Pacific Theatre by Australia Militia and AIF troops.
Elite Japanese naval troops, known as Special Naval Landing Forces, with two small tanks attacked the Allied airfields at Milne Bay that had been established on the eastern tip of New Guinea. The Japanese quickly pushed inland and began their advance towards the airfields. Heavy fighting followed as they encountered the Australian Militia troops that formed the first line of defence. These troops were steadily pushed back, but the Australians brought forward veteran 2nd AIF units that the Japanese had not expected. Allied air superiority helped tip the balance, providing close support to troops in combat and targeting Japanese logistics. Finding themselves heavily outnumbered, lacking supplies and suffering heavy casualties, the Japanese withdrew their forces, with fighting coming to an end on 7 September 1942.
As a result of the battle, Allied morale was boosted and Milne Bay was developed into a major Allied base, which was used to mount subsequent operations in the region.

Battle of Midway, 4th – 7th June 1942
The Battle of Midway was a decisive naval battle in the Pacific Theatre one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea. the United States Navy decisively defeated an attacking fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy near Midway Atoll, inflicting devastating damage on the Japanese fleet that proved irreparable.
It resulted from Japan’s desire to sink the American aircraft carriers that had escaped destruction at Pearl Harbor. Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, Japanese fleet commander, chose to invade a target relatively close to Pearl Harbor to draw out the American fleet, calculating that when the United States began its counterattack, the Japanese would be prepared to crush them. Instead, an American intelligence breakthrough – the solving of the Japanese fleet codes – enabled Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Chester W. Nimitz to understand the exact Japanese plans. Nimitz placed available U.S. carriers in position to surprise the Japanese moving up for their preparatory air strikes on Midway Island itself.
Military historian John Keegan called it "the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare."

Kokoda Track Campaign, July 1942 – November 1942
Part I
Following a landing near Gona, on the north coast of New Guinea, on the night of 21/22 July, Japanese forces attempted to advance south overland through the mountains of the Owen Stanley Range to seize Port Moresby as part of a strategy of isolating Australia from the United States.
Initially only limited Australian forces were available to oppose them; and, after making rapid progress, the Japanese South Seas Detachment clashed with under-strength Australian forces from the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the Australian 39th Battalion on 23 July at Awala, forcing them back to Kokoda. Following a confused night battle on 28/29 July, the Australians were again forced to withdraw. The Australians attempted to recapture Kokoda on 8 August without success, which resulted in heavy casualties on both sides; and the 39th Battalion was subsequently forced to withdraw over the Owen Stanley Range, down the Kokoda Track towards Isurava.
The Australians faced significant supply problems and the Japanese advance resumed forcing the Australians to mount a series of delaying actions as they fell back down the Kokoda Track to Imita Ridge in sight of Port Moresby.
Part II
Having outrun his supply lines and following the reverses suffered by the Japanese at Guadalcanal, the Japanese now went on to the defensive, marking the limit of the Japanese advance southwards. The Japanese subsequently began to withdraw on 24 September to establish a defensive position on the north coast.
The Australian force of militia battalions was reinforced by AIF battalions which had returned from the middle-east. They commenced the advance back over the Kokoda Track recapturing Brigade Hill, Templeton’s Crossing, Isuarva and Kokoda village.
The Japanese retreated back to their base in the Buna Gona area and were finally defeated there in January 1943.

Battle of Savo Island, 8th - 9th August 1942
The Battle of Savo Island, was the first major naval engagement of the Guadalcanal campaign, and the first of several naval battles in the straits later named Ironbottom Sound, near the island of Guadalcanal.
The Imperial Japanese Navy, in response to Allied amphibious landings in the eastern Solomon Islands, mobilised a task force of seven cruisers and one destroyer. The task forces sailed from Japanese bases in New Britain and New Ireland down New Georgia Sound (also known as "the Slot"), with the intention of interrupting the Allied landings by attacking the supporting amphibious fleet and its screening force.
The Allied screen consisted of eight cruisers and fifteen destroyers under British Rear Admiral Victor Crutchley VC, but only five cruisers and seven destroyers were involved in the battle. In a night action, the Japanese force thoroughly surprised and routed the Allied force, sinking the Australian cruiser HMAS Canberra and three American cruisers, while suffering only light damage in return.

The Bombing of Northern Australia, February 1942 – November 1943
Between Feb 42 and Nov 43, the Japanese flew 64 raids on Darwin and 33 raids on other targets in Northern Australia.
These attacks included large-scale raids by medium bombers, torpedo attacks on ships and strafing runs by fighters.
The attacks stretched from Learmonth in WA to Townsville in QLD and down to Katherine in the NT.
It was not until Sep 43 that Prime Minister Curtin announced that the danger of invasion had passed.

Battle of Java Sea & Invasion of Java, February 1942
The Battle of the Java Sea was a decisive naval battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II.
Allied navies suffered a disastrous defeat at the hand of the Imperial Japanese Navy, on 27 February 1942, and in secondary actions over successive days. The American-British-Dutch-Australian Command(ABDACOM) Strike Force commander— Dutch Rear-Admiral Karel Doorman—was killed.
The aftermath of the battle included several smaller actions around Java, including the smaller but also significant Battle of the Sunda Strait. These defeats led to Japanese occupation of the entire Netherlands East Indies.

The Submarine Attack on Sydney Harbour, 31st May - 1st Jun 1942
On the night of 31May/1Jun 1942 three midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour, avoided the partially constructed Sydney Harbour anti-submarine boom net, and attempted to sink Allied warships.
Two of the midget submarines were detected and attacked before they could successfully engage any Allied vessels, and the crews scuttled their boats and killed themselves.
The third submarine attempted to torpedo the heavy cruiser USS Chicago, but instead sank the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul killing 21 sailors.
This midget submarine's fate was unknown until 2006, when amateur scuba divers discovered the wreck off Sydney's northern beaches.
The mother submarines subsequently shelled Sydney and Melbourne.

Axis Invasion of Greece
Greece was initially invaded by Italy in 1940, but Greece repulsed the initial Italian attack and a further attack in March 1941. In April 1941 German troops invaded from Bulgaria, creating a second front. Reinforcements of British, Australian and New Zealand forces proved inadequate. The Greek army found itself outnumbered in its effort to defend against both Italian and German troops. The Metaxas defensive line was quickly overrun by the Germans, who then outflanked the Greek forces at the Albanian border, forcing their surrender. British, Australian and New Zealand forces were overwhelmed and forced to retreat, with the ultimate goal of evacuation. For several days, Allied troops played an important part in containing the German advance on the Thermopylae position, allowing ships to be prepared to evacuate the units defending Greece. The German Army reached the capital, Athens, on 27 April and Greece's southern shore on 30 April, capturing 7,000 British, Australian and New Zealand personnel and ending the battle with a decisive victory.

Axis Invasion of Crete
The Battle of Crete was the first mainly airborne invasion in military history with Fallschirmjäger (German paratroops) used en masse. It was also the first time the Allies made significant use of intelligence from decrypted German messages from the Enigma machine. The Germans had suffered heavy casualties but were able to capture Maleme airfield. This enabled the Germans to land reinforcements and overwhelm the defensive positions on the north of the island. Allied forces withdrew to the south coast. Over half were evacuated by the British Royal Navy; the remainder surrendered or joined the Cretan resistance.

Allied Invasion of Sicily
The invasion of Sicily in August 1943 was a precursor to the allied invasion of Italy. It began with a large amphibious and airborne operation, followed by a six-week land campaign. The US 7th Army led by Gen Patton and the British 8th Army led by Gen Montgomery advanced along opposite coasts and drove Axis air, land and naval forces from the island by the end of August 1943. This resulted in the opening of the Mediterranean sea lanes for Allied merchant ships, the toppling of Benito Mussolini, was toppled from power in Italy and forced Hitler to cancel a major offensive at Kursk to divert forces to Italy, resulting in a reduction of German strength on the Eastern Front.

Allied Invasion of Italy
Following the capture of Sicily, the Allies invaded Italy in September 1943. The operation was undertaken by Gen Sir Harold Alexander's 15th Army Group, comprising US 5th Army (Gen Mark Clark) British 8th Army Gen Bernard Montgomery) and followed the successful invasion of Sicily. The main invasion force landed around Salerno on the west coast while two supporting operations took place in Calabria and Taranto. The main landing was nearly defeated by German counter attacks. The advance up the spine of Italy was slowed by the terrain and German defences such as those at Monte Cassino. A strategic mistake was made by Gen Clarke in focusing on the capture of Rome rather the destruction of the German 10th Army. German resistance in Italy did not end until May 1945.

Allied Invasion of Southern France
The aim of the invasion of southern France in August 1944 was to secure the vital ports on the French Mediterranean coast and increase pressure on the German forces by opening another front. After some preliminary commando operations the US VI Corps landed on the beaches of the Côte d'Azur followed by several divisions of the French Army B. Hindered by total Allied air superiority and a large-scale uprising by the French Resistance, the weak German forces were swiftly defeated. The Germans withdraw north through the Rhône valley, to establish a stable defense line at Dijon. Allied mobile units were able to overtake the Germans but neither side able to achieve a decisive breakthrough. The Germans were finally able to complete their withdrawal and while the Germans were retreating, the French managed to capture the important ports of Marseille and Toulon, putting them into operation soon after.

Destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kébir
After the Second Armistice at Compiègne between Germany and France on 22nd June 1940, the only continental ally of Britain had been replaced by a government administered from Vichy, which inherited the French navy. The British feared that the Vichy government would hand the ships to the Kriegsmarine despite assurances from the commander of the French Navy that the fleet would remain under French control. The British War Cabinet ordered the Royal Navy to either intern or destroy the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir in Algeria. An ultimatum to surrender his fleet was refused by the French naval commander. The Royal Navy bombarded the French ships and killed 1,297 French servicemen, sank a battleship and damaged five ships, for a British loss of five aircraft shot down and two crewmen killed.
Past Cruises

18-Apr-15 to 2-May-15, Captains Choice (MS AmaPrima), Amsterdam/Edam/Rotterdam/Willemstad/Fromelles/Ghent/Villers-Bretonneux/Antwerp/Maastricht/Venlo/Nijmegen/Arnhem/Amsterdam

22-Jan-17 to 2-Feb-17, Sun Princess, Brisbane/Alotau/Kitava/Rabaul/Milne Bay/Brisbane

2-Feb-17 to 15-Feb-17, Sun Princess, Brisbane/Dunedin/Akaroa/Wellington/Napier/Tauranga/Auckland/Brisbane

20-Feb-17 to 6-Mar-17, Ovation of the Seas, Sydney to Singapore

11-Nov-17 to 26-Nov-17, Sun Princess, Sydney/Milne Bay/Rabaul/Honiara/Sydney

30-Dec-17 to 9-Jan-18, Sapphire Princess, Singapore/Denpasar/Kulua Lumpur/Penang/Phuket/Singapore

18-Oct-18 to 28-Oct-18, Sea Princess, Darwin/Cairns/Milne Bay/Brisbane/Sydney

7-Nov-18 to 16-Nov-18, Explorer of the Seas, Sydney/Noumea/Mystery Nila Island/Lifou/Sydney

4-Feb-19 to 14-Feb-19, Sea Princess, Brisbane/Milne Bay/Kitava/Rabaul/Kiriwina Island/Conflict Islands/Brisbane

12-Mar-19 to 27-Mar-19, Sea Princess, Sydney/Melbourne/Burnie/Hobart/Adelaide/Albany/Margaret River/Fremantle/Broome

Booked Cruises

12-Jan-20 to 23-Jan-20, Sea Princess, Brisbane/Alotau (Milne Bay)/Kitava/Rabaul/Conflict Islands/Brisbane

6-Feb-20 to 21-Feb-20 Resident Historian on Viking Orion Auckland - Sydney

21-Feb-20 to 6-Mar-20 Resident Historian on Viking Orion Sydney - Auckland

11-Oct-20 to 11-Nov-20, Guest Lecturer Viking Orion, Bali/Lombok Island/Komodo Island/Darwin/Thursday Island/Cairns/Townsville/Whitsunday Islands/Brisbane/Newcastle/Sydney
I am a battlefield guide and member of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides (UK).

I escort shore excursions visiting battlefield sites and provide additional commentary, in agreement with the local guide, to the passengers about the battlefield site, the progress of the battle, the result and the aftermath.

Whist on board I make myself available to talk to passengers about their family connection with the battlefield site. I also host dinners for passengers who wish to discuss their family connection further.
The following recent Cruise History has been recorded for this candidate.
Viking Orion OR200221 Australia & New Zealand 14 Sydney Friday, February 21, 2020
Viking Orion OR200207 Australia & New Zealand 14 Auckland Friday, February 7, 2020
Sea Princess C909A Southern Australian Explorer 11 Sydney Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Sapphire Princess H801 Malaysian Peninsula & Indonesia 10 Singapore Saturday, December 30, 2017
Sun Princess S729 Papua New Guinea Cruise 15 Sydney Saturday, November 11, 2017
Sun Princess S705 New Zealand Cruise 14 Brisbane Thursday, February 2, 2017
Sun Princess S704 Papua New Guinea Cruise 11 Brisbane Sunday, January 22, 2017