In late 1940 the Australian Army began considering the issue of raising independent companies or commando units for the conduct of irregular warfare. Based upon proposals and advice from the British Military Mission in Australia, in March 1941 the Army began training company-sized units that would act independently of higher command to carry out tasks such as raiding, sabotage, and subversion. Initially they were intended to be sent to the Middle East as part of the 2nd AIF, however, following Japan's entry into the war these units were hastily deployed to the islands to the north of the country to act first as an observation and early warning force and then following the arrival of Japanese forces to carry out delaying and harassment operations and to act as stay-behind forces conducting a guerrilla style of warfare. Many of these commando units went through numerous role changes and restructures as warfare in the pacific evolved throughout the campaign. Below is a brief history of each of the WWII Commando units.
1st INDEPENDENT COMMANDO COMPANY
The 1st Independent Company was formed in May/June 1941 and was trained at the No. 7 Infantry Training Centre at Tidal River on Wilsons Promontory in Victoria. Originally the company was raised to serve in the Middle East although, at that time there was uncertainty about the role that the company would fill there. Indeed, within the Australian Army there was a section that saw no need for the independent companies, believing that they would prove to be more of a drain on resources than anything else. However, later in 1941, as the threat of war with Imperial Japan loomed, the main body of the company was sent to Kavieng, New Ireland, to protect Kavieng airfield whilst other sections were sent to Namatanai on New Ireland, Vila in the New Hebrides, Tulagi on Guadalcanal, Buka on Bougainville, and Lorengau on Manus Island to act as observers and provided medical treatment to the inhabitants.
Commanded by Major James Edmonds-Wilson, in the event of an invasion of New Britain by the Japanese the 1st Independent Company was under orders to resist long enough to destroy key airfields and other military installations such as fuel dumps, before withdrawing south to wage a guerrilla war. They did not have to wait very long, as on 21 January 1942, a preparatory bombing raid by about sixty Japanese aircraft attacked Kavieng. Several aircraft were shot down; however, the company's only means of escape, the schooner Induna Star, was damaged. Nevertheless, despite the damage the crew managed to sail the vessel to Kaut where they started to repair the damage. As they did so, the commandos withdrew across the island to Sook, having received word that a large Japanese naval force was approaching the island.
In the early morning of 22 January 1942, the Japanese landed at Kavieng with between 3,000 and 4,000 troops. As the lead Japanese troops reached Kavieng airfield, fighting broke out as the small force that had remained at the airfield blew up the supply dump and other facilities. Fighting their way out, the commandos withdrew towards the main force at Sook, although several men were captured in the process. Once the company had regrouped at Sook, on 28 January they withdrew further south to Kaut, where they helped with the repair of the Induna Star, before setting out along the east coast of the island. They reached Kalili Harbour on 31 January but after learning that the fighting on New Britain was over and that the Japanese had occupied Rabaul, it was decided to sail for Port Moresby. On 2 February the schooner was sighted by a Japanese plane which subsequently attacked, causing considerable damage to the vessel as well as destroying one of its lifeboats and causing a number of casualties. The Induna Star began taking on water and as a result the men were forced to surrender. Under escort by a Japanese aircraft and then later a destroyer, they were instructed to sail to Rabaul where they became prisoners of war.
After a few months at Rabaul, the officers were separated from their NCOs and men. The officers were transported to Japan where they remained in captivity for the rest of the war, whilst the NCOs and men, along with other members of Lark Force that had been captured and a number of civilians, where put on to the Japanese passenger ship Montevideo Maru for transportation. Traveling unescorted, the Montevideo Maru sailed from Rabaul on 22 June. On 1 July the ship was sighted by an American submarine, the USS Sturgeon, off the coast of the Luzon, Philippines. The USS Sturgeon torpedoed and sunk the Montevideo Maru, without realising it was a prisoner of war vessel. Only a handful of the Japanese crew were rescued, with none of the between 1,050 and 1,053 prisoners aboard surviving as they were still locked below deck. All 133 men from the 1st Independent Company who were aboard the Montevideo Maru were either killed or drowned.
Meanwhile, the sections of the company that had not been with the main group at Kavieng managed to avoid capture by the Japanese. Working with the coast watchers, they reported Japanese movements and carried out demolitions until they were later evacuated or escaped from the islands between April and May 1942. A reinforcement platoon had been trained in Australia while the company was deployed and after completing its training sailed on the Macdui, arriving at Port Moresby on 10 March 1942. Following their arrival, the platoon was designated the Independent Platoon Port Moresby and initially used for local defence purposes. It was later re-designated as Detachment 1 Independent Company.
In April 1942, under the command of Captain Roy Howard, it was moved to Kudjeru, in New Guinea, to guard against possible Japanese movement south of Wau along the Bulldog Track. In the process they became the first Australian Army unit to cross the Owen Stanley Range. In June, a section fought alongside the 2/5th Independent Company as part of Kanga Force where they participated in a major raid on the Japanese at Salamaua. Eventually, however, as a result of the losses suffered during the 1942 campaigns it was decided that the company would be disbanded and as the survivors were transferred to other commando units – with the majority of those in Port Moresby being transferred to the 2/5th – the 1st Independent Company was never raised again.
Throughout the course of the unit's existence, it suffered 142 men killed in action or died while prisoners of war. One member of the company was awarded the Military Cross.
2/2nd COMMANDO SQUADRON
Initially formed as the "2nd Independent Company", the unit was raised in 1941. With an authorised strength of 17 officers, 256 other ranks, it undertook training at the Guerrilla Warfare Camp at Foster, near Wilsons Promontory, Victoria. After training the company was transported north to Katherine, Northern Territory, where they were stationed until Japan entered the war following the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Malaya. Amid fears of a Japanese advance towards mainland Australia, the 2nd Independent Company was sent to Timor, as part of Sparrow Force, along with the 2/40th Battalion and a small force of artillery. Upon arriving at Dili on 17 December 1941, most of the 2nd Independent Company moved to protect Dili airfield in east Timor, whilst other elements took up positions in the nearby mountains. The Japanese invaded Timor on 20 February 1942, attacking both east and west Timor at the same time, quickly overwhelming the small force of Australian and Dutch defenders. Hopelessly outnumbered the 2nd Independent Company was unable to hold the airfield and was forced to retreat into the mountains, from where they would wage a guerrilla campaign against the Japanese for over a year.
After the fall of the island, it was believed that the 2nd Independent Company had been captured along with the 2/40th Battalion, and for almost three months the unit was officially listed as missing by the Australian Army. On 19/20 April 1942, however, members of the unit were able to make contact with Darwin, using a wireless transmitter nicknamed Winnie the War Winner. "Winnie", reputedly named after Winston Churchill was cobbled together by Signaller Max (Joe) Loveless, a Tasmanian member of the unit who had a background as an amateur radio station operator. The set was built on the back of a four-gallon kerosene tin, using parts from several failed radio sets. Some parts were obtained via night raids into occupied enemy territory. After this, the Royal Australian Navy was able to bring in supplies for the company on the south coast of east Timor in late May, allowing the guerrilla campaign to continue. During August, the Japanese launched a major offensive against the guerrillas and carried out a series of reprisals against the civilian population of east Timor in order to reduce their support for the Australians.
This campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, although the local Timorese paid a high price for the assistance they provided the Australians: it is estimated that between 40,000 and 60,000 Timorese perished during the Japanese occupation. In September, in an effort to maintain the pressure on the Japanese, the 2nd Independent Company was reinforced with the landing of the 2/4th Australian Independent Company. By late-November 1942, however, it was clear that the Australians could not sustain their campaign due to extreme ill-health amongst all the men, and the ever-increasing number of Japanese reinforcements as well as reduced food supplies. Furthermore, the Japanese used increasing numbers of Dutch Timorese to wreak havoc among the Portuguese Timorese, who then found it impossible to keep helping the Australians. As a result, both the 2/2 and 2/4 were withdrawn from Timor between mid-December 1942 and January 1943, along with Portuguese civilians, some Dutch troops and Timorese who would later serve with Z Special Unit.
Upon return to Australia, the company, now renamed the "2/2nd Independent Company", reformed at the training centre at the Jungle Warfare School at Canungra, Queensland, where it was reinforced and re-equipped. The 2/2nd was relocated to the Atherton Tableland Camp, Atherton Tableland, where it briefly became part of the 2/6th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment, although this was short lived as it became an independent unit once again not long afterwards. As a part of this re-organisation, the company would eventually be renamed the "2/2nd Commando Squadron".
In June 1943, the 2/2nd sailed from Townsville to Port Moresby and was subsequently flown to Bena Bena, in the Bismarck Ranges in New Guinea.Here, the 2/2nd supported the 2/7th Independent Company in patrolling the Ramu River area. In mid-July, the 2/2nd moved into position in Bena Bena and by the end of the month their patrols were skirmishing with the Japanese. They continued to conduct operations in New Guinea until October 1944 when, after being away from Australia for more than a year, the 2/2nd were withdrawn from the fighting for a period of leave in Australia. After three months leave, the 2/2nd Commando Squadron reformed at Strathpine, Queensland and began a period of training and re-organisation in preparation for their next campaign. In April 1945, the unit embarked for New Britain, where they landed at Jacquinot Bay on 17 April and subsequently moved to Wide Bay, in order to support the 13th Brigade, attached to the 5th Division that was based at Lamarien.
Following the end of hostilities in the Pacific in August 1945, the 2/2nd Commando Squadron was deemed to be surplus to the post-war requirements of the Australian Army and as such it was steadily reduced in strength as men were discharged or transferred to other units. The remainder returned to Australia and in early 1946 the 2/2nd Commando Squadron was disbanded. During its service during the war, the 2/2nd lost 22 men killed in action or died on active service. Member's of the squadron received the following decorations: two DSOs, three MCs, one DCM, one MM, 35 MIDs and two foreign awards.
After the war, some of the unit's members became advocates for the rights of the Timorese people, recognising the contribution that they had made to Australia's war effort. One member, John Patrick "Paddy" Kenneally, who died in March 2009 at the age of 93, said that the Australians would "...not have lasted a week had the Timorese not protected them". Kenneally visited East Timor four times after World War II; once in 1990 and a further three times after independence from Indonesia was achieved in 1999. In 2005, he appeared in TV advertisements promoting a fair deal for the people of East Timor in negotiations over Timor Sea gas and oil and was instrumental in securing a fair share of the gas field for the Timorese people. On 25 April 2008 Kenneally, two of his sons and one of his grandsons attended an ANZAC Day service in East Timor, at a memorial overlooking Dili and built by veterans from the 2/2nd.
2/3rd COMMANDO SQUADRON
Formed in October 1941 as the 2/3rd Independent Company, the unit undertook training at the Guerrilla Warfare Camp at Foster, Victoria. After completing training, the 2/3rd was transported north to Katherine, Northern Territory, where it carried out various garrison duties. During this time there was considerable debate within the high command of the Australian Army about the role that the 2/3rd and the other independent companies would fill. However, following Japan's entry into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbour and British forces in Malaya, it was decided to use the independent companies in the islands to the north of Australia, where it was necessary to establish outposts that could warn of the approach of the Japanese. With this in mind, the 2/3rd Independent Company was sent to New Caledonia in December 1941 as a gesture of goodwill to the Free French and in order to defend against a possible Japanese attack.
The deployment of the 2/3rd to New Caledonia was only a temporary measure, however, until the US Army sent Taskforce 6814 to reinforce the island, arriving in March 1942. Impressed with the 2/3rd and the training methods that they utilised, permission was sought by the American commander to retain the 2/3rd on the island in order to retrain his division. However, due to the requirements of the defence of Australia at the time, the company was withdrawn in early August 1942, although their commanding officer, Major George Matheson, stayed on to provide assistance.
After its return to Australia, the company spent the next six months training and undertaking garrison duties before sailing for New Guinea in mid-February 1943. Under the command of Major George Warfe, the 2/3rd arrived in Port Moresby, although they did not stay there very long as they were quickly flown to Wau. From there they were used to harass and pursue the Japanese towards Mubo. Following this, the 2/3rd moved to Missim, from where they began a guerilla campaign along the Komiatum Track, in support of the 3rd Division’s campaign around Salamaua.
As a part of this campaign, the 2/3rd patrolled deep into Japanese held territory, setting ambushes and gathering intelligence. They also made a number of attacks against Japanese positions, in order to harass them to keep them off balance and as such defend the 3rd Division's flanks. The most notable of these attacks came in May 1943 when a strengthened platoon launched an attack against Ambush Knoll, a feature which controlled Bobdubi Ridge, and captured it. By capturing the knoll, the 2/3rd threatened the Japanese supply lines to Mubo and Salamaua and because of this it forced them to launch a number of fierce counterattacks in an attempt to retake it. These counterattacks occurred over the course of the following three days and four nights, however, the platoon from the 2/3rd, consisting of only fifty-two men, managed to hold the knoll.
During its time in New Guinea, the 2/3rd suffered heavy casualties and as a result after the fall of Salamaua in September, they were withdrawn and brought back to Australia. They had performed quite well in the circumstances, however, and were credited with having killed 969 Japanese. Against this, the 2/3rd had suffered 65 killed, 119 wounded, and 226 men evacuated for medical reasons.
Upon its return to Australia, the 2/3rd was reformed on the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland. During this time, a reorganisation of the independent companies by the Australian Army was undertaken as part of a wider reorganisation of the Army as a whole and as a part of this reorganisation the 2/3rd was integrated into the 2/7th Cavalry Commando Regiment, along with the 2/5th and the 2/6th Independent Companies. In October, the 2/3rd Independent Company was renamed the 2/3rd Cavalry Commando Squadron, although later this name was simplified to just 2/3rd Commando Squadron. To a large extent, however, despite being placed under a regimental structure, the squadron continued to remain largely independent in terms of tactics and training.
For the remainder of 1943 until early 1945 there was a lull Australia's involvement in the war in the Pacific, and the 2/3rd remained on the Atherton Tablelands, where it trained and conducted exercises with the 7th Division.
The squadron's final campaign of the war came in 1945, when attached to the 7th Division, the 2/3rd participated in the landing at Balikpapan. Landing on Green Beach on 1 July 1945 along with the rest of 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment, the squadron moved off along Vasey Highway with the objective of capturing Seppinggang airfield, acting in support of the 2/5th Commando Squadron. The following day, however, they came under heavy mortar fire from the Japanese on Lady Schofield Knoll which prevented them from capturing the airfield until 3 July. After that, on 4 July, a number of troops were transferred to the 2/9th Infantry Battalion in order to patrol the area around Penadjam, with the rest of the 2/3rd continuing on to Seppinggang. Offensive operations ceased on 27 July, and with Japan's surrender in August, the war came to a close.
Following the end of hostilities in the Pacific, the 2/3rd was slowly reduced in strength as members were posted out to other units for occupation duties, before the remainder of the unit returned to Australia at the end of December. In early 1946, at Chermside camp, in Brisbane, Queensland, the 2/3rd Commando Squadron was finally disbanded. A total of 69 members of the squadron were killed or died on active service during the war, and its members received the following decorations: four MCs, four DCMs, six MMs, one BEM and four MIDs.
2/4th COMMANDO SQUADRON
The unit was initially formed as "No. 4 Independent Company" in August 1941, but it was disbanded in October due to conceptual problems within the Australian Army surrounding the role that the 4th and other such companies could fill in the strategic situation at that time. The Company was reformed in late December 1941 following the outbreak of the Pacific War. This time it was known as "2/4th Independent Company". After completing its training at the Guerrilla Warfare School at Foster, on Wilsons Promontory, Victoria, the 2/4th was posted to the Katherine, Northern Territory, in March 1942 where it undertook garrison duties. Following the bombing of Darwin this became an operation role and during this time the 2/4th deployed a number of small groups between the McArthur and the Ord Rivers, where they were to harass any Japanese forces which might have landed there. This never eventuated, though, and in August the 2/4th moved to the town of Adelaide River, Northern Territory.
In September the 2/4th Independent Company returned to Darwin and from there they were was deployed to Portuguese Timor (now East Timor) on HMAS Voyager to reinforce the 2/2nd Independent Company, which was at that time conducting a guerrilla campaign on the island with the assistance of the local population. Over the course of four months, the company carried out a number of successful operations on Timor, including many successful ambushes, dynamiting of bridges and roads, as well as manning two observation posts in the mountains outside Dili where they reported the movements of Japanese ships and aircraft. This lasted until January 1943 when, due to the deteriorating situation, the decision was made to withdraw the force from the island and bring them back to Australia. Their success demonstrated what could be achieved by such a force behind enemy lines and it was used later as a model for the formation of the Australian Special Air Service after the war.
The company returned to Australia and was reformed at the Jungle Warfare School at Canungra, Queensland, in April 1943 where it received reinforcements and new equipment. From there, they were moved to Wongabel on the Atherton Tablelands. It was during this time that the Australian Army began to re-organise the independent companies, as part of its larger army-wide re-organisation as it began to prepare itself for the jungle campaigns that it would fight over the next two years. As a part of this re-organisation, the independent companies were amalgamated together under a regimental headquarters that would administer the companies. These headquarters units were formed using the cavalry regiments of the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions and as such, in October, although at that time currently overseas again, the 2/4th Independent Company was re-designated the "2/4th Cavalry (Commando) Squadron" as it became a part of the 2/7th Cavalry Commando Regiment, attached to the 7th Division. This name would later be shortened simply to "2/4th Commando Squadron" in 1944.
In August 1943, the 2/4th was deployed to New Guinea, arriving at Milne Bay where they were placed under the command of the 9th Division, attached to the 26th Brigade. On 4 September, the 2/4th participated in Australia's first amphibious landing since Gallipoli when they landed at Lae during the Salamaua-Lae campaign. The 2/4th came ashore in the second wave of the landing, suffering heavy losses with thirty-four men being killed or missing when their Landing Ship Tank was attacked by Japanese dive and torpedo bombers. After the landing, the 2/4th began reconnaissance and flank protection operations for the 26th Brigade until 30 October, when Lae finally fell and they were sent by barge to reinforce the 20th Brigade at Finschhafen in the clearing of the Huon Peninsula. During this time the 2/4th conducted numerous long range patrols, often being sent ahead of the main advance, before finally being removed from the line at the end of February 1944 and being sent back to Australia for leave.
Upon its return to Australia, the 2/4th regrouped at Ravenshoe, Queensland, where in March 1944 it became part of the 2/9th Cavalry Commando Regiment and was officially attached to the 9th Division with whom it had served during the recently concluded operations in New Guinea. The squadron then experienced a hiatus from operations for over year, during which time it conducted numerous training exericses in northern Queensland, before embarking from Townsville and sailing to Morotai in April 1945. From here the squadron took part in the landings at Tarakan Island off Borneo as part of the "Oboe" operations. Throughout May and June the 2/4th played an important role in the campaign. The landing on Sadau Island was unopposed and a few days later on 3 May at Tarakan it was once again tasked to act in support of the 26th Brigade. In the coming days and weeks the 2/4th saw extensive service during the liberation of Tarakan, suffering heavy casualties with four officers and fifty-two other ranks being killed or wounded in this time.
This was the squadron's last operation and following its return to Australia it was disbanded at Ingleburn, New South Wales, on 8 January 1946. During its service the 2/4th lost 68 men killed in action or died on active service. Five members were awarded the Military Medal, while 15 were Mentioned in Despatches.
2/5th COMMANDO SQUADRON
In February 1941, Lieutenant-Colonel J.C. Mawhood, a British officer, arrived in Australia and established No. 7 Infantry Training Centre at Wilsons Promontory, Victoria, Australia. As a part of its wartime expansion, the Australian Army had originally intended to field four Independent Companies, trained to a high standard in irregular warfare for use in the sabotage and reconnaissance roles. The terrain surrounding the centre consisted of a number of high rugged mountains, swift streams and swamps and it was felt that this was ideal for training soldiers in the art of irregular warfare. The health and training of the trainees was affected by the long periods of wet weather; however, despite the hardships experienced by the trainees by October 1941, three companies (1st, 2nd and 3rd Independent Companies) had already been trained.
Following Japan's entry into the war, the training centre re-opened as the Guerilla Warfare School. In January 1942, volunteers from all branches of the Army were called for and began assembling at the school, where they were put through a rigorous six-week course. In March 1942, once sufficient numbers had completed the course, the "2/5th Independent Company" was formed. At the time, the company consisted of 17 officers and 256 other ranks and was commanded by a major. It was divided into a company headquarters, with attached engineer, signals, transport and medical sections and three infantry platoons, each under a captain, each consisting of three sections that were under the command of a lieutenant.
On 13 April 1942 the company departed Townsville, Queensland, on the SS Taroona commanded by Major Thomas Kneen and was "very heavily armed". They arrived in Port Moresby, New Guinea on the 17th, during an air raid. They were deployed on 24 May to Wau, in a valley high inland from Lae and Salamaua. They were part of Kanga Force commanded by the controversial Colonel Norman Fleay, that consisted of the 2/5th, the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR) and a platoon from 1st Independent Company and were to observe the Japanese at Lae and Salamaua. They were the first Allied force in World War II to be flown into action as a complete unit. Despite appalling conditions, enduring soaking rain, pests, diseases, and a lack of supplies such as food and medication, they harassed the Japanese in the area from the Markham to the Bitol Rivers for one year.
On 29 June 1942, the company launched a raid on a Japanese aerodrome at Salamaua, the first Allied attack on Japanese land forces anywhere. The raid was commanded by Captain Norman Winning, after initial careful reconnaissance by Sergeant Jim McAdam's NGVR scouts. Winning planned the assault with Captain Douglas Umphelby of the NGVR. The raiders, formed into several parties, with mortar support, set out from Butu in the early afternoon of 28 June. Heavy rain fell throughout the march, but it later cleared and early the following morning, the Australians attacked various areas between the Francisco River and Kela Point, destroying buildings, vehicles and a bridge, and killing about 100 Japanese before returning to Butu for the loss of only three Australians wounded. During the raid, a Japanese pilot, attempting to reach his aircraft, ran into the commandos and was killed. Important documents were found in a satchel carried by the pilot and these were sent to Kanga Force headquarters for analysis.
An attack on Heath's Plantation, the following night was not as successful as the element of surprise had been lost, and Kneen was killed in action. Following the raids, the Japanese heaviled shelled Kela Point and attacked the tracks leading away from Salamaua by air in an effort to cut off the raiders' withdrawal routes. The Australians withdrew from Butu to their main camp, as the Japanese sent patrols of up to 90 men into the foothills; they subsequently found the camp at Butu and destroyed it. They also sent reinforcements from their garrison at Lae to Kela village.
In the months following the raid on Salamaua, the 2/5th continued patrol operations around the Huon Gulf. When it became apparent that the Japanese were concentrating their forces at Mubu with the intention of launching an attack against Wau, the 2/5th launched another raid on 1 October 1942, consisting of a party of 60 men, again under Winning's command. During the approach march, Lieutenant Bill Drysdale was wounded by a booby trap, which alerted the nearby Japanese. The Japanese defenders came out to meet the raid, driving the outnumbered Australians back. Heavy fighting followed, and while attempting to cover the withdrawal, one of the raiders, Sergeant William O'Neill, killed up to 16 Japanese with sub-machine-gun fire. The Japanese were later estimated to have lost 50 killed, including the company commander; nevertheless, the raid was broken up and the Australians spent several days regrouping.
Soon after the Mubo raid, the unit moved to the nearby Markham valley on long range patrols. In January 1943, the 2/5th with the 2/7th flew to Wau airfield which was under Japanese attack. They went straight into action leaving the aircraft under fire, and repelled the Japanese invasion. Finally, in February 1943, exhausted from starvation, illness and injury, and beset by atrocious weather, they were withdrawn for rest, with the majority of the sick congregating at Wau, before being transported to Edie Creek at Kaindi to recuperate. On 20 March 1943, the 2/5th was ordered to return to the Markham area to conduct patrols around the Snake River and to prepare defensive positions. Throughout April they undertook active patrols with the 2/6th Battalion and established observation posts. By 21 April the lead elements of the 24th Battalion began arriving at Bulolo as the 3rd Division moved forward and prepared to relieve the forward Australian troops, including the 2/5th, which was subsequently withdrawn to Port Moresby after almost a year of continuous operations.
The 2/5th departed New Guinea for Australia on the troopship Duntroon on 13 May 1943. It was sent to the Jungle Warfare Centre at Canungra, Queensland to refit and regroup. In August it moved to Wongabel on the Atherton Tablelands where it was reformed as the "2/5th Cavalry (Commando) Squadron". Following a reorganisation of the Australian Army's independent companies, the 2/5th was incorporated with the 2/3rd and 2/6th Independent Companies into the 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment, which was attached to the 7th Division and was to act as the administrative headquarters to the squadron during the next phase of the conflict. Later, the designation of "cavalry" was dropped and the unit simply referred to as "2/5th Commando Squadron". Throughout the remainder of 1943 and all of 1944 the 2/5th trained with the rest of the 7th Division, conducting a number of complex brigade and divisional level exercises, but it did not go into action again until almost the end of the war.
The final campaign that the 2/5th Commando Squadron took part in came in mid-1945, when as a part of the 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment, attached to the Australian 7th Division, when it participated in the Borneo campaign as part of the "Oboe" operations. The squadron landed on Green Beach on Balikpapan on the first day of the battle and moved up the Vasey highway into the nearby hills, occupying first Lady Shofield's and then Jade and Jelly hills. By 7 July, it had occupied the Sepinggang airfield. It then moved into the hills between the airfield and Batakan Besar. On 25 July, the squadron was transferred to support the 25th Brigade in its advance along Milford Highway. Patrols continued up until the end of the war, when it was then used to conduct mobbing up operations around the island.
At the end of December the 2/5th left Borneo for Australia, and in early 1946, in Chermside camp, Brisbane, the squadron was disbanded. During the course of the war, the 2/5th lost 24 men killed. For their actions during the New Guinea and Borneo campaigns, Sergeants Malcolm Bishop (later Colonel) and Bill O'Neill were awarded Military Medals for rescuing the badly injured Drysdale under heavy fire during the raid on Mubu. Other MM recipients were Sergeant Walter Hulcup, and Privates Charles Beitz and Thomas Robertson, while Lieutenant (later Captain) William Chaffey received the American Bronze Star, and Sergeants Richard Osborne McLaughlin and William O'Neill the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
2/6th COMMANDO SQUADRON
The 2/6th Independent Company was formed in May 1942 at the Guerrilla Warfare School at No. 7 Infantry Training Centre at Tidal River, on Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, in response to recommendations made by the British Military Mission in Australia, headed by Lieutenant-Colonel J.C Mawhood.
The company was formed from volunteers from all branches of the Army, and like all of the Independent Companies, it was organised under the philosophy that it had to be a self-sufficient force. As such, it was to be a complete and powerful organisation with its own organic signals, engineering, transport, quartermaster and medical support. The company had a strength of 20 officers and 275 men (larger than a typical infantry company) and was divided into a headquarters and three platoons, with each platoon consisting of 75 men, commanded by a captain, with three sections below that, each commanded by a lieutenant.As firepower was deemed to be an essential element of the company's ability to conduct successful operations within the context as a raiding force, there was an abundance of automatic and section support weapons, including 0.303 Lee–Enfield sniper rifles (SMLEs), Bren light machine guns (LMGs), 2-inch mortars and Thompson and Owen submachine guns, to the extent that in battle each platoon could provide a level of firepower equivalent to that of an infantry company.
The terrain surrounding the training area at Wilsons Promontory consisted of a number of high, rugged and heavily wooded mountains, swift streams and swamps. It was considered ideal for the six-week training course that the first members of the 2/6th had to endure before they were deployed operationally. Initially training stores were scarce, particularly signalling and engineering stores, and as such there was at first a large focus upon physical training. Training was conducted six days and five nights a week and it was a long, gruelling course. As a result, after the first week, 32 men from the initial intake of 300 were removed from training as being unsuitable.
On 6 June 1942, Major Harry Harcourt assumed command of the company. An Englishman by birth, but a naturalised Australian, he had had considerable experience serving with the British Army in the First World War, in the Russian Civil War and in India before he had settled in Tasmania. Although 47 years old, he was also an accomplished boxer, having been a champion in the Services competition while serving in the British Army, and was, according to author Syd Trigellis-Smith, renowned for his "...physical fitness, boundless energy and love of front-line service". Harcourt set upon the task of whipping the company into shape, although initially he too was frustrated in his efforts by the problem with insufficient training supplies and equipment. Nevertheless, through the rest of June and into July, the training was intensified and all ranks received basic infantry training (as some were not yet infantry trained), and they became proficient in fieldcraft, signalling and demolitions and a number of field exercises were carried out to test their skills.
In July, the company moved north by train to Townsville in Queensland under tight security, bringing all their stores and equipment with them. During this time the company was camped at the Cluden Racecourse. Finally, the order for the company to deploy to New Guinea was received, and despite a refusal by dock workers to load their stores, by 1030 hours on 2 August 1942, they had embarked on the MS Tasman after the company's engineer section took over the operation of the ship's loading equipment.
In early August 1942, the 2/6th arrived in Port Moresby to take part in the New Guinea campaign. Originally it was intended that they would be been flown from there to Wau, to reinforce the 2/5th Independent Company; however, due to the deteriorating situation in the Owen Stanley Ranges, they were sent to the Kokoda Track instead. Placed under the command of the 7th Division’s headquarters, on 28 August 1942, the company moved up to Mount Eirama where they were employed as the divisional reserve. As the situation along the track continued to worsen for the Australians, the 2/6th moved to cover the Goldie River Valley in order to block any Japanese outflanking manoeuvres.
Long distance patrols were undertaken between 6 September and 12 October 1942 to cover wider lines of possible Japanese approach through the Yodda Valley, the jungle tracks around Esau Creek and the Brown River, and along Engineer Road in support of Honner Force. The purpose of these patrols was to obtain topographical information regarding the tracks in the area which might be used by Australian forces to outflank Japanese positions, as well as to provide early warning of any infiltration attempts. To this end, the patrols varied in size and duration, ranging from four or five men to 150 and from five to six days up to months. In some cases they acted as independent, long-range patrols, while others were in close contact with regular formations.
On 14 October 1942, elements of the 2/6th were flown from 14-Mile Drome across the mountains to Wanigela Airfield, Wangiela. From Wanigela the company moved to Pongani. With the offensive started in the Battle of Buna–Gona, the 2/6th patrolled in front of the United States Army's 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment, along the coast from Pongani to Buna. Arriving at the front line at Buna on 20 November 1942, the 2/6th was engaged in the heavy fighting around the New Strip airfield until the early December 1942 during which time they were employed mainly in a traditional infantry role. In mid-December, the 2/6th was withdrawn to Soputa and then Port Moresby, where they spent Christmas prior to returning to Australia for re-organisation and refurbishment.
The 2/6th returned to Australia in March 1943 and after some leave, re-assembled at the Army’s Jungle Warfare Centre at Canungra, Queensland. As part of a re-organisation that was being undertaken to refocus the Army on jungle warfare, the independent companies were amalgamated together to place them into a regimental structure. In line with this, the 2/6th, along with the 2/3rd and 2/5th Independent Companies, were brought together to form the 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment, which had been formed from the 7th Divisional Cavalry Regiment that had served in the Middle East and New Guinea in 1941 and 1942. This was an administrative re-organisation only, as the regiment itself had no operational role; however, following this the 2/6th Independent Company became known as the "2/6th Commando Squadron".
One of the main changes that occurred as a result of this re-organisation was that the engineer section was deleted from the establishment of the commando squadrons, having previously been an important part of the independent company structure. During this time, while the majority of the squadron was training in Australia, a small group of 2/6th men were sent to Bena Bena plateau in New Guinea in January 1943 to watch for enemy activity in the Ramu Valley and to secure Lutheran missionaries who were believed to have been providing information to the Japanese. This group operated in one or two man teams and were deployed for almost six months.
The 2/6th sailed from Townsville for Port Moresby in August 1943, and then, in the middle of September it was flown to an area just west of the Leron River, in the Markham Valley for the upcoming Markham–Ramu campaign. Attached to the 7th Division, the squadron provided flank protection during the campaign, mainly carrying out reconnaissance and long range patrols, although they were also used to capture and hold ground in advance of the main formation at times.
Now made up of a cadre of experienced and fully trained soldiers, the squadron performed with considerable distinction in this campaign, and was involved in arguably one of the most significant small unit actions of the campaign at the Battle of Kaiapit where, on 19–20 September 1943, it captured the village and then repelled a determined enemy counterattack by a force much larger than its own, until relieved. After the action, 214 Japanese bodies were counted, and it was estimated that another 50 or more lay dead in the tall grass. Abandoned equipment that was recovered included 19 machine guns, 150 rifles, six grenade throwers and 12 Japanese swords. Against this, the Australians lost 11 killed and 23 wounded. For his leadership during this action, Gordon King was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
After almost seven months of service in New Guinea, the 2/6th returned to Australia in April 1944, disembarking in Sydney on 12 May 1944. From then until late in the war there was a lull in Australian offensive operations in the Pacific and during this time, the company was based in the Mapee–Kairi area on the Atherton Tablelands, in Queensland, where it trained and conducted exercises with the rest of the 7th Division in preparation for renewed hostilities in 1945.
This was a period of considerable boredom for many members of the squadron, and there was a rise in disciplinary problems during this time as the only outlet for the men’s physical energy was sport, training and mounting ceremonial duties. Finally, in May 1945, after almost a year sitting on the sidelines, the 2/6th received orders for overseas service. On 25 May, they travelled to Redlynch staging camp outside Cairns and embarked five days later on 30 May, on a 14-day voyage to Morotai Island, from where they embarked on Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) for their final campaign of the war on late in June.
One of the final Australian operations of the war occurred on the island of Borneo in mid-1945, just weeks before the Japanese capitulation. Although the necessity of the campaign has since been called into question, at the time it was felt that Borneo was strategically important due to its vast oil deposits, and numerous airfields and harbours which made it ideal as a springboard for operations in Malaya and Java which were planned for 1946 but which did not in the end eventuate.
In this vane, between May and July, the 7th and 9th Divisions made a series of landings on the island. These operations came to be known by the codename "Oboe". The first landing was made at Tarakan on 1 May by a single brigade, the 26th, from the 9th Division with the task of securing the airfield, while the rest of the division landed at Brunei Bay and Labuan Island later in June. The 7th Division landed at Balikpapan on 1 July 1945, having been given the tasks of securing the port, oil installations and airfields, and then destroying the Japanese forces there.
It was here, at Balikpapan, that the 2/6th Commando Squadron played its final part in the conflict. For the landing, it was attached to the 25th Brigade and went ashore on the second day of the battle. Over the course of the following three weeks the squadron supported the 25th Brigade in its advance along the Milford Highway. Among its other tasks, which included its normal role of conducting reconnaissance patrols, it also conducted a number of aggressive fighting patrols and successful ambushes along Pope’s Track and provided humanitarian assistance to the local inhabitants.
Following the end of hostilities in the Pacific against the Japanese, there was to be no triumphant return to Australia for the 2/6th as a formed unit. Once the fighting on Borneo had stopped, the company was moved to a camp at Manggar Beach. Here they carried out various garrison duties and settled down to await further orders. On 6 October 1945 the unit was declared surplus to the Army's requirements and slowly its numbers began to dwindle as members marched out. Some 2/6th men were destined for service with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan or garrison duties elsewhere as there were still many Japanese troops at large, while others, who had earned enough points[Note 3] to do so were to be demobilised and returned to Australia.
General (later Field Marshal Sir) Thomas Blamey, the Commander-in-Chief of Australian Military Forces, inspected the 25th Brigade on 17 October, and then two days later they paraded before the Commander-in-Chief of South East Asia Command (SEAC), Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten who praised them for their turn out and thanked them for their service. On 20 November, the "low priority" men (those who had served the least amount of time) marched out of the 2/6th to join the 2/27th Battalion, while the higher priority men (those who were eligible for discharge before the others) were sent to the 2/12th Battalion two days later. This left the squadron with just two officers and 19 men. Together they returned to Australia, arriving in Brisbane on 31 December 1945, and marching to Chermside camp where they conducted the final formalities of disbandment. The unit's last day of service on the Australian order of battle was 15 January 1946, when the final three members, including the acting CO, Captain Gordon Blainey, were dispersed and returned to their states of enlistment for demobilisation.
Throughout the course of the war, the 2/6th lost 58 men killed in action or died of wounds, while a further 80 were wounded in action. Members of the squadron received the following decorations: one Distinguished Service Order, two Military Crosses, one US Silver Star, one Distinguished Conduct Medal, two Military Medals and 23 Mentioned in Dispatches. No battle honours were awarded to the squadron, as these were awarded to its parent formation, the 2/7th Cavalry Commando Regiment.
2/7th COMMANDO SQUADRON
The 2/7th Independent Company was and was formed in May 1942, undertaking training at the Guerrilla Warfare School at Wilsons Promontory, Victoria.
Following the completion of its training, the company was deployed to New Guinea in late 1942, landing at Port Moresby. From there it was flown to Wau in January 1943, where it was used to reinforce elements of the 6th Division and units Kanga Force during the Salamaua–Lae campaign. Between January and April, the company operated in conjunction with 2/3rd and 2/5th Independent Companies, performing mainly a traditional infantry role. During this time they conducted a number of patrols and were involved in a very successful ambush on a large force of Japanese, resulting in a high number of enemy casualties. Later, they were directly involved with the defence of Wau, before helping to push the Japanese back to Mubo, where they conducted small scale harassment raids. The 2/7th's commanding officer, Major Thomas MacAdie, was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his gallantry and leadership during this phase of the campaign.
In April, they were relieved by the 2/7th Battalion. They had served in the Wau area for seven months and were in need of rest, however, as there were no other troops available, on 29 May 1943 the 2/7th Independent Company was flown to Bena Bena where they became part of Bena Force. Bena Force had originally been dispatched to the isolated airfield in January consisting of only a handful of men from the 2/7th Battalion, with the task of defending it against the advancing Japanese, harassing the enemy in the area and denying them freedom of movement, however, in May as Japanese air attacks on Bena increased it became necessary to reinforce the small garrison. As such the depleted 2/7th Independent Company was sent to Bena, under the command of Major MacAdie, bringing the garrison up to roughly four hundred men. During June and July, observation posts were established in the region, patrols were sent out and infrastructure was built with the help of labour supplied by the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU). Later, during August and September, as attacks increased on the garrison and the 2/2nd Independent Company arrived to reinforce Bena Force, patrols were sent out through the Ramu Valley in order to observe the main approaches to Bena Bena.
In October, following a re-organisation of Australian forces in New Guinea in preparation for the coming offensive around Lae, the 2/7th was temporarily placed under the command of the 7th Division. Following this, the company began patrolling operations along the Faria, Iogi and Evapia rivers, until they were finally relieved by the 2/6th Cavalry (Commando) Squadron in the second week of November. The 2/7th then returned to Dumpu, before embarking at Port Moresby for the return to Australia, having been deployed on active service for the best part of a year.
While the 2/7th Independent Company had been involved in the campaign in New Guinea, there had been a significant re-organisation of the way in which the Independent Companies were administered and organised. This was due to an army-wide reorganisation as the Australian Army shifted its strategic focus away from the Middle East and began to concentrate on the Pacific. As a result of this reorganisation, the 2/7th Independent Company was renamed the 2/7th Cavalry Commando Squadron (later just commando squadron) and was absorbed into the 2/6th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment, along with the newly formed 2/9th and 2/10th Commando Squadrons. Together, these units were attached to the 6th Division, to conduct long range patrol and reconnaissance operations.
Parade Atherton Tableland, Queensland. 1944-09-11. B Troop, 2/6th Cavalry Commando Regt, salute during the march past. Following their return from New Guinea, the newly formed 2/7th Commando Squadron concentrated on the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, with the rest of the 2/6th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment. Throughout the rest of 1943 and most of 1944, the 2/7th carried out garrison duties and participated in exercises and training with the rest of the 6th Division. The squadron's last contribution to the Second World War came during the Aitape–Wewak campaign.
Early in 1945, the 6th Division relieved the American garrison at Aitape, with a view to renewing offensive operations in the area. The 2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment was the first Australian fighting unit to arrive at Aitape, and as it waited for the rest of the division to arrive, having left Brisbane on 22 October 1944, the regiment relieved the American outpost at Babiang and began to assist the ANGAU patrols in the area. Once they had concentrated fully by November, the 6th Division began its advance eastwards towards the Japanese base at Wewak, in order to destroy the remnants of the Japanese 18th Army. Prior to this, however, the 2/7th Commando Squadron conducted preliminary patrols in order to gather information on topography and enemy dispositions in the region.
The Australian advance began in December and by this time, the 2/7th had been moved to Tong, where it had been given the tasks of maintaining a base, control the surrounding area and conduct patrols to the south. Now under the command of Major Goode, the squadron operated in support of the 17th Brigade, and had men stationed at Yourang and Kumbun. During this time there were a number of clashes with the enemy, most notably on 11th and 13 December, as the squadron established its control over the area, resulting in a number of Japanese killed in action. Once it had been relieved by 17th Brigade, the squadron conducted a number of reconnaissance patrols south of the Torriccelli Ranges, around the Dandriwad and Danmap Rivers, and then later once it had moved to the Yasuar Mission, patrolling along the Muam River. Throughout February the 2/7th began to push into enemy territory, moving along the Atop River and establishing bases at Kaumala, and at House Copper.
Finally, at the end of March, the 2/7th was relieved and returned to Aitape. The following month, the 2/7th was transported by landing craft to But, where they were to act as reserve for the 16th Brigade's advance to the Hawain River. While here, they were based at Banak and conducted a number of patrols in the surrounding area. As the campaign progressed into May, the 2/7th was transferred to the command of the 19th Brigade, which at the time was advancing on Wewak, with its limit of exploitation being the Brandi River. As it became clear that the Japanese were attempting to abandon their positions, the 2/7th were ordered to advance in a wide circle and capture the Sauri villages, where it was believed that the Japanese had established a strong rear-guard to act as a blocking force.
The 2/7th advanced up the Waringe River with a strength of 156 men, supported by mortar and artillery, and over the course of two days proceeded to clear the enemy from the high ground along which they would launch their assault on the villages. On 11 May, two troops from the 2/7th launched their assault, advancing along a spur that led to Walanter where they encountered a well-established enemy position. This position was assaulted and the objective taken over the course of two and a half hours, with the assistance of close support from artillery and flamethrowers to overcome the enemy resistance.
The 2/7th were then relieved by elements of the 2/8th Battalion at Sauri, before receiving orders to concentrate with the rest of the 2/6th Commando Regiment in the area around Brandi Plantation. By the start of June they began "mopping up" operations, firstly at Dove Bay and then at Karawop, before they were sent to Boiken in July, where they relieved the 2/10th Commando Squadron, which had been patrolling the area around the Dagua and Hawain Rivers in an attempt to deal with the Japanese raiding parties that were still operating in the area.
The 2/7th were still in Boiken when Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945. They were disbanded approximately six months later, early in 1946, after the last members were returned to Australia and demobilised. During the course of its service, the squadron lost 30 men killed in action or died on active service.
2/8th COMMANDO SQUADRON
The 2/8th Independent Company was formed at Wilsons Promontory, in Victoria in July 1942. Consisting of 17 officers and 256 other ranks, the company was organised into a headquarters, three infantry platoons, with attached signals, medical and engineering sections. It undertook training at the Guerilla Warfare School that had been set up there, before being sent to northern Australia to serve in a garrison role. During this time the company was stationed at Yandina, Queensland, and then later at the Adelaide River, in the Northern Territory. In 1943, as part of a re-organisation of the independent company concept, the 2/8th were renamed the 2/8th Cavalry (Commando) Squadron, which was later shortened to the 2/8th Commando Squadron. Despite this re-organisation, however, while other commando squadrons were amalgamated together into a regimental structure, the 2/8th remained independent and when they finally deployed overseas in mid-1944 to New Guinea, they were sent as an independent unit attached to the Australian II Corps.
The squadron embarked from Townsville, Queensland, on 22 July 1944 and sailed to Lae, via Milne Bay, on board the SS Ormiston. While they were there they received an intake of 70 experienced men from some of the other commando squadrons as reinforcements. Following this, the squadron undertook a period of jungle warfare training. After a few months, in mid-September, a small detachment of the 2/8th participated in a small-scale reconnaissance operation at Jacquinot Bay on the island of New Britain, to collect intelligence in preparation for an assault by the 5th Division. As part of this operation, elements from 'C' Troop and a small detachment from 'B' Troop, from the 2/8th Commando Squadron, provided the protection force for the reconnaissance party that was put ashore from the corvette HMAS Kiama, setting up a position on the beach and conducting a number of patrols further inland. This operation was a success and later, in November, the 5th Division conducted an amphibious landing in the area unopposed.
In October, the 2/8th was transported on the troopship Aconagua to Torokina, which was the main Australian base on Bougainville, where it joined the rest of II Corps, who were concentrating in the area for the upcoming Bougainville campaign. As the campaign progressed the squadron conducted patrols from Torokina to Kuraio Mission and Amun in the northern sector on a weekly basis throughout November and into December, before handing over responsibility of the area to the 11th Brigade and being transferred to the southern sector. This was where the main battle for Bougainville was being fought, and as the 3rd Division advanced along the coast towards the Japanese base at Buin, the 2/8th was tasked to provide flank protection for the division. As a part of this, they conducted a number of reconnaissance patrols, often moving part of the way by barge, as well as conducting ambushes in order to keep the enemy off balance.
This lasted for almost nine months from December 1944 right up to the end of the war in August 1945, during which time the 2/8th was in action almost continuously. It was a long and hard campaign, and to a large extent this made up for the long periods of inactivity that the squadron had suffered while it had been garrisoned in Australia. Certainly the squadron was in the thick of it, with many of its members distinguishing themselves during this time, as evidenced by the rather large number of decorations 2/8th members earned in such a short space of time. The patrols during this time were conducted in small groups, usually no larger than two sections roughly 18–20 men, and they would last for between four and six days, although some lasted up to nine. Sometimes they would employ barges to move along the coast.
Having secured the coastal regions around the Jaba River, the squadron slowly began to move inland in order to strike into the enemy's rear, securing the many villages along the way. First they cleared to Sovele Mission, then the villages of Opai, Nihero and Morokaimoro, reaching Kilipaijino by the end of hostilities. As they went, each village taken became a patrol base and from there the squadron would gather topographical information such as track and terrain reports, and locate the enemy. Once sufficient information had been gathered and passed on to II Corps, the patrols would then attempt to ambush the enemy or try to take a prisoner. These raids were very effective in tying down the enemy and keeping them away from the 3rd Division's flanks, as they forced the Japanese to deploy troops to their rear areas, removing men from the front against which the larger infantry forces were then be able to engage.
With the end of the war, as part of the large-scale demobilisation of Australian forces, the commando squadrons along with most of the other special forces units formed by the Australian Army were deemed surplus to requirements and the ranks of the squadron were slowly reduced as men who had earned enough points to do so were discharged, while others who did not were transferred to other units for further duties as part of the occupation forces that were being sent to Japan. By the time that the squadron returned to Australia in December 1945 with a very small frontage. Finally, on 10 January 1946, while at Liverpool, New South Wales, the 2/8th Commando Squadron was disbanded and removed from the Australian Order of Battle.
During its service, the 2/8th lost seven men killed in action and 16 men wounded. Members of the squadron received the following decorations: one OBE, two DCMs, four MMs and 12 Mentioned in Dispatches.
2/9th COMMANDO SQUADRON
The 2/9th Commando Squadron was raised in January 1944, as part of the 2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment, attached to the 6th Division. Like the other Australian commando squadrons, it had strength of 17 officers and 253 other ranks.
Following the unit's formation, the squadron began training on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland, before embarking for New Guinea in late 1944. In October 1944, the squadron was one of the first Australian combat units to relieve the American forces at Aitape. From there, it took part in the Aitape–Wewak campaign which saw the squadron undertake numerous long-range patrols across the Torricelli Range, as well as being utilised as normal line infantry when required. In this role they were utilised in May 1945 in an amphibious landing at Dove Bay, east of Wewak, as part of Farida Force.
During this landing, the squadron came ashore in the first wave of the assault force and was instrumental in establishing the beach head. Once the rest of Farida Force had landed, the squadron began patrolling operations along the coast to the west towards the town of Mandi. The patrol was carried out without contacting the Japanese, however, later, as they moved further west past Mandi, they came upon two stragglers. The next day, 'B' Troop's positions west of Mandi were mortared by the Japanese, and after a brief period of suppression fire from the beachhead, the troop attacked, taking the track junction and exploiting further westwards.
Later in May and into June 1945, the 2/9th were attached to the 19th Brigade and were given responsibility for defending the Bandi Plantation and the vital crossroads at Mandi. In late June, the infiltration of Japanese troops around Boiken threatened the security of the Australian positions and 2/9th along with the rest of the 2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment were engaged in operations to deal with these threats. These raids continued through July and into August, before hostilities finally came to an end on 15 August 1945.
After the cessation of hostilities, the unit was slowly reduced as personnel were marched out for demobilisation or for service with the occupation forces in Japan. The remaining members of the squadron returned to Australia in December 1945, and in early 1946 the 2/9th was finally disbanded. During the squadron's service during the war, it lost 12 men killed in action. Members of the 2/9th received the following decorations: one MC, one MM and five MIDs.
2/6th CAVALRY COMMANDO REGIMENT
The 2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment was a cavalry regiment of the Australian Army that served during the Second World War and was later converted into a commando unit. Formed at Ingleburn, New South Wales, in November 1939, it was originally raised as an armoured reconnaissance regiment attached to the 6th Division. In that role, the 2/6th saw action in the North Africa campaign and in the Middle East during 1940–41, where the regiment distinguished itself at Bardia, Tobruk and in Syria. Later, following Japan's entry into the war, the 6th Division was brought back to Australia and following a re-organisation, the regiment was converted into a cavalry commando regiment, incorporating the independent companies that had been formed at the start of the war. In late 1944, the 2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment was deployed to New Guinea, where it participated in one of the final Australian campaigns of the war in the Aitape–Wewak area.
The regiment was raised at Ingleburn, New South Wales, on 3 November 1939, as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF), which was raised from volunteers for overseas service. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Fergusson, a First World War veteran who had previously commanded the 8th Light Horse Regiment while serving in the Militia during the inter war years, the regiment was assigned to the 6th Division and was named the "6th Division Reconnaissance Regiment". The cadre of commissioned and senior non-commissioned officers (NCOs) upon which the regiment was raised was drawn largely from the Militia and were selected by Fergusson or his adjutant, Captain Charles Finlay, a regular Army officer who would later go on to command the 2/24th Infantry Battalion and eventually reach the rank of major general and serve as commandant of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. The regiment's first regimental sergeant major was Eric Hennessy, who eventually rose to command the regiment.
Upon establishment, the regiment's personnel were drawn from all Australian states. It consisted of three fighting squadrons, 'A', 'B' and 'C'. 'A' Squadron was recruited from men from Queensland and New South Wales, while Victorians formed 'B' Squadron and 'C' Squadron consisted of troops from South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.Later, a headquarters squadron was formed, as was a regimental aid post. It took some time for the regiment to concentrate at Ingleburn and it was not until mid-December that the regiment's interstate recruits had arrived and training began.From the outset, the regiment was set apart from others by way of its distinctive headdress as it was issued with the black armoured corps beret, upon which members of the regiment wore the large Rising Sun hat badge. Its Unit Colour Patch consisted of the same colours of the Royal Tank Corps – brown, red and green – which it wore in that order, in contrast to other armoured units which displayed the green followed by red and brown.
It took some time for the regiment to form and by the end of the first week of the regiment's existence there were only a total of 107 men on its books at Ingleburn. Initial training was only very rudimentary in nature, consisting mainly of drill and basic signals. Lacking vehicles, at the outset only limited driver training could be undertaken using private vehicles. Finally, on 13 November a quantity of weapons arrived for individual training and two days later a number utility vehicles and lorries arrived. More involved signals and driver training followed and on 23 November, the regiment was inspected by the divisional commander, Lieutenant General Thomas Blamey. Over the course of the next fortnight, personnel arrived from South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, however, it was not until mid-December that the regiment was fully concentrated at Ingleburn when the last troops arrived from Victoria. By this time, the decision had been made that the troops of the 2nd AIF would be sent to the Middle East to train while they waited for transportation to Europe, and on 15 December an advanced party of eight officers and NCOs from the regiment departed. Throughout December, the regiment received more advanced instruction in navigation and signals and two Vickers light tanks were received for training. Shortages prevented hands-on training on the new Bren light machine-gun and Boys anti-tank rifle, although demonstrations were provided, and live-firing was undertaken on the Vickers machine-gun before a period of leave was granted over the Christmas and New Year period.
After reforming, the regiment's dispatch to the Middle East was confirmed and it subsequently took part in a divisional march through Martin Place, Sydney, in full dress uniform on 4 January 1940, watched by over 500,000 spectators. Later that week, 10,000 civilians farewelled the regiment at a parade at Ingleburn.
Parade of the 6th Australian Divisional Cavalry Regiment at Casa camp, September 1941. The regiment had only been in existence for two months when it deployed overseas. Departing Sydney on the transport Strathnaver on 10 January, the 6th Division Cavalry Regiment would not make it to Europe. Instead, they would spend the best part of the next two years in the Middle East and would see action in Syria, Libya, Egypt and Lebanon against Vichy French, Italian and German forces. Arriving in Egypt on 12 February, they were initially sent to Palestine where they joined the rest of the 6th Division and began training on Bren carriers and six old Vickers light tanks. This training continued for most of the year, until December 1940 when the 6th Division moved into the Western Desert where they concentrated along with a large number of British troops in preparation for an offensive. Two days later, on 11 December 1940, the regiment – having been renamed the "6th Australian Division Cavalry Regiment" on 8 June 1940 – became the first unit of the 2nd AIF to see action in the war,when elements from 'B' Squadron fought a brief but sharp encounter with the Italian garrisons at Garn el Grein and Fort Maddalina on 11/12 December.
In January 1941, 'A' Squadron took part in the fighting around Bardia and then assisted the 19th Brigade in capturing Tobruk, during which time they used their Bren carriers and a number of captured Italian Italian M11 tanks, which were adorned with kangaroo symbols to distinguish them from Italian tanks. The regiment's use of tanks in this fighting was significant, representing the first time that Australian forces had operated tanks in action. After this, further actions were undertaken around Derna and Benghazi, before supporting the 18th Brigade's attack on Giarabub in March.
In April, the regiment received a number of Vickers light tanks and more Bren carriers from the 7th Division Cavalry Regiment, and the unit was re-organised at Helwan, near Cairo. At this time, the squadrons were organised into six troops, of which two would operate tanks and four would operate carriers. Further training was undertaken before the regiment moved to Mersa Matruh in the middle of the month. In mid-May, the regiment operated around Sollum in support of British troops during Operation Brevity before being moved to Palestine in May to join the 7th Division in the Syria–Lebanon campaign against the Vichy French.
After the start of the campaign in early June, the regiment took part in two main drives. The first of these was undertaken by the carrier troops from 'A' Squadron were attached to the 21st Brigade and took part in the coastal advance until being relieved by a squadron from the 9th Division Cavalry Regiment in mid-June. The squadron later received four French R35 Renault light tanks, which had been captured from the Vichy French, and on 20 June, 'A' Squadron was recommitted to the fighting, sending patrols towards Damour and to the north of Sidon. The second drive came in the centre, where 'C' Squadron was attached to 25th Brigade. Initially, 'B' Squadron was held back in reserve, but after 'C' Squadron's light tanks and carriers had taken part in sharp fighting around Fort Khirbe, it was committed to the advance up the Rosh Pinna Road, fending off assaults by Vichy French tanks before the fighting eventually ended in an armistice on 14 July.
During the campaign, the regiment was responsible for making a unique contribution to Australia's involvement to the war. Due to the rugged terrain along the Merdjayoun–Banis Road, which was unsuited to armoured vehicles, a small force of about 70 men drawn mainly from 'C' Squadron – later dubbed the "Kelly Gang" – were used to form a horse troop. Conducting patrols through the hills using horses that they had captured from the French, they were active until the armistice, and gathered important intelligence information and harassed the French by calling down artillery strikes.
Re-organisation 1942–44 Following the completion of the Syrian campaign in July, the regiment returned to Palestine in August, where a period of leave followed before the 6th Division Cavalry Regiment returned to Syria to undertake occupation duties around Aleppo and mount patrols along the Turkish border and the Euphrates. In November, the regiment was moved to Labboue, 15 miles (24 km) north of Baalbek where they endured harsh winter conditions while working to dig defensive positions as part of the Djedeide line. They remained there until March 1942, when the regiment was ordered to move to Palestine to return to Australia, following the outbreak of the Pacific War with Japan.
The regiment embarked on the United States Navy troop transport USS West Point at Suez and landed at Port Adelaide on 30 March, with a strength of just over 500 men of all ranks. After entraining, the regiment was moved to Tanunda in the Barossa Valley where it was billeted with the local population before concentrating at Warradale in mid-April. From there, a short period of inter-state leave followed. The following month, the regiment reformed at Ingleburn where the regiment undertook exercises using its Bren carriers. The 2/6th remained in New South Wales until June 1942, when the regiment was transported by train up the east coast of Australia to Townsville and then west to Mount Isa. From there, the regiment's vehicles were transferred to trucks for the remainder of the journey to the Northern Territory.
Upon arrival in the Northern Territory, the regiment was sent to the Adelaide River, as part of "Northern Territory Force" where it was stationed in anticipation of a possible Japanese advance on mainland Australia. During this time, the regiment undertook further training. They also manned defensive positions and undertook long-range patrols from the Daly River to its confluence with Anson Bay, and undertook search and rescue operations for downed pilots. The regiment was re-designated the "2/6th Australian Cavalry Regiment" in early 1943, at which point the regiment's link to the 6th Division was broken. In July 1943, the regiment was relieved of its duties in the Northern Territory by the 8th Cavalry Regiment, and after being transported to Adelaide, a month of inter-state leave was granted.
The regiment reassembled in Murgon, Queensland, north of Brisbane, where they occupied the lines previously vacated by the 8th Cavalry Regiment.The change of location failed to provide the men with further opportunities for combat, though, and the lack of action resulted in poor morale amongst the regiment's personnel. Steadily the unit's strength fell as men sought transfer to units that were taking part in the fighting elsewhere; by November 1943 the regiment consisted of 26 officers and 254 other ranks.
On 2 December 1943, the unit's name was changed to the "2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment". This was part of an Army-wide re-organisation as the focus of Australian land operations moved away from the Middle East towards the jungles of the Pacific and fighting the Japanese. As a result of this, it was decided to convert three 2nd AIF divisions – the 6th, 7th and 9th – into light infantry Jungle Divisions, equipped and trained especially for combat in the South-West Pacific. It was found that the armoured reconnaissance units of these divisions were not suited to serving in the Pacific and as such it was decided to disband these units and use their headquarters units to amalgamate the independent companies of commandos that had been raised at the start of the war.
At this time, the regiment's armoured vehicles were handed back to the Army and it was used as the administrative headquarters for three commando squadrons, the 2/7th, 2/9th and 2/10th Commando Squadrons. Shortly after this, the regiment moved to the Atherton Tablelands, taking up residence in a camp near Ravenshoe, where they began training for their new role.
South West Pacific 1944–45 After undertaking infantry and specialised jungle training for more than a year, the 2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment finally received orders for overseas in October 1944. Once again the regiment was attached to the 6th Division. Initially it had been believed that the division would take part in the fighting in the Philippines, however, inter-Allied politics prevented this and the division was sent to New Guinea instead, where the individual squadrons, some of them having earlier distinguished themselves during previous campaigns in the South West Pacific as independent units, fought against the Japanese until the end of the war in the Aitape–Wewak campaign.
Karawop, New Guinea, 18 September 1945. Embarking in Brisbane on the transport Katoomba, the regiment arrived at Aitape on 22 October 1944. Almost immediately the regiment began patrolling operations in the surrounding area and began the task of relieving the Americans as they awaited for the rest of the 6th Division to arrive. Once the 6th Division had concentrated in the area and completed the task of taking over from the American garrison, the regiment began reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering operations in the Torricelli Mountains throughout November in preparation for the coming offensive. During this time the regiment had a number of contacts with the enemy, the most notable of which occurred on 30 November 1944 when, for the loss of just one Australian, 73 Japanese were killed and seven were captured.
While the Americans that had previously held the area had undertaken a defensive campaign maintaining a series of standing patrols, the Australians decided to employ more aggressive tactics. The offensive began in mid-December and as the Australians advanced eastwards over the course of the following months, elements from the 2/6th found themselves involved in a number of roles, patrolling ahead of the rest of the 6th Division. Where necessary they were also used in a traditional infantry role to seize and hold ground, such as during the landings around Dove Bay in May, when the regiment was tasked with capturing the village of Sauri. This was achieved by the 2/7th Commando Squadron on 11 May when an attack was put in by two troops with artillery support, which resulted in two Australians and 16 Japanese killed and five Australians wounded. In June and July, the fighting began to draw to a close, and the regiment was used mainly in "mopping up" operations in the Boiken area, where Japanese raiding parties continued to cause havoc amongst the Australian forces right up until the end of the war. The danger continued after the war had officially come to an end. The regiment's final fatality came on 18 August when a trooper triggered a booby trap while on a patrol.
The regiment's casualties in this final campaign were high. There were 29 killed in action, nine died of wounds, four died in accidents, and 99 wounded in action. This is a total of 141 casualties. When this is compared with the overall total of 204 for the regiment for the entire war, it can be seen that the final campaign was the most costly. Against this, 778 Japanese were killed and 23 were captured by the 2/6th.
Following the cessation of hostilities in the Pacific, the regiment undertook guard duties at Boiken where a Japanese prisoner of war centre was established. While the men awaited transfer, educational programs were instituted to prepare the soldiers to return to civilian employment. The regiment was disbanded in September 1945, and the individual squadrons were slowly depleted of their manpower, as they were deemed surplus to requirements, their personnel either repatriated back to Australia for discharge, or used to fill gaps in other units that would be used later for occupation and garrison duties in Japan and elsewhere, before they were finally disbanded in early 1946.
2/7th CAVALRY COMMANDO REGIMENT
The 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment was one of three commando regimentsraised by the Australian Army for service during World War II. It was originally raised as the 7th Division Cavalry Regiment in 1940 and in this guise it served in North Africa and the Middle East at the beginning of the war, before it was brought back to Australia and sent to New Guinea in late 1942 to serve against the Japanese. In mid-1943 the Australian high command decided to disband the divisional cavalry regiments and use their headquarters elements to administer the independent companies that had been raised earlier in the war. In the process the 7th Division Cavalry Regiment disbanded its squadrons, gave up their vehicles and changed its name to the 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment, as it became the administrative headquarters for the 2/3rd, 2/5th and 2/6th Commando Squadrons.
The 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment was formed in April 1940 as the "7th Division Cavalry Regiment", under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Hopkins. Consisting of a headquarters squadron and three sabre squadrons designated 'A' through 'C', the regiment drew personnel from New South Wales for its headquarters squadron, while its sabre squadrons came from Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. In May, the regiment provided two squadrons – 'A' and 'B' – for the newly formed 8th Divisional Cavalry Regiment, and as a result raised new squadrons from personnel recruited in New South Wales and Queensland.
Part of the Second Australian Imperial Force that was raised for overseas service, originally the regiment was conceived as an armoured reconnaissance regiment attached to the 7th Division and in this role it was sent to the Middle East in December 1940 after undertaking initial training around Cowra, New South Wales. Arriving in Egypt in early 1941, the regiment conducted further training was used mainly in a defensive role. Equipped with Vickers light tanks and Bren carriers, the regiment carried out garrison duties around the Suez Canal, before being moved to Cyprus following the fall of Greece.
In April 1941, the regiment was moved to Syria where they formed part of the Allied occupation force, before being returned to Australia in March 1942 following the entry of Japan into the war in response to concerns about a direct threat on Australia. After a period of training and defensive duties in Queensland, in September 1942 the regiment was sent to New Guinea to help defend Port Moresby as the Japanese continued their advance along the Kokoda Track. Upon the 2/7th's arrival, the decision was made for the regiment to leave its Bren carriers in Port Moresby and as the campaign began to turn in the favour of the Australians the 2/7th were flown to Popondetta to reinforce the units there in December. For over a month they took part in the fighting around Huggins Roadblock along the Sananada Track serving in the dismounted role as infantry.
Finally on 21 January 1943 the Australians linked up with US forces and the Sanananda village fell. Shortly afterwards the regiment was withdrawn back to Dobodura airstrip from where they were transported back to Australia. The casualties that the regiment had suffered during the fighting were very high with 54 men killed and 67 wounded. On top of this over 200 men had contracted malaria and three had died from scrub typhus. Among those that were killed was the regiment's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Edgar Logan. During its time in the Middle East and in New Guinea, the regiment lost 59 men killed or died on active service and 67 wounded. Four members of the regiment were decorated with the Military Medal.
Members of the 2/6th display Japanese flags captured during the Battle of Kaiapit Following their return to Australia, the regiment began reorganising on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland. At this time the Australian Army was undergoing a period of restructuring as its strategic focus shifted towards concentrating upon fighting the war against the Japanese in the Pacific. As a part of this restructuring it was decided that there was no need for divisional cavalry regiments, however, it was decided that the independent companies should be grouped together under a regimental structure, and in response the divisional cavalry regiments were broken up and their headquarters elements were used to administer the commando squadrons. Three such units were formed at this time, with the 7th Division Cavalry Regiment adopting the title of the 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment in April 1943. The regiment's subordinate squadrons were: the 2/3rd, 2/5th and 2/6th Commando Squadrons, however, in terms of tactics and training the individual squadrons retained their independence.
Although the 2/6th Commando Squadron was deployed to New Guinea in late 1943 and into early 1944, the regiment as a whole did not see action again until late in the war when they landed along with the rest of the 7th Division Balikpapan, Borneo, in July 1945 in one of the final campaigns of the war. Landing on Green Beach on 1 July 1945, the regiment's three squadrons participated in the advance along the Vasey Highway, undertaking the flank protection and reconnaissance roles before contributing to the mopping up effort as the war came to a close. Following the end of hostilities, the regiment was disbanded.
2/9th CAVALRY COMMANDO REGIMENT
The 2/9th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment was one of three commando regiments raised by the Australian Army for service during World War II. It was originally raised in 1940 as an armoured cavalry unit as part of the 8th Division, before being transferred to the 9th Division. Between 1941 and 1942 the regiment saw action in the Middle East before being withdrawn to Australia in early 1943. At this time the regiment was re-organised as the administrative headquarters for the 2/4th, 2/11th and 2/12th Commando Squadrons and it was converted into a commando regiment. Later in 1945 the unit saw action during the landings on Tarakan on Borneo before being disbanded upon the cessation of hostilities.
The 2/9th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment was formed in July 1940 at Seymour, Victoria as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force of the Australian Army. Initially, it was designated the "8th Division Cavalry Regiment"; however, it was redesignated as the "9th Division Cavalry Regiment" in February 1941 when the 8th Division was sent to Malaya without its armoured elements, which were subsequently transferred to the 9th Division.
Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hector Bastin, training was completed at the Armoured Vehicles Fighting School, before along with the rest of the 9th Division, the regiment was sent to the Middle East, arriving in Egypt in April 1941. Equipped with Vickers light tanks and Bren carriers, the regiment then saw action in Syria where it supported the 7th Division. During this time the regiment's squadrons were detached at brigade level with 'A' Squadron being placed under the operational command of the 21st Brigade near Saida, while 'C' Squadron was allocated to the 25th Brigade, utilising a number of captured French Renault R35 tanks.
After this the regiment was re-equipped, receiving Crusader and Stuart tanks to replace the Vickers and captured French tanks that they had previously been using. This had been done as a response to the increased threat posed by German armour in the theatre. In July 1942, the 9th Division was sent to help rectify the situation at El Alamein, where German and Italian troops were attacking. The 9th Division Cavalry Regiment was involved in the defence of the Alamein line during this phase, defending the divisional headquarters and supporting the defending infantry units in small scale raids. In October 1942, when the Allies launched an offensive, the regiment initially played only a minor part but later, after breakout had been achieved, it came into its own and led the Allied advance along the coastal plain, pursuing the withdrawing German and Italian forces and advancing over 20 miles (32 km) on 3 November alone. During the battle, Lieutenant Colonel William Muntz, who had previously served in the 7th Divisional Cavalry Regiment, took command of the regiment after Bastin fell sick, assuming command on 20 October 1942. Casualties during the regiment's involvement in the Middle East amounted to six killed in action, six died of wounds and one died of other causes. Its personnel received the following decorations for service during this time: one Officer of the Order of the British Empire, three Military Crosses, seven Military Medals, and 27 Mentions in Despatches.
In early 1943, the regiment was withdrawn to Australia where, in April, it began to reorganise on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland. At this time the Australian Army was undergoing a period of restructuring as its strategic focus shifted towards concentrating upon fighting the war against the Japanese in the Pacific. As a part of this there was no need for divisional cavalry regiments; however, it was decided that the independent companies should be grouped together under a regimental structure, and in response the divisional cavalry regiments were broken up and their headquarters elements were used to administer the commando squadrons. Three such units were formed at this time, with the 9th Division Cavalry Regiment adopting the title of the "2/9th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment" in January 1944. The subordinate squadrons that were attached to it were the 2/4th, 2/11th and 2/12th Commando Squadrons. Following this the regiment continued to undertake training on the Atherton Tablelands in preparation for operations in the Southwest Pacific. In the end, however, it was over a year before the regiment saw action again, taking part in the landings at Tarakan, and in northern Borneo in mid-1945 in one of the final campaigns of the war.
During this campaign, the regiment's three squadrons were detached separately. The 2/4th was attached to the 26th Brigade, and saw heavy fighting on Tarakan, suffering a considerable number of casualties. The 2/11th was attached to the 24th Brigade and landed on Labuan Island off the northwest coast of Borneo. After clearing the island, they were transferred to the mainland and helped clear the Klias Peninsula. The 2/12th, however, was initially held back in divisional reserve, and as such did not take part in the main fighting on Labuan Island. As the Japanese resistance on the island was coming to an end and the focus of Australian operations moved towards the mainland of Borneo, the squadron was finally committed to operations when it was given the task of carrying out mopping up operations on the island.
The regiment received the following battle honours for their service during World War II: North Africa 1942, Defence of Alamein Line, Tell el Eisa, Tell el Makh Khad, Sanyet el Miteirya, West Point 23, El Alamein, Syria 1941, Sidon, Wadi Zeini, Jebel Mazar, South-West Pacific 1945, Borneo, Labuan.