Australian independent companies & commando squadrons
To counter The formidable Japanese invasion, australian forces organised small, specialised units To strike from behind The lines
in 1940 the British Army formed commando units to raid, sabotage and gather information from german-occupied europe. A small British military mission was sent to Australia to establish similar units in the Australian Army. the first of eight Australian independent companies was raised in 1941.
little was known in Australia about independent companies or commando units and their organisation, equipment, or operations beyond what Chief of the Australian general staff lieutenant general Vernon sturdee described as some form of “cloak and dagger gang”.
recruits for these new units were trained in irregular and guerrilla warfare, demolitions, advanced field craft, map reading and signals work. the training syllabus was directed at developing individual initiative, resourcefulness and physical fitness.
Commanded by a major, each company consisted of 17 officers and 256 other ranks and were organised with engineer, signals and medical sections, with three platoons each containing three sections. when compared to an infantry battalion, independent companies had a higher ratio of officers to men. this allowed for each sub-unit or detachment to operate under an officer’s command even when deployed away from the main company.
weapons were another difference. independent companies were armed with rifles, sub-machine and light machine guns, with a small number of sniper rifles and 2-inch (50.8mm) mortars. the heavy weapons found in infantry battalions, such as Vickers medium machine guns and 3-inch (81mm) mortars, were absent from the independent companies. unlike the infantry, the task of the independent company was not to engage in pitched battles, nor was it to win ground. instead it was to exploit the enemy’s weak points by attacking their headquarters, communication centres and supply routes.
in 1943 the companies were redesignated cavalry (commando) squadrons, later just commando squadrons. Four additional commando squadrons were established during 1944.
From the tragic loss of no. 1 independent Company – captured by the Japanese, most of whom died when the Japanese ship the montevideo maru was sunk by an American submarine in July 1942 – to the celebrated story of the bearded men of the independent companies on timor, these units were involved in myriad wartime experiences. it was in the vastness of new guinea’s jungles that the independent companies came into their own, thinly deployed on the flanks of the main force, carrying out reconnaissance, conducting raids and harassing the Japanese. By the war’s end in 1945 the commando squadrons were in action in new guinea, Bougainville and Borneo.
“IT WAS IN THE VASTNESS OF NEW GUINEA’S JUNGLES THAT THE INDEPENDENT COMPANIES CAME INTO THEIR OWN”
ABOVE: An Australian patrol moves through lightly wooded country in Timor’s mountainous interiorBELOW: An Australian soldier and his creado, 9 December 1942 BELOW: The actions of individual Timorese, with the support of Timorese communities, was vital to sustaining the Australians in their guerrilla war in Portuguese Timor Charles Bush, Ambush at Numamogue, Timor, 1946