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.


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

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