Australian commandos

Australian commandos

The name commando has been applied to a variety of Australian special forces and light infantry units.

World War II

All branches of the military contributed to the first Australian commando units, which were formed during World War II. The Australian Army's Independent Companies were formed from 1941 and were modelled on the British Army Commandos (and were re-designated Commando Squadrons a few years later). The Independent Companies were initially trained at the 7th Infantry Training Centre at Wilson's Promontory, Victoria. Of those who trained the first Australian commandos were renowned British commandos Mike Calvert and F. Spencer Chapman.

The Independent Companies

During World War II, from October 1941 onwards, eight new independent companies were formed as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF). They were:

* 2/1 Independent Company (raised Oct 1941), also known as "1st Independent Company"
* 2/2 Independent Company (raised Oct 1941) and later renamed 2/2 Commando Squadron AIF (after withdrawing from Timor).
* 2/3 Independent Company (raised Oct 1941)
* 2/4 Independent Company (raised December 1941)
* 2/5 Independent Company (raised March 1942)
* 2/6 Independent Company (raised March 1942)
* 2/7 Independent Company (raised March 1942)
* 2/8 Independent Company (raised May 1942)

In 1943, the Australian Army re-organised its six front-line divisions as light infantry Jungle Divisions. As the three Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) divisions' armored reconnaissance regiments were not suited to jungle terrain, their cavalry squadrons were disbanded with the regimental headquarters being used to command the independent companies (which were re designated as Cavalry Commando Squadrons and later to "Commando Squadrons") which were attached to the divisions during operations in New Guinea and Borneo. Their mission was for sabotage and reconnaissance.

* 2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment - 2/7, 2/9 and 2/10 Commando Squadrons
* 2/7th Cavalry Commando Regiment - 2/3, 2/5 and 2/6 Commando Squadrons
* 2/9th Cavalry Commando Regiment - 2/4, 2/11 and 2/12 Commando Squadrons

The first Australian commando unit to see action was the 2/1st Independent Company (2/1 Ind Coy). Many of its members were killed or captured in the defending the island of New Ireland (part of the Australian territory of New Guinea), from Japanese marines in early 1942. Other detachments of the company served on Bougainville, Manus Island, and Tulagi. A composite platoon was sent to Wau in March 1942, eventually becoming part of Kanga Force.

The 2/2nd Ind Coy had great success during the Timor campaign of 1942-43, by conducting guerrilla warfare and occupying the attention of an entire Imperial Japanese Army division for almost twelve months. 2/2 Coy was later redesignated as 2/2 Commando Squadron and was one of only two of the original Independent Companies to remain operating independently, outside a regimental structure (the other was 2/8 Commando Squadron). By the end of the war "2/2 Commando Squadron could claim to have spent longer in contact with the enemy than any other unit of the Australian Army" (Grant 2005) . Other squadrons served in other parts of New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies.

pecial Units

After the beginning of the Pacific War, Special Operations Australia (SOA), a branch of the Allied Intelligence Bureau also formed two multinational, combined forces commando units: M Special Unit (primarily a coastwatching unit) and the more famous Z Special Unit (also known as Z Force), for Allied covert operations in the South West Pacific Area.

Z Special Unit distinguished itself in Operation Jaywick, in which the Unit posed as an Asian fishing boat crew, to infiltrate Singapore Harbour, where it mined and destroyed four Japanese ships, amounting to 39,000 tons, in September 1943. However, in 1944 the similar but larger Operation Rimau, which also targeted shipping at Singapore Harbour, resulted in the loss of all 23 personnel involved.

Later in the war the Royal Australian Navy also formed commando units (also known as beach parties) to go ashore with the first waves of major amphibious assaults, to signpost the beaches and carry out other naval tasks. These were known as RAN Commandos, and they took part in the Borneo campaign.

Post-World War II

After the war, the existing commando units were disbanded. However, during the 1950s the need to preserve the skills possessed by the World War II units was realised. Two reserve commando companies were raised: 2 Commando Company (2 Cdo Coy) in February 1955 and 1 Commando Company (1 Cdo Coy) in June 1955.

From 1957, some members of these companies went on to assist and/or join the new Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), when it was raised. However the commando units retained a separate identity, with a greater emphasis on raiding and other larger offensive operations, rather than the special reconnaissance and Surgical Strike role which is the classic function of SAS units.

In February 1981, it was decided to unite the commando companies with a headquarters unit and link them with Special Operations Headquarters (SOHQ). 1 Commando Regiment (1 Cdo Regt) was formed.

In 1996, it was decided to convert 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (4 RAR) from a light infantry battalion to a commando unit. 4RAR was renamed 4 RAR (Cdo).

In May 2003, Special Operations Command (Australia) was established as the administrative and operational headquarters for all of Australia's special forces and commando units.


* Brigadier Mac Grant (Retired). "Reserve Commandos inherit a remarkable legacy" "Defence reserves yearbook 2004-2005": 24-30

External links

* [ 2/6 Cavalry Commando Regiment Association (Vic.) Website] Nominal Rolls, Collections Database, Latest News, Stories, Picture gallery, Contact Us form
* [ Speech by Australian Governor General]
* [ speech by Chief of Army]

Official Australian Army webpages

* [ Australian Army, "History of 1 Commando Regiment".]
* [ Russell Parkin, 2002 "A Capability of First Resort: Amphibious Operations and Australian Defence Policy, 1901–2001" (Australian Army)]

Unofficial Australian Army webpages

* [, "SF and Defence Community and news".]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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