Be cunning, ruthless, and audacious: Australia’s independent companies and...
In 1940 the British Army formed commando units to raid, conduct sabotage, and gather information in German-occupied Europe. A small British military mission was sent to Australia, and the first of eight Australian independent companies was raised in 1941. In 1943 the companies were redesignated cavalry (commando) squadrons, later just commando squadrons. Four additional commando squadrons were later established. The employment of these units evolved throughout the war. From conducting a guerrilla war on Timor against the occupying Japanese, over time their role became akin to the traditional role of cavalry; thinly deployed on the flanks of the main force, carrying out reconnaissance, conducting raids, and harassing the Japanese. Yet even as late as 1945 commando squadrons could be misused or underemployed, assigned to tasks better suited to the infantry.
This paper will provide an overview of the Australian independent companies and commando squadrons – their training, employment, and wartime experiences – offering historical lessons on their employment. This study will also provide insights into the interactions between Australians and the local peoples of the region, whose support and assistance were vital to both the survival and success of Australian forces and the Allied war effort.
Dr Karl James is a Senior Historian in the Military History Section at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. A graduate of the University of Wollongong, he has specialised in Australia’s involvement in the Second World War. Karl is the author of Double diamonds: Australian commandos in the Pacific war 1941–45 (2016) and The hard slog: Australians in the Bougainville campaign, 1944–45 (2012); and editor of Kokoda: beyond the legend (forthcoming March 2017).
[Image: Australian War Memorial - AWM058781_https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/058781/]
Date and Time
Lecture Theatre 1, Hedley Bull Building
Cnr Garran Road and Liversidge Street
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory