Royal Australian Navy Beach Commandos

During World War II the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) formed beach commando units to go ashore with the first wave of amphibious assaults. They would conduct local reconnaissance, signpost the beaches, control boat traffic, and communicate with the maritime forces. These were known as Royal Australian Navy Beach Commandos. They took part in the Borneo campaign.

RAN Beach Commando (090863)
A member of Beach Commando B during the first phase of the landing on Tarakan Island in April 1945

Training

An Amphibious Training Centre was commissioned as HMAS Assault at Port Stephens on 1 September 1942. The Amphibious Training Centre was commanded by Commander F. N. Cook, RAN, an officer who had won the DSC while serving with the Royal Navy during the Bruneval Raid.[1] At the time he was recalled to Australia, Cook was in command of HMS Tormenter, a Royal Navy Combined Operations School. The Port Stephens school trained beach parties and boat crews. Graduates were posted to the Australian landing ships Kanimbla, Manoora, and Westralia, each of which had a beach party as part of its complement.

These beach parties saw little action, as the valuable landing ships were rarely risked in forward areas in 1943. An eight-man RAN beach party under the command of Lieutenant Commander J. M. Band, RANR, participated in the Battle of Scarlet Beach. Band was fatally wounded in the fighting, and was awarded the US Navy Cross posthumously.

In October 1943, the Australian Army's commander in chief, General Sir Thomas Blamey, asked for the beach parties to be detached from their ships for training with the 6th Division and the 1st Beach Group at Cairns. Because United States Navy doctrine was that beach parties were a part of a ship's complement, Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey was reluctant to agree. Blamey suggested that a separate unit be raised for service with the Australian Army. A RAN Beach Commando was formed on 6 January 1944.

All RAN Beach Commando personnel were listed as part of the complement of HMAS Assault, but formed a part of the 1st Beach Group. In early 1944, the army raised a 2nd Beach Group, and another beach commando was formed for it. Following Royal Navy practice, the two units were designated Beach Commando A and Beach Commando B. Later, the army requested two smaller commandos for subsidiary operations. These were formed as Beach Commandos C and D, and were organised similarly to A and B, but with only two beach parties, and no boat repair section. The four beach commandos were grouped administratively as the RAN Beach Unit (RANBU) under Commander R. S. Pearson, RAN, as Senior Naval Officer Beach Units (SNOBU).

Organisation

A beach commando consisted of:

  • a headquarters with a commander as principal beachmaster, a lieutenant commander as deputy principal beachmaster, and two seamen as messengers
  • three beach parties, each commanded by a lieutenant or lieutenant commander as beachmaster, with two officers as assistant beachmasters, two petty officers, and 22 seamen.
  • a boat repair and recovery section under a boatswain, with two petty officers and 14 seamen as boat crews, plus two artisan's mates, two torpedomen, a sailmaker's mate, for shipwrights and joiners, four motor mechanics and two stokers in the repair section.
  • a beach signals section under a sub lieutenant or midshipman, with a yeoman of signals, a petty officer telegraphist, four leading seamen. two leading telegraphists, ten signalmen, and 10 telegraphists.

Operations

In April 1945, Beach Commando B under Commander B. G. B. Morris, RANVR, went into action in the Battle of Tarakan, supporting the Army's 26th Infantry Brigade and 2nd Beach Group. Two beach commandos were killed and two wounded. Morris was awarded the U.S. Bronze Star for his role in the Tarakan Landings.

Beach Commandos A and C, under Lieutenant Commander R. McKauge D.S.C., RANVR, took part in the 9th Division and 1st Beach Group's landings at Brunei and Labuan.

Beach Commandos B and D participated in the 7th Division and 2nd Beach Group's landings in the Battle of Balikpapan.

Notes

  1. ^ "No. 35558". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 May 1942. p. 2111.

References

  • Jones, A. E. (Ted). (1998). Sailor and Commando. ISBN 0-85905-253-2
1st Independent Company (Australia)

The 1st Independent Company was one of twelve independent or commando companies raised by the Australian Army for service in World War II. Raised in 1941, the 1st Independent Company served in New Ireland, New Britain and New Guinea in the early stages of the war in the Pacific, taking part in a major commando raid on Salamaua in June 1942. Having lost a large number of men captured by the enemy as well as a number of battle casualties, the company was withdrawn from New Britain later in 1942. The company was subsequently disbanded, with its surviving members being transferred to other commando units, and it was never re-raised.

2/10th Commando Squadron (Australia)

The 2/10th Commando Squadron was a commando unit raised by the Australian Army for service in World War II. Raised in 1944, the unit saw action late in the war against the Japanese during the Aitape–Wewak campaign. During this campaign the squadron carried out a number of tasks including long-range patrols, flank protection and area defence. Later in the campaign the 2/10th were used to spearhead an amphibious assault landing at Dove Bay, east of Wewak before being used as line infantry during the final 'mopping up' stages of the campaign. Following the end of the war the unit was disbanded.

2/11th Commando Squadron (Australia)

The 2/11th Commando Squadron was a commando unit raised by the Australian Army for service in World War II. Raised in 1944, the unit saw action late in the war against the Japanese during the Borneo campaign in 1945. As a part of this campaign the squadron undertook landings on Labuan Island and at Brunei Bay. Following the end of the war, the squadron returned to Australia and was disbanded in early 1946.

2/12th Commando Squadron (Australia)

The 2/12th Commando Squadron was a commando unit raised by the Australian Army for service in World War II. Raised in 1944 following a re-organisation of Australia's military forces, the unit participated in the Borneo campaign in 1945 but played only a limited role before hostilities ended. Following the end of the war, the squadron returned to Australia and was disbanded in early 1946.

2/2nd Commando Squadron (Australia)

The 2/2nd Commando Squadron was one of 12 independent companies or commando squadrons raised by the Australian Army for service during World War II. The 2/2nd served in Timor, New Guinea and New Britain during World War II, taking part in the Battle of Timor in June 1942 as part of Sparrow Force. Following the capture of the island, the company was withdrawn in December 1942 and returned to Australia, later taking part in operations in New Guinea in 1943–1944 and then on New Britain in 1945.

2/3rd Commando Squadron (Australia)

The 2/3rd Commando Squadron was one of twelve independent or commando companies and squadrons formed by the Australian Army for service during World War II. Raised in October 1941 as the 2/3rd Independent Company, it served in New Caledonia and New Guinea before being amalgamated into the 2/7th Cavalry Commando Regiment and adopting the name 2/3rd Commando Squadron in 1943. After this, the squadron did not see action again until 1945, when it participated in the Borneo campaign. Throughout the course of the war, the 2/3rd lost 69 members killed in action. No battle honours were awarded to the unit, although it participated in a number of notable engagements in these campaigns and its members received numerous decorations for their service. Following the end of hostilities in the Pacific, the unit was disbanded in early 1946, upon their return to Australia.

2/4th Commando Squadron (Australia)

The 2/4th Commando Squadron was one of 12 independent companies and commando squadrons raised by the Australian Army during the Second World War. Raised in August 1941, it was disbanded not long after due to conceptual problems, but it was quickly reformed following the entry of Japan into the war in December 1941. After a period of about six months performing garrison duties in northern Australia, the 2/4th was deployed to Portuguese Timor to reinforce the other Australian units already waging a guerilla war on the island. After a brief campaign the 2/4th was returned to Australia and from there it went on to serve in New Guinea in 1943, taking part in the Salamaua-Lae campaign attached to the 9th Division. Later, the squadron was involved in one of the last campaigns of the war when it landed on Tarakan Island in May 1945 and took part in the Borneo campaign. Following the end of hostilities, the 2/4th returned to Australia and was disbanded at Ingleburn, New South Wales, on 8 January 1946.

2/5th Commando Squadron (Australia)

The 2/5th Commando Squadron was one of twelve independent companies and or commando squadrons of the Australian Army formed for service during World War II. Initially formed in 1942 as the "2/5th Independent Company", the 2/5th served in New Guinea, taking part in a major commando raid on Salamaua in June 1942. It was later withdrawn from New Guinea and reformed as the "2/5th Cavalry (Commando) Squadron", as part of the 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment which saw service in Borneo in 1945. It was disbanded in early 1946.

2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment (Australia)

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.

2/6th Commando Squadron (Australia)

The 2/6th Commando Squadron was one of 12 independent companies or commando squadrons raised by the Australian Army during the Second World War. Raised in May 1942 as the 2/6th Independent Company, the 2/6th's main role was to conduct irregular type warfare including small scale raiding, sabotage, long-range patrolling and reconnaissance operations rather than the traditional commando type direct action operations. As such, for the most part the unit conducted operations in small groups operating inside enemy territory, or out in front of larger friendly forces. Between 1942 and 1945, the 2/6th undertook four major campaigns during the war—Kokoda, Buna, Markham–Ramu and Borneo—and was involved in arguably one of the most spectacular small unit actions of the war during the Battle of Kaiapit. The unit was disbanded in January 1946, following the cessation of hostilities in the Pacific.

2/7th Cavalry Commando Regiment (Australia)

The 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment was one of three commando regiments raised 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.

2/7th Commando Squadron (Australia)

The 2/7th Commando Company was one of 12 independent companies or commando squadrons raised by the Australian Army during the Second World War. Raised in May 1942, as the 2/7th Independent Company, the 2/7th served in New Guinea in 1943 during the Salamaua–Lae campaign before being redesignated as the 2/7th Commando Squadron when it was amalgamated with two other commando squadrons to become part of the 2/6th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment. Later at the end of 1944, it was sent to New Guinea again, where it took part in the Aitape–Wewak campaign. Following the end of the war, the squadron was returned to Australia and disbanded early in 1946.

2/8th Commando Squadron (Australia)

The 2/8th Commando Squadron was one of 12 independent companies or commando squadrons raised by the Australian Army during the Second World War. Raised in July 1942 as the 2/8th Independent Company, the 2/8th spent the early years of the war performing garrison duties in the Northern Territory. In July 1944, the 2/8th sailed to Lae, in New Guinea from where they launched a clandestine reconnaissance operation on the island of New Britain. Later, attached to the II Corps, it participated in the Bougainville campaign, during which it was in action continuously for a period of nine months right up until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945. Following the end of hostilities, the 2/8th returned to Australia, and was disbanded at Liverpool, New South Wales in early January 1946.

2/9th Cavalry Commando Regiment (Australia)

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 returned 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.

2/9th Commando Squadron (Australia)

The 2/9th Commando Squadron was a commando unit raised by the Australian Army for service in World War II. Raised in 1944, the unit saw action late in the war against the Japanese during the Aitape–Wewak campaign taking part in number of long range patrol operations across the Torricelli Range in New Guinea before being used in an amphibious landing near Wewak in May 1945. After the war the unit was disbanded.

M Special Unit

M Special Unit, was a joint Allied special reconnaissance unit, part of the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD), in the South West Pacific theatre of the Second World War. A joint Australian, New Zealand, Dutch and British military intelligence unit, it saw action in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands between 1943–1945, against the Empire of Japan.The unit was formed in 1943, as a successor to The Coastwatchers. Hence M Special Unit's role was focused upon gathering intelligence on Japanese shipping and troop movements. Small teams from the unit were landed behind enemy lines by sea, air or land, in contrast to its counterpart, Z Special Unit, which became well known for its direct-action commando-style raids.

Perhaps the best-known member of M Special Unit was Sergeant Leonard Siffleet, who was executed after being taken prisoner during Operation Whiting in 1943. A photograph of Siffleet in his last moments achieved iconic status following the war.M Special Unit was disbanded at the end of the war on 10 November 1945.

Military history of Australia

The military history of Australia spans the nation's 230-year modern history, from the early Australian frontier wars between Aboriginals and Europeans to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 21st century. Although this history is short when compared to that of many other nations, Australia has been involved in numerous conflicts and wars, and war and military service have been significant influences on Australian society and national identity, including the Anzac spirit. The relationship between war and Australian society has also been shaped by the enduring themes of Australian strategic culture and its unique security dilemma.

As British offshoots, the Australian colonies participated in Britain's small wars of the 19th century, while later as a federated dominion, and then an independent nation, Australia fought in the First World War and Second World War, as well as in the wars in Korea, Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam during the Cold War. In the Post-Vietnam era Australian forces have been involved in numerous international peacekeeping missions, through the United Nations and other agencies, including in the Sinai, Persian Gulf, Rwanda, Somalia, East Timor and the Solomon Islands, as well as many overseas humanitarian relief operations, while more recently they have also fought as part of multi-lateral forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In total, nearly 103,000 Australians died during the course of these conflicts.

Z Special Unit

Z Special Unit () was a joint Allied special forces unit formed during the Second World War to operate behind Japanese lines in South East Asia. Predominantly Australian, Z Special Unit was a specialist reconnaissance and sabotage unit that included British, Dutch, New Zealand, Timorese and Indonesian members, predominantly operating on Borneo and the islands of the former Netherlands East Indies.The unit carried out a total of 81 covert operations in the South West Pacific theatre, with parties inserted by parachute or submarine to provide intelligence and conduct guerrilla warfare. The best known of these missions were Operation Jaywick and Operation Rimau, both of which involved raids on Japanese shipping in Singapore Harbour; the latter of which resulted in the deaths of 23 commandos either in action or by execution after capture.Although the unit was disbanded after the war, many of the training techniques and operational procedures employed were later used during the formation of other Australian Army special forces units and they remain a model for guerrilla operations to this day.

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