1 INDEPENTANT COMPANY
The No 1 Independant Company was officially formed in early June 1941.
The Officer and NCO cadre commenced training at No. 7 Infantry Training Centre, Tidal River on Wilsons Promontory in Victoria in February 1941 and after 2 months the Other Ranks (volunteer soldiers) arrived in May to undertake their training.
Originally the company was raised to serve in the Middle East although, at that time there was uncertainty about the role that the company would fill there. Indeed, within the Australian Army senior officers some that saw no need for the Independent Companies, believing that they would prove to be more of a drain on resources than anything else. However, later in 1941, as the threat of war with Imperial Japan loomed, the main body of 1 Independent Company (1 Indep. Coy) was sent to Kavieng, New Ireland, to protect Kavieng airfield whilst other sections were sent to Namatanai on New Ireland, Vila in the New Hebrides, Tulagi on Guadalcanal, Buka on Bougainville, and Lorengau on Manus Island to act as early warning, observers and provided medical treatment to the local inhabitants.
Commanded by Major James Edmonds-Wilson, in the event of an invasion of New Britain by the Japanese the Company was under orders to resist long enough to destroy key airfields and other military installations such as fuel dumps, before withdrawing south to wage a guerrilla war. They did not have to wait very long, as on 21 January 1942, a preparatory bombing raid by about sixty Japanese aircraft attacked Kavieng. Several aircraft were shot down; however, the company's only means of escape, the schooner Induna Star, was damaged. Nevertheless, despite the damage, the crew managed to sail the vessel to Kaut where they started to repair the damage. As they did so, the remaining men withdrew across the island to Sook, having received word that a large Japanese naval force was approaching the island. In the early morning of 22 January 1942, the Japanese landed at Kavieng with between 3,000 and 4,000 troops. As the lead Japanese troops reached Kavieng airfield, fighting broke out as the small force that had remained at the airfield blew up the supply dump and other facilities. Fighting their way out, the commandos withdrew towards the main force at Sook, although several men were captured in the process.
Once the company had regrouped at Sook, on 28 January they withdrew further south to Kaut, where they helped with the repair of the Induna Star, before setting out along the east coast of the island. They reached Kalili Harbour on 31 January but after learning that the fighting on New Britain was over and that the Japanese had occupied Rabaul, it was decided to sail for Port Moresby. On 2 February the schooner was sighted by a Japanese plane that subsequently attacked, causing considerable damage to the vessel as well as destroying one of its lifeboats and causing a number of casualties. The Induna Star began taking on water and as a result the men were forced to surrender. Under escort by a Japanese aircraft and then later a destroyer, they were instructed to sail to Rabaul where they became prisoners of war.
After a few months at Rabaul, the officers were separated from their NCOs and men. The officers were transported to Japan where they remained in captivity for the rest of the war, whilst the NCOs and men, along with other members of Lark Force that had been captured and a number of civilians, were put on to the Japanese passenger ship the Montevideo Maru for transportation. Traveling unescorted, the Montevideo Maru sailed from Rabaul on 22 June. On 1 July the ship was sighted by an American submarine, the USS Sturgeon, off the coast of the Luzon, Philippines. The USS Sturgeon torpedoed and sunk the Montevideo Maru, without realising it was a Prisoner of War vessel. Only a handful of the Japanese crew were rescued, with none of the between 1,050 and 1,053 prisoners aboard surviving as they were still locked below deck. All 133 men from the 1 Indep. Coy who were aboard the Montevideo Maru were either killed or drowned.
Meanwhile, the sections of the company that had not been with the main group at Kavieng managed to avoid capture by the Japanese. Working with the Coastwatchers, they reported Japanese movements and carried out demolitions until they were later evacuated or escaped from the islands between April and May 1942. A reinforcement platoon had been trained in Australia while the company was deployed and after completing its training sailed on the MV Macdui, arriving at Port Moresby on 10 March 1942. Following their arrival, the platoon was designated the Independent Platoon Port Moresby and initially used for local defence purposes. It was later re-designated as Detachment 1 Independent Company.
In April 1942, under the command of Captain Roy Howard, it was moved to Kudjeru, in New Guinea, to guard against possible Japanese movement south of Wau along the Bulldog Track. In the process, they became one of the first Australian Army units to cross the Owen Stanley Range. In June, a section fought alongside the 2/5th Independent Company as part of Kanga Force where they participated in a major raid on the Japanese at Salamaua. Eventually, however, as a result of the losses suffered during the 1942 campaigns it was decided that the company would be disbanded and as the survivors were transferred to other Independent companies with the majority of those in Port Moresby being transferred to the 2/5th. 1 Indep. Coy. A number officers and men also transferred to the Coastwatcher organisation.
Throughout the course of the unit's existence, it suffered 142 men killed in action or died while prisoners of war. One member of the company was awarded the Military Cross.
As the term Commando was not used in Australian military terminology until later in the war, the post war veterans of No.1 Independent Company referred to themselves as Independants and not Commandos.
The video shown below is one of eight tapes.
To view the tapes please click the first link below.
Interview with Sandy McNabb
Book. We Were the First by Sandy McNabb
1 Independent Company War Diaries at