2/3rd COMMANDO COMPANY
Formed in October 1941 as the 2/3rd Independent Company
The unit undertook training at the Guerrilla Warfare Camp at Foster, Victoria. After completing training, the 2/3rd was transported north to Katherine, Northern Territory, where it carried out various garrison duties. During this time there was considerable debate within the high command of the Australian Army about the role that the 2/3rd and the other independent companies would fill. However, following Japan's entry into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbour and British forces in Malaya, it was decided to use the independent companies in the islands to the north of Australia, where it was necessary to establish outposts that could warn of the approach of the Japanese. With this in mind, the 2/3rd Independent Company was sent to New Caledonia in December 1941 as a gesture of goodwill to the Free French and in order to defend against a possible Japanese attack.
The deployment of the 2/3rd to New Caledonia was only a temporary measure, however, until the US Army sent Taskforce 6814 to reinforce the island, arriving in March 1942. Impressed with the 2/3rd and the training methods that they utilised, permission was sought by the American commander to retain the 2/3rd on the island in order to retrain his division. However, due to the requirements of the defence of Australia at the time, the company was withdrawn in early August 1942, although their commanding officer, Major George Matheson, stayed on to provide assistance.
After its return to Australia, the company spent the next six months training and undertaking garrison duties before sailing for New Guinea in mid-February 1943. Under the command of Major George Warfe, the 2/3rd arrived in Port Moresby, although they did not stay there very long as they were quickly flown to Wau. From there they were used to harass and pursue the Japanese towards Mubo. Following this, the 2/3rd moved to Missim, from where they began a guerilla campaign along the Komiatum Track, in support of the 3rd Division’s campaign around Salamaua.
As a part of this campaign, the 2/3rd patrolled deep into Japanese held territory, setting ambushes and gathering intelligence. They also made a number of attacks against Japanese positions, in order to harass them to keep them off balance and as such defend the 3rd Division's flanks. The most notable of these attacks came in May 1943 when a strengthened platoon launched an attack against Ambush Knoll, a feature which controlled Bobdubi Ridge, and captured it. By capturing the knoll, the 2/3rd threatened the Japanese supply lines to Mubo and Salamaua and because of this it forced them to launch a number of fierce counterattacks in an attempt to retake it. These counterattacks occurred over the course of the following three days and four nights, however, the platoon from the 2/3rd, consisting of only fifty-two men, managed to hold the knoll.
During its time in New Guinea, the 2/3rd suffered heavy casualties and as a result after the fall of Salamaua in September, they were withdrawn and brought back to Australia. They had performed quite well in the circumstances, however, and were credited with having killed 969 Japanese. Against this, the 2/3rd had suffered 65 killed, 119 wounded, and 226 men evacuated for medical reasons.
Upon its return to Australia, the 2/3rd was reformed on the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland. During this time, a reorganisation of the independent companies by the Australian Army was undertaken as part of a wider reorganisation of the Army as a whole and as a part of this reorganisation the 2/3rd was integrated into the 2/7th Cavalry Commando Regiment, along with the 2/5th and the 2/6th Independent Companies. In October, the 2/3rd Independent Company was renamed the 2/3rd Cavalry Commando Squadron, although later this name was simplified to just 2/3rd Commando Squadron. To a large extent, however, despite being placed under a regimental structure, the squadron continued to remain largely independent in terms of tactics and training.
For the remainder of 1943 until early 1945 there was a lull in Australia's involvement in the war in the Pacific, and the 2/3rd remained on the Atherton Tablelands, where it trained and conducted exercises with the 7th Division.
The squadron's final campaign of the war came in 1945, when attached to the 7th Division, the 2/3rd participated in the landing at Balikpapan. Landing on Green Beach on 1 July 1945 along with the rest of the 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment, the squadron moved off along Vasey Highway with the objective of capturing Seppinggang airfield, acting in support of the 2/5th Commando Squadron. The following day, however, they came under heavy mortar fire from the Japanese on Lady Schofield Knoll which prevented them from capturing the airfield until 3 July. After that, on 4 July, a number of troops were transferred to the 2/9th Infantry Battalion in order to patrol the area around Penadjam, with the rest of the 2/3rd continuing on to Seppinggang. Offensive operations ceased on 27 July, and with Japan's surrender in August, the war came to a close.
Following the end of hostilities in the Pacific, the 2/3rd was slowly reduced in strength as members were posted out to other units for occupation duties before the remainder of the unit returned to Australia at the end of December. In early 1946, at Chermside camp, in Brisbane, Queensland, the 2/3rd Commando Squadron was finally disbanded. A total of 69 members of the squadron were killed or died on active service during the war, and its members received the following decorations: four MCs, four DCMs, six MMs, one BEM, and four MIDs.
Videos. To view the tapes please click the first link below.
Interview with Brian Walpole https://australiansatwarfilmarchive.unsw.edu.au/archive/482
Garland, Ronald (1997). Nothing is Forever: The History of 2/3 Commandos. Malabar Heights, New South Wales: Ron Garland. ISBN 0-646-31944-2.
Horner, David (1989). SAS: Phantoms of the Jungle—A History of the Australian Special Air Service. Sydney, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86373-007-9.
McCarthy, Dudley (1959). South–West Pacific Area – First Year: Kokoda to Wau. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army. Vol. V. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. OCLC 3134247.
Trigellis-Smith, Syd (1992). The Purple Devils: The 2/6 Australian Commando Squadron. Melbourne, Victoria: 2/6 Commando Association. ISBN 0-646-07125-4.