1st Commando Regiment History
By the early 1950s, it was deemed necessary by the Army to maintain the techniques and skills that had been developed by commando units during WWII. Consequently, on 16 September 1954, the Military Board issued the authority to raise two Citizen Military Force (CMF) commando companies: the 1st Commando Company in Sydney and the 2nd Commando Company in Melbourne. Both would be commanded by regular army officers and regular army would form the training and administrative cadre. The companies were to be independent of each other and report to different commands.
The established strength for the companies was to be 265 all ranks, consisting of one major, five captains (three of them platoon commanders), six sergeants and 241 other ranks. This establishment was very similar to the Independent Companies of World War II, which had had an establishment of 17 officers and 256 other ranks.
The 1st Commando Company was raised in New South Wales on 24 February 1955; however, the officer commanding, Major William Harold (Mac) Grant decided that the official birthday would be their first parade on 25 June 1955. Major Grant was a World War II commando veteran having served in the 2/5 Independent Company and 2/12th Commando Squadron. The 2nd Commando Company was raised in Victoria on 24 February 1955 under the command of Major Peter Seddon and first paraded on 7 July 1955. Seddon was appointed for only 12 months with his successor to be Major Jack Anderson.
In October 1955, Grant and Anderson, along with two Warrant Officers Ernie Tarr and Ron Smith, travelled to the United Kingdom to train with the Royal Marine Commandos. Tarr and Smith undertook 12 months of training, including with the Special Boat Service, to become training instructors. Anderson was killed during the last week of the basic commando course and was replaced by Major John Hutcheson. Also in October 1955, two Royal Marine Commando sergeants Mac MacDermott and Len Holmes, both former Special Boat Service, travelled to Australia each appointed to a commando company. In May 1956, Grant and Hutcheson returned to Australia after six months of training having been awarded the green beret by 42 Commando.
Grant has stated that defence planning staff convinced the government to form the commando companies with the role "...of conducting clandestine operations similar to those mounted by special operations also those of the Independent Companies/Commando Squadrons. It was envisaged that by raising units capable of performing such a dual role, a pool of trained manpower would be available to be "farmed off" as necessary to a special operations unit while the remainder would be used in more conventional commando operations." The Australian Secret Intelligence Service had earlier been formed in 1952 within the Department of Defence whose role included ".. plan for and conduct special operations..".
Commando courses included basic parachutist, diving, small scale raids, demolitions, climbing and roping and unarmed combat. 1st Commando Company held the first diving course in 1957 using a pure oxygen re-breather named the Clearance Divers Breathing Apparatus CDBA borrowed from the Navy Clearance Diving Branch based on training received from the Special Boat Service.
In 1957, as the unit already had the designation "1st" within its title, the Army thought it would be a convenient framework on which to re-form the Australian Imperial Force's 1st Battalion. So on 1 December 1957 the unit was re-designated the 1st Infantry Battalion (Commando), keeping this title until 22 August 1966 when the unit was renamed the 1st Battalion, The Royal New South Wales Regiment (Commando), City of Sydney's Own Regiment. Finally in May 1973 the unit name at last changed back to the former designation of the 1st Commando Company. In 1958, the 1st Commando Company provided the initial training for the recently formed 1st Special Air Service Company, the Royal Australian Regiment.
301 and 126 Signal Squadrons
The requirement for long-range communications can be traced back to WWII and units such as Coastwatchers, New Guinea Air Warning Wireless Company, the Independent Companies, and Z Special Unit. On 30 April 1958, a decision was made to raise No 1 Independent Signals Squadron to support clandestine operations and this led to the formation of 301st Signal Squadron (Home Defence) in 1960 at Lidcombe, New South Wales. This new squadron was to meet the requirement for 'special communications' and was charged with the responsibility of providing long-range communications for commando type operations and was augmented with regular army in 1963. In December 1964, 301st Signal Squadron was re-designated 126th Signal Squadron, later to 126th Signal Squadron (Special Forces) in January 1966 and subsequently relocated to Albert Park, Victoria and in 1972 to Simpson Barracks in Watsonia, Victoria. The squadron had recruited female signallers since 1964.
Malaya, Borneo, and Vietnam
Prior to formation as a Regiment, the sub units deployed individuals and small teams to the Borneo Confrontation and the Vietnam War. During the Borneo confrontation, Sergeant Ted Blacker of 126th Signal Squadron (Special Forces) was awarded the British Empire Medal. From 1965 the Commando Companies contributed numerous instructors, including from their reserve part-time component, to the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV). Two lost their lives with the AATTV, with Warrant Officer Class II John Durrington being killed in action, and Warrant Officer Class II Ron Scott dying of wounds. Whilst serving with the AATTV, Warrant Officer Class II Ray Simpson, formerly from both the Special Air Service Regiment and the 1st Commando Company, was awarded the Victoria Cross for an action in the Kontum Province on 6 May 1969. In the late 1960s, 2nd Commando Company relocated from Ripponlea to Fort Gellibrand at Williamston. In 1978, 126th Signal Squadron (Special Forces) was provided with approval to wear the green beret and in 1981 the first female passed selection and was awarded a green beret.
All sub-units operated independently, training Army Reserve commandos and Special Forces signalers until 1981 when it was determined a regimental headquarters was required. This headquarters would coordinate the efforts of the previously independent units and provide the east coast command element for the newly established counter-terrorist capability within the Special Air Service Regiment. The headquarters was established on 1 February 1981 at Randwick Barracks in Randwick, New South Wales. In 1992, 126th Signal Squadron (Special Forces) qualified commandos were given approval to wear the commando badge.
Commencing in February 1997, 1 Cdo Regt provided the initial training for the re-role of the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (4RAR) from an infantry battalion into commando 4RAR (Cdo) raising the Commando Training Wing (the predecessor to the Special Forces Training Centre) commanded by Major Hans Fleer. The 126th Signal Squadron (Special Forces) was incorporated into 4RAR(Cdo) and relocated to Holsworthy. In 1998, the Army dropped plans to raise a third reserve company in Queensland for the Regiment due to a lack of resources.
In June 2002, 301 Signal Squadron was re-raised at Randwick Barracks to provide communications and information systems and electronic warfare to facilitate the command and control of special operations conducted by the Regiment. In 2006, 1st Commando Company relocated from Georges Heights in Mosman to HMAS Penguin in Balmoral.
In recent years, the Regiment has frequently deployed on operations, providing small detachments and individuals to peacekeeping missions in the region and deployed operationally in up to company sized combat elements to Afghanistan.
Deployments in the region, include Bougainville as unarmed monitors as part of Operation BEL ISI, Timor Leste (East Timor) as peacekeepers in 2001 as part of UNTAET providing a substantial reinforcement to 4RAR(Cdo) and Solomon Islands in 2003 as part of RAMSI providing peacekeeping teams to support operations.
In May 2006, SOCOMD deployed to Timor Leste as peacekeepers in Operation Astute with a Special Operations Task Group to conduct special recovery and evacuation operations. Post the extraction of the initial Task Group, the special operations component in Timor Leste was reduced – often commanded by a member of the 1 Cdo Regt and the force element supplemented by 1 Cdo Regt teams.
In March 2007, the Task Group was bolstered to form an Apprehension Task Force with the purpose of apprehending ex-Timorese Army Major and rebel leader, Alfredo Reinado, at the request of the President of Timor Leste. Reinado was eventually located in the village of Same. Following negotiations between the Timor Leste government and the rebels, the decision was made to detain Reinado by force. Reinado evaded capture but five of his men were killed in the battle. For the members of the 1 Cdo Regt who participated in this Special Operations Task Group mission the battle was the first combat seen by the unit (at greater than individual level).
In 2008, the Regiment's operational commitment took a step further with the deployment of an entire Commando Company Group to the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) in Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper. This constituted the first deployment of an Army Reserve force element on combat operations since World War II and the Regiment continued to support this operational commitment with similar deployments the following year. The role of the commando company in Afghanistan was to conduct offensive operations deep within enemy safe havens to provide security to both coalition forces and the people of Afghanistan. This was achieved through intelligence led direct action missions to disrupt and destroy enemy forces within known insurgent strong holds known as "kill or capture" missions.
The first deployment was composed of 1 Cdo Coy personnel supplemented by 2 Cdo Coy personnel commanded by the Major OC 1 Cdo Coy and arrived in November 2008 for a four-month tour of duty until February 2009. On 27 November 2008, Lieutenant Michael Fussell, a specialist Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) from 4RAR Cdo serving in the Commando Company Group, was killed in action after he stood on an IED during an night infiltration onto a target.
On 4 January 2009, the Regiment suffered its first combat fatality when Private Gregory Sher (2 Cdo Coy) was killed by a rocket attack into a patrol base.