Oz’s WWII armored fist

In July 1941, the 1st Armoured Division authorized the year before by the Australian War Cabinet, was founded as was the Australian Armoured Corps. Prior to that, the Australians had two light tank companies and some armored recce units assigned to divisional cavalry regiments armed with British Crusader Mark II medium tanks and M3 Stuart light tanks.

Bren gun carriers used by Australian light horse troops in Northern Africa, on January 7, 1941.

At first, scheduled to deploy to the Middle East to fight Rommel, the new division contained six armored regiments in two brigades, an armored car regiment for scouting purposes, and an artillery train as well as service and support units. Their equipment almost seemed quaint.

Member of the Australian Tank Corps from an April 1941 cover of ‘The Australian Women’s Weekly’ Note the brown boots, beret with Australian rising sun badge, World War I vintage ‘Infantry Equipment, Australian Pattern (Leather)’ still in use by this late date and Vickers-Armstrongs Light Tanks in the background.

They also were not above using “inherited” kit.

Australian soldiers with captured Italian Fiat M11/39 and M13/40 tanks in North Africa, Tobruk, Libya – January 1941 Note the “Roo”

When the Japanese entered the war on Dec. 7, 1941, the Armoured Corps turned to homeland defense pending an invasion by the Emperor’s forces and the possibility of a land fight for the continent.

Standing up with Bren carriers and Ford Scout Cars at first, by April 1942 the 1st AD started receiving M3 Grant medium tanks and M3 Stuart light tanks direct from the U.S. as part of British orders.

Ford S1 scout car was produced by Ford of Australia

The main body of the 1st Armoured Division was deployed to home defense duties between Perth and Geraldton, Western Australia.

More of the same.

Stuarts of the 1 Armd Div, 1942-43, note the battle-ax insignia

1st Armd Division Grant rant tanks in NSW, 1942-43

The 2nd Armoured Division (militia) was stood up 21 February 1942 and the 3rd Armoured Division (militia) was established on 15 November 1942, giving the Australian Armoured Corps, on paper, a full-strength that would have seen 900 tanks take the battlefield, though this never even came close to happening. Due to personnel shortages and the likelihood that the Japanese would land forces in Australia for an all-out land battle, all three divisions were officially disbanded during 1943 and downgraded to brigade- and battalion-level amalgamated as the separate 1st Armoured Brigade Group (using the same battle ax insignia as the 1st AD), which itself was disestablished in September 1944.

Australian soldiers move through the jungle of Papua New Guinea with their M3 Stuart tanks. This was not MBT country.

Smaller units, equipped with Stuarts and Matilda II tanks, deployed overseas in the Borneo Campaign while the Grants remained in Australia, ultimately placed in reserve and sold disarmed on the commercial market in the 1960s.

Australian tank corps, Bougainville campaign in Spring 1945. At the time, the A12 Matilda, shown above, was seen as hopelessly obsolete for Europe but was still far better than any Japanese tank that could face it

After the war, the Australians largely hung up tank warfare until the 1st Armoured Regiment was formed in the new Australian Regular Army on 7 July 1949 with Churchill and later Centurion tanks. Some Centurions were later deployed in the Vietnam War.

Today the Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC) contains five regular and four reserve regiments equipped with a total of 59 M1A1 Abrams MBTs, 431 M113 variant APCs and 257 LAV-25s. However, plans are afoot to increase the size of their MBT force to 90 hulls– even building a production line in Australia and using the facility as a sustainment hub for the subsequent 20-year life of the Australian Army M1 fleet.

“With vehicles like the M1, which you operate for decades, the sustainment cost far outweighs the procurement cost,” said Colonel Anthony Duus, the Australian  Army’s Director of Armoured Fighting Vehicles Systems recently. “We favor the option of having the production line in Australia.”

To this day, in honor of the old Armoured Corps, The Red Kangaroo still adorns every Australian tank

Everything old is new again…


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