Category Archives: Australia

An Unwanted Sword, 76 Years Ago Today

17 September 1945: Surrender of Borneo at Bandjermasin. The Japanese major general, a career officer in his full uniform with some 2,500 of the Emperor’s troops under his command, attempted to hand his family sword to the senior Allied officer on the scene, a malarial temporary lieutenant colonel in field dress with rolled-up sleeves and a bush hat, who, after suffering the loss of one out of four men in his battalion in the preceding campaign to reach that moment, ordered the general via an interpreter to place his sword on the ground before of the Australians.

Note the Digger with his Enfield revolver at the ready. Photo by Corp. Robert Eric Donaldson, AWM 118033

“Major General Michio Uno, Imperial Japanese Army, Commanding the Japanese 37th Army Forces in the area, lays his sword at the feet of NX349 Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Ewan Murray Robson, CBE, DSO, Commanding Officer, 2/31 Infantry Battalion during the Japanese surrender ceremony on the local sports ground. Also identified is Warrant Officer Class 2 Arthur Pappadopoulos, Interpreter with the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS), GHQ beside Robson, and on the extreme left, behind Lt Col Robson is Warrant Officer Class 1 George Hawkins.”

Part of the 25th Brigade, 7th Division, the 2/31st was formed just as the 70th Battalion (Australia) after Dunkirk in England from assorted Australian non-infantry types and trained to be infantry to defend the British Isles against a looming invasion by Hitler. Renamed the 2/31st, following the end of the Battle of Britain, the unit was sent to North Africa then served in the Syrian campaign before being rushed back to defend Australia in early 1942 after Japan entered the war.

This photograph from State Library Victoria is of the 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion walking in high cane along the Banks of the Brown River, circa 1943. When the Japanese arrived in Papua, their goal was to make their way across the Kokoda Track and form a base from which to attack the mainland of Australia. The Kokoda campaign is remembered as one of the most difficult operations in Australian military history – a campaign that cost the lives of many soldiers.

After being decimated through two years of fighting in the fierce jungle during the New Guinea campaigns, the reconstituted battalion landed at Green Beach at Balikpapan along with the rest of the 7th Division on 2 July 1945. Overcoming fierce Japanese opposition as they pushed inland from the beach, they were again in the Green Hell of jungle fighting, suffering the highest casualties of any Allied unit in the Borneo campaign, with nearly a quarter of the battalion killed or injured. On the way, they liberated a huge camp at Kandangan, which held Dutch women and children that had been interned since 1942, as well as a second large camp that held some 2,000 Indian POWs captured in Burma.

Soldiers of the Australian 2/31st Battalion passing through the town of Bandjermasin in Borneo as they took responsibility for the area from the Japanese. “They are being given an enthusiastic welcome by local civilians.” AWM photo 118018

The 2/31st Battalion received 22 battle honors for its service during the war, and its members earned a VC, three DSOs, four MCs, one DCM, and a score of MMs. It was disbanded in March 1946, and the unit, assembled from “odds and ends” had never since uncased its flag.

Its commander, Lt. Col. Murray Robson had been mustered out even before then, discharged in November 1945, his war service at an end. A solicitor by trade and a member of the NSW parliament, he had joined the Australian militia at age 33 as a reserve lieutenant three weeks after Hitler crossed into Poland in 1939 and, serving with the 2/31st since June 1940, earned the DSO in New Guinea after being wounded in Syria and mentioned thrice in dispatches.

No word on whatever became of Major General Uno’s katana.

RAN getting into the SSN Game, apparently

The Royal Australian Navy Submarine Service has been around since 1964 but the Ozzies have been running subs going back to the Great War-era British E class submarines AE1 and AE2, which we have covered here on a Warship Wednesday.

Besides the Es, the Australians operated a half-dozen J-class boats in WWI, two O-class boats in the 1920s, and eight British Oberon-class submarines through the Cold War.

Barbecue on top of HMAS Onslow, a diesel submarine operated by Australia’s Navy from 1968 to 1999.

Today, they have the half dozen controversial (but Australian-built!) Collins-class submarines in service that are aging out.

Collins-class submarines conducting exercises northwest of Rottnest Island 2019

Driven by political pressure against nuclear-powered subs– both Australia and New Zealand have had issues with American “N” prefixes visiting in past years– Canberra signed a contract for a dozen planned Attack-class SSKs from France in a competition that saw both German and Japanese designs come up in a close tie for second place.

However, with the French boats not being able to get operational into some time in the mid-2030s, the Australians are scrapping the stalled French contract and going with a program with the U.S. and Royal Navy to field SSNs.

The AUKUS program is ambitious to say the least. 

RAN’s official statement, with a lot more detail than you get elsewhere: 

The submarines will be built at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide, where French company Naval Group was to construct the soon-to-be canceled submarines, which is a heavy lift for sure, but not insurmountable. 

As SUBSCOL in New London is very good at what they do at training Nuclear Program submariners, and the production line for the Virginia-class boats is white-hot, it is likely something that could be done inside the decade with some sort of technology sharing program similar to how Australian acquired their FFG-7 frigates in the 1980s, provided the RAN can cough up enough submariners (they have a problem staffing their boats now as it is) as well as the cash and political will.

If a Virginia-class variant is chosen, perhaps one could be hot-loaned from COMSUBPAC, with a cadre of specialists aboard, to the Australians for a couple years as a training boat while theirs are being constructed. 

Can Canberra buy and man 12 boats? Doubtful, but a 4+1 hull program with one boat in a maintenance period and the four active subs, perhaps with rotating blue/red crews, could provide a lot of snorkel.

Plus, it could see American SSNs based in Western Australia on a running basis, which is something that has never happened. Of course, the precedent is there, as 122 American, 31 British, and 11 Dutch subs conducted patrols from Fremantle and Brisbane between 1942 and 1945 while the Royal Navy’s 4th Submarine Flotilla was based in Sydney from 1949 until 1969.

Of course, the French, who have been chasing this hole in the ocean for five years, are going to raise hell over this. 

The “breakup statement” of French Naval Group with Australia Attack class submarine deal…no mention of them being overpriced, overdue and under delivery.

Meanwhile, off Korea

In related Pacific submarine news, the South Koreans successfully fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile on Wednesday, just hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea.

The ROKN boat, likely the new ROKS Dosan Ahn Changho (SS-083), which just commissioned in August, fired the indigenous Hyunmoo conventional warhead SLBM, of which not much is known. The 3,700-ton Changho-class, of which nine are planned, have six VLS silos for such missiles in addition to their torpedo tubes.

Talisman Sabre Photoex

Talk about a great shot. The ships of the forward-deployed USS America (LHA 6) Expeditionary Strike Group steam in formation during Talisman Sabre (TS) 21 in conjunction with warships from Australia, Canada, Japan, and South Korea. In all, you have three ‘Phibs, six escorts, and two auxiliaries with a battalion of Marines and a half-squadron of F-35s along for the ride. 

The place? The Coral Sea. What a difference 80 years makes, right?

CORAL SEA (July 22, 2021) (From left) USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204), ROKS Wand Geon (DD 978), HMAS Parramatta (FFH 154), USS America (LHA 6), USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115), USS JS Makinami (DD 112), USNS Alan Shepard (T-AKE 3), (center) HMCS Calgary (FFH 335), (back) USS New Orleans (LPD 18), HMAS Brisbane (D 41), and USS Germantown (LSD 42) steam in formation during Talisman Sabre (TS) 21. This is the ninth iteration of Talisman Sabre, a large-scale, bilateral military exercise between Australia and the U.S. involving more than 17,000 participants from seven nations. The month-long multi-domain exercise consists of a series of training events that reinforce the strong U.S./Australian alliance and demonstrate the U.S. military’s unwavering commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel Serianni)

And the breakaway.

CORAL SEA (July 22, 2021) (From left) USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204), ROKS Wand Geon (DD 978), HMAS Parramatta (FFH 154), USS America (LHA 6), USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115), USS JS Makinami (DD 112), USNS Alan Shepard (T-AKE 3), (center) HMCS Calgary (FFH 335), (back) USS New Orleans (LPD 18), HMAS Brisbane (D 41), and USS Germantown (LSD 42) break from formation steaming during Talisman Sabre (TS) 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel Serianni

For the record, the America ESG has the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked. The 31st MEU currently comprises the F-35B-augmented Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced) as the ACE, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines as the GCE, and Combat Logistics Battalion 31 as the LCE. 

Of Combat Cats and Owens

Happy National Kitten Day, July 10. 

Smiling Owen gun-equipped Signalman H.G. Gladstone, B Company, 2/5th Australian Infantry Battalion, with his Combat Cat “Tiger,” in Ulupu, during the New Guinea Campaign. 10 July 1945. 

“He found the kitten in a deserted village at Malba and it is content to ride on his shoulder.” Via the Australian War Memorial https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C21530

Blackhats in the Field

Australians getting it done: A light company’s worth of Battlegroup Warhorse tanks from 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry) along with 7th Brigade troops (largely from 6RAR) of Battlegroup Heeler, at the end of Exercise Diamond Walk at Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area, Queensland, this past week.

Australian Army photo

On the 2/14 LHR M1A1 Abrams to the far left, note their assembled crews are wearing the Royal Australian Armoured Corps’ traditional black berets. They are one of just three active battalions in the regular Australian Army equipped with tanks and have a proud lineage that pre-dates the Army itself by some 40 years, going back to the Crimean War era.

Moving to the right, note the ambulance platoon, ~25 assorted M113AS4 APCs with their distinctive “one-man-turret” .50cals, and a host of support vehicles including M577A1 command vehicles, an M88 recovery vehicle, G-wagons, Boxer CRVs (a new sight in the Australian Army) and “Weaponised Truckies” making up the battalion-sized element. Really great layout.

Z Man Loadout

The “Z Special Unit” or “Z Force” detachments, immortalized in the early Sam Neil/Mel Gibson action film Attack Force Z (which included some great suppressed M3 Grease Guns and folbot action from an Oberon-class SSK) ripped up Japanese held islands throughout WWII. There is a really fascinating history behind these units and the redoubtable men who served in them.

Check out this loadout, showing a Webley/Enfield revolver, M1 Carbine, the wicked Welrod suppressed .32 “special purpose” gun, a machete (or possibly one of William E. Fairbairn’s Smatchets), and pack, courtesy of A Secret War.

Now, that looks fun. (Photo: A Secret War)

Hattip to the Australians

For those otherwise occupied, 1 March 2021 was the 120th anniversary of the Royal Australian Army, the date when the six separate colonial military forces were amalgamated following the Federation of Australia, (although today’s Regular Army wasn’t formed until Sept. 1947).

If only Fosters wasn’t so horrible…still, you have to give it up to a force that has carried Steyr Augs since 1988, although their government did deep six 30,000 beautiful inch-pattern FALs afterward.

Trouble for the final River

The British completed 151 River-class frigates for a host of Commonwealth and Allied navies during WWII, and the vessels went to serve at least 19 different fleets around the globe. Of those, HMAS Diamantina, commissioned 27 April 1945, is the only one preserved as a museum ship, the rest of her sisters gone to scrap or reef.

Importantly during her 35 active years with the Royal Australian Navy– during which she had steamed 615,755 miles– she received the official surrender of Japanese forces in the Solomons.

The Ocean Island surrender is signed onboard HMAS Diamantina (Photo: RAN)

Handed over to the Queensland Maritime Museum as a self-touring museum, her fate is now up in the air as the QMM is closing for good at the end of the year, a victim of COVID closures and lockdowns.

Of Long Tan

The fact that the U.S. military and its South Vietnamese allies were not the only countries that faced off against the Sino-Soviet-backed North Vietnamese/Viet Cong South East Asia is often forgotten. Besides South Korean and Filipino units, Australia and New Zealand also dispatched contingents of their own while thousands of Brits and Canadians fought as volunteers wearing the uniform of several of the aforementioned forces.

Here is a picture of Australian SAS captain Peter Shilston as Mike Force company commander. Note the BAR belt used for 20 round M16 mags

When it comes to the ANZACs, no less than 61,000 Australians fought in Vietnam between 1962 and 1972, amassing over 3,500 casualties.

Their shining moment was perhaps the Battle of Long Tan which saw three forward observers of the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery and 105 men of D Company, 6 Royal Australian Regiment fight a hopelessly outnumbered action (some 20:1 according to some reports) against a full NVA regiment and supporting VC battalion.

It was brutal, sometimes hand-to-hand fighting, with artillery and air support called in almost on top of the Australian/New Zealand force.

An Australian-made film about Long Tan, which used over 100 former Australian and New Zealand combat veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq as extras, was just released and it is pretty good.

If you have Amazon, it is on Prime.

Wombat Gun

Australian War Memorial WAR/70/0105/VN

Official caption:

Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. 18 February 1970. Section Commander, Corporal Joe Danyluk of Port Kembla, NSW, carrying a mortar gun [M79 40mm grenade launcher] calls a halt during a sweep through bombed-out jungle after a bloody battle in the Long Hai mountains during Operation Hamersley. His company, B Company of 8th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (8RAR), together with other units of the Battalion, supported by armor, fought an estimated company of hard-core Viet Cong (VC) for a number of days in the mountains. The area was pounded by airstrikes including a raid by giant B52 bomber aircraft, naval bombardment from HMAS Vendetta, and artillery fire. Twenty-nine bodies of dead VC have been found to date.

First fielded in 1961 by the U.S. Army, the 6-pound M79 was light enough that you could carry it as a support weapon while still having a primary rifle– note CPL Danyluk’s M16 over the shoulder. In American service, it was often called the Bloop Gun or the Thumper. Meanwhile, the Ozzies referred to it as the Wombat Gun.

Because wombats…

« Older Entries