Japan 1946 - 1950
The main body of 67th Aust Inf Bn arrived at Kure, Japan on 21 Feb 46
and throughout its time in Japan, the Battalion served at Kahachi,
Okayama, Haramuri, Kure, Hiro and Tokyo.
The Battalion's tasks during this
period included the screening of returning Japanese soldiers, the
destruction of arms caches, the supervision of general elections, guard
duties on various important buildings and installations, anti-piracy,
the suppression of race riots, as well as normal military operations.
On 23 Nov 48, 67th Battalion was
redesignated the 3rd Battalion, The Australian Regiment. On 10 Mar
49 the prefix "Royal" was appended to the title "The
Korea up to Kapyong
With the surrender of Germany
signalling the final phases of the Second World War, the British and
Australian governments held talks on the part the two countries would
play in the invasion of the Japanese home islands. The British Prime
Minister enquired if an Australian Division could be made available. As
peace came sooner than expected, the invasion force was not required and
the problem of Commonwealth participation in the occupation force then
On 1 October 1945 agreement was
reached and it was decided the Australian component would consist of two
cruisers, three fighter squadrons and an infantry brigade.
This Brigade, a volunteer force
designated 34th Australian Infantry Brigade, consisted of the 65th, 66th
and 67th Infantry Battalions, was raised and assembled at Morotai. 67th
Battalion was composed of elements of the 5th, 6th, 7th and 11th
Australian Divisions located at that time in the New Guinea area.
As part of the British Commonwealth
Occupation Force Japan, the main component of 67th Battalion landed at
Kure on 21 February 1946. The battalion's role during it's time in Japan
ranged from processing repatriated Japanese soldiers and prisoners of
war, guard duties on public buildings to the suppression of riots.
On 23 November 1948, 67th Battalion
was renamed Third Battalion, The Australian Regiment. On 31 March 1949,
His Majesty King George VI granted the prefix "Royal" to the
On 25 June 1950, as 3rd Battalion
stationed at Hiro was preparing to return to Australia, news was
received that the North Koreans had crossed the 38th parallel and were
driving towards Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea.
As part of military aid offered by
Australia to the United Nations for service in Korea, 3rd Battalion
underwent ten weeks intensive training at the former Imperial Japanese
Army jungle training centre at Haramura, 40 kilometres from Kure, and on
27 September 1950 the Battalion augmented by two drafts from Australia
and 960 strong, embarked in USNS "AIKEN VICTORY" at Tokyo.
Landing at Pusan the following day, the Australians joined 27th
Commonwealth Brigade at Taegu.
Five days later the Battalion suffered
its first casualties, when Capt K Hummerston and Pte K Sketchley were
killed near Waegwon. After their first action at Waegwon on October 1,
the battalion moved by air to K16 Airfield at Kimpo near Seoul and
prepared for further active service.
On 5 October 50 the battalion deployed
to take part in the 8th Army Offensive. During the ensuing advance to
the Yalu River, 3RAR performed with great credit, covering some 400
miles and accounting for approximately 450 enemy killed, 1,982 prisoners
taken and 15 armoured vehicles destroyed. This was the largest single
capture of enemy troops during the entire war. The battalion's
casualties were 13 killed and 34 wounded.
The battalion moved purposefully
northwards. On 23 October, the Chongchon River was crossed and Pakchon
taken, together with 225 prisoners. After crossing the Taeryong River,
Chongju near the west coast and just 64 kilometres from the Yalu River
and the Manchurian border was the next objective. On the 29th, the
battalion relieved the 187 American Airborne Regimental Combat Team,
which had been surrounded by a North Korean Regiment. This action became
known as the Battle of the Apple Orchard.
After strong resistance by North
Korean infantry supported by T34 tanks, Chongju was entered on 30
October 1950. At dusk the same day a shell fragment wounded Lieutenant
Colonel C. H. Green the Battalion Commander. Taken to hospital at Anju,
he died two days later on 1 November. For a time the battalion was under
the command of Lieutenant Colonel F S Walsh. However, a short time
later, Lieutenant Colonel Ian Ferguson MC MID was given command of the
battalion. At Chongju the Australians suffered casualties of 9 killed
and 30 wounded. It was on this day that the Communist Chinese Forces
entered the war.
On 31 October, the battalion was moved
to Pakchon where they relieved the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who
had earlier taken these hills but had been driven off. The RAAF, 77
Squadron supported the battalion with air strikes on enemy held hills.
This was the first time, 77 Squadron had provided air support to the
battalion. The following day 5th and 8th Cavalry Regiments of the 1st
United States Cavalry Division were engaged by Chinese forces.
On 27 November, 3 RAR was moved to
Kunu ri where they met up with the Turkish Brigade for the first time.
But the Chinese were pressing hard on their heels. The 27th Brigade fell
back to Sunchon, and by the first week in December, the United Nations'
forces were in general withdrawal, mostly on foot. The North Korean
capital of Pyongyang was abandoned on 4th December, and by the 11th the
Australians were in reserve at Uijongbu, 24 kilometers north of the
During November and December 1950 the
Chinese gathered for another thrust against the United Nations troops
with 3 RAR holding roads and river crossings as the UN forces were
From 1st January 1951, the battalion
held the Chinese advance to cover the withdrawal of 27 Brigade. The
Australians withdrew across the Han River and by the 4th, Seoul had been
abandoned to the advancing Chinese.
At Chuam ni, between 13 and 15
February, a US Armoured Reconnaissance Patrol became ambushed. When the
troops of 3 RAR and the Middlesex Regiment came upon the scene, they saw
only dead bodies and the abandoned jeeps and tanks. About 60 US
servicemen lost their lives that day.
Through the end of February and early
March 1951 bitter fighting continued. Conditions were awful the middle
of the harsh Korean winter with lots of snow. The fighting continued on
steep and narrow ice capped ridges, given the names according to their
height in metres 614, 410, 532 and then 703.
The wounded were forced to slide down
the snow covered hills. The battle honour, Maehwa San, covers the taking
of all these objectives.
But the fighting had taken its toll on
the Chinese also. No one will ever know the extent of their losses. Once
it became clear that the enemy were withdrawing, Seoul was re entered on
14 March 1951. The Australians went into reserve where they remained
until 25th March.
In the next few weeks the battalion
took part in the advance in force towards the 38th parallel. With the
support of New Zealand artillery, hills, codenamed "Sardine"
and "Salmon", north of Karim, were captured.
By that time the battalion had
suffered 55 killed in Action, 205 Wounded in Action and 5 had been taken
Prisoner of War. Someone took note of the hard fighting and the many
actions the battalion had taken part in, and decided to place the
battalion behind the lines in reserve. On 19th April, 27th Brigade
withdrew 48 kilometres to the southeast into corps reserve near the
village of Charidae, a few kilometres north-west of Kapyong.
Plans were made to celebrate Anzac Day
with the New Zealanders and the Turks. The battalion was resting with a
full Republic of Korea Division between it and the enemy. A good rest
looked assured. But it was not to be.
The Chinese winter offensive was eventually halted and in Feb/Mar 51, UN
forces began to push the CCF slowly back. Seoul was recaptured by US
troops on 14 Mar 51 and by 22 Apr 51, 3RAR had advanced as far as
Kapyong where it was held in reserve while 50 km to the front, 6th
Republic of Korea (ROK) Division held the frontline. When 27 Brigade
went into reserve, 16th New Zealand Field Regiment was sent forward to
provide gun support for the 6th ROK Division.
On the night of 22 Apr 51, the Chinese
launched their Spring offensive and the 6th ROK Division withdrew in
disorder through the battalion's position.
On the 23rd April 1951, the 27th
Brigade was ordered north to Chuktun ni, 11 kilometres to the north of
Charidae, where they were deployed to defend the Kapyong Valley. That
evening, the main Chinese force reached the battalion's perimeter.
During the 23 and 24 Apr 51, in the face of continuing attacks, the
battalion held its position, exhausting and demoralising the Chinese and
gradually blunting the offensive.
3 RAR were positioned with A, C and D
Companies on high ground to the east of Chuktun ni, and B Company
positioned on the left flank on a long scrub covered rise between the
road and small stream.
The battalion was to cover the ford
across the river and to guard the road from the northeast.
The Middlesex were to occupy high
ground to left of the road on the slopes near Sudok San. However, when
news of the Chinese offensive was received, they were sent forward to
provide infantry support to the New Zealand gunners, and as a result,
the Middlesex never occupied this position. When they returned with the
gunners after the retreat of the ROK division, both gunners and
Middlesex took up a position some six kilometres to the rear of 3 RAR.
The 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's
Canadian Light Infantry were positioned around Hill 677 to the left rear
of 3 RAR.
3 RAR's orders were that we were there
overnight as a precautionary measure. The battalion expected to return
to corps reserve the next morning. But the Australians were 50
kilometres behind the front line so felt relatively secure. However, as
darkness fell on the 23rd, the retreating South Korean troops began to
flood back through the 3 RAR position, knocking out telephone lines and
masking the advance of the Chinese, who then proceeded to attack the
rifle companies, battalion headquarters and support company units.
Radio communications between HQ and
the rifle companies from then on became a serious problem.
Only B Company could be contacted
directly. Later in the night, the CO moved to the Middlesex position in
an effort to improve radio communication, and thus achieve better
control of the action.
The fighting escalated and all through
the night the Chinese attacked again and again. Each time they were
repulsed they regrouped, and attacked again. Their casualties were
horrendous, but wave after wave of Chinese were thrown into the battle
over the bodies to their dead companions.
The fighting went on all through the
day of the 24th. Our troops were weary and hungry. Their last meal had
been a hot meal on the evening of the 23rd, and nothing could be brought
forward to them as the enemy had established a roadblock.
The battalion headquarters and RAP had
withdrawn to the area occupied by the Middlesex battalion, six
kilometres to the rear, in the early hours of the 24th. The Mortar
Platoon, Anti Tank Platoon and Assault Pioneer Platoon withdrew at first
light. The rifle companies remained in position and command of these
passed to the senior rifle company commander, Maj Ben O'Dowd.
Relief of the battalion, by a US
Regimental Combat Team, had been promised. However, in the afternoon
advice was received that no support would be forthcoming.
It was clear that the battalion could
not remain in its present position due to the shortage of ammunition and
the number of casualties that have been suffered.
Maj O'Dowd was faced with the task of
withdrawing the remaining troops. It was obvious that the withdrawal
could not be made by road as the Chinese were in possession of that
area. After B Company was ordered to clear the ridge line from Hill 504
down to the ford in the vicinity of the Princess Pat's.
The rifle companies were then
withdrawn by leapfrogging each company along the ridgeline with covering
fire provided by the Kiwi artillery gunners.
By 2300 hours, the battalion had been
successfully withdrawn. The battalion had suffered 33 dead, 59 wounded
and 3 were taken prisoner.
For its fine display of courage and
steadfastness the battalion was awarded the United States Presidential
Kapyong to the Cease Fire
After the collapse of the Chinese offensive, 3RAR joined 28 BRITCOM Inf
Bde. During the following six months, by a series of deep patrols and
probes, the battalion captured all its objectives in a UN drive to a
position overlooking the Imjin River. This was part of the Kansas Line.
In Operation Commando in Oct 51, the
battalion assisted in the capture of Point 355 and played a leading part
in the capture of Maryang San (Point 317). In five days of heavy
fighting 3RAR dislodged a numerically superior enemy from a position of
great strength. This classic offensive action is acknowledged as an RAR
battle honour. In the period from Nov 51 to the Armistice, 3RAR occupied
various positions in Jamestown Line between 'The Hook' and Point 355
with brief periods in brigade and corps reserve. The role of the unit,
like that of all UN forces, became one of defence; the holding of a
strong defence line extending across Korea just north of the 38th
Parallel. During this period, 3RAR became known for the aggressive
spirit displayed by its patrols and the procedures evolved by it were
accepted as the basis of the Division's policy for the organisation and
control of patrols.
At the cessation of hostilities on 27
Jul 53, the battalion was occupying Point 146. On 3 Aug 53, it moved
from there to its post hostilities location at Area 6, on the Jamestown
During the Korean War, 3RAR casualties
were 198 killed, 892 wounded and 38 missing in action. Perhaps because
the Battalion was the first Australian Army unit in action in Korea and
was still in the front line when the fighting stopped, it became as
"Old Faithful" among other units serving there and is still
referred to affectionately as such today.
Return to Australia
Despite the ceasefire, 3RAR remained
in Korea for another 14 months improving its defensive position on the
Kansas Line and conducting unit and sub-unit training.
From it's foundation nine years
earlier, the Battalion had never served in Australia, but on 12 October
1954 at Pusan, 3RAR embarked in the "New Australia" and sailed
for home. On October 20 "Old Faithful" arrived in Brisbane.
During it's deployment in Korea, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian
Regiment suffered total casualties of 198 killed, 892 wounded and 38
missing in action. Living up to their regimental motto, they put
"Duty First" and set a record second to none and one of which
they could be justifiably, proud. They showed quite clearly they could
maintain the high standards expected of, and given by, the Australian
ACTIVITIES BETWEEN KOREA AND VIETNAM
Australia 1954 - 1957
The Battalion arrived in Brisbane on
20 Oct 54 and paraded through the city. This was followed by similar
parades through Sydney and Melbourne. Finally, the unit concentrated at
Ingleburn on 1 Feb 55.
On Kapyong Day 1956 3RAR received the
Queen's and Regimental Colours from the Governor General, Field Marshall
Sir William Slim, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, DSO, MC, KStJ.
From Ingleburn the Battalion moved to
Holsworthy to undergo three months of intensive training in preparation
for its deployment to Malaya and with this training completed embarked
on the 'New Australia' in Sydney on 24 Sep 57.
Malaya 1957 - 1959
The Battalion arrived in Singapore on
11 Oct 57 and had a period of acclimatisation at the FARELF Training
Centre Kota Tingi (later to become the Jungle Warfare School).3RAR then
moved to company base camps at Kuala Kangsar (BHQ), Lasah, Sungei, Siput,
Penang and Lintang.
The unit was engaged on anti-communist
terrorist operations in northern Malaya. Operations began in Nov 57 and
as a result many terrorist camps and food dumps were located and
destroyed.3RAR was accredited with killing 14 terrorists and was
responsible for the capture of 32 others.Battalion casualties over the
two years was one KIA, two WIA and two died of illness.
Australia 1959 - 1963
On its return to Australia in Oct 59, 3RAR established itself at
Enoggera.It remained there for four years during which time it carried
out routine training and barracks duties.
Malaya and Borneo 1963 - 1965
The second tour of Malaya began on Jul
63 and 3RAR again joined 28 Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, this time at
Terendak near Malacca.Training for anti-terrorist operations began
immediately and the Battalion was honoured to serve for the first time
with the Scots Guards, its affiliated British Regiment.
The Battalion moved to the
Thailand-Malaya border on 20 Feb 64 and was successful in uncovering
many old and new terrorist camps and in apprehending illegal immigrants
In late Oct 64, an aggressive force of
Indonesian troops landed at Kesang slightly south of Camp Terendak.The
unit was alerted and a force went into action capturing more than 50
enemy without loss to the Battalion.
During Mar 65, a serious threat
developed in the Borneo states and the unit was once again alerted and
on this occasion deployed in the state of Sarawak relatively close to
the capital Kuching. This operation lasted some five months with the
unit returning to Terendak at the end of July.The unit acquitted itself
very well on this tour killing approximately 30 enemy troops for the
loss of three of our own troops and an Iban tracker.
Australia 1965 - 1967
In Aug-Sep 65, the Battalion returned to Woodside, South Australia. The
official date of 3RAR's occupation of Kapyong Lines, Woodside, was 14
Oct 65.The Battalion was reformed after leave in 1966 and began training
for operational service in South Vietnam.
3RAR's advance party arrived in Saigon
on 12 Dec 67.The main body followed on HMAS Sydney departing from Outer
Harbour, Adelaide on 16 Dec 67.
Vietnam 1967 - 1968
The main body of the Battalion arrived at Nui Dat,
Phuoc Tuy Province on 27 Dec 67. A short period of acclimatisation
allowed the Battalion to feel its way in the theatre and to familiarise
itself with the operational techniques of the Americans and
Vietnamese.The Battalion's first operation against the Viet Cong began
with A Coy deploying to Baria, the provincial capital, at the start of
the Tet Offensive.
Subsequent operations were undertaken
in and out of Phuoc Tuy province with the Battalion employed on mine
clearing, counter mortar and rocket tasks and on numerous
reconnaissance-in-force operations.During 26 and 28 May 68, 3RAR, while
in a battalion defensive position, withstood two determined assaults by
regimental sized units of the North Vietnamese Army at FSPB
While in Vietnam, 3RAR once again
formed many close ties with supporting arms and services and the
RAAF.The Battalion was proud to be associated with 161 Fd Bty, RNZA, a
105mm Howitzer battery of the 16 Fd Regt RNZA which supported 3RAR
during the Battle of Kapyong.
Australia 1968 - 1971
After a period of leave, the Battalion reformed at
Woodside in Jan 69.Here, although remaining under strength, the
Battalion continued training in preparation for a possible second tour
of Vietnam. Confirmation on the tour was received and in Feb 71, 3RAR
again departed for Nui Dat.
Although operations were undertaken by the Battalion in and out of the
Phuoc Tuy province, the main emphasis was placed on operations east and
north east of Nui Dat to prevent enemy infiltration and attacks around
the Zuyen Moc District.During this time 3RAR had a number of day long
bunker contacts with D445 VC Battalion and local guerilla forces.
On 6-7 Jun in southern Long Khanh
Province, the Battalion located and attacked an extensive bunker complex
occupied by 3rd Battalion, 33rd North Vietnamese Regiment. After a long
battle involving artillery, armour, Australian and United States
helicopter gunships, the system was found to contain 47 bunkers as well
as training areas and kitchens.
In August, the Prime Minister of
Australia announced the withdrawal of 1ATF combat troops. Following a
commemorative service and farewell parade on 5 Oct 71, 3RAR sailed for
Port Adelaide, South Australia on 6 Oct 71.During this tour four 3RAR
soldiers were killed in action.
1971 - 1999
3RAR returned to Woodside where it was to stay for the next ten
years. During this long period it conducted normal training
activities and was often involved in providing assistance to the civil
community. In 1981 the unit moved to Holsworthy NSW, ending its
long association with South Australia.
Early in 1982, the Battalion was
instructed to begin training for airborne operations and soldiers
immediately began attending courses at the Parachute Training School,
Williamtown. By mid 1983, the Battalion was able to conduct
company sized parachute operations and on 21 Oct 83, 3RAR became the
Parachute Infantry Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment and became
the core of the Parachute Battalion Group, the ADF's conventional
At 0730 hours on Friday, 27 August
1999 the soldiers of Bravo Company, 3 RAR, were ordered to parade in
front of their headquarters building in Kapyong Lines at Holsworthy
Barracks, Sydney. They were promptly and curtly told that the Company
was to immediately deploy to a destination unknown on a mission that was
yet to be announced. It was the first time that 3 RAR soldiers had an
inkling of their involvement in OPERATION SPITFIRE.
Bravo Company was the 3 RAR PBG on
line rifle Company and as such was expected to be operationally
deployable within a notice of forty eight hours should the need arise.
This notice to move was not adhered to by necessity. B Company drove out
of the Battalion gates at 1500 hours on 27 August. Forty-eight hours had
been reduced to seven and a half. For the first time since South Vietnam
the soldiers of `Old Faithful' were embarked on active service.
That fateful Friday was a surreal day
for Bravo Company and 3 RAR as a whole. The deployment order was given
to the Officer Commanding (OC) Bravo Company, Major Stephen Grace at
0500 hours in the morning and was passed to the rest of the Company two
and a half hours later. What followed could best be described as a
flurry of frantic activity in an atmosphere of disbelief and cynicism on
the part of the soldiers, Senior Non Commissioned Officers (SNCO's) and
officers of B Company.
After so many false alarms and short
notice exercises most were half convinced that it was all just another
false start. It was only as lunchtime approached and hasty arrangements
continued to be made by all ranks that it began to dawn that this was no
practice run and, indeed, that the real thing was upon them.
The Company headquarters of Bravo
Company consisted of the OC, his second in command (2IC) Captain Craig
Stockings, the Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Warrant Officer Stanley
Doran, the Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS) Staff Sergeant Chas
Peck and his storeman Private Jason Eaton. A signal detachment of four
led by Corporal Norman Mazzaferri was attached, as was a medical
detachment of five under the direction of the company medic Corporal
Christian Oakley. To round out the headquarters were the company clerk,
and an Administration Company detachment of an armourer and a vehicle
mechanic. All worked furiously to meet unforseen deadlines.
Prior to deployment the company's
three rifle platoons were immediately reinforced by the Battalion to
their full manning with the addition of a number of Mortar Platoon
soldiers as acting riflemen. The platoon commanders, Lieutenant Dan
Gosling (4 Platoon), Lieutenant Keith Lawton (5 Platoon), and Lieutenant
James Wilton (6 Platoon), along with their Platoon Sergeants, set about
last minute equipment checks and provided what orders they were able to
their men. A number of further attachments were made to the company on
the eve of its departure. A ten man section of Assault Pioneers and
Engineers under the command of Sergeant Gregory Polson and Corporal Pete
Condie came under the Company's command. So too an eight man team of
Direct Fire Support Weapons (DFSW) platoon soldiers led by Corporal
Kevin `Jock' Reid. Final additions were two Reconnaissance (Recon)
Platoon patrols of five men under Corporals Phil Larkam and Michael
Reyne and four sniper pairs coordinated by the Battalion's Sniper
Supervisor, Sergeant Shane Armstrong. The final element of the Company
group was its Forward Observer (FO) party of four, led by Captain Dave
Kelly. This artillery team was redesignated a Civil Military Operations
Team (CMOT) for the operation. Numbering more than one hundred and fifty
men the Bravo Company Group was indeed a formidable one.
From the moment the operational order
was issued to the Company its battle procedure progressed at a rapid
rate. Apart from the well practiced stores distribution and series of
checks, a number of peculiar and particular incidents occurred that
strongly suggested to the soldiers that something serious was afoot. The
2IC, who marched into the company at 0600 hours the morning of the
deployment, was immediately `frocked' from Lieutenant to Captain and he
began in earnest to provide passport applications and photos to members
of the Company who did not have them. The Company group was hastily
issued with `NINOX' night fighting equipment and the Battalion was
formed up into a hollow square on the parade ground. Bravo Company was
central and stood for an address from the Commanding Officer (CO)
Lieutenant Colonel Nick Welch. If these significant events were not
enough to convince soldiers, who had been hoping for this day to come
throughout their careers that it was actually here. The buses that
pulled onto the Battalion parade ground at 1500 hours certainly ended
their scepticism. Bravo Company, 3 RAR, as the on line rifle company,
deployed on OPERATION SPITFIRE as it drove out the gates of Kapyong
Lines that afternoon.
Bravo Company's bus ride was direct to
Royal Australian Airforce (RAAF) Base Richmond. It was a ride that all
aboard had done numerous times on exercise or for parachute continuation
training. True to Murphy's unwritten law, one of the buses had a little
trouble finding its way to the RAAF base, but there was never any real
danger of not making the next link in the journey north. If anything,
the prolonged bus ride gave the Company staff a chance to review the
deployment order and start to come to terms with the whirlwind departure
and what was potentially looming beyond it. It was now apparent that the
Company group was bound for RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory
under a cloak of secrecy. There were no television cameras where the
company was headed and none to see it off. Indeed, any contact back home
was strictly monitored and curtailed. It became clear that OP SPITFIRE
was not widely known of by the public. Instead news footage of the time
seemed interested only in playing file footage of Darwin's Is' Brigade
units while the real move was under way.
The Company arrived at RAAF Richmond
and promptly alighted onto an Air Force Boeing 707 for a continuation of
the journey north. The group touched down at RAAF Tindal at around 0300
hours on 28 of August. After a very long and draining day the Company
was dispersed into a tent city transit lines camp. The camp had its own
kitchen and ablutions, but otherwise the Company was isolated from the
rest of the world. The first day of the deployment ended for Bravo
Company with a hot dinner / breakfast of Chicken Kiev, amongst other
things, put on by the Airforce cooks. It was a prelude to the
commendable level of support provided by RAAF Tindal to the Company for
the duration of their stay in the Northern Territory.
Once in Tindal, Bravo Company came
under the operational command of Joint Task Force (JTF) 504 and was
married up with C 130 aircraft and Black Hawk helicopter support.
The next eight days were busy for
Bravo Company. The rifle platoons and attachments launched with gusto
into a schedule of training normally reserved solely for operations and
rarely found on any exercise. At this stage there was no firm indication
of exactly when and where or even how the Joint Task Force would deploy
but this uncertainty did not slow the pace of training. The more typical
range of infantry minor tactics and platoon and sections standard
operating procedures (SOPS) were rehearsed by platoon and section
commanders. All of whom were trying to second guess what would actually
come to pass in the not too distant fixture. An evacuation style of
operations was certainly in the forefront of everybody's mind, but there
remained a tangible sense that all contingencies needed to be covered.
Some very positive training
experiences were to come out of this period for the soldiers of Bravo
Company. For instance not many had seen up to thirteen Black Hawks in
the air at any one time. The Company eagerly snapped up opportunities to
practice contingency and operational helicopter loading as well as a
number of other techniques not usually available to soldiers of the
Parachute Battalion Group.
From a command perspective this period
was equally hectic. Throughout the time in Tindal the operational plan
was extremely fluid. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that plans
One brief aside from the gruelling
training program came in the form of a visit by the Minister for Defence
the Honourable Mr John Moore. The visit was complete with a press
entourage and some of the soldiers and Junior Non Commissioned Officers
(JNCOs) became temporary celebrities as their faces appeared on
Australia's national news programs. The where, why and when of the
operation were all well hidden and while the public at large were aware
that some element of the Army was on the move the fact that Bravo
Company, 3 RAR, was leading the way was not widely known.
As the situation in Dili deteriorated,
the operational concept grew to include a sea borne option. In
combination to the projected airhead at Dili airport it was considered
important that the option to create a sea head was also available from
Dili wharf. This would increase tactical options on the ground. This
requirement forced the splitting of Bravo Company. One element of the
Company was to move by air to Darwin in order for quick access to the
Royal Australian Navy's (RAN's) newest and fastest troopcarrying ship
the HMAS Jervis Bay. Meanwhile, the other half of B Company would remain
in Tindal to provide security for the airborne SPE should it be
activated. The latter group, that destined to remain behind in Tindal,
was based on Lieutenant Keith Lawton's Five Platoon. With him were the
Recon patrols and certain Combat Service Support (CSS) detachments. This
was a tall order for the young officer who was now to report directly to
the JTF 504 commander as well as to his OC in Darwin. It was a job he
did well. The order to split Bravo Company was executed and on 7
September the Company minus was flown, again under a blanket of secrecy,
to RAAF Darwin.
Immediately after the Company touched
down at RAAF Darwin they were whisked away by bus towards Robertson
Barracks, the home of the Army's 1St Brigade. Such was the secrecy of
their arrival that the transport drivers were told to take indirect
routes to the barracks lest somebody conclude where and why the Company
The Company was dispersed throughout
the 1st Brigade in its transit accommodation and settled in for more
waiting. Given the circumstances it was impossible to continue with
training but the Company did not have to suffer long before something
At this time the majority of the Army,
and Australians in general, had no idea how closely poised Bravo Company
was for a trip across the Timor Sea. The 1St Brigade Officer's and
Sergeant's Messes were much surprised to see the strange appearance of
these maroon beret wearing men. Interesting conversations occurred at
the time with most ending with an adamant denial by the northern Brigade
that anything was happening at all. Certainly nothing, they maintained,
would occur without their participation. Such denial could not last
On 9 September a call came from Major
O'Leary to Major Grace which fired the Company Group in Darwin into
action. In a sleepy but excited haze the men mustered and boarded trucks
and buses bound for HMAS Jervis Bay. Plans were hastily drafted between
the Company headquarters, the Captain of the Jervis Bay and the
commander of a Navy Clearance Diver Team. Bravo Company moved off from
the pier at Darwin harbour without fanfare and under the cover of
darkness bound for the coast of East Timor on what looked like a
Services Protected Evacuation from Dili wharf.
The trip from Darwin to Dili took
approximately twenty four hours in the speedy catamaran. Life aboard the
ship provided some novel experiences for the paratroops. The Jervis Bay
was designed as a civilian ferry so while room was plentiful and
television screens were abundant sleeping areas were not. The ship
resembled a passenger aircraft more than a military vessel. Nonetheless,
the soldiers found their sleeping places under chairs and tables and
began to watch a ceaseless string of videos that did not stop until the
trip was over. While this was occurring orders were given, rules of
engagement scenarios played out and what rehearsals were possible were
conducted. As Indonesian territorial waters approached the level of
This trip did not end as was
anticipated. Some few kilometres short of Indonesian waters the stand
down order was given and the Jervis Bay turned around and headed once
again back to Darwin. Some diplomatic manoeuvers and a number of other
issues caused the order to return to be given. Again, the Jervis Bay
pulled into Darwin in the middle of the night and the familiar buses
were waiting to return the Company to its temporary home at Robertson
The second Bravo Company component of
the split JTF 504 remained in Tindal and continued to train for a
Services Protected Evacuation operation. SGT Polson and one of his
engineers were converted into a High Risk Search Team (HRST) and LT
Lawton's men worked diligently to ensure that their part of the
operation would be right.
Meanwhile, the Company group in Darwin
rested in its transit lines for only one day before things began to
happen again. The phone rang a second time with an order to activate and
once more the Company paraded itself and its equipment in preparation
for the move across the sea. The buses rolled into the I' Brigade
Transit Lines and moved the group once more onto the HMAS Jervis Bay.
With a rejuvenated sense of anticipation the Company embarked and began
to absorb the ship's selection of videos for the second time. On this
occasion the group made it to the edge of Indonesian territorial waters
before it paused. Political and diplomatic manoeuvring moved at a slower
rate than the Company did. Around eight hours were spent motionless in
the middle of the ocean while the decision was made back in Australia
whether or not Bravo Company would continue its journey. The coast of
Timor was clearly and easily visible to everyone on board at this time.
The Company was so close and yet so far away as once again the order
came to stand down and return to Darwin. The news was taken well but it
was a bitter pill to swallow for men that had been on the edge now for
almost a month. The front gate of Robertson Barracks was a familiar
sight as Bravo Company returned to its pseudo home.
Despite an amount of cynicism that was
creeping into the soldiers it was only eighteen hours after returning
for the second time before a third order was given to board the ship.
The grumbling may have been more audible but the reaction time was no
slower as the subunit moved again from bus to ship. The well rehearsed
process was a smooth movement by now. Spirits were high as the ship
pulled away from Darwin for the third time for surely this had to be the
one to go all the way.
Again plans were fine tuned and this
time the concept was modified in order to land at an oil refinery wharf
to the west of the main Dili wharf. The refinery wharf was long and
narrow but this choice did nullify the fear that too many refugees would
be encountered at the original access point. Security was weighed up
against control as this plan was put forth. The Jervis Bay was to stop
short of the refinery jetty whilst the Navy's clearance divers ensured
the safety of the wharf. Once this was done the Company would provide a
perimeter of protection while the evacuees were processed and back
loaded to the ship.
During the trip Major Grace and the
Captain of the Jervis Bay made provision for weapons training and a
range was set up from the aft quarter of the vessel. It was a novel but
valuable experience. In many ways it seemed akin to file footage seen by
most of the soldiers of British servicemen doing a similar thing en
route to the Falkland Islands in 1982. Bravo Company readied itself as
the territorial limits of East Timor were reached but to everyone's
chagrin the ship again came to a stand still. Once more the coast could
be seen quite clearly when for the third time the request to continue
was refused and the ship headed back to Australia. Heavy hearts were
heavier still when during the return the Company was told that the
operation was actually proceeding, on a greatly reduced scale, utilising
C 130 aircraft. Worse still, the Bravo Company elements in Tindal were
not part of it!
In the end the only one member of B
Company touched foreign soil. Word was received during the move back to
Darwin that the split Company, upon returning, would be re united.
Furthermore, the entire Battalion would soon move to Darwin. It seemed
that perhaps not all was lost for as SPITFIRE was concluding something
else and something bigger was only just beginning.
In the very last days of JTF 405 and
OPERATION SPITFIRE a rifle company from the l" Battalion, The Royal
Australian Regiment (1 RAR) reinforced LT Lawton's platoon in Tindal.
This was to prove inconsequential and a little too late for on 15
September the detachment from Bravo Company joined the remainder of the
sub unit in Darwin. Bravo Company was stood down from OPERATION SPITFIRE
and JTF 405 was disbanded. At this time the remainder of the 3 RAR
Battalion group, less the gun line of A Field Battery, were themselves
preparing for deployment and gearing up for a move to Robertson Barracks
as part of a new task force. These moves were the first stirrings of
OPERATION WARDEN. Bravo Company only had time for a short breath before
joining the rest of the Battalion for the next step in the journey to
OPERATION SPITFIRE was an experience
that Bravo Company will not quickly forget. The sub unit was torn from
Holsworthy on minimal notice and thrown into an unfamiliar environment
working with unfamiliar organisations. The pressure on the Company from
the outset was significant. False alarms and near misses compounded the
emotions of all. However, the men of the Company rose to the challenge
at all levels. The soldiers trained with a rarely seen intensity despite
being kept in the dark most of the time. They did not complain. The
officers and SNCOs were forced to operate well outside established
training regimes. They dealt with planning for real contingencies with
minimal information and in time frames that would be considered
unworkable in peacetime exercises. The fact that the Company group did
not physically stand on East Timorese soil should not be the measure by
which OP SPITFIRE should be judged. Had the order been given B Company
was ready to carry out its mission with commitment and professionalism
characteristics that were to become the Battalion's trademark once a
landing in East Timor was eventually made.
A year ago operational experience was
afar off dream for many of us. It was the culmination of training, the
test that would prove once and for all if we had what it took. On the
morning of the 27th of August 1999 Bravo Company, The 3rd Battalion, The
Royal Australian Regiment took the first steps toward that test.
That morning they received orders that
would see them leaving their homes before the sun had set. They would
deploy to an unrevealed ion with an undisclosed mission to return at an
unspecified time. This was to begin the first deployment of `Old
Faithful' since Vietnam. The deployment would see the Battalion face
many diverse challenges and push us past our comfortable limits.
The following is a brief account of
the Battalion's time on operations. It will begin with Bravo Company's
call up for OPERATION SPITFIRE and continue through the Battalion's
deployment to OPERATION WARDEN and it's subsequent clearance of Dili. It
will move through the months spent on border patrols in the west and
operations in the Oeccussi Enclave. It will speak of 'Old Faithful's'
rapport with the people of East Timor and conclude with the return to
Australia and families.
At 0730h on the 27th of August 1999,
Bravo Company was recalled and informed that they would depart that day
to support the evacuation of Australian Nationals from East Timor. The
company quickly took stock of the situation and began the final
preparations for deployment. Men moved from point to point carrying
stores and filling in paperwork. An air of anticipation filled the
Battalion as it readied it's on line company to depart, countered to a
small extent by the cynicism of those who had done it all before only to
be stood down at the last minute. This attitude grew less as the hours
wore on; it was replaced by a quiet determination to be ready.
Bravo Company, as the on line
Parachute Company Group, had been placed on 48 hours notice to move. In
a mere seven and a half hours, from receiving it's orders, Bravo Company
had regrouped with its supporting elements and was driving out of the
Battalion gates. The trip to Richmond RAAF Base was a chance to issue
what orders they had or could think to give the men. The following day
Bravo Company arrived at Tindal RAAF Base and into a world of their own.
For the weeks that followed the Company and its attachments rehearsed
contingency plans. The Company focused on crowd control and gas
training. Superimposed on this training was the normal range of Infantry
Minor Tactics. It was a time characterised by a fluid environment in
which planning changed on a constant basis. All commanders were trying
to second guess what would occur in the not too distant fixture. An
emphasis on evacuation style operations was apparent, but in a definite
belief that all possible events be covered as fully as time allowed.
Throughout its training at Tindal,
Bravo Company maintained a shroud of secrecy, with contact home closely
monitored. It became very apparent to the men of Bravo Company that OP
SPITFIRE was not generally known by the public. Instead the news
stations continued to play footage of the Northern Battalions gearing up
while the real move continued quietly and without fanfare.
As the situation continued to
deteriorate in the East Timor capital of Dili, the plan changed shape to
include a sea borne option. In combination to the projected airhead at
Dili airport it was considered important that the option to create a sea
head was also available from Dili wharf. This requirement forced the
splitting of Bravo Company. One element of the Company was to move by
air to Darwin in order for quick access to the HMAS Jervis Bay.
Meanwhile, the other half of Bravo Company would remain in Tindal to
provide security for the airborne Service Protected Evacuation should it
be activated. The split occurred on 7 September, under a blanket of
secrecy to the everybody's mind was extent that vehicle routes were
different and indirect to Robertson Barracks.
The time spent at Robertson Barracks
was one of enforced inactivity regarding training, but the situation and
planning continued to change. On 9 September a call came which fired the
Company Group in Darwin into action. Bravo Company moved off from the
pier at Darwin harbour without display and under the cover of darkness
bound for the coast of East Timor on what looked like a Services
Protected Evacuation from Dili wharf.
Some few kilometres short of
Indonesian waters the stand down order was given and the Jervis Bay
turned around and headed once again back to Darwin. The phone rang a
second time with an order to activate. The coast of Timor was clearly
and easily visible to everyone on board at this time. The Company was so
close and yet so far away as once again the order came to stand down and
return to Darwin Despite an amount of cynicism that was creeping into
the soldiers it was only eighteen hours after returning for the second
time before a third order was given to board the ship. Spirits were high
as the ship pulled away from Darwin for the third time for surely this
had to be the one to go all the way. Once again Bravo Company was to
come within sight of the East Timor coastline before being stood down.
OP SPITFIRE concluded without a single
Bravo Company soldier touching foreign soil. The Company moved back into
Darwin with word that the Battalion would regroup at Robertson Barracks
for further operations. It was some consolation to the men that had so
many false starts to realise something bigger was about to happen.
The Battalion regrouped in Darwin and
set about chasing information and second guessing the situation. On the
afternoon of 17 September the Commanding Officer briefed his Company
commanders on OPERATION WARDEN and outlined the sub unit tasks once a
landing in Dili had been made. Maps were issued; along with as much up
to date intelligence and photographs of Dili as the unit could muster.
Alpha Company was tasked to conduct a
break out from the wharf area into an interim AO before moving out and
occupying a Company TAOR. Charlie Company was to move on to their own
TAOR to establish headquarters and patrol base locations before
beginning sustained security operations and initiating a patrolling
program. Bravo Company's task was to advance to and secure the United
Nations Compound to the south of the city. The Company would then occupy
its TAOR. Support Company was to provide defence of BHQ, and other core
specific tasks as they arose.
At 1815hrs on 20 September 1999, after
the mammoth task of loading a Battalion and its stores had been achieved
at last, 3 RAR was underway from the port of Darwin. Before the unit
left Robertson Barracks it had paraded and been farewelled by the Prime
Minister in a short but significant parade. Once on board the men talked
and joked with the bravado of warriors going to war, sometime during
that long night the decks became quiet as men settled down and
contemplated what lay ahead. Most were awake for the movies `Saving
Private Ryan' and `The Odd Angry Shot'.
Both the HMAS Jervis Bay and HMAS
Tobruk steamed northwards throughout the night. By sunrise on 21
September 1999, both vessels lay off the entrance to Dili harbour. Men
scrambled for position at the windows to catch their first glimpse of
Dili. It is a sight that none will forget; A town destroyed; the dock
was filled with refugees and the stuff of their former lives; the air
was full of ash and death. As the men moved into the town, a row of
bullet holes and blood stains acted as a timely reminder of the violence
which surrounded them. Soldiers scanned their arcs constantly looking
for something out of the ordinary when everything looked out of the
ordinary. Companies patrolled into the TAOR's and quickly established
Company Patrol Bases. The evening was spent hardening the positions and
the night was spent growing used to the noises of Dili.
The entire area was a powder keg as
TNI units were still occupying this section of Dili. Relations were
strained to say the least. There were continued threatening gestures on
their part and angry slogans were painted on walls. The Battalion
consolidated its position and Companies immediately sent Platoons and
Section strength patrols throughout their areas of responsibility.
The 23 September saw TNI begin the
first reluctant gestures of withdrawal from the capital, handing the
responsibility for order over to INTERFET. On 24 September, a Battalion
level operation was carried out. It was a cordon and search in Dili of
moderate success. It was conducted in spite of an active TNI presence
inside of the cordoned area and demonstrated the force and ability to
concentrate that force at anytime, anywhere in the TAOR which the
Battalion had at its disposal.
In the next few days the rifle
Companies continued to patrol in their TAOR's and carried out a number
of cordon and search operations themselves. These and other activities
were a considerable success and the sub units began to find that most of
their tactical intelligence and weapon finds originated from information
offered by the locals. Even at this early stage the value of winning
over the civilian population was becoming evident. This phase of the
occupation of Dili was characterised by confiscations of weapons.
Sunrise on Kapyong Day 2000, Batugade
East Timor. For the majority of soldiers in East Timor, it was a day
that began as any other. For the volunteers of Pegasus Platoon 3RAR,
under command 5/7RAR, the significance of Kapyong day could not be under
The platoon assembled on the mud, with
the maroon winged parachute flag flying high in the early morning
breeze. We stood in silence, a look of pride and determination on the
faces of the men, as the bagpipes played Our Director
It was a significant day for a variety
of reasons. For all present it was a chance to reflect on the incredible
feats of soldiers past, and put our modest achievements into context.
For many members in the platoon it marked almost eight months active
service in East Timor, putting them among the longest serving members in
the campaign. It gave us the motivation to maintain our high standards,
and to fiercely guard the reputation 3RAR had maintained in East Timor
of serving with distinction. Lastly, our thoughts turned to home and the
rest of the Battalion, who would be commemorating this day in Australia.
Pegasus Platoon was formed on the 12
February 2000, at Government House, Dili. While the rest of the
Battalion was cleaning equipment and making plans for their holiday,
thirty men were planning for another two and a half month stay in
The compound at Tonibibi was an old
shopping area. After months of rain combined with ASLAV's and APC's, the
area more closely resembled a mud bath. CPL Newson (Newie) and LCPL Ried
(Chippa) had just enough time to stow their Ech bags before departing
for an OP task. Meanwhile CPL Scott (Scotty) and LCPL Currey (Cuz) took
over a VCP task at the Nunura Bridge. It is important to note that the
position at Nunura Bridge was to change dramatically after suggestions
from Scotty and his section. Lastly, CPL Slavin (Slav) and PTE Robinson
(Robbo). Joined PHQ at the compound.
The month at Tonibibi was challenging
with the sections changing tasks every two or three days, all doing
VCP's, OP's, patrol tasks and security. One task the soldiers will not
forget is Junction Point Charlie. A mosquito infested swamp situated on
the side of the river marking the border with West Timor. It was
situated opposite a TNI post and enabled us to monitor the Tonibibi
markets, a short walk north of the position. The market was a trading
area on the border, set up by the locals to allow West and East Timor
merchants to buy and sell goods. The items bought and sold ranging from
tobacco to motor cycle parts. Our job was to provide security to the
market which started at sunrise and ended at around seven in the
morning. The trading took place on the bank of the river on the West
Timor side. The Timorese often braving the rapid running water to carry
goods across. The situation was always tense, the militia often turning
up on the Western side of the border and scaring the locals, resulting
in a mad rush back across the border. This was always a spectacular
sight as we usually had over three thousand locals, and we were never
more than section strength on the ground.
Leaving the mud behind in March we
moved again at the start of April, north of Balibo to Batugade. After
doing local patrols for a week by day and night, we departed by
helicopter for a border patrol. After more than a month of static tasks
and short patrols, it was a welcome change. The patrol took a week and
involved a relocation and resupply by helicopter. By moving around our
AO on foot, the locals were often surprised to see us. They had been
used to hearing the APC's before seeing Australian soldiers. Getting out
and mixing with the locals is what we did best in East
Following the patrol we were moved
down to the "Beach Hut", this was a combination of VCP's and
Border checkpoints both on the border and just over a kilometre inland.
The road running from Batugade, along the coast into West Timor, was and
still is the main crossing point for East Timorese wishing to come back
to East Timor. It is also the area where the reunion visit occurs. Every
week, this event attracts thousands of East and West Timorese into a
tightly controlled area. The Australians are responsible for the outer
security and the Portuguese responsible for the inner security. This was
an often challenging and busy task.
From Batugade we moved to Dili and
spent just over a week cleaning our equipment and making a quiet entry
back into Australia. The men of Pegasus Platoon missed the fanfare and
celebration of our return home, we didn't have a ticker tape parade and
there was no beer and two up on ANZAC day. In fact on the trip home our
C 130, which was taking us from Dili to Sydney, broke down and we spent
the night in Townsville. However, we were volunteers, and nobody in the
platoon ever complained or felt that he was missing out.
We won't forget the endless
games of five hundred with Lynchie, Chippa, Cuz, Barra, Robbo, Slav and
Woodsy. The tackle bet by Curls and Dietzy. The "Big Sister"
fruit cake challenge undertaken by Staffy. Wilso and Jed having endless
UFC match offs. Barra disappearing into mud and sand so that only his UN
beret was left on the surface. Nath, Wilso, Jason, Dietzy, Franko and
Chippa's endless conversations about their ladies at the Battalion Ball.
Rotten always putting his foot in it, but coming up trumps by giving an
excellent presentation on the Battle of Kapyong. Cooky and Staffy always
finding somewhere to workout. Scotties endless communications with his
missus, and always having all the gear. Carlo, always driving someone
somewhere. SGT Crowther (Crowie) and his innovative ideas for improving
our positions. Gary good guy, Waitie, Wazza, Kenny, Joel and the whole
platoon for working their guts out when needed and for having a good time
when they could.
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