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A Brief History of Australia's Reserve Forces to the mid-1980's


Part-time voluntary defence units have played an important part in Australian defence since early colonial days. 

The strategic rationale for raising and maintaining part-time forces, the relative priority they have received in defence planning, the budgetary allocations they have attracted, their numerical strengths and standards of training and equipment, however, have all changed markedly, especially during the twentieth century.

Most notably, part-time forces comprised essentially the Army up until the end of the Second World War. In the period since, the part-time forces in all three Services have been largely relegated to the status of reserves with a role of providing support to more operationally ready and better resourced permanent forces.

This history traces briefly the evolution of part-time forces in each of the three Australian armed Services until the mid-1980s. The nature of the discussion of each Service has intentionally been tailored to reflect its specific situation. Hence, in the case of Army's part-time forces, their scale and importance have required a relatively detailed tracing of their evolving rationale and circumstances. The part-time forces of Navy and Air Force, because of their smaller scale and generally subsidiary importance, are discussed in less detail and with a sharper focus on organisational changes.


The role of Reserve forces in all three Australian Services changed markedly between the inter-war period and the mid-1980s. At the outbreak of World War II, part-time forces had been the predominant component of the Royal Australian Navy, a large part of the Australian Army and a significant component of the Royal Australian Air Force. In that era permanent Army personnel existed primarily to support the larger citizen militia. The higher levels of Permanent Force personnel in the RAN and the RAAF reflected the comparative complexity of the technologies and many of the training requirements of those services.

By the mid-1980s the relative contribution of the Reserve elements of all three services was markedly diminished. The Regular Army had clearly become the primary Australian ground force element. It attracted a significant proportion of the budget and nearly all of the modern equipment. In every case requiring the commitment of significant combat forces abroad after World War II, Regular troops or a combination of Regulars and national service personnel have been committed. The Army Reserve was most unlikely to be called on to provide units for service overseas. Opportunities arose for selected Army Reserve personnel to participate in some foreign contingencies, but only on a strictly voluntary basis and most frequently as individuals.

Naval and Air Force Reserves resource allocations fell markedly, their relative strengths were not maintained and they were gradually removed from the most attractive ‘sharp-end’ operational roles. After the 1950s very few Naval Reservists gained significant experience on large naval combatants and there were few opportunities for Air Force Reservists to become flight crew in operational units.

There are numerous reasons why the Australian Defence Force developed in this way. One was that Australia’s strategic priorities changed markedly. In the post-war era Australian Governments wanted to be able to maintain significant forces at higher levels of readiness for foreign deployment or, since the early 1970s, for operations in the direct defence of Australia. The training levels of the traditional forms of Australian Reserve units were judged to be insufficient to maintain the readiness standards required.

Reserve units were also considered unsuitable for extended foreign deployments short of a major defence emergency.

Another important factor was the increasing sophistication and complexity of the technologies, training and operational practices of the three Services, especially the RAAF and RAN. In many fields it was judged impractical for individual Reservists or Reserve units to acquire and maintain the skills essential for front line operational service in the limited training time that was available.

By the mid-1980s the roles of the Services’ Reserve forces had become severely constrained. While Navy and Air Force Reserves had some limited access to a few relatively minor defence equipments and systems, their primary role had become that of force supplements. They existed primarily to support the peacetime activities of the much larger Permanent Forces, to contribute indirectly to military capabilities and to fill a small number of non-military and largely professional requirements.

The Army Reserve, by contrast, maintained more of a complementary role to the Regular Army. It was structured to reinforce the Regular Army in the defence of Australia, though it was recognised that full emergency deployment of the Army Reserve would take six months and more. A second complementary role was to provide part of the base for force expansion, should the threat of a substantial international conflict be recognised sufficiently early to permit a significant Army Reserve contribution.

Material in this section is drawn extensively from Chapter 1 of The Australian Defence Force Reserves, Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, November 1991, AGPS Canberra.
This material is used by permission of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Secretariat.

History of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve

From early this century, the development of Australia's Naval Reserves broadly paralleled that of the Army's Reserves with numerous changes of organisation and name. 

From 1901 to 1910, the Naval Militia numbered fewer than 1,000 members and their training was minimal. 

A Directorate of Naval Reserves was established in 1911 to administer naval participation in the compulsory part-time military training scheme which was adopted following Lord Kitchener's review.

Those Naval Reservists who were under 18 years of age and liable for compulsory training were members of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (O) (RANR(O)). Those older than 18, and hence not liable for compulsory service, were members of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (M) (RANR(M)). In July 1913 the Australian element of the Royal Naval Reserve - which comprised mainly professional civilian seafarers - was transferred to Commonwealth control and renamed the Australian Naval Reserve (Sea-going).

Prior to the outbreak of World War I the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (Sea-going) was re-named the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (RANR), and the RANR(M) and RANR(O) became the Royal Australian Naval Brigade. The Royal Australian Naval Brigade ultimately included a number of other specific naval units, including the Naval Expeditionary Force, New Guinea, 1914.

Compulsory Naval Reserve training was suspended in 1920 and the title Naval Brigade was discarded in favour of the term Royal Australian Naval Reserve. The existing RANR was re-organised as a reserve of mercantile marine officers and the title RANR (Sea-going) was reinstated. Then, in 1921, a new category of naval reserves was established, the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RANVR). This organisation sought to enlist those - such as yachtsmen – with extensive experience in small and medium craft operations.

At the outbreak of World War II there were 75 officers in the RANR (Sea-going), 245 officers and 3,900 sailors in the RANR and 160 officers in the RANVR. During the War, normal reserve training was suspended but the majority of new sailor entries was enlisted as members of the RANR (Sea-going) or the RANVR. By the end of the War, the Reserve had increased to some 2,900 officers and 27,000 sailors, which represented 80 per cent of Australian personnel serving in the Commonwealth Naval Forces.

In 1943 a Special Branch of the RANVR was created and all officers who had been commissioned since the outbreak of hostilities and engaged in specified types of naval service were transferred to it. Special Branch personnel were engaged in a wide range of technical and operational duties. When the War ended the Special Branch contained 600 officers.

Most of the Naval loan personnel that the Royal Navy drew from Australia during World War II came from the ranks of the RANVR. Of some 500 Australians serving with the Royal Navy in June 1944, more than 400 were members of the RANVR.

Naval Reserve training did not re-commence immediately after the War. It was resumed when rising international tensions stimulated the Menzies Government to institute a number of precautionary defence measures in 1950 and 1951, including a compulsory national service training scheme. Those opting for the Naval variant of the scheme were given 154 days continuous training, comprising six weeks basic training, followed by eight weeks technical training ashore and a further eight weeks service afloat. By the time this scheme was abandoned in 1957 the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) had trained 6,860 national servicemen.

In 1964 Navy followed an Army initiative in establishing an Emergency Reserve, known as the Royal Australian Naval Emergency Reserve (RANER). It consisted of ex-RAN and trained RANR personnel who were prepared to make themselves available for immediate call out in a situation short of war or defence emergency. In 1974 entry and re-enlistment in the RANER was suspended. The RANER has been dormant since 1979.

On 7 June 1973 the branch of the Reserves confined to officers who followed the sea as a profession, namely the RANR (Sea-going), and the RAN Volunteer Reserve were absorbed into the Royal Australian Naval Reserve.

By the mid-1980s the Australian Naval Reserve had three component parts, two of which - the Emergency List (of officers) and the Fleet Reserve (of sailors) - comprised ex-permanent naval forces. These two components contributed over two thirds of Australian Naval Reserve strength, but they were largely latent forces with no training obligation.

The Australian Naval Reserve was focussed in nine Naval Reserve units located in various parts of the country. Their tasks included the collection of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and patrol, Naval control of shipping, mine and counter-mine warfare, seaward and harbour defence, naval aviation and logistic support of the RAN.

Material in this section is drawn extensively from Chapter 1 of The Australian Defence Force Reserves, Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, November 1991, AGPS Canberra.
This material is used by permission of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Secretariat.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2000. This work is copyright. You may download, display, print and reproduce this material in unaltered form only (retaining this notice) for your personal, non-commercial use or use within your organisation. All other rights are reserved. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Manager, Legislative Services, AusInfo. GPO Box 1920, Canberra ACT 2601 or by email to

Subject to Crown Copyright.

History of the Army Reserve

The first Australian part-time defence units were raised in September 1800. Known as the Sydney and Parramatta Loyal Associations, they were a response to fears of Irish and convict uprisings and, later, to concerns about the possibility of French raids during the Napoleonic Wars.
From 1850 to 1900, enthusiasm and Government support for volunteer defence forces waxed and waned, largely in accordance with perceptions of external threat. During the Crimean War, Victoria raised voluntary rifle and cavalry units. New South Wales recruited a battalion of riflemen and a battery of artillery, primarily to man the expanded fortifications around Sydney Harbour. By 1863 these two colonies had mustered over 5,000 volunteers. 

These part-time troops were not paid directly for their service but were entitled to a Government grant of 50 acres of land on completion of five years ‘efficient’ service.

In contrast to the mostly poor and squalid backgrounds of the British regular troops garrisoned in the colonies, the local volunteers drew heavily on the rising urban and rural middle classes. A large proportion of this local force consisted of artisans and skilled labourers. Volunteering members needed to pay the costs of their uniforms and cover their wages forgone. They were also free to resign at any time and unit discipline was usually less than stringent. The Government’s prime obligation was to provide appropriate weaponry.

During the 1860s 2,500 men from the eastern Australian colonies volunteered for service in the Waikato War against the Maoris in New Zealand. Many of these individuals had experience in the colonial volunteer forces.

During this period security scares were not only stimulated by distant European wars but also by rumours of the approach of foreign naval vessels. A continuing colonial nightmare was the early morning appearance in the port approaches of a foreign warship which was able to shell the coastal cities with virtual impunity. In 1839 two American warships did, in fact, anchor overnight in Sydney Harbour undetected. In 1878 there was mild panic when an Italian cruiser appeared unexpectedly off Sydney Heads.

The departure of the last British troops from Australia in 1870 precipitated the raising of a new category of local military force. While the ‘volunteers’ provided a basic local defence capacity for a very modest cost, successive reviews of defence preparation in the colonies highlighted a need for higher standards of training, stricter discipline and the introduction of more modern equipment. The gold rushes and associated economic prosperity also generated a climate in which colonial administrations felt that they could afford to build more capable defence units. Consequently, volunteers were sought for a new, partially paid, colonial militia force. Militia volunteers were supplied with uniforms and essential equipment as well as cash payments for periods of service. In return, the training periods for these units were compulsory and their exercising and discipline were far more rigorous than for the ‘volunteers’.

The Australian colonies were very cautious about raising regular military units. There was a widespread aversion to the dangers of militarism and wariness about the potential for permanent defence forces to be used to suppress workers’ movements. There was also little interest in generating an officer ‘caste’ along the lines fostered by the British. Most Australians did not want to compromise their egalitarian spirit by creating a more formal, permanent, professional military force. Thus when the first full-time defence units were raised in some of the colonies in the 1870s, they were very small in size and tasked with supporting the much larger militias, primarily in manning the expanded network of coastal fortifications.

This meant that by the 1880s the following categories of military service existed in several of the colonies: permanent, militia, volunteer and school cadet and rifle club reserves.

The economic Depression of the 1890s brought a severe reduction in spending on defence, reduced manning levels, cuts in militia and permanent force pay and severely curtailed training periods. The Depression also brought serious industrial disturbances which led the Victorian and Queensland Governments to call out troops to reinforce State police. These operations against strikers exacerbated the distrust of large segments of the population of the military.

The New South Wales commitment of forces to the Sudan in 1885 and the commitments of all six colonies to South Africa in 1899 required calls for volunteers for overseas service. Many, but not all, of those who volunteered had previous militia or volunteer experience.

During the Boer War, eight contingents totalling some 16,175 men left Australia for South Africa. This experience fostered a popular belief that young Australian men, especially those from rural areas, possessed natural bush skills that made them 'born' soldiers. The experience of the Boer War, however, suggested that, while Australians possessed many valuable natural attributes, thorough training and appropriate equipment were also essential. While the first two contingents acquitted themselves well, the latter contingents were less experienced and weaknesses in training and discipline became apparent.

At the federation of the Australian colonies on 1 January 1901, responsibility for defence passed from the individual colonies to the new Federal Government. In terms of manpower, the national government inherited a total of 29,000 soldiers (including 1,500 on full-time duty) and 2,000 naval personnel (including 250 on full-time duty).

The resounding Japanese naval victory over Russian forces in the North-west Pacific in 1905 and the withdrawal of British capital ships from the theatre following conclusion of the Anglo-Japanese alliance again stirred Australian feelings of vulnerability and encouraged an expansion of Australia's defences. W.M. Hughes had for some years been urging adoption of compulsory part-time military service because he saw it as a means of society as a whole enhancing its security while avoiding the propagation of militarism, the threat that armed forces might be used against the workers and disruption to business and civil life.

In 1909 Field Marshal Lord Kitchener was invited to review Australia's defences and provide professional comment on the proposed compulsory military training scheme. His report foresaw the possibility that in a future crisis the Royal Navy might be distracted elsewhere and Australia may need to provide the main forces for its own defence. He endorsed the compulsory military service scheme and called for increasing the size of the Australian militia army to 80,000 men. The Government accepted the thrust of his report and 92,000 18-25-year-olds boosted the ranks of the militia by commencing part-time training in 1911.

An important parallel development during this period was the establishment of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, to provide staff officers and instructors for the growing militia army.

By the outbreak of war in 1914, over 200,000 Australians were on full- or part-time service. It was not possible, however, for the existing army units to be committed directly to hostilities. The Commonwealth Defence Act precluded the dispatch of any but volunteers for overseas service. Therefore, in raising a special force to capture German New Guinea and in creating the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) to serve in Europe and the Middle East, the Government appealed to the entire population for recruits. In the event, a large number of volunteers and compulsorily trained militia made themselves available.

A notable feature of the Australian forces committed to World War I was the quality and effectiveness of many of the senior citizen force officers. Monash and other officers of high calibre were the product of long periods of militia training. They believed strongly that their part-time backgrounds rendered them more suitable for high command than permanent officers.

The vast human costs of the war, the divisive wartime plebiscites on compulsory overseas service and the apparent opportunity for post-war arms control generated strong pressures to cut defence expenditure in the early 1920s. Nevertheless, compulsory militia training for home service continued until 1929. Its cessation placed unexpectedly sudden pressure on the volunteer force. The great depression further reduced defence spending over the following three years, bringing the armed forces to their lowest strength in the inter-war period.

In the mid-1930s the rise of Hitler and Japan's operations in China revived concerns in Australia about the likelihood of a new world war. Defence expenditures rose at an increasing rate towards the end of the decade. By 1939 Australia's Army consisted of 3,000 permanent personnel and 80,000 under-equipped, part-time citizen force volunteers.1

At the outbreak of World War II neither the Government nor the Opposition was enthusiastic about introducing compulsory overseas military service. So in raising forces for overseas service (the Second AIF) volunteers were again sought from the general community. Militia were encouraged to transfer to the AIF, but only about one quarter did so. The remainder continued to serve in Australia.

Thus, at the beginning of the World War II, Australia effectively maintained no less than three armies:

  • the Second AIF, an all-volunteer force eligible for overseas service anywhere;
  • a militia, which was ineligible for service outside Australia; and
  • the permanent Army, which was a relatively small force of volunteer personnel.

The distinctions between the militia and the other forms of service were subsequently modified in February 1943, when legislation was passed extending the region in which the militia was liable for service to include the entire South-West Pacific area, excluding the Philippines, West Java and North Borneo. Many militia units subsequently distinguished themselves in combat overseas. Nevertheless, this differentiation within Army remained a continuing source of friction.

Many developments during World War II had long-term consequences for the future shape of the Australian Defence Force. One important development was the growth of a close and enduring strategic relationship with the United States, which was predicated on defending Australian and allied interests on an almost continuous basis in forward Asian theatres. Another was the increasing complexity and technological sophistication of modern war, which encouraged the application of higher levels of technical expertise to the profession of arms. A third was that, in contrast to World War I, the permanent Staff Corps officers gradually gained the ascendancy in senior Australian command positions. A fourth important consequence was that World War II accelerated greatly the industrialisation of the Australian economy and established the foundations for relative prosperity in the late 1940s and through the 1950s.

Accordingly, when the post-war shape of the Defence Force came to be discussed seriously in 1945, the conditions were different in many respects from those of the 1930s. Moreover, the Government of the day urgently wished to commit a brigade of volunteer troops to the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. These volunteers were drawn from veterans of the demobilising 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions of the AIF and signed up as permanent personnel. This was, in effect, a major break with Australian military tradition. Militia and other volunteers were not sought to fill this commitment. It soon became clear that permanent soldiers were no longer to be merely assistants and facilitators for the much larger citizen militia. The Australian Regular Army (ARA) was formally established in 1947 with its own organisation and front-line role.

The permanent infantry brigade of three battalions committed to Japan was to form the core of the Regular Army during the late 1940s and through the 1950s. By 1949 the Regular Army numbered some 15,000 troops. A voluntary Citizen Military Force (CMF) was re-established in 1948 with the traditional part-time training obligations of evening parades, weekend ‘bivouacs’ and an annual 14-day continuous training camp. The Regular Army continued to provide the CMF with limited support, primarily in the form of a training cadre.

The crisis in Korea led the Australian Government to commit first one and then two regular infantry battalions to the conflict. Coming on top of the requirement to provide substantial continuing support to the CMF, the Regular Army was stretched severely.

Additional training demands were imposed by the Government’s decision, in March 1951, to expand the CMF through a compulsory national service scheme. The Government announced that it was deeply disturbed by the rise of international communism and it saw an urgent need to take precautionary steps against the possibility of a new global conflict. Under this scheme, all male British subjects were liable for call up at 18 years of age for 176 days training in the Citizen Naval Forces, Citizen Military Forces or the Citizen Air Force.

For the Army, 98 days initial continuous training was required, followed by 12 days part-time training and a 14-day continuous training camp in each of the succeeding three years. Some 34,500 young men were called up in the first year. This number was far beyond the training capacity of the Regular personnel that, owing to the Korean War, were available. The military value of the scheme was limited.

In 1955 the period of obligatory CMF service was reduced to 140 days and the scheme was suspended altogether in 1959. By the end of 1960, CMF strength had fallen to 20,000.

During the 1950s the political influence of the ‘CMF lobby’ was strong. Rivalries with the Regular officer corps were frequently intense and, at one point during this decade, a serious attempt was made to have a CMF officer appointed as Chief of the General Staff (CGS).

An important turning point in the history of the CMF came in 1959-1960. Not only was national service suspended, but also the Army introduced a Pentropic organisation, modelled on a similar US Army formation that was then in vogue. This heavy restructuring of the Army caused a contraction in the number of CMF battalions, changes in many unit names and a loss of esprit de corps. Many veterans from World War II resigned from the CMF during this period.

In July 1962 Australia deployed 30 Regular Army advisers to South Vietnam, and in 1965 this commitment rose to battalion strength. In 1965 also, Australia committed another infantry battalion to counter Indonesian operations against East Malaysia. The Australian Army was rapidly becoming over-stretched in two simultaneous and relatively open-ended conflicts.

In order to expand rapidly the capabilities of the Regular Army, Prime Minister Menzies announced in November 1964 the introduction of a new compulsory, but selective, national service scheme. This facilitated a build up of the Regular Army to nine battalions by 1967.

The introduction of national service had major consequences for the CMF. Under the national service legislation, men who joined the CMF before their age group was balloted were exempt from the national service call up but were required to spend six years in CMF service. In addition, those called up for two years full-time national service were required to serve a further three years in the CMF on return to civilian life. This meant that many young men joined the CMF out of a desire to avoid national service, rather than contribute to the CMF. Hence, even though CMF enlistments rose rapidly during the latter half of the 1960s, the effectiveness of the force did not rise in parallel.

The abolition of the national service scheme in 1972 was one of the first acts of the new Whitlam Government. This left the CMF as a rapidly reducing force (as forced entrants withdrew) and with a clouded future role. In an effort to clarify the situation, Dr T.B. Millar was appointed in May 1973 to head a committee to inquire into the future of the CMF. The Millar Report2 was the most comprehensive review of Australian Defence Force Reserves since at least World War II. Its principal conclusions and recommendations were that:

  • a partly trained Reserve force was an essential component of the defence of Australia;
  • the Citizen Military Forces should be renamed the Army Reserve;
  • Australia should have one Army (ie total force) with two complementary elements, the Regular Army and the Army Reserve;
  • the Army Reserve should be developed to provide an effective operational force for the defence of Australia at short notice and also to provide a basis for force expansion in the long term;
  • many Army Reserve units should be amalgamated to make better use of the available manpower;
  • a Chief of Army Reserves should be appointed to the Department of Defence (Army Office);
  • a Committee for Employer Support should be established, with an element in each State; and
  • numerous detailed steps should be taken to, for example, improve training, structures, recruitment and administrative procedures.
    The Government accepted Millar’s principal recommendations and most were planned to be implemented progressively over the following decade.

The 1976 White Paper Australian Defence reaffirmed the Government’s support for Millar’s recommendations and predicted that the ongoing reorganisation would raise the effectiveness of the Army Reserve.

Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, the Government announced an expansion of Army Reserve numbers to 30,000. This policy, however, was not sustained. Another cause of decreased strength was the removal - albeit for less than a year - of the tax exempt status of Reserve pay in the 1983-84 budget. By the mid-1980s the effective strength of the Army Reserve had stabilised at about 25,000.


1. By way of contrast, the Royal Australian Navy had an establishment of 10,350 (including 4,800 reservists) and the Royal Australian Air Force numbered some 3,650 (including about 650 reservists).

2. T.B. Millar, Committee of Inquiry into the Citizen Military Forces Report, AGPS, Canberra, 1974.

Material in this section is drawn extensively from Chapter 1 of The Australian Defence Force Reserves, Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, November 1991, AGPS Canberra.
This material is used by permission of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Secretariat.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2000. This work is copyright. You may download, display, print and reproduce this material in unaltered form only (retaining this notice) for your personal, non-commercial use or use within your organisation. All other rights are reserved. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Manager, Legislative Services, AusInfo. GPO Box 1920, Canberra ACT 2601 or by email to

History of the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve

Reserve forces in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) were established on 14 November 1921, well after those of the other two Services. By early 1922, four ex-World War I squadrons had been re-formed, staffed by one third Permanent Air Force members and two-thirds Citizen Air Force personnel. The contribution of the Citizen Air Force was such that the siting of the RAAF’s first two bases (Point Cook in Victoria and Richmond in New South Wales) was influenced strongly by the need for them to be accessible to Citizen Force personnel in Melbourne and Sydney.

The deteriorating international situation in the mid-1930s spurred an expansion of the RAAF and the creation of more squadrons, initially No 21 (City of Melbourne) Squadron and No 22 (City of Sydney) Squadron. Essentially, RAAF squadrons comprised a cadre of Permanent aircrew in one flight and two other flights made up of Citizen Force personnel. At the outbreak of World War II the RAAF comprised 3,000 Permanent Air Force members, 500 Citizen Air Force personnel and 150 officers on the Reserve List.

The 1930s was a decade of debate about the vexed question of the capacity of ‘part-time’ pilots to master the full range of operational flying skills. As early as 1928, an external review of the RAAF by a senior British officer was critical of the use of Citizen Force aircrew. Finally, in August 1939, these aircrew were relegated to the least demanding role among the nine then performed.

In December 1939, the Empire Air Training Scheme was launched to train aircrew in Australia, Canada and Rhodesia for service with the Royal Air Force. A total of 40,777 personnel graduated from this scheme. This was a substantial contribution to the defeat of Germany, but it did deprive the RAAF of potential aircrew needed for the defence of Australia.

Starting in 1948 Citizen Air Force squadrons were re-formed as fighter units at locations close to their affiliated cities, namely, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, and resumed their pre-war role of providing flying training for Citizen Air Force personnel. Following Prime Minister Menzies’ ‘call to arms’ in 1950, the Air Board approved an extension of Citizen Air Force squadrons to seven country ‘flights’ and the establishment of University Air Units and the Air Training Corps. This 1950 revival called for an Active Reserve of 10,000 personnel, but by 1953 the prospect of renewed global hostilities had receded, defence spending was curtailed and the country flights were disbanded. During this period the Citizen Air Force reached a strength of only 1,620 personnel. By contrast, the RAAF General Reserve (a list of retired personnel with no continuing service obligation short of a defence emergency) kept growing until it peaked at 16,800 in 1964.

In 1959 the Air Board decided that with most wartime aircraft being phased out of service it was not practical to continue to train Citizen Air Force pilots to operational standards on modern aircraft. Nevertheless, it was felt that Citizen Air Force units should still function as elements of the RAAF. Consequently, the five Citizen Air Force Squadrons were re-formed in 1960 as non-flying, auxiliary squadrons with a total establishment of 600.

In 1964 the RAAF decided to follow an Army precedent and raise an Emergency Reserve. The major distinction between the Emergency Reserve and the Citizen Air Force Reserve was the obligation of the former in call out in situations short of a declared emergency. Wider call out provisions were deemed necessary to meet possible contingencies in South-East Asia under the SEATO Treaty. The planned establishment of the Air Force Emergency Reserve was 1,338 but this was never achieved. Emergency Reserve numbers peaked at 705 in 1971, a time when many volunteers came forward to avoid the national service ballot.

In 1970 the then Department of Air reviewed RAAF Reserve Forces and recommended the disbandment of both the Air Force Emergency Reserve and University Squadrons. This was done in 1973. The 1970 review also recommended an increase of Citizen Air Force personnel from 600 to 800. The reasoning in this review was that in any proclaimed emergency the Citizen Air Force would provide rapid reinforcement of the Permanent Air Force.

  • The RAAF conducted another review of its Reserve forces in 1976, concluding that three elements were required:
    • Citizen Air Force Auxiliary Squadrons;
    • a Citizen Air Force Specialist Reserve (comprising Reserve medical, legal, chaplain and other staff); and
    • the General Reserve.

The 1975 review again reduced the establishment of the Citizen Air Force Squadrons, and it also changed their role markedly. The expressed logic was, that because of the limited size of the Citizen Air Forces, it could make only a small contribution to the Permanent Air Force in any emergency. Consequently, it was given the task of training personnel who could be added to the General Reserve.

The RAAF conducted yet another review of its reserve forces in 1979, deciding this time to expand the Active Reserve to 1,800 personnel and move to integrate its operations as far as possible with the Permanent Air Force. No 26 (City of Newcastle) Squadron and No 27 (City of Townsville) Squadron were formed on 1 July 1981 and No 28 (City of Canberra) Squadron was formed on 1 July 1983 as part of this expansion. In 1984 the ceiling of the Active Reserve was reduced again to 1,400 because of reductions in salary appropriations.

A Reserve Aircrew Trial Scheme was commenced in 1981 to once more employ selected aircrew members of the Active Reserve on flying duties. In that same year an Active Reserve Staff Group was formed to give the RAAF access to a pool of former Permanent Air Force officers with recent staff experience and to provide a means of assisting those RAAF bases without Active Reserve Squadrons.

Material in this section is drawn extensively from Chapter 1 of The Australian Defence Force Reserves, Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, November 1991, AGPS Canberra.
This material is used by permission of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Secretariat.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2000. This work is copyright. You may download, display, print and reproduce this material in unaltered form only (retaining this notice) for your personal, non-commercial use or use within your organisation. All other rights are reserved. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Manager, Legislative Services, AusInfo. GPO Box 1920, Canberra ACT 2601 or by email to


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