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SPECIAL KAIAPIT CAPTURE A brilliant action by Australian commandos in New Guinea, 1943

AUSTRALIAN GUERRILLAS IN ITALY Escaped prisoners continued the ямБght

WITH THE DAYAKS Behind the lines in Borneo: a small force prepared the way

$9.95 INC GST

FORCES Shop online at the Australian War Memorial The commando: the life and death of Cameron Baird, a VC, MG

Corporal Cameron Baird, VC, MG figurine

Ben Mckelvey

This limited-edition figurine depicts Corporal Cameron Baird, VC, MG in his combat gear, and was inspired by the life-size bronze statue standing at Currumbin RSL. Only 1,000 figurines have been produced, and each one is accompanied by an individually-numbered pewter coin.

On 22 June 2013, Corporal Cameron Baird led his Special Forces platoon into a known Taliban stronghold to back up another Australian unit under heavy fire. In the firefight, Cameron was mortally wounded. In 2014, his bravery and courage under fire saw him posthumously awarded Australia’s 100th Victoria Cross. The commando reveals Cameron’s life, from young boy and aspiring AFL player to exemplary soldier and leader, and shows that he died how he lived – at the front, giving it his all, without any indecision.

Part of the Naked Army range

Cold-cast bronze figurine, 1:6 scale, height 300 mm, boxed. 101016779 $219.00 plus postage

Hard cover, photographs, 342 pages. 9780733636493

$49.99 plus postage

No front line: Australia’s Special Forces at war in Afghanistan Chris Masters No front line takes readers to the heart of Special Forces and their war in Afghanistan, a war the Australian public knows little about. Implicitly trusted by Special Forces, Chris Masters gives voice to these soldiers, takes us into the centre of some of the fiercest combat, and provides an intimate examination of what it is like to be a member of this country’s elite fighting forces. Soft cover, photographs, 400 pages. 9781760111144

$34.99 plus postage

Browse through our extensive range of books, posters, DVDs, CDs, gifts, memorabilia and more. Shop online today or contact the Australian War Memorial’s eSales Unit. Phone: (02) 6243 4555 (select option 2) Email:







Australia’s Special Forces have many remarkable individuals.




Australian commandos in New Guinea in 1943.

The role of Special Forces in the war on terror.




Collapsible kayaks played a key role in highly secret operations. CHRIS GODDARD


Air-dropped into enemy-held territory, a small Allied force prepared the way for the fi nal assault. BY ROBYN VAN DYK






The Memorial’s new exhibition offers an unprecedented look at the history, capabilities and deployments of Australia’s Special Forces.

Two Australian former prisoners fought with the Partisans in northern Italy and for the British Special Operations Executive.




An RAAF squadron played a small but important role in the delicate diplomacy of the Second World War. BY DAVID SUTTON


There is no proof that Indigenous men went to the Boer War as trackers. BY PETER BAKKER AND


Dr Brendan Nelson AO 03 MAIL CALL


Mementos from Kaiapit


Self-portraits from Vietnam 06 BRIEFING

Uncommon weapons 50 FRIENDS OF THE MEMORIAL


Commandos of Baghdad 70 BEHIND THE SCENES 72 LAST POST


OUR NEXT ISSUE Issue 82 (April 2018): 1918, the fi nal year




ABOUT WARTIME The opinions expressed in Wartime are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian War Memorial or Hardie Grant Media. It is not the intention of the publisher to sensationalise human tragedy that is the result


of war, nor to promote militaristic or chauvinistic sentiment, but to offer truthful, readable and entertaining stories that reflect the Australian experience of war. © All material appearing in Wartime is copyright. Reproduction in whole or part must be approved

Supervising Editor Ashley Ekins Editor Andrew McDonald Manager Michael Kelly Contributing Editor Karl James Photograph Research Lachlan Grant, Michael Kelly, Thomas Rogers, David Sutton and the AWM Multimedia Unit. Image sales (02) 6243 4542 Memorial Editorial Staff Lachlan Grant, Karl James, Michael Kelly, Aaron Pegram Editorial Contributions The Editor, Wartime Australian War Memorial GPO Box 345, Canberra ACT 2601 E: General Enquiries Australian War Memorial T: (02) 6243 4211

Wartime is published for the Australian War Memorial by Hardie Grant Media Level 7, 45 Jones Street, Ultimo, NSW 2007 T: (02) 9857 3700 W: Acting General Manager Alison Palfrey Account Executive Tiff any Eastland Managing Editor Sophie Hull Art Director Dan Morley Designer Geraldine Lanzarone Ad Manager Francesca MacKay Production Alana Young Print PMP Print Subscriptions Magshop 136 116



FORCES KAIAPIT CAPTURE A brilliant action by Australian commandos in New Guinea, 1943

AUSTRALIAN GUERRILLAS IN ITALY Escaped prisoners continued the fight

WITH THE DAYAKS Behind the lines in Borneo: a small force prepared the way

$9.95 INC GST


y own introduction to Special Forces came as Australia’s Minister for Defence a decade ago. Like most civilians, I had imagined members of the SAS, commandos, and similar units as having physically imposing stature and a sense of menace. I discovered the most extraordinary group of men, whose qualities remain largely unknown to the nation they so heroically serve. Women are joining their ranks in elements of Special Operations Command (SOCOM). I spent prolonged periods with them protecting me as I travelled to overseas operations. Although in every physical shape and size, consistent qualities defined them. No one attracted attention to themselves, there was no self-aggrandisement; instead, an overwhelming sense of restraint and professionalism. They are truly team players. I discovered their intellectual strength: on long flights they would read weighty tomes on a range of issues from philosophy to geopolitics. Then I saw what they did on operations and the fearful respect in which they are held by the enemy. Using a variety of weapons and vehicles, and supported by sophisticated intelligence and technology, they do the most remarkable things. Through repeated deployments, they accounted for many targeted insurgents and high

value targets. The risks they took are beyond the comprehension of the rest of us. Three Victoria Crosses and numerous other gallantry awards reflect remarkable courage. I saw their stoic grief at the loss of close mates and the mourning of families. I also saw the immense respect in which they are held by our allies. Inevitably, “controversies” emerge from these men, their operations and the culture that necessarily supports them. My own view is simple: bad stuff happens in war. In desperate circumstances and adrenaline-charged life-and-death nanoseconds, people make mistakes. They can do things they shouldn’t. Later, those in the incident will have quite different recollections of what happened. Such is the human brain. Each genuinely believes his/her own recollection. What I do know is that these people are at the pointy end of the spear. If Daniel Ricciardo is doing 300 kph on the race track, he is more likely to have a crash than me in suburbia. I also know that when he does, it’s going to be very untidy. So too, we cannot as a nation send these young Australians out to “race at 300 kph” and then make judgements through the prism of our comfortable sanctimony. (That is of course in the absence of the most egregious violations of the Laws of Armed Conflict.) For the first time in the Five Eyes intelligence community, the Australian War Memorial is bringing these soldiers in “from the shadows”. We have worked with SOCOM to tell as much of their story as we possibly can. From the Independent Companies and Special Operations Australia of the Second World War, through to 2014, we owe it to these men and their families to give the nation a sense of the greatness in our midst.

Cover image: Special Operations Task Group Rotation XVIII leaving Tarin Kot for Uruzgan Province, 2012. AWM P11438.152 by the publisher. Every effort has been made to determine and contact holders of copyright for materials used in Wartime. The Memorial welcomes advice concerning omission. Indigenous readers are advised that this magazine contains stories and images of deceased people.





Beersheba map

Not everything that flies

I enjoy reading the articles in Wartime. In Issue 80, in the article on Beersheba by Jean Bou, the description of the assault formation says that “in both regiments the squadrons, each with about 100 men, advanced one behind the other with 300 to 500 metres between squadrons”. There are similar descriptions in Bou’s book, Light Horse, and in the Army History Unit booklet, “Australia’s Palestine Campaign”, he says similar things. His article does not provide any reason why he has included Map 1A that shows an assault formation with 12 ALHR in front of 4 ALHR. This contradicts his own writings.

As an avid fan of your magazine and current serving member, I will spruik the quality of the articles to my workmates in the ADF to increase their knowledge of Australian military history. Imagine my dismay to find a photo of one of the Squadron’s now retired CH-47D Chinooks identified as an RAAF 37 Sqn aircraft (“Recording the recent past”, Wartime 78). These aircraft have been operated by the Australian Army and C Squadron of the 5th Aviation Regiment since 1995. You even have aircraft A15-202 sitting in the Memorial’s collection, with the V and Pegasus of 5 Avn Regt painted on the aft pylon. Could you please make your people and your readers aware that not everything that flies in the ADF belongs to the air force.


Editor: The map was chosen by Wartime,

Image: AWM P05730.457

The Editor, Wartime Australian War Memorial GPO Box 345 Canberra ACT 2601 E:

not by Dr Bou. Access to well-produced maps can be very tricky; the map chosen has two advantages. It shows in great detail the topography and disposition of many forces (noted in the article); and it appears to have been produced close in time to the event.

Wiltshire memories I just picked up Wartime Issue 79 here at work and spied the Codford Rising Sun … Ah, the memories of pounding chalk on a warm Wiltshire summer

SGT LINDSAY BRENNAN, C Sqn Technical Support Troop

Editor: Thanks to Sgt Brennan for pointing out this mistake. Once a photograph has been identified in our records, attributions get repeated. This one has now been corrected.

day! As part of the four-month ADF Exchange Program Longlook in 2007, many of us came to Codford St Mary from our host units across the UK. We added our sweat to that of our ancestors as we worked alongside residents of Codford St Mary to clear away the grass, and pound new chalk into the Rising Sun. Apparently it is an annual event. We also walked among the graves of those of our forebears who returned from the battlefields to the hospital there, then died on that peaceful Wiltshire plain. MAJOR GAIL ROWSE SO2 Lessons (Communications)



The most comprehensive collection of Australian military history is available on the Australian War Memorial’s website: It contains 200,000 photographs, 102,800 names of Australia’s war dead, details of 8,000 private records, items available at the Memorial shop and much more.





he Battle of Kaiapit in New Guinea’s Markham Valley was one of the great triumphs of the 2/6th Independent Company (see article by Lachlan Grant p. 16). Fighting against greatly superior enemy numbers, the company inflicted heavy losses but also suffered 14 dead and 23 wounded. These items were carried by Herbert Harris, one of the Australians who died of wounds received in the action. Married and just 31 years old, Harris had been promoted to sergeant, but a month before his death had reverted to the rank of private at his own request. Harris was buried at Kaiapit the day after the battle, but after the war his body was reinterred at Lae’s war cemetery.

A Roman Catholic, Harris was carrying this handmade metal cross at the time of his death. REL 05208.002

Harris had worked in the horse racing industry before his enlistment, and presumably gambling remained one of his passions. These dice are made from a flat sheet of metal, cut and folded to form two cubes, with holes punched out to indicate the numbers. REL 05208.001

A silver-plated signet ring carried by Harris. REL 05208.003

A small finger ring, possibly cut from a piece of pipe. REL 05208.004

This map of the cemetery at Kaiapit, taken from the 2/6th War Diary for September 1943, shows the location of Harris’ grave.




Face painted before a patrol.

On return from a patrol.

After having a shower.

AWM2017.963.1.112, AWM2017.963.1.113, AWM2017.963.1.116

PATROL SELF PORTRAITS The self-portraits taken by Trooper Don Barnby are among the most intense and personal images of the Australian experience of the Vietnam War. Barnby took the images of himself before and after patrols as a member of No. 2 Squadron, Special Air Service. Barnby began photographing himself at the time of his first patrol in March 1971. He mentioned the self-portraits to his family in a recorded audio letter: “Those slides, I’ve already sent home. They’ll be developed when you get them. Should be all right. I am taking photos of myself in cam gear and camouflage cream, and all that, before I go out. And when I come back. Make a little bit of a comparison. Not really much of a difference, I hope.” The self-portraits, with his more

conventional photographs, were posted home before they were developed, so he did not know how they looked. He took them to document physical changes, but they were also meant to reassure his family. They were already worried, and not without good reason. While Barnby found his role in Vietnam as a patrol signaller exhilarating, it was also dangerous and tension-filled. Before each patrol, a warning order would be received and patrol members would stop washing to remove all unnatural scents that would be noticed in the jungle. Barnby’s patrol could then spend up to 11 days at a time moving as stealthily as possible through the jungle. A patrol could end rapidly with extraction by helicopter followed by debriefings, a shower and a few beers.

The following night was spent in Vung Tau before the troops would get ready to do it all again. Barnby’s mother was very upset by the confronting images. They show the toll Barnby’s service was having on him, both physically and mentally, with its constant cycle of tension and release. She would not see these effects in person until Barnby returned home in October 1971. Don Barnby has written about the experience of going on a patrol in Issue 55 (July 2011) of Wartime. The recorded letter, with the accession number S01770, can be found on the Memorial’s website. NICHOLAS SCHMIDT Curator, Photographs, Film and Sound




Top left: M4 Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan. Photo by Corporal Chris Moore.Image courtesy Department of Defence. Below left: Trooper Neville Taylor of Special Air Service, carries a shortened M60 machinegun nicknamed “the bitch”,

1971. Photograph by Don Barnby. AWM P00966.059

Above right: Sapper Chris Baynes, 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment, at Kamp Holland, armed with an F88 Steyr rifle. C1424112

Right: An F88 in the Memorial’s collection. C268262


One of the major physical differences between Australian Special Forces today and other units of the Army is the variety of small arms that are used in training and operationally. With the highly specialised nature of their service, Special Forces units often require limited production, high quality, expensive small arms, or modifications specific to their role. The most obvious difference in small arms for the past 20 years or so has been the Special Forces’ use of the US-designed and made M4 rifle series while the rest of the Australian Defence Force uses the Australian-made F-88 Steyr and its recent derivatives. This tradition of Special Forces using different small arms goes back to their founding during the first years of the Second World War. One example is the Australian-designed and made Austen machine carbine, used by Australian Special Forces in both suppressed (or “silenced”) and un-suppressed forms. Though not as rugged or as popular among the troops as the Australiandesigned and made Owen machine carbine, it was used in several wellknown missions such as Operations Jaywick and Copper.


Another lesser-known variation is the use of the British Lee-Enfield No 4 Mk 1 rifle, which was used in addition to the iconic Short Magazine LeeEnfield (SMLE) No 1 Mk III by the 2/6th Independent Company in New Guinea during 1942. It is believed a small number were supplied from Canada as an emergency shipment following the fall of Singapore in February 1942. During the Vietnam War the Australian Special Air Service used a range of modified weapons such as shortened M60 machine-guns fitted with pistol grips from L1A1 SelfLoading Rifles (SLR). Other modified weapons included M1 Garand rifles fitted with pistol grips taken from an SLR – and the SLR fitted with an underslung 40mm grenade launcher and extra pistol grips. This long tradition of variation in small arms is still strong today and likely to continue in the foreseeable future. • GARTH O’CONNELL Curator, Military Heraldry and Technology From top to bottom: Australian parachute trainee with an Austen Mark 1 sub-machine gun, Richmond, NSW, c. 1945. AWM C251921 Lee-Enfield No 4 Mk 1*


bolt action rifle from the Memorial’s collection. REL/04420 Members of 2/6th Australian Independent Company maintaining their weapons. Left to right:

Trooper (Tpr) Tasman William Curran-Smith and Tpr A. Osborne with Thompson sub-machine guns; Tpr E. Ross with a Lee Enfield No 4 Mk 1 rifle. New Guinea, 1942. AWM C216267


The signing of the Armistice between Allied and German representatives on 11 November 1918 effectively ended the First World War. It brought relief to Australian troops and their families, who had suffered enormous losses over the previous four years. The Royal Australian Mint commemorates the centenary of the Armistice with this evocative year set, featuring a specially designed $1 coin. 2018 Six coin uncirculated year set – $25 2018 Six coin proof year set – $100

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THE O P E R AT O R S Behind Australia’s Special Forces lie many remarkable individual stories. BY CHRIS MASTERS

Nobody kills Trinhy but Trinhy Albert Trinh, who came to be considered unkillable, has a heart-warming back story. Born into a family who escaped one war in Vietnam, he traces his path to another war in Afghanistan as beginning with a commitment to “give back to the country who gave so much to our family”. The Trinh family’s departure by boat from Vietnam was perilous. They were raided twice by pirates, the compass and the rudder broke, and the engine failed before they managed to reach Malaysia. Australia took them in and the family prospered, Albert and his siblings gaining an education, careers and homes. His sense of indebtedness, combined with a spirit of adventure, compelled Albert to join the army. Although it had not been part of his original ambition, he went on to commando selection. During the gruelling course, the slightly built Albert demonstrated no shortage of never-say-die determination. “You’d turn up and you’d see a lot of these other guys around you, big, muscly, fit blokes. But at the end of five weeks, the guys that are left aren’t necessarily the biggest, fittest guys. It’s the guys who can mentally endure,” he says. Albert Trinh received his Sherwoodgreen beret at the time his regiment was being rebadged, when the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, transitioned to 4RAR (Cdo) in 1997. The regular force now stood alongside the


1st Commando Regiment, a reservistbased special forces element, which traced its roots back to the Second World War. The 2000 Olympic Games, the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and a series of active deployments swiftly demonstrated the value of the muscular commandos to complement the precision skills of Australia’s warrior elite, the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR). On 19 June 2009, 4RAR (Cdo) became the 2nd Commando Regiment, and a month later Private Albert Trinh deployed to Afghanistan. “It was definitely a shock to the system. When we came off the plane, and seeing the landscape, it was almost like being in biblical times.” Like many in Special Forces, Albert had taken a Pashto language course, which enabled him to communicate to a degree and extended his empathy. “To see how people lived blew my mind. They were still using mud brick for housing, drinking from wells, and farming was quite basic.” While his rotation gave emphasis to winning hearts and minds, there was also serious fighting. A Commando Company Group of more than a hundred people is formidable – but even so, with a warrior creed of their own, the Taliban would take them on. Late in the tour, in the restive Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar, they came under attack. “A burst of PKM machinegun fire blasted straight through the middle of the team.” Private Trinh felt a jolt but had no time to reflect

Luke Cornish, LRPV [long-range patrol vehicle], aerosol stencils on glass, 2013. AWM2017.38.1



“The guys that are left aren’t necessarily the biggest, fittest guys. It’s the guys who can mentally endure.”

as “I dug a trench with my eyelids” and returned fire. He later discovered rounds had struck his body armour, spinning his trauma shears into his face and perforating a smoke grenade. (The shears are designed for safely cutting away clothing from a wound.) The next near-death encounter occurred on his next rotation in 2010, when he was now a lance corporal. Back in Shah Wali Kot, while patrolling he felt another jolt. “I remember hearing a loud bang and it felt like a sledgehammer hitting me in the bottom of the foot, and a cloud of dust billowed back in my face.” Trinh had triggered the detonator of an improvised explosive device (IED); to the immense relief of all, the main charge had not ignited. Soon after, again in Shah Wali Kot, Trinh’s Yankee Platoon was landed by helicopter in the middle of a Taliban shura (meeting). During an intense gunfight, a “danger close” strafing run was made by a US Apache gunship and “the first burst went straight through the middle of the team.” While members around him fell to wounds, astonishingly Albert stood upright, unscathed, leaving the Combat First Aider to focus on treating the serious injuries. By the time Albert Trinh redeployed to Afghanistan in 2012 he was a corporal. The raids the commandos now conducted into Helmand Province saw the fiercest of all fighting. During a night assault on Keshmeshkhan, where commando Sergeant Brett Wood MG had been killed a year earlier, Albert bumped into an enemy insurgent in


the dark. “He let off a burst of AK47, maybe five or six rounds, and initially two or three rounds hit me. I just remember seeing sparks kind of fly off my weapon.” The insurgent was killed and a slightly worse-for-wear Corporal Trinh was evacuated. Now out of the Army, Albert Trinh has started a skin care business, Man of War. Reflecting on those repeated brushes with mortality, he confesses to missing his commando brothers, thinking often of the ones who did not come home. “You really have to live a full life for them and for yourself

because you’ve been given this amazing opportunity. You shouldn’t be afraid of what you want in life because it could be taken away from you so quickly.”

The indomitable Corporal Faz Dave Farrell applied to join the army cadets as a young high school student. When asked to introduce himself, “I stood up, said my name is David and I am here because I want to join the SAS. The instructors started having a bit of a chuckle and said, ‘Well, let’s just get into the cadets first, champ.’”


Left: A convoy of Australian Bushmasters, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan, 31 August 2008. AWM P07964.077 Above from left: Corporal Albert Trinh, 4RAR (Cdo). Courtesy of Albert Trinh.

Corporal Dave Farrell, SASR, Medal for Gallantry. Courtesy of Dave Farrell. Sapper Javier “Steddy” Studenko, Incident Response Regiment. Courtesy of Javier Studenko.

True to his word, Dave joined the army, successfully completing Special Air Service selection in 2003. There is a black art to the entry process. Australia’s best-known Special Forces regiment wants fortitude, fitness and fighting prowess as well as original and creative thinking. The regiment, modelled on its British equivalent, has linkage also to Australia’s famous Z Special Unit in the Second World War. Accepting candidates from all the services, the SASR trains its members in three main disciplines as air, land, and water operators. Trooper Dave Farrell, better known as Faz, became a vehicle-mounted operator, and his first major mission had him at the wheel of a Long Range Patrol Vehicle (LRPV) bouncing along rocky tracks in the central Afghanistan province of Uruzgan. The regiment had seen Afghanistan when the war began in 2001, but had pulled out in 2002 to deploy to Iraq in the following year. A resurgence of violence then drew them back to Afghanistan in 2005, and in September the first major engagement with the Taliban erupted at the tiny village of Bagh Koshak. “All hell broke loose,” remembers Farrell. “An Afghan soldier literally half

a step in front of one of our soldiers was shot and killed instantly. Our soldier then got his ear muffs shot off his head.” It was a furious and well-planned ambush. Dave Farrell at the rear of the column took cover, sighting a six-man team of insurgents on a rooftop efficiently and effectively pouring rocket-propelled grenade and machine-gun fire into the troop. Farrell removed the 84-mm Carl Gustav rocket launcher from his vehicle and repeatedly exposed himself to the enemy before finally calibrating the range. “I set it on an airburst, and three times lucky, it sailed right above the top of their compound and exploded and just dropped six of the blokes there. It was a good result.” Dave Farrell, later promoted to Corporal, was awarded a Medal for Gallantry. Common to the culture of Special Forces is humility: Dave felt the honour was owed less to himself than to his team. “We fought side by side. Without them I would not be here and without me they would not be here. I was the one awarded, but they did no less than me.” While it was the fighting that attracted public attention, in many respects SASR was better defined internally by “the shot that was not fired”. Strategic reconnaissance remains a central role of SASR, with experienced operators in particular proud of their ability to provide intelligence on the movement and disposition of the enemy without being compromised themselves. Compassion is another attribute, which came to the fore at the end of Farrell’s first rotation. On 5 January 2006, outside the main base at Tarin Kot a suicide bomber triggered his vest, unleashing mayhem and murder into a large crowd of Afghans. Farrell, a Patrol

Advanced First Aider, was one of many enlisted to help. He will never forget looking into the eyes of a boy as the American surgeon struggled to save his life. “He just stared at me and tears were coming out of his eyes, like he was staring into my soul – and I was like, that is tough, that is one tough bugger. So I’ve used that, I use that when I am having a tough day: I think nothing is as bad as that. That’s my reference point for life.”

The red-headed stepchild Central to Javier “Steddy” Studenko’s work as a combat engineer was identifying and eliminating a mushrooming threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). “I think a lot of the commandos and SAS guys had mates that had been killed, mates that had lost limbs. Some of them have been blown up themselves and they have seen the destructive power of those things and they’ve seen us find a lot of them,” he says. Sapper Studenko first deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 as a searcher with the Incident Response Regiment. The unit had been formed seven years earlier, after the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2001 terrorist attacks had highlighted a need for a specialist response to chemical, biological and radiological incidents. Privately referred to as the “redheaded stepchild” of Australian Special Forces, IRR was slow to be embraced by the established force elements. But after the IED threat in Afghanistan spiked in 2007, SASR and the Commandos became far more trusting and reliant on Sapper Steddy and his ilk. The work called for strength and fitness, as the engineers were burdened with bomb disposal equipment as well as


weapons and body armour. More to the point was a requirement for concentration. With every step potentially your last, the work was both physically and psychologically wearing. As Studenko says, “You need to keep moving and sometimes you think, is that going to be it?” In February 2012, IRR was re-formed as the Special Operations Engineer Regiment. By then three of Steddy’s mates had been lost, including his closest friend, Corporal Scott Smith, who fell victim to an IED in October that year. But in the sapper way, you carry on. Steddy’s last Afghanistan tour ran nine months, with his scariest moment occurring just before he was due to head home. From the First World War to Vietnam, some of the most dangerous work has been located underground. In Afghanistan it was the same, as the


Taliban used wells and subterranean karez irrigation systems to hide fighters and weaponry. On 20 January 2013, commandos came upon a tunnel opening. Newly promoted Corporal Studenko climbed in with his MIMID mine detector and a Heckler & Koch USP (universal self-loading pistol) with a torch attached. Following the torchlight, he came upon a sandy bank, and with heart in mouth spotted “a perfect footprint”. Within seconds of his calling a warning there came a deafening roar of fire from just metres in front. “There was a flurry of red flashes coming out of the pitch black and rounds passing by my head. I was just getting covered in rocks, and shrapnel was hitting the walls.” Studenko returned fire, hearing a whump and gasp through the din that indicated he might have wounded his assailant. All the while he was backing

up to the tunnel entrance, where he was hauled into the sunlight. Steddy was treated for a leg wound as a casualty evacuation helicopter was called, and commando brothers in arms unhesitatingly slid into the tunnel and the fray. There was another exchange of fire: one commando lost a finger and the insurgent was killed. On the way back to the Role 2 Medical Treatment Facility at Tarin Kot, Javier Studenko gave instructions for the notification of his family. “I know how my mum is and it wouldn’t go down well. So when I called her I didn’t fill her in on much. Basically, yeah I’m in hospital and I’ve just got a little bit of metal in my leg, but it’s all fine.”

Operation Homefront It does take a special mum and dad, son and daughter, spouse or partner to share the world of the Special


Left: 6RAR soldier searching for IEDs, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan, June– August 2010. AWM P09971.054

Above: 2RAR soldier in Uruzgan Province, 6 September 2011. AWM P10657.016

Forces operator. Their absences can be punishing and the danger extreme. Caitlin Langford came well conditioned. Her grandfather had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese. Her great-aunt had also served in the Second World War as a nurse. Her father served in Vietnam, and her brother is in the army. She herself is a colonel, as is her husband Ian, a decorated commando whose father served with her father. Between them, there have been more moves and deployments than can be readily counted. “You learn to cope without them. I think that’s when it becomes challenging, because you know you can do it all. You know how to take the rubbish out. You know how to change the tyre of the car, but deep down you don’t want to do it all yourself.” Cath Paterson counts marrying Steve after he passed SASR selection as being some help in understanding

what was ahead. Even so, “I think I worked it out that over the time we have been married, it was over twelve years we’ve been apart within 28 years of marriage.” Support networks can prove valuable; the SASR wives and partners are informally known as 5 Squadron. But most of all Cath called on inner strength. “I thought, if I worry too much I’ll just go downhill. So I basically just got on with life, I had no choice.” Jen Tolhurst is one of many who have experienced military training rubbing off on the pattern of life at home. Her partner, former commando Warren Loudon, still finds that when he has an appointment, “I have to be there early. I’d rather walk around the block for an hour than get there late.” Jen says, “That’s definitely been passed on to me.” Former Special Forces brigadier Mark Smethurst is another to endure lengthy postings and deployments that took him away from wife Monique, son Tom and daughter Ella. All developed coping strategies that bolstered independence. Tom confesses to having a much cleaner room than any of his mates. Young Ella recognised that reintegration strategies were important at homecoming. “We had no idea what we could do to help or make him more comfortable, because at the same time as we were letting Dad back in, he was not the same Dad as before Afghanistan.” Monique found growth in rising to meet a thousand

challenges. “I think overall a life that has that military inclusion opens the world in a different perspective. You become more aware of what happens in the world. If your husband is sent off to any place in the world, you wish to learn more about it. If your husband goes out and puts his life on the line, you want to know what it’s all about.” As the Australians who stand watch at home demonstrate, special soldiering and good citizenship march in step. According to Caitlin Langford, “It is a natural fit. I do wonder about the hardwiring, to be in this profession of ours. But at the same time, it’s worked well for Ian and me. I wouldn’t have imagined 20 years ago that this would be our future, but it’s worked, and I’m very proud of what we’ve done. I’m very proud of what he has done in supporting his men and women in very difficult situations.” •



Chris Masters is a film-maker and author. He has filmed soldiers for the Memorial’s Special Forces exhibition, and his most recent book is No front line, about Special Forces in Afghanistan.


Mission Hill at Kaiapit provided a commanding view across the savannah and kunai plains of the Markham Valley. AWM 057581


The Kaiapit capture Swift action by Australian commandos in New Guinea in 1943 shaped an entire campaign. BY LACHLAN GRANT


n September 1943, American and Australian forces in the South-West Pacific Area of operations were closing in on Japanese-held territory during Operation Cartwheel. In New Guinea the Australian 9th and 7th Divisions liberated the administrative centre at Lae on 16 September and looked toward recapturing the entire Huon Peninsula. Days earlier, with the liberation of Lae imminent, the American airborne engineer Lieutenant Everette Frazier was flying in his Piper Cub, searching for possible areas for the construction of new airstrips in the Markham River valley. On the approaches to Japaneseheld Kaiapit (a settlement with an existing airstrip), Frazier spotted a potential site by the Leron River near the village of Sangan. Importantly, the long kunai grass characteristic of the countryside had recently been burnt off, revealing a flat plain. Seizing the opportunity, Frazier successfully testlanded his Piper Cub on the rough “strip” and deemed it suitable for the much larger C-47 Dakota transport aircraft. His findings were soon reported to the commander of the Australian 7th Division, General George Vasey. The discovery of this rough but ready-to-use makeshift strip, some 16

kilometres from Kaiapit, presented a significant opportunity to Vasey’s division, which had been tasked to advance overland from Nadzab to Kaiapit (some 75 kilometres) and into the Markham and Ramu valleys and the Finisterre Range beyond. Few outsiders had entered the Finisterre Range before the war, and its name literally meant “the ends of the earth”. In terms of the Second World War, it may as well have been the end of the earth – being almost as far away as it was possible to get from the dramatic and epic battle which had raged that northern summer between the massed Soviet and German armies at Kursk on the Eastern Front, or the American and British landings on Sicily. So far as the Australian memory of the Second World War goes, the campaigns in the Markham and Ramu valleys and Finisterre Range may as well be the ends of the earth. Where places such as Kokoda and Milne Bay are famous battlefields of 1942, the battlefields of 1943 – despite their being the largest ever single offensive by combined Australian military forces – are far less known. The battle of Kaiapit, which took place on 19–20 September 1943, is one example. At Kaiapit, in September

1943, a daring and successful action by Australian commandos changed the strategic situation in New Guinea, opening up the Markham Valley for a successful campaign by the Australian 7th Division. Given the dash, daring, and ultimately, the stunning success of the raid, its absence from Australian popular memory of the war is surprising.

Planning the 7th Division’s advance Following the capture of Lae, it was planned that the 7th Division would advance up the Markham River valley from Nadzab, then into the Ramu valley and across the Finisterre mountain range. At the same time, the 9th Division would advance along the coast, creating a pincer movement on the Japanese forces on the peninsula. The Allies had learned through experience that air support and supply were key to jungle warfare. The valleys of the Markham and Ramu rivers were relatively flat, “like a giant corridor” some 185 kilometres long, making them of strategic importance as suitable sites to build aerodromes to support Allied operations in New Guinea and the south-west Pacific. Airstrips and radar stations were therefore planned to be built in


NEW GUINEA: COMMANDOS the valleys in the wake of the 7th Division’s advance. The division was also to block any Japanese advance southward from the coast and defend the airfields. The day after the capture of Lae, at a meeting between Australian and US commanders, General Vasey was advised to act speedily; but he would need to undertake his task on a shoestring, as the coastal operations of the 9th Division would have priority for available resources. The first task of the 7th Division was to capture Kaiapit with its existing aerodrome. The job was assigned to the 2/6th Independent Company. An independent company was a light infantry unit with strength of over 200, formed along the lines of British commandos (the independent companies would be renamed Cavalry Commando Squadrons in October 1943, and later Commando Squadrons). The role of the Australian independent companies was to


carry out reconnaissance and gather information, often patrolling ahead or on the flanks independently – as their name suggests – of the main brigade or divisional body. They were also, as in the action at Kaiapit, tasked with conducting small raids. In the original plan, the 2/6th were to immediately proceed overland from Nadzab to capture Kaiapit. They were to be followed by the 21st Brigade, then being assembled at Nadzab. A road suitable for transport had yet to be opened up between Lae and Kaiapit. Planning was a delicate task, since at this time the different elements of the division were dispersed as far apart as Lae, Nadzab, and Port Moresby. It was considered essential that the 7th Division move swiftly, as it was believed that there were large Japanese forces in the area – and unknown to the Australians, at that very moment the Japanese 78th Regiment was advancing down the Markham Valley to reinforce Kaiapit.

With Frazier’s discovery of a suitable airstrip not far from Kaiapit itself, Vasey decided to fly the 2/6th directly to the improvised strip by the Leron River; this would greatly shorten the approach to Kaiapit, from a long trek to a much shorter march. The call to emplane finally came for the 2/6th, who had waited in frustration at the Port Moresby marshalling yards for three days. At 8 am on 17 September they flew out on 13 USAAF Dakotas, bound for Frazier’s rough strip.

The capture of Kaiapit After a bumpy landing on the rugged strip at Leron, the 2/6th quickly moved out to establish a perimeter, and patrols were sent out into the surrounding area. It became evident that their arrival had gone undetected by the nearby Japanese at Kaiapit, giving the company the element of surprise. Vasey sent through his orders, dropped by plane, to the company commander, Captain Gordon King. The commandos were to “occupy Kaiapit as quickly as possible and prepare a landing field” suitable for Dakotas and to “destroy any enemy in the area”. As the 2/6th moved up to Sangan on 18 September, where they linked up with a company from the Papuan Infantry Battalion, Vasey flew in to Leron to visit King, where he reinforced his orders “to go to Kaiapit quickly, clean up Japs and inform division”. The following day, King’s men set off toward Kaiapit, some 16 kilometres away, with the aim of capturing the village that evening. The advance was rapid, but gruelling. The men were laden with extra ammunition, and the open country and kunai savannah provided no shade. The heat, reportedly nudging 38 degrees Celsius, and humidity were oppressive. They arrived just outside Kaiapit in mid-afternoon. Kaiapit itself was made up of three villages that sat on an open plain, and a Lutheran mission that stood on a hill with a commanding view of the valley. The haste to capture Kaiapit meant there was little time for reconnaissance, and the attack was made with no knowledge as to the enemy’s strength. The company was also unable to contact Sangan by radio, and did not want to wait any longer in case their presence was detected by the enemy. They set out in three groups, and the leading section came under fire from Japanese machine-guns just before 4 pm. The commandos, David Dexter wrote in the official history, “went in

hard”, sweeping through the first village, clearing foxholes with grenades and bayonets. Some of the defenders fled, but although they “were on the run”, Private John Tozer noted, “It was not the case of a headlong flight. As always they were prepared to die and contest grimly at every clear space of track where they had a field of fire.” Lieutenant Albert Westendorf, leading one of the groups, was killed in the charge. Eleven Japanese also lay dead near where he fell. Captain King was wounded, but carried on, as did Corporal Sydney Graham, wounded in the face. He was later awarded the Military Medal for his leading role in the attack. Having cleared the Number 1 village, and with night looming, the Australians dug in to defend the captured ground. The company faced several counterattacks through the night, though the first group of Japanese who entered the village were seemingly unaware of the company’s presence. This group walked casually into the village with their guns slung across their shoulders and headed towards billets. Walking straight into an ambush, they were gunned down. By morning, a large Japanese force had arrived, the forward elements of the 78th Regiment. This time the Australians came under heavy machine-gun and mortar fire. A report later stated that although there was

Left: Hand-drawn map showing the 2/6th Independent Company’s position on the night of 19 September 1943. The following day they seized the remaining villages and Mission Hill. AWM RC11549

Above: Troops of the veteran 2/16th Battalion arrive at Kaiapit following its capture by the 2/6th Independent Company. AWM 057499

a “hell of lot of firing and shouting”, overall “very little offensive spirit was shown” by the Japanese, who had been marching through the night. With this attack thwarted, Captain Derek Watson led his platoon on a counter-attack. This surprised the enemy: Watson’s men inflicted many casualties and Number 3 village was captured. The company then set forth and seized Number 2 village. This advance included men who had been wounded the previous evening. Japanese soldiers had scattered into the surrounding kunai and fired upon the attackers, but a platoon continued the onslaught towards Mission Hill. By early the following morning, the old Lutheran mission was in Australian hands. From the vantage point of Mission Hill, “barracking like football spectators in a big game”, they watched as their comrades were engaged in clearing out the remaining Japanese from the villages and kunai. The enemy,

according to the company’s after action report, were “thoroughly demoralised” and were seen “dumping their gear and trying to crawl away through kunai”. Captain King, who suffered a leg wound in the battle, later wrote in a report that despite the “tension” being “apparent” as a result of waiting for days at the marshalling yards at Moresby, unit morale was high, and “raised even higher” after the successful battle, “and this in spite of the terrific strain that the fighting on 19 and 20 Sep and the subsequent patrolling nerve strain of sleepless nights in perimeter defence placed on personnel.” King was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his “outstanding leadership and courage” at Kaiapit but considered it a recognition of efforts of the entire 2/6th.

Reinforcements arrive Just hours after the capture of Kaiapit, the American engineer Frazier landed in his Piper Cub. However, he deemed that the pre-war airstrip unsuitable for Dakotas so a new strip needed to be prepared; he ordered it to be ready by 11 am the next morning. The commandos and the Papuan infantry got to work preparing the new field, which involved clearing 4,000 feet (1.2 kilometres) of long kunai grass and essentially trusting the sturdiness of the Dakota to handle the rough ground. The following day,


NEW GUINEA: COMMANDOS General Vasey arrived, landing in a Piper Cub, followed soon after by the vanguard of the 21st Brigade in Dakota transports. First, the veteran 2/16th Battalion flew in to Kaiapit from Nadzab, and over the next few days the 2/14th and 2/27th joined them. Vasey and the newly arrived troops were shocked by the carnage of the battlefield with yet to be buried enemy bodies lying strewn across the ground. Captured Japanese documents recovered by the commandos at Kaiapit revealed that the Japanese intended to recapture Nadzab and that the 78th Regiment they had defeated was in fact a vanguard to a much larger force. Now, with Kaiapit secured by the “opportune action” of the 2/6th Independent Company, the 7th Division blocked the route to Nadzab, scuppering Japanese plans.

Kaiapit’s capture was a stunning success. More than 200 enemy dead were counted after the battle, and at least 50 more were suspected to lie dead where they had fallen in the surrounding kunai. The Australians had lost 14 killed and 23 wounded. Had the Australians known that the Japanese 78th Regiment was approaching Kaiapit from the opposite direction, it is unlikely a force as small as an independent company would have been sent in to

Top: Troops of the 2/6th Independent Company driving through Kaiapit in the days after the action. AWM 057508

Bottom: At Kaiapit on 25 September 1943, General George Vasey (left) and Brigadier Ivan Dougherty discuss plans. AWM 057580

seize the village. But as Dexter noted. “It is not often that it is well not to know the enemy’s intentions. But Kaiapit was an example.” After the battle, Vasey himself held regrets – despite the tactical success – that he had sent light infantry (without any artillery or air support) against what proved to be a large enemy force. He was reported to have told King his company would not be left out on a limb like that again. However, as the historian Philip Bradley notes, Kaiapit “provided justification for the role of Independent Companies in the Australian Army structure and for the way they had been trained as a mobile hard-hitting force.” The aggressive action by the 2/6th – led strongly by Captain King and fellow officers and the NCOs – ensured that Kaiapit was in Allied hands far earlier than anticipated. Had Kaiapit remained in Japanese hands, the 7th Division would have been forced to advance overland from Nadzab by foot. The capture of Kaiapit’s aerodrome was the key to opening up the Markham Valley for operations. The swift actions by the commandos would shape the entire campaign, resulting in a rapid advance by the 7th Division through the Markham and Ramu valleys and into the Finisterre Range toward Shaggy Ridge, which troops of the 7th Division were scaling in the second half of October. There was now no chance that Japanese troops could move southward from the coast to threaten the Allied airstrips that were constructed in the valley floors following the 7th Division’s advance. The victory at Kaiapit owed much to the mobility of Vasey’s force and the flexibility of his planning. The use of a small attacking force, flown in by aerial transport, caught an unsuspecting enemy by surprise. In congratulating the 2/6th Independent Company, Vasey described the seizure of Kaiapit as a “brilliant action”. •



Dr Lachlan Grant is a Senior Historian at the Australian War Memorial. He has published widely on the Second World War and is the author of Australian Soldiers in Asia-Pacific in World War II.


Image: AWM P03870.001


Commemorating the Battle of Beersheba – The Charge of the Light Horsemen. Considered one of the most gallant actions fought by Australians in the Middle East during the First World War, this coin commemorates the Australians who fought at Beersheba. On 31 October 1917, Australian troops from the 4th and 12th Light Horse 4GIKOGPVUEJCTIGFVJG1VVQOCPRQUKVKQPUWPFGTCTVKNNGT[CPFTKƃGƂTG The light horse regiments, largely made up of men from small towns across rural Australia, succeeded in overrunning the Ottoman defences and captured the town, incurring relatively few losses. 6JGECRVWTGQH$GGTUJGDCTGUWNVGFKPQWVƃCPMKPIVJG1VVQOCPDCUVKQPCV)C\C allowing the British to continue the advance into Palestine. 2017 $5 Fine Silver Proof Coin – $100


2017 $1 Uncirculated Coin – $13.50

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THE TIP OF THE SPEAR In the war on terror, special forces have played a variety of key roles and will continue to do so. BY LEIGH NEVILLE


n the dark days immediately following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the American homeland, US military and intelligence agencies were left scrambling for a plan. The Bush White House needed to demonstrate quickly to the world that the terrorist organisation responsible, Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, could be located and destroyed wherever they found sanctuary. That sanctuary was the central Asian country of Afghanistan, one of the poorest and most corrupt nations in the world. Against a country like Afghanistan, lacking any traditional military or civilian infrastructure, US airpower soon exhausted its target list. It may be a cliché, but boots on the ground were needed to conduct what would become a classical unconventional warfare mission against al Qaeda and their hosts, the ruling Taliban government. That mission fell to the US Army’s Special Forces, the Green Berets of Vietnam fame. They were supported by a vast array of specialist units drawn from across the American Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and were collectively termed special operations forces (SOF). SOCOM oversees some 69,000 personnel, dwarfing its Australian counterpart, the Australian Special Operations Command (SOCOMD), with fewer than 3,000 personnel. Along with Army Special Forces, perhaps the best-known of the US units is the Navy SEALs (Sea, Air and


Land). Both units frequently deploy with attached Air Force Special Tactics airmen in the role of combat controllers, who guide in airstrikes, and para-rescue jumpers who can parachute or fastrope in from helicopters to evacuate wounded soldiers. Even the Marine Corps, although resistant for many years to the idea of elite units within its ranks, now have their own special ops force in the form of the Marine Raiders. Traditionally, SOF have been responsible for direct action missions such as the rescue of prisoners or hostages, short-term raids into enemy base areas, or covert reconnaissance missions ahead of conventional forces. During the Vietnam War, the Green Berets developed two additional capabilities that would prove instrumental in the war on terror: foreign internal defence (FID) and unconventional warfare (UW). Both doctrines were based on the pioneering work of the British SAS during the Malayan Emergency and refined by experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. FID and UW exist as two sides of the same coin – the former focuses on developing, mentoring and assisting local security forces to combat insurgents, while the latter raises insurgent or guerrilla forces of their own to overthrow hostile governments. Both the direct action and unconventional warfare roles would prove critical in the post–9/11 war on terror. Units were needed that had the necessary language and cultural

skills to covertly infiltrate into a hostile environment like Afghanistan, link up with warlords who were often rivals – and through a mixture of diplomacy and cold hard cash, form them into something approaching a guerrilla army. Conversely, terrorist and insurgent bomb-makers and logisticians, often living alongside the civilian population, needed to be captured or killed in a manner that minimised collateral damage. SOF who had been trained to conduct direct action raids, along with the ubiquitous Predator or Reaper drone, became the preferred scalpel for such surgical strikes. In the 16 years since SOF first set foot inside Afghanistan, a push toward enabling so-called partner forces to take the lead has seen SOF become mentors and advisers to local government forces and paramilitaries from Yemen to Syria.

The horse soldiers The first Americans into Afghanistan were perhaps surprisingly not SOF personnel, but were drawn from the paramilitary branch of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Many of the members of these “pilot teams” were however veterans of the Green Berets and SEALs, and they understood what was required to get SOF into the fight. With a rudimentary search and rescue capability in place in case an aircraft was shot down, the Green Berets entered Afghanistan on 19 October 2001. Air Force and Army special operations aviators flew these

MIDDLE EAST: SPECIAL FORCES ODAs (Operational Detachment Alpha – commonly known as A-teams) through appalling weather and over the treacherous mountains of the Hindu Kush to link up with elements of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. The first A-team landed in a desolate landing zone that resembled a moonscape. From out of the darkness appeared armed men who quickly surrounded the Green Berets. After a few tense moments, the gunmen were revealed as Northern Alliance fighters who had been sent by the CIA to meet them. Without wheeled transport, the Americans were forced to adopt local customs and found themselves on horseback. Few had ridden before and the stature of the Afghan horses, closer to ponies, held unique challenges for the Green Berets. The tough wooden saddles used by the Afghans proved to be hard going until an airdrop supplied more modern, Western saddles. The tactics of their Northern Alliance allies also required the Americans to adapt. In one notable case, Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum sent his Afghans galloping away in a latter-day cavalry charge as B-52 bombers rained bombs against the Taliban positions. It was only pure luck that prevented politically costly fratricide – the killing of American allies – as the last bombs landed just before the horsemen reached the Taliban lines. While the Green Berets used all of their skills in unconventional warfare in an effort to organise and train the Afghans, they brought with them an equally important piece of technology that inspired both wonder and fear. The SOFLAM or Special Operations Forces Laser Acquisition Marker was a device that could mark targets with an invisible laser beam. The beam would then be “ridden” by smart bombs and usually ensured pinpoint accuracy. The Afghans commonly referred to the SOFLAM and the resulting destruction from the sky as the “death ray”. Initially SOCOM planners had warned the White House to expect a protracted campaign, likely taking six months before the Northern Alliance would even be ready to embark on offensive operations. The combination of overwhelming US airpower, the brutal audacity of the Afghans, and the “combat diplomacy” of the Special Forces would prove otherwise. In less than three months, the Taliban government had fallen, the capital,

A Military Working Dog handler and his hound, part of an Australian dismounted patrol by 2 Commando Regiment. Courtesy Corporal Chris Moore, Defence.



Kabul, was in Northern Alliance control, and what remained of al Qaeda had escaped into the nebulous border regions with Pakistan. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan had once again proved the concept of unconventional warfare and the strategic importance of SOF. Unlike previous conflicts, this first battle in the war on terror saw SOF take the lead as the main effort rather than supporting conventional forces. The Special Forces A-teams were however soon committed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and SOF switched gears to refocus on a new mission set – long range reconnaissance and raiding missions to tie down Iraqi forces in the western desert.

Night raids Most controversial of all SOF missions in the war on terror are the direct action operations referred to variously as “kill or capture missions” or night raids. These evolved from the successful SOF campaign against al Qaeda in Iraq, which counter-insurgency expert John Nagl termed “an almost industrial-scale counter-terrorism killing machine.” The Iraq campaign, masterminded by


American General and former Ranger Stanley McChrystal, and spearheaded by the American Delta Force, Rangers, and British SAS, killed thousands of insurgents and foreign fighters, all but destroying al Qaeda in Iraq. McChrystal brought together a unique network of expertise to support his SOF units from entities as disparate as the FBI, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. This “team of teams” approach furnished McChrystal’s special operators with the tools to identify and track mobile phones used by insurgents in real time; to share intelligence through state of the art intranet portals; and to employ sophisticated data-mining techniques to uncover terrorist cells. As their targeting improved, the frequency of raids increased to a point where operators were conducting half a dozen missions every night. Surprisingly, only a small percentage ended in gunfire, but the disruption of the al Qaeda networks was complete. With key leaders and bomb-makers dead or arrested, and the few survivors living in constant fear of a night raid,

the terrorists were largely defeated in one of the most successful counterterrorism campaigns in history. With such obvious success in Iraq, a similar profile was adapted in Afghanistan. Kill-or-capture missions had always been an SOF tactic in Afghanistan, but their use sky-rocketed following the Afghan Surge of 2008 when hundreds of additional Coalition SOF personnel were redeployed from Iraq. Units targeted individuals who appeared on the Joint Prioritised Effects List, a grandiose name for what was essentially a kill list. SOF units would strike at night, raiding compounds and killing or capturing the wanted individuals named on the list. The aim was to deny the insurgents sanctuary and to remove key personnel such as bomb-makers who were decimating Coalition and Afghan forces with IEDs. The Taliban came to know the special operators as “the bearded guys with green eyes”, a reference to their characteristic facial hair and the dull glow of their night vision goggles. Night raids have been criticised for sometimes targeting the wrong people,

leading to the deaths of civilians, and for angering the local population, undoing much of the counter-insurgency efforts of local “ground-holding” units who had to deal with the aftermath of the SOF raids. Former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, recognised the limitations of an overreliance upon the tactic, particularly over other counter-insurgency measures: “You don’t kill or capture your way out of an industrial-strength insurgency, which is what faces Afghanistan.”

VSOs and Advise and Assist As the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan gathered pace, counterinsurgency authorities argued for a return to a Vietnam era tactic: the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups (CIDG). The CIDGs were locally recruited civilians, armed and supplied by Special Forces advisers who lived alongside the villagers. The aim was for the villagers eventually to become responsible for their own security. The Special Forces would conduct a civic action program in parallel, building wells and schools and establishing medical clinics – classic “hearts and minds” tactics. This

Opposite: A US Navy SEAL fire team watches for insurgent threats in the Shah Wali Kot Valley. Courtesy Petty Officer 1st Class Martine Cuaron; US DOD. Above: An Australian SASR

mounted patrol in its overnight hide site in Uruzgan Province, 2009. The vehicles in the background suggest this may be a joint Commando and SASR mission. Courtesy LS Paul Berry; SOCOMD.

approach was eventually adopted in Iraq, where it assisted in the Anbar Awakening, in which Iraqi tribes renounced the insurgency and took active measures against al Qaeda in Iraq. In Afghanistan, SOF units conducted a similar initiative called Village Stability Operations (VSO). Along with VSOs, SOF were increasingly involved in the support of local partner forces as part of a doctrine called security force assistance (SFA). This called for the embedding of SOF trainers within security forces in an effort to increase the professional military capabilities of the locals. These missions, now commonly referred to as “advise and assist”, have been

implemented in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also in lesser known initiatives in Somalia, Mali, Kenya, the Philippines, and Yemen. They are seen as a necessary step to a localisation of the counter-terrorist or counter-insurgency effort, facilitating local security forces to successfully combat home-grown jihadists. Coalition SOF often provide intelligence and logistical support in the form of drones and surveillance aircraft, close air support and mineresistant vehicles.

The Australian perspective Australian SOF have been at the forefront of Australian Defence Force (ADF) operations since 11 September 2001. Former Prime Minister John Howard pledged the support of the ADF and by extension, the units of the Australian SOCOMD. Since then, Australian SOF has deployed almost continuously to Afghanistan for more than a decade, as the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG), and operated in the deserts of Iraq as part of the Coalition SOF campaign in 2003. They returned to Iraq from 2014 in support of Operation Okra, the Australian advise and


Navy SEALs “fast rope” from a MV-22 Osprey VTOL aircraft during a training exercise. Courtesy Senior Airman Sheila DeVera; US Air Force.

assist contribution to the war against the so-called Islamic State. SOCOMD comprises a number of core components; first and foremost is the Perth-based SASR. SASR provide a wide range of capabilities from counterterrorism to strategic reconnaissance to security force assistance. SASR have traditionally focused on behindthe-lines reconnaissance. They held a reputation as Ma Rung or “the phantoms of the jungle” in Vietnam and today continue that tradition. General James Mattis wrote glowingly of their contribution to reconnaissance missions in support of his Marines in Afghanistan: “the sun has seldom shone on soldiers as competent and confident.” The Commandos of 1 Commando Regiment (a mixed regular and reserve unit) and 2 Commando Regiment (the regular commando unit based in Holsworthy) serve as SOCOMD’s principal direct action forces. Both units were regularly deployed to Afghanistan, where they conducted hundreds of night raids against high-value targets. Soldiers from 2 Commando are currently deployed to Iraq under Operation Okra, training the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, who were recently instrumental in recapturing Mosul. Finally there is the Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER), formed from an earlier organisation, the Incident Response Regiment. SOER provides special operations


trained combat engineers to provide counter-CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive) expertise to SOCOMD. SOER teams often accompany SASR or Commando direct action missions to deal with any improvised explosive devices discovered during operations. Specialist SOF aviation is provided by the Army’s 171 Aviation Squadron, operating S-70 Black Hawk helicopters. The Royal Australian Navy also has a component, although not within the SOCOMD structure: the Clearance Diving Teams or CDTs who are trained in beach and harbour reconnaissance, combat diving, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and maritime counterterrorism. CDTs have operated in both Iraq and Afghanistan, primarily as EOD technicians. Elements from all these units contribute to the ADF’s two Tactical Assault Groups (TAG), one based originally with SASR and one based with 2 Commando. They formed “to assist civil authorities to cope with major terrorist incidents, including the potential use of chemical, biological and radiological weapons.” TAG has primary responsibility for the counterterrorism role – the “black role” of personnel recovery – should Australian hostages be taken at home or overseas.

The future of SOF Coalition SOF continue to deploy to innumerable hot spots around the

world, often in overt advise and assist roles, but just as regularly in covert operations where their very presence is denied. Africa has become one of the latest battlefields for this secret war, including in Somalia. While high profile direct action missions, such as the raid to kill bin Laden, will continue to garner press attention, the bread and butter of future Special Operations Forces work will revolve around small handfuls of operators. They will be fluent in both the local dialect and customs, and operate largely under cover in failed states such as Libya or Yemen. They will use the principles of unconventional warfare and foreign internal defence to train and mentor, and occasionally accompany, partner forces in a new and undeclared chapter of the war on terror. •



Leigh Neville is the author of more than a dozen books on special operations, the history of small arms, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. His latest include Modern snipers, Guns of the Special Forces and European counter terrorist units.

FROM THE SHADOWS The Memorial’s new exhibition offers an unprecedented look at the history, capabilities and deployments of Australia’s Special Forces. BY KARL JAMES


heir activities are secret. Their missions are classified. Their identities are protected. They operate in secrecy to protect Australia’s people and national interests, and to support its allies. Highly trained, motivated, and experienced, Australia’s Special Operations Forces (SOF) can with little notice be inserted undetected by land, sea, or air into any environment to conduct sensitive combat or noncombat operations. They constitute a fast, flexible, low-cost, and discreet asset. They have been continuously deployed both at home and abroad for nearly two decades. They won honours in Afghanistan, fought in Iraq, helped establish security in East Timor, performed counter-terrorist roles in Australia, and supported domestic security agencies. Developed in partnership with the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) Special Operations Command (SOCOMD), the Memorial’s latest special exhibition From the shadows: Australia’s special forces casts a rare light on the men and women who operate in the shadows. Covering the history of Australia’s SOF from the Second World War to Afghanistan, it is the most comprehensive exhibition in Australia on this theme. Many of the nearly 700 objects displayed in the exhibition – including uniforms, equipment and gallantry awards – are on loan directly from the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR),

the 1st and 2nd Commando Regiments, the Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER), and individual servicemen and women. Most items have never been seen before by the Australian public.

Special selection A defining experience in becoming a Special Forces soldier is an arduous selection course. These courses are physically and mentally gruelling, and attrition rates are high. “We want to break them all [the candidates] down physically and mentally,” commented Sergeant T, an instructor for SASR selection, “so they are at the same level, and then we see the essence of the man; that’s how we pick the ones we want.” Only a few candidates are successful. It is not necessarily the biggest, fittest, fastest, or loudest candidate who will be selected. The capacity to make decisions under stress, the ability to influence and work as a team, and mental resilience are key attributes. Women have been able to apply for selection to the SASR and commando regiments since 2013. Selection is only the beginning. Candidates for the SASR and the commandos then undergo extensive specialist training to develop advanced operating skills, and gain access to cutting-edge technology. “Special Forces are different in that they possess some additional skills which enable them to enter the battlespace in a

different way, in an unconventional fashion,” argued Major General Mike Hindmarsh. “They do so with the intent of surprising the enemy and remaining invisible.” These specialist capabilities include the use of reconnaissance and surveillance vehicles, parachutes, water craft and diving equipment that make insertion into an area possible. Other skills include long-range communications, advanced weapons and first-aid training, and demolition. Experiences in East Timor, Iraq, and Afghanistan highlighted the need for “soft skills” in language proficiency, cultural awareness, and mindfulness of political sensitivities. Their training enables Australia’s SOF to operate with the air force, navy, and allied forces at short notice. Many of these skills were pioneered during the Second World War. During that war, most major belligerents had developed highly trained, covert units that employed unorthodox tactics to conduct what have since been described as “special operations”. These activities were carried out by small groups who operated in a secret, unorthodox, or unconventional manner, often employing specialist equipment.

Second World War In the Second World War Australia raised units capable of operating independently – the independent companies, later retitled commando squadrons. They were able to conduct


operations are covert. Operation Jaywick is today Australia’s most well-known special operation. During the war, however, the operation was cloaked in secrecy. Few beyond those participating in the raid knew about the operation, not even the men’s wives and families. “I didn’t even know about the Jaywick raid,” recalled Roma Page, widow of Captain Robert Page, who participated in the Jaywick raid only to be captured and executed during the Rimau raid. “I had a telegram saying that he was missing. After the war I found out what happened to Bob by a newspaper article.” Operations Jaywick and Rimau were not mentioned in the press until the end of the war.

Cold War to the Olympic Games

Page 28: An Australian soldier from the Special Operations Task Group observing the valley during the Shah Wali Kot Offensive, June 2010. Image courtesy the Department of Defence. Above: Dennis Adams, Australian commandos attacking Japanese shipping in Singapore Harbour, September 1943, (1970, oil on canvas). The work depicts Operation Jaywick. AWM ART27649 Right: The team of Corporal Cameron Baird (third from left) from the 2nd Commando Regiment, Afghanistan, February 2013. L2017.1153

guerrilla warfare, carry out long-range reconnaissance patrols, and work with local indigenous forces. These are capabilities that are still relevant to today’s SASR and commandos. Australia also established covert organisations, such as Special Operations Australia (also known by the code name Services


Reconnaissance Department), that could conduct clandestine operations in enemy territory. (see page 44) Operation Jaywick was one of the most daring Australian special operations conducted during the war. In September 1943 a small group of British and Australian sailors and soldiers, under British officer Major Ivan Lyon, sailed from Western Australia in the Japanese fishing vessel Krait to raid enemy shipping in Singapore Harbour. Paddling canoes into the harbour on the night of the 26th, the operatives placed limpet mines on the hulls of Japanese ships, sinking or damaging seven. In October 1944 Lyon led another raid on Singapore – Operation Rimau – but that ended in disaster, and all 23 men on the raid either were killed, died in captivity, or were executed. By their very nature, special

During the Cold War, Australia responded to the threat of communist g r o u p s t h a t we r e l a u n c h i n g insurgencies and guerrilla actions in the region. The threat was met with the raising of the part-time 1st and 2nd Commando Companies in 1955 and the fulltime 1st SAS Company in 1957. The SAS company was later expanded to a regiment, and its squadrons served in Borneo during Indonesian Confrontation and in South Vietnam. Indeed, in Vietnam the SAS’s role varied from reconnaissance and observation to offensive operations deep in enemy territory. Operating in small teams, it was here that the SAS earned their reputation as “phantoms of the jungle”. (see page 5) During the long peace that followed the Vietnam War, successive governments and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) were focused on the defence of Australia. Australia’s SOF contributed to these defensive tasks, but the development of its domestic counter-terrorism capability gave it a clear purpose. This “black role” has grown, following the rise in domestic and international terrorism and the threat of extremism. In 1978 Sydney’s Hilton Hotel was bombed during a Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting. In response, the Australian government approved the establishment of a “specialised and dedicated counterterrorist assault team”. The Tactical Assault Group (TAG) was drawn from the SASR in Perth, and became operational in 1980. Its members were trained in close-quarters fighting and methods for building entry, as well as



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in techniques for approaching terrorist strongholds in buildings, on seized aircraft or off-shore oil installations. TAG became a quick-response force capable of resolving siege and hostage situations, as well as hijackings. Australia’s counter-terrorism measures had already increased in

preparation for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. A second permanent TAG was formed after al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001. Based in Sydney, TAG–East was formed around a company from the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) , which was renamed the

2nd Commando Regiment in 2009. The Perth team became TAG–West and was based around an SAS squadron. Each team was supported by engineers of the then newly formed Incident Response Regiment (later renamed SOER), skilled in combating chemical, biological, and radiological threats. Members of TAG are ready for action at a moment’s notice. They provided security to the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, and headof-state and government visits, and have managed incidents at sea. These include the MV Tampa affair in 2001, and boarding and seizing the drugsmuggling North Korean freighter MV Pong Su in 2002, and a Chinese-crewed vessel in 2016.

Deployment to Afghanistan Indeed, after 2001 there was unprecedented growth in Australia’s SOF, with deployments to high-intensity combat operations in Afghanistan (see map above), the invasion of Iraq, and


threatening environments in TimorLeste and the Pacific. Special Forces became the Australian government’s force of choice for deployment to areas of conflict and crisis. This preference meant that relatively small groups of officers and soldiers were sent on multiple deployments to Afghanistan and elsewhere. The SASR’s Sergeant Troy Simmonds, for example, deployed to Afghanistan six times. He also deployed to Somalia, twice to Iraq and three times to East Timor. In 2008 he fought in the battle of Khas Uruzgan, in Uruzgan Province, where Trooper Mark Donaldson was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia. Simmonds later described his first impression of Afghanistan was the “dramatic landscapes”, the contrast “between rugged mountains with rocky areas, deserts and green … it was pretty spectacular.” Afghanistan is a land of extremes. Imposing mountain ranges tower over arid desert (dasht) and fertile green valleys housing farms, clay-walled compounds (q’alas), and villages. In summer the temperatures routinely climb above 40 degrees Celsius, while in winter they plummet to well below zero. Windy storms and snow freeze anything exposed to the elements. In this multi-ethnic Muslim state, the Pashtuns form the largest tribal group. Farming and herding are the most common source of income, although only 14 per cent of the land is arable. Across the country, the detritus of earlier foreign invasions and tribal and clan conflict is ever-present, especially in the threat from land mines. It is a heavily armed society. Boys will often receive their first rifle at the age of eight, and firearms are used to reflect status as well as to provide protection. By Western standards, the poverty witnessed in the villages is confronting. Yet the code of Pashtunwali obliges hospitality to strangers. Australia’s military contribution to the US-led coalition marked the start of its longest war. In late 2001 the Australian Special Forces Task Force, built around 1 SAS Squadron, arrived in Afghanistan. It joined US forces at Forward Operating Base Rhino, the first toehold won by American forces in Afghanistan, 90 kilometres south-west of Kandahar. Operating initially with the US Marines, the SAS conducted aggressive long-range, vehiclemounted patrols around Kandahar


“Imagine the anticipation as they approached a compound in which they know Taliban are holed up ready to kill them.”

and into the Helmand Valley. In early 2002 the Australians moved to Bagram Airbase, some 40 kilometres north of Kabul. A former Soviet military base, Bagram became a major hub for coalition and NATO forces. In March the SAS became heavily involved in Operation Anaconda in the Shahi-Kot Valley, Paktia Province. This was the coalition’s and Australia’s first major battle in Afghanistan. After Anaconda, 2 SAS Squadron replaced 1 Squadron, and was in turn replaced in mid-2002 by 3 SAS Squadron. Australian forces in Afghanistan were withdrawn later that year, but returned to Afghanistan in September 2005. For the next eight years their efforts were focused on helping to secure and stabilise Uruzgan Province against Taliban and militant insurgencies, and supporting the Afghan government. Australia’s commitment became part of the NATOled International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Situated in southern Afghanistan,


Australian soldiers from the Special Operations Task Group make their way to a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, June 2010. Image courtesy the Department of Defence.

Uruzgan is some 230 kilometres south-west of Kabul. Around half the province’s 310,000 people live in the villages and towns around the capital, Tarin Kot. Agriculture is the main source of income, and farmers grow wheat, corn, apricots and almonds – although opium has become the province’s main product. The Australian Special Forces Task Group (SFTG) in 2005–06, and later the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) in 2007–13, was based in Camp Russell, a compound within the coalition base at Tarin Kot. Each rotation lasted from four to six months, and typically included an SAS squadron, a commando company, and other elements. Colonel Ian Langford, who commanded SOTG Rotation XVIII, saw the Australian role as trying to provide

“operating space” for the reconstruction taskforce in rebuilding Tarin Kot, and for the Afghan government to provide education, health and social services. The SOTG maintained pressure on insurgent and terrorist networks by identifying and targeting leaders and key individuals, and by supporting antinarcotics operations. The Australians also helped to develop the Afghan National Security Forces. Operations beyond the wire were constant. Deploying day and night in vehicles, by helicopter, or on foot, the Australians struck swiftly and lethally across Uruzgan and neighbouring provinces. Tasks were conducted with the United States, Canadian, Dutch, British, Afghan, and other ISAF forces. Combat was frequent, and major battles were fought. On average, two out of three missions resulted in contact with the enemy. The operational tempo was relentless. Major General Tim McOwan, then Special Operations Commander Australia, described the nature of these Special Forces operations: Imagine the physical demands of the long marches by night, the lack of sleep … imagine the anticipation as they approached a compound in which they know Taliban are holed up ready to kill them. Imagine the fear as they enter that compound. Many actions and battles were fought. One of the largest was fought between May and June 2010, when the Australians conducted raids to destabilise the local insurgents and to identify Taliban leaders in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar Province. These operations included commandos, engineers, SAS personnel, and American forces. During 10–14 June a commando company fought and cleared insurgents from their stronghold around Chenartu. The commandos fought off fanatical attacks and pursued the enemy through 50-degree heat. “It was tense, hot, and arduous,” said Sergeant Garry Robinson, a sniper from the 2nd Commando Regiment. “It was kill or be killed. They were trying to kill me, so I have no remorse.” On 11 June the SAS attacked the village of Tizak, instigating 11 hours of close combat. These battles resulted in the deaths of key insurgent commanders and effectively destroyed the Taliban in the area. The SASR and the 2nd Commando Regiment were awarded the battle honour “Eastern

Shah Wali Kot”. Thirteen individual honours were also awarded, including the Victoria Cross for Australia to Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith and the Star of Gallantry to Sergeant P. Operation Slipper, the Australian mission in Afghanistan, ended in 2013. The decade of operations conducted in support of this mission placed a heavy demand on SOCOMD. There were 23 rotations with the SAS squadrons re-deploying to Afghanistan every 12 months, on average, and the commando company groups every 18 months. Members of SOCOMD have received more than 150 battlefield awards, including three VCs (one posthumous) and six Stars of Gallantry. The SOTG constituted some 16 per cent of the Army’s contribution to Afghanistan and suffered 50 per cent of the casualties, including 21 deaths. ADF personnel, including members of SOCOMD, remain in Afghanistan and the Middle East region. Australian Special Forces personnel are currently supporting NATO’s special operations command and the Afghan police in their ongoing confrontations with the Taliban. Personnel are similarly assigned to a Special Operations Task Group based in Baghdad, training Iraqi Special Forces to combat radical extremism in Iraq and Syria. The ADF and elements of SOCOMD will likely continue to be sent to hotspots in our region and around the world, where such deployments are in Australia’s national or strategic interests. In addition to their traditional capabilities, Australia’s Special Forces will develop new techniques to adapt to the emerging areas of cyberspace and outer space, and will continue to operate domestically and globally. Some of these operations will be known. Many will not. As a matter of necessity, Australia’s Special Forces will remain in the shadows. •



Dr Karl James is a senior historian in the Military History Section. He and Danielle Cassar were the curators of From the shadows: Australia’s Special Forces, on display until October 2018.


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