Independent Companies in the Pacific War

by the late Brigadier W H (Mac) Grant OAM RFD

When the first four independent companies were raised, Japan had not yet entered the war. However Australian defence planners appreciated that war with Japan was inevitable and during 1941, 8th division, less one of its Brigades, was deployed in Malaya. The 3rd Brigade (23rd Brigade) was held in Australia. What follows ia an abbreviated account of the operations conducted by the various independent companies and commando squadrons.

1st Independent Company was deployed to Kavieng in New Ireland in July 1941. Sections were deployed to protect air bases at Vila in what was then the New Hebrides, Tulagi (near Guadalcanal), Buka on the island of Bougainville,  Namatamai in Central New Ireland and Lorengau on Manus Island. In Hindsight the unit was much to thin on the ground to be capable of effective resistance when the Japanese attacked. After heavy bombing attacks, some 4,500 Japanese landed at Kavieng on the 23rd of January 1942. Machine gunners of 1st Coy shot down some Japanese aircraft but the OC decided that the position was untenable and issued orders that the company should withdraw by the sea in the Induna Star, a small vessel that the Coy had purchased soon after its arrival in Kavieng. After blowing up the airfield and supply dumps, 1st Coy embarked in the Induna Star which, after surviving Japanese bombing attacks, was intercepted and captured by a Japanese destroyer. Most of the company’s detached sections were simply overrun by vastly superior Japanese forces, although the sections at Buka operated behind enemy lines in a mainly coastwatching role until April 1943. Tragically, the majority of 1st Independent Company who became prisoners of war were passengers in a Japanese freighter, Montevideo Maru, which was sunk by an American submarine in July 1942. There were no survivors. The company ceased to exist and was not reformed.

2/2nd Independent Company
Following the entry of Japan into the war, in accordance of a treaty with the Dutch, The Australian deployed Sparrow Force to Kupang in Timor. Sparrow Force comprised 2/40 Australian Infantry Battalion AIF, a heavy artillery unit and 2/2nd Independent Company AIF. Commencing on the 2nd 16th December 1941, 2/2nd Company began to move from Kupang to Dili in Portuguese Timor with Netherlands East Indies troops.