1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) "The Big Blue One"

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About This Unit

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The 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR)

Raised: 23 November 1948.

Current Location: Lavarack Barracks Townsville QLD.

Structure: Motorised Battalion.

Band: Military Band.

Regimental March: Waltzing Matilda.

Mascot: Shetland Pony named Septimus.

Lanyard: Garter Blue.

Website: www.1rar.asn.au

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/1stBattalion

Formation 

With the conclusion of the war in the Pacific in 1945, Australia committed to provide troops for occupation duties in Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force aggregated under the 34th Australian Infantry Brigade. The brigade was made up of three battalions: the 65th, 66th and 67th Australian Infantry Battalions.

Personnel for these units were drawn from the AIF , then demobilising across what was at that time the Dutch East Indies, Papua and New Guinea.  On 12 October 1945 the 65th Battalion was raised from the 7th Division at Balikpapan and quickly sailed to Morotai from where they undertook training prior to being sent to Japan.  The other two Battalions were raised from those of the 6th and 9th Divisions.

By the middle of June 1946 the Australian brigade was in place, with the 65th Battalion located in the Fukuyama–Onomichi region near the Kure Naval Base 150 kilometres (93 mi) south of Osaka. The battalion was charged with enforcing the directives of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, which involved various tasks such as ceremonial duties, escorting displaced persons, restoring law and order and overseeing the disarmament process.

During this time they participated in the search and destruction of wartime materials.  The operation was not without risk as the area was honeycombed with caves and tunnels and large quantities of explosives, ammunition and poison gas were found.

In line with the formative plan to raise the core of what was to be Australia's post war Regular Army, the battalions were re-designated as the Australian Regiment in 1948 and the 65th Battalion became the 1st Battalion, Australian Regiment. On 31 March 1949 the regiment received the prefix "Royal", becoming the Royal Australian Regiment.  1 RAR and 2RAR subsequently were repatriated to Australia at the end of 1948 and 3RAR remained in Japan.

1 RAR was initially settled in at Ingleburn, but later moved to Enoggera and Holsworthy and has been based at Lavarack Barracks, Townsville since 1971.

Korea

1RAR was back in Australia when the Korean War began in 1950.  In 1951, 1RAR was brought up to strength with volunteers from 2RAR and new enlistments from the 'K' Force recruiting campaign which attracted a large number of men with experience from World War II into 1 RAR and 3RAR.  In September 1951 the battalion received orders to move to Korea and after a farewell march through Sydney 1RAR departed for Japan on 18 March 1952.   After a period of training in Japan, 1RAR arrived in South Korea on 6 April 1952, for a year-long tour of duty, with 3RAR remaining in place, having been there since shortly after the outbreak of hostilities.  1RAR joined the Commonwealth 28th Brigade on 1 June. On 19 June 1952 1 RAR moved into the line.

In July 1952 1RAR was detached to the 29th Brigade, relieving other battalions on Hills 159, 210 and 355.  It took part in general patrolling along the Jamestown Line, which involved securing defences, repairing minefield fences, and undertaking reconnaissance of enemy positions to gather information on them.  

By the time 1RAR arrived the nature of the war had changed from mobile operations to fixed defence and patrolling.  The patrolling was difficult and dangerous due to the close proximity of major enemy forces to one another, the fact that their defence positions were well sited and defended and the severity of the climate, and with an imperative to be in the best possible negotiating position for peace talks. 

Operations that 1RAR took part in usually aimed at capturing a prisoner or destroying enemy defences. Operation Blaze was 1RAR's first major action, which involved an attack on Hill 227 in order to capture a prisoner.  The attack failed in its objective and the battalion suffered four killed and 33 wounded in action.

On the night of 13–14 September the battalion captured its first prisoner as it continued to conduct patrolling operations. 1RAR relieved the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment on Hill 355 in November 1952.   1 RAR had to regain control of the approaches and re-establish security in the area, suffering 50 casualties in the process.

Typical of the nature of operations was “Operation Fauna”. On the night of 11–12 December 1952 1RAR mounted a a company size 1RAR patrol mounted to obtain a Chinese prisoner and to damage nearby enemy defence positions.  It was only a partial success as the Australians failed to capture a prisoner, although they did manage to destroy an enemy position. The patrol was discovered by the Chinese, leading to a savage firefight and high casualties on both sides.  The battalion suffered 22 wounded and three missing as a result of this action. Operation Fauna was 1RAR's last action of the war and they were relieved by 3RAR on 29 December 1952.  On 21 March 1953, 1RAR was relieved by 2RAR at Camp Casey, near Tongduchon, and returned to Australia later that month.

1RAR had suffered 42 killed and 107 wounded during the nine months that they served on combat operations in Korea. 1RAR personnel were awarded the following decorations: two DSOs, two OBEs, three MBEs, seven MCs, one BEM, 21 MIDs and three Commander-in-Chief Commendations.

2RAR replaced 1RAR in April 1953 just before the ceasefire which came into force on 27 July 1953. 1RAR returned to Korea in April 1954 and remained in place until March 1956 when the battalion returned to Australia.

Malaya ('The Emergency')

The Malayan Communist Party began an insurrection to convert Malaya into a Communist state in 1948 and in response to increasing civil unrest the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve was established in January 1955, when Australia agreed to contribute Naval and RAAF units and an Infantry Battalion which became part of the 28th Commonwealth Brigade. The UK and New Zealand provided the other battalions.    

On 20 September 1959, 1RAR embarked  for Malaya for a two year deployment.  After arriving at Singapore the battalion trained at Kota Tinggi. The facility is still in use today by the infantry rifle companies as part of their deployment as Rifle Company Butterworth.

The Battalion then moved to base camps at Kuala Kangsar, Sungei Siput, Lasah, Lintang and Grik. The battalion began Operation Bamboo on 16 November 1959 in the Thai/Malay border area in Perak, relieving the 1st Battalion, The Loyal Regiment.  Approximately 200 families were flown to Penang where they were to reside for the next two years. Their experience was generally positive although the men were away for a great deal of the time.  For the next 18 months 1RAR operated in 210 square miles (540 km2) area of dense jungle searching for the elusive Communist terrorists (CTs), led by the even more elusive Ching Pen.

The first of many border operations conducted by 1RAR was Operation Bamboo in the vicinity of the Betong Salient, a known terrorist base area adjacent to the Thai - Malay border.  The area was mountainous and covered by thick jungle, there were no roads and numerous streams criss-crossed the area.

The area was largely inaccessible except by helicopter, boat or on foot. Platoon sized patrols would be sent for three week long search operations before returning to the base camps for ten days rest. Even though there were 117 official 'finds' during these operations, no kills were recorded by the battalion at this time as the CTs began to counter the Australian patrols by crossing the border into Thailand where they could not be followed.  

In April 1960 1RAR took part in Operation Magnet, which involved Far East Strategic Reserve (FESR) units crossing the border into Thailand for the first time in the conflict in an attempt to drive the CTs back into Malaya where other units were ready to carry out ambushes upon them.  Later in June, Operation Jackforce was launched, using similar tactics and during this 1RAR finally was involved in one contact.

Despite numerous well - conducted operations the terrorists generally escaped across the border where they could not be pursued.

The Prime Minister of Malaya formally declared the emergency to be over on 31 July 1960. However, 1RAR continued to conduct border operations for a further year, returning to Australia in October 1961. 

It is generally accepted that notwithstanding the frustrations of attempting to eliminate the terrorists in Malaya, the Royal Australian Regiment gained a great deal of expertise in jungle warfare against a guerilla / terrorist-type enemy, which was put to good use in Vietnam. 

Restructure

In 1960 Australia embarked on an Army restructure which had a major effect on the RAR. 1RAR was the first unit to become a Pentropic Task Force with 50% more troops than the original Tropical Warfare (TW) establishment. Instead of the traditional three sections and platoons they were increased to five. However, while in Malaya they reverted to the TW establishment. When they returned from Malaya they restructured again to the Pentropic establishment. This arrangement was very disruptive and it is notable that the US which had originally introduced the structure to deal with a nuclear war had already abandoned it well before Australia did so in 1964.   

Vietnam First Tour

A 1RAR Battalion Group deployed to the Republic Of Vietnam in March 1965. The Battalion became the third manoeuvre unit of the 173rd United States Airborne Brigade, located at Bien Hoa and conducted numerous patrolling operations around the local area. In January 1966, the Battalion conducted a major search and destroy operation in the Ho Bo Woods north of Saigon. During this operation they discovered the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels which the Viet Cong used as their operational headquarters. The Battalion returned to Australia in June 1966 having won the admiration of its American commanders and was awarded the US Meritorious Unit Commendation.

Vietnam Second Tour

1RAR returned to Vietnam in April 1968 and was based at Nui Dat along with the other units of the 1st Australian Task Force. The major engagement of this tour of duty took place in May 1968 when there was still a great deal of movement of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces following the failed January Tet (New Year) offensive and a second attempt to attack Saigon and other major centres in May. 1RAR occupied a Fire Support Base named Coral, which was north of Bien Hoa on the assumption that they would interdict the VC and NVA units which were withdrawing  from their failed attempts to capture Saigon. There was a major breakdown in intelligence between the Americans and the Australians which led to the serious underestimation of the strength, nature and locations of the enemy.  This battle is dealt with in detail on this site HERE (click).

Fire Support Base Coral was attacked twice, first by a battalion on the night of 15 May and then on 16 May by a full Regiment. After a great deal of hard fighting, some of which was hand to hand, the Australians prevailed. In recognition of the gallant stand of the units involved, the 1st Australian Task Force (Forward) was awarded a Regimental Battle Honour. The battles in and around Fire Support Base Coral and a second Fire Base occupied by 3RAR named Balmoral constituted the largest engagements by Australian troops during the Vietnam war. 1RAR returned to Australia in February 1969.

As a member of the 1st Australian Task Force (Forward) 1RAR was awarded the Unit Citation for Gallantry for outstanding and courageous service during the battles of Coral and Balmoral. 

Singapore

In April 1969 1RAR returned to South East Asia, replacing 8RAR which was located at Terendak. But a review of the location of the Australian element of the 28th Commonwealth Brigade had been accepted and 1RAR deployed to Singapore.

The British conducted a review of the Five Power Defence Arrangement which led to the creation of the 28th ANZUK Brigade. The Brigade consisted of an RAR battalion, a New Zealand Battalion a British Battalion and a composite Artillery Regiment.  

In February 1971, 6RAR replaced 1RAR in Singapore which returned to Australia, and was located in Townsville. 6RAR was withdrawn when 28th ANZUC Brigade was disbanded in early 1975.

Rhodesia

In 1979 an 18 strong detachment from 1RAR was deployed to Rhodesia as part of a larger Australian commitment to the Commonwealth Monitoring Force tasked to protect and evacuate foreign nationals in the face of escalating violence.

Fiji

There was a military coup in Fiji on 14 May 1987 and 1RAR which was the Operational Deployment Force (ODF), was directed to stand by a rifle company for deployment to assist with the protection and evacuation of Australian nationals. The company was flown to Norfolk Island from Townsville on 23 May and embarked on Australian Navy ships which moved closer to Fiji and waited. However, the situation in Fiji stabilised and the force returned home commencing on 29 May. While the force did not deploy fully the operation provided many lessons for the emergency deployment of the ODF.

Somalia

In December 1992 Australia agreed to commit an infantry battalion group to a UN sanctioned operation in Somalia entitled Operation Restore Hope. An earlier attempt by the UN to provide humanitarian aid to the people of this war- torn country had failed as local bandits were confiscating the supplies and generally terrorising the populace. 1RAR was selected for this task and was brought up to strength by 52 soldiers from 2/4RAR.  The Australian operation was named Operation Solace.

A Company embarked on HMAS Jervis Bay on 24 December while the rest of the battalion remained at home preparing for the operation. The CO and his advance party arrived in Somalia on 8 January 1993 and were joined by the main body on 15 and 18 January.

The Battalion was allocated an area of operations to the south west of the country which included the large town of Baidoa with a population of between 60,000 and 80,000. There was no working infrastructure and the area was a shambles. The Battalion quickly assessed that their priority tasks were to secure the Baidoa airfield, provide security to the town, patrol the area of operations and escort the relief convoys. They established a base area at the airfield and commenced operations. A difficult and unusual deployment concluded on 23 May 1993. The battalion operations were successful in intimidating the bandits and protecting the humanitarian aid effort. The bandits were generally satisfied by firing at the 1RAR patrols from a great distance or just posturing.

East Timor

OP TANAGER 2000-2001. In 1999 a ballot on independence from Indonesia in East Timor returned a huge percentage vote for independence. Almost immediately groups of pro- Indonesia militia began rioting and killing civilians. On 20 September the first Australian troops were deployed in order to restore peace. 2RAR, 3RAR and 5/7RAR were the first battalions to arrive.  6RAR replaced 5/7RAR in April 2000. 1RAR replaced 6RAR along the border area on 25 October 2000 and immediately commenced aggressive patrolling in order to deny militia access into East Timor. Dispersed operations were necessary due to the large size of the AO and proved to be successful due mainly to the ability of the junior NCOs who commanded most of the patrols.

The largest operation conducted by 1RAR was a Battalion level Cordon and Search operation entitled Operation Diamantina which included Civil Affairs Teams as well as UN teams in order to provide humanitarian assistance. Some contraband was seized as well as a small number of weapons. The Australians were well received by the local people and the operation was regarded as very successful. 1RAR was relieved by 4RAR in April 2001.

OP CITADEL 2001. 1RAR was deployed again to East Timor in May 2003 and spent the next six months patrolling, particularly in and around villages and establishing good relationships with the local people. The Civil and Military Assistance teams which were integral to the battalion group were very valuable. The Battalion group returned home in November 2003.     

OP ASTUTE 2006-2007. Following an increase in violence and lawlessness, A Company 1RAR returned  to East Timor in May 2006, along with two companies of 2RAR, one from 4 RAR and a rebadged company from 16 Air Defence Regiment. The internal problems encountered indicated that a longer term presence would be required than the planned six months. This proved to be the case.

In 2007 the internal security situation deteriorated once again. BHQ, B Coy and C Coy 1RAR, plus a company from 1 RNZIR, Engineers, Cavalry, Aviation and combat service support arrived on 27 March to relieve 6RAR. 

Solomon Islands

The combined police and military force which had been deployed to the Solomons in July 2003, had successfully reduced the civil unrest by late 2004, and was scaled back. However, the killing of an AFP Officer led to the quick deployment of A Company 1RAR. 3RAR replaced 1RAR and other battalions rotated companies through the force. By April 2006, the security situation had deteriorated again and there were riots in the capital Honiara. D Company 1RAR was quickly deployed. Once again the local people were pleased to see the Australians and the situation stabilised.

Iraq

Australia provided security detachments (SECDET) in Bagdad from May 2003 to 2006 on six monthly rotations as the security situation deteriorated following the capture of the city by Coalition Forces. 1RAR provided rotation 8 from August 2005 to March 2006 and 11 from March 2007 to September 2007.

The Infantry component was a rifle company and included 12 ASLAVs. The Australians patrolled throughout the city, established vehicle check-points and detained persons with illegal weapons. They also protected vehicle convoys and provided security for the Australian Embassy. Their efforts were effective in minimising security problems within the city. 

Afghanistan

D Company 1RAR replaced 6RAR in March 2007, joining Operation Slipper as the Security Task Group for the Reconstruction Task Force2 (RTF2) from April to October 2007. The Company’s main task was to protect the Engineers of 3 Combat Engineer Regiment (3 CER) who were working on reconstruction tasks. However they also conducted many long range patrols and encountered insurgents, suicide bombers and IEDs. Despite having many contacts they experienced only one minor casualty, accounted for a number of insurgents and seized a large number of illegal weapons. They also established good relations with the local people which was essential for success.

From June 2009 to February 2010, 1RAR provided the infantry element of Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force 2 (MRTF-2). As the title suggests the task of mentoring the Afghan National Army in Uruzgan had been formally added to the security and patrolling tasks.

From June 2009 to February 2010, 1 RAR provided the infantry element of the Second Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force (MRTF-2). The initial aim was to provide security for the Afghan national elections. The strategic aim was to develop the capacity of the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army (ANA) to conduct counter insurgency operations. The later was achieved by Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) conducting partnered combat operations with the ANA.

In January 2014 C Coy 1 RAR and supporting elements formed the First Force Protection Element (FPE-1). They were deployed to Kabul and Kandahar and provided security to those members training the Afghan National Army. They were replaced by A Coy on FPE-2 and B Coy on FPE-3. Each rotation was six months. Additional rotations deployed in 2020.

Tonga

A platoon from 1RAR was deployed to the capital of Tonga, Nuku Alofa in November 2006 as the result of a breakdown of law and order. The platoon provided training and mentoring to the Tongan Defence Services.

Philippines

Operation AUGURY saw elements of 1 RAR and other ADF elements deploy to the Philippines in 2017. 1 RAR led the Joint Task Force responsible for the training and mentoring support, assisting the Philippines in their fight against insurgents. 1 RAR handed over to 8/9 RAR in June 2018.

History of 1RAR

More information on the history of 1RAR can be found in the publication “The Big Blue One at https://1rar.asn.au/1rar/

 

Composite feature authored by Major General Brian Howard, AO, MC (retd)

References:

Horner, David; Bou, Jean (2008). Duty First. A History of the Royal Australian Regiment. Sydney, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-74175-374-5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vietnam Honours and Awards

First tour: 2 DSO; 3 MBE; 3 MC; 9 MM; 4 BEM; 10 MID;

Second tour: 1 DSO; 3 MC; 3 DCM; 1MM; 11 MID

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