Australia’s military history began with the British Marines who came with the First Fleet to man the penal colonies and to set up outposts on the east coast of Australia. British garrison troops remained in Australia for almost 100 years. In the mid 1800s, the colonies were granted self-government and the British military presence reduced.
To fill this void, each colony raised a small defence force from volunteers and transferees from departing British units, under its own defence minister. Before Australian Federation in 1901, Australian soldiers had deployed as State contingents overseas to support the British Army in such places as New Zealand (Maori War–1860-64), the Sudan after the fall of Khartoum and South Africa, participating in the Boer War.
Photo courtesy of Ian Kuring.
On the 1st January 1901, Australia celebrated the Federation of the Commonwealth of States united under one Constitution, and one of the first bills passed by the first Federal Parliament was to provide for the “Defence of the Commonwealth”, thereby combining all State forces. That said, there was no standing army during the period in which Australian Military Forces deployed to the Boer War and the two World Wars. A nucleus of a standing army comprised the Australian Staff Corps, a cadre of trained cadre officers, the Australian Instructional Corps (other rank instructors) and coastal artillery. A voluntary, part-time militia and the enlistment of thousands of volunteers filled the ranks in the First AIF (Australian Imperial Force) of the First World War and again the Second AIF of World War II.
After World War II, it was decided that a small regular army be established and an Australian component be deployed to the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (BCOF) in Japan. The 34th Infantry Brigade was raised on Morotai Island in the North Moluccas specifically for that purpose. It comprised the 65th, 66th and 67th Battalions. As this new Brigade was formed mostly from volunteers from Australian World War II Divisions, the new brigade carried forward the outstanding traditions of its infantry battalions.
On the 23rd of November 1948, the three battalions were designated the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Australian Regiment. Shortly thereafter, on 10th March 1949, His Majesty, King George VI, granted the title “Royal” to the Regiment and thus the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) was born comprising 1 RAR, 2 RAR and 3 RAR.
ORGANISATION AND SERVICE
From its beginning in Japan in 1948, approximately 65,000 men, many paying the supreme sacrifice, volunteer and national service infantrymen have served in the Regiment, on active service, as part of Australia’s commitment to the United Nations in Korea, the Malayan Emergency, the Confrontation in Borneo, in the Vietnam War, in Somalia, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Three battalions served in the Korean War, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Regiment. The Vietnam War saw a significant expansion of the Regiment, a total of nine battalions being raised to meet Australia’s commitment. Some battalions served for a second tour of duty. In the Vietnam era national servicemen supplemented the regular soldiers in the battalions. These young men clearly demonstrated that they had the traditional fighting spirit of the Australian soldier.
After the withdrawal of Australian forces from Vietnam there was a reduction in the number of battalions of the Regiment. The 2nd and 4th Battalions amalgamated to form the 2nd/4th, 5 and 7 Battalions to form the 5th/7th while 8 and 9 Battalions linked to form the 8th/9th.
This period of re-organisation post Vietnam resulted in the Battalions of the RAR organised into 1 Bde, 3 Bde and 6 Bde (later changed to 7 Bde in the mid 90s). As part of 3 Bde, 1 and 2/4 RAR, were located in Townsville, Queensland. The 3rd Battalion was designated and trained as a parachute unit, based at Holsworthy, New South Wales and was re-designated from ‘Force Troops’ to part of the 3 Bde ORBAT in 2000. Within 6 Bde, 6 RAR and 8/9 RAR were located at Enoggera and 5/7 RAR, a mechanised unit, was located at Holsworthy New South Wales as part of 1 Bde.
In the 90’s changes again affected the Battalions of the RAR with Government initiatives resulting in 8/9 RAR being the first unit to commence the Ready Reserve scheme in 1992, which included a significant proportion of Reserve soldiers being posted into the Battalion after completing a year of Regular service. In 1996, as part of the 1 Bde re-location to the North, 5/7 RAR moved from Holsworthy to Darwin.
On 1 Feb 1995, 2/4 RAR was un linked, as a result of the 1994 Defence White Paper that identified the need for an additional Infantry Battalion to enhance the Army’s capability, with 4 RAR being re-rolled as a Commando Battalion. 8/9 RAR remained in existence until the 30th June 1997 when due to a major restructuring of the Army the Battalion was removed from the ‘ORBAT’.
The situation as at May 2008 is as follows:
• On 3 December 2006 the 5th/7th Battalion was un-linked to re-form the 5th Battalion and the 7th Battalion. Both battalions remain in Darwin as part of 1 Bde, however the 7th Battalion is to move to the RAAF Base Edinburgh in Adelaide when new accommodation is completed from 2011.
• The 1st and 2nd Battalions remain in Townsville and the 3rd (Parachute) Battalion is in Holsworthy. 3 RAR is due to be re-located to Townsville in the next couple of years. These three battalions form the infantry component of the 3rd Brigade.
• On 31 October 2007 the 8th/9th Battalion was re-raised and with 6 RAR remain located in Enoggera as Motorised battalions as part of the 7th Brigade.
• 4 RAR remains a Commando unit, as part of Special Operations Command and is located in Holsworthy.
The Royal Australian Regiment comprises the 1st , 2nd , 3rd , 4th , 5th, 6th, 7th and 8/9th Battalions.
60TH ANNIVERSARY (1948 – 2008)
The Royal Australian Regiment marked its 60th Birthday on Sunday 23rd November 2008 at a Parade at Victoria Barracks, Sydney. The Royal Australian Regiment paraded a Queens Guard provided by 3RAR and the Colours of the Regiment.
Elements of the Regiment have taken part in peace-keeping, peace making and active service operations in, Somalia, Rwanda, Bougainville, Cambodia, East Timor, the Solomon Islands, and on a rotational basis in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Regiment provided the major component of the INTERFET force in East Timor and continues to serve in Timor Leste. In all of these operations the Australian infantrymen have received international acclaim for their conduct and professionalism.
LIST OF INTERNATIONAL CONFLICTS
Korea Malaya Confrontation
Vietnam Somalia Rwanda
East Timor The Solomons Iraq
Click on each conflict to find out more
In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and the South Korean Government appealed to the United Nations for help. Australia was one of the member states that promised help. 3 RAR, then being part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF), in Japan, was the initial unit deployed to Korea.
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In 37 months, all three battalions saw service in Korea and added new honours to an already impressive reputation. 3 RAR, along with Canadian troops and United States armour, received the highest US unit award – the U.S. Presidential Citation for extraordinary heroism for halting a Chinese breakthrough at Kapyong (24/04/1951). By the time the Armistice was signed in 1953, 278 Australian soldiers had died in action.
Left: Infantrymen from 1, 2, and 3 RAR on Service in Korea. Photos courtesy of The Department of Defence.
At the same time, British and Malay troops were fighting a violent campaign against the Malayan Communist terrorists. In 1955, Australia deployed 2 RAR to become part of the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve. Its task was to help clear the hardcore terrorist forces from areas in the Malayan jungles. On rotation, the other two battalions (3 RAR and 1 RAR) took part in the action. The Emergency officially ended in 1960 with 15 Australians killed.
Despite the end of the Emergency in 1960, there was still fighting in the area. From 1961 the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions, on rotation, continued to serve on the Thai-Malay border, the Malay Peninsular and in Borneo.
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Infantrymen from 2 RAR are deployed by Whirlwind helicopters for Operations in Sungei Siput, Malaya in 1957. Photo courtesy of Ian Kuring.
Malaya’s proposal to form a Federation called Malaysia prompted Indonesia to begin a “confrontation”. In 1963, Australian troops (3 RAR and 4 RAR on rotation) in the Far East Strategic Reserve took part in the defence of Borneo when Indonesian guerrillas began raiding Sabah and Sarawak and mopping up operations of Indonesian troops parachuted into Malaya.
Confrontation officially finished in 1966, but a Battalion group remained with the Reserve in Malaya.
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Infantrymen from 3 RAR patrol the border
of Sarawak, Borneo during Confrontation,
1965. Photo courtesy of Ian Kuring.
While Australian units were involved with the Confrontation, the Vietnam situation was deteriorating rapidly. The Geneva Agreement (1954) was under threat, with the Viet Cong insurgent forces in the south intent on overthrowing the South Vietnamese Government, they began military and terrorist activities.
The United States intervened and in July 1962 Australia deployed its Army Training Team (AATTV) to help South Vietnamese units.
In 1965 the Australian Government decided to increase its support and deployed 1 RAR initially. With coincidental operational commitments in Malaya and South Vietnam from 1964 to 1966, the Regiment expanded significantly from the original three to nine battalions. Each new unit raised was sequentially numbered from the 4th to the 9th Battalion. All units, less the 8th and 9th Battalions being last raised, undertook two operational tours in South Vietnam. During this period of growth, and to meet enlistment figures, national servicemen supplemented the battalions’ regular soldiers. But in accordance with Australia ‘s conscription and overseas deployment policy, only national servicemen volunteering for overseas service deployed to South Vietnam.
Infantrymen from 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9 RAR patrolling in Vietnam provinces of Long Phuoc,
Long Binh and Phuoc Tuy Province, with supporting arms and services 1965 – 1972.
Photos courtesy of Ian Kuring and the Australian War Memorial.
This initial deployment was subsequently increased to a Task Force of three infantry battalions to Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy Province.
The Regiment’s distinguished service was recognised by two awards and the granting of battle honours:
1. The U.S. Presidential Citation for extraordinary heroism to D Company 6 RAR for its action at Long Tan on 16th August 1966, where it held its ground for nearly three hours against overwhelming odds, killing an estimated 245 + enemy. D Company’s casualties were 17 killed and 21 wounded from its strength of 120 men. The combined actions of 6 RAR’s companies, the Australian Cavalry Squadron and fire support from the Australian and New Zealand Artillery batteries played a major part in this success.
2. The Vietnamese Gallantry Citation to 8 RAR for its successful actions in Phuoc Tuy Province
3. Battle Honours: 1. Coral 2. Hat Dich
Left: Troops of 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR), exit a M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier in Saigon, Vietnam 1965. Right: Members of 5 Platoon, B Company, 7th Battalion (7 RAR), boarding an Iroquois helicopter at Phuoc Hai, beside the road leading to Dat Do, Phuoc Tuy, Vietnam. Photos courtesy of The Australian War Memorial.
After the withdrawal of Australian forces from South Vietnam in 1972, and as ADF manpower ceilings were reduced (National Service also ceased), in 1973 the Regiment downsized from nine to six battalions by linking six of its units to form the 2nd /4th, 8th /9th, and 5th/7th Battalions. The 1st, 3rd and 6th Battalions remained. Later, and in response to the Australian Government’s changing Defence Policy and capability requirement, the 2nd and 4th Battalions were de-linked and the 8th /9th Battalion disbanded in 1997.
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In 1992, Somalia was suffering the ravages of famine and civil war. In the absence of a Government, the country was controlled by warlords, whose rival gangs added to the misery of the starving population, fighting to control the food distribution and humanitarian aid provided by the United Nations and non-government international aid agencies.
In December, the Australian Government decided to deploy 1 RAR Group to participate in the United States led, United Nations sanctioned, peace enforcement operation called “Operation Restore Hope”. 1 RAR was responsible for the Baidoa Humanitarian Relief Sector, with its main role of security for the humanitarian relief to proceed without interference. During its deployment (Jan-May 1993) it was successful in its role and gained valuable operational experience and lessons in carrying out peace operations in a difficult, dangerous and demanding environment.
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Top Right: Members of The Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) on foot patrol, and Bottom Above: A sniper wearing Yowie headdress, Somalia- 1993. Photos courtesy of The Australian War Memorial.
In the period August 1994 – August 1995, Australia deployed two contingents (each of six months), as part of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). Each contingent comprised a headquarters, a medical team and a rifle company: A Company 2/4 RAR and B Company 2 RAR. The company’s role was security of the base at Kigali and escort protection for the medical team.
Photo courtesy of Defence Image Gallery.
In April 1995 a composite echelon of 3 infantry sections from B Company deployed to the Kibeho Refugee Camp, witnessed the massacre of an estimated 4 000, native Hutu refugees by soldiers from the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPS). Outnumbered and because of their mandate of protection and unable to take offensive action, they were forced into a passive role. During the event, the Australian medics and infantrymen were often under fire as they attempted to assist the wounded and dying refugees.
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In August 1999, following a democratic vote for independence in East Timor, armed militias and Indonesian troops carried out violence and destruction against the population of East Timor. In September 1999, the United Nations authorised the establishment and deployment of a multi-national peace-enforcement force to restore peace and security to the country. Australia accepted the UN’s invitation to lead the INTERFET (International Force East Timor) Force, which comprised 16 nations. Australia’s military contribution of over 5,000 troops included 2 RAR, 3 RAR and 5/7 RAR. Its role was to stabilise the situation and restore security before handing over to a United Nation’s force. Major General Peter Cosgrove commanded the Force successfully and in early 2000 handed over to the United Nations Transitional Authority East Timor (UNTAET). The Regiment provided the major component of the INTERFET force in East Timor and continues to serve in Timor Leste.
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5/7 Battalion infantrymen, patrolling at the Gleno market, 2001. Photo courtesy of Defence Image Gallery
1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR)
on patrol with a Royal Solomons Islands Police Officer in Honiara. Photo courtesy of
the Department of Defence.
In July 2003, after rising lawlessness in the country, their Prime Minister requested Australia’s assistance to help restore order to a lawless and bankrupt nation, plagued by ethnic violence and years of conflict between rival armed militia.
2 RAR, as part of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF), was deployed to the Solomons. The Australian Federal Police led multi-national Force of South Pacific nations provided a light infantry battalion to operate in support of police to re-establish law and order has been successful.
Battalions of the Regiment continue to deploy company-sized troops on rotation.
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On the 18 March 2003, Australia committed its Defence Force personnel to the international coalition to disarm Iraq. The coalition undertook to enforce Iraq’s compliance with its obligations under successive resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, with a view to restoring peace and security to that area of the Middle East.
Operation Catalyst is the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF’s) contribution which initially included over 1320 persons to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq, commenced on 16 July 2003. Working with the Interim Iraqi Government, the ADF’s aim was to contribute to Multinational Force efforts to develop a secure and stable environment in Iraq and assist national recovery programs.
Infantrymen from 5/7 Royal Australian Regiment
(RAR) patrol the outskirts of As Samawah, Iraq – 2005.
Photos courtesy of Defence Image Gallery
Australia’s commitment to Operation Catalyst presently includes:
An Australian Joint Task Force Headquarters of about 70 personnel that commands all ADF maritime, land and air elements deployed on either Operations Catalyst or Slipper.
Australian Security Detachment – is a Combat Team (CT) of about 110 personnel. The CT comprises Infantry, Cavalry, a Military Police Detachment and a Combat Service Support Element. As part of Joint Task Force 633, SECDET provides support to the Australian Embassy-Baghdad in order to facilitate the conduct of the Australian Diplomatic Mission. SECDET utilises ASLAVs and armoured Landcruisers to provide protected mobility for Australian Government personnel working at the Australian Embassy. The Military Police Detachment provides close personal protection for key personnel. The current SECDET consists primarily of personnel from the Darwin-based 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment and the Darwin-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment. This SECDET also includes personnel from the 3rd Combat Support Regiment, 1st Military Police Battalion, 7 Combat Service Support Battalion, 1st Intelligence Battalion, as well as The Royal Australian Air Force’s No 2 Air Field Defence Squadron from Amberley.
At the cessation of the ground war, a security detachment of about 100 personnel, based on an infantry platoon group including Australian Light Armoured Vehicles (ASLAVs), remained to provide protection and escort for Australian Government Embassy personnel working in Baghdad. In May of 2004, history repeated itself when a group of 44 personnel from the 1st Division were deployed to undertake advising and mentoring to the newly formed Iraqi Army. Like it predecessor in Vietnam this training Team was named the Australian Army Training Team Iraq.
In 2005, the Al Muthanna Task Group (AMTG) based in the southern Iraqi province of Al Muthanna is made up of around 450 personnel and consists of a headquarters, a cavalry squadron, an infantry company and the AATTI. Its initial task was to provide a secure environment for the Japanese Iraq Reconstruction and Support Group (JIRSG) and to assist in the training of local Iraqi Army units, so that they are able to take over the internal and external defence of their country. The Group rotated every six months and was later re-named the Over Watch Battle Group after the Japanese withdrew from Iraq and the task of the Australian Battle Group changed. The OBG and AATTI training effort was withdrawn in June 2008. SECDET still continues to serve in Iraq.
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First Mentoring Task Force (MTF-1) Based at Camp Holland at Tarin Kowt, is engaged in mentoring, reconstruction and security operations in Uruzgan Province. The Australian Task Force has undergone a name change that stresses the importance of mentoring the Afghan National Army. Notwithstanding, the MTF-1 maintains the same reconstruction capability of its predecessor. The bulk of the MTF is comprised of elements from the Australian Army’s 7th Brigade (Brisbane), with support elements drawn from the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force.
All across the First Mentoring Task Force (MTF1) area of operations, partnered mentoring is being conducted on mounted and dismounted combined patrols… from the southern Baluchi Valley to the northern Chora reaches, as well as east through Mirabad.
MTF-1 includes five Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLTs), and one Combat Team (CT). These teams are structured to best support the mission of ongoing assistance in the development of the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army. Australian soldiers that operate in the OMLTs live with, train and provide support to their Afghan National Army colleagues at patrol bases in Uruzgan Province.
The Trade Training School, run by MTF-1, conducts fixed steel and concreting, plumbing and basic construction skills courses. There is also a mobile training school, offering courses to local nationals in specific areas. Ongoing reconstruction and development projects planned and overseen by MTF-1 continue to focus on improving health, education and other vital infrastructure within Tarin Kowt.
MTF-1 works closely with officers from other Australian government agencies, including the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as part of a programme to provide comprehensive support and assistance to the ISAF campaign and the people of Uruzgan Province.
Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) – A Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) is deployed to Uruzgan and is focused on conducting population-centric operations. The Task Group works with the Dutch led Task-Force Uruzgan and provides a level of enhanced force protection to ADF MTF-1 activities in the province. Australia’s Special Forces commitment is structured to ensure that pressure is maintained against Taliban extremists throughout Afghanistan’s harsh winters. The SOTG consists of Commandos, members of the Special Air Service Regiment and enabling and support personnel.
The total Australian commitment in Afghanistan is now 1550.
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Paying the supreme sacrifice for their country, during its overseas deployments, the Regiment has lost 693 soldiers killed and over three thousand wounded, many very seriously.
View the Royal Australian Regiment Roll of Honour here
Since World War II, three former members of the Regiment, Warrant Officers’ Class Two, Keith Payne, Kevin “Dasher” Wheatley (posthumously) and Ray Simpson have been awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of gallantry with the Australian Army Training Team – Vietnam. Whilst never serving in the Regiment, Major Peter Badcoe, who transferred from the Royal Regiment of Artillery to the Royal Australian Infantry Corps, was similarly decorated.
In over 57 years, 242 other gallantry decorations have been awarded. For his actions in Korea, Private H.W. Madden was posthumously awarded the George Cross.
Victoria Cross for Australia
The Victoria Cross for Australia was instituted in the Australian honours system by Letters Patent on 15 January 1991. It replaced the British or Imperial Victoria Cross.
Former member of the Regiment, Trooper Mark Donaldson was awarded the first Victoria Cross for Australia as a SASR Trooper for most conspicuous acts of gallantry in action in a circumstance of great peril in Afghanistan on 2 September 2008 as part of the Special Operations Task Group during Operation SLIPPER, Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan.
Trooper Mark Gregor Donaldson enlisted into the Australian Army on 18 June 2002. After completing Recruit and Initial and Employment Training he was posted to the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment. Having successfully completed the Special Air Service Selection Course in April 2004, Trooper Donaldson was posted to Special Air Service Regiment in May 2004.
In serving our nation, members of the Regiment have truly lived up to the Regimental motto:“Duty First”.
Last Updated: 14 April 2020
The RAR bibliography records the known published and unpublished history of the Regiment since its formation in 1948.