Title: Memories of ‘A’ Squadron, 1st Australian Tank Battalion
Author: Craven, David P
Edition: 1st Edition
Publisher: David Craven
Publication Date: 2000
Cover: Soft Cover without Dust Jacket (spiral bound) – 42 pages
Comments: History of the 1st Australian Tank Battalion – scarce.
Serving in New Guinea as the 1st Tank Battalion (Australian Imperial Force) (AIF) in 1943 and 1944, and in Balikpapan in 1945 as the 1st Armoured Regiment (AIF), this regiment arguably saw more action in the Pacific theatre than any other Australian armoured unit. Only the 2/4th Armoured Regiment’s record, with its participation in the New Guinea and Bougainville campaigns during 1945, compared. Also distinguishing the 1st Armoured Regiment was its lineage to the Royal New South Wales Lancers.
The New South Wales Lancers were formed in 1885; one of its squadrons served in South Africa during the Boer War and during the First World War many of its members volunteered for the 1st AIF. After the war the Lancers were designated as successors to the 1st Light Horse Regiment. In 1935 the regiment received the prefix “Royal”. Its traditional role of cavalry and light horse was modified the following year, when it was made a motorised machine-gun regiment, becoming the 1st Light Horse (Machine Gun) Regiment (Royal New South Wales Lancers). At the start of the Second World War, many of its members volunteered for the 2nd AIF. In December 1941 the regiment became the 1st Machine Gun Regiment and was given its first operational role – Newcastle’s northern beaches.
In 1942 the unit’s title was changed to the 1st Motor Regiment in March, and then to the 1st Army Tank Battalion in May, when it became part of the 3rd Army Tank Brigade. Tank battalions were being used to support the infantry and, after completing armoured vehicle training, the unit received their first Matilda tanks in September. At the start of 1943 the regiment was declared an AIF unit, subsequently moving from Singleton, NSW, where it had been training, to Queensland, where it joined the 4th Armoured Brigade. In June the unit became the 1st Tank Battalion (AIF) and conducted amphibious and jungle training from its base in Caboolture.
At the start of August the unit moved to Milne Bay, Papua, in preparation for its forthcoming role in the New Guinea campaign. The unit was to support the 9th Division in the capture of Lae, but the terrain, with many rivers to be crossed, was thought to be unsuitable for tanks; the unit, less B Squadron, moved to Morobe in September and then to Buna. Meanwhile, the fighting in New Guinea continued, with the 9th Division landing at Scarlet Beach, on the Huon Peninsula, and, after defeating the Japanese counter-attack, advanced towards Finschhafen.
As the campaign progressed, in the middle of November C Squadron moved from Papua to Finschhafen and for the next month supported the infantry at Finschhafen, Sattelberg, and along the coast towards Lakona. This was the first time Matilda tanks were used in a jungle battlefield and they proved to be very effective – their heavy armour was impervious to most Japanese ordnance. In mid-December A Squadron replaced B Squadron, at Lakona, and continued the advance towards Fortification Point and Sio.
The unit returned to Australia in June 1944, whereupon it became the 1st Armoured Regiment and was based at Southport, Queensland. The regiment spent the next year training but the war was almost over before it went into action again. In May 1945 the regiment moved to Morotai, in the Netherlands East Indies. The Allies used Morotai as a base for the American operations in the Philippines and the Australian operations on Borneo. While the 9th Division made amphibious landings on Tarakan and in British North Borneo, the 7th Division landed at Balikpapan on Borneo’s east coast as part of the OBOE operations. The 2/9th Armoured Regiment supported the 9th Division, while the 1st Armoured Regiment supported the 7th Division.
A and B Squadrons landed at Balikpapan on 1 July, the first day of the battle. The regiment was equipped with 26 Matilda tanks, three “Frogs” – Matlildas armed with a flamethrower – three dozers, and a bridge-laying tank from the 2/1st Armoured Brigade Reconnaissance Squadron. The tanks supported the infantry in the capture of Parramatta Ridge, Balikpapan’s township, in the fighting along Vasey and Milford Highways.
The unit continued to serve Australia, first in the post-war Militia and today with the Australian Army Reserve. In 1949 the unit returned to the name 1st Royal New South Wales Lancers and in 1956 merged with the 15th Northern River Lancers to form the 1st/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers, headquartered at Parramatta. NSW.