Independent companies

In the latter part of 1940 the British Army decided to form commando units to carry out raids and guerrilla operations in German occupied Europe. A small British training team was also sent to Australia to set up similar units in the AIF and a school was established at Foster on Wilson’s Promontory in Victoria. Because of their ability to fight independently of other units, the commandos became known as independent companies. This self reliance was reflected in their training, which emphasised physical fitness and offensive operations. All men were trained in the use of automatic weapons, explosives, demolition, booby traps, signalling, and other skills such as navigating at night by compass and the stars. As one veteran later commented, “parade-ground soldiering was out.”

An independent company consisted of 17 officers and 273 other ranks. It was commanded by a major, with a captain as the second in command and another captain as the medical officer. Unlike an infantry battalion which had four companies, an independent company had three platoons, each larger than a standard infantry platoon. A platoon comprised three sections, each commanded by a lieutenant, unlike a standard infantry section where a sergeant or corporal were in command. This structure meant that each of the nine sections in the independent company could operate as a separate unit under the command of an officer. Each section broke down into two subsections of eight to nine men, commanded by a corporal. Each independent company also had its own engineer and signals sections, commanded by lieutenants. The first independent company was formed in June 1941.