6th Division Cavalry Regiment

The 6th Division Cavalry Regiment was formed in November 1939 and, just two months later, was sent overseas to the Middle East in January 1940. Arriving in Egypt, the regiment immediately went to Palestine, where it joined the rest of the 6th Division and trained using machine-gun carriers and, from October, six old Vickers light tanks.

At the end of the year the regiment moved into the Western Desert, where it joined British forces ready for the major offensive to commence on 9 December. Two days later the regiment became the first unit of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) to go into action when one of its squadron fought a sharp action against the Italians holding Garn el Grein and Fort Maddalina on 11 and 12 December. By 21 December British forces had captured Sidi Barrrani and the desert was now open for the 6th Division’s advance along the Libyan coast.

On 3 January 1941 the division attacked and captured the Italian fort of Bardia. The regiment’s A Squadron, under the command of Major Denzil Macarthur-Onslow, who went on to command the 4th Armoured Brigade, supported the attack. Tobruk was the next Italian fort to be captured, with the regiment again in support and covering the 19th Brigade’s advance. The regiment, though, was under-equipped and without its full compliment of vehicles, using only machine gun carriers. To compensate for this, A Squadron was parity re-equipped with captured Italian light tanks, which had large kangaroos painted on the hulls and turrets to distinguish them from enemy vehicles. After Tobruk, the regiment was used as part of the advance guard in the capture of Derna and then Benghazi.

In April the unit moved to Helwan, where it was equipped with Vickers light tanks and machine-gun carriers, and operated with British troops in capturing Sollum. Towards the end of May the regiment moved to Palestine, where it came under the command of the 7th Division for the imminent invasion of Syria.

The regiment experienced its heaviest fighting during the Syrian campaign, which began on 7 June. A Squadron was attached to the 21st Brigade and advanced along the coast, where the rugged hills made it difficult to manoeuvre the tanks and carriers. The squadron was relieved by one of the 9th Division Cavalry Regiment’s squadrons on 13 and 14 June. C Squadron, meanwhile, was with the 25th Brigade, and advanced along the Rosh Pinna road, engaging strong enemy defences at Fort Khirbe. C Squadron was relieved by B Squadron, which was later attacked by Vichy French tanks that were supported by heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, which forced the Australians to withdrawal.

Always willing or needing to improvise during the campaign, A and B Squadrons both operated three captured French R35 Renault light tanks, while C Squadron provided personnel for a horse troop, quickly nicknamed the “Kelly Gang”, to patrol the high, rugged hills near the Mardjayoun-Banis Road.

The regiment remained in Syria as part of the occupation force and returned to Australia in March 1942. It was sent to the Adelaide River, in the Northern Territory, and then later to Murgon, in Queensland.

In 1943 and 1944 divisional cavalry regiments were reorganised into cavalry (commando) regiments. In January 1944 the 6th Division Cavalry Regiment became the 2/6th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment. The regiment lost its vehicles and became the administrative headquarters for the 2/7th, 2/9th, and 2/10th Commando Squadrons. The regiment remained with the 6th Division and participated in the Aitpae-Wewak campaign, in New Guinea, during 1945.

Glossary

Equipment

Battle Honours

Casualties

  • 17 died

For more information please see the Roll of Honour and Second World War Nominal Roll (external website) databases.

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 2 DSO
  • 3 MC
  • 1 MC and bar
  • 1 DCM
  • 5 MM 19 MID

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

Collection Items

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References

  • AWM52/2/2/7: 6th Division Cavalry Regiment war diary
  • Dean, Peter, "Kelly Gang reborn"
  • Hopkins, Ronald Nicholas Lamond; Australian War Memorial, Australian armour : a history of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps, 1927-1972, (Canberra: Australian War Memorial and Australian Government Publishing Service, 1978)
  • MacArthur-Onslow, Denzil, "A brief history of the Australian Armoured Corps" MSS1403
  • O'Leary, Shawn Hamilton., To the green fields beyond : the story of 6th Australian Division Cavalry Commandos, (Sydney : Sixth Division Cavalry Unit, History Committee, 1975)