After the First World War the defence of the Australian mainland lay with the part-time soldiers of the Citizens Military Force, also known as the Militia. The Militia was organized to maintain the structure of the First AIF and kept the same numerical designations. The Militia units were distributed in the same areas the original AIF units were raised. Following this tradition the 3rd Infantry Battalion was the "Werriwa Regiment". Raised in 1921, with men from western Sydney, the 3rd was merged with the 4th Infantry Battalion to form the 4/3rd Infantry Battalion in 1930. In 1937 the 4/3rd was separated and the 3rd merged with Sydney's 53rd Infantry Battalion, forming the 53rd/3rd Infantry Battalion. However, the merger did not last long and by August 1937 the 3rd returned to its own identity. By 1937 the battalion was based around the Goulburn area, as part of the 14th Brigade with the 55th Infantry Battalion.

Before the Second World War the 3rd held occasional camps and paraded in the evenings. In 1942 with the start of the war in the Pacific the battalion was mobilised for full-time service and brought up to strength with national service recruits. These men came from the Southern Highlands, Canberra, the South Coast, and from other towns as far south as Delegate, on the Victorian border. In January 1942 the 3rd went into camp at Greta, west of Maitland, before moving to defensive positions along the coast near Newcastle in New South Wales in March. At the start of May the battalion returned to Greta, where it was told they would be on the move and, after only a few days leave, moved to Port Moresby at the end of the month. While the 3rd settled into garrison duties in Moresby, the Japanese were moving to Papua.

In the third week of July Japanese forces landed in the Gona area, on the north coast of Papua and moved inland a week later. The first clash between Australian troops, from the 39th Infantry Battalion and the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB), and the Japanese occurred at Awala on 23 July. On 8 August the 39th counter-attacked at Kokoda but, outnumbered and short of ammunition, fell back to Deniki. By 14 August the 39th and PIB had fallen back to Isurava.

On 23 August the 2/14th and 2/16th Battalions from the 7th Division 21st Brigade also reached the area. The Japanese resumed their advance on 26 August. Despite hard fighting the Australians were forced back to Eora Creek on 30 August, Templeton's Crossing on 2 September, and Efogi three days later. Exhausted, the 39th was relieved and sent down the track to Koitaki. By now, though, the Australians were reinforced by the 7th Division 25th Brigade, as well as the 3rd and the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion.

The 3rd left Port Moresby and started up the track on 5 September, reaching Ioribaiwa the next day. The 3rd and the pioneers came under the command of the 21st Brigade and later the 25th. The 3rd patrolled around Ioribaiwa and, along with the composite 2/14th-2/16th Battalion and 2/6th Independent Company, helped to hold off the Japanese. Ioribaiwa was held for four days before the Australians withdrew to Imita Ridge on 17 September. However, the Japanese had reached their limit and on 24 September began to withdrawal. Thereafter, the 3rd participated in the advance back along the track, patrolling and then occupying Ioribaiwa, Menari and Efogi, Myola and Templeton's Crossing. The patrol was constant and the fighting bitter. From 24 to 29 October the battalion rested at Myola before returning to the front.

The Australians reoccupied Kokoda on 2 November, followed a day later by the 3rd, which assumed responsibility for the area around the village. Shortly after, the 3rd moved on to Oivi behind the 2/1st and 2/2nd Battalions from the 6th Division 16th Brigade. The battalion reached Wairopi on 15 November and Soputa, on the east coast of Papua, five days later.

Having pushed the Japanese back across the Owen Stanley's, the Allies moved into the final phase of the Papuan campaign - the "battle of the beachheads". The 16th and 25th Brigades, as well as two inexperienced American regiments, were engaged in bitter fighting at Buna, Gona, and Sanananda. The Japanese positions were well-prepared and heavily defended.

On 25 November the 3rd, now supporting the 25th Brigade, attacked Gona. Previous attacks on the area had failed and, although their casualties were lighter, the 3rd's attack also stopped. Another attempt four days later was again stopped by Japanese machine-gun fire and snipers. The 21st Brigade was brought in to reinforce the exhausted Australians and Gona was finally captured on 1 December. The 3rd returned to Popondetta and then Soputa, where it was flown back to Moresby.

At the start of 1943 the 3rd returned to Australia and went into camp at Wandecla, in the Atherton Tablelands. This was a period of reorganisation for the 3rd, as it became part of the 30th Brigade, which in turn became part of the 6th Division. Between April and July the 30th Brigade, composed of the 3rd, 39th and 49th Battalions, was disbanded. This came as a disappointing surprise to the 3rd, which had fought gallantly across the Kokoda Trail and at Buna. The national service recruits became part of the 36th infantry Battalion. Volunteers for overseas service were merged with the survivors of the 2/22nd Battalion to form the 3/22nd Battalion. Shortly afterwards, though, the 3/22nd was absorbed into the 2/3rd Battalion.

References
  • AWM52/8/3/39: 3 Battalion war diary
  • Kennedy, Colin, Port Moresby to Gona Beach : 3rd Australian Infantry Battalion 1942(Turner, A.C.T. : C. Kennedy, 1992)
  • Laycock, Kenneth George, Memories of a militiaman 1938-1944(Griffith, A.C.T. : K.G. & F.F. Laycock, 1995)
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Related places
Related event
Battle honours
Campaign honour
Commanding officers
Decorations
  • 1 DSO; 2 MC; 5 MM
Alternative names
  • 2/3rd Battalion
  • 3 Battalion
  • 3 Battalion (Werriwa Regiment)
  • 3/22 Battalion
  • 3rd Bn
  • 4/3 Battalion
  • 53/3 Battalion
  • Werriwa Regiment