Pacific Islands Regiment

The Pacific Islands Regiment was formed in November 1944 from an amalgamation of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) and the 1st and 2nd New Guinea Infantry Battalions (NGIB).

Recruiting for the PIB began in June 1940, with the first 63 recruits consisting of current and former members of the Royal Papuan Constabulary. This connection with the Royal Papuan Constabulary means that the PIB and the Pacific Islands Regiment can claim a lineage stretching back to 19th-century Armed Native Constabulary, which helped to police the Protectorate of British New Guinea.

All members of the PIB were volunteers. When the Japanese invaded Papua in July 1942 there were 300 indigenous Papuans serving in the battalion. By the time it was incorporated within the Pacific Islands Regiment in 1944 it had a strength of 700 men.

In the early stages of the Kokoda campaign the PIB fought alongside the Australian 39th Battalion as part of Maroubra Force. The PIB’s first engagement with the enemy occurred near Awala on 23 July 1942 when it participated in an ambush of Japanese troops advancing towards Kokoda. When the Australian 7th Division reinforced Maroubra Force, the PIB was organised into stretcher teams and assigned the vital task of carrying the sick and wounded back along the track to safety.

After Kokoda, the PIB took part in the advance to Salamaua, before fighting in New Guinea on the Huon peninsula, along the Markham, Ramu, and Sepik rivers, and on Bougainville.

In late 1943 New Guinea Force Headquarters, noting the success of the PIB, decided to create another battalion of indigenous soldiers. Made up largely of recruits enlisted at Malahang, near Lae, the NGIB was formed in March 1944 in the lower Markham valley. Indigenous New Guineans who had been in the PIB also joined the new battalion. A second NGIB was raised later in the same year. The 1st NGIB served on Bougainville and New Britain, and the 2nd NGIB fought alongside the Australian 6th Division in the Aitape-Wewak campaign.

A third NGIB was forming when the Pacific war ended, and a fourth was being planned. By the time it was disbanded in 1946 approximately 3,500 Papuans and New Guineans had served in the battalions of the Pacific Islands Regiment (PIR).

The PIR reformed in 1951 and consisted of two battalions, one stationed in Papua and the other in New Guinea. The PIR was formally controlled from Australia until Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975. It was renamed the Royal Pacific Islands Regiment in 1985.

Glossary

Casualties

  • 65 killed in action
  • 75 died of wounds
  • 16 missing, believed killed
  • 91 wounded

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

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 1 DSO
  • 6 MC
  • 3 DCM
  • 2 GM
  • 20 MM
  • 10 MID
  • 1 foreign award

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

Collection Items

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References

  • G.M. Byrnes, Green Shadows (Newmarket, Qld: G.M. Byrnes, 1989)
  • To Find a Path Volume 1: The Life and Times of the Royal Pacific Islands Regiment (Brisbane, Qld: Boolarong Publications, 1990)