3rd Divisional Signals

For an infantry division to fight effectively, its commander must be in contact with his subordinate units at all times. To do this during the Second World War, the divisional signals had to provide the commander with communications, whether by despatch rider on motorcycle, over the telephone and wireless, or any other necessary means. Communications had to be maintained around the clock, under all conditions, and no matter how difficult. This was the role of the 3rd Division Signals.

After the war, Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Savige wrote that it was “with affectionate pride I remember the great work of 3 Div. Sigs from Wau to Salamaua, and long the Markham Valley in New Guinea, which was continued in Bougainville. You provided a service always greater than a Commander had a right to expect.”

Following the establishment of the Australian Corps of Signals in 1925, the corps was granted the prefix “Royal” in 1926. 3rd Division Signals was formed to provide the 3rd Division’s communications needs. The unit initially served Australia during peacetime but was mobilised for full-time service following Japan’s entry into the war.

The 3rd Division was deployed to New Guinea in early 1943. In April, the division’s headquarters moved to Bulolo, where it took over command of Kanga Force, which had defended Wau and was pressuring the Japanese at Salamaua. Divisional headquarters and the other units of Kanga Force were widely dispersed. It was rough country, with steep mountains, dense jungle, and seemingly incessant rain. One signaller remembered the jungle as “steamy, dank, wet, rotting and deathly quiet”.

Linesmen from the 3rd Division had to struggle through the country, clearing paths through the undergrowth, while laying out wire from heavy spools. Whenever a line was cut or broken, a team of signallers had to repair the break, always mindful of being ambushed.

In August the 3rd Division headquarters was relieved by the headquarters of the 5th Division, but the 3rd remained in the area and continued to provide the communications for the rest of the Salamaua campaign. The unit later moved to Lae, which was being developed into a major Allied base, where it installed and operated the base’s sub-area signals system. The signallers did not return to Australia until February 1944.

In September the 3rd Division Signals rejoined the 3rd Division, at Lae, before moving with the division to Torokina, the Australian base on Bougainville, in October. The signallers remained with the division for the rest of the war. Performing the same type of role as they had done at Salamaua, they provided the communications necessary for the division’s advance along the Buin Road, towards the main Japanese base at Buin, in Bougainville’s Southern Sector.

Glossary

Battle Honours

  • nil

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 1 OBE
  • 1 MC
  • 13 MID

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

References

  • AWM52/7/16/3: 3rd Division Signals war diary
  • Getting through : the unit war history of 3rd Australian Division Signals, 1939-1945, ([Melbourne] : Kenwalk Publications, 1987)
  • Palazzo, Albert, Defenders of Australia : the Third Australian Division, 1916-1991, (Loftus, NSW : Australian Military History Publications, 2002., 2002)