The Royal New South Wales Lancers

Battle Honour 1st RNSWL

Liberation of Australian New Guinea

In 1942 Papua and New Guinea were Australian territories. Papua had been a British colony prior to the creation of the Australian Commonwealth in 1901 and under arrangements with the British was administered by Australia. New Guinea had been a German colony prior to World War 1. Wrested from German administration by Australian troops in 1914, it was given to Australia to administer under League of Nations mandate in 1919.

When the Japanese advanced South in 1942, Australian troops when fighting in Papua New Guinea were defending Australian territory. If this defence had not been successful, Australia would most certainly have fallen.

As the Japanese threat materialised against the Australian mainland, the 1st Australian Armoured division formed to fight in the middle east was held back (the 15th Motor Regiment was part of this Division). It was moved to Western Australia and the North where it was prepared as the best weapon in the Australian armoury to repulse the invaders.

The invasion, however, did not materialise. The defence of Papua New Guinea had been effective. The Japanese landing at Milne Bay had been repulsed, and their advance on Port Moresby halted. Soon seasoned Australian troops from the Middle East were driving the Japanese back. The United States had also come to our assistance, destroying Japanese Naval forces, and providing ground troops.

Toward the end of 1942, the high command of the South West Pacific area decided it needed tanks. At this time the enemy had been driven back over the Owen-Stanley range, and had fallen back on positions in the Buna-Sanananda area. The first unit to be sent was the 2/6 Australian Armoured Regiment, it saw action in December 1942 and January 1943. Equipped with M3 General Stuart light tanks, it proved that tanks were most effective in rooting the Japanese out trenches and emplacements.

As a result a special Armoured Brigade was formed, the 4th under Brigadier Macarthur Onslow. This Brigade was not designed as a fighting formation (as were the brigades of the Armoured Division) rather it was a pool of armoured resources that could be drawn upon as required to form the armoured components of amphibious task forces. The 1st Army Tank Battalion (AIF), Royal New South Wales Lancers; recently converted from a Mechanised Machine Gun Regiment and equipped with Matilda Mk2 and 2A tanks became part of the 4th Brigade.

The regiment came under the command of the 9th Australian Division on 16 August 1943, and was sent to new Guinea. Its efforts gained it the campaign honour "Liberation of Australian New Guinea" and the individual battle honours: Finchaffen, Sattleberg, Wareo, Wareo-Lakona, Guisika-Fortification Point. The hyperlinks will take you to descriptions of each battle.

John Howells - NSW Lancers Museum November 2000

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