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Australian 1st Armoured Division
1st Armoured Div (AWM 025473).jpg
1st Armoured Division M3 Grant tanks in June 1942
Active 1941–1943
Country Australia Australia
Branch Army
Type Armoured
Battle honours None
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Lieutenant General Sir John Northcott KCMG, KCVO, CB

The Australian 1st Armoured Division was raised in 1941 as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF). While the Division was originally to be deployed to North Africa in late 1941, it was retained in Australia following the outbreak of the Pacific War. The 1st Armoured Division formed a key element of Australia's defences against a feared Japanese invasion and was disbanded in Western Australia in September 1943.

Formation[edit | edit source]

The decision to form the 1st Armoured Division was inspired by the success of mass tank tactics in Europe during the early stages of World War II. The Australian War Cabinet approved the formation of an Armoured Division in November 1940 and 1st Armoured Division was established on 1 July 1941 under the command of Major General John Northcott. The Australian Armoured Corps was established at the same time, with the Corps being formally gazetted on 9 July 1941.

Upon its formation the 1st Armoured Division faced several key challenges. The formation of an armoured division involved a massive expansion of Australia's armoured forces, with the result that the great majority of the division’s officers and soldiers had to be trained from scratch in newly established armoured warfare schools. This process was greatly complicated by the tiny number of tanks which were available to the division, with the entire division having only 8 Vickers VI Light Tanks upon its formation. While the number of tanks available to the division slowly increased over 1941 and early 1942, it did not receive its full allocation of tanks until May 1942.

Defence of Australia[edit | edit source]

Prior to the commencement of hostilities with Japan the 1st Armoured Division had been scheduled to deploy to the Middle East where it would be fully equipped and complete its training (1st Armoured Brigade was to embark for the Middle East in December 1941, with 2nd Armoured Brigade embarking in March 1942). These plans were, however, dropped in early December 1941 when it was decided to retain the division in Australia to defend against the feared Japanese landings on the Australian mainland. As an emergency measure the division's armoured regiments were equipped with Bren Carriers until sufficient tanks arrived.

Maj. Gen. Horace Robertson replaced Northcott in April 1942 when Northcott was promoted to command the newly established II Corps. The 1st Armoured Division's armoured regiments were equipped with M3 Grant medium tanks and M3 Stuart light tanks in April and May 1942. Following this, the Division was concentrated in northern New South Wales where it completed its training with a series of large exercises.

In January 1943, the division was moved to the area between Perth and Geraldton, Western Australia where it formed part of III Corps to counter the perceived threat of a Japanese invasion of Western Australia. The divisional headquarters moved between various rural locations, just west of Moora.

Disbandment[edit | edit source]

Due to the end of the Japanese threat to Australia and the unsuitability of large armoured formations in jungle warfare the 1st Armoured Division no longer had any real role by 1943. While the Division was disbanded in September 1943, its 1st Armoured Brigade and other units was retained as the independent 1st Armoured Brigade Group. This brigade group unit remained part of III Corps in Western Australia until its disbandment in September 1944.

The 4th Armoured Brigade, which was established in March 1943 and included several regiments which had previously formed part of the 1st Armoured Division, provided all the Australian armoured units which saw action from 1943 until the end of the war.

Former elements of the 1st Armoured Division in action[edit | edit source]

While 1st Armoured Division never saw action, three regiments which had been part of the division later saw action in the South West Pacific Area.

  • In September 1942, the 2/6th Armoured Regiment, equipped with M3 Stuart light tanks, was deployed to New Guinea. Elements of the 2/6th served at the Battle of Buna-Gona.
  • The 2/9th Armoured Regiment, also using Matildas, served in the Borneo campaign (1945), including the Australian amphibious landings at Tarakan, Sarawak, Brunei, Labuan and British Borneo in 1945.

(Other armoured units, such as the 1st Armoured Regiment, which also took part in the Borneo campaign, were Militia units which had not formed part of the 1st Armoured Division.)

Order of battle[edit | edit source]

Order of battle upon formation[edit | edit source]

At the time of its formation in July 1941, 1st Armoured Division consisted of:

Order of battle upon disbandment[edit | edit source]

At the time of the Division's disbandment in September 1943 it consisted of:

  • Divisional Headquarters
  • 2nd/11 Armoured Car Regiment
  • 16 Field Regiment, RAA
  • 112 Anti-Tank Regiment, RAA
  • 1st Armoured Brigade
    • 2/5 Armoured Regiment
    • 2/7 Armoured Regiment
    • 2/10 Armoured Regiment
    • 15 Motor Regiment
  • 3rd Motor Brigade
    • 4 Motor Regiment
    • 26 Motor Regiment
    • 101 Motor Regiment
  • Divisional Administration Troops

1st Armoured Brigade Group[edit | edit source]

From September 1943 to September 1944 the Division’s former 1st Armoured Brigade group served as an independent brigade. In September 1943 the Brigade Group consisted of:

  • Brigade Headquarters
  • 2/1 Armoured Brigade Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 2/5 Armoured Regiment
  • 2/7 Armoured Regiment
  • 2/10 Armoured Regiment
  • 15 Motor Regiment
  • Brigade Administration Troops

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Hopkins, Major General R.N. (Retired). Australian Armour. A History of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps 1927–1972. Australian Government Publishing Service. 1978.
  • Ryan, David A. Commonwealth Orders of Battle 1939–45

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