Never Unprepared - A History of the 26th Australian Infantry Battalion
by A.N. Turrell
After the First World War the defence of the Australian mainland lay with the part-time soldiers of the Citizens Military Force (CMF), also known as the Militia. The Militia was organized to maintain the structure of the First AIF and kept the same numerical designations. Consequently, Militia units were also known by the name of their shire. Thus, Queensland’s 26th Infantry Battalion was the “Logan and Albert Regiment”. In 1934 the 26th merged with the 15th Infantry Battalion forming the 15th/26th Infantry Battalion. The unit separated in July 1939 and Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murray, the Australian Army’s most highly decorated soldier, raised the new 26th. It was headquartered in Hughenden, with companies based in Julia Creek, Winton, and Longreach in central northern Queensland.
The 26th conducted several training camps: at Kissing Point near Townsville in September 1939; the showgrounds in Townsville in February 1940; and Miowera, near Bowen on Queensland’s northern coast in March. Miowera was established as a training area for the 11th Brigade, which then consisted of the 31st and 51st Battalions. Many of the brigade’s men were recruited from Italian families working in the sugar-growing areas around Townsville and Cairns. When Italy entered the Second World War on the side of the Axis, the 26th returned to the Kissing Point area in June to deter any possible unrest. In June 1941 the battalion moved to Sellheim near Charters Towers. The following May it moved to Stuart, then Bohle River and Alligator Falls, reaching Kuranda, near the Barron Falls, in October.
In May 1943 the 26th marched to Redlynch, where it travelled to Cairns wharf. It sailed to Horn Island, in the Torres Strait, where its platoons garrisoned the smaller surrounding islands. A Company, however, was detached to Dutch New Guinea to become part of the Merauke Force. The force was comprised of units from the 11th Brigade, which consequently had the distinction of being the only Militia unit to serve outside Commonwealth territory.
From August 1943 the 26th travelled between Horn Island and the mainland, switching between garrison work in the islands and labouring at Red Island Point, south of Cape York. From September to December the battalion was given leave before resuming training for the 11th Brigade’s next deployment at Bougainville.
The 11th Brigade, now comprised of the 26th, 31st/51st, and 55th/53rd Battalions, moved to Bougainville in December, responsible for the Northern and Central Sectors. The 26th replaced the 25th Infantry Battalion in the Piaterapaia area in the Central Sector. It was sent out on its first patrol on 5 February, covering Pearl Ridge, Vivie, Keenan’s Ridge, Smith’s Hill, and Chamber’s Hill. After being relieved by the 55th/53rd at the start of February, the 26th moved to the Northern Sector, via Torokina.
The 26th carried out its second campaign from 21 February to 4 April. In a series of amphibious landings, it cleared Soraken Plantation of all organised Japanese resistance by 28 March. The landings were later described in the official history as “a brilliant series of manoeuvres”.
After some rest at Soraken, where they were still regularly shelled by Japanese artillery, the 26th relieved the 55th/53rd, working with the 31st/51st to maintain the Ratsua–Ruri Bay line. When a company from the 31st/51st landed at Porton Plantation the 26th led the main force to meet it. Unfortunately, the Australians could not penetrate the Japanese line and the ill-fated company had to be evacuated. The 26th was relieved by the 23rd Brigade’s 27th Infantry Battalion at the end of June and the 11th Brigade returned to Torokina.
After Japan’s surrender, the 26th was transferred to Rabual in September to help guard the Japanese. The unit was completely reorganised. Many veterans were discharged and replaced with men from other units or with young, fresh reinforcements. The battalion remained at Rabaul until March 1946, before finally returning to Australia. It was disbanded on 26 August 1946.
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Copyright © A.N. Turrell
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