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Minister for the Army points to future role for Army in South-East Asia
1957: Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced that there had been a review of defence policy owing to the now considered unlikely threat of global war, however he added that in view of communist efforts of expansion, limited war could occur in the neighbouring region at any time, and Australia shared a responsibility to prevent the occurrence of such outbreaks. It was therefore necessary to have available for immediate employment highly trained, effective and compact units that acting with speed and a capacity to hit (the enemy) that would determine victory. A few days later the Minister for the Army, Mr J.O. Cramer stated that the Army’s future role would be in South East Asia and that ‘a complete reshuffle was now going on in the Army’. The reshuffle would include a SAS Company, which was ‘a form of Commando group’.
Where to base the SAS Company?
June 1957: There now appeared the problem of where to base the SAS Company. Possible locations were Gan Gan, near Port Stephens, NSW and RAAF Rathmines, near Lake Maquarie, NSW. There was also consideration given to basing the SAS Company with the Airborne Platoon at RAAF Williamtown New South Wales. There was also political pressure to locate the SAS Company in Western Australia, although this option was not supported by the Director of Military Training given the cost and logistic effort required to conduct parachute training in Western Australia. Suitable basing locations in Western Australia were considered, including Rottnest Island, but eventually Campbell Barracks, located in a western suburb of Perth was chosen due to the availability of facilities in the post 1950s national service period. On 10 June 1957 instructions were issued to locate the 1st SAS Company at Campbell Barracks, Swanbourne, Western Australia.
1st SAS Company Criteria
The following criteria were initially used to select personnel for the 1st SAS Company:
• Airborne Platoon personnel provided an initial nucleus, as they were already parachute trained;
• Volunteers were called for from all Corps in the Army; parachute qualified or prepared to undergo parachute training;
• All were to be of an ‘appropriate’ age and have undoubted medical fitness;
• Possess a reasonable level or standard of education, with a slightly higher level of aptitude than that applying to ordinary soldiers between 18 and 35 years of age;
• Have a good discipline record; and
• Be between 5 foot 3 inches (160cm) and 6 foot 1 inch (185cm) in height and weighing no more than 13 stone (82.5kg). (These limitations were due to aircraft exit door height and personnel parachute weight limitations).
During this early period the selection process was purely a paper process and some soldiers were allocated to the 1st SAS Company simply on compassionate grounds to enable them to return to their home state of Western Australia.
Allocation to the Royal Australian Regiment Rejected
20 June 1957: It was initially suggested that the 1st SAS Company was to be allocated to the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) to give it a ‘spiritual home’. The Deputy Chief of the General Staff, who saw the SAS Company as the first component of a future SAS Regiment, rejected this suggestion. He saw its roles and organisation would differ considerably from the battalions of the RAR. It was his opinion that the raising of a new regiment, which was being created by the initial raising of 1st SAS Company, should have its own identity and build its own traditions outside the RAR.
Distinctive Headdress for the SAS
June 1957: Headdress for the 1st SAS Company was to be a maroon beret with the Royal Australian Infantry ‘Crossed Rifles’ hat Badge for Infantry personnel and respective Corps badges for specialist, non infantry, personnel posted to the Company.
First Officer Commanding Appointed
July 1957: Major L.A. Eyles is appointed first Officer Commanding 1st SAS Company, but due to the shortage of Parachute Jump Instructors at Parachute Training Flight, RAAF Williamtown,where he was the Senior Instructor, he was directed to delay assuming command of the SAS Company until early 1958. Major W.A. Gook was appointed to administer command of the SAS Company until Eyles arrived.
Official Formation of 1 SAS Company
1 SAS Company was formed officially on 25 July 1957 when Major Gook, Captain Kirkland, Lieutenants Brydon, Woods and Wade and a small group of soldiers marched into Campbell Barracks, Swanbourne.
By 11 November 1957 the Company had a posted strength of 10 officers and 43 other ranks, with another 64 soldiers on the way from completing the parachute course at Williamtown New South Wales. Realistic training for the SAS Company began in earnest in the last weeks of 1957 to prepare them for the 1 Brigade exercise planned for February the following year.
Daily News, Thursday, August 1, 1957:
VOLUNTEERS FOR PARATROOP TRAINING
Typical of the Digger Australia has produced since World War II are these two volunteers for parachute training. More than 30 Western Australians are being interviewed today and tomorrow for the Special Air Service Squadron of modern-type commandos.
Selection of 160 officers and men for this permanent unit is going on in all states. Western Australian born Signalman B.L.Moyle (25), of Maylands, says the Special Air Service training will further his knowledge of signals work. He has spent six years in the Army, including two of those years in Japan. Signalman Moyle, married with a young daughter – says his wife is quite keen on his doing the parachute course.
Scottish-born Corporal J.S. McCourt (30), of Guildford, also a married man has been soldiering for six years. He believes the Special Air Service Squadron is “the coming thing.” McCourt served in Japan and Korea.
Prime Robert Menzies announces review of defence policy.
The Military Board presented a proposal to the Minister for the Army (Mr J.O. Cramer) for a new Army formation, including the raising of a SAS Company and an element of the Royal Australian Corps of Signals.
1 April 1957:
Deputy Chief of General Staff – Major General Edgar, instructed the raising of the 1st Independent Brigade Group, including a SAS Company of 16 officers and 144 soldiers with the equipment of a standard rifle company less one platoon, and was to be located in New South Wales.
4 April 1957:
The Minister for the Army announces the complete reshuffle of the Australian Army, including the raising of a SAS Company.
Where to base the SAS Company?
June - July 1957:
1st SAS Company authorised establishment changed to 11 officers and 168 soldiers. The Company was to consist of a company headquarters, headquarter platoon (administration, logistics, medical etc.), four reconnaissance platoons (consisting of three sections per platoon commanded by a Sergeant), and a Royal Australian Signals detachment.
1 SAS Company Selection Criteria:
20 June 1957:
Allocation to Royal Australian Regiment Rejected.
Distinctive Headdress for the SAS.
First Officer Commanding appointed .
25 July 1957:
Official Formation of 1st SAS Company.
1 August 1957:
Daily News Article: VOLUNTEERS FOR PARATROOP TRAINING.
The Directorate of Infantry submits detailed request for specialist equipment including climbing, parachuting and watercraft store to the Director of Military Operations who reluctantly grants approval in May 1958.
11 November 1957:
1st SAS Company posted strength was 11 officers and 43 soldiers, with a further 64 soldiers who had completed basic parachute training enroute to Swanbourne. A further 61 soldiers had been provisionally selected to begin parachute training at the Royal Australian Airforce (RAAF) Base at Williamtown, New South Wales.
Intensive training began to prepare the 1st SAS Company for participation in a 1st Brigade exercise in February 1958.
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