The Secret Guerrilla Army

Research suggests that the rumoured invasion caches were not for the use of regular troops. The rationale for this statement is that even highly classified wartime documents which describe defense schemes for the various Line of Communications Areas, contain no references at all to the existence of special reserve supplies for the use of cut-off units behind the lines. This indicates that the records were destroyed or remained classified up until the present day. When the Inter-Allied Service Bureau (ISB – a forerunner of SOA) was disbanded in 1943, it is known that all records were destroyed.

Another possibility is that the records were concealed inside the record holdings of an agency outside that which originated the record. This would have been a prudent measure had the Japanese indeed invaded mainland Australia. It would have been a disaster if the Japanese had needed only to examine the Department of Defense file storage facility in Canberra to determine the location, capabilities and personnel comprising the shadowy guerrilla force which had been harassing the Japanese Garrison in Lithgow. It is also highly likely that equipment requisition and movement records were altered. This concealment may have also extended to cooperation from manufacturers such as Lysaghts, the Small Arms Factory and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation duplicating serial numbers on weapons and equipment. E.g. Owen Machine Carbine Serial Number: 1234567-8 was listed as lost or destroyed during the Owen Stanley Campaign in PNG. The same serial number is then stamped on a new weapon to be cached in an invasion stores bunker with no further documentation. Under the system described above, it is possible that hundreds or thousands more pieces of equipment were manufactured than the official records show. This lack of a paper trail as well as other concealment measures could easily explain why none of these invasion caches have been dug up before now.

After the Nazi occupation of France and with Britain under threat of invasion, British policymakers authorized preparations to conduct a guerrilla war in Nazi-occupied Britain. Of the units which were tasked with guerrilla and intelligence-gathering operations in the UK, the best known are the Home Guard Auxiliaries (or “Auxunits” as they are commonly referred to in the UK today). In a role very different from the various resistance and intelligence service auxiliaries in occupied Europe, whose tasks were merely to set up escape routes and provide supplies and documentation in support of active resistance or intelligence operations, the British Auxunits were specially selected and trained personnel who were nominally under the command of the British Home Guard, but in reality were controlled by the Special Operations Executive.

The men and women of the Auxunits were provided with caches of weapons, explosives and covert communications equipment to allow them to report to surviving Allied commands on the situation inside occupied Britain, as well as conduct limited guerrilla warfare and sabotage against German troops similar to Maquis resistance operations in France. Some of the Auxunit underground “Hideouts” still exist and the organisation’s purpose, training and history are well-documented in the UK Public Records Office.

Just as the fall of France stimulated activity in Britain, the outbreak of war against Japan in 1941 and the fall of Singapore in February 1942 accelerated defense preparations in Australia. On 9 December 1941, an adviser urged the Minister for the Army, F.M. Forde, to consider the formation of a guerrilla army within Australia to harass occupying enemy forces, but at that stage, the Chief of the General Staff, General Sturdee, thought that the proposal was defeatist. As the Japanese threat to the Australian Homeland became more apparent, it is probable that the “Guerrilla Army” proposal was given more credence.

If the “Guerrilla Army” proposal was indeed implemented in the form of trained irregular cells or units, it is possible that they would have been similar in concept to the British Auxunits. The question is, who would have had tactical command of these units? Research on this issue is continuing, but at time of writing there are several distinct possibilities.

These are:

  • Special Units of the Australian Army
  • Special Units of the Volunteer Defense Corps or Militia
  • Special Units of Inter-Allied Services Division or Special Operations Australia
  • Special Units operating under the British MI6 mission to Australia
  • Special units of the Royal Australian Air Force
  • Special Units of the Royal Australian Navy

Each of these possibilities will be discussed below.

Special Units of the Australian Army:

Acting on a cable from the Chief of the Imperial General Staff in Britain, the Australian Army began to train Australia’s first special operations forces in August 1940. The British cable had called for the armed forces of the Dominions to establish special purpose forces to conduct paramilitary activities against the enemy. These activities were “to include guerrilla and irregular warfare, special and paramilitary operations, stay behind parties, resistance movements, raids, intelligence gathering operations, demolitions and organizing sabotage in enemy or enemy-occupied territory”.

The Australian Army Independent Companies were established to meet this requirement. During initial planning and training for the Independent Companies the activities of the units were very similar to those which were to be later tasked to the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Australian Services Reconnaissance Department. By mid 1941, the role of the Independent Companies was clarified. They were to “Stay behind, live off the land or be provisioned by air, and be a thorn in the side of an occupying enemy.” Due to the fact that some of this training included SOE-style intelligence and paramilitary operations in urban areas, this role appears to be uniquely aimed at operations within Australia or New Guinea in the event of a Japanese Invasion.

Following the declaration of War with Japan in December 1941, the Independent Companies were immediately deployed as commando-style forces to New Ireland in New Guinea and to Portuguese Timor as it was thought that the Singapore Fortress would not fall and would provide a secure base of operations. The Independent Company Force on New Ireland was almost immediately overrun and captured by the Japanese, but the “Sparrow Force” on Timor continued to skilfully wage a guerrilla war against the Japanese until they were withdrawn in January 1943. For the remainder of the war, the Independent Companies reverted to a normal light infantry role with the secretive plans for resistance, “agents” and sabotage in an occupied Australia all but forgotten.

Members of 2/2 Independent Coy on operations in New Guinea in 1943

Another army unit which may have had a hand in the “Guerrilla Army” program was the Army’s top secret Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs (DRCA). This unit was headed by the shadowy Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Conlon and was originally tasked with the civil administration of Papua New Guinea and other Australian protectorates in the Pacific. One of DRCA’s projects was to draw up plans to deal with a Japanese invasion of the Australian mainland. No records exist as to what these plans were and the only reason that we are aware of the existence of this project is from the memoirs of former Prime Minister John Kerr, who worked for the unit for a time as well as temporary detached duty with the US Office of Strategic Services. Precisely three records of the DRCA from the war era exist and all of these are dated after 1943 when the invasion crisis had eased.

Based on the secrecy involved in all aspects of the DRCA, and the fact that its commander Lt Col Conlon seems to have had a hand in other aspects of homeland defense, it is entirely possible that this was the unit which ran the “Guerrilla Army”.

Special Units of the Volunteer Defense Corps and Militia:

The Volunteer Defense Corps (VDC) was similar in concept to the British Home Guard. They were tasked with local military and civil defense support tasks in their local areas in the event of combat action in Australia. The VDC was predominantly composed of Great War veterans initially and was quasi-military in nature, with rifles, mortars and light artillery issued.

In 1941, there were several proposals for the formation of VDC guerrilla units to operate in their home areas, organizing resistance and conducting raids and sabotage operations similar to the French “Maquis”. These proposals are known to have been implemented in a significantly simplified and modified form. If local defenses were overrun, the surviving VDC personnel were simply instructed to continue the battle in guerrilla fashion.

VDC Guerrilla personnel training with improvised incendiary devices.

However, there is a distinct possibility that there was a VDC program similar to the British Auxunits. The following file was located in the holdings of the National Archives Melbourne Office: “Proposed Organisation of Special Auxiliaries for V.D.C.”.The file is dated 1942-1943. This file is not yet available to the public, but a request has been made to have the file examined and released.

Preliminary research of related records suggests that in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, some staff from each state’s respective Forestry Commission were employed as VDC auxiliaries. These individuals would have been ideally suited to work in Auxunits as they would have had an innate knowledge of the fire trails and timber-getters tracks in their area of operations. It is also possible that the caches of equipment also existed within these areas of operation. Most of the state forests which existed during the period 1939-1945 still exist as such.

The Militia was the wartime equivalent to today’s Army Active Reserve. The Militia were tasked as reinforcement for regular battalions and were involved in some civil infrastructure protection and homeland security roles. Following a political dust-up in 1942 due the prohibition of the use of militia forces overseas, Militia units were deployed to New Guinea and fought alongside regular 2nd AIF troops on the Owen Stanley/Kokoda campaign.

One confirmed “Special” Militia unit was the North Australian Observer Unit or “Nackeroos”. This unit operated in the Northern Territory in a surveillance/intelligence gathering role very similar to today’s NORFORCE and other Regional Force Surveillance Units. At time of writing, no other “Special” Militia units have been identified, but is likely that other “Nackeroos”-type units were operating in North-western and North-eastern Australia. Click here to read a wartime NAOU report on a possible Japanese Incursion in Far North Queensland.

Special Units of Inter-Allied Services Division or Special Operations Australia:

This organisation operated several departments with different regional responsibilities under a variety of official names and covers during its existence. The first incarnation of SOA was the ISD (Inter-Allied Services Division). Some of the names used were SRD (Services Reconnaissance Department), AIB (Allied Intelligence Bureau), SOA (Special Operations Australia), Z and M Special Units (actually administrative holding units for AIB military personnel), and FELO (Far East Liaison Office). For expediency, we will refer to the organisation/s simply as SOA.

In March, 1942 two British Special Operations Executive officers arrived in Australia to assist in setting up an SOE-Style operation in Australia. The organisation was established as the ISD in May 1942 and headquartered in Melbourne. ISD was to carry out espionage, paramilitary operations, sabotage, incitement and propaganda in occupied territory. At the time of ISD’s establishment, it was possible that Australia would become occupied territory in the near future. ISD was disbanded in 1943 following a political stoush with United States and Dutch military intelligence. After it’s disbandment, all of ISD’s records were destroyed – a fact which was mentioned in the official history of the ISD (which was compiled from the collective memories of the principle players). ISD’s successor was Special Operations Australia, an organisation which had its activities limited to “The SWPA excluding Australia and Tasmania”. It is important to note that ISD had no such limitation.

SOA training manuals dating from 1943 have detailed instructions on speleology (cave exploration), climbing and rappelling, Covert Methods of Entry (housebreaking), shadowing (covert urban surveillance), sabotage, reception committees, photography, weapons, raids and ambushes, assassination and communications. As SOA’s Area of Operations was the Pacific Region with a mainly Asian population, it is highly unlikely that Caucasian SOA personnel would be conducting surveillance on Japanese targets in the market district of occupied Singapore. Due to this and the fact that SOA’s predecessor, ISD was established for use in Japanese-occupied territory, it is possible that operations in occupied Australian cities were envisaged by the original authors of these manuals.

It has been suggested that as per the British Auxunits, the VDC Special Auxiliaries were under the command of a special intelligence unit such as SOE. No evidence has been found to support this suggestion, but it is probable that the Australian Auxiliaries were indeed under the operational control of ISD or perhaps an as yet undiscovered contemporary of SOA tasked with homeland defense.

Special Units operating under the British MI6 mission to Australia:

Secret Intelligence Australia (SIA) was a detachment of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) made up of Australian personnel. This unit was specially tasked with espionage and all that that entails. Operations included signals intelligence and agent running in occupied territory.

The unit had some success in former British territories such as Singapore and Hong Kong where trusted local operatives could be found who were willing to report on Japanese movements and intentions in the region.

Although SIA conducted joint operations with Commonwealth investigators in Australia operating against foreign diplomats, it is unknown if the organisation planned for operations in Japanese-occupied Australia. All relevant records are still sealed as the organisation became the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) in the 1950s and as such, all official records are exempt from the thirty-year rule.

Special units of the Royal Australian Air Force:

No records of any clandestine or special units in the RAAF have been located. The reason the RAAF is mentioned is that the RAAF appears to have been the custodian of several suspected sites. In 1958, a RAAF team was apparently tasked with surveying these equipment bunkers to determine if anything inside was still useful. Several sites had their entrances blown in and the equipment was effectively abandoned in place.

The British term for the organisation which oversaw SOE operations was the “Combined Operations Headquarters”. In an interesting coincidence, the official designation used for the bunker inside Castle Hill in Townsville is the “Combined Operations Intelligence Centre”. This structure has been recorded as being a RAAF facility. It appears that there may have been some major RAAF involvement in the clandestine services in Australia during WW2 and that this involvement was not limited to merely providing air support or chemical weapons research and storage facilities.

The RAAF had more facilities available in Australia during WW2 than both the Navy and Army combined. The facilities ranged from stores depots to isolated dispersal airstrips and reserve aerodromes. As these facilities were dispersed far and wide across the country in strategic areas, they may have been attractive to war planners as sites for the caching of equipment.

Special Units of the Royal Australian Navy:

Prior to the outbreak of war with Japan in Late 1941, the Royal Australian Navy had begun to establish a Coastwatcher organisation – based on civil servants, plantation managers and missionaries – in the islands to the north of Australia. It was anticipated that if the enemy occupied the islands the Coastwatchers would remain behind to continue operations behind enemy lines. In early 1941 naval intelligence officers were appointed to supervise the mainly civilian Coastwatchers and to expedite the flow of intelligence. Once the war with Japan began in December 1941 the civilian Coastwatchers were given naval rank or rating in the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve.

Although the Coastwatchers operated from the northern islands, it is possible that the Navy commissioned a similar organisation on mainland Australia. No evidence of this has been located.


Of the units or organisations who could have possibly utilized the “invasion caches” on such a large scale as the amount of rumors suggest, it is probably the Independent Companies or ISD (with the units “officially” under command of the VDC) who “owned” them. Both were tasked with raising or conducting guerrilla operations at the time of the invasion crisis. Both groups were tasked with operating in the Pacific area after early 1943 (with ISD becoming SOA) and both groups attracted criticism within official circles as a poor utilization, or even waste, of manpower and resources.

It is entirely possible that an Auxunit-style resistance movement was set up in Australia by either of these two groups, although it may have been much larger in scope and scale than the British model owing to the huge distances involved. Unique Australian conditions mean that this guerrilla organisation would have been given a larger combat role than an intelligence gathering one and would have been focused almost entirely on fighting the Japanese. This is because the nearest Allied HQ would have been in either Hawaii or India (assuming that NZ would have capitulated soon after Australia).

It is possible that the caches were established with RAAF assistance in the form of the provision of the land the facilities were located on even if the RAAF was not directly involved in the “Guerrilla Army” programme.

ABMM also has reason to believe that after WWII the Secret Guerrilla Army was maintained as an inactive reserve under the 1950s “Special Operations Organisation” program under a joint committee of the the Department of Defense and what was to become the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.