THE 503d AUSTRALIANS
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Paul Whitman 

Remarkably, the Heritage of the 503d includes the 1st Royal Australian Regiment, which joined the "Herd" in May/June of 1965 when the two line Battalions of the Brigade were the 1/503d and 2/503d. When 1st R.A.R. joined up, it became the THIRD battalion of the Brigade and remained so till it returned to Australia. It was replaced by the 4/503d, although it was not until  the following year that 3/503d was created to fill the gap in the Brigade. The lineage of the line Battalions of the Brigade were:- 1/503d, 2/503d, 1st  R.A.R.,  4/503d,  and 3/503d. Then of course there were the later US Infantry units that were attached.

1st R.A.R's lineal history goes back to the 65th  Battalion, 2nd Australian Imperial Forces (A.I.F.) of WWII. In 1943, prior to the attachment of the 462nd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion,  the absence of  artillery became critical to the 503d P.I.R. combat jump on a Japanese fortified area at Nadzab, New Guinea.  Elements of the 7th Australian Division,  A.I.F were hastily chosen to jump - in the form of 33 men of the 2/4th Artillery Battery under command of Lt Pearson.  

Lt. Robert W. Armstrong of the 503d PIR  later recalled;-

Every morning thereafter a truck delivered my Aussies to camp for training. Fortunately, I had two excellent sergeants to help me. The conditions were pretty primitive and so was the equipment. We built a small platform under a tree and hung a parachute from a branch above. Of course, we tortured our students with physical exercises and speed marches, hoping primarily to build strength in the legs to withstand landings. Then we hung them in the parachute harness and taught them how to maneuver by pulling on the risers. Meanwhile, our riggers were figuring out ways to bundle the cannon so they could be parachuted. The Aussies were tough and willing and I soon became good friends with their leader and his two or three fellow officers.

It seemed that we had hardly started the training when I was informed that they were to make a practice jump. By this time they all knew how to don a parachute and all were equipped with American steel helmets. Australian helmets, with their sharp brims, were not suitable. They all had made jumps off the low platform we had built and practiced limited maneuvering while suspended in the harness. Ready or not, we had our orders.

I'm sure they were scared, but all faced the jump with considerable courage. We emplaned at a nearby field and took off. To my surprise we were accompanied by a few high ranking officers, including a General Vasey of the Australian army. It was apparent that higher ups in both armies regarded this as an important experiment.

Two of the originals were injured in the training process and ruled out. 

On 5 September 1943, when the 503d  P.I.R. went through the door over Nadzab, the 2/4th Artillery Section went out the door with them. Making up for the two injured were two men who made their first jump their combat jump.

33 Artillerymen of the 2/4th Field Regiment, under the command of Lt. Pearson, participated in the paratroop drop over Nadzab, 5 September 1943.

AMW 030141/24

After hitting the field, they had one of their 25 pounder guns up and firing within 2 hours. Those gunners of the 7th Australian Division, A.I.F., didn't know then that they were setting the pace for another Australian unit to join with the 503d, some 22 years later on another foreign airstrip when 1st R.A.R., whose lineal history goes back to the 7th Australian Division, A.I.F., were to join with the sons of the 503d P.I.R. at Bien Hoa, Vietnam. 

 

 

 

 

         

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REFERENCES

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1936 Corregidor Map

503d Jump at Nadzab

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Last Updated: 29-03-11