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Once We Were Soldiers

 

Training in Australia
BATTLE EFFICIENCY COURSE, JUNGLE TRAINING CENTRE (JTC), CANUNGRA
 

© Roger Lambert
Platoon Commander
9 Pl, C Coy, 5 RAR, 1969/70
Author: Roger Lambert

Background

In November 1942 the Army established the Land Headquarters Training Centre (Jungle Warfare), at Canungra, in south-east Queensland. The Centre consisted of a Reinforcement Training Centre, an Independent Company Training Centre (formerly at Wilson's Promontory in Victoria) and a Tactical School, to meet the needs of combat in the demanding environment of Papua New Guinea.

Its first commandant was Colonel (COL) A. B. ('Bandy') MacDonald, pre-war commanding officer of the Darwin Mobile Force. By May 1943, when it was at the height of its activity, there were 2,000 reinforcements organised into eight training companies from which 500 soldiers a week graduated for service in New Guinea. There was also a Commando Training Battalion supplying reinforcements for the independent companies and an officer-training program which turned out 60 platoon commanders every six weeks. Training was realistic and physically demanding (Ed: sound familiar?), and instructors were drawn from men with recent combat experience in either the Middle East, South-West Pacific, or both. The Centre was closed in 1946.

The Centre was reopened in 1954 to meet the Army's training needs for service in south-east Asia (the Malayan Emergency). The site was expanded and the Centre divided into three sections: one to train officers and NCOs in jungle tactics, a second to train units in operations under jungle conditions and a third to test doctrine and produce training manuals. From 1955 to 1957, the commandant was Colonel F. P. Serong, later first commanding officer of the Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam.

The calibre of instructors was again very high, the Chief Instructor being Lieutenant Colonel (LTCOL) George Warfe, who had won an MC in New Guinea and a DSO in Borneo, and who had also served in the Malayan Emergency. In 1960, the School of Tactics and Administration was relocated to Canungra from Seymour in Victoria, broadening the Centre's functions as all officers now attended promotion courses there.

During the Vietnam War, JTC became the major training venue for the Army as it prepared units for active service, once again in South-East Asia. Companies were put through increasingly demanding training exercises throughout which all individuals and units were assessed for readiness for active service. At the height of the Vietnam War, Canungra was at its peak expansion and capable of dealing with up to 10,000 students on courses annually. The military area occupied some 15,826 acres (6,000 ha), the barracks occupying some 247 acres (100 ha) with the remaining area used for field training.

With the wind-down after the withdrawal from Vietnam and the gradual re-orientation away from jungle warfare towards the defence of Australia, JTC was renamed the Land Warfare Centre (LWC) in June 1975. It also incorporated the School of Military Intelligence and the Warrant Officer and Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Wing, and hosted students on military cooperation programs from various regional and allied armies.

The Battle Efficiency Course

As previously mentioned, during the Malaya, Malaysia and South Vietnam campaigns, every Infantry unit and with very few exceptions, all individual Arms reinforcement personnel destined for active service in these campaigns were required to undergo prescribed periods of training at JTC before being assessed as suitable for active service. This training was called the Battle Efficiency Course (BE) and was conducted by Battle Wing of JTC under the command of a LTCOL as Chief Instructor (CI).

During the Vietnam conflict, two versions of the three week BE course were conducted; one for a subunit (company) of an Infantry battalion and the second, a course for groups of individual reinforcements, usually of around Company strength.

I was selected to be part of the Battalion's Cadre in 1968. We were to undergo the BE Course and then stay at JTC to put the remainder of the Battalion through the training.

From memory, we boarded hired coaches at Holsworthy Barracks after the evening meal and drove through the night, heading for Canungra. We headed up the Pacific Highway and at some stage into the journey, probably after Coffs Harbour or thereabouts, we had to ask the driver to pull to the side of the road for a 'relief stop' in the wee small hours (no pun intended). Of course, this had nothing to do with the liberal amounts of Coke being consumed by certain parties with a splash of Bundy to ward off the evening chill.

Picture the scene of a bus load of officers and SNCOs lined up along the side of the bus using the culvert as a temporary urinal. The 'steam' that emanated from the joint 'relief operation' would have led any passing motorists to believe that the coach may have been on fire! The call of nature answered, we proceeded on to Southport where we had breakfast before heading into the hinterland and to JTC.

The Cadre was accommodated in tents on Battle Ridge and, as many would recall, this separated us from the main barracks and the creature comforts of the respective Officers' and Sergeants' Messes. I have no doubt that this 'exile' was a deliberate action and formed part of our 'acclimatisation' to the rigours of what was to come over the next three weeks of our BE Course.

For the Cadre, JTC was to be 'home' for the next two months as we progressively put Battalion Headquarters, the Rifle Companies, Support and Admin Companies through the Course.

The Course

I never retained the course syllabus so readers will forgive me if my memory isn't what it used to be but, as I recall, the BE Course consisted of::

  • Physical Training;

  • Classroom lectures on Australia's involvement in the Vietnam conflict (from the 'Domino Theory' to the 'Gulf of Tonkin Incident'), ambushing and other infantry tactics.

  • Muscle Toughening Course;

  • Confidence Course;

  • Obstacle Crossing Course;

  • Weapon Handling and Shooting;

  • Booby Traps;

  • Navigation;

  • Field craft; and

  • Infantry Minor Tactics.

Many would recall that the Battle Wing instructor giving the lecture on our involvement in the Vietnam conflict had a D&E Platoon digger hidden behind the theatre curtain and, at the appointed time in the lecture (the Tonkin Incident), the bugger discharged a 7.62mm blank. Needless to say, it scared the living daylights out of the majority of the audience.

As you will read later, I was given responsibility for the Week One BE Course training, so I used the same 'tactic' as the blank in my lecture on our involvement as well as when I gave the lecture on ambushing. Worked a treat!

Physical Training. For the Cadre, physical training (PT) was conducted every morning when the course was in camp. I don't recall whether there were any Physical Training Instructors (PTIs) on the strength of Battle Wing or the Centre at that time but I am aware that PTIs did come onto the Centre's strength at a later date.
 
Besides PT, movement between lectures, training lessons and the various courses was always done at the double. Little wonder we were as 'fit as Mallee bulls'.

The Muscle Toughening Course. The Muscle Toughening Course was a series of rope traversing and climbing systems suspended from trees and began with a twelve foot (3.65 metre) smooth wooden plank wall. From memory, we did this course twice.

The first run though was considered an introduction; dress was jungle greens (JGs) and boots. The second time through was done in patrol order. Of course, this was a precursor to the infamous Confidence Course.

The Confidence Course. The Confidence Course was a series of some twenty obstacles which were constructed along a creek line on the northern side of the barracks. Again from memory, the course was around half a mile in length (800 or so metres). The course involved going over, through or under a series of obstacles as well as vertical climbs and horizontal traverses. Like the Muscle Toughening Course, one run through was done in 'clean fatigue' and the next in patrol order.

Burma Bridge Obstacle Course JTC CanungraThe course obstacles included balance beams, tunnel crawls, horizontal and vertical cargo nets, coiled barbed wire fences, a ten foot (3.05 metre) vertical wall, monkey bars, rope traverse, a thirty foot high (9.14 metre) horizontal rope bridge, the "Burma Bridge", a six foot (1.8 metre) wall climb as well as the dreaded drop into the water-filled "Bear Pit" with whatever it happened to contain at the time ...whatever was in the pit can only be left to the imagination as it never seemed to be flushed out.

I don't recall that there were many obstacles that were not filled with water or involved going through, over or into water or across muddy ground.

Machine guns firing live ammunition into adjacent pits along the course, the discharge of coloured smoke grenades and the shouts from the instructors all added to the combat realism of the Confidence Course. Even though the course was timed, troops were all expected to assist their mates who may have been experiencing difficulties at particular obstacles.

And, as many will remember, the course culminated in the jump from the thirty foot (9.14 metre) tower into the Coomera River.

Obstacle Course. The Obstacle Course was a series of large vertical man-made and natural obstacles over a distance of again approximately half a mile (800 meters). It commenced with a river crossing using improvised flotation devices. Obstacles included a variety of high log walls, a vertical cliff face and others. Teamwork was essential with groups having to work together to successfully negotiate the course. I cannot quite recall but I think that this was a timed course as well.

Weapon Handling and Shooting. Weapon handling involved the revision and testing of all infantry section weapons including stripping and assembly. Shooting involved firing of section weapons by day and night and the throwing of grenades, all on conventional and fairly realistic jungle ranges such as the Snap Gallery.

Panji TrapBooby Traps. Lessons on the enemy's use of improvised booby traps from the use of sharpened bamboo stakes (the punji trap) were taught. More sophisticated use of unexploded ordinance to create home-made grenades, claymore-type mines and trip wires was also taught.
 
Who remembers being asked by the instructor to take down the red range flag from the pole at the end of the lesson only to detonate the booby trap under the pressure plate at the base of the flag pole?

Navigation. Map reading and navigation was revised and practised. Navigation exercises were conducted by day and night.

Fieldcraft. Fieldcraft was demonstrated and practiced at all levels.

Infantry Minor Tactics. Infantry minor tactics were demonstrated and rehearsed at all levels. This included:

  • Section and platoon formation drills on the Padang (many will recall the demonstrations by the D&E Platoon, Battle Wing in their colour-coded helmets (scouts, Section Commander, gun group and riflemen) as they went through staggered file, arrowhead and the other formations) ;

  • Patrolling;

  • Contact drills;

  • Section attack;

  • Platoon attack;

  • Ambushing by day and night; and

  • Counter MT ambush drills (remember the instruction regarding taking rings off or if they wouldn't come off, taping them up to prevent injury when leaping from the trucks?)

This series of instruction culminated in the Battle Inoculation Range which involved section attacks on defended positions with blank rounds whilst Vickers machine guns fired live rounds overhead and explosive charges were fired on both sides of the attacking force and smoke grenades were detonated by Battle Wing Instructional Staff.

Tested and Assessed Tactical Exercises. Two exercises were then conducted in the border ranges astride the Queensland and New South Wales borders.

Typical levers plateau vegetationThe first exercise was normally at Levers Plateau and involved being trucked into an RV (rendezvous) and a long hard climb up to the plateau. Infantry minor tactics and navigation were continuously practised.

It was during this phase of the Cadre's training that I gained a healthy respect for the strength and stamina of our machine gunners. Irrespective of rank, we were all allocated typical Section roles;  scout, Section Commander, machine gunner, rifleman. I was nominated as a machine gunner and climbing that seeming endless cliff to the plateau was no easy task, as fit as I was then.

And of course, when reaching the top and the plateau, what's waiting for us but a carefully sited and planned 'enemy' contact. The 'enemy' was provided by soldiers from the D&E Platoon.

I dutifully brought the gun into action only to be berated by an instructor to unfold the bipod to direct accurate suppressive 'fire' at the 'enemy'. He obviously couldn't see that I had adopted a good fire position behind a substantial log and had the gun supported by said log. "Unfold the bipod!" he ordered. 'We're being bloody well shot at you idiot and you've just made me stop supporting fire for my Section', is what I thought but did not say!

The final exercise was conducted at the Wiangaree State Forest in north-eastern New South Wales in dense rain forest which for most of the year was wet, hot, humid and muddy. Remember that delightful plant aptly named "Wait Awhile"?

Similar but more demanding field craft and tactics practiced at Levers Plateau were then conducted under test conditions and sub-units and sub-unit members were assessed and reported on. In fact, as I seem to recall, we were being assessed from the time we set foot in JTC.

Allocation of Troops to Task

At the conclusion to the Cadre's training, we were allocated specific weeks of training to enable us to put the entire Battalion through the BE Course. I was allocated to Week One training and so all of those devious tests of strength and endurance such as the Muscle Toughening Course, the Confidence Course, the Obstacle Crossing Course as well as weapon handling and shooting came under my auspices, ably assisted by the nominated SNCOs.

It was an onerous but rewarding time, working both day and night in conducting the Week One training. If there was one stand out in my mind, it was the 'never give up' attitude displayed by the officers, SNCOs, junior NCOs and soldiers and the unstinting assistance that they gave each other to successfully complete the challenges that confronted them. I'm confident that it was that camaraderie, not only from Week One but the entire BE Course, that was carried into country and made the "Tigers" the tight, formidable fighting force it proved to be during operations.

Of course there was that water jump from the tower, especially daunting for the non-swimmers, that is indelibly etched in my mind. Not one refusal. Of course, all knew that a refusal meant that you failed the course. And, as the instructor, you were not permitted to touch, push or otherwise propel a soldier off the tower.

One very quickly identified those soldiers who were going to experience difficulties in jumping. My technique was to stand next to the soldier, get him to stand on the edge of the tower's platform and to focus his eyes straight ahead at the Asian 'village' on the hillside opposite.

A few reassuring words about the divers being in the water to assist and how we had never drowned anyone to date usually did the trick. That and the fact that sometimes my shoulder was too close to the soldier's and may have come into contact with his shoulder causing him to overbalance. As I said earlier, we never had one refusal!

The only downside to the Cadre experience was not being with 'my boys' during their ongoing training back at Holsworthy although being reunited with them when Charlie Company's turn came to do the BE Course was a great pick-me-up to say the least.

Later Years

Little did I know that in the late seventies, I would be posted to JTC as the Staff Officer Grade 2 Personnel on the Headquarters staff and later, when the Centre became LWC, I was reassigned as the Staff Officer Grade 2 Operations. They were both rewarding postings from both a professional and social perspective. Why social perspective? Firstly, the Centre staff were a very close-knit community and secondly, many mates, both Arms and Services, came through Canungra on the TAC 3 officer training courses.

Of course, Battle Wing was still there as were the tent lines on Battle Ridge and of course, the Confidence Course and the water jump tower remained. And yes, they were still being put to very good use.

Poster of the odd angry shotDuring my time at JTC/LWC, that Australian movie "The Odd Angry Shot" was filmed using locations in the barracks as well as the close training area and Canungra Village itself. Both the Gorge Road and Beechmont Road were sign-posted from the coast with directional arrows and the letters "TOAS" – they must have left a lot of people bewildered as to what the signs meant if they were not aware of the filming.

LWC Today

Today, while the title LWC has been retained, the Centre is a subordinate training establishment of the Royal Military College (RMC) of Australia. The current LWC consists of a Headquarters, Officer Training Wing, Warrant Officer and Non Commissioned Officer Academy, and Education Wing. The mission of the LWC is to provide post ab initio components of the All Corps Officer Training Continuum and All Corps Soldier Training Continuum to selected individuals in order to support the generation of Army's foundation war fighting capability.

The majority of the command elements of LWC and two of its subordinate units are principally located at Kokoda Barracks, Canungra and the remainder of the unit is collocated with major army concentrations in Darwin, Townsville, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

The Centre now provides training to over 3,000 Army members annually. For soldiers, this includes the Junior Leaders Course, followed by Subject One Sergeant and Subject One Warrant Officer courses, and culminates in the Regimental Sergeant Major course. Officer training includes the All Corps Captains and Major courses, the Advanced Operations Course and the Pre-Command Course. Additionally, Education Wing provides Training Systems courses and the Royal Australian Army Education Corps training continuum of courses.

The emblem of JTC and LWCThe emblem LWC remains that of JTC and is the Hydra. The significance of the Hydra is that often when you attempt to solve problems in land warfare, you create other problems. Great strength and ingenuity are needed if the solution is to be definitive and lasting.


 

 

 

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