A look at the insignia of the Royal Australian Air Force, Combat Controller Teams (CCT) of B Flight, 4 Squadron, one of the newest additions to the Australian Special Operations community.
The Combat Controller Teams (CCT) of B Flight, 4 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force are a relatively recent addition to Australia’s special operations capability. They trace their origin to 2006 when the Australian Special Forces Commander asked the Deputy Chief of Air Force whether the RAAF was capable of fielding personnel similar to the United States Air Force Combat Controllers who had been working alongside Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.
As a result, the RAAF Air Group Combat Commander established the Special Tactic Project Proof of Concept Trial. The aim was for selected volunteers to pass the commando training cycle and trained as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) before deploying in support of special forces.
Combat Controllers from No. 4 Squadron based at RAAF Base Williamtown practice close air support serials with PC-21 aircraft during Exercise Havoc Strike. Combat Control Teams (CCT) from No. 4 Squadron participated in Exercise Havoc Strike from 25 May – 12 June 2020 near Buladelah, New South Wales. Havoc Strike is a tactical level exercise in support of No. 4 Squadron combat control Mission Specific Training objectives. The training concentrates on preparing Combat Control Teams for the application of Close Air Support, Rules of Engagement and Laws of Armed Conflict. The exercise has two phases; a theory phase, conducted at RAAF Williamtown, NSW, followed by a practical close air support phase in a training area near the town of Bulahdelah, NSW. Photo: Department of Defence
A Combat Control Team (CCT) member briefs the Offensive Air Support (OAS) plan to aircrew for a Close Air Support (CAS) mission as part of Exercise FARU SUMU 01-2012. Combat Controllers are essential for the successful integration of OAS to maximise available combat power and focus its effects in order to support the Commander’s plan. Mid Caption: One hundred and forty Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel are in the Northern Territory, to participate in Exercise FARU SUMU 01-2012. Ten F/A-18F Super Hornets from RAAF Amberley’s No. 6 Squadron and Combat Control Team (CCT) personnel from RAAF Williamtown’s No 4 Squadron are participating in this exercise for the first time from 11-29 March 2012. Exercise FARU SUMU is used by the 6 Squadron instructional staff to test and evaluate the structure and format of the exercise to ensure the desired learning outcomes can be achieved on future FARU SUMU exercises with the new F/A-18F Super Hornets. Exercise FARU SUMU is conducted out of RAAF Darwin, Tindal and Delamere Weapons Range. Photo: LACW Kylie Gibson (ADF)
Between 2008 and 2009, three intakes completed initial training and four members were deployed with the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG). This resulted in the ‘Combat Controller’ mustering (RAAF terminology for ‘trade’) and Air Surface Integration officer stream being created in 2012 and the CCT role declared an Initial Operating Capability.
A Combat Controller from No. 4 Squadron Combat Control Team conducts an airfield survey on a dry lake bed in the Nevada Test and Training Range. Photo: Department of Defence
Royal Australian Air Force Combat Control Team personnel parachute into Batchelor Airfield in the Northern Territory during Exercise Pitch Black 2018. Photo: Department of Defence
Selection to become acombat controlleris open to any member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Volunteers first complete an 8 week CCT intake course which provides ground skills training and prepares them for the Special Forces Entry Test (SFET). Those who pass the SFET must then undertake around 18 months of testing and training in which they are required to complete the commando reinforcement cycle, JTAC, aviation meteorology, assault zone reconnaissance and air weapons delivery courses.
The video below, shows the CCT’s conducting their annual parachute continuation training as part of Exercise Havoc Drop 20-1 which took place 13-17 July 2020 at Wagga Wagga in NSW.
Upon qualification they are presented their distinctive grey CCT beret and qualification brevet, becoming part of B Flight of4 Squadron, RAAF, which is the squadron tasked with providing operational training to Forward Air Controllers (FAC) and support of the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command. The Squadron is divided into three main roles, FAC(A) is the airborne control of air assets, JTAC training (C Flight) and CCT (B Flight).
Since their formation, the CCT’s have conducted operations with SOTG, participated in several joint exercises with allied nations and recently in late 2019 early 2020, assisted in humanitarian operations within Australia as part of the ADF efforts to combat the devastating bushfires that swept large tracts of the east coast of Australia over the summer months.
Beret & Insignia
Once qualified, Combat Controllers are awarded a distinctive Combat Controller Team insignia which is worn as a qualification badge and (a variation) also on their beret. The badge (NSN 8455-66-162-5061) consists of a Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger on a winged shield. The dagger represents the close link combat controllers share with the special forces they support. The shield symbolises the protection of ground forces, from harm during combat operations and the wings represent the air-power integration role of the combat controller.
The badge is worn on the left breast of dress uniforms, 3mm above medals/ribbons or flying badge if applicable. Cloth, metal and a mess dress miniature versions are used, depending on the uniform type.
A similar design metal badge which features shortened wings is also worn on a black shield on the CCT beret which, unlike other RAAF berets is ‘air superiority’ grey, the colour signifying the presence of aviation in the daily duties of the combat controller. Mark Corcoran and Arthur Butler, author’s of the excellent reference books, Metal Uniform Embellishments of the Australian Army – Post 53 (‘QE II series’) volumes 1 & 2 also feature some of the prototype variations of the badge on their charliebravobooks blog which is worth checking out.
CCT’s also wear a distinctive parachute qualification wing which differs from the standard Air Force parachutist badge. The wings are referred to in the Air Force Dress Manual as a ‘Commando Badge’ (NSN 8455-66-157-9911) and reflects the Army’s commando parachutist qualification design but has a white parachute with light blue wings on an Air Force blue background. A miniature version embroidered with gold bullion on a black background (NSN 8455-66-134-1212) is worn on the upper left sleeve of the mess dress jacket. The authority for the award and withdrawal of the Commando Badge is the Commanding Officer, 4SQN.
CCT’s have also been seen wearing a variety of Combat Controller Team patches and distinctive RAAF ANF insignia, some of which are shown below. At this stage, these insignia are less well known amongst collectors as they are tightly controlled by the unit and have not (yet) been subect to the massive number of fakes and reproductions that have occurred with other Australian Special Forces insignia. Sadly, it is only a matter of time before the fakes start appearing on eBay and elsewhere. If you do have original examples of the RAAF 4 Squadron or CCT patches or insignia, for sale or trade, I am really interested in hearing from you as I’d love to add these to my collection.
2020. RAAF 4 Squadron shoulder patch worn by the CCT’s of B Flight.
2012. CCT patch and RAAF 4 Squadron patch being worn during Exercise Furu Sumu in 2012.
PVC CCT patch being used during 2017
CCT patch being used in 2019
CCT patch being used during 2017
2019. An unusual CCT helmet mounted patch which appearss to be a painted aluminium sheet. Seen being worn during Exercise Cope North 19, Guam.
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The Australian War Memorial will be reopening to the public on 1 July 2020. However due to COVID-19 restrictions visitors must now have a ticket (free) to gain entry. Tickets may still be obtained at the entrance, but as availability is subject to museum capacity, a better option is to pre-register for tickets online as […]
The Australian War Memorial will be reopening to the public on 1 July 2020. However due to COVID-19 restrictions visitors must now have a ticket (free) to gain entry. Tickets may still be obtained at the entrance, but as availability is subject to museum capacity, a better option is to pre-register for tickets online as some time-slots have already been booked out.
For those who cannot visit, the AWM has also been working hard to make its collection and archives available to the public online, including virtual tours of the galleries via Google Street View plus podcasts, the AWM YouTube Channel and a collection of over 6000 archival films which have been digitised and available for viewing online. For collectors, the AWM collection archive is a particularly useful resource to find out more information about the objects that are on display.
I took the above photograph during my most recent visit to the AWM, which was back in 2018 when I flew across to Canberra to check out the Australian Special Forces exhibition, From the Shadows. This photograph shows a display in the Vietnam War section of the 1945 to Today Galleries that features items belonging to Australian SAS trooper Don Barnby during his service with 2 SAS Squadron in South Vietnam in 1971. Using the AWM’s collection search facility uncovers a trove of material related to his service, some of which is shown below.
Donald Richard Barnby was born in Brewarrina, NSW on 8 April 1950 and joined the Australian Regular Army aged 17 in May 1967. After completing basic training at Kapooka in New South Wales, Barnby was allocated to the Royal Australian Ordnance Corps and after completing his initial employment training was posted to 2 Base Ordnance at Moorebank, NSW. Frustrated by not having a combat role, Barnby volunteered for service with the Special Air Service Regiment. After completing the selection and reinforcement cycle, including Military Free-Fall parachuting, Barnby became part of F Troop of 2 Squadron.
From 17 February to 10 October 1971, Trooper Barnby deployed to South Vietnam as a member of Patol Two Five, F Troop, 2 Squadron, SASR. This was 2 Squadron’s second tour of Vietnam and the last of SASR’s involvement in the conflict. Based out of the 1st Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat, Phuoc Tuy Province, the squadron conducted clandestine reconnaissance and offensive operations against the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong.
After returning from his tour, Don Barnby decided to leave the Army in early 1973 and joined the Australian Capital Territory Police Force, which later became the Australian Federal Police (AFP). He served in numerous roles during his police career including as a United Nations Australian Civilian Police Officer (UN AUSTCIVPOL), with the AFP 1st UN Police Contingent, deployed to East Timor on behalf of the United Nations and responsible for organising the independence referendum in August 1999. His story is recounted in detail in an interview that features on the AWM’s podcast series, Life on the Line. The podcast is worth listening to as Don goes into some detail about his tour, the equipment he carried and other aspects of this service.
Nui Dat. SAS Hill, South Vietnam. 1971-04-08. Members of patrol Two Five, ‘F’ Troop, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service (SAS) at Nadzab LZ after returning from their second patrol. The patrol of nine days was from 30 March until 8 May 1971. Left to right, back row: Corporal Ian Rasmussen (patrol 2IC), Trooper Don Barnby (patrol signaller), Trooper Dennis Bird (patrol scout), 2nd Lieutenant Brian Russell (patrol commander). Front row: Trooper Bill Nisbett (rifleman), John Deakin (USN-SEAL attached). AWM Accession Number: P00966.084
Trooper Don Barnby a Member of Two Five patrol, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment on SAS Hill, Nui Dat, South Vietnam immediately prior to moving out on patrol. AWM Accession Number: P00966.047
In addition to the photographs that Don Barnby took whilst in Vietnam, searching the collection database also shows many of the individual items in the display, with the descriptions providing valuable additional information. Click on the smaller photos below to enlarge and read caption the details.
Composite webbing set : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: A composite webbing set, consisting of standard US pattern waist belt, metal buckle and ‘H’ harness suspender. The suspender has been modified with the addition of five nylon webbing M79 40 mm grenade pouches, cut from a US Air Force survival vest, which are attached vertically down each front suspender strap. A blackened round brass press button secures each grenade pouch cover. Worn at the back of the belt is a large Australian 1937 Pattern basic canvas pouch and a British 1944 Pattern water bottle and carrier. In place of the standard Australian issue basic pouches at the front are twin US Special Forces M16 5.56 mm magazine pouches and two compass pouches, one containing insect repellent. Attached to the 1937 Pattern pouch is another compass pouch, containing another insect repellent container and inside the pouch is a field dressing. The webbing set has been hand camouflaged by adding random blotches of green and black paint. A US issue plastic M6 bayonet scabbard is also attached. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.005
ERDL camouflage trousers : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Pair of ERDL camouflaged Ripstop trousers, fitted with olive green plastic buttons. A pair of slash pockets are fitted at the hips. The trousers have a waist band with four belt loops and a concealed button fly closure. The trousers feature a concealed map pocket, with button opening on each thigh. The bottom of each trouser leg has an internal loop of fabric to blouse the trousers. The Ripstop material in the trousers includes nylon threads cross hatched through the cotton base fabric. History / Summary This distinctive camouflage is the ERDL pattern which was developed by the United States Army at the Engineer Research & Development Laboratories (ERDL) in 1948, and was first issued to US special operations units and the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) operating in South Vietnam from early 1967. This ERDL variation is also known as the brown based ‘highland’ or ‘wet season’ type. AWM Accession Number: REL29666.002
US tropical pattern gloves : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description Two right hand, olive green, US issued tropical gloves with the tops of all fingers removed. Two thirds of the top surface of the gloves is made from an olive green nylon mesh, with the index finger being entirely covered with Nomex. This Nomex extends up the entire length of the upper glove to the cuff. The palms of the gloves are made from a worn Nomex material. The stitching for one of the glove’s right thumb is slightly frayed, and has come undone, with the other one entirely missing. The glove with the missing thumb also has a blue-green coloured number 9 hand written midway along the top of the glove above the index finger. This glove is also of a slightly lighter coloured olive green colour than the other. Around the cuff of the gloves is zig-zag stitching which slightly blouses the gloves. History / Summary These gloves were modified and worn on operations, to help protect the wearer’s hands from the harsh conditions of the jungle and when using weapons. They also provided a form of camouflage for the exposed hands of the wearer, Trooper Don Barnby. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.004
United States experimental tropical pattern boots : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Pair of experimental United States Army tropical boots. The black leather nose caps of both boots are heavily worn, exposing raw leather. The heel of each boot is also black leather. The body and tongue of each boot consists of olive green nylon. A large metal and black nylon zip secures the boots. A vertical lacing system is a feature of the boots, incorporating eighteen metal eyelets per boot and black nylon cord. There are a pair of circular brass eyelets on the inside arch of each boot, for removing excess water. The soles of both boots are black rubber which are worn from use. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.003
Wrist compass : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Wrist mounted magnetic compass, finished in medium green aluminium and fitted with a worn olive green nylon wrist strap. The compass has degrees etched into the edge of the rotating dial and mils indicators every 10 mils etched into the body. A small arrow is etched into the top of the compass body, next to the wrist strap. An index pointer consisting of a pair of 2 mm high vertical lines, separated by a small 1 mm diameter dot are stamped into the rotating dial. An orienting arrow and parallel orienting lines, marked in red, are fitted to the base of the compass on a rotating housing. The wrist strap has seven 2 mm diameter metal bounded holes centrally placed for adjusting the size. An indent with remnants of an unknown blue-green substance (possibly verdigris) is on the fourth hole. This indent corresponds with the wrist band metal buckle. The wrist band is fitted with a pair of horizontally arranged 5 mm diameter bands for securing the excess wrist band length. One of these horizontal bands is adjustable along the wrist band and the other, in a lesser condition, is stitched to the buckle arrangement. History / Summary Infantry and Special Forces troops on operations, need to carry a wide range of equipment such as navigational aids to successfully conduct their patrols. It is critical that these objects are as light and as compact as possible to save valuable space and weight. This commercially available self wrist compass is an example of this attitude; recent advice notes that these Silva compasses were purchased and supplied by the the American CISO (Counter Insurgency Support Office). AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.009
Plastic travel tooth brush : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Two piece plastic travel tooth brush and container. The protective container is slightly warped and cracked in places and is made from teal coloured plastic. One side of the container has etched ‘STAN[illegible]E’ and below, separated by a thin ridge is ‘TRAVEL TOOTHBRUSH’. A pair of 1 mm diameter holes are fitted to the end of the container to allow water to leave the container when closed. A shortened white plastic toothbrush, complete with worn yellowed plastic bristles, fits into the protective container leaving the handle exposed. This shortened toothbrush can then inserted into the open end of the container, forming a full length toothbrush. Remnants of toothpaste appear to still be attached to the toothbrush, handle and interior surfaces of the container. History / Summary: Infantry and Special Forces troops on operations need to carry a wide range of personal objects to maintain themselves on patrols. It is critical that these objects are as light and as compact as possible to save valuable space and weight for their military equipment and weapons. This commercially available self contained travelling toothbrush is an example of this attitude. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.010
Two sticks of camouflage cream : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: A pair of personal camouflage cream sticks made from an unknown substance, one black and one green. Both sticks are covered in a clear cellophane wrapper, the green camouflage cream stick also has a gold coloured foil paper wrapper covering 4/5 of the length. The black camouflage cream stick has been used heavily and has some of the black cream exposed at one end. History / Summary: This pair of camouflage cream sticks were used by Trooper Don Barnby while serving in South Vietnam in 1971 with 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment (SASR). Virtually all SASR members camouflaged their exposed skin (face, ears and neck in particular) before and during patrols. These sticks are examples of contemporary camouflage creams carried on SASR patrols in the late Vietnam war period. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.011
Marker panel : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Bright pink plastic marker panel, fitted with six aluminium reinforced eyelets. A piece of olive drab nylon cord, folded in half, is secured through each of the eyelets. There are no manufacturers markings on the marker panel. History / Summary: Marker panels were used during the Vietnam War for a multitude of purposes, such as indicating Landing Zones (LZs) for helicopters, for marking positions of friendly forces to aircraft providing observation or fire support. They can also come in other bright colours such as bright yellow or orange. This particular marker panel was used in Vietnam by Trooper Don Barnby. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.008
In addition to the links and mentioned above, there are also curated online collectionsand the Australian War Memorial blog which includes a fascinating selection of articles from the AWM’s historians, curators, librarians and exhibition team that covers Australian military history, recent acquisitions, events and exhibitions. There is more than enough material to keep one engrossed for days and I found that once I started looking new avenues of exploration just kept on opening up. It is an incredible resource, even if you cannot visit in person.
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On loan from 2 Commando Company and the Australian Commando Association – Victoria , this Dennison parachute smock was part of the recent From the Shadows: Australian Special Forces exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
The smock was worn by WO1 Douglas “Dutchy” Holland during his time as a PJI at the Parachute Training School at Williamtown. ‘Dutchy’, served in the RAF from 1940 until 1948 before joining the RAAF. He qualified as PJI number 6 at the first Parachute Jump Instructors course run by Parachute Training Wing (PTW) in 1954. A legend in the history of Australian parachute training, he was awarded the MBE for his services to military parachuting in 1958 and in 1959 became the first person in Australia to achieve 500 jumps. When “Dutchy” retired in 1962 he had completed 663 descents including 60 at night and 29 water jumps. He decorated this Dennison jump smock with various Australian and foreign parachute badges, including some (now) very rare and desirable insignia.
Sgt Matthew ‘Locky’ Locke MG, Australian Special Air Service Regiment. Killed in Action whilst on patrol as part of Operation Spin Gear in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan 25 October 2007. Lest We Forget.
Sergeant Matthew Locke enlisted into the Australian Regular Army on the 11 June, 1991. After he completed his Recruit Training at Kapooka, he was allocated to the Royal Australian Infantry Corps and commenced his Initial Employment Training at Singleton, New South Wales on the 10 September 1991. At the completion of his Initial Employment Training, Matthew was posted to the 5th/7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.
Matthew had a flair for Infantry training and whilst at the 5th/7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, he completed Driver Courses, Basic Mortar Course, promotion courses and became a Small Arms Coach.
It was obvious that Matthew wanted to be challenged as a soldier so in November 1997, Matthew successfully completed the Special Air Service Selection Course. Over the next two years, Matthew completed another 15 specialist courses ranging from patrolling, demolitions, diving, parachuting, and medical. Matthew was posted to the 3rd Special Air Service Squadron.
Sergeant Locke was awarded the Medal for Gallantry, the Australian Active Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Australian Defence Medal, the United Nations Medal with the United Nations Transitional Authority East Timor Ribbon, the Iraq Clasp to the Australian Active Service Medal, the International Coalition Against Terrorism Clasp to the Australian Active Service Medal, the Infantry Combat Badge and the Returned from Active Service Badge.
During Sergeant Locke’s service in the Australian Army he deployed on the following Operations:
a. OPERATION TANAGER (East Timor) – 2001;
b. OPERATION SLIPPER (Afghanistan) – 2002, 2004, 2006 & 2007; and
c. OPERATION CATALYST (Iraq) – 2004, 2005, 2007.
Medal for Gallantry:
Sergeant Locke was awarded the Medal for Gallantry in December 2006. The medal citation read:
“For gallantry in action in hazardous circumstances as the second-in-command of a Special Air Service Regiment patrol in the Special Forces Task Group whilst deployed on Operation Slipper, Afghanistan, in 2006.
During the conduct of an operation, a patrol, with Sergeant Locke as second-in-command, were tasked with establishing an Observation Post in extremely rugged terrain over looking an Anti-Coalition Militia sanctuary. After an arduous 10 hour foot-infiltration up the side of the mountain, the patrol was called into action to support elements of the Combined Task Force Special Forces patrol that were in contact with the Anti-Coalition Militia in the valley floor to their north. After the engagement, Sergeant Locke’s patrol remained in their location and was the only coalition ground element with visibility of the target area.
During the course of the next day the patrol continued to coordinate offensive air support against identified Anti-Coalition Militia positions in order to further disrupt and degrade the enemy’s morale.
During the afternoon, the Observation Post became the focus of the Anti-Coalition Militia who made repeated attempts by day and night to overrun and surround the position. In one such incident the Anti-Coalition Militia attempted to outflank the Observation Post and Sergeant Locke without regard for his own personal safety, led a two-man team to locate and successfully neutralise the Anti-Coalition Militia in order to regain the initiative and protect his patrol from being overrun.
This particular incident was followed by another Anti-Coalition Militia attempt to manoeuvre to attack the patrol Observation Post from another flank. Sergeant Locke, again with little regard for his personal safety, adopted a fire position that was exposed on high ground which dominated the planned Anti-Coalition Militia assault. Whilst deliberately exposing himself to intense rifle and machine gun fire from the Anti-Coalition Militia, he again neutralised the lead assaulting elements whilst suppressing other Militia until the arrival of offensive air support. Whilst still under sustained fire, Sergeant Locke then directed indirect fire to effectively neutralise another Anti-Coalition Militia advance on his patrol’s position. The courageous and gallant actions of Sergeant Locke were instrumental in regaining the initiative from the Anti-Coalition Militia and allowing the successful exfiltration of the patrol on foot prior to first light the next day.
Sergeant Locke’s actions of gallantry whilst under enemy fire in extremely hazardous circumstances, displayed courage of the highest order and is in keeping with the finest traditions of Special Operations Command-Australia, the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force.“
Whilst many people think that these are a Special Air Service wing, because of its shape and similarity to the design of the brass stamped British tropical dress SAS wing. It is in fact a Royal Australian Navy parachutist wing although there is an SAS connection.
It was introduced in 1994 as the Australian Navy ‘Special Duties’ parachutist qualification for the sailors (primarily clearance divers) who had passed the SAS selection and counter terrorist training cycle in order to serve as part of the TAG (Tactical Assault Group) which at that time was part of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment. Within months of its introduction it was decided that there was sufficient water ops capability within SASR and the requirement to include the CD’s as part of the TAG was removed, making the insignia virtually obsolete overnight as no more sailors would be likely to qualify for it.
Sailors who have NOT completed the SAS selection and CT training cycle are awarded the standard RAN parachutist wing upon completion of their para training. This includes the Clearance Divers who now form part of the east coast based TAG-E which is structured around the Sydney based 2 Commando Regiment. Only sailors who have completed the SAS selection and CT training are entitled to wear the SDU parachutist wing.
Collectors should note that no cloth or bullion wings of either of the RAN para wings variations are authorised, nor are they worn. They are fantasy/fake items, made for collectors.
With the recent G4S security recruitment debacle and the heightened threat of terrorist attack much has been made of the security preparations for the London Olympics. Security at the games has been a major concern since the dark days of the Munich Olympics in 1972 when Palestinian terrorists from the Black September Movement killed eleven members of the Israeli delegation and a policeman in the disastrous rescue attempt. This incident demonstrated the inadequacies of the Germans ability to combat domestic terror, resulting in the formation of their own federal counter terrorist unit, GSG-9. It was a wake-up call, causing most Western nations to evaluate and develop a much improved counter terrorist capability and preceded a wave of bombings, hijackings and other incidents that earmarked the 1970’s.
Australia was slow to develop the CT response beyond that of the various State police SWAT type teams and it wasn’t until the Hilton Hotel bombing in Sydney in 1978 that the Federal Government decided to act. The responsibility was passed to the Special Air Service Regiment, which developed the Tactical Assault Group (TAG) as part of the Regiment’s roles and tasks. The role of TAG was filled by engaging one of the sabre squadrons and incorporated signals troop from 152 Signal Squadron as the Counter Terrorist (CT) squadron for a twelve month period as part of the regiment’s training and operations cycle. During the relatively quiet 1980’s and for much of the 1990’s being ‘on Team’ with the CT Squadron was one of the roles relished by many in the Regiment as other operational deployments seemed unlikely, with only a handful of soldiers from the unit being committed in support of UN operations. I recall the excitement expressed by many of my mates in 2 Sqn back in 1993 when we found out that Sydney would be hosting the Olympics in 2000. The regiment’s cycle meant that it would be 2 Squadron holding the CT role in 2000 and at the time, in the days before Timor and subsequent jobs, it was something to look forward to.
Very soon after the announcement by the IOC, the Australian Federal Government recognised that the security of the games would be beyond the resources of the host jurisdiction (New South Wales) and would require pooling of resources from other organisations including the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The ADF support to the Olympics was named Operation GOLD and commenced in 1998. Op GOLD employed 5622 ADF personnel in a variety of security and non-security roles. These were broken down into two joint task forces (JTF). The larger of these was JTF 112, which contained the bulk of the ADF commitment and was responsible for a wide range of support including transport and general security. It was the public face of the ADF commitment with uniformed service personnel wearing the round white Op Gold patch being seen at the various Olympic venues and activities.
But, watching from the shadows was the second task force, JTF 114 commanded by Brigadier Phil McNamara, Commander Special Forces. JTF 114 was the principal CT capability provided by 2 SAS Sqn, which along with Black Hawk helicopters from 5 Aviation Regiment and a response company from 4 RAR (Commando) who would be used to provide a cordon around any incident site. Together these units formed the TAG and were known as JTF 643 and optimised for CT coverage of the Sydney area during the games.
JTF 114 preparation for the Olympics had begun well in advance of the game and six months before the opening ceremony, the CT squadron moved to Holsworthy barracks on the outskirts of Sydney to commence the final build up. Special training facilities were constructed in Holsworthy; at the Naval base HMAS Waterhen on the shores of Sydney harbour and another for launching SUR operations out to sea. The TAG refining their ‘ship underway’ drills, familiarised themselves with potential targets and conducting a variety of exercises based on Olympic venues and events. During the two weeks of the games, the SAS soldiers had full accreditation, with unrestricted access to all areas, allowing them to gain ‘situational awareness’ by moving discretely through the various venues and events as the games unfolded.
The Sydney Olympics concluded without major incident and had been a valuable operation for the SASR and Special Operations Command. A new skill set was developed based on hostage rescue scenarios within a chemical, biological or nuclear weapons (CBR) threat environment. This resulted in the formation of a Joint Incident Response Unit (JIRU) to combat a CBR or ‘dirty bomb’ threat. JIRU became part of Special Operations Command and eventually evolved into the Special Operations Engineer Regiment. It was also recognised that a second CT capability would be needed to deal with incidents elsewhere, possibly even overseas. During the Olympics this role was performed by 3 SAS Squadron (JTF 644) located in Swanbourne and eventually assumed by 4 RAR (Commando), now redesignated 2 Commando Regiment and who now hold full responsibility for the east coast CT responsibility in the form of TAG-E.