During the Second World War, in the mountains and jungles of Timor, Bougainville and New Guinea, Australian commando units fought arduous campaigns against the Japanese.
The story of these elite independent companies and commando squadrons, whose soldiers wore the distinctive double-diamond insignia, is told here for the first time.
Through 130 powerful images from the Australian War Memorial’s unparalleled collection – some never published before – Double Diamonds captures the operational history of these units and the personal stories of the men who served in them, many of whom lost their lives or the friends who trained and fought alongside them.
Australian Commandos in the Pacific War 1941-45
By Karl James
Reviewed by J.H. Farrell
THE centenary of the First World War battles has seen a serious reduction in publishing on Second World War Anzacs as publishers rightly concentrate on honouring Great War events.
Breaking the mold of Great War titles is Karl James' Double Diamonds: Australian Commandos in the Pacific War 1941-45 published by the Australian War Memorial and New South.
Double Diamonds is an abbreviated written history that is strongly illustrated, perhaps it should have been subtitled "A Pictorial history of" but I'm not complaining.
The Australian Commandos were the most visible of the Aussie 'special' forces fighting the Japanese and, while they would have resented the analogy almost to a man, where the true ancestors of our highly evolved modern Special Operations Command operators.
Double Diamonds does a good if brief job of explaining the operations of the initial Independent Coys and later Commando or Cavalry (Commando) companies which preyed on the Japanese during the Pacific War.
All of their major campaigns are covered, from the doomed 2nd/1st Independent Company's capture in the Bismark Archipelago and subsequent deaths through to the bitter but hugely successful jungle fighting campaigns in New Guinea, Timor, Bougainville and Borneo's Labuan and Tarakan where the 12 Commando Coys made the Japanese pay for attacking Australia.
While author Karl James does a commendable job on the text, Double Diamonds' greatest strength is its imagery which ranges from personal photos and drawings made by veterans during the war; through to stills from the famous films of Damien Parer and precious national treasures of Ivor Hele's charcoal sketches and oils some of which I had never seen before.
I was a little disappointed that the book was not larger as the subject could have easily stretched beyond the pages allowed, but that was no doubt a commercial decision of the publishers and no reflection on the author.
It struck me as I read Double Diamonds as ironic that this book which celebrates the Australian soldier comes out just as the Australian Army has decided to get rid of the historically unbeatable Aussie Digger.