The History of the RAAOC


So you have joined the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps! You are to be congratulated on your decision and are asked to encourage your friends to follow your example. We want you to be happy with your choice, and be able to take pride in the long history of your Corps and in its honourable record of service to the rest of the Army. Your service in the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps (RAAOC) will be very valuable as you will be part of the giant jigsaw behind the major organisation which is responsible for providing support to the Australian Army in both peace and war. Along the way you will learn many essential skills and will have educational and training opportunities which will bring qualifications of value to the Army and to you as an individual should you decide, at some time in the future, to return to civilian life and private sector employment.

Compared to other Corps in the Australian Army the role of RAAOC and its many functions are little understood by the community at large. Its role is essential in providing the Army with all of its needs in both peace and war. Basic logistic problems such as maintaining the Army on the battlefield for protracted periods with weaponry, ammunition, communications equipment's, combat supplies, petroleum products, all types of vehicles, aircraft, small craft, parachutes and aerial cargo equipment and aerial maintenance, medical and dental supplies, clothing, field equipment and· field accommodation are just some of the tasks which are the responsibility of the RAAOC.

The RAAOC today plays a vital role in supporting the Australian Army to fulfil its assigned tasks in the defence and security of Australia. Without the organisational skills of the RAAOC in providing essential logistic support to the Army both in peace and when it is deployed in the field on exercises or on operations. Without the logistic support provided by the RAAOC no sustained military operations would be possible.

Ancient History behind the Ordnance Tradition

It is recognised that the Australian Army, and the RAAOC is no exception, adopted the traditions and general structure of Arms and Supporting Corps from that set down by the British Army. It is a remarkable fact that the Ordnance Department has a greater antiquity than any other Branch or Corps of the British Army as the history of 'Ordnance' in Britain can be traced back for more than 700 years, where reference to its existence is recorded in the Statute of Winchester dated 1285 AD. In this period there existed a 'Keeper of the King's Wardrobe' which was accommodated in the Tower of London and comprised an armoury containing body armour, swords, lances, spears, bows, arrows, slings, battering rams and catapults. In 1299 AD an Artilliator was appointed and paid a wage from the Monarch's purse to manufacture or procure military implements for the King's Army. In 1414 a 'Master of Works, Engines and Cannon and other types of Ordnance' was recorded, and in 1418 this title was amended to that of 'Master of Ordnance' when Lord Coke was appointed to office.

The office of Master General of Ordnance at the Tower of London has continued in the British Army through the centuries until 1994, with many famous persons holding that office, including the Duke of Wellington. Until the beginning of the 18th century the function of operation of artillery tasks was the responsibility of Ordnance, but this ceased with the formation of the Royal Artillery in 1716 AD.

It will be seen that Ordnance is the oldest Corps in the British Army, and their Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) is rightly regarded within the (then) Commonwealth countries as the 'parent' corps for the Army Ordnance Corps which were eventually raised in Australia, India, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa and were modelled closely on the British pattern.

The First Ordnance Depot • In 1323, the first permanent military stores were kept in the Tower of London, under the control of the Master of the King's Wardrobe and Armoury. The Tower remained the main stores depot until 1515. This link with the past has remained unbroken until 1994 with the departure of the Royal Logistic Corps. The last representative of the Military Branch of the Ordnance Office.

Coat of Arms - The Ancient Board of Ordnance • The shield in this coat of arms was adopted into the Ordnance Corps badges of Britain, Australia, India and New Zealand. The Latin motto 'Sua Tela Tonanti' - 'To the warrior his arms' has also been adopted as the Corps motto of the Ordnance Corps.

Colonial Australia

In respect of our proud history and traditions the origins of the Ordnance Services in Australia can be traced back to the initial military garrison which accompanied Governor Arthur Phillip with the First Fleet which arrived in Botany Bay in January 1788 to establish the NSW Penal Colony. The military garrison sent to Australia, to guard the convicts and protect the settlement against the possible attack by aborigines, brought with it a small stock of military equipment, powder and ball shot and miscellaneous uniform and accoutrements to sustain the force for its 2' year tenure in the Colony until the belated arrival of the Second Fleet into Port Jackson on 28 June 1790.

All of the British Regiments which followed to serve in the NSW Colony and other Colonies which were settled, until the final withdrawal of all British troops in 1870, brought with them the necessary maintenance and reserve stocks of military and warlike stores. These stocks were strictly controlled by selected trustworthy military staff that possessed basic literacy and numeracy skills who were 'allotted to Ordnance duty'. Those soldiers so employed with 'Ordnance' tasks received a small public servants salary.

The small number of garrisoned military staff that were allotted to 'Ordnance Duty' worked closely with the Government Storekeepers or Commissariats that were established by the Colonial Secretary in London upon settlement of each of the Colonies in Australia. The soldiers carrying out 'Ordnance' duties each received a small additional salary from the public purse in addition to their Army pay, the amount depending on their rank and degree of responsibility and record keeping ability.

Between the time of the withdrawal of the British regiments from the colonies in 1870 and the Federation of Australia in 1901, Ordnance activity was essentially conducted by civil staffed military stores and Ordnance departments within the Colonial Governments of each of the states, albeit some of these departments were headed by a military officer, or alternatively comprised small military staffs with the appropriate knowledge to address technical military matters. The first military staffed Ordnance organisation in Australia was established in 1895 when the NSW Ordnance Stores Corps was raised by Colonel E.T.H. Hutton who was at that time the Military Commander in NSW. This is believed to be the first military 'Corps' raised in Australia and provided that cornerstone for the establishment of the Ordnance Stores Corps by Hutton following Federation.

The Board of Ordnance Heraldry

Military Order No. 104 dated 8 July 1902 establishing the Ordnance Department and the authority to raise the Ordnance Stores Corps


At the time of the Federation of Australia on 1 January 1901 each of the former Colonies within the new Commonwealth of Australia had its own Department of Defence of sorts (which included a civil Ordnance Department except for the aforementioned military staffed NSW Ordnance Corps). With the unification of the Colonies came the amalgamation of the various Departments of Defence, and the formation of the Australian Commonwealth Military Forces which came into being on 1 March 1901. Colonel E.T.H. Hutton of the NSW Colonial Forces was promoted to the rank of Major General to be the first Commander of the new Australian Commonwealth Military Forces.

On 8 July 1902 Major General Hutton issued General Military Order No 104 which approved the formation of the Australian Army Ordnance Department (AAOD) and the Military Ordnance Stores Corps which were to have joint responsibilities for the supply and repair of equipment. The AAOD was a civilian staffed department of the Public Service which had a powerful union backing. This union strength enabled the AAOD to retain overall control of the Ordnance Services for the Australian Commonwealth Military Forces until their Department (the AAOD) was militarised by order of the War Council on 29 May 1942. The major weakness of the AAOD was the fact that it was only organised to operate in a peacetime role within Australia. In his unsuccessful bid for the military, ie. the AAOC, to assume control of the Ordnance Services, Major General Hutton repeatedly stated that the AAOD was unable to support an Army deployed in the field, particularly overseas. He believed that its organisation was manned by civilians and was incapable of rapid expansion to meet the demands of an Army at war and this assessment was proved to be correct at the outbreak of WWI.

World War 1

At the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914 none of the existing elements of the Australian Commonwealth Forces or the AAOD were permitted to serve outside of the Australian Commonwealth or its Territories due to restrictions on service enshrined in the Defence Act (1903). To overcome this situation an entirely separate 'volunteer' Army was raised for active service overseas.

This Army was known as the 'Australian Imperial Force' or 1st AIF, and incorporated within its force structure was all of the types of units needed to support the force on the battlefield.

In 1914 the AAOD was found to be holding little or no stock of the essential items with which to equip such a large mobilised force. For example there were only 36 telephone sets to equip a total of 5 Australian divisions to be sent overseas. Notwithstanding the enormity of the task set before them, the AAOD in Australia, in conjunction with the small AAOC units with each of the Divisions which were raised to sail with the 1st AIF, worked tirelessly to equip the Australian Expeditionary Force. Between August 1914 and June 1917 the AAOD consigned almost 7 million separate articles of Australian manufacture for the maintenance of the 1st AIF in the field. In addition more than 41 million articles of uniform were issued. The AAOC units which served in the 1st AIF were attached to each of the Australian divisional headquarters and were responsible for providing direct Ordnance support to the Australian operations in Egypt, Gallipoli, France, Belgium and Palestine, often under trying and dangerous conditions. During any war the enemy often concentrates on destroying logistic units or lines of communication to disrupt the force maintenance so essential to launching offensive operations. This is evidenced by the fact that during the battles fought in France and Belgium between 1916 and 1918 almost 50% of the 4 AUST DIY AAOC personnel were killed by German aerial bombing or as a result of German artillery bombardments directed at their Ordnance supply dumps.

Last scene of Gallipoli showing the AAOC Ordnance Depot and Supply Dump ablaze. This fierce fire broke out at 0200 hrs on 18 December 1915, the day prior to the planned evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula and burned fiercely for several days. This photograph was taken from the HMS Cornwallis standing off the Gallipoli Peninsula.

The first AAOC unit to operate under active service conditions was the 1st AUST DIV Ordnance Supply Dump which was established on the beach at ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, just two hours after the first assault troops of the ANZAC units stormed ashore. This unit, which was commanded by LTCOL J.G. Austin CMG, served with distinction and laid the initial foundation upon which the traditions of our Corps have since been built. Many people are not aware that the first Australian Army unit to be subjected to aerial bombing by enemy aircraft was the 1st AUST DIV Ordnance Supply Dump on Gallipoli. One of the bombs dropped on the Ordnance unit by a Turkish aircraft, and which failed to explode, was recovered and today forms part of the Gallipoli display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Upon the declaration of the end of World War 1 on 11 November 1918 the AAOC was required to de-equip and demobilise units of the 1st AIF in France. This huge task was undertaken by Australian ordnance staff under the control of LTCOL J.H. Tuckett, MC, MM (AAOC) who was appointed as the Assistant Director of Ordnance Services, Demobilisation France. Although all fighting units of the 1st AIF were permitted to return home quickly to Australia, this was not the case for the majority of AAOC personnel.

Following the Armistice in 1918 all fit AAOC personnel were required to be directly involved with returning and accounting for all equipment's returned by Australian forces, and for receipting these stores as a credit to Australia with the British Imperial Ordnance Depots located in Egypt, Palestine, France, Belgium and the United Kingdom. As a result of this mammoth task

AAOC personnel allotted to this work were not able to be repatriated to Australia until as late as July 1921, some seven years after enlisting for a perceived quick stint of adventurous service overseas. On their return to Australia in July 1921 the last element of the AAOC (1st AIF) was disbanded until the raising of AAOC Militia units four years later.

Between the Wars (1919 - 1939)

On 1 July 1925 AAOC units were again established, this time within the volunteer Militia Forces following the demise of the Universal Training Scheme (UTS) which commenced in 1909 following the recommendation of Lord Kitchener's report into the Defence of Australia. The UTS (which was empowered in legislation from 1909 until 1925) compelled all able bodied boys and men between 12 yrs and 21 years of age to serve part time for ten years without financial recompense, firstly as cadets until reaching 18 years of age, and then in the Citizens Military Forces (CMF) as soldiers and officers.

The AAOC Badge and Motto approved in 1928 for AAOC (M) and AAOC (PMF) Personnel

The AAOC units which were raised in each of the States on or after 1 July 1926 were incorporated into the volunteer Militia (M), thus were known as AAOC (M) units. In 1928 a number of AAOC Permanent Military Forces (PMF) appointments were established within the Permanent Army. AAOC embellishments were also designed and approved in 1928 to distinguish Ordnance personnel.

The AAOC (PMF) appointments mentioned above were manned mainly by artificers and technically qualified members of the PMF. These AAOC members were largely employed on tasks associated with the inspection, repair and maintenance of machinery, vehicles, technical equipment, field guns and ammunition.

The role of the part time AAOC (Militia) units which were raised in 1928 (after the demise of the AAOC (CMF) units, was to provide a nucleus of trained personnel for the expansion of the Ordnance Services in time of war. In the period leading up to World War 2 this small Militia Ordnance Corps received limited training and little worthwhile experience in Ordnance procedures.

AAOC Militia Officers at a 2MD (NSW) Militia Camp at Greta in 1931

The lack of training opportunities afforded to the AAOC (M) members could be directly attributed to the obstructionist attitude of some of the most senior and influential members of the then civilian staffed AAOD organisation, which imposed strict limitations on the access to its depots by AAOC (M) units, as the AAOD felt that the existence of the AAOC (M) represented a direct threat to the AAOD's continued civil control over the Ordnance Services in the Army.

The AAOD failed to recognise that there was a role for both the AAOD in providing support in peace time and a uniformed Ordnance service, ie. the AAOC (M) units, which could be deployed in the field or overseas in support of Army operations when required.

World War 2

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Australia was again without adequate fighting equipment. The total combined strength of the AAOD, AAOC (PMF) and AAOC (Militia) in 1939 consisted of only 950 all ranks, but by the war's end this strength had swelled to more than 24, 000 uniformed personnel. As expected the AAOD organisation was incapable of maintaining an Army at war. At the outbreak of World War 2 on 3 September 1939 the AAOD could only boast 15,000 line items of stores and equipment's (mainly of World War 1 vintage), some 15,000 tons of ammunition and only 363 vehicles of all types.

Due to the grave threat to Australia's security by Japan which existed in early 1942 the Commonwealth Government had no choice but to militarise the civilian AAOD for the duration of the war, and on 29 May 1942, the entire responsibility for the Ordnance Services was placed under total military control and assets were transferred to the AAOC. By the war's end the AAOC was successfully maintaining some 400,000 troops, of whom some 200,000 were serving overseas in operational areas. At the end of the war on 15 August 1945 the AAOC was controlling 1.85 million square metres of covered accommodation, 400,000 line items of stores and equipment's, 450,000 tons of ammunition and more than 140,000 vehicles of all types.

This German Stuka Dive Bomber (JUBB) was shot down by AAOC member LCPL Bob Muirhead during the siege of Tobruk using a captured Italian heavy machine gun. Muirhead was commissioned and awarded the BEM with Gallantry clasp for his actions.

AAOC members and AAOC units served within Australia as part of the CMF and in all overseas operational theatres within the 2nd AIF During World War 2 a total of 833 AAOC members lost their lives whilst on active service in Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, Syria, Greece, Crete, Malaya, Singapore, New Guinea, Borneo and the South West Pacific area. More than half of the AAOC war casualties resulted from the deprivations, illnesses and punishments suffered during internment as prisoners of war in both German and Japanese POW camps.

The first Australians to be executed by the Japanese were two AAOC soldiers, CPL Rod Breavington and PTE Victor Gale, who were shot and killed before a Japanese firing squad at Selarang Beach on Singapore island on 2 September 1942. A full account of this incident is included as an appendix to this publication.

From Federation until the end of 1942 the repair and maintenance of equipment had been the responsibility of the Ordnance Services, that is the AAOD and the AAOC. However, on 2 December 1942, the Corps of the Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (AEME) was raised by the transfer of personnel, equipment and assets from the former AAOC Workshop units. This step permitted the AAOC to concentrate on the supply of equipment, leaving repair and its associated activities to the new Corps of AEME.

The largest and perhaps the most important wartime AAOC depot in Australia was established at Bandiana in Victoria, which is still considered to be the 'home of the Corps'. This depot was known as the 1st Australian Ordnance Vehicle Park (or 1 AUST ORD VEH PK), and it held the majority of the Australian Army war stocks of vehicles, tanks and armoured vehicles which were stored at that location for subsequent issue to other Ordnance depots or Army units, either in Australia or overseas. At its peak this depot held some 20,000 vehicles and the associated range of spare parts. The depot was sited at Bandiana for two reasons. Firstly, it was sufficiently far enough inland to achieve asset dispersal and thus be safe from possible enemy air attack or naval bombardment, and secondly, the fact that the Victorian/New South Wales border at Albury also saw a break in the standard railway gauge, where it was necessary to off load goods from one railway system to another. Vehicles were railed or driven to 1 AUST ORD VEH PK for storage, and when required for issue they could be consigned by either the Victorian or NSW railways system to their ultimate destination or port of embarkation.

An Ordnance Ford Blitz Cargo Truck which was destroyed by Japanese air attack (north of Katherine) enroute to supply troops garrisoned at Darwin - March 1942.

Post World War 2 until today

Following the demobilisation of the 2nd AIF in 1946 the defence of Australia was catered for by the establishment of an 'Interim Army'. This Interim Army existed until 1950, by which time the Government had ascertained the requirement for a permanent Army which would guarantee the future security of Australia. The Government repealed that section of the Defence Act (1903) which had prohibited the raising of permanent forces for service overseas, and in 1949 the Australian Regular Army (ARA) was raised.

The RAAOC was included as an essential element of the newly formed ARA, and following the lessons learned during World War 2, it was determined that responsibility for the Ordnance Services should remain under military control and not be allowed to revert to the civil AAOD organisation which was being demanded by the Public Service and Storeman and Packers Unions on behalf of the former AAOD members who preferred to revert to their pre-war control of the Ordnance services.

Immediately following World War 2 the former AAOC was heavily involved in the mammoth task of demobilising the Army and disposing of surplus vehicles, equipment's and other assets as directed by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. The AAOC (and later the RAAOC) were also involved with the disposal, destruction and dumping at sea of surplus or unsafe ammunition, including the clearance of ammunition and unexploded bombs in Army camps, Army ranges and ammunition dump sites in Australia and the battlefield areas in the South West Pacific area.

Since World War 2 the former AAOC and the RAAOC have provided support to the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan (BCOF), and to the Australian Army units committed to the Korean War, and in the campaigns fought in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam. More recently the Corps has provided support to the many UN and coalition peacekeeping and enforcing operations in various parts of the world (eg South East Asia, Africa, the Middle East, East Timor, Bougainville, the Solomon Islands and Iraq).

As part of the major Army reorganisation in 1973 the RAAOC assumed responsibility for engineer stores, foodstuffs, POL, medical and dental stores, thus becoming the single Australian Army Supply Service. At the time of this change in roles selected RAE, RAAMC and former RAASC personnel that were experienced in the procurement and storage of these specialised commodities were transferred from their corps to the RAAOC.

The machine gun riddled Landrover in which Australian Army Training Army Vietnam member, W02 M.A. 'Bluey' Henderson RAAOC, was killed in a Viet Cong ambush near Baria in Phuoc Tuy Province South Vietnam on 16 December 1967. His duty nobly done.

The RAAOC Today

The RAAOC today represents a large integral part of the Australian Regular Army and Army Reserve. It is a Corps comprising approximately 350 regular officers, 100 reserve officers, 2,500 regular soldiers and 1,200 reserve soldiers. These 4150 members of the Corps, together with about 1,500 civilian and contract staff form the basis of what was previously known as the Australian Army Supply Service and which is now part of the integrated logistics service which provides support to the Army.

Because of the present Army restructuring activity which is aimed at introducing overall efficiencies, the logistic functions that were previously carried out by separate services, all service Corps units have now been combined at unit level into single larger Logistic Groups, Battalions and Companies.

Never-the-Less, RAAOC elements inherent in those units and other RAAOC officers and soldiers that are part of the establishment of other formations and headquarters are performing tasks essential to supporting today's Army.

The current role of the RAAOC is to provide supply support and services to the Army in peace and war. This involves the provisioning, receipt, storage and issue of all Army items of supply and the provision of other Ordnance services such as ammunition repair, salvage, manufacture of industrial gases, parachute maintenance, laundry and bakery facilities. The Australian Army currently stocks an inventory comprising more than 200,000 different types of equipment's, commodities or individual line item headings.

We in the RAAOC today have inherited the spirit and traditions of those who have served before us and we must all strive to preserve the good reputation of our Corps set down by our AAOC and RAAOC forbears. Remember, although our Corps has no battle honours Ordnance personnel have served with distinction in every theatre of war, consequently our members must be soldiers first and technicians second, and the training in our Corps is based on that premise. You never know when you will be called upon to fight as a soldier, as was the case during desperate days just prior to the fall of Singapore in 1942 when the Ordnance elements were formed into a battalion and fought as infantry, holding on to their section of the line against heavy attacks by Japanese invaders.

In other WW2 theatres Ordnance soldiers suffered their share of enemy air action and bombings, particularly during the siege of Tobruk and the fall of Crete. They have also played their part when called upon to repel attacks by German dive bombers, paratroopers, infantry and tanks. Ordnance also suffered casualties in the Vietnam war. Never forget - you are a soldier first and 'Ordnance' second.