2/1st North Australia Observer Unit

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2/1st North Australia Observer Unit
North Australia Observer Unit troopers on horseback at Katherine in 1943 (AWM photo 058471).jpg
Troopers of the North Australia Observer Unit during a morning parade in October 1943
TypeLight horse
SizePeak strength of 550 personnel including 59 guides
EquipmentSmall arms, ships
Lieutenant Colonel Bill Stanner
Nackeroos memorial lookout,near Timber Creek

The 2/1st North Australia Observer Unit (2/1 NAOU) was an Australian Army reconnaissance unit of World War II. Formed in early 1942 in the Northern Territory, the unit was a light horse mounted unit that was tasked with providing early warning of Japanese activity in northern Australia at a time when an invasion of the country was expected. As the threat of Japanese invasion dissipated the unit's operations were curtailed in 1943 and it was eventually disbanded in the early months of 1945. The unit is considered to be a predecessor of several reconnaissance units that currently exist within the Australian Army.


Formed on 11 May 1942 under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Bill Stanner, the unit's headquarters was established in Katherine, Northern Territory. Nicknamed the "Nackeroos", the unit was raised at a time when the Japanese were steadily advancing in the Pacific. Broome had recently been bombed and an invasion of Australia was considered a possibility.[1]

Concerned about the large unobserved sea and air approaches to northern Australia, specifically in the Kimberley region and in the Northern Territory, the Army tasked 2/1 NAOU with patrolling remote areas of northern Australia on horseback to provide early warning of Japanese activity to Northern Territory Force, which was tasked with defending the area in the event of an invasion. Other tasks included manning fixed coast watch stations and signals work. At the peak of its strength it numbered approximately 550 men, including 59 Aboriginal personnel who were employed as guides and labourers. As the threat of Japanese landings declined 2/1 NAOU patrols were reduced in July 1943 and the unit was disbanded in March 1945.[2]

In 1972, Stanner summarised the unit in the following terms to Amoury Vane, the author of the unit's history:

"The Unit was organised somewhat on the lines of a Light Horse regiment but with commando-type flexibility. It had a strategic and tactical role with duties of reconnaissance, scouting and coast-watching and was widely dispersed on and off the coasts and inland, between Cambridge Gulf and the Gulf of Carpentaria. The members of the Unit tended to operate in very small groups, often of section strength, over an enormous area, manning observation posts or in fixed or mounted roving patrols, so as to answer for the flanks of Northern Territory Force. They seldom assembled as troops, companies, or squadrons, and never, while I was in command, as a single Unit, after once taking up their field stations."[3]


The modern Australian Army's Regional Force Surveillance Units have a similar role to 2/1 NAOU, with NORFORCE tracing its history back to 2/1 NAOU.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Nackeroos". Australia Under Attack 1942–1943. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  2. ^ Dennis et al 2008, p. 397.
  3. ^ Vane 2000.
  4. ^ "Unit History—North West Mobile Force". Australian Department of Defence. 2009. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2010.


  • Dennis, Peter; Grey, Jeffrey; Morris, Ewan; Prior, Robin; Bou, Jean (2008). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (Second ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195517842.
  • Vane, Amoury (2000). North Australia Observer Unit: The History of a Surveillance Regiment. Loftus, New South Wales: Australian Military History Publications. ISBN 9781876439255.

External links[edit]