Z-Special Unit

‘Z Special Unit” was the Australian Army unit which administered Australian Army personnel assigned to ISD, and later to SRD.

‘Z Special Unit” was the Australian Army unit which administered Australian Army personnel assigned to ISD, and later to SRD.


Z Special UNIt

An Australian army unit called Z SPECIAL UNIT was established to administer Australian Army personnel and civilians assigned to ISD, and later to SRD, and as such Z Special Unit appears on the service records of every Australian soldier who was assigned to either of those organisations. Z Special Unit does not appear on the service records of RAAF, RAN or British, NZ, Canadian or South African personnel assigned to ISD or SRD, since they weren’t enlisted in the Australian Army.

An administrative entity with no combat or special operations role, Z Special Unit was also used to requisition stores and transport through Australian Army channels and at this it excelled, having been given carte blanche permission to draw any stores required. There are cases where Colonels were removed from transport aircraft to make room for SRD Corporals. Such was the administrative power of Z Special Unit.

However, "Z Special Unit" or "Z Force" became common terms for the organisation in the post-war years, even among SRD Veterans. Although it is historically inaccurate to refer to the special operations organisation as Z Special Unit, it does seem to help some folks wrap their head around the whole thing. And besides, who doesn’t love the post-war Z Special Unit Association’s logo consisting of a “Z” with a killing knife through it?


One of two 'special units' Australia raised during World War Two (with Z Special Unit(/explore/units/581) been the other,) 'M' Special Unit was an Allied special forces reconnaissance team under command of the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD.) It was the successor of the already highly successful Coastwatchers unit. Raised in Queensland, Australia in 1943 the unit operated behind enemy lines for long periods of time in the Pacific theatre of combat mainly collecting intelligence such as enemy troop movements and shipping details. It was disbanded at the end of the war in 1945.

Unlike its sister unit “Z” Special Unit, “M” Special Unit wasn’t well known for hit and run actions against enemy troops. “Z” Special Unit, which comprised 81 members, were generally inserted into their action zones via small boat, submarine or airplane and conducted quick sabotage and intelligence gathering operations against the enemy before retreating. “M” Special Unit on the other hand operated behind enemy lines for extended periods of times to collect intelligence undetected and as such rarely tried to engage the enemy.

Following the success of several commando raids in Europe, General Blamey commander of the 2ndAIF suggested that Australia form its own branch of the Special Operation Executive (SOE) in Australia. Generally supported the new organisation was established in March 1942 and became known as the Special Operation Australia (SOA) with the cover name of Inter-Allied Services Department (IASD), usually shortened to ISD. In 1943, the official name of Special Operation Australia was changed to the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD.) Both “Z” and “M” Special Units fell under its command.

After training on Fraser Island in 1943, “M” Special soon deployed where they operated in both the Solomon Islands and New Guinea conducting intelligence operations against the Japanese. The late 1943 the unit was split into smaller units code named ‘Whiting’ and ‘Locust’ where both units continued to collect intelligence. Generally, a very successful unit the consequences for those captured by the enemy were serve as demonstrated by the most infamous member of “M” Special Unit Sergeant Leonard Siffleet who was executed by Japanese forces via beheading.

When the war was won in late 1945, “M” Special Unit was disbanded.

After 7 decades, memorial for Z Special commandos


Daring deeds of World War II commandos Z Special Unit kept secret for 30 years

For 30 years members of Australia's World War II commando Z Special Unit were sworn to secrecy and their heroism unacknowledged.

But recently there has been growing recognition of the specialist reconnaissance and sabotage unit the Australian Army credits as the foundation for the modern Special Air Services Regiment or SAS.


In 1943, in what is regarded by many as the most successful clandestine military operation ever — Operation Jaywick — a team of 14 Z Special Unit commandos paddled into Singapore harbour in kayaks and attached limpet mines to Japanese enemy shipping.