2/17th Battalion (Australia)
A destroyed Panzer III near Tobruk, 1941, beside which the 2/17th's commanding officer, John Crawford, is standing.
|Size||~800–900 men[Note 1]|
|Part of||20th Brigade, 9th Division|
|Unit Colour Patch|
The 2/17th Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army. Raised in April 1940 in New South Wales, the unit saw service in the Middle East in 1941–42, taking part in the fighting at Tobruk and El Alamein before returning to Australia early in 1943. In 1943–44 the battalion fought in New Guinea against the Japanese. Its final campaign was in Borneo in June 1945. Following the end of the war, the battalion was disbanded in early 1946.
Formed for service during the World War II, the 2/17th Battalion was raised on 26 April 1940 from Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) volunteers at Ingleburn, New South Wales. Upon formation, the battalion was placed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Crawford, who had previously served in the Militia and commanded the Sydney University Regiment and the 4th Battalion. Initially, the battalion was assigned to the 20th Brigade, 7th Division, however, following its arrival in the Middle East in November 1940, the battalion was transferred along with the rest of the brigade to the 9th Division.
In the Middle East, the battalion took part in the defence of Tobruk. On the night of 13/14 April 1941, a party of about 30 Germans broke into the Australian position and set up eight machine-guns, a couple of mortars and two field guns. Seeing this, the nearest platoon commander, Lieutenant Austin Mackell, launched a counterattack with a small party of men consisting of one corporal and five soldiers. Covered by fire from a position on their flank, the small party was able to successfully attack the position, and as a result, Corporal John Edmondson, who single-handedly accounted for a number of Germans despite being mortally wounded, was later awarded the Victoria Cross, the nation's highest military decoration, posthumously. It was the first such award to a member of the 2nd AIF.
Following their relief from Tobruk by units from the British 70th Division, the 2/17th Battalion was moved to Palestine, before being sent to Syria and Lebanon in early 1942 to undertake garrison duties and training after the Syria-Lebanon campaign. Later, in July, the units of the 9th Division were moved to North Africa and the 2/17th Battalion occupied a position around Tel Eisa, where they conducted patrols and observed German movements. In September they were relieved by the 2/15th Battalion, and went into reserve to prepare for further operations. During this time it had an effective strength of 28 officers and 727 other ranks. In October and November 1942, the battalion took part in the fighting around El Alamein, during which the 2/17th lost 62 men killed in action or died of wounds, 203 wounded and four captured.
In early 1943 the battalion was brought back to Australia in order to take part in fighting against the Japanese in the Pacific. Following training on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland, they were deployed to New Guinea where they took part in the Salamaua–Lae and Huon Peninsula campaigns in 1943–1944. During this time the 2/17th was involved in the first amphibious landing conducted by Australian soldiers since the landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, when it took part in the Landing at Lae as part of Operation Postern on 4 September 1943. After Lae had fallen, the battalion landed at Scarlet Beach on the Huon Peninsula on 22 September and, tasked with securing the beachhead and the flank, proceeded to move inland towards Sattelberg as part of efforts to capture Finschhafen. Finding their way blocked, the battalion later took part in significant actions around Jivevaneng and Kumawa, and then the drive towards Sio.
In March 1944 the battalion returned to Australia for rest and re-organisation. It spent over a year training before taking part in the Borneo campaign late in the war, landing on Brunei on 10 June 1945 as part of Operation Oboe Six. Coming ashore near Brooketon, the battalion took part in capturing the capital before dispatching companies to secure individual objectives in the outlying areas as the Australians advanced along the coast towards the oilfields at Seria. On 13 August, the order to cease offensive action was received from 20th Brigade headquarters and two days later the war came to an end with Japan's capitulation. The battalion's final campaign cost 24 men killed or wounded.
Following the end of hostilities the demobilisation process began, and personnel began to be repatriated to Australia to return to civilian life or were transferred to units of the 34th Brigade for further service during the occupation of Japan. On 29 October, the battalion was declared "redundant" and was transferred to Labuan. In December what remained of the 2/17th embarked upon the Pachaug Victory and sailed to Brisbane. From there they moved to Sydney and went on Christmas leave. On 8 February 1946, while at Ingleburn, the 2/17th Battalion was disbanded.
During the course of the war, the battalion lost 188 men killed in action or died on active service, while a further 573 were wounded. Members of the 2/17th received the following decorations: one Victoria Cross, four Distinguished Service Orders and one bar, three Officers of the Order of the British Empire, one Member of the Order of the British Empire, one British Empire Medal, 11 Military Crosses, three Distinguished Conduct Medals, 11 Military Medals and 46 Mentioned in Despatches.
In 1948, when Australia's part-time military force was re-raised under the guise of the Citizens Military Force, the battle honours that the battalion received for its service were entrusted to the 17th/18th Battalion (North Shore Regiment). Through a series of re-organisations, these battle honours were passed to the 2nd/17th Battalion, Royal New South Wales Regiment, an Australian Army Reserve infantry battalion that is currently based in central New South Wales.
For their service during World War II, the 2/17th Battalion received the following battle honours:
- North Africa 1941–42, Defence of Tobruk, El Adem Road, El Alamein, Alam el Halfa, South-West Pacific 1943–45, Lae–Nadzab, Finschhafen, Scarlet Beach, Defence of Scarlet Beach, Jivevaneng–Kumawa, Liberation of Australian New Guinea, Sio, Borneo, Brunei.
- Lieutenant Colonel John Crawford (26 April 1940 – 14 January 1942);
- Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Fergusson (15 January 1942 – 6 March 1942);
- Lieutenant Colonel Noel Simpson (7 March 1942 – 27 February 1944); and
- Lieutenant Colonel John Broadbent (28 February 1944 – 8 February 1946).
- By the start of World War II, the authorised strength of an Australian infantry battalion was 910 men all ranks, however, later in the war it fell to 803.
- Palazzo 2003, p. 6.
- "2/17th Battalion". Second World War, 1939–1945 units. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee 1998, p. 1.
- Wilmot 1993, p. 97.
- Wilmot 1993, p. 98.
- Wilmot 1993, p. 99.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee 1998, p. 129.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee 1998, p. 130.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee 1998, p. 175.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee 1998, p. 213.
- Johnston 2002, p. 158.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee 1998, p. 224.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee 1998, pp. 245 and 275.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee 1998, p. 487.
- Long 1961, p. 501.
- James 2009, p. 14.
- Grey 2008, p. 200.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee 1998, p. 319.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee 1998, p. 333.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee 1998, p. xii.
- 2/17 Battalion History Committee (1998). What We Have We Hold: A History of the 2/17 Australian Infantry Battalion, 1940–1945. Loftus, New South Wales: Australian Military History Publications. ISBN 1-876439-36-X.
- Grey, Jeffrey (2008). A Military History of Australia (3rd ed.). Melbourne, Victoria: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-69791-0.
- James, Karl (2009). "Soldiers to Citizens". Wartime (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Australian War Memorial) (45). ISSN 1328-2727.
- Johnston, Mark (2002). That Magnificent 9th: An Illustrated History of the 9th Australian Division 1940–46. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-643-7.
- Long, Gavin (1963). The Final Campaigns. Australia in the War of 1939–1945, Series 1—Army. Volume VII (1st ed.). Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Australian War Memorial. OCLC 1297619.
- Palazzo, Albert (2003). "Organising for Jungle Warfare". In Dennis, Peter; Grey, Jeffrey. The Foundations of Victory: The Pacific War 1943–1944. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Army History Unit. ISBN 978-0-646-43590-9.
- Wilmot, Chester (1993) . Tobruk 1941. Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books Australia. ISBN 0-14-017584-9.