2/20th Battalion (Australia)
2/20th Battalion personnel in Sydney, February 1941
|Part of||22nd Brigade, 8th Division|
|Unit Colour Patch|
The 2/20th Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army. Raised in mid-1940 as part of the 8th Division, the battalion was recruited from Second Australian Imperial Force volunteers drawn from the state of New South Wales. In early 1941, the 2/20th Battalion deployed to Malaya, where they formed part of the garrison there until December when the Japanese invaded. The battalion subsequently fought a brief campaign along the east coast of the Malay Peninsula before being withdrawn back to Singapore in early 1942. They were heavily engaged after the Japanese landed on the island, and were eventually captured following the Fall of Singapore. Most members of the battalion became prisoners of war, and a large number died in captivity.
Raised for service during Second World War as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force, the 2/20th Battalion was formed on 15 July 1940 at Walgrove in Sydney under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William Jeater and was attached to the 22nd Brigade, 8th Division. With an authorised strength of between 800 and 900 men, the battalion was organised into a headquarters and four rifle companies, designated A to D. The battalion's recruits were mainly drawn from Sydney, Newcastle and the New South Wales north coast.
In late 1940, the British asked the Australian government to contribute a force to garrison the strategically important port of Singapore as tensions in the Pacific with the Japanese rose. Although they had not completed their training, the 22nd Brigade was eventually allocated to this task in early 1941, under the proviso that they would be relieved after a short period and returned to Australia to complete their training prior to being sent to the Middle East.
Embarking for Singapore on 2 February 1941, the battalion subsequently took up positions in south-west Malaya where it conducted further training around Port Dickson. In early August, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Assheton took over as commanding officer, and the battalion was redeployed to Mersing, constructing defences there. Following the landings on 8 December 1941, the battalion was subsequently involved in fighting against the Japanese as part of the Malayan campaign. The first strikes of the Japanese attack fell on British and Indian troops in the north of the country, and initially the Australian units, which were based in primarily in the south around Johore, did not see much fighting. On 7 January 1942, C Company was detached to form part of a special unit to delay the Japanese advance at Endau on the north coast, clashing with the Japanese on a number of occasions before withdrawing to the battalion main defensive position at Mersing on 26 January. Meanwhile, the remainder of the battalion at Mersing also clashed with the Japanese on a number of occasions, and was heavily bombed. After being rejoined by C Company, the 2/20th Battalion withdrew to Singapore Island on 31 January, where it took up positions on the northern flank of the brigade sector.
Situated on the north-west coast of the island, the 22nd Brigade was allocated a frontage of 8 miles (13 km) – considerably larger than normal – along a stretch of coast line that was hard to defend due to its terrain. When the Japanese assaulted the island on 8 February 1942, the main assault fell on the 22nd Brigade's area. Stretched across a wide frontage, the 2/20th Battalion's lines were eventually infiltrated by the assaulting Japanese. After initially inflicting heavy casualties on the Japanese the battalion, threatened with encirclement, was forced to withdraw to a new position along Lim Chu Road. Although still intact, it was apparent that this position would shortly be overwhelmed and the battalion was again ordered to move south, during which it became scattered. The initial Japanese assault cost the battalion heavily. Casualties on the first night amounted to 334 killed and 214 wounded, including the commanding officer, second-in-command and three of the four company commanders. After Assheton had been wounded in the initial Japanese assault, a section was sent out to pull him to safety but before they reached him, he ordered them to leave him due to the volume of Japanese fire and he was subsequently killed.
Separated, the individual elements of the battalion continued to conduct a fighting withdrawal but were subsequently captured on the outskirts of Singapore city on the night of 15 February 1942, along with the bulk of the British Commonwealth forces on the island after the garrison commander, Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, ordered a surrender. The men were initially imprisoned at Changi; however, many were later sent to work on Thai-Burma Railway, while others were sent to prison camps in Borneo, Japan, French Indochina, Java, Sumatra, and Malaya, where they endured considerable hardship with many men dying in captivity. Following the surrender of Japan the survivors were liberated in August 1945. The battalion was disbanded later in 1945; having lost 561 men dead and 122 wounded. Members of the battalion received the following decorations: one Military Medal, one Distinguished Conduct Medal and nine Mentions in Despatches.
The 2/20th Battalion was awarded the following battle honours:
- Malaya 1941–1942, Johore, Singapore Island.
- "2/20th Battalion". Second World War, 1939–1945 units. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
- Kuring 2004, p. 47.
- Palazzo 2004, p. 94.
- "Army: Structure". Military Organisation and Structure. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
- Wigmore 1957, pp. 51–52.
- Morgan 2013, p. 6.
- Wigmore 1957, p. 99.
- Legg 1965, p. 231.
- Morgan 2013, p. 12.
- Legg 1965, p. 234.
- Legg 1965, p. 235.
- Hall 1983, p. 167.
- Wigmore 1957, p. 322.
- Hall, Timothy (1983). The Fall of Singapore 1942. North Ryde, New South Wales: Methuen Australia. ISBN 0-454-00433-8.
- Kuring, Ian (2004). Redcoats to Cams: A History of Australian Infantry 1788–2001. Loftus, New South Wales: Australian Military History Publications. ISBN 1-876439-99-8.
- Legg, Frank (1965). The Gordon Bennett Story: From Gallipoli to Singapore. Sydney, New South Wales: Angus & Robertson. OCLC 3193299.
- Morgan, Joseph (2013). "A Burning Legacy: The Broken 8th Division". Sabretache (Garran, Australian Capital Territory: Military Historical Society of Australia). Volume LIV (No. 3, September): pp. 4–14. ISSN 0048-8933.
- Palazzo, Albert (2004). "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. pp. 86–102. ISBN 978-0-646-43590-9.
- Wigmore, Lionel (1957). The Japanese Thrust. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army. Volume 4 (First ed.). Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Australian War Memorial. OCLC 3134219.