2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion (Australia)
|2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion|
2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion personnel operating a captured Japanese machine gun on Tarakan in 1945
|Notable commanders||David Whitehead|
|Unit Colour Patch|
The 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion was an infantry support unit of the all volunteer Second Australian Imperial Force that was raised for service overseas during the Second World War. Formed in mid-1940, the battalion served in the Middle East between early 1941 and early 1943, seeing action against German and Italian forces at the First and Second Battles of El Alamein, and undertaking garrison duties in Syria as part of the Australian 9th Division. In early 1943, the 2/2nd were brought back to Australia, and subsequently fought several campaigns against the Japanese, landing around Lae in September 1943, and fighting on the Huon Peninsula until early 1944. In mid-1945, they supported landings on Tarakan, Labuan and Brunei Bay. After the war, the battalion was disbanded in February 1946.
Formation and training
The 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion was one of four machine gun battalions that were raised as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) for service overseas during the Second World War. A motorised unit consisting of four machine gun companies equipped with Vickers machine guns and a headquarters element, the machine gun battalions were formed during the Second World War to provide a greater level of support by fire than that which was organically available within ordinary infantry battalions. The concept had originated within the Australian Army during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 when the machine guns assigned to the infantry battalions – initially two and then, later, four – had been grouped together and co-ordinated at brigade level to help compensate for the lack of artillery support. Over the course of the war, on the Western Front the concept had evolved through the establishment of machine gun companies in 1916 and then finally in 1918, to the establishment of machine gun battalions. Similar formations had also been established amongst the Australian Light Horse units serving in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. During the inter-war years, the machine gun battalions had been deemed unnecessary and, as such, when the Army was reorganised in 1921, they were not re-raised, but in 1937, as the Army looked to expand as fears of war in Europe loomed, four such units were raised within the part-time Militia, by converting light horse units and motorising them. When the Second World War broke out, the decision was made to raise several machine gun battalions within the 2nd AIF, allocated at a rate of one per division.
The 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion was formed on 2 May 1940, in Sydney, New South Wales. Upon formation, the battalion was assigned to the 2nd AIF's second division – the 7th – and its personnel were recruited from two Australian states: Queensland and New South Wales, with many having served previously in the Militia with various light horse regiments and infantry battalions. The battalion's first commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel David Whitehead, who had previously commanded the 1st Light Horse (Machine Gun) Regiment (Royal New South Wales Lancers), and the nucleus of its trained personnel were drawn from this regiment, as well as several Queensland-based Militia units.
Because of the geographic dislocation of its recruits, basic training was undertaken separately with Queenslanders completing their induction at Redbank in the Greater Brisbane area and New South Welshmen undertaking theirs at Ingleburn and then Cowra in the New South Wales Central Tablelands, before the battalion finally concentrated at Pyrmont in New South Wales, in late 1940. After a period of further training, the battalion was ready to deploy overseas and in February 1941, they embarked for the Middle East, departing from Sydney aboard the transport Aquitania.
Service in the Middle East
After arriving in the Middle East, the 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion conducted more training in Palestine until April 1941 when it was transported to Mersa Matruh, where they began a year-long period serving in the garrison role. Towards the end of this period – January 1942 – the battalion was reassigned to the 9th Division and with it, the battalion moved to Syria where they undertook further garrison duty to defend against a possible German attack across the Caucasus Mountains. This came to an end in late June when until the 9th was rushed to El Alamein in late June 1942 to help establish a hasty defence line.
Throughout July, the battalion's companies were detached to support individual Australian brigades during First Battle of El Alamein as the Allied forces – who had, since the beginning of the year, been steadily pushed back by the German and Italian forces – fought desperately to stop the German advance east towards Cairo. By the end of July, the offensive had come to a half and during the lull that followed the battalion provided defensive fire from depth positions. In October, it joined the second Allied counter-attack that was launched during the Second Battle of El Alamein. During these battles, the battalion was heavily engaged, and its casualties reflected that: 21 killed, 128 wounded and 26 captured.
At the conclusion of the El Alamein fighting, the 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion was withdrawn to Gaza in early December, remaining there with the rest of the 9th Division until embarking on the Queen Mary for Australia in late January 1943, as part of the transference of Australian ground units from the Middle East to the Pacific to fight the Japanese.
Fighting in New Guinea and Borneo
Upon their return, a period of leave followed after which the battalion was re-constituted on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland in April 1943. The battalion was subsequently retrained, re-equipped and reorganised to prepare it for the rigours of jungle warfare and throughout this time several drafts of reinforcements were received. These were mainly drawn from the states of South Australia and Western Australia, which changed the demographics of the battalion's personnel. Some personnel were also drawn from Europeans who had been living in New Guinea. Finally, the battalion received orders to deploy to the territory of Papua, and in August 1943 the 2/2nd arrived at Milne Bay, which had been developed into a large Allied base after the fighting there the previous year. After a month of garrison duties and work parties, the battalion took part in the landing at Lae in early September, as the 9th and 7th Divisions rushed to secure the town; during the 9th's landing east of the town, the battalion suffered 29 casualties in a single Japanese air attack, but overall the battalion's involvement in the advance resulted in only limited casualties as its personnel were mainly used to unload stores and equipment, as well providing local defence.
Lae fell sooner than anticipated and the Allies moved quickly to consolidate, dispatching the 9th Division to secure the Huon Peninsula in late September. During the initial landing on Scarlet Beach, only one company from the 2/2nd was deployed – 'C' Company – in support of the 20th Brigade. Initially they were responsible for defending the beachhead around Scarlett Beach, but as the Australians fanned out and advanced south where Japanese resistance intensified, the machine gunners began patrolling operations further afield to the north and west. Once Finschhafen had been secured in early October, the Australians increased the size of their force ashore, landing the 24th Brigade, and along with it, the rest of the 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion. After this, they formed the main part of the divisional reserve, carrying out labouring tasks and maintaining a mobile reserve to counter-attack if necessary. In November, as the 26th Brigade attacked Sattelberg, the machine-guns of 'B' Company were used in an offensive role for the first time during the campaign. Following the fall of Sattelberg, elements of the battalion supported the advance to Wareo before supporting the subsequent advance to Sio as the Australians followed up the retreating Japanese. During December, 'A' Company was detached in support of the Militia 4th Brigade, before the 20th Brigade resumed the lead, marching in to Sio in mid-January 1944. The battalion remained in New Guinea until late February, unloading ships, before embarking upon the transport Seasnipe on 25 February as the 9th Division were relieved by the 5th and withdrawn to Australia for rest and reorganisation. After a short voyage, the 2/2nd disembarked in Brisbane in early March 1944.
A long period of relative inactivity subsequently followed as a result of inter-Allied service politics and indecision about the future role of Australian forces in the Pacific campaign. During this time, the battalion was based around Ravenshoe in Queensland, and was virtually rebuilt, having fallen to a strength of just over 250 personnel due to the effects of tropical diseases and losses suffered during the previous campaign. During this time, the battalion was notionally transferred to the "tropical war establishment". As a result, they were no longer considered a motorised unit and officially returned the majority of their vehicles, although this process had largely occurred when they had embarked from the Middle East earlier the previous year when the 9th Division had returned most of its equipment to the British.
After over a year, the battalion was committed to its final campaign of the war, transiting through Morotai Island as it joined the fighting on Borneo. One company supported the 20th Brigade during its assault on Tarakan Island in May, while the rest of the battalion supported the landings on Labuan Island and around Brunei Bay during the Battle of North Borneo. It was a short, but sharp campaign, which was drawn to a close quicker than expected by the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagaskai in early August 1945.
Following the conclusion of hostilities, the battalion's personnel were transferred to other units or repatriated back to Australia for demobilisation. In January 1946, the 2/2nd's remaining personnel returned to Australia and the following month, on 26 February, the unit was disbanded. After the war, the Australian Army moved away from the machine gun battalion construct and consequently no similar units have been raised since, with the role being subsumed into the support companies of individual infantry battalions. Throughout the course of the war, a total of 1,824 personnel served within the unit. The battalion lost 67 men killed or died on active service, while a further 193 were wounded and 28 were captured. Members of the battalion received the following decorations: two Distinguished Service Orders, one Military Cross, one Distinguished Conduct Medal, five Military Medals and 20 Mentions in Despatches.
- Lieutenant Colonel David Whitehead (1940–42)
- Lieutenant Colonel Edward Macarthur-Onslow (1942–45);
- Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Searle (1945).
- North Africa 1941–42; Defence of Alamein Line; Ruweisat Ridge; Sanyet el Miteirya; El Alamein; South-West Pacific 1943–45; Lae–Nadzab; Finschhafen; Sattelberg; Borneo; Brunei and Labuan.
- Dennis et al 1995, p. 372.
- Oakes 1980, p. 22.
- Dennis et al 1995, pp. 371–372.
- Dennis et al 1995, p. 371.
- "2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion". Second World War, 1939–1945 units. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
- Oakes 1980, pp. 25–31.
- Oakes 1980, p. 37.
- Oakes 1980, p. 49.
- Oakes 1980, p. 89.
- "El Alamein battles". Encyclopedia. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
- Oakes 1980, p. 125.
- Oakes 1980, pp. 167–169.
- Oakes 1980, p. 14.
- Oakes 1980, pp. 191–192.
- Keogh 1965, p. 313.
- Keogh 1965, p. 317.
- Oakes 1980, p. 195.
- Oakes 1980, p. 198.
- Oakes 1980, p. 206.
- Quick, Dennis (15 November 2004). "Hard men: Sattelberg another triumph for 9th Div". Townsville Bulletin (News Digital Media). p. 14. ISSN 1327-4317.
- Oakes 1980, p. 213.
- Oakes 1980, p. 215.
- Keogh 1965, pp. 393–400.
- Oakes 1980, p. 221.
- Oakes 1980, pp. 167 & 229.
- Oakes 1980, pp. 235 & 261.
- Oakes 1980, p. 305.
- Oakes 1980, pp. 18–19.
- Dennis, Peter; Grey, Jeffrey; Morris, Ewan; Prior, Robin (1995). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (1st ed.). Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-553227-9.
- Keogh, Eustace (1965). The South West Pacific 1941–45. Melbourne, Victoria: Grayflower. OCLC 7185705.
- Oakes, Bill (1980). Muzzle Blast: Six Years of War With the 2/2 Australian Machine Gun Battalion, A.I.F. Sydney, New South Wales: 2/2 Australian Machine Gun Battalion Committee. OCLC 10829375.