2nd Division (Australia)

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2nd Division
The 2nd Division's formation sign during World War II
The 2nd Division's formation sign during World War II
Active 26 July 1915 – March 1919
March 1921 – April 1944
April 1948 – present
Country Australia Australia
Branch Australian Army Reserve
Type Reserve division
Size 6 Brigades
Engagements

World War I

Commanders
Notable
commanders
Major General Iven Mackay
Major General Herbert Lloyd

The 2nd Division commands all the reserve brigades in Australia. These are the 4th in Victoria, the 5th and 8th in New South Wales, the 9th in South Australia and Tasmania, the 11th in Queensland and the 13th in Western Australia.

The division was first formed in 1915 during World War I as part of the First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF), and served in the Gallipoli Campaign and on the Western Front. Apart from a period from 1960 to 1965, the division has existed in one form or another.

History[edit]

World War I[edit]

The Australian 2nd Division was formed from reinforcements training in Egypt on 10 July 1915 as part of the Australian Imperial Force to fight in World War I. It fought at Gallipoli during the latter stages of the campaign and then traversed to the Western Front in France where it was the last Australian division to see combat. After the war ended and the AIF was demobilised, the 2nd Division name was revived and assigned to a Citizens Military Forces (reserve) unit.

Gallipoli, 1915[edit]

The Australian 2nd Division was formed in July 1915 from a collection of brigades that had been raised independently in Australia (in February and April 1915), and sent to Egypt (in May and June 1915) for further training. Initially, it was intended that the division's commander would be James McCay, but he was wounded on 11 July, and invalided back to Australia and so, the command of the division went to Lieutenant-General James Legge.

Due to the pressing need for more soldiers for the Gallipoli Campaign, parts of the 2nd Division was sent to Anzac Cove in mid August 1915, with the rest of the division arriving by early September – despite the fact that the division was only partially trained. The 2nd Division held a quiet stretch of the original line (as a majority of the fighting was taking place north of ANZAC Cove), and only a part of the Division (the 18th Battalion saw serious fighting during around Hill 60 on 22 August. The 2nd Division was evacuated from the peninsula in December, returning to Egypt, where it was brought back up to strength.

Somme, 1916[edit]

The 2nd Division started to arrived in France in March 1916, and was initially sent (as part of the I Anzac Corps with the Australian 1st Division) to a quiet sector south of Armentières to acclimatise to the Western Front conditions. In mid-July, with the British offensive on the Somme dragging on, I Anzac Corps was sent to join the British Reserve Army of Lieutenant General Hubert Gough who intended to use the Australian divisions to take the village of Pozières (the Battle of Pozières). Due to the casualties sustained by the Australian 1st Division's attack at Pozières on 23 July, it was replaced by the 2nd Division on 27 July. Continuing the attack started by the 1st Division, the 2nd Division attacked on 29 July. However, due to the hurried preparation (some of the attacking troops had not seen their objective in the day), the division sustained approximately 3,500 casualties for little gain.

7th Brigade fatigue party passing the "Gibraltar" bunker, Pozières, August 1916.

The 2nd Division attacked again on 4 August, capturing the OG2 trench line and part of the crest. Alarmed by the loss of the defences (including the crest), the Germans initiated a severe, sustained artillery bombardment. The position of the Australian salient, meant that the soldiers were receive artillery fire from the rear – from German batteries near Thiepval. After 12 days on the front line and sustaining 6,846 casualties, the 2nd Division was relieved by the Australian 4th Division on 6 August.

After a brief rest – during which the division was built up to two-thirds strength – the 2nd Division again relieved the Australian 1st Division from its position beyond Pozières (in front of Mouquet Farm) on 22 August (the Battle of Mouquet Farm). Attacking on 26 August, the 2nd Division succeeded in penetrating past the fortifications at Mouquet Farm only to be attacked from the rear as the German troops (the elite 1st Guards Reserve and 4th Guards Divisions) emerged from the fortified underground positions at Mouquet Farm. These counterattacks succeeded in forcing the 2nd Division back from Mouquet Farm. After sustaining another 1,268 casualties, the 2nd Division was relieved by the Australian 4th Division on 26 August.

On 5 September, I Anzac was withdrawn from the Somme and sent to Ypres for rest. The division anticipated spending winter quarters in Flanders but was recalled to the Somme for the final stages of the British offensive. This time they joined the British Fourth Army, holding a sector south of Pozières near the village of Flers. The battlefield had been reduced to a slough of mud but the 2nd Division was required to mount a number of attacks, with the 7th Brigade attacking the German series of trenches called "The Maze" on 5 November. While part of the German trenches were captured and held, the exhausted soldiers were ejected from their gains a few days later. The 7th Brigade attacked again on 14 November, but were only partially successful in capturing parts of the "Gird" and "Gird Support" trenches immediately to the north of "The Maze". However, a German counterattack on 16 November succeeded in recapturing all of the trenches captured by the 2nd Division, which had sustained a total of 1,720 casualties in the two attacks.

Remnants of the 6th Brigade returning from Pozières, August 1916.

In January, Legge fell ill and was replaced by Brigadier-General Nevill Maskelyne Smyth VC (who had formerly commanded the Australian 1st Brigade since during the Gallipoli Campaign). Legge returned to Australia to take up the post of Inspector General. However, until Smyth was available, the division was temporarily commanded by the commander of the 6th Brigade, Brigadier-General John Gellibrand.

German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, 1917[edit]

In mid-January 1917, the 2nd Division was relieved by the Australian 5th Division, however by late February (during the German withdrawal to the prepared fortifications in the Hindenburg Line), the 2nd Division was active in engaging the German rearguard as it fell back to the first fortified reserve position (known to the British as the Loupart-Le Transloy Line, and called the R.I. stellung by the Germans. The Germans had decided to temporarily hold the R.I. position, (which was centred on the village of Bapaume) so on 25 February, the 5th and 6th brigades mounted an unsuccessful attack on the "Malt" trench – an outpost in front of the R.I. position.

Continual small attacks were conducted on the Malt Trench through 26 and 27 February, with a larger attack attempted on the 27th and 28th by the 7th Brigade. However, as the wire defences were undamaged, little headway could be made. It was not until 2 March, after sustained artillery fire had cut paths through the wire, that the 7th Brigade captured portions of Malt trench. This brought the 2nd Division close enough to be able to attack the R.I. position. As the 2nd Division was preparing to attack the R.I. position in front of Loupart Wood (the attack was planned to commence on 13 March), it was discovered on 12 March, that the Germans had already withdrawn to the second reserve position R.II. Stellung centred on the crest of the ridge beyond Bapaume. R.II. was evacuated by the Germans on 17 March, as they withdrew to the Hindenburg Line.

Starting on 17 March 1917, the 2nd Division was reorganised to pursue the German withdrawal, with the 6th Brigade chosen to lead the pursuit. On 20 March, the 6th Brigade attempted a hasty attack on the fortified village of Noreuil, which was beaten back with 331 casualties. However, the next attack on the fortified village of Lagnicourt on 26 March was successful, with the German counter-attack on the same day defeated by the Australians. Soon after, the 2nd Division was relieved by Australian 4th Division, which conducted a second attack on the fortified village of Noreuil, which was captured on 2 April. With the capture of Noreuil (Louverval and Doignies were also taken by the Australian 5th Division on 2 April.), the I Anzac Corps was within striking distance of the main Hindenburg defences.

2nd Division troops in Bapaume, March 1917

Hindenburg Line[edit]

The 2nd Division was in support during the First Battle of Bullecourt which was the Fifth Army's main contribution to the Arras offensive. Once the first attempt on Bullecourt had failed, the 2nd Division relieved the Australian 4th Division from in front of Bullecourt (a front of approximately 2,750 yd (2,510 m) on 13 April.

As such, when the Germans launched a counter-stroke on 15 April in front of the village of Lagnicourt (the Battle of Lagnicourt), part of it fell on the 17th Battalion (which was holding the right flank of the 2nd Division), with the remainder falling on the 1st Division. The attack was strongest along the divisional boundary between the 1st and 2nd Divisions, and as a result the Germans managed to penetrate between the 17th Battalion and the neighbouring 12th Battalion and capture the village of Lagnicourt. Prompt counterattacks by the 5th Brigade (2nd Division) and 3rd brigade (1st Division) managed to drive off the attacking Germans, and re-establish the original front line. During this battle, the 2nd Division experienced 305 casualties (of the 1010 casualties experienced by the I Anzac Corps).

On 3 May the Second Battle of Bullecourt commenced with the 2nd Division attacking the two trench lines east of Bullecourt – seizing parts of both trench lines. Counter attacks forced the troops out of the second trench line, and out of most of the captured first line. Further attacks were conducted on 4 May and 6 May by brigades of the Australian 1st Division that were attached to the 2nd Division, supported by the troops of the 2nd Division, resulted in the capture of most of the first line of trenches. After repulsing a total of 6 German counterattacks, the 2nd Division was relieved by the Australian 5th Division on the 8th/9 May, having experienced 3898 casualties. The 2nd Division was then sent to rest areas in the Somme region, until the end of July, when the division was sent to Flanders for training.

Third Battle of Ypres[edit]

The 2nd Division's artillery was in action from the start of the Third Battle of Ypres on 22 July 1917 but the infantry were not called upon until the second phase of the battle commenced on 20 September with the Battle of Menin Road. Attacking along with ten other divisions, including the Australian 1st Division on their right and the 9th (Scottish) Division on their left, the 2nd Division advanced an average of 1,000 yards (910 m). The division sustained 2259 casualties, and was relieved on 22 September by the Australian 4th Division (which then continued the offensive in the next battle, the Battle of Polygon Wood.

Relieving the British 3rd Infantry Division between 29 September and 1 October, the 2nd Division's task in the Battle of Broodseinde was to advance 1,800 to 1,900 yd (1,600 to 1,700 m), and to capture one of the ridgelines which dominated the Ypres Salient. Attacking on 4 October, one of the most unlikely of occurrences happened, when a German attack started at almost the same time as the Australian attack – resulting in the two attacking forces engaging each other in no-mans land. Quickly gaining the upper hand, the 2nd Division captured all of its objectives, while sustaining 2,174 casualties. This battle marked the peak of British success during 3rd Ypres, and with rain starting to fall on 3 October, was the last successful battle of the Third Battle of Ypres.

With rain starting to fall heavier and heavier, the conditions on the ground deteriorated, so that when the next attack started on 9 October (the Battle of Poelcappelle) the ground became difficult to traverse, resulting in the troops moving up to their starting positions becoming exhausted prior to the start of the attack. The role of the 2nd Division in the Battle of Poelcappelle, was for the left brigade to advance 800 yards (730 m) and so protect the flank of the 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division while the right brigade would pivot on its right flank and match its left flank to the movement of the left Brigade. With an average battalion strength of only 160 men, and supported by a weak artillery barrage, the advance quickly stalled, and resulted in only small gains at a cost of 1,253 casualties. As a result of the exhaustion of the troops, the 2nd Division was relieved by the Australian 4th Division by 12 October.

The 2nd Division relieved the Australian 5th Division on 27 October, and continued to hold the line along the Broodseinde Ridge, until all of the Australian divisions (by now grouped into an all Australian Corps) were transferred south to Flanders (centred on the town of Messines).

German Spring Offensive, 1918[edit]

The 2nd Division was in support or reserve at Messines until 8 March 1918, where it then entered the line in the southern sector (centred on Ploegsteert), where it stayed until 3 April. The Division was relieved by the 25th British Division, and began moving to the Somme in response to the start (on 21 March) of the initial German offensive – Operation Michael.

Upon reaching the Somme on 4 April, the leading brigade (the 5th) was detached to relieve the overstrained troops around Villers-Bretonneux, while the rest of the Division (under the command of the British Third Army) relieved the Australian 4th Division (where the 4th had just fought the Battle of Dernancourt) near Dernancourt on 8 April. The detached 5th Brigade (under the command of the British Fourth Army) was initially put into a reserve line (locally known as the "Aubigny Line") under the 14th Division, before it was sent further south to support (and later relieve) the 18th Division south of Villers-Bretonneux.

After the 5th Brigade had relieved the 18th Division (on 5 April), it was decided that the 5th would recapture the lost parts of Hangard wood, and so reduce a salient that threatened the southern flank of the Australian forces at Villers-Bretonneux. The attack was conducted on 7 April, and while it succeeded in clearing Hangard Wood (at a cost of 151 casualties), the position that the attacking troops were expected to fortify was poorly sited, and as a result the attacking troops retreated to their starting positions.

Another attack was planned for 15 April, this time in conjunction with the French First Army, with the objective of eliminating the entire salient south of Villers-Bretonneux. However, when the next German Offensive (the Battle of Lys) started on 9 April, it drew off the British forces required to mount the attack. In addition, German attacks on 7 and 12 April resulted in the capture of the village of Hangard, and abandonment of the attack. However, it was decided that a small local attack would be mounted, with the intention of capturing the cemetery and cemetery copse north of the village of Hangard. The role of the 5th Brigade was to capture the copse, while the French captured the cemetery. The Australians were unable to secure the copse, which fell to German counterattacks (with a total of 84 casualties), however the French were able to capture the cemetery. The 5th Brigade returned to the Australian Corps on 19 April.

Peaceful Penetration[edit]

3rd Medium Trench Mortar Battery in action, Ville-sur-Ancre 29 May 1918

The 2nd Division was relieved by the 47th Division on 2 May, and became the reserve division for the Australian Corps. After resting, the division relieved the Australian 3rd Division opposite Morlancourt on 11 May, and continued peaceful penetration operations that had been started by the 3rd Division. On 19 May, the 2nd Division attacked the Germans on either side of the village of Ville-sur-Ancre (an advance of approximately 1,000 yards (910 m)), and despite the opposing German troops being fresh and anticipating the attack, the attack succeeded in capturing the village. The attack cost 418 casualties, but also resulted in approximately 800 German casualties and the capture of 330 Germans and 45 machine guns.

As a result of the "Australiaisation" of AIF forces, on 22 May, Major General Charles Rosenthal, who had previously commanded the Australian 9th Infantry Brigade, replaced Smyth as commander of 2nd Division. On 10 June, the 7th Brigade conducted an attack over a 3,000 yards (2,700 m) frontage between Morlancourt and Sailly-Laurette, and succeeded in advancing an average depth of 700 yards (640 m), with approximately 350 casualties and the capture of 325 Germans, 30 machineguns and six trench mortars. This attack revealed the ease in which a well-planned attack could be conducted, and also revealed that there was no major offensive planned on the Amiens front.

Battle of Hamel[edit]

As a result of the advances by the Australian Corps in front of Morlancourt, the southern flank was exposed to artillery fire from near the village of Hamel. In response to this and to gain support for a French attack south of Villers-Bretonneux, it was decided to attack the German salient and capture the village of Hamel as well as Hamel and Vaire Woods. In preparation of this attack, the 2nd Division relieved the Australian 3rd Division on 28 and 29 June.

At this point in time, the average Australian division was under strength by approximately 1,600 men (the 2nd Division was under strength by 1,686 men), and as a result, the strength of an Australian battalion was reduced from 966 to 900 men. Due the under strength nature of the Australian divisions, it was decided that the upcoming Battle of Hamel would involve units from three Australian divisions (the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Australian Divisions), with the 2nd Division temporarily placing its left Brigade under the command of the 4th Division for the attack.

The attack at Hamel (conducted on 4 July) was a complete success, with the battle completed in only 93 minutes. The 2nd Division Brigades temporarily attached to the Australian 4th Division suffered only 246 casualties (out of a total of 1380 Australian and American casualties). The total German casualties for the battle were approximately 2,000 (of which approximately 1,600 were captured), and included 177 machineguns and 32 trench mortars.

Hamel and the surrounding wood burning following the initial bombardment on 4 July 1918

After the Battle of Hamel, the division continued Peaceful Penetration on its front, and by 11 July had advanced its front line by approximately 200 yards (180 m). This aided a planned offensive whose objective was to capture more of the Villers-Bretonneux plateau. In fact, Peaceful Penetration had already achieved the objective on the northern flank. The continued Peaceful Penetration on the northern flank of the salient below Villers-Bretonneux caused the Germans to withdrawal by 1,000 yards (910 m), leaving only outposts and sentries behind to deceive the Allies that the front was still being held. This withdrawal meant that the Australians were able to capture Monument Farm, parts of Monument Wood and the first German tank ("Mephisto" – disabled on 24 April) to be captured by British forces. The withdrawal also meant that the planned offensive was now superseded, as Peaceful Penetration had already achieved the objectives.

Further Peaceful Penetration patrols were conducted, this time with the objective of advancing the Australian 7th Infantry Brigades front by 1,000 yards (910 m), and capturing the remainder of Monument Wood and "The Mound" (spoil from a nearby railway cutting). However this would then expose the southern flank of the Division (which was bent back at an almost 45-degree angle – so that it went east-west rather than northeast-southwest). As a result, Rosenthal was authorised to approach the French Division and Regimental commanders with a deal – that the Australians would capture the ground, which would then be defended by French units.

As the Germans were now starting to dig proper fortifications (they had previously not done so to induce the Allies into believing that further offensives were planned in the area), Peaceful Penetration was becoming more difficult to conduct. As a result, a small-scale offensive (conducted by only 2 battalions on 17 July) was conducted, advancing the line by 500 yards (460 m) with 129 casualties, and inflicting at least 303 German casualties.

Due to their vulnerable southern flank, no further advances were possible until the French forces south of the 2nd Division advanced. French patrols on 18 July managed to advance their line, but it remained a mile behind the neighbouring 2nd Division. The Peaceful Penetration conducted over the previous two weeks had advanced the line by an average of 1,000 yards (910 m) over a frontage of 4,500 yards (4,100 m), at a cost of 437 casualties (only 16 more than their neighbouring Australian units holding the line in front of Hamel), and had achieved all of the objectives set down for the offensive that was to occur after the Battle of Hamel.

As part of the training of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), units were attached to other Allied forces, and the Australian forces were no exception, with the 65th American Brigade (from the American 33rd Division) assigned to the Australian Corps (arriving from 26 July to 5 August). As a result, two battalions of the 129th American Regiment were assigned to the 2nd Division, joining it in the Villers-Bretonneux sector. The Americans were assigned by company to an Australian Battalion, and as some of the Australian Battalions were extremely under strength (for example, the front line strength of the 24th Battalion was only 193 men), it meant that there was equal number of Australians and Americans in the front line.

Hundred Days, 1918[edit]

The 2nd Division commenced the Battle of Amiens (the start of the final British offensive) on 8 August, attacking (with the Australian 3rd Division) from its position near Villers-Bretonneux. The 2nd Division reached its objective (the "Green Line") between 6.25 and 7 am, and started to dig in. The second wave of Australian troops (the Australian 4th and 5th Divisions) moved through the 2nd and 3rd Divisions at 8:20 am, and continued on to the "Red Line". The soldiers of the 2nd Division stayed at their positions (one brigade in the original front line, the other 2 brigades on the "Green Line") until released at 11:15 to rejoin the attack.

The 2nd Division continued attacking on 9, 10 and 11 August, capturing Vauvillers, Framerville and Rainecourt, at a cost of 1295 casualties. The attacks post 9 August were often hasty, and lacking in co-ordination between neighbouring units – resulting in a lot of the fighting being an infantry battle (relying on manoeuvre over artillery/tank support), and a subsequent increase in casualties.

Between 16 and 18 August, Peaceful Penetration was carried out by the 6th Brigade (then the only unit of the 2nd Division on the front line) around Herleville, culminating in an attack on 18 August to the edge of Herleville itself. By this stage the 6th Brigade was suffering from the continuous combat, with the 22nd Battalion down to company strength, but still required to attack over a large frontage (in this case 1,000 yards (910 m)). The 2nd Division was relieved on the next day 19 August) by the 32nd British Division.

The 2nd Division relieved the Australian 1st Division on 26 August, with the intention of holding the front with "aggressive patrols", as the Battle of Arras was to be the main effort of the British Expeditionary Force. Despite the order from General Rawlinson (4th Army commander) for only "aggressive patrols", the 2nd Division kept advancing along the south bank of the Somme River capturing various villages such as Herbécourt, Flaucourt, Barleux and – despite a stiff defence – Biaches, and with German morale crumbling, was ordered to advance towards Péronne and Mont St. Quentin, with the intention of capturing Mont St. Quentin. The latter dominated the surrounding terrain and was considered to be one of the most heavily fortified positions in the area.

Capture of Mont Saint Quentin painting by Fred Leist (1920)

The initial plan for the Battle of Mont St. Quentin was for the 2nd Division, the Australian 3rd Division and the British 32nd Division to attack to the east, and cross the Somme River in the vicinity of Péronne, with the 2nd Division continuing on to take Mont St. Quentin. However, it was discovered that the defences along the river were too strong to be overcome. And so the 2nd Divisions front was taken over by the Australian 5th Division, and the 2nd Division then move north behind the Australian 3rd Division (which was to take Cléry and continue east to protect the 2nd Division flank), and then approach Mont St. Quentin on the northern side of the Somme River, and then attack Mont St. Quentin from the west.

The offensive succeeded, with the Australian 5th Brigade (with a strength on 1,340 men, supported by 5 brigades of field artillery, and 4 brigades of heavy artillery) succeeded in capturing Mont St. Quentin on the morning of 31 August, capturing over 700 German prisoners from the 21st German Division and the Kaiser Alexander (1st Guards Grenadiers). Back in Amiens, the Rawlinson wrote that "It is indeed a magnificent performance..." However, the fifth German counterattack in the afternoon of the 31st succeeded in recapturing the crest of the Mont St. Quentin hill.

Mont St. Quentin was attacked a second time in the morning of 1 September, this time by the Australian 6th Brigade (with a strength of 1,334 men), with its right flank protected by the Australian 14th Brigade (5th Division) capturing Péronne. Attacking against the German 94th Infantry Regiment, 96th Infantry Regiment and the Kaiser Alexander (1st Guard Grenadier) Regiment (both under the command of the German 38th Division), the 6th Brigade succeeded in capturing Mont St. Quentin. The attack continued on the next day (2 September), with the 7th Brigade attacking east from Mont St. Quentin to protect the southern flank of the Australian 3rd Division (which in turn was protecting the southern flank of the British III Corps as it attacked towards Nurlu).

During the two attacks on Mont St. Quentin, and the one east of Mont St. Quentin (from 31 August to 2 September), the 2nd Division had suffered 1,370 casualties. While the casualties were not as high as in previous battles (such as Pozières), it should be remembered that as the Australian Divisions were severely under strength (with the average battalion strength down to approximately 150 men), even such a small number casualties accounted for approximately one-third of the rifle strength of the division.

By 4 September, the 2nd Division was relieved and was rested until late September. It was during this time (23 September) that the 19th, 21st and 25th Battalions were disbanded to make up the strength of the other battalions in their brigades, resulting in the 2nd Division following the same organisational structure (as a 9 battalion division) as British divisions of the British Expeditionary Force.

By early October, forces attached to the Australian Corps (such as the Australian 3rd and 5th Divisions, and the American 27th and 30th Divisions of the II American Corps) had succeeded in capturing the main Hindenburg defences (in the first part of the Battle of St. Quentin Canal), and the supporting defences – however this left the third line of defences, the "Beaurevoir Line". Relieving the Australian 5th Division on 1 October, the 2nd Divisions task was to attack (with the Australian 1st Division and the American 27th and 30th Divisions) and breach the Beaurevoir Line, and open a gap for the Cavalry Corps to exploit before winter ended the campaigning season.

The 2nd Division attacked the Beaurevoir Line on 3 October, with two brigades (the 5th and 7th – with a rifle strength of 2500 men) on an initial frontage of 5,000 yards (4,600 m) (with the objectives calling for a 2-mile advance, resulting in a frontage of 6,500 yd (5,900 m)). Attacking at 45 minutes before sunrise, the soldiers managed to capture the fortified positions at the la Motte Farm and Mushroom Quarry (at a cost of 989 casualties), but were stopped short of their objectives – the village of Beaurevoir and the heights that the village was situated on.

Continuing the attack on the next day (4 October), the 2nd Division managed to approach the village of Beaurevoir, and conducted further attacks on 5 October to capture the village of Montbrehain. After much hard fighting by two battalions of the 6th Brigade (reinforced by the 2nd Pioneer Battalion) (against the German 241st (Saxon) Division (reinforced by the German 24th Division and the German 34th Division), the village was captured, along with nearly 400 German prisoners. The capture of the village drove a mile long salient into the German lines, and was described as "one of the most brilliant actions of Australian infantry in the First World War".[citation needed] However, this action cost the 2nd Division an additional 408 casualties.

The 2nd Division was relieved by the 30th Division on the evening of 5 October, with the intention of allowing it to rest until the start of the campaigning season in 1919, however as the Armistice was signed in November 1918, the Australian 2nd Division was the last Australian division to see combat in World War I. With the end of the war, Australian forces were quickly disbanded, and the soldiers transported back to Australia. As a result, the 2nd Division merged with the Australian 5th Division in March 1919 (as a single division of four brigades), and by May 1919 the last Australians were transported from France to England. By September 1919, only 10 000 Australian troops were in England, and on 1 April 1921 the AIF was officially disbanded.

Memorial[edit]

Positioned at Mont St Quentin 49°56′51.61″N 2°55′55.91″E / 49.9476694°N 2.9321972°E / 49.9476694; 2.9321972 (2nd Division memorial)), where the Australian 2nd Division captured one of the most formidable defensive positions on the Western Front, the 2nd Division's memorial was unconventional. Instead of an obelisk such as at the other four AIF divisional memorials, the original memorial which was unveiled in 1925 was a statue of an Australian soldier bayonetting a German eagle sprawled at his feet. However, this statue was removed and destroyed by German soldiers in 1940 during World War II, leaving only the stone plinth. A replacement statue, consisting of an Australian soldier standing in full kit was installed in 1971.[4]

The memorial lists the battle honours of the 2nd Division as:

Battle Honour[5] Description
Poziere's Battle of Pozieres
Mouquet Farm Battle of Mouquet Farm
Flers The Battle of Le Transloy, including the attacks on "The Maze" and "Gird"/"Gird Support" trenches
Malt Trench A trench system that was part of a German reserve line, and used by the Germans as a delaying position during the retreat to Hindenburg Line
Lagnicourt Battle of Lagnicourt
Bullecourt Second Battle of Bullecourt
Menin Road Battle of Menin Road
Broodseinde Ridge Battle of Broodseinde
Passchendaele Battle of Poelcappelle
Ville-sur-Ancre Scene of intense fighting around, and capture of, Ville-sur-Ancre
Morlancourt Scene of Peaceful Penetration, and of a single, well planned (and conducted) attack
Hamel Battle of Hamel
Villers-Bretonneux Scene of Peaceful Penetration, and of a single, well planned (and conducted) attack on the front south of Villers-Bretonneux
Herleville Scene of Peaceful Penetration, and of a single, well planned (and conducted) attack to the edge of the village of Herleville
Herbécourt As part of the Battle of Amiens, the pursuit of the withdrawing Germans past the villages of Herbécourt and Biaches
Biaches
Mont St. Quentin Battle of Mont St. Quentin
Beaurevoir Line The attack that breached the third (and final) fortified line of the Hindenburg Line (the "Beaurevoir Line") during the Battle of St. Quentin Canal
Montbrehain An attack which drove a salient into a line of fortified villages past the Beaurevoir Line during the Battle of St. Quentin Canal

Inter-war years and World War II[edit]

In 1921, the demobilisation of the AIF was completed and Australia's part-time military forces were re-organised to perpetuate the numerical designations of the AIF.[6] As a result of this, the division was reformed as a Citizens Military Forces/Militia (reserve) formation.

During World War II it was composed primarily of infantry units from New South Wales and was based initially in Sydney. When the war broke out in September 1939, the 2nd Division was commanded by Major General Iven Mackay. The division was partly mobilised, although the Militia was barred from overseas service. As a result, many members joined the Second Australian Imperial Force. In 1940, Major General Herbert Lloyd assumed command of the division.

As the possibility of Japanese invasion loomed, in May 1942, the 14th Bde (3rd, 36th, 55th Battalions) was transferred to New Guinea Force. In July, the 2nd Division was transferred to III Corps, for the defence of Western Australia. The 5th Bde (54th, 56th and 44th Battalion, the latter being a WA unit) and 8th Bde (4th, 30th and 35th Battalions) were joined by the 13th Brigade (the 11th, 16th, 28th Battalions, all from WA).

As actions of the war turned to favour the Allies, the division prepared for active service in the Australian territory of New Guinea. In early 1943, the 13th Bde was detached and the 2nd Brigade became part of the division until August 1943. When the 8th Brigade was transferred to the 5th Division in North Queensland in September 1943, for service in New Guinea, the 3rd Motor Brigade joined the division.

Post-war[edit]

In 1948, the Citizen Military Forces were re-formed,[7] firstly by voluntary enlistment but then by compulsory national service from 1951. The 2nd Division was formed again as the main CMF formation in New South Wales, but was disbanded in 1960 with the advent of the Pentropic organisation scheme that was based around the five element battle group.

The division was revived in 1965 when the Pentropic organisation was abandoned and now commands all the reserve brigades in Australia:

  • 4th, Victoria.
  • 5th, New South Wales
  • 8th, New South Wales
  • 9th, South Australia and Tasmania
  • 11th, Queensland
  • 13th, Western Australia

The Second Division is currently commanded by MAJGEN Steve Smith, AM, CSC, RFD.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ Absorbed into 17, 18 and 20 Battalions on 10 October 1918. Reference 19 Battalion War Diary
  2. ^ Disbanded in September 1918
  3. ^ Disbanded in September 1918
  4. ^ Bomford 2012, pp. 156–158.
  5. ^ McLachlan 2007.
  6. ^ Grey 2008, p. 125.
  7. ^ Grey 2008, pp. 200–201.
Bibliography

External links[edit]