2/7th Battalion (Australia)

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2/7th Battalion
2-7 Bn (AWM 004810).jpg
Members of the 2/7th Battalion with a Bren Carrier in October 1940
Active 25 October 1939 – February 1946
Country Australia
Branch Army
Type Infantry
Size ~800–900 officers and men[Note 1]
Part of 17th Brigade, 6th Division
Colours Brown over Red
Engagements

World War II

Insignia
Unit Colour Patch 2nd 7th Battalion AIF UCP.PNG

The 2/7th Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army raised for service during the Second World War. Formed shortly after the outbreak of the war as part of the all volunteer Second Australian Imperial Force, the 2/7th Battalion's personnel were recruited primarily from the state of Victoria. After basic training was completed in Australia, the battalion embarked for the Middle East where it later went into action against the Italians in January 1941, successfully capturing Bardia and Tobruk before being committed to the disastrous Battles of Greece and Crete where the battalion was essentially destroyed after the majority of its personnel were captured. Rebuilt, the 2/7th undertook garrison duties in Syria and then Ceylon before taking part in the fighting against the Japanese in the Salamaua–Lae campaign in 1943. The battalion's final campaign was fought in the Aitape–Wewak area of New Guinea in 1944–45. The battalion was disbanded in Australia in early 1946.

History[edit]

The 2/7th Battalion[Note 2] was raised on 25 October 1939 at Puckapunyal, Victoria, as part of the all volunteer Second Australian Imperial Force that was raised for service during the Second World War. Consisting of four rifle companies – designated 'A' to 'D' – under a headquarters company and a battalion headquarters, like other 2nd AIF infantry battalions raised at the time, the battalion had an authorised strength of around 900 personnel.[1] The colours chosen for the battalion's Unit Colour Patch (UCP) were the same as those of the 7th Battalion, which had been raised for service during World War I as part of the First Australian Imperial Force, and had subsequently been re-raised as Militia battalion. These colours were brown over red, in a horizontal rectangular shape, although a border of grey was added to the UCP to distinguish the battalion from its Militia counterpart.[3] Attached to the 17th Brigade, the second brigade of the 6th Division, the battalion undertook training at the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds and Puckapunyal before departing for the Middle East in mid-April 1940.[4]

Troops from the 2/7th march to the rifle range at Puckapunyal, February 1940

Reaching their destination in May 1940, the battalion joined the 17th Brigade's two other infantry battalions – the 2/5th and 2/6th – at Beit Jirja, in the Julius–Gaza area.[5] From there, they engaged in further training in Palestine and Egypt until the Australians went into battle for the first time in early January 1941 as the British went on the offensive against the Italians in North Africa. The Victorians subsequently saw action at Bardia, where it formed the divisional reserve in the initial phase before attacking south through the gap established by the 2/5th towards the railway switchline,[6] and Tobruk, where they attacked the eastern sector.[7] Later, they undertook garrison duties in Libya, establishing themselves around Marsa Brega.[4]

Following this, the battalion was committed to the fighting in Greece in early April. Landing at Athens, and moving to Larisa by train, the battalion established themselves around Thessaly, but their involvement in the fighting was short lived as the Germans advanced quickly against the hastily established Allied defensive positions, forcing the British and Commonwealth troops to hastily withdraw. Embarking from Kalamata upon the transport Costa Rica on 26 April, the battalion endured heavy air attack as the Germans heavily attacked the ship, subsequently forcing it to be abandoned.[8] The men from the 2/7th were taken off the stricken ship and transferred to several Royal Navy destroyers, and hastily landed on the island of Crete, where an Axis invasion was expected imminently.[4] Missing most of their equipment, which had been lost on the Costa Rica, the battalion was re-armed with weapons re-allocated from two Australian artillery regiments.[9]

Following the German airborne assault on 20 May, the 2/7th became heavily engaged fighting German parachute troops around Canea. It then undertook a local counter-attack at 42nd Street during which the 2/7th launched a ferocious bayonet charge in concert with the New Zealand Maori Battalion that resulted in heavy German casualties.[10] The 2/7th later covered the withdrawal to Sphakia where the Royal Navy attempted to evacuate the garrison by the sea. As Allied naval losses mounted the operation was called off before the 2/7th could embark.[11][12] Around 430 personnel from the battalion were subsequently taken prisoner. In addition, 27 men were killed and 60 were wounded.[13][4] Several 2/7th soldiers later escaped captivity, with one – John Peck – becoming part of a Special Operations Executive team responsible for helping Allied prisoners of war escape.[14] The battalion's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Walker, was one of those captured, giving up his position on one of the last evacuation ships when it became apparent that the rest of the battalion would not have time to get clear.[15]

Troops from the 2/7th Battalion, including then Sergeant Reg Saunders, who was later the first Australian Aboriginal commissioned into the Australian Army,[16] at Innisfail, waiting for the south-bound leave train to depart, October 1943.

Rather than disband the unit, though, the decision was made to rebuilt it from a small cadre of personnel who had not been sent to Crete – about 50 men[17] – along with a large number of reinforcements, and the 16 personnel who had escaped Crete.[18] This was subsequently undertaken in Palestine before the 2/7th was sent to Syria to undertake occupation duties as part of the garrison that had been established there following the conclusion of the Syria–Lebanon campaign. In early 1942, the Australian government requested the return of the 6th Division following Japan's entry into the war and the battalion embarked for Australia. En route they were diverted to Ceylon where they undertook defensive duties as part of an Australian force made up of the 16th and 17th Brigades.[4] Returning to Australia in August 1942, the 2/7th spent a period of time preparing to fight the Japanese in New Guinea before being committed to the fighting around Wau in January 1943.[19] They subsequently took part in a series of battles as the Australians advanced on Salamaua, with significant actions being fought around Mubo and Bobdubi.[20]

They returned to Australia in early October 1943 and concentrated on the Atherton Tablelands during which time the units of the 6th Division were converted to the jungle divisional establishment.[21] A long period of training followed and the battalion did not see further action until late in the war when the 6th Division was committed to the Aitape–Wewak campaign. Essentially a mopping up operation, the campaign saw the Australians advance through the Torricelli and Prince Alexander Ranges, engaging in a series of small unit actions against the Japanese during which the battalion was involved in capturing Maprik after the 17th Brigade was relieved from defensive duties around the airfield at Aitape.[4][22] The battalion's final campaign cost it 129 battle casualties.[23]

The troops of the 2/7th gave themselves the nickname "Mud over Blood", after the brown over red of their insignia. After the end of the war, the battalion embarked to return to Australia on 18 December 1945 and disbanded at Puckapunyal in February 1946.[4] For most of the war, the battalion's commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel Henry Guinn,[24] who led the 2/7th from its escape from Greece to the Pacific theatre. During the war the battalion suffered 699 casualties, of which 226 were killed.[4] Members of the battalion received the following decorations: six Distinguished Service Orders, 11 Military Crosses, five Distinguished Conduct Medals, 26 Military Medals, and 60 Mentions in Dispatches. In addition, two personnel were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire.[4]

Battle honours[edit]

The 2/7th Battalion received the following battle honours:[4]

In 1961–62, these battle honours were entrusted to the 7th Battalion, and through this link are maintained by the 8th/7th Battalion, Royal Victoria Regiment.[25]

Commanding officers[edit]

The following officers commanded the 2/7th Battalion:[24]

  • Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Gordon Walker (1939–41);
  • Lieutenant Colonel Henry George Guinn (1941–44); and
  • Lieutenant Colonel Philip Kingsmill Parbury (1944–45).

Notes[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ 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.[1]
  2. ^ The numerical designation of 2nd AIF units was prefixed by "2/", which was used to set them apart from Militia units with corresponding numerical designations.[2]
Citations
  1. ^ a b Palazzo 2004, p. 94.
  2. ^ Long 1952, p. 51.
  3. ^ Long 1952, pp. 321–323.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "2/7th Battalion". Second World War, 1939–1945 units. Australian War Memorial. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008. Retrieved 7 July 2009. 
  5. ^ Thompson 2010, p. 31.
  6. ^ Thompson 2010, pp. 77–82.
  7. ^ Thompson 2010, p. 93.
  8. ^ Thompson 2010, p. 203.
  9. ^ Thompson 2010, p. 216.
  10. ^ Coulthard-Clark 1998, pp. 189–190.
  11. ^ Moorehead 2009, pp. 166–167.
  12. ^ Clark 2000, pp. 170–172.
  13. ^ Long 1953, p. 315.
  14. ^ Thompson 2010, pp. 422–432.
  15. ^ O'Brien 2002.
  16. ^ Dexter 1961, p. 24.
  17. ^ Long 1953, p. 336.
  18. ^ Long 1953, p. 305.
  19. ^ Bradley 2008, p. 173.
  20. ^ Coulthard-Clark 1998, pp. 239–240.
  21. ^ Palazzo 2004, pp. 86–101.
  22. ^ Keogh 1965, pp. 400–408.
  23. ^ Long 1963, p. 385.
  24. ^ a b Johnston 2008, p. 5.
  25. ^ Festberg 1972, pp. 30 & 67.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bolger, W.P.; Littlewood, J. G. (1983). The Fiery Phoenix: The Story of the 2/7 Australian Infantry Battalion 1939–1946. Parkdale: 2/7 Battalion Association. ISBN 0959335706.