2/4th Field Regiment

Following the formation of the 6th Division, in early 1940 it was decided that the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) would be expanded. The decision to raise the 7th Division was made in February 1940 and, following the appointment of its first commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Barker, the 2/4th Field Regiment began recruiting at Caulfield Racecourse, Melbourne, on 7 May. Many of its first officers and men came from the 4th Australian Field Artillery Brigade, of the pre-war Militia, based at St Kilda, Melbourne. The regiment was formed and trained at Puckapunyal, Victoria, where it had two batteries - 7th and 8th- each consisting of three troops and four 18-pounder guns.

The regiment embarked for overseas service in October, leaving Port Melbourne on 21 October and arriving in Egypt in November. Disembarking at El Kantara, Suez, the regiment travelled by train to Deir Suneid, Palestine. However, the regiment did not receive its first guns until January 1941 and it was not until mid-April, when the unit was at Ikingi Maryut, that it received its full compliment of 25-pounders, 18-pounders, and 4.5 inch howitzers.

With Australian and British troops besieged at Tobruk, the 7th Division, less a brigade that was part of the Tobruk garrison, moved to help defend the Mersa Matruh fortress, in Egypt. While there, four of the regiment’s guns went forward in an anti-tank role. In May the 9th Division’s artillery, which had not accompanied the infantry forward to Tobruk because of a lack of transport, replaced the 7th Division’s artillery at Matruh, as the 7th Division was preparing for the Allies invasion of Vichy Syria. As part of the preparations for the new offensive, when the 2/4th was at Tel el Kebir, it received 12 new 25-pounder guns and moved to Affula by the end of May.

The invasion of Syria was to occur on three axes, with the 2/4th supporting the 7th Division’s 21st Brigade as it advanced along the coast. The regiment crossed the borders on 8 June and its 7th Battery, part of the advance guard overlooking the Litani River, fired the first shots. Thereafter, single guns and sections were continually used forward to anti-tank and direct-fire tasks. The regiment also experienced counter battery fire and came under enemy air attack.

On 9 June the regiment came under fire from a French sloop, which came close to shore, and shelled and machine-gunned the regiment’s positions near Sidon. In accordance with orders not to reveal their position, the gunners took cover but, when the sloop began to move out to sea, the regiment’s guns opened fire, at a range of 4,000 yards, until the ship was out of range. The next day, 10 June, the regiment fired 1,440 rounds as it supported the attack on Aldoun. There was heavy fighting for the next ten days, as the regiment’s gunners helped repel French tank attacks, although members of a forward were killed and wounded when they sustained directs hits while engaging a French gun over open sights. One of the guns had to be abandoned but was later recovered. Before Saida fell on 20 June, a French sloop came in close to shore, shelling the 21st Brigade, but was it driven off by the regiment’s artillery fire. The final major operation of the campaign was the battle for Damour, which began on 5 July and during which the regiment fired thousands of rounds to support the attack. Fighting lasted until 12 July when an armistice was signed, bringing an end to the campaign with the surrender of Vichy French forces. During the Syrian campaign, Australian artillery had fired 147,399 rounds, 40,152 of which were fired by the 2/4th.

The regiment spent the rest of the year in Syria as part of the garrison force and were based at Jdaide. In September artillery regiments were reorganised and the regiment formed a third battery - the 54th. In December the 7th Division was relieved by the 9th Division in Syria, as the 6th and 7th Division were to return to Australia. The last members of the 2/4th left the Middle East at the end of January and the regiment arrived in Australia, at Port Adelaide, on 23 March.

The unit reformed in the Nambour area, in Queensland, in May. The regiment exercised with the 25th Brigade on the Caloundra Range, and provided personnel for X and Y Batteries. X Battery made up part of Lilliput Force, which was sent to New Guinea, while Y Battery went to Papua to help provide some of the defences for Milne Bay.

The 2/4th spent the first months of 1943 in manoeuvres throughout south-east Queensland. In March the regiment received the first of the new 25-pounder Mk II short guns, which were better suited to jungle warfare. In April the unit conducted amphibious training east of Caboolture, at Toorbul Point, before moving to the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, in May, where it rejoined the 7th Division.

By 1943 the fighting had moved from Papua to New Guinea. The 9th Division, having recently returned from the Middle East, was to make an amphibious landing on New Guinea’s coast near the Japanese base at Lae, while the 7th Division would be flown to the Markham Valley and advance towards Lae both overland and in an air operation. The 25th Brigade was to lead the 7th Division’s advance but, in order to facilitate this, the American 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment had to first secure the airfield at Nadzab. In what was a first for Australian artillery, the part of a section from the 2/4th made the drop with the American paratroops. This was done in great secrecy and with only one practice jump but the 31 gunners from 54 Battery, led by Lieutenant John Pearson, and two 25-pounder shorts, safely made the drop into Nadzab on 5 September. Thereafter, the 25th Brigade was flown in and went on to capture Lae, just ahead of the 9th Division. The 2/4th remained in New Guinea for the next four months and supported the 7th Division’s campaign through the Ramu Valley, the assault on Shaggy Ridge, and in the Finisterres.

On 1 February 1944 the 2/4th was relieved by the 4th Field Regiment, and the former was flown back to Port Moresby and then sailed back to Australia. It participated in the 7th Division march through the streets of Melbourne and, after leave, reformed at Strathpine, near Brisbane, before moving to Kairi, on the Atherton Tablelands, in late August. The war was nearly over before the 2/4th went into action again.

In early June 1945 the regiment moved to Morotai, which was being used as a staging area for the Australian operations on Borneo. The 9th Division made amphibious landings at Tarakan and north Borneo in May and June, while the 7th Division landed at Balikpapan on 1 July. 8th Battery was the regiment’s first unit ashore and the first to report “ready”. Although there had been a massive pre-invasion air and naval bombardment of the landing beaches, the division still experienced heavy fighting as it pushed inland. In the first four days of the campaign the 2/4th fired more than 10,000 rounds. After about two weeks the campaign was all but over and on 15 August Japan announced its surrender.

Following the end of the war, 54th Battery was disbanded and, over time, the regiment’s ranks reduced as men volunteered for the occupation of Japan or were discharged. Those left in the regiment returned to Australia and the final elements of its headquarters went into camp at Chermside, Brisbane. The 2/4th Field Regiment was disbanded on 7 February 1946.

Glossary

Battle Honours

  • nil

Casualties

  • 30 died

For more information please see the Roll of Honour and Second World War Nominal Roll (external website) databases.

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 2 DSO
  • 5 MC
  • 2 MM
  • 14 MID

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

Collection Items

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References

  • AWM52/4/2/4: 4 Field Regiment war diary
  • Burke, Arthur, 4th Field Regiment, Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery : historical guide, (Aspley, Qld: A. Burke, 2003)
  • Henry, R L, The story of the 2/4th Field Regiment : a history of a Royal Australian artillery regiment during the Second World War, (Melbourne : Merrion Press, 1950)
  • Pratten, Garth, "First Drop"