2/11th Field Regiment

The 2/11th Field Regiment began to take shape on 1 July 1940 when Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Stillman was appointed commander of the regiment and set up a temporary headquarters at the 22nd Field Brigade Drill Hall on Swan Street, Richmond, Victoria. Initial volunteers for the regiment came from depots at Geelong, Caulfield, Balcombe, and Royal Park, and were concentrated at the military camp at Seymour. The 21st and 22nd Batteries were formed. In October 1941, while the regiment was in Syria, a third battery, the 61st, was formed.

The regiment was formed as part of the 8th Division and in September moved to Bonegilla, where it joined other units of the division. While at Bonegilla, the regiment received its first allocation of guns - 18-pounders from the First World War. In October the 2/11th was allocated to the I Australia Corps and moved to Puckapunyal. It was an allocation that saved the regiment from the fate that befell the rest of the division.

In February 1941 the 2/11th moved to the Sea Lake area of Mallee country, Victoria, where it carried out exercises in the desert. It was the first time an artillery regiment received desert training in Australia. The exercises emulated the conditions of the Libyan desert and in April the regiment embarked for overseas service.

Having travelled by troopship, the regiment arrived at Suez, Egypt, in May and went on by train to the camp at Hill 95, Palestine. Hill 95 was just one of a number of camps accommodating the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) in Palestine, and where the 2nd AIF could organise and train away from distractions. Other camps were at Gaza Ridge, Kilo 98, Hill 95, Deir Suneid, Dimra, Beit Jirja, Barbara, Julis, and Qastina. In June the 2/11th received 4.5-inch howitzers and then 18-pounders.

In June the Allies - British, Australian, Indian, and the Free French - invaded Syria and encountered heavier-than-expected resistance from the Vichy French forces. Late in the month the 2/11th received word it would relieve the 1st Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery and that it would be attached to the British 6th Division, then in action near Jabel Mazar, in the Damascus Sector. The 2/11th was given little time to familiarise itself with the 25-pounders. It was soon under hostile artillery fire from the Vichy French but quickly returned fire. The 1st Field Regiment, assisted with personnel from the 2/11th, supported the 4th Indian Division capture of Mezze, on 21 June. Mezze was captured after three days of heavy fighting. The campaign continued for several weeks, but the Vichy French surrendered on 12 July.

Now part of the occupation force, in mid-July the regiment moved by train to Damascus, by bus to Qatana, and finally to Rayak airfield, home to 3 Squadron, RAAF, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. The 2/11th was responsible for airfield security. In September the 2/11th moved to the Qatana area, about 20 miles from Damascus, where the men were able to spend their leave and also in Beirut. The unit remained in the Middle East until March 1942, when it and the 6th and 7th Divisions returned to Australia. However, rather than return as a single body, the regiment was divided into five groups and travelled to Australia on five different troop ships: Andes, Laconia, Skjelbred, Dorset, and Melbourne Star. The 2/11th did not come together until June when, after having been granted leave, it concentrated in Woodford, north-west of Brisbane.

In December the regiment received orders that it would move to Darwin to relieve the 2/14th Field Regiment. Leaving Woodford on 4 January 1943 the 2/11th travelled by truck, train, and then truck again, and finally reached the Darwin fortress area 19 days later. The regiment established its headquarters at Larrakeyeh Barracks and became the Fortress Defence Field Regiment. During this time, Darwin was bombed periodically by Japanese aircraft, with last raid taking place in November. The regiment remained in Darwin until September when it again embarked for overseas service, this time in New Guinea.

The 2/11th moved by troopship to Lae, New Guinea, and was trucked to Nadzab, in the Markham Valley. The United States 5th Air Force had developed Nadzab into a major air base. While at Nadzab, men from the regiment helped develop the base and regiment’s quarters, trained in the jungle, and provided working parties to help load and unload ships at Lae.

After seven months in New Guinea, in April and May 1945 the regiment moved to Torokina, on Bougainville, the main Australian base on the island and headquarters to II Australian Corps. The Australians had been fighting an offensive campaign against the Japanese on the island and had divided the island into three sectors: Northern, Central, and Southern Sectors. The main focus of the campaign was in the Southern Sector, where the 3rd Division was advancing towards the main Japanese base at Buin.

After spending some time in Torokina, the 2/11th moved south to support the 15th Brigade’s advance from the Hongorai River. By mid-May the regiment’s 21st and 61st Batteries were situated in the Hiru Hiru area, east of Slater’s Knoll. (22 Battery remained at Torokina until it was brought forward at the end of May.) The brigade advanced along a two-battalion front, one battalion moved along the Buin Road while the other advanced down the Commando Road, towards the Hari and then later the Ogorata and Mobiai Rivers. The brigade’s ultimate objective was the Mivo River. The regiment bombarded Japanese positions and provided artillery support for patrols. Each battery supported a battalion. The 2/11th was also engaged in counter-battery fire, as the Japanese had numerous guns in the Southern Sector.

By the beginning of June the regiment, including its three batteries and headquarters, were together in the Southern Sector. However, on 14 June the 2/11th’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Hayes, was killed in an ambush. Hayes was the only member of the regiment killed in action.

With the support of artillery, armour, and air strikes, the Australian infantry reached the Mivo River by July. It had not been an easy advance. Between 17 May and the end of June, the 2/11th fired 18,000 rounds. However, by July torrential rain, which flooded rivers and turned the Buin Road into a “sea of mud”, stopped the Australians.

Following Japan’s surrender in August and the end of the war, the 2/11th returned to Torokina. Over time the ranks of the regiment thinned, as men were either discharged or transferred to other units. At the end of the year, the 2/11th Field Regiment was disbanded.

Glossary

Battle Honours

  • nil

Casualties

  • 12 died
  • 13 wounded

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

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 2 MC
  • 2 MID

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

Collection Items

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References

  • AWM52/4/2/11: 2/11 Field Regiment war diary
  • Hocking, Patricia, Twice a digger : Leonard Roberts Stillman, MC. ; OBE. barrister, solicitor, soldier, 1893-1972, (Richmond, Vic.: Spectrum, 1995)
  • Lewis, Bill; 2/11 Field Regiment Association History Committee, Observation post : six years of war with the 2/11 Aust. Army Field Regiment, (West Essendon, Vic.: 2/11th Australian Army Field Regiment Association, 1989)