2/15th Field Regiment

The 2/15th Field Regiment was raised at Rosebery Racecourse, Sydney, on 12 November 1940. The regiment had two batteries, the 29th and 30th Field Batteries, and by 22 November the regiment was at full strength. The regiment began training at Ingleburn with 18-pounder guns, the type used during the First World War, and many of which, as noted comically in the regiment’s history, were “older than the gunners”. In January 1941 the regiment moved into the new camp in Holsworthy, Sydney. In May the regiment, less two troops, moved to Bathurst, where it carried out joint training exercises with 8th Division’s 27th Brigade for a week. On 29 July the regiment left Sydney, on board the troop ship Katoomba, for overseas service. The Katoomba was part of a convoy taking the 27th Brigade to Malaya. The vessel arrived in Singapore on 15 August.

With growing unease about Japan and while the rest of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) had been sent to the Middle East, the 8th Division was sent Malaya, Singapore, and the islands to Australia’s north. The 2/15th went into camp at Nee Soon, Singapore, where the men trained and were able to familiarise themselves with the jungle. It was not until 23 November the regiment received its first 25-pounders. Shortly afterwards a new battery, the 65th Battery, was formed.

Throughout November and the start of December it seemed that war with Japan was increasingly likely. Late in the afternoon of 5 December the 2/15th began moving from Singapore to the state of Johore, Malaya, to relieve the 2/10th Field Regiment. The 2/10th was operating on the east coast of Malaya in support of the 8th Division’s 22nd Brigade. The 2/15th was headquartered and took up position at Kluang Rubber Estate, near Kluang.

By the start of January 1942 the Japanese had advanced through Thailand and most of Malaya. On 5 January the 2/15th left Kluang and moved north to reinforce the Allied troops that would fight the main Japanese force when it reached Johore. The regiment’s 65th Battery went to Muar, on the west coast, under the command of the 45th Indian Brigade. The regiment’s other batteries continued further north to join the 8th Division’s 27th Brigade. 29th Battery went to Paya Lang Estate, between Gamas and Batu Anam, under the command of the 2/29th Battalion, while 30th Battery dug in a near Gamas, under the command of the 2/30th Battalion. All were in position by 13 January.

The 27th Brigade was to act as a “shock-absorber” to the first contact with the Japanese, to inflict as many casualties as possible before fallback to other defensive positions. Consequently, on 14 January, B Company, the 2/30th Battalion, ambushed a Japanese column and destroyed the bridge crossing the Gemencheh river. Within hours, though, the Japanese repaired the bridge and continued advancing towards the 2/30th Battalion. Heavy fighting followed and the Japanese attack, which included tanks, was beaten off.

From then on, the regiment’s gunners were in almost constant action, providing artillery support for the infantry withdrawl along the Malyan Peninsula towards Singapore. In the first days of the campaign, the regiment fired 7,950 rounds in the Gemas-Segamat sector by 29th and 30th Batteries, while 65th Battery fired 6,915 rounds in support of the Indian troops and, later, the 2/19th and 2/29th Battalions as they withdrew from Muar to Parit Sulong. The withdraw from Muar was particularly difficult and, by the time 65 Battery reached the main force at Young Peng, 24 of the battery’s 98 were wounded. By the end of the month, the last of Allied troops had crossed the causeway and reached Singapore. Among some of the last to cross were the 2/15th’s B and D troops, who formed the last Allied artillery units in action on the peninsula.

Having crossed the causeway, which was subsequently blown, the regiment was deployed to the western area in support of the 8th Division’s 22nd Brigade. The 22nd Brigade, comprised of the 2/19th, 2/18th, and 2/20th Battalions, were deployed between Sungei Berith and Sungei Kranji. The Japanese, meanwhile, were preparing their forces for the invasion of the island and, during this static period from the end of December to the first week of February 1942, the regiment still fired over 1,000 rounds.

Preceded by a heavy bombardment, the Japanese attack on Singapore began at 10.30 pm on 8 February, when two Japanese divisions crossed the Johore Strait and attacked along the 22nd Brigade’s front. The brigade and the 2/15th inflicted heavy casualties on the attackers and the artillery sank some barges. On 8 and 9 February the regiment fired 4,944 rounds, mostly between 10.30 pm and 4 am. With its communications cut, heavily outnumbered, and with the Japanese infiltrating between positions, the brigade and the 2/15th withdrew. During the withdrawal, vehicles became bogged and 30th Battery lost all of its guns except one. 29th Battery took up a position west of Bukit Panjang village. 30th and 65th Batteries moved to a position south of Bukit Panjang. The regiment continued to move back towards Singapore and provide artillery support when needed. On 11 February, 29th Battery, for example, was in action all day, firing 5,500 rounds.

By 13 February the battle for Singapore Island was all but over and on 15 February, British forces surrendered. Two days later, the regiment began moving from Tanglin Golf Course to Selerang Barracks, Changi, into Japanese capture. For the next three-and-a-half years the men of the regiment had to endure the brutality of being a prisoner of war of the Japanese.

Initially imprisoned in the sprawling Changi prisoner-of-war camp, it was not long before members of the 2/15th were allocated to external work parties. The first parties were dispatched around Singapore and southern Malaya, but later members of the 2/15th found themselves members of parties bound for the camps along the Thailand-Burma Railway and in Borneo, Japan, French Indochina, Java, Sumatra, and Malaya. These men endured the worst horrors of Japanese captivity. Of the 556 officers and men who became prisoners, 294 died. The surviving prisoners were liberated in late August 1945 and began returning to Australia almost immediately.

Glossary

Battle Honours

  • nil

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 1 MC
  • 1 DCM
  • 2 BEM
  • 6 MID

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

Collection Items

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References

  • 2/15th Field Regiment, 8th Division A.I.F., 1940-1945 : register of grave sites and memorials of those members of the regiment who died in battle or died whilst prisoners of war : Malaya, Johore, Singapore, Thailand, Burma, Borneo, Japan, Colombo, Hong Kong., (Australia : C. McInerney, 1990)
  • AWM52/4/2/15: 2/15 Field Regiment
  • Richards, Charles Rowland Bromley 'Rowley'; McEwan, Marcia, The survival factor, (Kenthurst, N.S.W. : Kangaroo Press, 1989)
  • Whitelocke, Cliff; O'Brien, George, Gunners in the jungle : a story of the 2/15 Field Regiment Royal Australian Artillery, 8 Division, Australian Imperial Force, (Eastwood N.S.W : 2/15 Field Regiment Association, 1983)