2/1st Machine Gun Battalion

The 2/1st Australian Machine Gun Battalion was formed on 14 December 1939 as part of the 6th Division. In May 1940 the 2/1st sailed with the 18th Brigade to the Middle East but the convoy was diverted to Britain to help bolster defences.

The convoy reached Gourock in Scotland in mid-June. The 18th Brigade and the 2/1st travelled by train to England and went into camp at Tidworth Pennings on Salisbury Plain. The Australians remained in Britain for several months, while the battle of Britain played out about their heads. In November the battalion sailed from Colchester for the Middle East, arriving in Egypt at the end of December.

At the start of 1941 the battalion moved into camp at Ikingi Maryutand undertook desert training. In early April it left Ikingi for Greece to support the 6th Division. A few days after arriving in Athens the 2/1st headed for Gerania in the north to support different units manning the Aliakmon line: A Company joined the 2/4th Battalion, north of the Aliakmon river; B and C Companies were allocated to the 4th New Zealand Brigade; and D Company went to the 17th Brigade at Kalabaka. The machine-gunners fought alongside the infantry for the rest of the campaign and evacuated between the end of April and the beginning of May.

A small group from battalion headquarters evacuated first, returning directly to Alexandria. Elements from A Company (less a section), B Company (less 9 Platoon), and C Company boarded the Costa Rica, which was sunk by German aircraft shortly after. The men were rescued and taken to Crete by accompanying naval destroyers but most of their equipment and machine-guns were lost. Meanwhile, B and D Companies were also evacuated to Crete. D Company, which still had its guns, was sent to the 19th Brigade in the Georgioupolis area and the rest of the battalion went into camp in the Suda area. On 12 May B Company’s 7 Platoon also went to Georgioupolis and the rest of the battalion returned to Egypt.

The men in the Georgioupolis area were stationed along the beach and on to Retimo. When the Germans began their attack on Crete on 20 May the Australians reorganised their defences and the machine-gunners grouped around Canea and Retimo. Bitter fighting ensued as more and more German paratroopers landed on the island. By 30 May the Germans occupied the island; defenders were either evacuated, escaped, or became prisoners.

The 2/1st suffered considerably during the ill-fated Greek and Crete campaigns. Of 104 casualties, 77 were captured, two of whom escaped and one died in Germany.

Survivors arrived at various ports in Egypt during May. After travelling to Palestine for leave the battalion regrouped at Deir Suneid, north of Gaza. At the end of October it moved to Syria and camped at Zaboud, near Damascus. B Company was attached to the X British Corps and billeted in Damascus. At the end of January 1942 the battalion returned to Gaza.

With Japan entering the war the battalion left for Australia on 10 March, leaving Damascus by truck back to Egypt. Two days later they boarded a troopship and sailed back home by the end of the month, disembarking at Port Adelaide.

At the beginning of May the battalion travelled to Ingleburn in Sydney and undertook jungle training in Queensland the following month. B Company was sent to Port Moresby in November and Oro Bay, via Milne Bay, in December. Located east of Buna, on Papua’s north coast, Oro Bay was an American base for the advance on Buna. The company had anticipated going into action but this was not to be and its platoons were distributed around the bay and Eroro Mission. In December A Company had also arrived in Port Moresby and in January 1943 joined B Company at Oro Bay. The rest of the battalion remained in Australia.

A and B Companies returned to Moresby in April and temporarily became attached to the 7th Machine Gun Battalion. On 18 April A company joined the fighting around Wau and later travelled to Bulolo and then Nassau Bay in August to support the 3rd Division’s operations against Salamaua. It returned to Moresby in November, rejoining with B Company. The rest of the 2/1st arrived in Moresby in May and took over defensive positions.

In February 1944 the battalion returned to Australia and spent 14 months in Tenterfield in Petire near Brisbane, and Kiari near Tologa on the Atherton Tableland. During this time the 2/1st became associated with the 7th Division.

Devised towards the end of the war the OBOE operations aimed to reoccupy areas of the Netherlands East Indies with amphibious landings on Borneo. The 7th Division, with 2/1st in tow, landed at Balikpapan on 1 July, the first day of the battle. As with earlier campaigns the battalion’s companies were allocated to different areas: A Company and battalion headquarters were in reserve; B Company supported the 21st Brigade; C Company was attached to the 25th Brigade; and D Company the 18th Brigade. The battalion saw action during the landing and along Vasey and Milford Highways.

With the war over the ranks of the 2/1st gradually thinned, as men were discharged or transferred. What was left of the battalion returned to Australia in December and was disbanded on 26 January 1946.

Glossary

Battle Honours

Casualties

  • 34 died
  • 71 wounded
  • 77 captured

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

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 2 MC
  • 4 MM
  • 1 BEM
  • 16 MID

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

Collection Items

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References

  • AWM52/8/5/1: 2/1 Machine Gun Battalion unit diary
  • Bellair, John, Amateur soldier : an Australian machine gunner's memories of World War II, (Melbourne: Spectrum, 1984)
  • Hocking, Philip; 2/1st Australian Machine Gun Battalion Association, The long carry : a history of the 2/1 Australian Machine Gun Battalion, 1939-46, (Nunawading, Vic.: 2/1 Machine Gun Battalion Association, 1997)