2/16th Australian Infantry Battalion

Battle Honours
Campaign Honours
Decorations 3 DSO; 1 MBE; 6 MC and 2 bars; 5 DCM; 20 MM and one bar; 63 MID
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
  • M. Uren, A thousand men at war: the story of the 2/16th Battalion, A.I.F., (Melbourne: Heinemann, 1959).
  • AWM52/8/3/16: 2/16th Battalion war diary
Category Unit
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Unit hierarchy

The 2/16th Battalion was formed in Perth, Western Australia, on 20 April 1940 and conducted its basic training at Northam Camp. A large number of the battalion's original recruits were men from the Western Australian goldfields who gave the battalion a hard and rough character. It embarked for overseas at Fremantle on 25 October, and after a brief stop in India en-route, arrived in Egypt on 25 November. After disembarkation, the battalion moved straight to Palestine to complete its training.

As part of the 21st Brigade of the 7th Australian Division, the 2/16th's first operational assignment of war was to bolster the defences along the Egypt-Libya frontier against an expected German attack. It occupied positions at Maaten Bagush and Mersa Matruh throughout much of April and May 1941, before returning to Palestine in preparation for its first offensive operation - the invasion of Syria and Lebanon.

For the 2/16th Battalion the Syria and Lebabnon Campaign, beginning on June 8, was characterised by difficult and costly actions against well-entrenched Vichy French troops. The 2/16th suffered the most casualties (264) of any of the Australian battalions involved. Its major battles were the crossing the Litani River on 9 June, the unsuccessful attempt to capture Sidon on 13 June, and the seizure of El Atiqa Ridge, as part of the battle of Damour, on 6 July. The 2/16th remained in Lebabnon after the armistice of 12 July as part of the Allied garrison force.

After sailing from Egypt on 30 January 1942, most of the 2/16th - over 350 members of the battalion had absented themselves without leave when their transport had called briefly at Fremantle - disembarked at Adelaide on 25 March 1942. The battalion's stay in Australia was brief. On 12 August it arrived at Port Moresby in Papua, and by 29 August was in action against the Japanese at Abuari on the Kokoda Trail. Forced to withdraw, the 2/16th fought a series of desperate actions back along the Trail. It suffered particularly heavily at Mission Ridge on 8 September when it had to fight its way out of a Japanese encirclement. The 2/16th's ordeal on the Trail ended with its relief at Imita Ridge on 16 September. By this time the battalion was so weak that it had been amalgamated with the 2/14th to form a composite battalion. After a short rest, the 2/16th, once again functioning as a separate battalion, joined the operations at Gona on 26 November. Consisting of only two companies when it entered the fighting, the 2/16th left Gona, on 7 January 1943, only 56 strong.

The 2/16th returned to Australian in mid-January but was back in Papua by early August. It spent a month training near Port Moresby before moving to New Guinea to play a minor role in the Lae operations in mid-September. Soon after it was moved by air to Kiapit, in the Ramu Valley and subsequently advanced to Dumpu, between 29 September and 4 October. In the ensuing months it was involved in patrol actions in the upper reaches of the Ramu Valley and into the Finsterre Mountains. Its greatest achievement, and only major attack, during these operations was the capture of Shaggy Ridge between 27 and 28 December. The battalion returned Port Moresby on 4 January 1944 and Australia on 20 March.

The 2/16th's left Australia for its last operation of the war on 3 June 1945. It landed at Balikpapan on 1 July and encountered its heaviest fighting of the campaign that day, but was involved in patrol operations until the end of the war on 15 August. From mid-October to late January 1946 the 2/16th formed part of the occupation force in the Celebes. It sailed for home for the last time on 2 February and was disbanded in Brisbane later that month.