2/8th Field Regiment

Formed in Australia during the first year of the Second World War, the 2/8th Field Regiment served in Egypt and Syria, in the Middle East, and on Borneo, in the Pacific. It was one of the 9th Division’s three field regiments and it fought as part of the “famous division” at El Alamein and Brunei Bay.

Throughout 1940, as the size of the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) increased from one to four infantry divisions, new artillery units were also continuously raised -15 field regiments were raised by the end of the year. Among these were the 9th Division’s 2/7th, 2/8th, and 2/12th Field Regiments.

Men for the 2/8th initially came from Australia’s eastern states. The regiment’s 15th Battery was raised at the start of May 1940 and the 16th Battery was raised two weeks later. In October 1941, while the regiment was in the Middle East, artillery units were reorganised and a new battery, the 58th Battery, was formed.

The regiment did its initial training using 18-pounder guns and 4.5-inch howitzers. In the middle of November the regiment left Australia for the Middle East and arrived in Egypt in the middle of December, before moving to Palestine. Southern Palestine was being used as a base for the Australians, where they could complete their training, and the 2/8th went into camp at Kilo 89.

In March 1941 the 9th Division was brought from Palestine to Libya, to garrison the area east of Tobruk, but the division did not have enough vehicles to bring all of its units forward towards. Consequently, the 2/8th did not go forward with the infantry and instead contributed to the force defending Mersa Matruh fortress. The regiment received its first 25-pounders at Matruh, where it remained from May until the end of September. The regiment then moved to Sidi Barrani, where it helped to prepare the defences. The gunners left Sidi Barrani in October and returned to Palestine, where they rejoined the 9th Division. In January 1942 the Australians moved to Syria, where the 2/8th built gun sites along the high positions overlooking the coast at Jdaide.

By July the war in North Africa had become critical for the Allies, with German and Italian forces reaching El Alamein, in Egypt, about 112 kilometres west of Alexandria. The 9th Division was rushed to the Alamein “box” and held the northern sector for almost four months. It was Alamein where the 2/8th “came of age”. The regiment reached the Alamein front on 5 July, taking up position at Ruweisat Ridge, and were in action five days later.

Attacking inland from the coast, the division’s 26th Brigade attacked the German positions at Tel el Eisa on 10 July. The attack was supported by all three of the division’s regiments, with the 2/8th being involved in the heavy fighting between 10 and 12 July, as the Germans counter-attacked. On one occasion the 2/8th fired 1,250 artillery shells in one hour and a half. When the division’s 24th Brigade made its attack towards the Ruin Ridge, on 17 July, the 2/8th was again heavily involved in the action and remained so for the rest of the month. Casualties were heavy, with the 2/8th having the highest figures of the field regiments.The 2/8th remained in action, supporting operation Bulimba, the 20th Brigade’s attack at the start of September, and the main Alamein offensive at the end of October and the start of November.

Alamein was a vital success for the Allies and one of the war’s turning points. The 9th Division, however, was needed elsewhere and in January 1943 began returning to Australia. The 2/8th arrived in Melbourne on 24 February and was given leave before moving to Queensland in April.

The gunners spent the next “two long and frustrating years” in northern Australia, training first at Kiri and then Ravenshoe, on the Atherton Tablelands. Indeed, the war was almost over before the regiment again went into action.

In April 1945 the division was transported to Morotai, which was being used as a staging area for the Oboe operations on Borneo. The 2/8th moved to Morotai in May, where they received several 75 mm howitzers, in addition to their 25-pounders.

With troops having already made an amphibious landing on Tarakan in May, the rest of the division landed on Labuan Island and Brunei Bay on 10 June. Coming ashore in landing craft, the 2/8th supported the 20th Brigade as it pushed inland. There was little Japanese resistance, though, and during the campaign the gunners were mainly confined to defensive and harassing fire tasks. On 20 June the 58th Battery landed on Lutong, Sawarka, in support of the 2/13th Battalion.

Following the end of the war and Japan’s surrender, the ranks of the regiment thinned, as men were discharged or transferred. In mid-November the gunners not due for discharge were transferred to the 2/4th Pioneer Battalion, as part of Kuching Force. Those left in the regiment returned to Australia in December and the following month, on 30 January 1946, the 2/8th Field Regiment was disbanded.

Glossary

Battle Honours

  • nil

Casualties

  • 34 died

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

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 1 OBE
  • 2 DSO
  • 2 MC
  • 1 MBE
  • 1 DCM
  • 2 MM
  • 8 MID

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

Collection Items

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References

  • 2/8 Australian Field Regiment Association, 2/8 Australian Field Regiment remembers World War II 1939-1945., (Tasmania: 2/8th Field Regiment Association, 1992)
  • AWM52/4/2/8: 2/8 Field Regiment war diary
  • Edwards, Paul Bathurst, Of things that used to be : five and a half years a gunner, (Hawley Beach, Tas.: P.B. Edwards, 2002)