2/28th Battalion

Western Australia’s 2/28th Infantry Battalion was raised in 1940, with the nucleus of the battalion coming together at Melville Camp, near Fremantle, on 17 July. The battalion was initially raised as part of the 24th Brigade of the 8th Division and was transferred to the newly formed 9th Division in December. In early January 1941 the 2/28th moved to Fremantle, where it joined a troopship convoy to the Middle East. The battalion arrived at Egypt at the end of the month. Disembarking at Port Tewfik in Suez, the battalion travelled by train to Palestine. Southern Palestine was being used as a base for the Australians where they could complete their training. The 2/28th went into camp at Khassa, north of Gaza.

By early 1941 the British advance in the Western Desert had reached El Agheila. In March the 9th Division was brought from Palestine to Libya to garrison the area east of Tobruk. The division did not have enough vehicles to bring all of its units forward towards Benghazi and the 24th Brigade (composed of the 2/28th, 2/43rd, and 2/32nd Battalions) remained in Tobruk.

This situation had quickly changed in April. The German Afrika Korps led the Axis counter-attack, pushing the British from El Agheila. The 9th Division withdrew to Tobruk and, with the 18th Brigade, defended the “fortress” for the next six months. The 2/28th participated in the usual pattern of defensive duties, manning parts of the Red Line, working on the Blue Line, and aggressively patrolling no man’s land. The Red Line was Tobruk’s outer line of defence and was a series of concrete pillboxes forming a semicircle around the town. The Blue Line was the second line of defence.

In September and October the majority of Australians were evacuated by sea. The 2/28th was evacuated on 23 September and sailed to Alexandria, from where it was transferred to the camp at Kilo 89 in Palestine. The brigade later moved to Syria and then Lebanon for rest, training, and garrison duties.

By July 1942 the war in North Africa had become critical for the British forces. The Germans and Italians had reached El Alamein in Egypt, about seventy miles from Alexandra. Consequently, the 9th Division was rushed to the Alamein “box” and held the northern sector for almost four months, as the British Eighth Army was reinforced for a new offensive.

The 2/28th reached the Alamein front on 10 July and the division attacked a week later. On 17 July the 2/32nd and 2/43rd moved inland, fighting along the ridgeline from Trig 22 and approaching Ruin Ridge. The 2/32nd led the attack, advancing from Trig 22 to the Qattara Track. The 2/43rd then followed towards Ruin Ridge.

Just after midnight on 27 July, the 2/28th attacked Ruin Ridge and by 1 am they were on the feature. But things were starting to go wrong: the Germans were attacking the Australians from rear positions; three company commanders were wounded; and many of the vehicles that should have brought forward ammunition were destroyed or damaged. Increasingly cut off, an attempt by British tanks to relieve the battalion was abandoned after 22 vehicles were “knocked out”. Shortly before 10 am enemy tanks began moving in on the Australians from three directions. A company was overrun and the battalion’s commander had little choice but to surrender. The Australians were rounded up and marched through the British artillery barrage, resulting in more casualties, as they moved behind the German lines.

The 2/28th suffered heavily at Ruin Ridge. Sixty-five officers and men from the battalion and its support units were killed or wounded; nearly 500 were captured and became prisoners of war. From those who participated in the attack, only 92 men remained. The 2/28th was withdrawn and rebuilt during the following weeks. It was back on the front line by September.

During the general Allied offensive from 23 October to 4 November the 24th Brigade was in reserve. Its task was to deceive the Axis forces by faking an attack. The 2/28th and 2/43rd raided enemy lines, while the 2/32nd directed a smokescreen and placed “dummy soldiers” in no man’s land. The 24th Brigade did not take part in the main fighting until the night of 31 October, when it relieved the 26th Brigade in the “Saucer”, where the heaviest fighting took place.

Alamein was a great, although bloody, success for the Allies and by 6 November enemy forces were retreating. But the 9th Division was needed elsewhere. The 2/28th left Alamein in December and went to Gaza in Palestine to participate in the 9th Division parade on 22 December. In January 1943 the battalion left Palestine for the Suez Canal, from where it was sailed back to Fremantle on 18 February.

Reorganised for jungle operations, the 2/28th participated in the 9th Division amphibious landing at Red Beach, north-west of Lae, in early September. Following the fall of Lae the 20th Brigade landed at Scarlet Beach, north of Finschhafen, on 22 September. It gradually moved to Scarlet Beach, the 2/28th arriving on 14 October. Days later the Japanese made a strong counter-attack against Scarlet Beach but the brigade was too strong and by the end of the month the main Japanese force withdrew to Sattelberg. But large numbers of enemy troops were still north of Scarlet Beach, near Pino Hill and Nongora. Moving inland, the 2/32nd captured Pino and then Pabu. The 2/28th followed the coast and captured Guiska. It then moved to Wareo, where it spent Christmas. The battalion returned to Australia at the end of January 1944.

After some leave, the 2/28th reformed at Ravenshoe on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland, for what proved to be an extensive period of training. Indeed, the war was almost over before the battalion went into action again.

In April 1945 the 9th Division was transported to Morotai, which was being used as a staging area in preparation for the 7th and 9th Divisions amphibious operations on Borneo. The 24th Brigade landed on “Brown Beach” on Labuan Island on 10 June. It took the 2/28th and 2/43rd 11 days to clear the island. The strongest Japanese resistance came from the area called the “Pocket”. The battle began on 15 June and, after almost a week of shelling, air strikes, and naval bombardment, the 2/28th captured the position. The Pocket was captured on 21 June and the 2/28th moved to Beaufort, on the opposite side of Brunei Bay, spending the final weeks of the war patrolling the surrounding area.

Following the end of the war and Japan’s surrender, the ranks of the 2/28th thinned, as men were discharged, transferred, or volunteered for the occupation force for Japan. They returned to Australia in January 1946, where the 2/28th was disbanded.

Colour Patch

Colour patch for 2/28th Battalion

Glossary

Battle Honours

Casualties

  • 274 died
  • 511 wounded
  • 480 prisoners

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

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 2 DSO
  • 6 MC
  • 4 DCM
  • 15 MM
  • 51 MID

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

Collection Items

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References

  • AWM52/8/3/28: 2/28 Infantry Battalion unit diary
  • Clohessy, Daryl; Masel, Philip, Wouldn't have missed it for quids : the history of the 28th Battalion, 2nd A.I.F., 1939-1945, (Bassendean, W.A. : D.G. Clohessy, 2005)
  • Loffman, Phillip, 2/28th Australian Infantry Battalion, including the antitankers who fought with them : prisoners of war captured during actions at defence of Tobruk, Ruin Ridge - El Alamein, (City Beach, W.A. : P. Loffman, 1999)
  • Masel, Philip, The Second 28th : the story of a famous battalion of the Ninth Australian Division, with a foreword by Sir Henry Wells and an appendix: The 24th Anti-tank Company, (Perth : 2/28th Battalion and the 24th Anti-tank Company Association, 1961)