The 2/33rd Infantry Battalion was one of three formed in the United Kingdom on 27 June 1940 to create the 25th Infantry Brigade. The battalion’s personnel were drawn from throughout the Australian force that had arrived in Britain earlier in the month and manpower shortages meant the battalion included only three rifle companies instead of the usual four. It was initially known as the 72nd Battalion and was based at Tidworth, but in October it was retitled the 2/33rd, and in the same month relocated to Colchester. It left Britain on 10 January 1941 and disembarked in Egypt on 8 March.
Upon arrival, the 2/33rd moved to Palestine for training where it was joined by a fourth rifle company. On 11 April, the 25th Brigade, now part of the 7th Australian Division, began to move to Egypt to bolster the defences along the Libyan frontier against an expected German attack and the 2/33rd occupied positions at Mersa Matruh.
In late May 1941, the 25th Brigade returned to Palestine to take part in the invasion of Syria and Lebanon, which began on 8 June. The 2/33rd fought, principally in dispersed company groups, around Merdjayoun until 28 June. It was then moved to the area around Jezzine and was still conducting operations in the rugged hills to the east of the town when the armistice was declared on 12 July. The 2/33rd remained in Lebanon as part of the Allied garrison until 14 January 1942, when it commenced the first stage of its journey back to Australia. It sailed from Port Tewfik in Egypt on 9 February 1942 and disembarked in Adelaide on 10 March.
After a period of leave and training in Australia the 2/33rd was deployed to Papua to reinforce the battered Australian units on the Kokoda Trail. It arrived in Port Moresby on 9 September and by the 13th was in action at Ioribaiwa. With the rest of the Australian force, the 2/33rd was soon withdrawn to Imita Ridge; the Japanese did not follow. The battalion subsequently participated in the advance back along the trail that followed the Japanese retreat and it fought major engagements at Myola (11-15 October) and at Gorari (7-11 November). The 2/33rd was briefly involved in the bitter, confused fighting at Gona between 23 November and 4 December, by which time dwindling numbers had forced its four rifle companies to be amalgamated into two. It returned to Port Moresby by air between 15 and 17 December and eventually sailed back to Australia in early January 1943.
The 2/33rd returned to Port Moresby in late July in preparation for the operations capture Lae, in New Guinea. On 7 September, while it waited at Jackson’s Airfield at Moresby to be flown to Nadzab, via Tsili Tsili, a fully-loaded Liberator bomber crashed among the trucks carrying the battalion. Sixty men were killed and 92 injured - a third of the battalion’s fatal casualties for the entire war. The remnants of the 2/33rd arrived in Nadzab on 8 September and subsequently participated in the advance on Lae, which fell on 16 September. On 29 September the 2/33rd was flown from Nadzab to Kaipit and spent the rest of the year principally engaged in patrol actions in the Ramu Valley and the Finisterre Range. It returned to Australia on 10 February 1944.
Following over a year of training, the 2/33rd departed Australia on 9 June 1945 for its last operation of the war. It landed at Balikpapan in Borneo on 1 July and its subsequent operations were concentrated around the Milford Highway - the site of the most determined Japanese resistance. It was withdrawn to rest on 24 July. The war ended on 15 August and almost immediately drafts of long-service personnel began returning to Australia. The remainder of the battalion arrived in Brisbane on 22 February, and it disbanded there on 12 March.
- 25 Brigade
- 2nd Australian Imperial Force
- Battle of Gorari
- Capture of Lae
- Imita Ridge Operations
- Kokoda Trail Campaign
- Milford Highway Operations
- Mersa Matruh
- Ramu Valley-Finisterres Operations
- Syrian Campaign
- North Africa
- Syria 1941
- Syrian Frontier
- South-West Pacific 1942-1945
- Kokoda Trail
- Eora Creek-Templeton's Crossing II
- Lae Road
- Liberation of Australian New Guinea
- Ramu Valley
- Shaggy Ridge
- Borneo 1945
- Milford Highway
- 200 dead, 363 wounded
- Bierwirth, Rudolph
- Monaghan, John Graham
- Corby, John Armstrong
- Buttrose, Alfred William
- Cotton, Thomas Richard Worgan
- 2 DSO
- 7 MC
- 11 MM
- 27 MID
For more information please see Honours and Awards database
Search for related collection items
- AWM52/8/3/33: 2/33 Infantry Battalion unit diary
- W. Crooks, The footsoldiers: The story of the 2/33rd Australian Infantry Battalion, A.I.F. in the war of 1939-45, (Brookvale: Printcraft Press, 1971).