2nd/40th Infantry Battalion "Sparrow Force" Timor - 23rd Brigade, 8th Division, 2nd AIF

About This Unit

The 2nd/40th Infantry Battalion was the only battalion in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) recruited almost entirely from Tasmania.

Initially it was planned that it would consist of three rifle companies from Victoria and one rifle company and one headquarters company from Tasmania.  However, public and political pressure lead by the Tasmanian premier resulted in the battalion being formed from the island state. The 2nd/40th assembled at Brighton Camp in July 1940, where it spent the rest of the year training.  (AWM:https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U56077/)

The 2nd/40th left Hobart on the S.S. Zealandia on 7th January 1941 and arrived in Melbourne two days later.  Trains took the men to Bonegilla camp on the shores of Lake Hume in northern Victoria, where training continued alongside two Victorian battalions, the 2nd/21st and 2nd/22nd. These three infantry battalions made up the 23rd Brigade of the 8th Division, all destined 'bird' forces. Some Victorian reinforcements joined the 2nd/40th in February although members were predominantly Tasmanian.

At the end of March, the 2/40th left Bonegilla for Adelaide on trains, then continued to Alice Springs where the battalion camped. In mid-April, they were trucked by the Darwin O.M.F. and travelled over four days to Larrimah. Then they boarded Vestey train cattle carts and went to Katherine for a few months. In July the companies moved closer to Darwin, to a new camp they constructed at Noonamah, the 'twenty-eight mile' and was stationed there until its departure for Timor on 10th December 1941.

In December, some men were sent home on Christmas leave however soon after they left Darwin, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and war was declared, the 2/40th as the infantry component of Sparrow Force was destined for Timor. These men along with reinforcements from Tasmania and Victoria, did not rejoin the unit on Timor until mid-January 1942, a month before the Japanese invaded.  After three days of heavy fighting, low on food, water and ammunition, LtCol. Leggatt surrendered the column at Airkom (Irekum) on 23rd February 1942 and most men became prisoners of war.  Losses were 4 officers and about 40 other ranks

Sparrow Force on Timor comprised of the 2nd/40th Infantry Battalion, 2nd/1st Heavy Battery, Fortress Engineers and Signals, 2nd/11th Field Company, 2nd/12th Field Ambulance, 22nd Dental Unit, 18th Anti-Tank Battery, 75th Light Aid Detachment and Australian Army Service Corps as well as the 2nd Independent Company (Commando) which went to Portuguese East Timor. British Bofors gunners of the 79th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, 21st L.A.A. Regiment arrived from Java only a few days before the Japanese invaded. Netherlands East Indies forces were also a component of the Timor defence but did not figure in any of the action.


We would particularly like to encourage individual historians researchers or members of unit associations to contribute to the development of a more detailed history and photographs pertaining to this unit and its members.

Please contact [email protected] (mailto:[email protected]) for details on how to contribute.