2nd/33rd Infantry Battalion 25th Brigade, 7th Division, 2nd AIF

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About This Unit

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The 2/33rd Infantry Battalion was the third Battalion of the 25th Brigade in the 2nd AIF.  It was later to become part of the 7th Division.

Perhaps unusually, it was formed overseas, in the United Kingdom.  

In June 1940 a troop convoy carrying almost 8,000 Australian troops on its way to the Middle East to join the 6th Division, was diverted to Britain. This force was based around the 18th Brigade and also included infantry reinforcements and support troops. In late-June it was decided these reinforcements and support troops would form the basis of a new infantry brigade, the 25th Brigade, destined for the 7th Division.

However, because there were not enough men to fill the normal establishment of three battalions, each had only three rifle companies instead of the usual four. The brigade's three battalions were initially designated the 70th, 71st, and 72nd Battalions. they were soon renumbered to reflect the protocols of the 2nd AIF; becoming the 2/31st, 2nd/32nd and the 2/33rd Battalions respectively.

They remained in Britain throughout the Battle of Britain and 'the Blitz' and in preparation for a potential German invasion of the United Kingdom.  They were based initially at Tidworth near the Salisbury Plain west of London, before later moving to Colchester.

As the threat of invasion receded, the 25th Brigade was called forward to the Middle East.  It left Britain on 10 January 1941 and disembarked in Egypt on 8 March.

Upon arrival, the 2nd/33rd moved to Palestine for training where it (and each of the other Battalions) was reinforced 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 2nd/33rd occupied positions at Mersa Matruh.  The 2nd/32nd Battalion was later transfered to the 24th Brigade to bolster the garrison in Tobruk.  It remained with the 24th Brigade for the rest of the war and was replaced by the 2nd/25th Battlion in the 25th Brigade. 

In late May 1941, the 25th Brigade returned to Palestine to take part in 'Operation Exporter' the invasion of Syria and Lebanon, which began on 8 June. The 2nd/33rd fought, principally in dispersed company groups, around Merdjayoun until 28 June. It then relocated to the vicinity of 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 2nd/33rd remained in Lebanon as part of the Allied garrison until 14 January 1942, when it began its journey back to Australia in response to the Japanese threat in the SW Pacific having entered the war on 7 December 1941.  The 2nd/33rd departed from Port Tewfik in Egypt on 9 February 1942 and disembarked in Adelaide on 10 March 1942, by which time the news was dire indeed.

After a period of leave and training in Australia the 2nd/33rd was deployed to Papua to reinforce the battered Australian militia units that had delayed the Japanese advance along the Kokoda Track.  It arrived in Port Moresby on 9 September and by the 13th was in action at Ioribaiwa. With the rest of the Australian force, comprised mainly of the 7th Division, the 2nd/33rd withdrew and consolidated at Imita Ridge; the Japanese did not follow, having over-extended their supply lines.

The 2nd/33rd 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 2nd/33rd was briefly involved in the bitter, confused fighting in 'The Battle of the Beachheads" around 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 to be reinforced and retrained.

The 2nd/33rd returned to Port Moresby in late July in preparation for the operations capture Lae, in New Guinea. On 7 September, while it waited near Jackson's Airfield at '7Mile' near Moresby to be flown to Nadzab, via Tsili Tsili, a fully fuelled and 'bombed up' US B-24 Liberator bomber crashed on take off among the trucks carrying the battalion. Sixty men, mainly from D Company, were killed and 92 injured.  This represented a third of the battalion's fatal casualties for the entire war.

The remnants of the battalion were flown to Nadzab on 8 September and subsequently participated in the advance on Lae, which fell on 16 September. On 29 September the 2nd/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 1944and after leave, postings in and out, equipment replenishment and the like, the Battalion relocated to the massive training complex on the Atherton Tableland in Far North Queensland.

Following over a year of training, the 2nd/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 1946.

The Battalions story is eloquently told in its official history "The Foot Soldiers"; like many WW2 unit histories, not published until long after the war (1971)

 

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 admin@vwma.org.au (mailto:admin@vwma.org.au) for details on how to contribute.

 

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REPORT OF COURT OF INQUIRY ON ACCIDENT INVOLVING DEATH AND INJURIES TO PERSONNEL OF 2/33 AUST INF BN AND 2/33 AND 158 AUST GENERAL TRANSPORT COMPANY.

REPORT OF COURT OF INQUIRY ON ACCIDENT INVOLVING DEATH AND INJURIES TO PERSONNEL OF 2/33 AUST INF BN AND 2/33 AND 158 AUST GENERAL TRANSPORT COMPANY.

1. On the morning of the 7 Sep 1943 a number of trucks containing personnel of 2/33 Aust Inf Bn were marshalled at 7 Aust Division Marshalling area for emplaning of troops. Among these were eighteen (18) trucks marked with emplaning aerial numbers - M132 to M149 inclusive, containing personnel of 2/33 Inf Bn. The drivers of the trucks were members of 2/33 and 158 Gen Tpt Coys. These trucks were in the area ear-marked for Marshalling for DURANDS aerodrome. The trucks had been marshalled in this area preparatory to moving to Assembly Area for emplaning on DURANDS drome. The emplaning was part of an operational move by 25 Aust Inf Bde to an operational area.

At approx 0420 hrs on 7 Sep 1943 a Liberator Bomber with eleven (11) personnel of US Army Air Force took off from JACKSON'S Aerodrome. The Bomber was loaded with 4 x 500lb bombs and 2800 gallons of petrol. The plane was noticed by several personnel in the Marshalling Area to be flying very low when suddenly the port wing apparently tipped one of the branches of a tree, the hit the tree and crashed. These trees are on the downward slope of a small ridge. Immediatly following the crash two (2) loud explosions occured and parts of the plane flew in all direections. In addition to this petrol was sprayed over a large area and extensive fires occurred.

Several witnesses gave evidence that one of the engines on the Bomber was on fire prior to the crash, but the Court is of the opinion that what they saw was a flame from the super-charger.

Five trucks, Nos M145 to M149 inclusive, caught fire and were hit by the flying wreckage of the aeroplane.

Personnel in these five trucks were either killed outright of injured. The total number of Australian personnel killed outright were fifteen (15). In addition Forty-four (44) have since died of their injuries. Ninety-two (92) were injured and admitted to hospital and present indications are that most of these will recover. In addition all Eleven (11) member of the crew of the Liberator were killed. The crash immediately detonated three of the bombs, two distinct explosion taking place, and the fourth bomb not exploding. Immediately after the crash and explosion attempts were made to get near the immediate vicinity of the crash to extricate injured and dead but it was impossible to do so owing to the fierce blaze. A number of injured with their clothes and equipment on fire got through the blaze themselves and were given what assistance and first-aid that was possible in that area.

Capt SEDDON took prompt steps to call medical assistance and ambulances, a large number of both of which was on the spot in a very short time.

All injured were immediately taken either to the 2/5 Aust General Hospital or the 2/9 Aust General Hospital with exception of two (2) who were taken to 2/5 Aust Field Ambulance and two (2) men were taken to a US Hospital, the latter not being in a fit condition to be moved.
Prompt action was also taken by Capt SEDDON to obtain fire-fighting equipment which was on the scene in a short time.
Ammunition continued to explode and the fierce blaze continued for a period of about one (1) hour, and the earliest moment, having due regard to consideration of reasonable safety, The remaining bodies, all of whom were dead, and the majority of whom were mutilated and charred as the render recognition impossible, were extricated from the trucks and the area immediately surrounding them and placed in another truck.

All possible steps were taken to find any evidence to enable recognition of the bodies. The best count of bodies, possible under the circumstances, was made on the spot. Eleven (11) men were extricated early in the morning but it was not possible to extricate a further five (5) owing to the continuance of fires, until later on in the morning. All these bodies were sent to the 2/5 aust General Hospital and arrangements made by the hospital for an accurate count of the mutilated bodies. All possible attempts were made to gather further information which might lead to the identification of any of the bodies.

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