About This Unit
Each Division was allocated a Pioneer Battalion. The 2nd/4th Pioneer Battalion was variously attached to the 8th Division, 3rd Militia Brigade and then finally the 9th DIvision..
Pioneer Battalions were essentially light military combat engineers organised like the infantry and located at the very forward edge of the battle area. They were used to develop and enhance protection and mobility for supported troops and to deny it to the enemy. They constructed defensive positions, command posts and dugouts, prepared barbed wire defences and on occasion breached those of the enemy using devices like the Bangalore Torpedo.
Their skills and capability were broad from building, construction and maintenance to road and track preparation and maintenance. They could also, and did quite often, fight as infantry.
Although they had existed in the Indian Army before 1914, pioneer battalions were used on a large scale by Commonwealth forces on the Western Front during the First World War. Because of its largely static nature, there was a much heavier reliance on field defences and the provision of mobility support to get people, weapons, ammunition, rations and stores up to the front and casualties out. Roads and railways needed to be built maintained and repaired.
While these were also Engineer tasks, Engineers alone could not meet the heavy demand, while riflemen were always needed at the front. Therefore, Pioneer battalions were raised to meet the needs of both and trained to support both engineers and infantry.
The practice was repeated when the 2nd AIF was raised.
The 2nd/4th Pioneer Battalion was raised in the Hunter Valley of NSW at Greta in 1941. After initial training, it arrived in Darwin in September 1941 and established headquarters at Noonamah. Its companies worked on defensive positions between Adelaide River and Darwin.
It was ostensibly part of the 8th Division, specifically to join "Sparrow Force" in Timor, but apart from a small advance party, was never able to join its parent Division which turned out to be quite fortuitous as the 8th Division was lost into captivity in Singapore, the Dutch East Indies and Timor, or in the case of other elements assigned to Rabaul, annihilated by the Japanese or lost in the tragedy of the Montevideo Maru, a PoW ship torpedoed by a US submarine.
The 2nd/4th was embarked on a convoy for Koepang, but was turned back after an attack by Japanese aircraft. Most of its equipment was lost when the ship carrying it was later sunk in Darwin Harbour.
The 2/4th spent the next 13 months defending various locations in the Darwin area, until they were finally relieved in March 1943.
After some leave the pioneers regrouped for jungle training on the Atherton Tablelands. However, the war was nearly when the battalion went overseas to support the 9th Division landing in Borneo.
The OBOE operations aimed to reoccupy areas of the Netherlands East Indies with the 9th and 7th Divisions making amphibious landings on Borneo in 1945. The 9th Division landed on Tarakan in May, and Labuan Island and Brunei Bay in June. The 7th Division landed at Balikpapan at the start of July.
On 10 June the 2/4th landed and operated on Labuan as part of the 1st Beach Group.Elements of te Battalion were involved in some of the fighting but incurred only five casualties in the Borneo operation.
Japan surrendered in August and official surrender ceremonies were held the following month. The 9th Division was responsible for carrying out surrender arrangements in British Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei, Labuan, and the Natuna Islands. The 2/4th became part of the "Kuching force", responsible for the area around Kuching.
The Battalion like the rest of the 2nd AIF, was 'thinned out' with some going to join the Occupation Force in Japana and the rest the 2/4th gradually thinned, as men were discharged or transferred.
The battalion returned to Australia in December and was disbanded in early 1946.
Compiled by Steve Larkins 2016
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