From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Branch Australian Army
Size ~800–900 men
Part of Sparrow Force,
Colours White over Red
Second World War
Battle of Timor
commanders William Leggatt
The 2/40th Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army. Formed in mid-1940 from personnel recruited from Tasmania, the battalion took part in the fighting against the Japanese on Timor in 1942. Outnumbered and lacking supplies, the majority of the 2/40th's personnel were captured and spent the rest of the war as prisoners of war.
Raised for service during the Second World War as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF), the 2/40th Battalion formed part of the 23rd Brigade attached to the 8th Division; the majority of its personnel were drawn from the state of Tasmania. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Youl, in July 1940 they began training at Brighton, Tasmania, before moving to Bonegilla, Victoria, to join the rest of the 23rd Brigade in January 1941.
In late March they moved north to the Katherine, in the Northern Territory, with the last elements of the battalion arriving on 25 April 1941.There they undertook further training as the battalion received further drafts of men, before moving to Darwin over the course of a month between June and July. In Darwin they undertook defensive duties as part of the town's defensive garrison, with companies detached to defend various locations around Noonamah and Adelaide River. Throughout October plans were put in place for the battalion's deployment to Timor, with a reconnaissance party being dispatched to the island between 6–12 October. Upon return, the battalion's commanding officer, Youl, was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel William Leggatt in "controversial circumstances" on 5 November 1941. The following month, shortly after the Japanese entered the war in the Pacific, the 2/40th Battalion embarked upon the transports Zealandia and Westralia on 8 December, and were deployed to Timor. Arriving there on 12 December 1941, they formed part of Sparrow Force which was tasked with defending the island against invasion by the Japanese.
After Japanese air strikes began in January 1942, the invasion came the following month on 20 February 1942, with Japanese soldiers carrying out airborne and amphibious landings around the island. Outnumbered and with limited supplies, after the initial contact the battalion destroyed the airfield and moved inland, reducing a number of Japanese positions as they went, including an attack upon Usua ridge where the Japanese 228th Infantry Regiment suffered at least 123 casualties on 22 February. By the morning of 23 February the situation was desperate and the battalion all but surrounded around Champlong. Lacking air cover and faced with an ultimatum to capitulate or be subjected to an intense aerial bombardment that would likely have wiped out the battalion, Leggatt was forced to surrender his command and as a result most of the 2/40th was captured. Some managed to escape, however, while others who had been detached elsewhere evaded capture and took part in the guerrilla campaign that followed before being evacuated back to Australia in December 1942. These personnel were dispersed to other units and the battalion was never reformed.
The men who were taken as prisoners spent the rest of the war in captivity in camps throughout Southeast Asia including Java, Burma, Thailand, Japan, Singapore and Sumatra and did not return to Australia until September 1945. The battalion had 271 men killed in action or died while prisoners of war, while a further 79 were wounded. For their involvement in the fighting on Timor members of the battalion received the following decorations: one Distinguished Service Order, one Military Medal and seven Mention in Despatches.