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Category: 2nd AIF/7th Div/18 Bde

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Second 12th Battalion AIF

The 2/12th Battalion officially came into being with the appointment of its first commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Field, on 13 October 1939. Two months would pass, however, before the 2/12th paraded as a whole. Two fifths of the battalion was recruited from Tasmania and initially trained at the newly-built camp at Brighton, while the remainder were recruited from North Queensland and began their training attached to the 2/9th Battalion at Redbank. The battalion was united at Rutherford in New South Wales on 11 December. It subsequently relocated to Ingleburn on 12 January 1940 and on 5 May sailed with the 18th Brigade of the 6th Australian Division for the Middle East.

En route, the 18th Brigade was diverted to the United Kingdom to bolster its defences following the fall of France. The 2/12th disembarked at Gourock in Scotland on 17 June and was subsequently based at Lopcombe Corner, near Salisbury, in England. In September, the 18th Brigade was transferred to a new Australian division – the 9th. The 18th Brigade relocated to Colchester in October and left the United Kingdom on 17 November.

The 2/12th disembarked in Egypt on 31 December 1940. In February 1941, the 18th Brigade was transferred to the 9th Australian Division but it was still destined to see action with its old formation. During the first week of April the brigade moved to Tobruk to reinforce the 9th Division, then falling back on the town. The 2/12th participated in the defence of Tobruk until it was withdrawn on the night of 26 and 27 August. After Tobruk, the 2/12th initially trained in Palestine before joining the forces garrisoning Syria in late September. It returned to Palestine in early January and sailed for Australia from Suez on 12 February. The battalion disembarked at Adelaide on 28 March.

The 2/12th’s next battleground was Milne Bay in Papua, where it arrived on 17 August 1942 and mounted a successful counter-attack against Japanese invasion forces between 31 August and 4 September. It occupied Goodenough Island between 22 October and 28 December and then returned to Papua for its most bitter and costly battles of the war – Buna and Sanananda. At Buna it delivered the coup de gras to the Japanese at Giropa Point on 1 January, but suffered 63 killed and 122 wounded in the process. The battalion’s efforts, between 9 and 21 January to clear the Japanese from the torturous swamp country around Sanananda cost another 61 lives. The 2/12th returned home on 10 March 1943.

By early August 1943, the 2/12th Battalion was back in Papua. It trained around Port Moresby before deploying to the Finisterre Mountains in New Guinea on 31 December. The battalion’s main effort there were its operations to capture the Prothero features on the northern end of Shaggy Ridge between 21 and 24 January. Patrolling at the head of the Ramu Valley subsequently kept the 2/12th occupied from February until April and marked the end of its service in New Guinea.

Arriving back in Australia on 17 May, the 2/12th spent a year training before undertaking its final operation of the war. On 1 July 1945, it landed at Balikpapan in Borneo. Well supported by artillery and tanks it captured its objectives with relatively light casualties, and its active role was over by 5 July. Following the end of the war on 15 August, 2/12th personnel were progressively returned to Australia for discharge. The battalion disbanded at Balikpapan on 1 January 1946. AWM text

Battle honours


  • 292 dead, 590 wounded


  • 3 DSO
  • 2 OBE
  • 7 MC
  • 3 DCM
  • 18 MM
  • 50 MID

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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces