SX23561 Sergeant George William (Bill) BATTYE
BATTYE and Emma Amelia Grace BATTYE (nee HANNS). Bill, as he was know, was educated at the Victor Harbor public school and was a farm labourer after he left school. On 7 August 1937, Bill married Phyllis Maud HODGE. At the time of his enlistment in the 2nd AIF on 20 July 1942, Bill was serving with the 18/23rd Light Horse (Machine Gun) Regiment, a militia unit. His bother Jim, had enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 28 May 1940.
After his basic training, Bill was posted to the newly formed 2/9th Armoured Regiment; there were a number of other Victor Harbor men who had been posted to the Regiment – Colin COOTE, Ross BURDON and Bill COX. The Regiment was based at Puckapunyal and shortly after Bill arrived, the unit moved to near Cessnock, NSW. In May 1943, the Regiment moved to the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland.
In March 1944, the 2/9th replaced its Grant tanks with British Matildas. These tanks were deemed to be the best available for Australia’s offensive needs, but they were not new and spares were no longer being made.
The Matildas were uncomfortable. The ride was particularly unpleasant in rough country for the four-man crew who were jolted, jarred and pitched about. They almost choked in dusty conditions; in tropical heat the steel hulls became too hot to touch and, with little inside ventilation, the crews suffered from dehydration and had to drink constantly and take salt tablets. The problem of the heat was compounded by the noise of the engines and firing of the guns reverberating in the tank. When the tank was closed down the atmosphere would be heavy with the smell of cordite and diesel fumes. Many men later suffered hearing loss because of these experiences.
In March 1945, the 2/9th Armoured Regiment received orders to prepare for overseas service. The men embarked on the United States Army Transport Sea Barb, a Victory-class troopship of 8,200 tonnes. There were nearly 2,800 troops aboard the ship when she sailed on Friday 13th, April 1945. Six days later they reached Morotai, a small island midway between New Guinea and Borneo. The regimental’s ultimate destination was to be Borneo.
On 10 June 1945, the 9th Division and elements of the 2/9th landed at Labuan and Brunei Bay while B Squadron landed on Labuan Island with the 24th Infantry Brigade, where it supported the infantry on the airfield, Flagstaff Hill, Crater Feature and MacArthur Road. Meanwhile, A squadron had landed on Brunei Bay with the rest of the division and supported the advance inland. The 2/9th performed similar tasks in all of these locations, namely supporting the infantry’s advance by engaging Japanese fortifications and by providing mobile fire support.
Whilst the Japanese had no special anti-tank weapons, they utilised mines and other booby traps to hinder the tanks and advancing troops, which they knew could not leave the roads and tracks in swampy areas. The main booby trap employed by the enemy were 50 and 100 pound aerial bombs concealed alongside the tracks which would be detonated remotely or by a tripwire when our soldiers passed. Booby traps were also suspended in the trees and detonated when troops or tanks passed underneath.
On 16 June 1945, in the Labuan ‘pocket area’, the enemy allowed the infantry and leading tanks about 40 yards into a partially cleared area then opened fire with light machine guns from well-concealed positions. Heavy casualties were inflicted on the infantry of the 2/28th Infantry Battalion. The remaining tanks had been held up due to a heavily mined area with concealed aerial bombs on the ground and suspended from trees. A trooper managed to lead the tanks through the mined areas and directed tank fire onto the enemy gun positions. Enemy snipers were also a constant concern to the tankers as were attacks upon the tanks themselves.
On 21 June 1945 flame-throwing tanks, nicknamed ‘Frogs’ were employed to eliminate enemy that were dug into the high ground in the Labuan pocket. With the elimination of the enemy in the ‘Pocket’ area, fighting on Labuan virtually ceased and the focus turned to the mainland and the Beaufort area. It was proposed to move elements of the regiment there but Beaufort was captured on 28 June without the need for tank support, and in any case it transpired that the terrain was unsuitable for tanks.
On 15 August 1945, hostilities by the Japanese ceased following the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima eight days earlier.
Bill returned to Australia and was demobilised on 9 November 1945. He returned to farming with his wife Phyllis.
Bill was elected president of the Victor Harbor RSL in 1963-1964. On 31 December 1982, Bill was awarded a British Empire Medal (Civil) for his splendid service to the community and veterans. Bill died in August 1990, age 80; he is interred in the Victor Harbor Cemetery.
Wikipedia – 2/9th Armoured Regiment (Australia)
Compiled by the Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team, March 2015.