Colin Sydney Coote was born at Victor Harbor on 2 November 1920, the third child of Sydney Laurance Coote and Maggie May Coote (nee Simmonds). He was educated at Victor Harbor Public School. Colin joined the militia on 2 November 1939 and served with the 18th Light Horse (Machine Gun) Regiment. He married Ellen (Nell) Wynlea Penns in a ceremony at Prospect on 28 February 1942.
On 6 July 1942, Colin enlisted in the 2nd AIF and was posted to the 2/9th Armoured Regiment, part of the 1st Armoured Division. At the time of his enlistment he was serving at Gherang (Vic). Other Victor men posted to the Regiment included Hector Rowett, Ross Burdon, Allan Jagger, Colin Morton and Bill Cox.
The 2/9th was based at Puckapunyal (Vic) where it was initially equipped with Bren gun carriers, and later with American-designed M3 Grant medium tanks and M3 Stuart light tanks. In early 1943, the 2/9th moved to Singleton (NSW) where it became part of the newly raised 4th Armoured Brigade. In May 1943, the 2/9th moved to the Atherton Tablelands (Qld). In March 1944, the 2/9th replaced its Grant tanks with the British-built Matilda tanks. Throughout 1944 and into the start of 1945, the 2/9th continued training but the Regiment did not go into action until almost the end of the war.
The 2/9th Armoured Regiment embarked aboard 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 13 Friday April 1945. Six days later they reached Morotai, a small island midway between New Guinea and Borneo. The Regiment’s ultimate destination was to be Borneo.
The 2/9th was to take part in the OBOE operations, a series of amphibious landings designed to reoccupy areas of the Borneo and the Netherlands East Indies. The Regiment would support the 9th Division landings at Tarakan, and then Labuan and Brunei Bay, in British North Borneo.
For the invasion of Tarakan, ‘C’ Squadron was attached to the 26th Brigade and came ashore on 1 May, the first day of the battle, and subsequently took part in the fighting along ANZAC and Bourke Highways, the Tarakan airstrip, and Snag’s Track, and for the Otway and Skyes features, and the Djoeata oilfields. In June 1945, the rest of the Regiment and 9th Division landed at Labuan and Brunei Bay. ‘B’ Squadron landed on Labuan Island, with the 24th Brigade, on 10 June, 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.
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.
With the Japanese surrender, the 2/9th Armoured Regiment remained on Borneo until the end of December 1945. Colin returned to Australia and was demobilised on 12 December 1945.
Colin returned to Victor Harbor where he worked as a ceiling fixer until his retirement. He was elected President of the Victor Harbor RSL for the years 1985-1987. Colin Sydney Coote died on 21 August 2001, age 80 and is buried in the Victor Harbor Cemetery.
Donovan, Peter – Waltzing Matildas – The Men and Machines of the 2/9th Australian Armoured Group in Australia and Borneo, 1941 – 1946 (1988).
Service file of SX23560 Colin Sydney COOTE, purchased form the National Archives of Australia.
Researched and compiled by the RSL Victor harbor History Research Team, January 2020.