2/1st Heavy Battery

2/1st Fortress Engineers

2/1st Fortress Signals

Major A.J.Mc L. Wilson

Timorese move a barrel

Klapalima aerial view

Rangefinder position

Proofing a 6-in. gun

Hudson over Klapalima

The 2/1st Heavy Battery was stationed at North Head, Sydney, before their move to Darwin, these men were gunners trained on the big coastal guns. Their supporting units were the 2/1st Fortress Engineers (Royal Australian Engineers) and 2/1st Fortress Signals (Australian Corps of Signals). Some of the men, including the commanding officer A.J.McL. Wilson, had been stationed at Fort Largs on the coast of Gulf St. Vincent, near Adelaide in South Australia. Most men of the 2/1st were from New South Wales.


Before the outbreak of war with Japan, used guns from cruisers and battleships had been taken from store and mounted on islands adjacent to the Australian mainland, as well as defending major port entrances around the coast. On Timor, old 6-inch Mk XI guns regd. nos. 2015 and 2016 were from the H.M.S. Hibernia while the cone mounts had come from the H.M.A.S. Sydney (1). The officer in charge of the 2/1st Heavy Battery, Major Athol Wilson, had been to Timor a number of times in 1941 to supervise their unloading and mounting at Klapalima, a few miles to the east of Kupang, overlooking the Bay.  

The 2/1st units left Sydney by train on the 27th July 1941 and travelled to Adelaide over the Blue Maintains via Orange, Parkes and Broken Hill. From Adelaide they again took the train, to Terowie where it changed to narrow gauge 'The Ghan', for the journey to Alice Springs. On arrival at 'The Alice', they camped outside town for a few days and were then loaded onto trucks and taken north in convoys to the Northern Territory, to the railhead at Birdum, just outside Larrimah. Then again they boarded trains, although this time they were loaded into cattle carts for the journey to Darwin. In Darwin, the men were billeted at Larrakeyah Barracks. This was the same route that so many servicemen took during the dark days of World War 2 although the 2/1st and other groups of Sparrow Force were among the first. 


Waiting for months in the Top End saw a drop in morale due to poor food, many of the men not being kitted out properly and local conditions. Finally, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 2/1st boarded the H.M.A.S. Westralia and accompanied the Zealandia across the Timor Sea with other units of Sparrow Force. They arrived at Usapa Besar on 12th December 1941 and waded ashore to move to their new barracks at Klapalima, however quarters were largely unfinished and much more work lay ahead. Mounting of the guns was unsatisfactory too, so they were manhandled and remounted farther up the hillside for a better command of the bay.  


The Heavy Battery, Fortress Engineers and Fortress Signals soon adapted to their new environment, they constructed shell stores, shelters, barracks, kitchens and a mess hall. The men would go into Kupang more often than other units of Sparrow Force, mainly because they were closer to the town. 

     2/1st Heavy Battery
          Officer commanding - Major Athol J. McLelan Wilson
          2-i.c. Captain A.R. Carrick
          Medical officer - Captain Douglas N. Gillies
          7 officers & 126 other ranks
     2/1st Fortress Engineers
          Officer commanding - Capt. Rex E. Ransom
          2-i.c. Lieut. Edwin H. Medlin
          4 officers & 52 other ranks
     2/1st Fortress Signals
          Officer commanding - Capt. Alan F. Hamilton
          2-i.c. Lieut. Alan L. Gordon 
          2 officers & 37 other ranks

Japanese air attacks commenced on 26th January when Zeros attacked the airfield at Penfui. After this there were almost daily attacks however Klapalima did not suffer much damage from strafing or bombing, mainly because of a spirited defence by Lewis anti-aircraft machine gun crews. After a few initial attacks on the gun positions, the Japanese planes sought easier targets.


On the 20th February, the day of the Japanese landings on the south coast and co-ordinated landing at Dili, Klapalima was bombed heavily in a number of attacks. The first was at 8.00am and protective works and shelters were badly damaged. In this first attack, the commanding officer Major Wilson was badly wounded in the chest and was carried on a stretcher to a vehicle and rushed to the hospital at Champlong, about 30 miles distant. He died there soon afterwards. Another raid at 9.30am disrupted communications with the Force headquarters at Penfui and with the Japanese closing in from the south coast and no infantry protection from that direction, the two guns were rendered inoperable. The gunners, engineers and signallers then left the position and moved north-east to make contact with the 2/40th and other units on the road to Babao. After this, the dispersed groups of the 2/1st attached themselves to 2/40th platoons and after as infantrymen. Total 2/1st losses over four days of fighting were 1 officer and 8 other ranks. 

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Ian D. Skennerton

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