The Battalion badge colours were the same as the corresponding unit of the First World War, chocolate over green, with the addition of a 3mm border of gray and the prefix 2nd.
The Sydney Morning Herald of 4 January 1940 gave an account of their farewell march.
"The long khaki columns thrilled the hearts of Sydney as it had not been so moved for a quarter of a century since that still, spring day in 1914 when the first A.I.F. marched through the same streets on its way to Anzac and imperishable glory; the marching was magnificent.
They sailed in the first troop convoy to leave Australia on 9 January and disembarked at El Kantara on the Suez Canal on 13 February 1940, from where they were trucked to their camp at Julis in Palestine.
Australian troops first engagement in the Second World War was at Bardia, the Italians major military outpost in Libya’s north. Dawn of 3 January 1941 saw the [[16th Brigade] ] infantry break through Bardia's western defensive perimeter. The 2/1st Battalion breached the wire defences and swung left before advancing. The 2/2nd Battalion followed suit, swinging to the right. The 2/3rd then moved straight through the breach. 17th Battalion troops led a diversion to the south. Whilst the 16th Brigade was able to capture Bardia itself in the late afternoon of 4 January, resistance meant that fighting did not cease until the next morning. Some 40,000 Italians were captured “…and large quantities of arms, equipment, rations and alcohol. All of which was put to good use by the Australians.”
The Allied forces advanced to the fortified naval outpost of Tobruk. 6th Division troops attacked the perimeter defences early on 22 January, following on from a week of continuous bombardment from both land and sea. Tobruk fell the next day, the Italians surrendering to the Commander of the 19th Brigade. The Italian flag had been souvenired and in the absence of an Australian flag, a signaler from the 2/4th Battalion tied his diggers hat to the flag staff and hauled it up to the top.
The 2/3rd garrisoned Tobruk, though B Company joined the 19th Brigade in its assault on Derna and remained there after its capture on 30 January. Prime Minister Robert Menzies broke his journey from Australia to England to address the troops after the capture of Tobruk.
A second ANZAC Corps was formed on April 12. It ceased to exist less than two weeks later on April 23. The corps consisted of the Australian 6th Division and New Zealand 2nd Division and a lone British brigade. They sailed from Alexandria for Greece on 17 March. Captain G Cory wrote of the journey.
The twenty two hour trip was short, but eventful. We were down in the ratings mess helping them dispose of their rum issue when action stations was sounded. The crew deserted us and the rum, for their posts; from a microphone on the bridge an English Naval Officer gave a bomb-to-bomb description of our first air raid at sea.
The Greek government ceased organised resistance on 18 April, two days after they had requested ANZAC forces to withdraw from Greece. That same day 2/3rd, 2/2nd and New Zealand troops engaged the Germans for the first time at Tempe Gorge. Brigadier Allen of the 16th Brigade later wrote of this encounter.
"It was a fantastic battle. Everyone was on top, with no time to dig in, and all in the front line, including artillery, Bren carriers and infantry, as well as headquarters, with transport only yards in the rear. Some confusion could be expected in the circumstances, with every weapon firing and aircraft almost continually strafing from above. If you saw it in the cinema you would say the author had never seen battle.
German troops, in superior numbers and with their air force in total control of the skies captured the township of Tempe. Fierce rearguard action continued as the ANZAC forces withdrew to a new defensive line at Thermopylae. 21 April saw an official evacuation plan issued.
"No one that was there will ever forget it, nor will we ever think of the
Greek people without thinking of that morning of 25 April 1941; ANZAC Day. Trucks, portees and men showed clearly the marks of their previous battles and the long journey through the night. We would be the last British troops Athens would see with the German forces hard on our heels, yet the populace was lining the streets clapping and cheering as the crowds pressed against the transports so as to almost hold up the convoys' progress. Girls and men leapt on the running boards besides the vehicles to shake the hands of the weary troops. They threw flowers and ran beside the vehicles crying 'Come back, you must come back. Goodbye, Good luck.
Seventh Division troops were already fighting in the [Syria-Lebanon Campaign]] when the reformed 2/3rd, along with the 2/5th and the 6th Division Cavalry Regiment were sent in as reinforcements. It was a bitter campaign that lasted 28 days fought by the Vichy French and their Colonial forces. The 2/3rd joined battles at Damascus 20 - 22 June; at Jebel Mazar 24 - 28 June; and in the climactic battle of Damour 6 - 10 July. The troops remained in Syria, in their camp named Hungry Hollow until January 1942 preparing defences and doing garrison duty. Many of them experienced their first white Christmas.
The 2/3rd left the Middle East on 10 March 1942 their destination Java, but a Japanese advance directed at India and Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), led to the diversion of both the 16th and 17th Brigades to Colombo. They had only just arrived, on 27 March, when a Japanese Naval force emerged from the recently conquered Andaman Islands and launched attacks by carrier-based aircraft on both Colombo and Trincomalee. Little damage was done on land but both the British and Australian Navies suffered losses. The Japanese failed to sustain their initial momentum and the troops were kept busy for the remainder of their time preparing defences, manning anti-aircraft stations and undertaking jungle training.
"They [were] taught to use the jungle to their advantage: to 'melt' into the foliage; to retrace their steps at night; to use camouflage properly; to detect human presence by crushed twigs and disturbed leaf mould; to move silently over undergrowth. To build shelters; and to discern human from animal sounds.
British forces sent from India arrived to relief the Australian troops. 8 August 1942 saw the home coming convoy disembark in Melbourne, away from the Japanese submarines patrolling the east coast.
The troops all received two weeks home leave, staggered from their arrival, but the final allotment had had only 3 days when they were recalled by urgent telegram. The 16th Brigade was again on the move, this time to Port Moresby, arriving there 21 September.
Dr Lyn Joseph 2/3rd Medical Officer wrote this in a report for the Official Historian:
"The intense jungle inducing feelings of claustrophobia, its intolerable silence rent by eerie sounds, the crashing of enormous rotting trees, the narrow torturous tracks, and countless steps, knee-deep in mud with its vice-like grip, endless razor-edged ridges rising to 7,000 feet, long precipitous, ravines and gorges with their rapidly flowing rivers, the torrential rains appearing daily with monotonous regularity, the weirdness and beauty of the rain forest. Into this awe-inspiring scene with its oppressive heat by day and bitter cold at night, place the infantryman clad in jungle greens, the only clothes he possesses; on his shoulders fit his pack; fill his basic pouches with ammunition; in his had the rifle, Bren gun or mortar; feed him with bully beef, biscuits and water; assail him with dysentery, malaria and mite bites which constantly itch. It is in light of these facts that the campaign must be viewed.
The 16th brigade In company with the 25th Brigade prepared to relieve the 7th Division units, Australian Militia forces and Papuan Infantry Battalion troops who had brought the Japanese advance on the Kokoda Trail to a halt.
On 3 October General Douglas MacArthur spoke to the 16th Brigades commander, Brigadier Lloyd, at Ower’s Corner, the foot of the Trail.
"Lloyd, by some act of God your Brigade has been chosen for this job. The eyes of the Western world are upon you. I have every confidence in you and your men. Good luck and don't stop.
"...at the beginning of the Kokoda Trail I weighed Shrimpy Wall and he was 52lb overweight. When he carried his Bren he was nearly 70lb.
The 16th Brigade arrived at Templeton's Crossing on 19 October just three days behind the 2/25th and the 2/33rd battalions who they then relieved , Two further days of close fighting saw the Japanese driven out.
At Eora Creek the Japanese held the high ground looking over the two bridges that crossed the waterway. Lieutenant Colonel Paul Cullen led the 2/1st across on the night of 22 October and advanced through the next day until face to face with the enemies’ main positions. 2/3rd troops moved forward in support from 24 October but it wasn't until 27 October that they were able to launch a sustained attack from the left flank. Japanese resistance broke the next day.
We sailed into them firing from the hip. The forward scouts were knocked out but the men went on steadily from tree to tree until we were right through their outlying posts and into the central positions. Suddenly the Japanese began to run out, they dropped their weapons and stumbled through thick jungle down the slope, squealing like frightened animals.ref>
Seizo Okada, a Japanese war correspondent, was a witness to the aftermath.
"The night was advanced, it had begun to drizzle. The Japanese headquarters was in confusion sending out messages to the front line positions instructing them to make preparations for an immediate withdrawal; the order to retreat crushed the spirit of the troops which had been maintained through sheer pride; for a time the solders remained stupefied amongst the rocks and jungle on the mountainside. They began to move and once in retreat they fled for their dear lives. None of them had ever thought that a Japanese soldier would turn his back on the enemy....Discipline was completely forgotten. Each tried to flee faster than his comrades. The Australians were in pursuit and ever hot on our heels” The 16th Brigade lost 72 killed and 154 wounded in this action.
7th Division Commander Major-General ”Tubby” Allen was relieved of his command the day before the Australian Forces won through at Eora Creek. His superiors in Australia were dissatisfied by the counter-offensive's rate of progress.The 16th Brigade passed through the now abandoned Kokoda on 2 November and three days later went into battle at Oivi. The Japanese counter-attacked the next day.
"During the week or so the battalion was in position at Oivi both sides indulged in what was popularly called ‘hate sessions’, officially referred to as fire displays. The Japanese firing was meant to discourage any activity against their defences on our part. Ours was more in the line of a polite enquiry 'Are you still there?'
On the 11 November the morning hate session failed to bring any response. General Vasey, the new divisional commander sent the 25th Brigade and the 2/1st Battalion on a successful attack on the Japanese rear position at Gorari. The Japanese at Oivi, their supply and withdrawal route cut, had retreated.
The 2/3rds last attack on Japanese lines took place at the junction of the Sananada and Cape Killerton trails, about two miles from the coast. The Battalion arrived there in support of an attack by the 2/1st. The action saw heavy losses on both sides. Thereafter activity was limited to patrolling and maintaining a defensive perimeter. When the 2/3rd evacuated back to Port Moresby by plane on 23 December 1942 the Battalion consisted of 6 officers and 67 other ranks when they assembled at Poppondetta. The convalescing sick and wounded were gathered from the Army General Hospital at Port Moresby and all returned to Australia for leave and further convalescence.
"The Kokoda Trail was the infantry man's cavalry where the pain of effort, the biting sweat, the hunger, the cheerless shivering nights were made dim by exhaustion's merciful drug. Surely no war was ever fought under worse conditions. Surely no war has ever demanded more of a man in fortitude.
After a short leave the 6th Division came together again in late January 1943 on the Atherton Tablelands. A camp was built from scratch at Wondecla. It was upwards of twelve months before all the sick and wounded were able to return. Along with training there was time for recreation – swimming carnivals, boxing tournaments and a 6th division rugby league championship in which the 2/3rd were victorious. Col Windon, the team captain, went on to play for and captain the Wallabies.
After almost 2 years out of action, 6th Divisions troops returned to New Guinea on 26 December 1944. The convoy anchored at Aitape Harbour on the north coast. The Japanese army still held the entire coast down past Wewak and back into the interior. Even though they would have eventually been starved out, the Japanese put up heavy resistance to the Australian’s primary tactic of aggressive patrolling. About the time of the Atomic bombs we took a prisoner who kept saying "Nagasaki gone".
The 2/3rd Battalion disbanded in Brisbane on 8 February 1946 as one of the most decorated of the Second AIF. They had fought all the King's enemies, Italians, Germans, Vichy French and Japanese, alongside the 2/5th Battalion, the only Allied troops to have done so.