Sunday History Photo / NT

Submitted: Sunday, Aug 30, 2015 at 08:37
ThreadID: 130135 Views:2785 Replies:2 FollowUps:6
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Not a lot of text for you today but some good photo's .

Military activity around Adelaide River increased significantly following the first Japanese air-raids on Darwin on 19 February 1942. The immediate aftermath of these attacks led to a mass-exodus of Darwin's civilian population toward the south, an event that would become known as the Adelaide River Stakes. The allied response was a significant increase of forces to rebuild and greatly expand defences in the region. A military airfield was built South of the town and close to the railway station.

Work on the 2 Runways was carried out by the Australian Government on a large clay pan, used only as an emergency landing strip during 1942 but was abandoned since it could only be used during the dry season. During the wet season, it would flood to a depth of a few inches with the unflooded area turning into wet clay while in the dry season, the surface turned to a powder dry surface soil of low conductivity.

The USAAF used the airstrips for a short time for maintenance on P-40 Kittyhawks, there was to be a third airstip but was not constructed.

I would like to thank Mr Edwin Ride at the A.W.M .Photographic section for having the caption changed from Strauss Airstrip to the RAAF Airstrip at Adelaide River situated on Mt Bundy Station. Of course the strips are no longer visible but I knew where they were. After Identifying the tree back in November 2011 it took until the end of May 2012 to convince the team in Canberra to make the change,

View the Duty Pilots Tower in the AWM website HERE

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Reply By: BunderDog - Sunday, Aug 30, 2015 at 14:09

Sunday, Aug 30, 2015 at 14:09
Here is a photo of my Dad taken in Darwin just a few days after the first raid with an unexploded Japanese bomb they dug up. [img]
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Reply By: Ron N - Wednesday, Sep 02, 2015 at 11:48

Wednesday, Sep 02, 2015 at 11:48
Great pics and story, Doug - and it's amazing you can still ID those trees!

I would have liked to see some pics of the construction of the airfields. Before the Yanks arrived in Australia with all their fabulous equipment in early 1942, airfield construction was hard work, with little mechanisation.
Note the "tree felling" mentioned. This was carried out the old way, by blokes with axes! That's hard yakka!

In the early 1980's I took on a gold-mining business partner (Don Blaxell - of Blaxell boats fame) who had been with an RAAF Airfield Construction Squadron from the early days of WW2.
A lot of early WW2 airfield construction was carried out by civilians under the control of the military.

However, Don told me that they were severely hampered in the early period of WW2 by a major shortage of decent equipment.
The military sent out a request in early 1940, to all the Road Boards (predecessors of Shire Councils) around Australia to allocate all their surplus equipment to the War effort.
Of course, the Road Boards weren't going to send their best stuff that they reckoned they needed - they sent all their old junk!!

Don told me the biggest tractor they had was a Cat D2, the graders were invariably lightweight towed (originally horse-drawn) graders - and the road rollers were often ancient towed rollers as well!
He said it was pretty awful trying to work with this lightweight and old junk, particularly when it was all sent to New Guinea to build airstrips there, too! (Don spent some time in New Guinea).

He reckoned when the Yanks rocked up with new Cat D7's and D8's, Cat 12 motor graders, LeTourneau Carryalls, Harman shovels, International and Allis Chalmers tractors with hydraulic loaders fitted - they thought that they were in Heaven!

The Yanks ability to carve out airstrips overnight was legendary. When the 808th Battalion was unloaded at Katherine and made their way North, they commenced to clear airstrips as they went, by dragging an anchor chain between the Cat D7's. This style of massive clearing ability astounded the locals, and advanced airstrip construction from native bush, from months to days.

I have seen an article where the Yank engineer units with D7's and Carryalls were landed in advance of the infantry in the invasion of Italy - and they had a fully operational airfield built from scratch, in THREE days!!

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Wednesday, Sep 02, 2015 at 20:18

Wednesday, Sep 02, 2015 at 20:18
G'day Ron,
Your reply is a ripper mate, most interesting and goes beyond just a thanks button click, this is why I do text for you to say Thanks.

The NSW Main Roads was called in to do sections of the Stuart Hwy too.

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Follow Up By: Ron N - Wednesday, Sep 02, 2015 at 21:01

Wednesday, Sep 02, 2015 at 21:01
Doug - Re the NSWMR - Yes, that's correct, the Wartime Govt called on anyone who was left behind, to do the huge task of construction jobs required for the military.

The Allied Works Council was by far the biggest source of labour and equipment for these road-building, airfield building, and general construction jobs, because there just wasn't enough Australian military engineering and construction squadrons to do the amount of tasks required, particularly in the early 1940-late 1942 period.

The Americans woke up quickly right after Pearl Harbor and formed their "SeaBee" (CB) Construction Battalions.
These blokes were qualified civilian builders, engineers and road and airfield construction experts, who were drafted directly into the military Construction Battalions, with only minimal basic infantry instruction.

Many of these highly qualified civilians were given commissions immediately, so they could supervise the big military projects.
It was just like peacetime, only everyone wore green, and the jobs were huge, and the timetables impossible!

The RAAF Airfield Construction Squadrons blokes are/were a tight group, still holding together an association. They are now a branch of the RAAF Association. They still hold meetings, but nearly all the WW2 ACS blokes are gone.

Here's a good read, it's the history of the RAAF ACS's in a PDF file.
It's called "Always First - the The RAAF Airfield Construction Squadrons 1942-1974" by David Wilson.
You may be able to still buy the book from some used bookseller, but the print version is no longer produced.

The RAAF ACS history

Cheers, Ron.

(ex RAE, 17 Construction Sqdn, Vietnam)
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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Wednesday, Sep 02, 2015 at 22:21

Wednesday, Sep 02, 2015 at 22:21
Yes it was the SeaBees that did the work for the FRU at Mt Bundy.

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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Wednesday, Sep 02, 2015 at 22:24

Wednesday, Sep 02, 2015 at 22:24
I have a link for you but your not a member so I can not Pm you so here is the linkUS Navy FRU

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Follow Up By: Ron N - Thursday, Sep 03, 2015 at 00:07

Thursday, Sep 03, 2015 at 00:07
Thanks for the link, Doug, that site makes for interesting reading.
I reckon the Mt Bundy station owners were pretty generous in making the area for the communications station available for the duration of the War, for 10 quid!

I guess just having the Yanks there and getting some spin-offs from whatever they discarded or couldn't use - and perhaps even making use of some of their facilities, was worth the low rent!

I used to have an old farmer client, Ralph Childe, who was an RAAF corporal and AA gunner in Darwin during WW2.
He's long dead, but he told us some interesting snippets during the late 1960's, about the bad days of trying to defend Darwin in early 1942.
One of the things he mentioned was that during the early raids, his AA gunner group, stationed around town and the airfield, and only equipped with Lewis guns (.303 calibre) - were strictly forbidden to fire on any attacking Jap planes!

This seemed strange to me, but apparently it was a self-preservation move, as the Japs were utterly potent, and ruled the Darwin skies with audacity during that period.

Ralph told me how he held his AA fire during one raid, as instructed - but one of his RAAF mates couldn't resist letting loose at a passing Jap plane. Ralph said the effect was like you'd stomped on a bullants nest.

After the unauthorised AA fire by the Aussie, the Jap planes came back in force immediately, and accurately targeted his mate who had fired - with deadly accuracy - and totally obliterated him and his Lewis gun, in his trench, in seconds, with serious amounts of 20mm cannon fire!!

At that point, Ralph said he understood why caution was the favoured part of valour - as in the orders - as at that stage they could not afford to lose any weapons, ammunition was desperately short, and the battle outcome was always going to be the same one-sided result!
Ralph intimated it was like trying to kill an eagle that was attacking you, with a blunt 2" pocket knife!

Shortly after, when more Allied aircraft arrived in Darwin, the AA gunners became better armed, and were then also provided with adequate ammunition, and assumed a more aggressive role.

I guess the belief amongst the military leadership in Darwin during the dark days of February and March 1942, was that there was little left to protect in Darwin, anyway!

It was merely hunker down in the trenches and let the Japs pound what little they could, and then let them fly away! There was no ability to retreat, there was nowhere they could go for reinforcement!

It must have been a particularly dispiriting period - and the stories about the people who fled Darwin due to Jap air raids, make one realise just how much fear the ruthless and seemingly unstoppable Japs appeared to Aussies during early 1942.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Ron N - Thursday, Sep 03, 2015 at 00:12

Thursday, Sep 03, 2015 at 00:12
Sorry, can't edit here - but the last line above should have read, "just how much fear the ruthless and seemingly unstoppable Japs, instilled into the Aussies there, during early 1942."
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