Sunday History Photo / Qld

Submitted: Sunday, Aug 05, 2012 at 04:23
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New evidence has emerged of a mutiny by black American troops based in Townsville during World War II as racial tensions exploded into exchanges of machine-gun fire between officers and men.
They sailed to Australia via the Panama Canal. On the Pacific Ocean side of the the canal they were joined by the cruiser "Richmond" and the two freighters left them. Their escort had also reduced down to a cruiser and a destroyer.

They arrived in Brisbane on 6 April 1942. To their surprise they discovered that they were not leaving the ship in Brisbane. They had to travel to Townsville on the "Santa Clara". Unfortunately they had to stay in port for another few days while the cargo was unloaded and restacked. The Negro troops were not allowed to enter the city. They were only taken ashore to go on cross country hikes. The Officers were able to take leave in shifts and go into the city. The 576th Dump Truck Company also stayed on the ship. The 200 doctors disembarked in Brisbane.
The "Santa Clara" left Brisbane at 2.00am on 8 April 1942 headed for Townsville. They arrived in Townsville on 10 April 1942. The 96th Battalion initially setup their camp at Farrington Farms near the Townsville Jockey Club near Oonoonba about 4 miles south of Townsville. They may have arrived with another negro unit, the 91st Battalion.

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The mutiny, among the worst in United States military history, has been kept secret despite one contemporary report indicating that as many as 19 men may have been killed and references to the violence in war diaries of Australian infantry units sent to cordon off the area.
Shots, including from automatic weapons, were heard by locals, most of whom thought the army was conducting live-fire exercises.
The mutiny involved two companies of the 96th Battalion, US Army Corps of Engineers, who had arrived in Townsville in April 1942 after crossing the Pacific by troopship and being mostly confined on board during a layover in Brisbane.

Although taken on cross-country hikes, the black engineers were not allowed into the city under strict segregation agreed after negotiations between the US military and the federal and Queensland governments.
The nation still held strictly to the White Australia policy despite the desperate needs of the war, leading to segregation in poor conditions and discrimination that later sparked riots between black and white GIs in Brisbane.

The 96th Battalion, like all other black units, was recruited and deployed under segregation policies applied across the US military until the late 1940s, and reinforced by rules governing the stationing of more than 7000 black troops in Australia.

Few blacks were assigned combat roles. Most were in support duties, mainly catering and labour.
The 1200-strong 96th Battalion, and another black engineer unit, the 91st Battalion, were commanded by whites.

The military history website Australia@war says the units had been recruited and organised as "supplemental labour", with no specialist training or equipment. They had relatively few officers for their large companies, creating management and disciplinary problems.
This helped inflame tensions in Townsville, a key staging post for the Pacific war that hosted more than 50,000 US and Australian troops. It is still a base for the Australian Army.

Trouble erupted shortly after the battalion's arrival, when about 100 of the unit's troops fought with Marines who had rounded them up with bayonets and loaded rifles. The black GIs were banned from town.

Amid plummeting morale, half the battalion were deployed to New Guinea. The remaining two companies were based at what is now the Townsville suburb of Kelso, building by hand three 2100m airfields.

On the night of May 9, 1942, shots were heard in the battalion's camp. Local Arthur Kelso, out riding on his Laudham Park property, said he heard continued shooting - including Thompson submachine guns - until about 11pm.
Some reports suggested violence flared after a white officer struck one of his black subordinates, and that drunken blacks began shooting at their officers, who returned fire.

As reports of 250 rampaging soldiers reached Townsville, Australian units issued with live ammunition and Bren light machine guns were sent to cordon off the mutineers. They were stopped and turned back to camp.
The incident was reported in the war diaries of the 29th Australian Infantry Brigade and the 51st Infantry Battalion, noting that 500 US engineering troops were "in revolt", and that "US negroes had seized their own arms".

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Image Could Not Be Found

James Cook University historian Ray Holyoak has uncovered evidence of the mutiny during research into Congressman (later President) Lyndon B. Johnson's sudden and unexplained visit to Townsville in 1942.

The evidence is contained in documents held in the archives of the Queensland police and Townsville Army Brigade detailing the firing of more than 700 rounds by machine gun and antiaircraft weapons into tents where white officers were drinking.


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Reply By: On Patrol & TONI - Sunday, Aug 05, 2012 at 07:50

Sunday, Aug 05, 2012 at 07:50
It was discusting how black troops who were "on our side" we're treated at that time. Very enlightening mate.
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Reply By: Member - Alan H (QLD) - Sunday, Aug 05, 2012 at 07:52

Sunday, Aug 05, 2012 at 07:52
Thanks Doug

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Reply By: Member - Dunworkin (WA) - Monday, Aug 06, 2012 at 02:36

Monday, Aug 06, 2012 at 02:36
Thanks Doug for another very interesting History session. Much appreciated.

Simba, our much missed baby.

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