In 1943 Japanese Navy Kawanishi ‘Emily’ Flying boats operating out of Surabaya, Indonesia bombed the Western Australian town of Onslow.
I was fortunate to have a chat with Peter Grose, author of ‘An Awkward Truth’, an account of the February 1942 Japanese bombing of Darwin. To know more about Peter, visit his website, which has links to his other works at – http://www.petergrose.net/Peter_Grose/An_Awkward_Truth.html or purchase ‘An Awkward Truth’ at all good bookshops or at Bookdepository.com
Available on itunes is part of an interview with Phil Rowson, an artillery expert who was very generous with his time. He took us through the history of K-Heavy Battery, one of the pieces that comprised the Fremantle Coastal Defence Fortress of World War 2.
Phil as an advisor to the Point Peron Rehabilitation Committee chaired by Mr Phil Edman MLC is assisting the hard-working committee to restore this beautiful piece of Western Australian military history.
Here is the link to the Point Peron Restoration Project:
If you want to contact Phil Edman:
And for more information about the Royal Artillery Historical Society of Western Australia, visit:
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The story of German submarines in the Indian ocean is a fascinating but little known area of WW2. For anyone wanting to know more there is an excellent book on the subject written by Naval historian (And fellow ANU alumni) Dr. David Stevens called ‘U-Boat Far from Home’ published by Allen & Unwin (1997). You can buy it here:
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TRANSCRIPT: “Rottnest is an island lying about 20km off the coast of Western Australia. It’s is very popular with families and as a ‘schoolies’ destination, as I can attest because this is where I came as a young punk after my year 12 exams a very long time ago.
Rottnest was so named by early Dutch explorers who mistook the Islands miniature Marsupials for giant rats. During the early years of the Swan River Colony, the original name for the British settlement in Western Australia, it experienced steady and varied use and part of the islands darker past was as a prison for native Australians, who called it Wadjemup meaning ‘Land across the sea’. The area is of significance to aboriginal people and Archeological artifacts have been found on the island indicating a presence dating back over 6500 years. Its connection with the military began in 1839 and it was used for military training until World War 1 when it became a holding camp for German and Austrian internees and P.O.W.s awaiting transportation to the main concentration camp in Holsworthy, New South Wales.
After the war, holiday makers were permitted to return to the Island, but that changed in 1935 when it was decided to make Rottnest the site of a main link in a series of gun emplacements which would form part of the dramatically named Fremantle Coastal Defence Fortress.
Setting up the Rottnest Guns was a massive undertaking, as thousands of tonnes of raw material needed to be shipped over. In charge of the project was Lieutenant BF Hussey of the Royal Australian Engineers who quickly got to work. He started building two emplacements, one at Oliver Hill in the centre of the island and a smaller site at Bickley Point on the Western side closer to Perth. The overall construction took 3 years, but before it could even start, significant infrastructure, such as a bigger jetty and railway needed to be built. So what guns would be placed there and why? British coastal defence strategy was based around 3 types of threat. Class A – Attack by Battleship, Class B – Attack by armoured cruisers and Class C – Attack by smaller ships such as unarmoured cruisers, torpedo boats and ‘blockships’. A ‘blockship’ incidentally was a vessel used to block a passage of water…. not made of Lego.
To defend against Class A and B attacks, which were the bigger ships, the Oliver Hill battery was equipped with two 9.2inch Naval guns, H1 and H2. It’s easy to get bogged down when talking about artillery in bore sizes, inches and cms, but to help visualize the seriousness of these guns, they could fire an 172kg projectile over 30KM. Broadly that would be like throwing a fridge from Perth to Joondalup or from Sydney to Mona Vale and one more time for the benfit of our international subscribers and fans of Ali G London to Staines.
These guns were originally to be placed at Mosman Park on the mainland but it was realized that this position wouldn’t prevent the bombardment of Fremantle by enemy Cruisers. To outrange the enemy, the guns had to be further out to sea. You can find out more about the Mosman Park gun position by downloading the Leighton Battery episode.
The H1 gun barrel is still on display at Oliver Hill and weighs 30 tonnes. It was originally supplied to the Royal Navy for fleet use in Hong Kong. Each gun, it’s mountings and other equipment installed at Oliver Hill cost over 40,000 pounds each, that would be approximately 2,000,000 today. That’s excluding the cost of other construction such as tunnels, magazines and store-rooms etc.
The Bickley Point Battery was two 6 inch Mark XI naval guns with a maximum range of 16 kilometres. This was deemed sufficient for Class C threats. Their role was as a close defence battery to deny ships use of the South Passage. The emplacements were built by the Todd Brothers of Leederville for a contract cost of 8,471 pounds. Very precise.
An interesting note given the debate on womens role in the military today was that the fire control instruments were manned by the Australian Women’s Army Service. Whether or not this was due to a tacit acknowledgement of a woman’s greater ability to multi-task is unknown.
The guns were built to deter an attack Fremantle, which at the time was the largest Submarine base in the Southern hemisphere, hosting British, US and Dutch submarines, in addition to surface ships, port facilities, fuel storage tanks and many, many other accoutremant of war. It would’ve been a tempting target if Japanese or indeed German, submarines or surface raiders had not had their hands full elsewhere.
By the mid-1940s, the focus of threat moved to Northern Australia, so the fixed defences at the Rottnest Island Fortress were reduced. The 9.2-inch guns were mothballed and only the 6-inch guns at Bickley remained manned. The period of intensive military activity on Rottnest Island ended with the guns never being fired in anger and they were effectively retired at the wars end. They only exist today as a priceless historical site because it would’ve cost more to remove them and ship them back to Perth than their scrap metal value. As a consequence, of the seven 9.2 inch batteries which protected Australian ports during WW2 this is the only intact example remaining and one of only a few left anywhere in the world
While these days the only thing Fremantle needs defending from is an invasion of Hipsters and Lime Green utes, the Rotto guns stand as a reminder of a time when Western Australia played a critical role in not just Australia’s defence but as part of the total Allied war effort and they truly are a fascinating piece of Australia’s defence heritage.”
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Just after midnight on the 8th of June 1942, a Type C1 Japanese submarine I-24 surfaced about 10kms South East of Sydney. This vessel was a mothership for a Ko-Hyoteki class midget submarine, it had a compliment of 95 officers and men and was assigned to a Tokkotai or Special Attack Unit.
Having launched it’s midget submarine to attack Sydney Harbour a week earlier and after waiting in vain for its return, It had now switched its mission to hunting ships off Australia’s East coast. The officer in charge Commander Hiroshi Hanabusa gave targeting instructions to the gunnery officer, Yuzaburo Morita who fired the 140mm deck gun across the bow at the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
In 4 minutes, the Japanese gunners fired 10 shells which missed the bridge but all came down in Sydney’s well-heeled Eastern suburbs. Some say the bridge was the target others say it was just an aiming point and the real target was the seaplane base at Rose Bay. My personal opinion is that ANYTHING was the target as the raid was more for nuisance/disruption value than anything else.
I-24 had dived before searchlights on the shore had been turned on and Sydney’s gun batteries could return fire, leaving nothing but the wailing of air raid sirens and lights sweeping the sea and sky. If the 1-24 had spent just another minute or two on the surface to continue firing, there is a very high probability that it would’ve been engaged. One response to the shelling was the scrambling of a US Army Airforce P-400 Aircobra based at Bankstown airport about 20km West of Sydney. The only pilot on duty was 1st Lt George Leo Cantello of the 41st Pursuit Squadron, 35th Fighter Group, who unfortunately was killed shortly after take-off when his aircraft suffered engine failure and crashed in the suburb of Hammondville. To commemorate his sacrifice a park there is now named the ‘Lt. Cantello Reserve.’
I-24s shells were scattered over several suburbs, One landed on the corner of Small and Fletcher Streets in Woolahra which at the time was a grocery store owned by Mr and Mrs S.J and Alice Richards. It hit the gutter and shattered all of the windows but didn’t detonate. After the attack, Alice and her two children hid under the bed. When they eventually came down stairs they found their shop was wrecked. When repairs were carried out, the front door of the shop was bricked up and apart from that, the building itself today looks much as it did during 1942.
Another of I-24’s Salvos hit Grantham Flats, located on the corner of Manion Avenue and Iluka Streets in Rose Bay. Resident in the apartment where the shell penetrated was Mr Ernest Hirsch and his family, German Jews who had fled Nazi Germany five years earlier. Ernest was woken by the shell as it crashed across the floor of his mother’s room and passed through another two internal walls, finally coming to rest on the stairs. Ernest’s mother ended up covered in debris but otherwise escaped unharmed, as did Ernest’s wife and 18 month old son who were in another room. Ernest suffered a fractured foot when he was buried under a pile of broken masonry. Once again the shell failed to explode and Air raid warden Harry Woodward carried the shell to nearby Dangar Park, where it was buried and subsequently defused by a navy demolition team.
Only one shell actually exploded. This happened outside of the Yallambee Flats at 33 Plummer Road Rose Bay and it demolished part of a house, but fortunately noone was killed. The kinetic energy alone of the 38 kilo projectiles still caused considerable damage but there were no fatalities at all during the entire attack. Other places where shells landed were 9 Bunyula and 68 Streatfield Roads Bellevue Hill, 67 Balfour Road, Rose Bay, 1 Simpson Street, Bondi and Olola Avenue, Vaucluse. Some people believe a second shell landed in Bondi, impacting on the promenade in front of the surf club and spraying it with concrete fragments, but no evidence exists to support this.
Despite the fact that noone was killed, the attack caused widespread panic that a Japanese invasion was imminent and it caused many Eastern suburb residents to flee. If you were an astute investor at the time you could’ve made some money because house prices in the area plummeted.
The Japanese shelling of Sydney had a huge psychological impact that far outweighed the material damage and played upon deep seated fears of a Japanese invasion.
Apart from the loss of it’s midget submarine, I -24 left Australian waters unscathed, to continue its war elsewhere. I-24 was commissioned at the Sasebo shipyards in October 1941 and it’s career was distinguished. It had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbour, where it launched midget submarine Number 19 which washed up on the shore of Oahu and was captured. It’s now an exhibit at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.
It also participated in the Battle of the Coral Sea and of course most famously in the Australian context had launched one of the three midget submarines that attacked Sydney Harbour on the 31st of May. The story of this incredible attack will be discussed in another episode.
As the war progressed, the threat of submarine attacks diminished. Put simply this was because as the Japanese were pushed back they lost their Pacific bases, and were forced to operate further and further away from Australia. I-24 eventually met its fate in June 1943, when it was rammed and sunk with all hands by an American vessel the USS Larchmont near the Aleutian Islands in the Northern Pacific.
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I’m standing at one of my 3 favourite Matilda’s: Matilda Bay. The others being Natalie Portman’s character in The Professional and Waltzing. Matilda Bay is located on the shores of Perth’s Swan River. Looking ahead across the water you have fantastic views of the city skyline and a smattering of very, very expensive yachts, look behind and you can see the beautiful sandstone buildings and the velvet soft sporting fields of the University of Western Australia.
It’s a very special place for me, not just because this is where I used to come and pass out after attending UWA Toga parties, it’s because during the second world war the US Navy had a fleet of Flying boats based right here at Matilda Bay.
By May 1942 all American troops in the Phillipines surrendered to the invading Japanese Army who continued their advance Southwards to attack Malaya, the Dutch East Indies and Java, driving US and Allied forces before them. This meant the loss of bases for ships and aircraft who were forced to flee. Among them were a number of Consolidated PBY Catalinas from the US Navy’s Patrol Wing Number 10. Who escaped from bases in the Philippines and ended up in Darwin and Broome. It was ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ as they were caught up in the Japanese attacks there and the survivors were then posted to Perth, a safe-haven being out of range of Japanese land-based aircraft.
They brought with them the Consolidated PBY Catalina. It was one of the most widely used seaplanes of WW2. PB stood for Patrol Boat and ‘Y’ was the code assigned to the manufacturer – Consolidated Aircraft.
Patrol Wing 10 operated from Crawley Bay on the Swan River from March 1942 to mid-1944. Their depleted ranks were soon replenished and the unit grew to approximately 60 – 70 Catalina flying boats and were followed by approximately 1200 American support personal.
It was an incredibly versatile aircraft and it could be equipped with depth charges, bombs, torpedoes, and .50 caliber machine guns. The Catalinas undertook reconnaissance, anti-submarine patrols, convoy escort, search and rescue, and occasionally bombing missions across the expanse of the Indian Ocean
The University of Western Australia supported these operations and the officers’ quarters were built on the site where University Hall is now situated. The photo lab which was responsible for all photo-work from aerial reconnaissance took up a large part of the Engineering Building which is now the Guild Tavern and Riley Oval just next to Hackett Drive was used as a parade ground for troops.
The university was helpful in other ways. UWA landmarks Hackett and Winthrop Halls where I’m standing right now have prominent red terracotta roofs which are highly visible from the air and apparently acted as markers to help guide the Catalina pilots back to base.
British, Dutch and Australian flying boats also operated out of Crawley. Perhaps most famously RAAF pilots seconded to Qantas re-established the Australia-England Airlink that had been cut due to the fall of Singapore in 1942. This involved flights between Crawley and RAF Base Koggala in southern Ceylon which is now Sri Lanka. The flights were the longest non-stop air route of any airline, stretching approximately 6000 km across the Indian Ocean. It took between 27 and 33 hours, with departures timed so that the plane crossed enemy territory during darkness to avoid air attack. Radio silence had to be maintained to avoid detection and the weight of fuel required limited the Catalina’s load to only three passengers and 69kg of mail. It was called the Double Sunrise because the crews would see the sunrise twice.
Matilda Bay is a beautiful place to visit by itself, but If you want to see a Consolidated PBY Catalina up close and personal there are two options, you can visit the Aviation Heritage Museum located in Bullcreek, Perth where there is one on display and is definitely worth a visit. Or for the more fantasy minded you can play the X-Box 360 game ‘World at War’ and fly Catalina missions in the Pacific. I recommend doing both.
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TRANSCRIPT: You’re listening to a podcast from Backyard Battlefields with me James De Leo, thanks for downloading this edition of the program, for more information visit BackyardBattlefields.com
(AUDIO: GUNS FIRING) These are the sounds that would’ve been heard if enemy warships had attacked the port of Fremantle. They are 6 inch naval guns of the type which used to sit at the Leighton Battery, part of the Fremantle coastal defence fortress of WW2 which we’re going to be exploring today. For anyone new to military terms the word ‘Battery’ in this context refers to an organized position of artillery….not energizers. The Leighton Battery is located West of Buckland Hill, just off Stirling Highway in the swanky Western Australian suburb of Mosman Park. Buckland Hill was named after William Buckland, a prominent British theologian and it’s thought that Willem de Vlamingh, the Dutch navigator landed close by this feature in 1697.
Following the Federation of the Australian colonies in 1901, it was decided the defences at the port of Fremantle needed to be upgraded and gun batteries were built at Fort Forrest – North Fremantle and on the south side of the harbour at Arthur Head, work was completed on these batteries in 1908 and Buckland Hill was used as an observation post. During the Great War, (Incidentally I never liked that term, ‘Gee what a great war!’) aka WW1, this observation Post also served as the Port Signal Station, a naval facility used to signal vessels in Gage Roads which is the name of the sea channel for traffic, leaving and entering the port of Fremantle. For sailing aficionados, Gage Roads was also the site of the 1987 Americas Cup.
After WW1 industrial development in Fremantle blocked some of the fields of fire of the existing guns and consideration was given to moving Fort Forrest to Buckland Hill. But as the terminal for the overseas telegraphic cables ended very close to Leighton Beach there was concern that concussion from the guns would interfere with the instruments of the cable station. So the Fort Forrest guns were instead emplaced at Swanbourne, within the current location of Campbell Barracks a topic which will be discussed in a later podcast.
In December 1941, 2 weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.an anti-aircraft site was commissioned at Buckland Hill. This was Fremantle’s second air defence site the first being located on Skinner St where the John Curtin College of the Arts Sports Oval is now situated. The 3.7-Inch Q.F guns used a 12 kg shell and were Britain’s primary heavy anti-aircraft gun during the second world war. It was roughly the equivalent of the famous German 88. It had a slightly larger calibre of 94 mm and a rate of fire between 10 and 20 rounds per minute.
Towards the end of 1942 the Fort Arthur Head guns were moved to Leighton where they could fulfill their task of ‘examination battery’ more effectively. The purpose of an ‘examination battery’ was to fire a warning shot at any vessels approaching the port that refused to stop to be identified. If this was ignored, they would then be engaged as a hostile vessel. So these guns were 6inch or 152mm MKVII naval guns which could fire a 45KG shell up to 14 kilometres. They were temporarily mounted as it was planned to eventually replace them with modem weapons from the UK. The concerns about the telegraphic cable station were now moot because it was closed for the duration of the war. Thanks partly to the generosity of local business one of the barrels has been restored and it is still mounted at the battery site. It’s interesting to note that the writing on it indicate it’s a Mark 6, model, NOT a Mark 7. Controversy! With the guns came the construction of over 300 metres of tunnels for ammunition magazines, communications, and amenities for the approximately one hundred and thirty personnel employed within the complex. The battery was commissioned in February 1943 and barracks, searchlights and support facilities were also added.
By 1944 work commenced to replace the older 6inch guns with three 5.25-inch Coast Artillery/ Anti-Aircraft guns and by 1950, the Battery was sufficiently advanced for 1 Fixed Defence Brigade and a group from the School of Artillery to conduct a six-month training exercises. This made Leighton the only battery of this type out of the eight planned for Australian port defences to become operational and in 1951, – 25 Medium Coast /AA Battery, Citizen Military Forces was formed to man the facility. It continued to operate in this capacity with several changes in title until 1963 at which time the unit was disbanded, the guns disposed of as scrap and the emplacements filled with rubble.
The battery had once formed part of the University of Western Australia’s land endowment before it was acquired by the Commonwealth in the 1940’s. It was returned to the State Government in 1979 and the land sold for housing with one third of the area kept as public open space. The area was subsequently made an “A Class Reserve” and the THE ROYAL AUSTRALIAN ARTILLERY HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA was authorised to develop the facility as a militaria museum. The site has been entered in the Register of the National Estate as a significant World War Two Coastal Defence Facility.
If you’d like to visit the Leighton Battery Heritage site, tours of the tunnels are run every Sunday from 10am – 3pm but you can visit the general area anytime. Of particular interest is the 3.7 inch Anti-aircraft gun on display and the gun pit for the battery’s main armament which gives you a good idea of how large the actual guns were. The views from the top are spectacular and you can see why it made such an excellent location for the defence of WA’s ports.
( ED: Thanks must go to: www.artillerywa.org.au and the Australian War Memorial (AWM) for some great images and information. To download the podcast just visit https://itunes.apple.com/au/