United States Navy (USN) Submarine Base and Repair Unit
New Farm Wharf and Wool Stores
- Naval/port facility
- Brisbane City
Macquarie Street, New Farm 4006
The New Farm submarine base was the major US Navy facility to be established on Australia’s east coast. It repaired, replenished and degaussed (anti-mine) submarines. It operated from April 1942 to March 1945. In April 1945, the base was allotted to the British Pacific Fleet. A total of 59 submarines and 3 submarine tenders were based, at various times, at the base. Among the famous people to visit the base were US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (13 September 1943), US Vice Admiral Arthur S. 'Chips' Carpender and comedian Joe E. Brown (i.e. the film Some Like It Hot).
At the Pacific War’s advent in December 1941,US Submarine Squadron 5 was patrolling the Atlantic. It was ordered to the Panama Canal where it met the submarine tender USS Griffith on 5 February 1942. On 28 February, the force was ordered to Brisbane and passed through the canal into the Pacific on 5 March. Griffith and six old (1920s), short-range S-Class submarines (designated Division 53) berthed at New Farm Wharf on 15 April 1942. Joining them that day was a seventh S-boat and the gunboat USS Tulsa. They were reinforced on 20 April by another two S-boats and on 23 April by two more S-boats. These five submarines had transferred from Fremantle. Griffith and her 10 submarines were the nucleus of Brisbane’s new submarine base.
Preparation for this base began on 29 March, when the Australian Naval Board wrote to Brisbane’s District Naval Officer (DNO) requesting facilities for US submarines. Initially, the Pinkenba Wharf was considered but it was deemed too far away from Brisbane’s supply railheads of Roma Street and South Brisbane Stations plus the repair facilities of the South Brisbane Dry Dock. On 14 April 1942, the Australian Army Hirings Service leased New Farm Wharf from the Brisbane Stevedoring Company. The wharf was used for wool storage and shipping. Its four sheds and mobile crane were immediately requisitioned. Initially, the base comprised a small Naval Supply depot office, a Submarine Repair Unit office and periscope/submarine parts repair shops. Limited storage space was available in the existing wool sheds. Quarters were provided for 252 sailors. The first base commander was Captain Ralph Waldo Christie USN, who had 27 years experience as a submariner and led Submarine Squadron 5. He put his headquarters on Griffith.
Christie’s submarines were the most powerful strike force of the small naval force allotted to General MacArthur and his South-West Pacific Area (SWPA) naval commander US Admiral Leary. Leary designated the Brisbane-based submarines as Task Force 42.1. After the formation of 'MacArthur’s Navy' into the US 7th Fleet on 15 March 1943, the submarines based on Australia’s east coast were redesignated Task Force 72. On 15 November 1944, it was absorbed into Task Force 71 that controlled all 7th Fleet submarines. The Brisbane-based submarines became Task Group 71.9.
The first submarine patrol launched from the New Farm Base was by S-47 on 22 April. By the end of the month, four submarines were positioned to participate in the Battle of the Coral Sea (4-8 May). On 27 August, a modern Sago Class submarine reached Brisbane. Two more arrived by the end of the month. On 9 November, the tender Fulton replaced Griffith, which returned to the USA. The tender Sperry reached Brisbane on 13 November, returning to Pearl Harbour on 17 January 1943. The submariners provided the traditional USN Christmas Party for disadvantaged children aboard Fulton in December 1942. Their tradition of hosting a party on the night before leaving on patrol often caused friction with the Queensland police due to the strict state liquor laws.
By December 1942, all the S-boats had left Brisbane to be replaced by new, long-range submarines. Captain James Fife Jr. succeeded Christie as base commander on 22 December 1942. In late 1943, Milne Bay in Papua became an advanced submarine base. Fulton transferred there from Brisbane on 23 October. The New Farm base was relegated to rear echelon support but it still played an important role as it could undertake more substantial repairs than the advanced base in Papua. Fife left Brisbane on 2 December 1943. Captain W.N. Downes took command at New Farm. Captain E.H. Bryant succeeded him on 12 February 1944. The submarines were rotated so that after completing the required number of patrols, they were sent to Pearl Harbour and replaced with other submarines. Relief crews were lodged at New Farm.
The Submarine Repair Unit operated from the tenders and from New Farm Wharf. New floors and partitions altered the customs office and 4 sheds. Barracks, a Mess, a laundry and a dispensary were crammed onto the site, with buildings connected by elevated footbridges. A 12-ton crane (replacing the first crane) and new piers improved the wharf. Eight submarines could be berthed at New Farm, though the repair capacity was for 3 to 7 submarines. All submarine stores and torpedoes sent from the USA were delivered to New Farm before being despatched elsewhere (e.g. the USN Fremantle submarine base).
Eventually Base 134 facilities spread across Brisbane were provided for a shore-based personnel peak of 6,464 sailors. The peak for officers was 685 on 1 June, 1944 and 5,862 for enlisted men on 1 July, 1944. Transfer of USN submarine facilities to Subic Bay in the Philippines commenced in early 1945, with the last submarine leaving on 27 January. The Submarine Repair Unit ceased operations in Brisbane on 20 April 1945 but the USN Brisbane Base 134 remained to undertake minor work.
The Royal Navy assumed control of the New Farm repair facilities on 20 April 1945. The tender HMS Bonaventure with 6 midget submarines (X-1 to X-6) arrived on 27 April. The British retained use of the New Farm base until December 1945. In 1946, the US Navy planned to close the remaining Base 134 facilities on 1 March but decommissioning advanced to 14 January.
During 1942-45, 11 S-boats, 24 Gato Class, 8 Sargo Class, 4 Gar Class, 3 Salmon Class, 3 Tambor Class, 2 Balao Class, 2 Narwhal Class, 1 Argonaut Class and 1 Porpoise Class submarines were allotted to this base. Six boats were lost: Amberjack, Darter, Grampus, Seawolf, Triton and Argonaut. The others were S-37, S-38, S-39, S-40, S-41, S-42, S-43, S-44, S-46, S-47, Gato, Albacore, Bashaw, Blackfish, Bluegill, Bream, Cero, Dace, Drum, Flounder, Flying Fish, Greenling, Grouper, Growler, Guardfish, Peto, Pompom, Raton, Ray, Scamp, Silversides, Wahoo, Sargo, Saury, Sculpin, Sailfish, Seadragon, Spearfish, Swordfish, Gar, Grayback, Gudgeon, Snapper, Stingray, Sturgeon, Trout, Tuna, Balao, Guavina, Narwhal, Nautilus and Porpoise.
David Jones and Peter Nunan, U.S. Subs Down Under,(Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2005).
Peter Nunan, Queensland Maritime Museum - Collection of material copied from the US Naval Archives.
Anthony J. Watts, Allied Submarines - WW2 Fact Files, (London: MacDonald and Jane’s, 1977).
US Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks Section, US Naval Base, Navy 134, Brisbane Defense Aid - Reciprocal and Review Board Report -General (1946).
US Navy, Base Report - Base: Brisbane, pp. 33-38.