US Radio Receiving Station
Cotton’s Farm, Capalaba, Radio Communications site, US Army Signal Corps
- Radar/signal station
Old Cleveland Road East, Birkdale 4159
In July 1942 General MacArthur moved his General Headquarters for the South West Pacific Area (GHQ SWPA) to the AMP building in Queen Street, Brisbane. MacArthur kept in contact with the United States and Washington DC via shortwave radio, with a transmitting station at 180 Youngs Road, Hemmant (still extant) and a receiving station 9km to the southeast, near Capalaba.
The US Army Signal Corps established the Capalaba radio station to the west of Old Cleveland East Road, south of Uhlman Road, on land owned by the Cotton family. A Wilcox receiver was used, and teletype equipment was also installed at the site. Messages were relayed by teletype link to GHQ SWPA.
The rectangular brick receiving building still exists, having been used by the Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG) after the war, the Commonwealth acquiring the land in 1948. The site is still owned by the Commonwealth as an Air Navigation Station.
The former United States Radio Receiving Station was initially equipped June-September 1942, and was connected by private telephone lines to the Signal Office, Base Section 3, Somerville House, South Brisbane.
The rhombic antennas at the radio receiving station at Birkdale (then called Capalaba) allowed General MacArthur to receive messages from Washington DC, on the Army Command and Administrative Network (ACAN). There was an associated radio transmitting station at the Redland Bay Golf Course. If Somerville House was damaged by enemy action, the transmitter at Redland Bay could be worked from the receiving station at Birkdale.
There was also a US radio transmitting station at Young’s Road, Hemmant, where a brick building survives. The Hemmant site was apparently used in conjunction with a radio receiving station at Rocklea, which was initially intended for use by the Dutch. There were transmitting and receiving stations at Rocklea, with the two sites located on farmland south of Sherwood Road, adjacent to Oxley Creek (transmitting) and Stable Swamp Creek (receiving). No buildings remain at the Rocklea sites.
Memories of Barry Johns, 2017:
The information below is from an interview with Barry Johns of Wellington Point, on 6 August 2016. [The statements about Japanese military activity near Brisbane in May 1942, and General McArthur sleeping at the Radio Receiving Station, are currently uncorroborated].
In 2016 the US Radio Receiving Station was a monitoring station owned by Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) at Birkdale (formerly Capalaba).
Barry Johns worked at the monitoring station from 1983 to 1988 as a Technical Officer. He was skilled in electronics and was employed to replace old equipment. He worked with two men: Bill May (deceased) who was in charge and John Baldwin (deceased) who gained experience in signals while serving in the army.
In 1987/1988 while Barry worked at the monitoring station, he and John received a visit from two Americans. Barry stated that the two Americans informed him that they were former soldiers in the US Army Signal Corps who had worked at the site during WW2. They were a Communications Technician and Operator and were very interested to see how the building looked. As it was a secured government facility they would have needed clearance to visit the site.
The Americans said that:
- The Cotton’s farm (originally known as Willard’s farm) had been selected by the US Army Signal Corps as an ideal receiving station as the land was damp and soggy which made it a sensitive area for radio transmission. There were no buildings on the selected land.
- The Cottons were told that the US Army would return the land to them when the war was over.
- The US Army planned a building for the site. A letter was sent to Australian officials asking whether bricks were made in Australia. Douglas fir was transported from America for the beams. The walls were 18 inches thick and reinforced to take a bomb blast. The door was set back for further protection. No sensitive equipment was placed near the doors and windows. All cables were under the floor.
- Outside, beside the receiving station, a small camp was set up of tents for the radio specialists and guards who guarded the facility. They all worked in shifts. Also a cookhouse was built.
- The US Receiving Station at Capalaba (now Birkdale) was vital for communications in the Pacific as Capalaba was able to transmit as well as receive. Another facility at Hemmant was only a transmitter station making Capalaba more important.
- At the height of the Battle of the Coral Sea [4-8 May 1942] Japanese aircraft flew over Brisbane. The Japanese dropped bombs at the mouth of the Brisbane River. [Note: no record of such a raid. However, RAAF Wirraway aircraft did bomb the Brisbane River in night-time exercises, 22–25 October 1942 (National Archives of Australia, MP1049/5, 1924/4/594, ‘Mine watching organisation - Moreton Bay & Brisbane River’ (1941-43)]
- At night flashes of light could be seen in the sky, northeast of Moreton Island as battles were fought [No battles were fought near Moreton Island: but the auxiliary minesweeper HMAS TAMBAR was hit by a 6-inch practice shell fired as a warning shot from Fort Cowan Cowan, on the west side of Moreton Island, on 4 March 1942, causing three deaths; and the hospital ship AHS Centaur was sunk east of Moreton Island on 14 May 1943, by a Japanese Submarine.]
- General MacArthur decided to sleep at the receiving station. He had to maintain communication with the US fleet at all times. General MacArthur couldn’t risk the landline communication between Capalaba and his headquarters in Brisbane being bombed. Barry was told that General MacArthur slept in the switching room near where the cables from the antenna entered the room through a panel. This room was across from the room with monitoring equipment. The Americans pointed to where General MacArthur’s bed was put. [MacArthur’s GHQ was not moved from Melbourne to Brisbane until late July 1942. Equipment for the Birkdale radio receiving station was still being installed between June-September 1942. If did MacArthur sleep at the radio receiving station, it would have been some time after the Battle of the Coral Sea].
- The US Radio Receiving Station (US Army Signal Corps), Cotton’s farm at Capalaba was a key point of the war for the whole of the Pacific.
National Archives of Australia, LS2634. Capalaba Radio Receiving Station - Detail Survey, 1951.
Peterson, A. “General MacArthur’s Brisbane radio”, Listening In, November 2007. Ontario DX Association
Title Deeds, DERM
National Archives of Australia, Control Symbol W495/9, Remote control lines - United States Forces - United States Forces transmitting station Redland Bay - Receiving station Capalaba – Queensland, 1942-45
NAA, Control Symbol W509/3, USAFIA [United States Army Forces in Australia] Receiving and transmitting station - Brisbane, Queensland (Redland Bay - Transmitting and Capalaba receiving) 1942-43.
NAA Control Symbol MP721/1, USAFIA [United States Army Forces in Australia] - installation of rhombic antennae - Redland Bay Queensland, 1943-44.
NAA Control Symbol W509/8, US [United States] Transmitting and receiving station – Rocklea, 1942-43.
Dunn, P. HEADQUARTERS, U.S. ARMY BASE SECTION NO. 3 – BRISBANE, SOMERVILLE HOUSE, APO 923, (http://www.ozatwar.com/ozatwar/basesection3.htm).
Dunn, P. US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS REDLAND BAY GOLF COURSE RADIO TRANSMITTER SITE NEAR BRISBANE, QLD DURING WW2, http://www.ozatwar.com/locations/redlandgolfcomms.htm
‘Services of USA’, http://www.ww2places.qld.gov.au/theservices/servicesofusa/
‘Chapter 14: Global Communications Late 1942–Mid-1943)’, (http://tothosewhoserved.org/usa/ts/usatss02/chapter14.html) (pp. 427, 429, 433, 463, 467-8, 473-4).”
DNRM aerial photograph RAAF3-168, 17 May 1944 (Rocklea Transmitting and Receiving stations).
Memories of Barry Johns: Email communication from Pam Spence, President, Birkdale Progress Association, 7 February 2017. (Notes in [ ] added by website administration).