Milman Hill Coastal Battery
Milman Hill and Lions Lookout
- North and Cape York
Milman Hill, Waiben, Thursday Island 4875
In a move towards Federation the Australian colonies agreed in 1890 that the defence of naval coaling stations at Thursday Island and Albany (Western Australia) should be undertaken collectively.
In 1891 a colonial defence committee recommended that three 6-inch guns that had been offered by the British government should be emplaced at Green Hill on Thursday Island.
Costs of construction were shared between the colonies with Queensland providing a permanent garrison of 50 men. Clearing and excavating of the site on Green Hill began in August 1891 and the battery, named Fort Victoria, was ready to receive the guns by 1893. In 1897 a 4.7-inch gun was added at Milman Hill.
Rapid changes in European military and naval technology made Fort Victoria obsolete from its inception, but the installation remained operational until the garrison was moved to Darwin in 1932.
Prior to Japan’s entry into World War II, it had been recognised by Australian defence authorities that the Torres Strait Islands could provide potential operational bases for foreign forces approaching from the north and in early 1940 it was decided to establish a system of seaward fortifications. In May 1940 the Australian Defence Committee asked for recommendations on the most appropriate site for mounting two 6-inch naval guns for Torres Strait. A recommendation was made to install the guns at Tucker Point on Goods Island from where they could cover the Prince of Wales Channel and Normanby Sound as well as the eastern and western approaches to Thursday Island and the airfield on Horn Island. It was also recommended that the 4.7-inch gun be re-instated at Milman Hill on Thursday Island. The main role of Thursday Island was as an administrative base for Torres Strait Force. The role of the troops on the island was the denial to the Japanese of the sea channels covered by the Milman Battery and the defence of the military installations on the island.
Today the World War II Battery Observation Post (BOP) on top of Milman Hill is fenced within a more recent transmission facility. The BOP is of reinforced concrete with a ground-level observation post and below-ground control centre. Two reinforced concrete searchlight posts-each with its generator shed-are located below, facing towards Horn Island. One is now locally known as Lions Lookout.
In July 1940, the Australian Defence Committee recommended the emplacement of two 6-inch guns on Goods Island and the reinstatement on Milman Hill, of a 4.7-inch gun then in storage in Brisbane. An advanced party of the Thursday Island Detachment (later renamed the Thursday Island Fixed Defences-Fortress Command) comprising elements of the Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) and Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) arrived in December 1940 to select sites for command posts, engine rooms and gun emplacements on Milman Hill and Goods Island.
The gun for Milman Hill—a Quick Firing 4.7-inch Mark III naval and coast defence gun of the 1890s—was transferred from Victoria Barracks, Brisbane, in November 1940 and emplaced on Thursday Island in December. Two 90cm coast artillery searchlights were also provided and emplaced on the eastern side of Milman Hill, below the gun and BOP. A detachment of RAA personnel arrived on Thursday Island to man the battery during March 1941 after transfer from the Queensland Line of Communication Area. Also during March, Militia troops of the 49th Battalion were posted to Thursday Island and Port Moresby as reinforcements to defend the military installations.
Proof firing of the coast defence guns at Milman and Goods batteries took place during July 1941. Completion of the second gravel runway at Horn Island aerodrome occurred in October and by November the remaining personnel of Milman Battery had arrived on Thursday Island. The battery became operational a month before Japan launched its assault in the Pacific. On 8 and 9 December, all Japanese nationals and residents on Thursday Island were detained to be shipped south to internment camps.
Between March 1942 and June 1943 there were eight raids by Japanese aircraft and 18 alerts over Thursday Island, but the attacks were directed against Horn Island aerodrome installations and shipping. Thursday Island escaped attack by air and no damage was caused to coast artillery fixed defences.
RAA officers inspected locations for additional coast defences in Torres Strait and sites were selected for Turtle Battery on Hammond Island and Endeavour Battery on Entrance Island. The additional batteries were in place by May 1943, when Torres Strait Fixed Defences-Heavy Artillery was renamed Coast Artillery Torres Strait. In September 1943 a Bofors 40mm Light Anti-Aircraft gun was emplaced at each of the batteries, including Milman Hill.
The coast defences of Torres Strait were reviewed by the Defence Committee in September 1944 and as a result it was recommended that only the 6-inch guns of Goods Battery be retained on a permanently manned basis. In October 1944 Milman Battery on Thursday Island, King Section on Horn Island, Turtle Battery on Hammond Island and Endeavour Battery on Entrance Island were placed under care and maintenance before being withdrawn. The men of the disbanded batteries were sent to Brisbane before being reposted to other units for active duty in New Guinea and the islands.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Allied Works Council (Queensland), AWC Minutes 1942–1945, BP1/1, National Archives of Australia, Canberra.
Reg A Ball, Torres Strait Force 1942 to 1945: The defence of Cape York, Torres Strait and Merauke in Dutch New Guinea, Sydney, 1996.
Graham McKenzie Smith, Australia’s Forgotten Army, vol 2, ACT, 1995.
Howard Pearce (Ed.). Heritage Trails of the Tropical North: A heritage tour guide to far north Queensland, Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, 2001.
Vanessa Seekee, Horn Island 1939–1945: A record of the defence of Horn Island during World War Two, Horn Island 2002.