‘Y’ Station, 16 Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery, Mount St John
695 Ingham Road, Mount St John, Townsville 4810
The 3.7-Inch Heavy Anti Aircraft (HAA) gun station on the summit of Mount St John was constructed in early 1942 to protect the nearby Garbutt Aerodrome. Designated as No. 2 Station (later ‘Y’ Station) of the 16 HAA Battery, it fired at Japanese aircraft over Townsville on 1 May 1942 and 28 July 1942.
Mount St John is located about 2.3km due west of the Garbutt main north-south runway. ‘Y’ Station is located on private land north of the Bruce Highway (Ingham Road), west of the road to the Townsville City Council’s sewerage treatment plant.
There is evidence of a former service road winding up the southern side of Mount St John. Four hexagonal concrete gun platforms are located west and north of a semi-underground concrete command post, in an arc covering about 100 degrees. All the gun platforms still have the metal mounting rods for the guns in place. Two single-room concrete magazines are located west of the guns, and two more are located to the east. All were once covered in soil, but two of the magazines are now exposed.
A fifth gun platform, for a light AA gun, is located just east of the command post, and the camp site for the battery was located to the southeast of the summit.
After the attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 and the air raid on Darwin in February 1942, it was feared that Townsville would also be attacked. By mid-1942 Horn Island Airfield in the Torres Strait had already been bombed several times, and Townsville was the largest Allied staging, supply and repair base in the South West Pacific Theatre.
The 16 HAA Battery was stationed in Townsville, with two separate units defending Garbutt aerodrome and its approaches. No.1 Station, at Rowe’s Bay adjacent to Pallarenda, was operational by 9 March 1942 with four guns in position. Construction of No.2 Station at Mount St John, located directly west of the Garbutt main north-south runway, commenced in February 1942 and was completed towards the end of April 1942. The site contained four concrete ammunition bunkers, four 3.7" guns on static mounts, and a semi-underground command post and plotting room.
The 3.7-inch (94mm) QF heavy anti-aircraft gun was designed and first produced in the United Kingdom in 1937. Australian 3.7-inch guns were manufactured at the Government Ordnance Factory, Maribyrnong, Victoria from May 1940. Gun weight was over 9 tonnes; with a barrel length 4.7 metres and a maximum ceiling range of about 9,000 metres.
‘Y’ Station’s function was to observe all aircraft movements around Garbutt aerodrome and make sure that all aircraft followed the correct lane of entry. Any aircraft following an incorrect lane was to be fired on. ‘Y’ Station was connected by phone to No. 3 Fighter Sector Headquarters at Stuart as well as various other installations and was staffed 24 hours a day. All four guns were in place by 11 March, however open sights, enabling the guns to be fired accurately, would not be fitted till 22 March 1942.
The names of the batteries were changed, with No.1 Station becoming ‘X’ Station at Rowe’s Bay, and No.2 Station becoming ‘Y’ Station at Mount St John. The first time both these stations would fire on an enemy aircraft would be on the morning of 1 May 1942. Reconnaissance planes were sighted by ‘X’ Station at a height of approximately 24,000 feet, heading directly towards the aerodrome at Garbutt. ‘X’ Station immediately went into action and with the first salvo caused the planes to change direction and climb steeply to 29,000 feet and out of range of the guns. ‘Y’ Station at Mt. St John also went into action at this stage. In all 33 rounds were fired 25 from ‘X’ Station and 8 from ‘Y’ Station.
Mount St John’s ‘Y’ Station would be involved in more action. Townsville was attacked three times during late July 1942, by the 2nd Group of 14 Kokutai (Air Group) Japanese Naval Air Force, using Kawanishi H8K (Emily) four-engine flying boats based at Rabaul. On the night of 25/26 July two Emilys dropped bombs in the sea off Townsville’s wharves. However, ‘Y’ Station did not fire until a second raid early in the morning of 28 July. At 0220 that day searchlights at Rowe’s Bay picked up a lone Emily at 10,000 feet (3048m). After 20 rounds were fired from ‘Y’ Station an explosion close to the nose of the aircraft occurred, causing it to drop its bomb load in an uninhabited area of nearby Many Peaks Range. During the third raid on the morning of 29 July 1942 an Emily dropped seven bombs in Cleveland Bay, and one on a paddock at Oonoonba.
Since the end of World War II, the Mount St John gun station has been sold and it is now owned by a private company.
Mount St John Anti Aircraft Battery, Queensland Heritage Register 602084
6 (390) Australian Anti-Aircraft Battery (Hemmant, Brisbane) Queensland Heritage Register 601353
Mareeba Airfield and HAA Gun Stations 448 and 449. Queensland Heritage Register Reported Place 602740
Oonoonba Bomb Crater. Queensland Heritage Register Reported Place 29313
Holyoak, R. 1998. The North Queensland Line: The defence of Townsville in 1942. Unpublished Honours Thesis, James Cook University, Townsville.
Pearce, Howard. January 2009. WWII-NQ: A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. EPA, Brisbane.