Jimmy’s Lookout Anti-aircraft Gun & Search Light Battery
X Battery, No.1 Gun Station, 394 Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery Rowes Bay
Old Common Road, Rowes Bay, Townsville 4810
This Anti-Aircraft Battery was one of Townsville’s first fully operational positions at the beginning of 1942. Situated close to a small hill at the end of the main runway, its role was to protect Garbutt aerodrome from attack. Additionally it would fire warning shots at any aircraft which did not observe the correct 'lane of entry' on landing approach.
Each A/A Battery was required to keep a daily diary of training and occurrences. Few of these have survived the passage of years however this battery’s diary remains preserved at the Australian War Memorial. This gives a unique insight into the life of personnel that were required to keep these guns ready to fire on a 24 hour basis.
Although the July 1942 air raids on Townsville have been recorded in several publications, the Japanese reconnaissance over the city in the months prior to the Battle of the Coral Sea in late April and early May 1942 have not been mentioned. These intelligence missions were the pre-cursor for a planned raid on Townsville on a similar scale of the February 1942 attack on Darwin.
Alex Trotter was a dispatch clerk at the Vacuum Oil Company, near the wharfs. He remembered seeing;
Four motored flying boats, they made reconnaissance flights over Townsville in daylight on two occasions. I saw them high above the city around noon, much too high for AA fire or fighter aircraft to reach. The sun would glint off them, attracting your attention. My vantage point was the No. 11 tank at the Vacuum Oil terminal.
Noon was the ideal time for photographic intelligence as there were no shadows to distort building outlines.
The main AA diary for Townsville noted on Friday, 1 May 1942;
At approximately 0945 hrs. 16 A.A. Bty. opened fire on enemy Recce aircraft flying at a great height. At approximately 1220 hrs. U.S. A.A. Bty. opened fire on hostile aircraft which made out to sea.
When consulting single unit diaries a more detailed description of what happened on 1 May emerged;
Planes were sighted by X Station at Palleranda [sic] 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 the station at Palleranda [sic] and 8 from the station at Mt. St. John.
According to the unit diary, these two aircraft returned at 1140, releasing a balloon over Garbutt aerodrome at 25 -30, 000 ft. The balloon descended and blew out to sea, the diary remarking that: “tactics proved they were enemy aircraft".
What did the balloon signify? The balloon was a dropsonde, and was used to collect low level weather data. The instrument was ejected from an aircraft and measured wind speed and direction at varying heights and the data transmitted back to the aircraft. This was vital information for a planned bombing raid.
The aircraft were Japanese H6K1 Kawanishi 'Mavis' flying boats and were likely to originate from the 14th Kokutai at Rabaul harbour.
Either in the latter part of April/early May 1942, Japan planned to launch an air raid on Townsville from the aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku which were capable of carrying 84 aircraft each. These were Navy “Zero” fighters, “Val” dive bombers and “Kate” torpedo bombers. These carriers were under the command of Rear-Admiral Chuichi Hara in Zuikaku.
Hara’s primary mission was to protect the invasion force in the assault on Port Moresby. If no enemy carriers were discovered in the area, he was to cross the Coral Sea at high speed and launch an attack on Townsville. This attack would also proceed if an enemy force was discovered and subsequently destroyed. The Commanding Officer for the entire operation was Admiral Shigeyoshi Inouye, who issued on 23 April the “South Seas Force Order No. 13", which included mention of the proposed Townsville raid. It also told of other North Queensland towns that would receive a strike, these being Coen, Cooktown, and Horn Island which all had military airfields.
The order was sent to Truk where Hara was waiting with the carriers. Unbeknown to the Japanese, their signal had been intercepted by Allied Intelligence in Australia. Townsville Coast Artillery received a decoded message on 26 April which stated:
At 0345hrs the following message was received from U.S. H.Q. Melbourne - air raid by carrier based aircraft in force against East Coast of Australia by 2nd. May, 1942.
On receiving orders, Hara disagreed with the strike on the East Coast, arguing that he would probably be detected and attacked by aircraft from Townsville. There was also the problem of reefs in the area, and if this was planned to be a high speed dash across the Coral Sea, he had been assigned only one fleet oiler, which was far too slow to keep up with the Strike Force. Tokyo’s response to this logic was to replace Hara with Rear Admiral Takagi on 27 April.
On 30 April, Japanese intelligence officers presented a report on fighter strength in Townsville. This stated that the Americans had available some 200 front-line fighters which were concentrated in the Townsville and Darwin areas.
On the same day, Admiral Yamamoto made the final decision on the matter and ordered the attacks not to go ahead. This message was again intercepted and decoded by Allied Intelligence. However, due to an incomplete understanding of the code groups, Intelligence thought the strike was being ordered rather than being cancelled. All Allied stations were put on high alert due to this misread intercept.
By 1 May Australian time, the Kawanishi Mavis’s had already left Rabaul and were on their way to conduct another reconnaissance mission over Townsville.
Anon. Operational History of Japanese Naval Communications December 1941 - August 1945: A Japanese Operational Monograph Written by Former Officers of The Japanese General Staff and War Ministry, Aegean Park Press, Laguna Hills, 1985.
[Engagement of Enemy Aircraft - 16 Anti - Aircraft Battery 1 May 1942]; AWM series 60, item 1948/42.
[Camouflage - Methods] Camouflage Works, Volume 2, Townsville Fort Areas [Photo album] [Oversize item] AWM 54, 161/3/2.
[Camouflage - Methods] Camouflage, Anti Aircraft Guns and Machine Gun Posts, 15 April 1942, AWM 54, 161/3/27.
Townsville Coast Artillery [Whole diary - 3 items] (Mar - Jul 1942; Jan - Mar 1943; May 1943 - Aug 1944); AWM series 52, item 4/19/11.
The North Queensland Line: The Defence of Townsville in 1942". Ray Holyoak unpublished