False Cape Coastal Battery
‘H’ Battery, then ‘S’ Battery, Coastal Artillery
False Cape, East Trinity 4871
The two gun 155mm coastal battery at False Cape was established in early 1943 to defend the port of Cairns. Access is via Yarrabah Road and then to the end of the Esplanade (past Second Bay), followed by a 45 minute walk north past Sunny Bay to the tip of False Cape.
Two concrete gun emplacements survive at the tip of the cape. Each has a circular (incomplete circle) concrete mount, with a cantilevered roof and magazine areas to the rear. In addition, a separate concrete magazine is located to the south, with a corridor around three sides of two rooms. A steel anti-aircraft gun mount is located above the magazine.
A two-level concrete Command Post (CP) is situated on the ridge southeast of the gun emplacements and magazine. Above the access road on the west side of the cape is the cutting where supplies were once winched up to the CP, and below the road there is a pathway to the site of the stone jetty.
Evidence of the camp site at Sunny Bay, where huts were located to the north and south of Sunny Creek, include some concrete slabs and a concrete road culvert over Sunny Creek. A concrete rainwater tank is located on the ridge midway between the former camp site and the cape.
In early 1942 Townsville became the base for Allied operations in the South West Pacific, but later that year naval base operations focused on Cairns, as this port was less congested. In addition, in late 1942 the Atherton Tableland was chosen as the site of a major concentration of troops and stores during 1943, and Cairns became the port for the “Atherton Tableland Project"; the main Australian Army base area for the continuing campaign in New Guinea. False Cape is situated at the entrance to Cairns Harbour and overlooks Grafton Passage.
After his arrival in Australia in March 1942 General Douglas Macarthur upgraded the coastal defence of selected Australian ports and naval bases, requesting the delivery of 155mm field guns, Sperry searchlights and fire control equipment from the United States. During 1942–1943 nineteen batteries using M1917A1 155mm guns (designated by alphabetic letters and hence known as 'Letter batteries') were established and allocated to coastal defence in Australia and New Guinea. All but one Letter battery (‘U’) had two guns each.
The 155mm guns were designed by the French in World War I and were manufactured in the United States as the M1917 or M1918. In the coastal artillery role in Australia they were set on concrete mounts, where the gun’s wheels were supported on a central round concrete pillar (or 'cheese'), and the gun’s trails were traversed around a steel ring set in a concrete outer circle. Although these were called “Panama mounts” in Australia, actual Panama mounts were of a steel cruciform type. Sites in Queensland where Letter batteries were emplaced on circular concrete mounts included Skirmish Point on Bribie island; Rous battery on the east side of Moreton Island; Magnetic Island in Townsville; False Cape near Cairns; and Turtle battery on Hammond Island in the Torres Strait.
On 25 December 1942, ‘H’ Australian Heavy Battery arrived in Cairns, and tents were erected at False Cape in early January. During January and February 1943 the guns were put in place, a temporary war shelter was built near the guns, plus base end stations (used to triangulate ship positions) were built at False Cape and Bessie Point. A plotting room and a temporary Command Post (CP) were also constructed. The guns’ circular concrete mounts and searchlight platforms were begun in April 1943. A permanent CP (also called the Battery Observation Post, or BOP) and Port War Signal Station were being built in September 1943.
Supporting ‘H’ Battery at False Cape was the 105 Coastal Artillery Searchlight Section, comprising about 13 men of the Royal Australian Engineers. They operated two 150cm Sperry searchlights, one of which may have been located near the jetty at Sunny Bay, and the other on the eastern side of the cape.
Between March and September 1943 a permanent camp was erected by the local Civil Construction Corps next to a small freshwater stream emptying into Sunny Bay, about 500 yards south of the guns. It included living quarters, a battery office, quarter master’s store, officers’ mess and kitchen, gunners’ mess and kitchen, canteen and recreation room, latrines and ablution blocks, and a small battery charging room to supply the camp with electricity. As many trees were left standing as possible, to maximise camouflage. About 150 yards north of the camp a workshop was erected, and further north a hospital and splinter-proof Regimental Aid Post (RAP) shelter were built.
There was no road from Cairns to the camp, which had to be supplied via boat (the unit had its own two-masted vessel, the Eulalie). A timber jetty was constructed at Sunny Bay near the camp site, and closer to the cape a stone and concrete ramp was built for a landing barge. A single Blitz truck was landed to provide local transport. Pigs were raised, chooks provided eggs, and fish traps also helped to supplement rations. Poddy calves were also raised by the men, to lift morale.
The creek at Sunny Bay flowed only during the wet season, so a small pumping station was established further south at the creek emptying into Brown’s Bay. A rough road was cut from Sunny Bay to False Cape, just above the foreshore, and a cutting was made for a small trolley line which was used to winch supplies and equipment from the road to the CP at the top of the ridge. Duty personnel quarters, probably of timber construction, were erected adjacent to the CP. An anti-aircraft machine gun was mounted above the main magazine, and a Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft gun was sited above the main gun emplacements. The concrete gun emplacements were occupied, and the CP/BOP was manned, in December 1943.
The same month the Royal Australian Navy occupied their Port War Signal Station, shifting personnel from the war signal station at Archer Point. They may have shared the CP with the army, as at Magnetic Island, although a 1944 plan of the area indicates navy accommodation in a separate structure at the crest of the hill. The signal station closed at the end of June 1945.
‘H’ Battery remained at False Cape until February/March 1944, when they were moved to Townsville. They were replaced by ‘S’ Battery, which had been formed in Sydney in September 1943, trained in Brisbane, then moved to False Cape. In August 1944 ‘S’ Battery was reorganised as Coastal Artillery Cairns, and is thought to have remained at False Cape until the cessation of hostilities in the Pacific in August 1945. After the war a number of small weekend/fishermen’s shacks were erected in the area, and the remains of a more substantial, stone-walled c.1950s or 1960s weekender survive on the beach at Sunny Bay.
False Cape Second World War Defence Facility. Queensland Heritage Register 600975
Turtle Battery, Queensland Heritage Register Reported Place, 29630
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Spethman, D.W, 1997. The garrison guns of Australia 1788-1960. D.W. Spethman, Bald Hills.
Kidd, R and Neal, R. 1998. The 'Letter' Batteries: the history of the 'letter' batteries in World War II. RE Neal, Castlecrag NSW.
Seekee, Vanessa, 2006.11.01. “Artillery in Torres Strait 1891-1945: the silent forgotten sentinels of the north", Memoirs of the Queensland Museum, Cultural Heritage Series 4(1), pp 107-123. Brisbane.
Spethman, D.W; Miller, R.G; Lynas, H (ed), 2008. Fortress Brisbane: a guide to historic fixed defence sites of Brisbane and the Moreton Bay islands. R.H. Mortensen, Inala.
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. (An April 1943 plan of the building previously called the BOP is referred to as the CP. Both CP and BOP may have been in the same building).
National Archives of Australia, ST471. Sunny Bay area, False Cape, North
Queensland - Australian Army artillery position 1944.
Canon de 155mm GPF, Wikipedia
Panama Mount, Wikipedia
Australian War Memorial, Photographic Collection.