Operations and Signals Building, 3 Fighter Sector Headquarters
103 Fighter Control Unit, RAAF Air Defence Headquarters
- Radar/signal station
Stuart Drive (Flinders Highway), Wulguru 4811
The Operations and Signals building of 3 Fighter Sector Headquarters was constructed between 1942 and 1944. In January 1945 the site became the RAAF Air Defence Headquarters. The timber camp buildings (not extant) north of the two storey reinforced concrete Operations building were later used for migrant accommodation and as student accommodation.
The Operations building, measuring about 18m by 13m, is located at the base of Mount Stuart, and is approached from the northeast by a track from Stuart Drive (Flinders Highway) at Wulguru, south of Townsville.
The main interior space is two-stories in height, with internal support pillars, and retains evidence of the destroyed mezzanine floor, air-conditioning ducts and toilets. The skillion-roofline section to the north contains a single storey (roofless) guard room on the east side, a former stairwell and four rooms on two levels. Access to the (roofless) upper and lower rooms (air-conditioning room and engine room respectively) at the centre of the front elevation was from the stairwell; access to the upper and lower rooms at the western end was from the interior.
To either side of the Operations building are two circular structures, possibly bases for communication aerials or anchors for the camouflage net for the building. To the northwest and the northeast of the Operations building are a number of concrete slabs, concrete steps and scatters of building material; remnants of the other structures of the headquarters camp.
In late 1942 Townsville was the principle port for those Allied troops serving in the New Guinea campaign, and Cleveland Bay between Magnetic Island and Townsville was an important assembly point for shipping. The Australian forces chose Townsville as the Area Combined Headquarters for the North East Area, while the American forces used Townsville as the headquarters of the United States Army Base Section Two and the Fourth Air Depot of the United States Army Airforce (USAAF).
There was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) station at Garbutt, and a number of air bases used by Australian and US aircraft were established between Townsville and Charters Towers, and west to Cloncurry. Between 1942 and 1945 the Townsville and Charters Towers region became one of the largest concentrations of airfields, stores, ammunition depots and port operations in the South West Pacific Theatre.
3 Fighter Sector Headquarters (3FSHQ) was first established in temporary accommodation at Townsville Grammar School on 25 February 1942. 3FSHQ was connected by telephone and radio to Voluntary Air Observer Corps (VAOC) posts, anti-aircraft guns and searchlights, and with Radio Direction Finding (RDF or radar) stations and High Frequency Direction Finding (HF/DF) stations in the Townsville and Charters Towers area. The headquarters thus activated air raid warnings, coordinated anti-aircraft defences, controlled fighter squadron operations, maintained radio watches for bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, and provided position plots for courier and civil aircraft operating between Brisbane and New Guinea. The station was also linked by telephone to RAAF Headquarters in Melbourne.
Planning for the construction of a permanent Fighter Sector Headquarters began in 1942. The new complex was constructed on the lower, eastern slopes of Mt Stuart on 68 acres of land requisitioned by the Commonwealth in August 1942. The site was regarded as ideal as it was some distance from the main airfields and the public eye, but still close enough to the various other installations it liaised with.
Construction of the complex began in late 1942 with the Operations and Signals building (also referred to as an Operations and Signals Room) finished in mid 1943. Associated radio facilities were erected on Mt Stuart. However, by November 1943 the Operations Building, identified as a semi-underground building because all cabling was laid underground, was not yet occupied because associated accommodation facilities had not been completed. Eventually the site became operational in December 1944; by which time 3FSHQ had been renamed 103FSHQ and then 103 Fighter Control Unit.
The building itself was fully air-conditioned and housed its own power plant. The interior had a steel mezzanine floor splitting it into two levels and was divided into rooms and passage ways by caneite partitions. Located within the building were the Operations Room, Engine Room, RDF Filter Room, VAOC Liaison Room, Main Operations Room Dais, Aircraft Movements Section, RDF Supervisors Room, Signal Officers Room, W/T Workshop and PMG Switch Room.
The Administration Section was also moved to the Stuart site and commenced functioning on 29 December 1944. On 25 January 1945 the Royal Australian Airforce established their Air Defence Headquarters in the Stuart complex; from where they operated until 1947.
A 1945 plan of the site shows that accommodation huts, latrines and kitchen/mess buildings were located northwest and northeast of the Operations building, in a camp orientated northeast to southwest from the Flinders Highway. The camp, except for the Operations building, was utilised from 1950 to 1956 as a migrant Holding Centre, and additional huts were placed on the site to provide more accommodation for post war migrants. A 1950 plan of the Holding Centre shows that additional buildings included seven more sleeping huts at the west end of the complex, plus a recreation building and canteen northwest of the two kitchen/mess buildings. The capacity at Stuart was about 500 persons.
In 1961 James Cook University of North Queensland purchased the site for student accommodation while the residential halls at Douglas were under construction. The Operations building was still partially furnished at the time the property was purchased by the university. There was a large mapping table in the main room complete with maps and maps on the wall still had marker pins in them. The switchboards and other communication equipment were still largely intact. Soon after, in 1962 or 1963, the interior of the Operations building was destroyed by fire, leaving only an open two storey void within the main space, plus some rooms at the front of the building. There are remnants of its external camouflage colour scheme, chosen to blend with the pink granite of the hill. In the early 1970s the headquarters site was vacated and the barracks either demolished or removed. Only the odd concrete slab remains of the accommodation complex.
Operations and Signals Bunker (former), Queensland Heritage Register 601708
Commonwealth Acetate of Lime Factory (former) Queensland Heritage Register 602465
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.
Joint Committee on War Expenditure, Seventh Progress Report, Defence Construction in Queensland and Northern Territory, 27 November 1944. Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra 1944.
National Archives of Australia, QTA2037. Stuart Migrant Holding Centre Site
National Archives of Australia. ET140. Electrical Drawing 3 FS HG Townsville
Light, Power & Clocks, 1943.
Dunn, P. 3 Fighter Sector Headquarters in Australia during WWII
James Cook University photographic collection.