Chemical Warfare Centre Gas mask repair facility
- Brisbane City
Crosby Park, Royal and Crosby Roads, Albion 4010
The role of the US Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) in the South West Pacific Area was complicated by the fact that its task to develop, repair and issue protective and offensive items was shared with the US Army Quartermaster service. Thus for example, while the CWS was responsible for the storage of chemical grenades from September 1943, the storage of chemical and incendiary bombs was the province of Ordnance. The CWS however was responsible for the inspection and servicing of those munitions. Other elements of the Service were responsible for the provision of chemical warfare training to rear-echlon troops and for those advancing through Base 3 (Brisbane) to active theatres of war.
Crosby Park, in the centre of a populous Brisbane suburb, was one of a number of local parks leased by the US Army. Despite its proximity to a large population base this park was designated as a Chemical Warfare Centre, and stored quantities of poisonous chemicals and gases during its time of occupation. Construction of the Centre commenced in early 1943, and by October its operation was in the hands of 62nd Chemical Depot Company, aided by elements of the 105th Chemical Processing Company and the 10th Chemical Maintenance Company. Included on the site was a gas mask repair shop of approximately 96′ x 48′, used by the 10th Chemical Maintenance Company. There the Company repaired and provided waterproof seals for gas mask canisters.
The 10th Chemical Maintenance Company trained at Edgewood Arsenal and arrived in Australia in April 1942 and moved to Brisbane as part of Base Section 3 to repair the gas masks or respirators, and assist the operations of the 62nd Chemical Depot Company and the Chemical Warfare Centre. It was one of only two Chemical Maintenance companies to operate in the South West Pacific. Maintenance companies were also intended to function as salvage and repair centres holding skilled mechanics for the latter task. The company strength varied from 123 in 1942 to 93 in November 1944.
The failure of the chemical-based M1A1 portable flame-thrower during the New Guinea campaign left the 10th Chemical Maintenance Company tasked with a major repair project. Throughout 1943 it tested the weapon and overhauled all units in the South West Pacific Area. Heat and humidity was causing the corrosion of the nitrogen, hydrogen, and fuel cylinders used on the flame-throwers, and deterioration of the batteries. The 10th developed a test kit for soldiers in the field to be able to quickly identify defective cylinders, which were then sent back for repair. The weapon was also waterproofed so that it could be totally immersed and still work, overcoming a significant problem that had beset the use of flamethrowers in the tropics. Many of the flame-thrower units arriving from the United States were found to be faulty and required repair before issue. The work undertaken by the 10th proved the weapon could be made reliable and the US Sixth Army re-equipped its infantry divisions to take advantage of the tactical advantage the weapon gave in combat operations. This in turn required the l0th Chemical Maintenance Company to run operators classes for flame-throwers at the Chemical Warfare Centre.
By early 1944 the requirement for specific chemical warfare tasks slowed and the unit began to undertake general garrison duties. In August 1944 the 10th Chemical Maintenance Company was withdrawn from Brisbane and sent to New Guinea.
G Plunkett, Chemical Warfare in Australia, Australian Military History Publications, Loftus, 2007
B E. Kleber And D Birdsell, The Chemical Warfare Service: Chemicals In Combat, Center Of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1966
R Marks, Brisbane - WW2 v Now, Vol 5, Crosby Park…chemical w’fare depot.