Central Intelligence Bureau Headquarters
- Radar/signal station
- Greater Brisbane
21 Henry Street, Ascot 4007
A grand, hillside 1885 Ascot home, “Nyrambla” was requisitioned by the US Army circa July 1942 as the headquarters of Central Bureau in Australia. This was a joint US/Australian secret code-breaking organisation. It put the forerunners of IBM computers into the garage at “Nyrambla” to aid code breaking. In April 1943, it decoded an intercepted Japanese signal that lead to the ambush and death of
Admiral Yamamoto, who had planned the attack on Pearl Harbour. Central Bureau remained at “Nyrambla” until 1945.
In late 1941, Detachment 6, 2nd Signal Service Company arrived in Manila as a reinforcement for General MacArthur’s Philippines Command. Major Joe Sherr and Operations Officer Lieutenant Howard W. Brown led 6 Sergeants, 3 Corporals and 6 Privates. On 17 March 1942, MacArthur left the Philippines for Australia. As he was a master of cryptanalysis and deemed important to the war effort, Sherr departed with MacArthur. Brown was evacuated on 14 April to Australia where he joined MacArthur’s Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) operation. Some other members of 2nd Signal Service Company were also evacuated but not all escaped. In Australia, Sherr was promoted to Colonel to head a new unit, the 837th Signal Service Detachment.
On 1 April 1942, MacArthur ordered the formation of a joint US/Australian SIGINT organisation called Central Bureau, to be established under Major General S. B. Akin with its headquarters in Melbourne. MacArthur described the role of the group as “the interception and cryptanalyzing of Japanese intelligence".
At first, Central Bureau was made up of 50% American, 25% Australian Army and 25% Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel. Later more Australians joined. Central Bureau was attached to the Headquarters of the Allied Commander of the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA) in Melbourne.
On 20 July 1942, General MacArthur moved his Headquarters to Brisbane. Central Bureau immediately relocated to Brisbane, establishing its headquarters in “Nyrambla” at 21 Henry Street, Ascot. Nyrambla was built in 1885–86 as the residence of the manager of the Australian Joint Stock Bank. In September 1942, the US 837th Signal Service Detachment relocated to Brisbane. Initially sent for three-days to the US Camp Doomben at Doomben Racecourse, the Detachment’s 6 officers and 18 enlisted men moved into “Nyrambla”.
Central Bureau had banks of IBM Tabulators, the forerunner of computers, which were used by the cryptanalysts to decode intercepted Japanese ciphers that concealed an original text message. These machines were placed in the rear garage of “Nyrambla”.
The 837th Signal Service Detachment’s Sergeant Donald Moreland installed the IBM equipment at Ascot. While in Melbourne, he had installed the SIGABA (ECM Mk. 2) cipher machine. SIGABA was used to encipher messages from plain text into a secret cipher text under the control of a decipherment key.
At “Nyrambla”, Central Bureau decrypted a Japanese Army Air Service signal intercepted by No. 51 Wireless Section at Darwin. The signal contained the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Japanese Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s itinerary for his forthcoming trip to Rabaul. As a result, on 18 April 1943, Yamamoto’s aircraft was intercepted off Bouganville by US P-38 Lightning fighters and he was killed. In May 1943, the 837th Signal Service Detachment was renamed Special Intelligence Service led by Colonel Harold Doud.
The IBM machines were later moved from the “Nyrambla” garage to the Ascot Fire Station at 83 Kitchener Road. After the IBM machines were removed, the Australian No.11 Cipher Section led by Captain Ian Allen (Allan?) occupied the garage. It was filled with Typex machines operated by Australian Women Army Service (AWAS) staff. They worked around the clock shifts. Each shift consisted of 12 women and several male cipher mechanics. Messages were sent to Washington, India and to the British code breakers at Bletchley Park in England. In 1944, when the AWAS and then the RAAF took a lease on “Nyrambla”, the 837th Signal Service Detachment returned to Camp Doomben. To avoid camp conditions, 8 SIS men rented a house at 45 Eldernell Street, Hamilton and furnished it with G.I. cots, a dining room suite and a housekeeper. When conditions became crowded at “Nyrambla”, the RAAF women from the Womens' Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) were billeted nearby at a house at 26 Henry Street. After SIS left for Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea in late 1944, the Eldernell Street house was leased by RAAF No.3 Base Supply Depot members.
In 1988, a group of US ex-servicemen unveiled a plaque at “Nyrambla”. It reads:
Central Bureau, an organisation comprising service personnel of Australia, USA, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, both men and women, functioned in this house from 1942 till 1945. From intercepted enemy radio messages, the organisation provided intelligence which made a decisive contribution to the Allied victory in the Pacific.
A second plaque recognises:
…the service given by the men and women of the Royal Australian Corps of Signals at this site during World War II… They passed this way.
BCC Heritage Unit citation
Scott, Eve, A Woman At War, (Greenslopes, Brisbane: McCann Publications, 1985).
US Army Special Intelligence Service, S.I.S. Record 1942–1946, (?; SIS record Association, 1946).