Charters Towers Airfield
Corinda Avenue, Charters Towers 4820
The Charters Towers airfield was constructed in early 1942 to provide dispersal facilities for the main Townsville air base at Garbutt. During 1942 the US 3rd Bombardment Group was based at Charters Towers, and from 1943 the airfield served as a US aircraft replacement and training centre. It is located on the northern outskirts of Charters Towers, about 1km north of the suburb of Richmond Hill, and is currently operated by the Charters Towers Regional Council.
Surviving World War II infrastructure includes the two main runways; a bore sight range, located west of Weir Road near the north end of the north-south runway; and a compass swinging platform, midway along the north side of the SW-NE runway. There are also traces of wartime taxiways and dispersal bays around the airfield.
The bore sight range includes a raised concrete platform approximately 15 metres square. An adjustable metal plate, which can be raised or lowered, is set at the front of the raised hardstand to carry the nose wheel of aircraft fitted with tricycle undercarriages. A cleared range extends east about 360 metres to the original earth butt.
The compass swinging platform, about 850m south-east of the bore sight range’s hardstand, comprises a circular concrete slab 120 feet 6 inches (36.7 metres) in diameter with a compass rose inscribed on the surface.
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.
Charters Towers was the closest inland centre that could provide strategic support and aircraft dispersal facilities for Garbutt, which was considered vulnerable to Japanese attack. The RAAF ordered commencement of preliminary work on the Charters Towers town aerodrome during January 1942, with the grading of three temporary landing strips for use while the main aerodrome was under construction (two landing grounds were cleared on football fields and one near the cemetery).
By early February 1942 the airfield project had been accorded priority by the RAAF with a request that the northeast-southwest runway be graded first followed by the north-south runway. Construction of the airfield began in earnest on Monday 16 February 1942. The first gravel strip was completed in 17 days, and grading of the second runway was completed soon after.
To speed base construction and foil Japanese aerial reconnaissance, all houses in the vicinity of the airfield were taken over so that personnel could be housed as inconspicuously as possible. A number of the houses are shown on wartime maps, to the west of the north-south runway, which was built along the old alignment of Waterworks Road. The current Weir Road follows the western perimeter road and part of a taxiway of the World War II airfield.
The airfield became operational during March 1942 with arrival of the first of four bombardment squadrons of the US Army Air Force 3rd Bombardment Group (Light), equipped with A-24 Dauntless dive bombers which had been intended for the Philippines. The group, which became part of the 5th Airforce, was later equipped with A-20 Havoc (or Boston) medium bombers. These aircraft were followed by the arrival of B-25 Mitchell bombers that had been intended for use by the Dutch in the Netherlands East Indies, but were taken over by the Americans.
In July 1942 the northeast-southwest runway was sealed and the north-south runway was metalled. The Main Roads Commission used local mine tailings for the runways prompting a US press report that they were 'paved with gold'. Following the transfer of 3 BG(M) to New Guinea in November 1942, Charters Towers airfield served through most of 1943 as a US Fighter and Bomber Command Replacement Training Centre.
During mid-February 1943 the Department of Public Works received a requisition from the US Army for construction of a gun firing range, or bore sight range, platform at Charters Towers airfield to test the accuracy of aircraft fixed armament. The concrete gun firing platform was designed with an adjustable metal plate set in front of the concrete block to take the nose wheel of aircraft with tricycle undercarriages, such as the P-39 Airacobra, A-20 Havoc, B-25 Mitchell, and B-26 Marauder. A steel gantry frame with a sling was positioned on the platform to lift the tail of fighter aircraft with tail wheels such as the P-40 Kittyhawk. The bore sight range extended about 360 metres to an earth mound, or butt, in front of which a target was set. The bore sight range is the only known example of its type in Queensland with an adjustable nose wheel platform.
A November 1943 map of the airfield shows taxiways to the north and west of the runways’ crossover point; and taxiways, 13 hangers or hideouts, two kitchens, a headquarters and two operations buildings to the southeast of the runways’ crossover point. Other facilities included kitchen, mess, ablution, latrine, recreation and workshop buildings west of Acacia Vale Road to the north of Archer Road (with some buildings south of Archer Road, and east of Acacia Vale Road, just south of Gladstone Creek Road); a bomb dump either side of Sheepstation Creek, between Dalrymple Road and View Street; a detention area on the west bank of Columbia Creek, north of the old Police Paddock Reserve; a chemical stores dump on the south side of the road heading west from Acacia Vale Road, just south of Archer Road; and a stores area between Conrad Street and Mossman Creek. A November 1944 map shows that six hangers had been removed, sealed parking areas had been built around the airfield, and metalled or sealed dispersal bays had been added next to the taxiways.
The compass swinging platform also existed by November 1944. Aircraft were pushed onto the platform and aligned with each of the 16 main cardinal points of the compass, starting with north. Variations in aircraft compass bearings were noted and compass magnets were adjusted.
The RAAF resumed responsibility for the maintenance of the airfield in May 1944. It was classified as a 'reserve airdrome' in June 1944, and most of the US facilities at the airfield were turned over to the RAAF in December 1944.
Charters Towers Airfield Bore Sight Range and Compass Swinging Platform, Queensland Heritage Register 602739.
National Archives of Australia, ST987. Charters Towers Aerodrome 1943
National Archives of Australia, ST987A. Charters Towers Aerodrome, 1944