Colmslie Anti-Aircraft and searchlight defences
Thomas Borwick and Sons Abbatoirs
- Brisbane City
Roundabout, Colmslie Road, Colmslie 4170
Primarily, it was Australian units with 24 Heavy AA guns, 12 Light AA guns and 33 searchlights that defended Brisbane. The Heavy AA guns were in fixed emplacements while the Light AA guns and searchlights were mobile and could be quickly relocated with the aid of army trucks. The three Heavy AA batteries were emplaced in six Brisbane suburbs. The two Light AA Regiments had single guns spread across Brisbane. The three Searchlight Companies occupied various positions in 18 different suburbs. The US Army also manned a small number of AA positions in Brisbane.
The outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941 led to a fear of air attack on Brisbane, most likely launched from Japanese aircraft carriers. The siting of the AA guns was designed to protect Brisbane’s port facilities and the US New Farm submarine base and to cover the Eagle Farm and Archerfield airfields. The anti-aircraft (AA) gun shortage in Australia caused delays so that Brisbane had still not received its full allotment of 3.7 inch AA guns by May 1942. The guns had to be brought by convoy from Britain. By 28 May, the first 16 guns were despatched on trains from Melbourne. The guns were incomplete as only four came with their cruciform platforms and these were allocated to Archerfield. The scarcity of steel meant that no more platforms could be sent and on 9 June, the Army decided that the remaining guns would not be portable, but instead would be put into fixed emplacements.
There were 6 Heavy AA batteries armed with the Australian-manufactured 3.7 inch gun. Three batteries were located in Brisbane’s north and three in the south. They were put into fixed emplacements at Bannister Park at Windsor Park, Windsor; east of Eagle Farm airfield at Pinkenba; in Victoria Park at Spring Hill; on the hill above the Balmoral Cemetery off Wynnum Road, Morningside; on a farm at 214 Fleming Road, Hemmant and close to Fort Lytton in South Street, Lytton. On 29 August 1942, the Army HQ at Victoria Barracks, Petrie Terrace ordered the cessation of work at Windsor and the guns relocated to a site off Gerler Road, Hendra. The Hendra, Pinkenba and Lytton batteries had hexagonal cinder block gun emplacements. The Eagle Farm, Balmoral and Spring Hill emplacements were constructed with reinforced concrete. A Heavy AA battery of four guns was positioned at Archerfield aerodrome. All emplacements were built under the direction of the Allied Works Council (AWC). The AWC also requested that an emplacement be built atop Mt. Gravatt.
A Heavy AA battery comprised 4 guns spaced from 90 to 100 feet apart. Each battery had its own central concrete command post. This post included separate concrete pits to house a predictor and a height finder. Each of the four guns had to be within view of the predictor which itself could not be placed either 10 feet below or above any of the guns. The interior of the gun emplacements were lined with steel mesh or scabbing plates designed to contain any flying concrete splinters that were blown off during an air raid from injuring the gun crews. Some of the batteries had enough open space to fit sleeping quarters near the emplacements for the gun crews.
All AA batteries were connected by telephone cable to the Brisbane Central Command Post (14th AA Command) located with MacArthur’s headquarters in the AMP Building at 229 Queen Street. This central command was also linked to Brisbane’s early warning system that controlled observation posts and later radar units. The 6th, 38th and 2/5th Heavy AA batteries, the components of the 2/2nd HAA Regiment (AIF) manned the guns. From 1943, the six Heavy AA batteries experienced gun crews were replaced by gunners drawn from the Australia Women’s Army Service (AWAS) and ‘C’ Company, 4th Battalion of the Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC).
The Light AA defences were armed with the locally made QF (quick firing) 40 mm Bofors gun. Twelve Bofors were allotted to Brisbane, belonging to the Australian 113th and the 114th Light AA Regiments. The guns were sited in individual locations. They were mobile guns hauled by Bedford light trucks (referred to as gun tractors). At various times between 1942 and 1945, Bofors guns were located at near the old cotton mill at Whinstanes; at 'Cloudland' in Bowen Hills; near the mouth of Breakfast Creek in Newstead Park; on a Myrtletown farm; at Kangaroo Point and Hendra; near the old Appollo Candleworks and at the end of Quay Street in Bulimba; near the Colmslie Oil Storage Tanks; near Thomas Borwick & Sons Colmslie meatworks and elsewhere. A Heavy AA Battery had initially been emplaced near the Colmslie Oil Tanks. In August 1942, this battery relocated to Lytton. A Bofors gun temporarily replaced it at Colmslie. The Australian Army established an AA Training School and Air Defence Centre at the 'Blackheath Home' in Oxley. The VDC and AWAS began to train on the guns by June 1943.
Newstead Park’s Bofors was dug-in on the point near where the US/Australian War Memorial (built 1951) stands. Established on 22 August 1942 by 115th Battery, 113th Light AA Regiment, the emplacement was handed to 605 Troop, 114th Light AA Regiment in June 1943. The 651st Light AA Regiment replaced 605 Troop and operated the gun until war’s end. The gunners used the nearby Band Rotunda as a wet weather barracks.
Dummy wooden guns were also placed around Brisbane to deceive enemy aerial reconnaissance or spies. These mock-ups were manufactured at a Brisbane City Council Tramways wood machine shop on Coronation Drive, Milton. The guns were made as realistic as possible. Metal brackets allowed windage and elevation. They were painted in approved army colour schemes.
By December 1943, 14th AA Command was known as Brisbane AA Group. It oversaw the supply and operations of 6th Heavy AA Battery, 39th Heavy AA Battery, 56th SL (searchlight) Battery, 68th SL Battery, 651st Light AA Battery and the Brisbane AA Operations Room. Brisbane AA Group was linked to the Brisbane Fortress HQ at St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane, the 8th Fighter Section and the HQ of ‘A’ Group (Brisbane) of the VDC.
The US Army aided Brisbane’s AA defences. Among the first arrivals on the Pensacola Convoy on 22 December 1941 were the 102nd and 197th Coastal Artillery Regiments that included AA weapons in its equipment. In April 1942, the 94th Coastal Artillery Regiment mounted four .30 calibre heavy machine guns with two searchlights as an AA position at Newstead Park. In July 1943, the US Brisbane Coast Artillery and Brisbane AA Group were placed under a single commander Brigadier E.M. Neyland. Lieutenant Colonel A.G. Thomson followed him in December 1944. The US Army had an AA gun sandbagged emplacement on Ovals No.1 and 2 of Windsor Park (presumably on the previous site of the Australian 3.7 inch guns). The US military had requested Brisbane City Council permission to demolish the park’s grandstand to improve the guns’ field of fire. A sandbag emplacement was located beside the Brisbane River at the end of Quay Street, Bulimba. Members of the 40th AA Brigade from the 94th Coastal Artillery Regiment manned .50 calibre heavy machine guns. Australians drawn from the 114th Light AA Regiment later replaced these Americans. US AA guns were placed in Fleetway Street, Morningside to protect Camp Carina.
The US Navy operated an Anti-Aircraft Training Centre camp at Wellington Point, about 20 miles from Brisbane. The site chosen for the camp was in a public park on the peninsular jutting into Waterloo Bay, considered ideal for AA training.
Australian War Memorial file, AWM 54, Item: 709/20/50, Brisbane AA Group, Standing Operational Orders, 19 December 1943.
Australian War Memorial file, AWM 60, Item: 9/476/42, Brisbane AA guns allotment and emplacement correspondence, 18 May-10 September 1942.
D.W. Spethman & R.G. Miller, Fortress Brisbane - a guide to historic fixed defence sites of Brisbane and the Moreton Islands, (Brisbane: Spethman & Miller, 1998).
Brisbane City Council newsletter Between Ourselves, Volume 1, No.16, June 1980.
Marks, Roger R., Brisbane - WW2 v Now, Book 1 “Newstead House", (Brisbane: Marks, 2005).
BCC Archives file BCA1344 Windsor Memorial Park, Windsor lease of 1942