No. 2 US Air Command Operations and Signals Building
US Air Signals Igloo, Garbutt (Nadic House)
- Radar/signal station
3 Ramsay Street, Nadic House, Garbutt 4814
The No. 2 US Air Command Operations and Signals Building, constructed of reinforced concrete with a buttressed external blast wall, was constructed in early 1942. It functioned as a strategic communications centre for the US Army’s No.2 Air Command in north eastern Australia and New Guinea, continued to be occupied by US Army signals units throughout the war and was also used for aircraft bomb sight repair. The building was derelict after the war until being adapted as an office during the 1960s. It is located north of Ingham Road and east of Ramsay Street, and is roughly half way between Castle Hill and Garbutt Airport.
The original building has a central corridor running roughly east-west lengthways, with rooms opening off the corridor. The eastern end contains a large sunken room accessed by several steps. The building retains its original layout with only minor alterations, including the removal of the original mechanical ventilation system. A rectangular projecting room at the western end of the building originally contained the bomb site repair facilities. An added upper floor covers most of the original building, and a later extension has been added to the west. Several sections of the buttressed external blast wall have been removed to allow greater access.
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.
The first US personnel to arrive in Townsville were a small group of US Army officers on 5 January 1942. Their mission was to arrange for the construction of airfields and the establishment of a supply base - US Base Section Two - to be the north Queensland component of United States Army Forces in Australia (USAFIA), which in mid 1942 became the United States Army Services of Supply (USASOS) organisation. Headquarters for this group was in the Australian Mercantile Land & Finance Building on the corner of Denham and Walker Street, Townsville. By 16 January, Townsville had been chosen as the location for a US air base and for the assembly of crated aircraft and vehicles, as it had a good port and military ordnance could be delivered directly by ship.
Prior to the Japanese conquest of the Philippines and General MacArthur’s departure for Australia, Townsville had begun to receive units of American air support. On 19 February, the first nine US heavy bombers of the 19th Bombardment Group landed at Townsville; these were dispersed away from the coast to Cloncurry on 21 February. The first heavy bombardment mission out of Australia left Garbutt aerodrome on 22 February to attack Japanese installations at Rabaul. With the fall of Singapore on 15 February and the Japanese bombing of Darwin four days later, the possibility of heavy air-raids on Townsville became likely and recommendations were made to locate military control centres in bomb-proof reinforced concrete buildings.
During the early months of 1942 work began on a reinforced concrete US operations and signals centre at Garbutt. Designed by the Department of Interior, Works and Service Branch and constructed by the Townsville Harbour Board as Project No.2, Job 25, the building was built like a fortress with thick reinforced roof and walls and a surrounding buttressed blast wall in case of air attack. The structure, which measured 60 by 120 feet (18.28 by 36.57 metres) was originally cloaked in camouflage netting to foil Japanese aerial reconnaissance. The building became the nerve centre for the United States Army Operations and was listed simply as 'Igloo 125' in a 1944 US military phonebook. It had the nickname 'The Igloo' as it was one of the very few air-conditioned buildings in north Queensland during the war. It functioned as an overall communications centre for Base Two, spanning an area from the north-eastern coast of Australia to the Gulf of Carpentaria and up to Port Moresby.
In December 1944 the US 911th Signal Office for Base Two Northern Region moved into the Igloo. The unit was also responsible for the repair of all Signal Corps equipment used by the USAAF, including radar. Their job was to provide ground and air communications. Almost all of the 911th Signal Company’s communication was by code, because of the distances involved. They also had teletype connections to nearby units, such as Base Two in Townsville and RAAF Signals at Garbutt Air Base. The company handled all radio traffic between Fifth Air Force Headquarters in Brisbane and their advanced echelon, which was in Port Moresby at that time.
An aircraft bomb sight repair section also operated in the building. Once a bomb sight had been in use for a while, the parts would mesh with one another and not work properly if a new factory-made part was installed, so the units were taken apart one at a time, cleaned up and reassembled. The work was so sensitive that the air conditioning was a necessity for the repair work.
Post-war, the building was vacated and left derelict, and the semi-underground operations room at the eastern end filled with water. The building was transferred to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in 1962, and the land was re-subdivided before sale in 1965 to Nadic Pty Ltd. The building was then converted into an office building, with an added upper floor, called Nadic House.
United States Army Operations and Signals Centre, Reported Place 29320, Queensland Heritage Register
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.
Dunn, P. No 2 US Air Command Operations and Signals Building or “Message Centre” (The Garbutt Bunker) at 3 Ramsay Street, Project No.2, Building No.25
Title Information, DERM