‘Q’ Australian Heavy Battery and Army Signal Station
Turtle Battery and RAAF 36 Radar Station site
- North and Cape York
Between Menmuir Point and Turtle Head, Hammond Island (Keriri Island) 4875
Two 155mm guns were located on Hammond Island from May 1943 to January 1945, covering the eastern approaches to the Prince of Wales Channel in the Torres Strait, and an army signal station on Hammond East Hill above the battery was used by RAAF 36 Radar Station during 1942–1943. The site is located at the northeast end of Hammond Island, between Menmuir Point and Turtle Head.
The surviving reinforced concrete elements of the battery include two circular gun mounts close to the shoreline, about 80m apart. Each has a ready-ammunition store at the rear, with traverse walls on three sides. The western gun mount is set higher than the eastern, and two larger magazines are located between the mounts. There are also two searchlight installations, each consisting of a searchlight station and a generator room. One installation is about 130m northeast of the western gun mount, while the other is about 350m southeast of the eastern gun mount.
About 200m southwest of the gun mounts is a Battery Observation Post (BOP) on the hill. Nearby is a shallow gun pit for a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun, its stone rubble walls lined on the inside with corrugated concrete. On top of the hill about 400m south of the BOP is a three-room former signal station with a generator room nearby. Modern marine navigation equipment has been installed on the roof of the signal station.
During the 19th century colonial defence planners had recognised that the Torres Strait was strategically and commercially important, and Thursday Island was fortified in the early 1890s with a battery of three 6-inch breech loading (BL) guns on Green Hill, and a Quick Firing (QF) 4.7-inch gun was installed on Milman Hill in 1897. These defences were soon obsolete, and as Australia’s northern defence focus had shifted to Darwin, the Thursday Island defences were dismantled in 1932. However, the 6-inch guns were left in place at Green Hill Fort, where they remain today. Later, the Green Hill Fort was used as a signals and wireless station, and ammunition store, during the war in the South West Pacific.
Despite the earlier abandonment of the fortifications of Thursday Island, the outbreak of World War II and concerns about Japan’s intentions led to additional coastal artillery defences in the Torres Strait. A QF 4.7-inch Mk XII gun was re-installed on Milman Hill in December 1940, and two 6-inch Mk XI guns were installed at Tucker Point at the west end of Goods Island between December 1940 and July 1941. The latter position allowed coverage of the Prince of Wales and Dayman channels and part of the Simpson Channel, coverage of the western and eastern approaches to Thursday Island, and coverage of the RAAF Advanced Operational Base (AOB) on Horn Island, where two runways were constructed during 1941.
The Torres Strait’s coastal defences were to receive further reinforcement after Japan entered the war on 7 December 1941. After his arrival in Australia in March 1942 General Douglas Macarthur upgraded the coastal defence of selected Australian ports and naval bases, requesting the delivery of 155mm field guns, Sperry searchlights and fire control equipment from the United States. During 1942–1943 nineteen batteries using M1917A1 155mm guns (designated by alphabetic letters and hence known as 'Letter batteries') were established and allocated to coastal defence in Australia and New Guinea. All but one Letter battery (‘U’) had two guns each.
The 155mm guns were designed by the French in World War I and were manufactured in the United States as the M1917 or M1918. In the coastal artillery role in Australia they were set on concrete mounts, where the gun’s wheels were supported on a central round concrete pillar (or 'cheese'), and the gun’s trails were traversed around a steel ring set in a concrete outer circle. Although these were called “Panama mounts” in Australia, actual Panama mounts were of a steel cruciform type. Sites in Queensland where Letter batteries were emplaced on circular concrete mounts included Skirmish Point on Bribie island; Rous Battery on the east side of Moreton Island; Magnetic Island in Townsville; False Cape near Cairns; and Turtle Battery (or ‘Q’ Battery as it was also known) on Hammond Island in the Torres Strait.
In early September 1942 a senior Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) officer was sent to Thursday Island to inspect sites for additional coast defence of Torres Strait. Turtle Head on the north coast of Hammond Island was identified as a site for two 155-mm guns to close the Prince of Wales Channel from the east and cover the east coast of Horn Island. Hammond Island, one of the Prince of Wales Island Group of the Torres Strait and also known as Keriri, is part of the traditional estate of the Kaurareg people. Coastal batteries were also installed on Horn Island, at King Point (two 18 pounders Mk IV), and on Entrance Island (three 60 pounders, later replaced with two 6-inch Mk VII guns).
The coastal artillery unit which would man the position on Hammond island was ‘Q’ Australian Heavy Battery, formed at Glenfield Camp near Liverpool, New South Wales on 3 January 1943. During January the unit moved to Tabragalba near Beaudesert in Queensland for coast artillery training, along with ‘M’, ‘N’ and ‘O’ Batteries which had been formed at the same time.
‘Q’ Battery was sent via Townsville to Thursday Island in late March-early April 1943, from where battery personnel and equipment were moved to Turtle Head on Hammond Island on 20 April. On 15 April 1943 ‘Q’ Battery had been renamed 'Turtle Battery' for reports and correspondence. Work on construction of gun mountings and magazines continued and on 3 May No.1 gun was drawn into position on a circular concrete mount, pointing seaward. No.2 gun was drawn into position on 12 May and both guns fired a proof shoot of three rounds each.
Thereafter the war diaries of Turtle Battery show that the RAA personnel on Hammond Island settled into a daily routine of building construction, maintenance of guns, practice shoots and camp duties. Camouflage netting was erected over the battery. A Battery Observation Post (BOP), reserve and ready magazines, gun floor shelters and barracks, were largely completed by November 1943 although additional works continued. Two Sperry coast artillery searchlight installations, each comprising a searchlight station and engine room, were completed on both flanks of the battery position.
During 1943 coastal and heavy anti-aircraft batteries in north Queensland were provided with Bofors 40-mm guns for close aerial defence against low flying Japanese aircraft. On 15 November a Bofors gun was positioned near the BOP above the guns of Turtle Battery and the crew commenced work on a Bofors gun pit. Sandbagging of the battery blast walls, gun emplacements and Bofors pit was carried out during December. Vines were planted around the installations to provide natural camouflage in addition to netting. Turtle Battery was redesignated as Q Australian Heavy Battery (Coast) on 12 January 1944.
RAAF No.36 Radar Station was also established on Hammond Island, during April 1942, the first RAAF Radar Station in North Queensland. Air Warning radar coverage of the Torres Strait was essential to monitor aircraft movements and provide early warning for Japanese attacks on north Queensland and Horn Island AOB. The Hammond Island radar was one of the earliest experimental Air Warning (AW) prototype sets manufactured in Australia. The radar equipment was installed in a three-room building on Hammond East Hill, the highest point on the island. The reinforced concrete building, which faced Thursday Island, had been constructed for the Army as a signal station and observation post. Under RAAF use as a radar station, a radar antenna and spindle was fitted above the central room, which housed a plotting table and the radar electronics including the transmitter and receiver. The radar station equipment was dismantled and moved to Horn Hill on Horn Island during August 1943 and the signal station was returned to the Army.
The coast defences of Torres Strait were reviewed by the Defence Committee in September 1944 and as a result of the review it was recommended that only the 6-inch guns of Goods Battery be retained on a permanently manned basis. As a result Milman Battery on Thursday Island, King Point Section on Horn Island, ‘Q’ Battery on Hammond Island and Endeavour Battery on Entrance Island were placed under care and maintenance before being withdrawn.
On 29 September 1944 the Coast Artillery (CA) No.1 Mark II radar set on Hammond Island was dismantled and removed to Thursday Island to await movement south. ‘Q’ Battery was said to be the first 155mm battery to be fully equipped with radar, and able to shoot at night without searchlights.
Notification that the unit was to leave Hammond Island was received on 26 December 1944, and ammunition, searchlights and guns were removed by early January 1945. The sleeping shelters were demolished on 8 January and the last personnel of ‘Q’ Battery departed for Thursday Island on 27 January 1945.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author)
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