RAAF 36 Radar Station, Horn Hill
Horn Island Radar Station
- Radar/signal station
- North and Cape York
Horn Hill, Horn Island 4875
RAAF 36 Radar Station was first erected by the RAAF on nearby Hammond Island during March-April 1942 to provide the first Air Warning (AW) radar coverage for the Torres Strait and early warning for Japanese air raids on Horn Island Airfield. In August 1943 the radar station was transferred to Horn Island, where it operated until 1945. The Horn Island site is located southeast of the airfield, on top of Horn Hill—the highest point on the island.
The place comprises two small concrete igloos - each 5m by 4m with a doorway at one end - and the radar tower site. A later dwelling is located alongside one of the igloos. A portion of the rear wall of one igloo has been demolished to form a second entrance.
The radar tower site occupies the southern peak of Horn Hill amongst an area of rock outcrops. The site contains the collapsed remains of an early AW radar tower, including the steel spindle; a turntable connected to the spindle; and angle steel sections of the tower legs and trusses. Around the tower site are several sections of cement-covered wire netting, moulded into the shape of large rocks, which camouflaged the radar transmitter/receiver hut. The site of the RAAF camp was to the south of the radar tower site.
During August 1943 RAAF 36 was dismantled and moved to the top of Horn Hill, the highest point on Horn Island, where the radar was re-erected and operational by 27 August. A US radar unit, the 565th Warning Station, had previously operated from the southeast corner of Horn Island.
The radar station camp at the base of Horn Hill initially consisted of a corrugated iron building, with guttering which fed two water tents at each end of the building. Water was scarce on Horn Island and supplies had to be carted to the camp daily, in 44 gallon drums. The camp building contained a small kitchen, mess and canteen with the remainder left for accommodation. From August 1943 to February 1945 the unit’s strength on Horn island fluctuated between 30 and 37 personnel. Most were initially housed in tents which were later replaced by prefabricated huts.
On 10 November 1943, according to the unit’s Operations Record Book, a Lister 20 KVA set (diesel powered generator) was installed in a “new concrete igloo". A second Lister was installed the following day, again in a “new concrete igloo", but it is unknown if both were installed in the same igloo. Two igloos are extant, and one still contains steel reinforcing rods which may have formed a platform for a generator. The other may have been used as a workshop.
All aircraft sightings were reported to the Operations Room on Horn Island (used by 12 Mobile Fighter Sector, later renamed 112 Mobile Fighter Sector) where a decision was made whether or not to signal an incoming raid. Other responsibilities of RAAF 36 included searching for aircraft that went missing, or tracking those in distress.
Between February and May 1944 the radar hut was camouflaged with concrete and wire netting to look like part of the rock outcrops. In another attempt to deceive the enemy, a decoy hut and antenna was located on the hill opposite the original. Painting of non-technical buildings was completed in June 1944, and a rifle range was constructed in July that year. In August a party of non-essential personnel spent two days fishing, shooting and swimming on Wednesday Island, and in October 1944 two members of the unit were in a RAAF Island cricket team which was defeated by a visiting team of notable International and Interstate players.
On 31 January 1945, RAAF 36 ceased to be operational on a continuous basis and changed over to a care and maintenance basis. The unit had tracked 856 aircraft during January, which was considered a good average figure for the number of aircraft then flying in the area. The unit was reduced to 12 personnel during March 1945. These personnel were among the last servicemen to leave Horn Island and the unit was officially disbanded in October 1945.
Horn Island Radar Station. Queensland Heritage Register reported place 602742.
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National Archives of Australia, NY25/022 W. Horn Island - Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF] camps and installations 1944.
National Archives of Australia. 24/48/AIR PART 2. North Eastern Area Headquarters - Reports on Operational Base - Horn Island, 1942–43
Australian War Memorial Photographic Collection