- Darling Downs
Liberator Place, Leyburn 4365
Leyburn airfield was built in early 1942 for use by US heavy bombers, in case the Japanese invaded southeast Queensland. It was maintained by the RAAF but was not used until 1944, by RAAF squadrons flying B-24 Liberator bombers. After the war the circuit formed by the two bitumen runways and the bitumen taxiway linking their north ends was used for motor racing, with an Australian Grand Prix being held at Leyburn in 1949.
The two runways of Leyburn airfield are located over 5km north of Leyburn (northwest of Warwick), between Wirraway Avenue and Elerby Road. Liberator Place, which runs northeast from Wirraway Avenue, follows the route of a former gravelled taxiway to the south end of the 36 degree runway, and then continues along that runway (remnants of the taxiway also continue south of Wirraway Avenue). The 138 degree runway heads northwest from its intersection with the 36 degree runway, and crosses Macquarie Drive and Hamblin Road. A bitumen taxiway then loops northward before heading back across Macquarie Drive to join the northern end of the 36 degree runway, forming a large triangle. No other structures remain on site, but a dam that appeared on wartime maps still exists within the northeast loop of the taxiway.
The arrival of US forces in Queensland from late December 1941 led to an increased demand for airfields to accommodate US aircraft. Existing RAAF airfields were used, and new fields were also constructed. Leyburn was one of four airfields built for US heavy bombers (Leyburn, Cecil Plains, Jondaryan and Condamine). These inland airfields could be used to launch bombing missions if the Japanese ever landed near Brisbane.
The Leyburn site was proposed in March 1942, and although the War Cabinet approved work on Leyburn on 8 May 1942, work had already commenced. By 3 May the northwest-southeast (138 degree) strip had been cleared and graded for 7000′ (2.14km). Gravelling of the northeast-southwest (36 degree) runway was to commence on 5 May 1942. The camp site was about 3 miles (4.8km) south of the airfield hidden in a forest on the Leyburn to Clifton Road, and the camp buildings were painted by March 1943. In the absence of a Japanese invasion of Queensland, the US never needed to use Leyburn, but it was later used by RAAF B-24 Liberator heavy bombers from mid 1944 to late 1945.
A report in May 1943 noted that Leyburn consisted of two sealed runways in clear undulating country. Taxiways had been constructed to hideout areas, but no hideouts existed, other than 16 partly constructed and then abandoned. The north ends of the runways were connected by a 50′ (15.2m) wide sealed taxiway and the airfield was suitable for all types of aircraft, although it had been designed for heavy bombers. There were no accommodation buildings, although a mess hall/kitchen building existed, along with ablution facilities and latrines. There were also no operational buildings, hangars, blast pens or bomb stores, but two 12,000 gallon underground petrol tanks existed by mid 1944. In July 1943 Leyburn joined a list of some 17 unoccupied aerodromes in Queensland, and was listed as having buildings and services for 450 personnel, but no sleeping accommodation.
An April 1944 US report on Leyburn claimed that the airfield (which was still not in use at that point) was developed entirely by the RAAF, and was operated, maintained and controlled by the RAAF. The US had only requested hideouts. A RAAF map of the field in June 1945 reported a 138 degree runway 5350′ long by 150′ wide (1.63km by 45.7m); and a 36 degree runway 7000′ by 150′ (2.14km by 45.7m). At this time the former was used for parking aircraft and needed patching, while the latter was in good condition. A gravelled taxiway, badly in need of grading, ran from the camp to the south end of the 36 degree runway.
Maintenance inspections were carried out by personnel from 14 Operational Base Unit (OBU) from RAAF Station Lowood, and a Main Roads Board repair and maintenance party was stationed at Leyburn by January 1945 (withdrawn by October 1945) to keep the runways serviceable.
RAAF units stationed at Leyburn at various times between July 1944 and December 1945 included 21 Squadron, 23 Squadron, 99 Squadron and 200 Special Duties Flight, all flying B-24 Liberator bombers. RAAF 21 and 23 Squadrons had previously flown Vultee Vengeance aircraft. RAAF 99 Squadron and 200 Flight were both formed at Leyburn in February 1945. The latter’s mission was to assist in delivering agents and supplies of the Australian Army’s ‘Z’ Special Unit by parachute into enemy territory. It was possible for a “stick” of five jumpers to exit a hatch in the modified Liberators in under 10 seconds, and the jumpers carried a top secret “S” phone which could communicate with the aircraft during and after the drop.
By late February 1945 the airfield was crowded, with 1000 to 1300 personnel, and 99 Squadron was moved to Jondaryan in March 1945. 200 Special Duties Flight was the last unit to use Leyburn, disbanding in December 1945. After the war the runway and taxiway circuit was used for motor racing, and the 1949 Australian Grand Prix was held at the former airfield, the first time it had been held in Queensland.
Former RAAF Base, Reported Place 1030, Queensland Heritage Register
Marks, RR. 1994. Queensland Airfields WW2—50 Years On, R and J Marks. Brisbane.
National Archives of Australia 749. RAAF Directorate of Works and Buildings - Engineer Intelligence Section - Leyburn, Queensland 1943-1945.
National Archives of Australia 42/501/106. RAAF Cecil Plains Queensland Aerodrome Works 1941–1945
Australian War Memorial Photographic Collection.
Queensland State Library, John Oxley Library Photographic Collection.