Aitkenvale Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery
7 and 9 Bartlett Avenue, Mundingburra 4812
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, Australia’s focus in the war turned to the Pacific. After the raid on Darwin in February 1942, many felt that as Townsville was the second largest city in Queensland, it could possibly be the next to experience a large scale raid by the Japanese. Townsville was already designated as a staging point, with a significant US buildup underway and the best Port facilities in North Queensland.
Due to Townsville’s distance from the front line, it could not be raided by land-based bombers that had added to the devastation in Darwin. Any air raid would be restricted to aircraft carriers or long range flying boats. Between March and July the Japanese conducted regular reconnaissance missions over Townsville using long range aircraft.
In mid 1942 the Commonwealth Government requisitioned an area of land for an Anti-Aircraft (A/A) battery at Bartlett Avenue in the community of Aitkenvale.
A 1942 memo stated that work at a Charters Towers A/A battery site had been abandoned for strategic reasons and that eight guns were to be transferred to Aitkenvale and The Strand, Townsville. Two factors decided this change. Aircraft carrier losses in the Battle of the Coral Sea and Midway, meant Japan could no longer fulfill its objective of launching a carrier based raid against Townsville. Charters Towers would decline in importance as an operational base by July as the need to disperse aircraft to the west of the town was no longer necessary due to Japanese naval losses from these two engagements. By late July 1942 the 14th Kokutai based in Rabaul set out to attack Townsville with long range flying boats over five nights, with three raids actually occurring. Even after recent defeats, the Japanese were still capable of striking far from their operational bases.
Known as a 'class A gun station', Aitkenvale A/A originally contained four 3.7 inch guns, manufactured in Australia. The 3.7 inch anti-aircraft gun was developed shortly before World War Two and was the standard medium anti-aircraft gun for the British Army from 1938 to 1956. Effective range was around 9100 metres. The octagonal shaped emplacements with surrounding shell store originally housed a sandbagged entry point with more bags placed on the magazine roof. Rooms contained rifle racks and anti gas equipment, 280 rounds of ammunition for the A/A gun and doors for the perimeter entrances.
Operational by late 1942, the siting of Aitkenvale A/A was a strategic one. Its primary role was to defend nearby Hubert’s Well, Townsville’s power and water pumping station. By March 1943, defence minutes detail the removal of improvised bush timber revetments from the existing 40" diameter gun pits at Aitkenvale A/A. Their replacements would consist of four emplacements, four separate shell stores and a command post. All were to be built of reinforced concrete.
Hidden from aerial view, four separate semi-underground shell stores provided cool storage for high explosive rounds. The guns were controlled by a centrally located command post. Sightings of suspicious aircraft were relayed to the post for action by Fighter Sector Headquarters which communicated with observer units.
In 1942 there were two US hospitals, an Australian hospital at Ross River, 1 Wireless Unit in French Street, Ross River airfield and numerous other vital military installations within a three kilometre radius of Aitkenvale A/A. Additionally Armstrong’s Paddock, a large staging/camp area for US and Australian troops was less than a kilometre away. Aitkenvale A/A also provided cover for the Ross River airfield, as enemy aircraft typically used rivers as a navigational aid when conducting reconnaissance.
The site was manned by bothAustralian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) and Volunteer Defence Corp (VDC) personnel from mid 1943, and these arrangements remained in place until late 1944 when a review of Townsville’s A/A sites recommended a reduction of one third.
During the 1950s this section of Aitkenvale was absorbed into the adjacent suburb of Mundingburra.
The North Queensland Line: The Defence of Townsville in 1942. 1998 Thesis by Ray Holyoak held at James Cook University Library North Queensland Collection.
Coast and anti-aircraft defences - Townsville and Cairns: Agendum Number - 65/1944: Date of meeting - 12 April 1944 ACT.
Scale of manning coast and AA [anti-aircraft] defences - Townsville and Cairns [1 map 'The Southern Pacific Area'. Illustrates ranges of enemy land-based bomber and fighter aircraft, November 1943 and March 1944][sub-item] MP729/6. 16/401/671 VIC.
[Camouflage - methods:] Camouflage Works, Volume 2, Townsville Fort Areas [Photo album] [Oversize item] AWM 54 161/3/2.
[Camouflage - methods:] Camouflage Works, Volume 4, Anti-Aircraft Aerial Survey [Photo album] [Oversize item] AWM 54 161/3/4.
Site Plan AA Battery J153 collection, drawings T438A, T439A, T440A, T441A, T442A, T443 Qld.