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Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 28 Radar Station, Fitzroy Island

  • Radar/signal station
  • Cairns

Fitzroy Island National Park, Fitzroy Island 4871

Fitzroy Island in the Barrier Reef off the coast from Cairns is a popular national park and tourist destination. An Australian radar station was built on the seaward side of the island's highest point in late 1942 to monitor aircraft approaching Trinity Bay and the important harbour and port of Cairns. Today all that remains on the site are the concrete footings of the radar tower, engine mounts for a generator, and a concrete floor slab and water tank base.

History

RAAF 28 Radar Station was formed at Cairns in October 1942. The unit was transferred to Fitzroy Island in December 1942 to install radio direction finding equipment, based around an Australian-built AW (air warning) Mk II radar set. The Fitzroy Island radar station was supported by RAAF 25 Operational Base Unit and 33 Zone Filter Centre at Cairns, and operated in conjunction with RAAF 3 Fighter Sector Headquarters at Townsville (3 Fighter Sector was renamed 103 Fighter Control Unit in March 1944). Construction of the radar station facilities at Fitzroy Island was undertaken by the Cairns Harbour Board.

Construction of the camp proceeded and by early 1943 RAAF 28 Radar Station was operating around the clock, except for short stoppages for overhauls, calibration and the repair of usually minor technical breakdowns. The station reported being jammed on 18 May 1943 while trying to send a message after a contact was obtained with what was thought to be a Japanese submarine on the surface. At this time Fitzroy Island was the rendezvous point for vessels from Cairns joining the twice-weekly convoys from Townsville to Port Moresby.

In June 1943 an Australian Navy (RAN) war signal station was erected on the island, and a coastal gun emplacement was constructed for the added defence of the un-mined Grafton Passage through the Barrier Reef to the port of Cairns. A lighthouse was also built on the island, using oscillating directional optical apparatus to permit night navigation of the Grafton Passage.

Operation of 28 Radar Station continued to assist navigation for Allied air traffic between Townsville and Port Moresby, particularly those aircraft lost or suffering mechanical problems. As the war front moved further north the various military facilities on Fitzroy Island were gradually closed down. In January 1945 the RAN war signal station ceased operation and the task of maintaining the lighthouse was taken over from the RAN by the RAAF personnel of 28 Radar Station. The radar station finally closed in October 1945 and the unit was subsequently disbanded.

Source/comments

Pearce, Howard (contributing author).

Vera Bradley. I Didn't Know That: Cairns and districts Tully to Cape York, 1939–1946, Service personnel and civilians, Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 1995.

Peter Nielsen. Diary of WWII North Queensland, Nielsen Publishing, Gordonvale, 1993.

Howard Pearce. WWII: NQ: A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, 2009.

Last updated
30 June 2014