IRON RANGE AIRFIELD
NORTH QUEENSLAND
DURING WW2

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visits since 6 March 2005

 

Iron Range Memorial Wall Dedication and
Commemoration, Anzac Day 25 April 2005

 

Dedication for  Graham Robertson (RAAF) killed in
Crash of a B-26 Marauder at Iron Range on 13 Sep 1942

 


Photo: via W.E. Rollins

Iron Range airfield about 1942/43

 


Photo: via W.E. Rollins

Iron Range airfield about 1942/43. Note the mud.

 

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via Daniel Hultgren

Gordon Strip Camp Sites,
Camp No. 1 and Camp No. 2

In March 1940, Val Augenson of the Department of Civil Aviation inspected a possible site for an Emergency Landing Ground for the RAAF. He reported to the RAAF that a suitable all weather ELG could be built in the area.

On about 18 April 1942 Walter Maiersperger, the Commanding Officer of 33 Bomb Squadron of the 22nd Bomb Group, USAAC carried out an aerial reconnaissance flight over the Iron Range area. He had been tasked with surveying coastal airfields in Queensland that would be suitable for operation of the B-26 Marauders used by the 22nd Bomb Group.

Air Commodore Lukis, Air Officer Commanding, North East Area, reported on 28 May 1942, that Pilot Officer Trench, RAAF had inspected the countryside near Portland Roads (also known as Weymouth Bay), with Colonel Mills and Captain Herman G. Cox of the USAAF. Their first attempt to fly to the Iron Range area from Coen was not successful. An engine failed in their Rapide and they returned to Coen. After being repaired they took off the next morning and landed on a beach at low tide a few miles south of Portland Roads. As the plane slowed down upon landing on the soft sand the Rapide swung towards the sea. The tips of the propeller stared to thrash in the water but the skilful pilot was able to turn the aircraft back onto the beach.

The inspection party then set out on foot cross country to Portland Roads. The 5 mile journey took them about 4 to 5 hours. They met the Harbour Master and his assistant at Portland Roads. They drove to Iron Range and met up with Jack Gordon, a local Iron miner. His small iron mine had been closed down by the Army and his machinery removed to avoid its use by the Japanese in case of an invasion. Jack told them of an area a few miles away that he thought would be suitable for an airfield. After a 3 - 4 hour walk they inspected the area suggested by Gordon.

They reported to Lukis that there were good jetty facilities at Portland Roads but that there was no suitable site for an aerodrome near the jetty. They reported that a fairly extensive site just to the west of Iron Range and east of the Claudie River was suitable for the construction of several airfields. 

Capt. Cox recommended in his report that:-

On 7 June 1942, an advanced party of the US 46 Engineer General Service Regiment and 26 Operational Base Unit RAAF boarded the SS Wandana in Townsville headed for Portland Roads. 26 OBU arrived at Portland Roads and established radio communications with Townsville on the evening of 10 June 1942.

A few weeks after his initial visit, Jim Trench returned to the Iron Range area with Colonel Mills and observed two American Battalions of Pioneer Engineers busily buildings the Iron Range runways. They managed to build two 7,000 feet runways and 13 miles of sealed taxiways within 3 months.

On 14 June 1942, Companies A, B and C of the 46th Engineers boarded the MS Dona Nati at Townsville and arrived at Portland Roads on 16 June 1942.

Company A of the 46th Engineers boarded the MS Dona Nati and headed for Horn Island on 23 June 1942.

Headquarters and Service Company (H & S Company) of the 46th Engineers left Townsville on 10 July 1942 and arrived at Portland Roads on 12 July 1942.

On 27 October 1942, Headquarters Detachment of the 46th Engineers left Townsville and arrived at Iron Range on 29 October 1942.

The 90th Bomb Group arrived in Queensland in early November 1942 with their forty-eight B-24D Liberators. They were initially based as follows at Iron Range, 16 kms inland from the port facility of Portland Roads:-

Arrived Departed
319 Squadron 13 Nov 42 2 Feb 43
320 Squadron 13 Nov 42 21 Jan 43
321 Squadron 19 Nov 42 10 Feb 43
400 Squadron 13 Nov 42 abt 22 Mar 43

When the 90th Bomb Group arrived at Iron Range in November 1942, the two strips named Claudie and Gordon, were still unfinished and not sealed. Tents were pitched amongst the trees for accommodation. Conditions were primitive. Snakes, insects, scorpions, etc were prevalent. The men of the 90th Bomb Group described it as the worst airfield they were ever posted at during the war.

It is believed that this is the remains of B-26 Marauder, #40-1433 "Kansas Comet" at Iron Range. This photo was
taken by J.C. Wallace in about October 1942. The back of this photo is stamped by a military censor and dated 11/42.

The 197th Coast Artillery (AA) Regiment (197th CAAA AW) left Townsville on 27 September 1942 and arrived at Iron Range on 29 September 1942. Battery "E" was deployed there along Gordon Strip and Claudie strip. Other Batteries from the 197th were set up surrounding the airstrip. One day while at Iron Range Warren Rollins and his mates killed a python snake there that was 33 ft. long. On 11 December 1942 a fuel dump blew up and they lost about 28,000 gallons of 100 octane aircraft fuel. There were also some casualties. They manned Anti-aircraft gun positions in the area until 26 May 1943. 

Warren Rollins said that:-

"The strips Claudie and Gordon you must know were a disaster. Muddy and flooded most of the time. I recall it being told to us that the field was cut out of the jungle so that damaged planes returning from a raid at New Guinea could land without doing any damage to Garbutt field in Townsville. I witnessed other planes than the ones you mention land without landing gear down, motors that didn't run and sometimes in a foot of water."

On 26 December 1942, a USAAC B-24 Liberator bomber crashed on take off at Iron Range on Gordon Strip at approximately 10.00pm. Ten men were tragically killed in this crash. The plane crashed on the side of the runway narrowly missing one of the Anti Aircraft Gun emplacements of "E" battery of the 197th CAAA. As the bombs exploded there was a large fire.

WE Rollins of the 197th advised:-

F Battery and D Battery from the 197th also served at Iron Range. When they redid the surface of Gordon strip it was covered with a metal grid. The Pythons (snakes) used to lay on it at night because it stayed warm. When WE Rollins inspected the guns at night the snakes laid on the warm metal and you would step on them. They were small like 9 to 15 feet long!!

There were no bombing raids in the approximate 9 months we were at Iron Range. Although there were sightings of observation planes so high that they could not be engaged.

From the Diary of W.E. Rollins of the 197th CAAA:-

On April 9. 1943: The Engineers started to clean up the runway to get it ready for the arrival of heavy bombers. They will start on Gordon strip. 

On April 13, 1943: We were alerted to the fact that Japanese had landed at an unidentified location near Iron Range. We were constantly on a red alert. Japanese planes have been sighted near the jetty but never an air raid. We experience at least 2 alerts every day it seems the Japanese keep watch over this area. These alerts are in April of 1943. 

On April 19, 1943: Gordon strip is now ready for use. 

On April 29, 1943: Two Bristol Beauforts and a DC3 landed on the rebuilt drome.

On or about May 1, 1943: We were on alert for news of a Japanese landing in Australia south west of Iron Range. Patrols were continuously sent out from Iron Range with out ever finding any invasion force. 

On March 30, 1943: Cairns suffered an air raid. Cairns is about 130 mile south of Iron Range. 

WE Rollins also described the rain during the monsoon season at Iron Range as follows:-

It rained for 79 consecutive days and most of the time there was a foot of water over the runway. The Cape York Peninsula. is a well know rain forest in Australia I think. OUR GUN PITS KEPT FILLING UP WITH WATER AND THE GUNS HAD TO BE JACKED UP AS WELL AS THE FOXHOLES. 

It seems to have rained every day and all we do is stand inspections, test fire the guns and stand watch. The bombers cant take off because the runways are flooded. The food is so bad the men wont eat it and are becoming looking like zombies.

On 20 April 1943, members of the 197th Coast Artillery AA Regiment at Iron Range intercepted two way radio talk in Japanese. On 22 April 1943, The Northern Command Intelligence Officer wrote to his Headquarters in Brisbane as follows:-

"...The following is a copy of a signal message brought to I.O. Townsville by Capt R. Crosby, Sig. Officer, Yorkforce, and it is forwarded for your information:-

"SECRET.  FOLLOWING SIGNAL FROM 13 GRN BN TIMED 2115 20 APRIL READS 197 CA A/A BTY REPORTS OFFR OPERATING SCR 194 WALKIE TALKIE RANGE APPROX. 25 MILES INTERCEPTED TWO WAY TALK IN JAPANESE 1930 HOURS 20 APR ON 39 MEGACYCLES. COULD HEAR CLICK OF SET AS SWITCHED FROM TRANSMIT TO LISTEN. ENDEAVOURING TO LOCATE WITH RAAF. IN CASE OPERATING ON LAND REQUEST SUITABLE MONITOR BE FLOWN IN IRON RANGE IMMEDIATELY. ACK. ENDS." 

Captain Crosby tried to determine which Section in Townsville would be most interested in this report. Capt. Crosby was taken to RAAF Intelligence and then to the Section in the RAAF that keeps watch on this type of Communication. This was a top secret unit. It was most likely No. 1 Wireless Unit.

About a month after the reported incident, the Deputy Director of Security, Qld, Lt.-Col. Wake advised his superiors in Canberra as follows:-

"...Corporal-Investigator A.M. McDonald and Mr. Richards of the US CIC Cairns are proceeding to Iron Range to conduct an investigation..."

The finding was that it was unlikely that the Japanese transmission was made from the local area and that freak atmospheric conditions may have allowed local reception of a very remote transmission.

Flares were also reported being seen by men of the 197th Coast Artillery AA Regiment. Investigations were also carried out to check the reliability of these reports. The 13 Garrison Battalion, 1 Aust Army, CMF carried out patrols but were unable to confirm the alleged sightings. Major Cunningham, the CO of the 13 Grn Bn arranged for trial activation of flares at unannounced times and locations. They were all observed by personnel at Iron Range. The flare sightings generally always lined up with periods of brightest moonlight. After consulting with 'responsible persons' it was announced "that the sighting of flares were without foundation."

Peter Nielsen's book indicates that the 197th Coast Artillery Battalion and Company "A" of the 387th Port Battalion left Iron Range via Portland Roads on 27 May 1943, headed for an advanced area. Warren Rollins indicated that Battery "E" left Iron Range and went to Milne Bay in New Guinea on 26 May 1942.

Ray Buckley sent me the following details on his father:-

September, 1942  33d Bombardment Squadron 22d Bombardment Group transfer from Woodstock  to Iron Range, Australia
February, 1943  The group, which has been in combat since Apr 42, ceased combat operations in Jan 43 for R and R.  33rd Bombardment Squadron (Medium) transfer from Iron Range back to Woodstock and begin transitioning from B-26s to B-25 Ds

Mark Sierant told me that at Iron Range above Lockhart river air strip had coast guns on mountain tops which are is covered in deep bunkers built into the mountain sides. He discovered these while working as a stockman. When he saw them they still contained machinery and gun bases benches offices etc. Mark's recollections are as follows:-

"The start of the track that led to the hillside bunkers was well defined back in 1986 and lay on the south side of the Telegraph to Portland track where the main road crossed a creek.; The area along the creek held several campsites for about the first 1000m the track then intersect a side gully to the creek that had the remains of a timber bridge long rotted away. From this point forward the track was near unrecognisable as a road as the jungle had grown back in but it was possible to follow the flat bed and drainage culvert. I can't clearly remember distance now but we came across a clearing on the east side of a peak planted with lime trees this was the first tunnel system entrance we found. There was a concrete surround that encased the entrance this if I remember correctly was then replaced with a timber prop system with rooms off the main tunnel. The track branched here and one path went to the top of the peak that housed the first gun emplacement a concrete block low  to the ground with a ring of bolts. We returned and followed the branch heading south toward Lockhart River and came across another peak with a similar tunnel low in the hill with a climb up to the top for a gun emplacement there were a lot of very rusty 44 drums scattered through the bush here and old machinery parts. The track still continued to the south toward Lockhart but we gave up at this point a local Aboriginal later told us that the track used to get through to Lockhart River Air Field. That's my memories of the area, I don't have a topo of this area but I think if this area has been remapped and the latest Topos that we are getting of SE Australia all contain a satellite photo of the mapped area it may be possible to pick out the peaks as they were a fair area flattened off."

 

The jetty at Portland Roads was built in about 1938/39 to service the gold mining activities at Batavia Goldfield (later called Wenlock) and the Iron Range area. It was 810 feet long to reach the deep water. A tramline ran out to the wharf (60 ft x 30 ft) at the end of the jetty. There was a shed located on the wharf.

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Plaque dedicated to United States Army Air Force units
at Lockhart River on Anzac Day 25 April 2007

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Plaque dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
at Lockhart River on Anzac Day 25 April 2007

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Plaque dedicated to Australian Military and civilian
organisations at Lockhart River on Anzac Day 25 April 2007

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

The remains of an old stone and concrete bridge constructed during WW2 at Gallaways

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Close-up of the old WW2 bridge

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Old fuel drums (gasoline drums) near Portland Roads

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Old machinery located in the rain forest

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Earth covered rectangular concrete building near Lockhart River

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Concrete slabs near Iron Range airfield

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Remains of a defensive pit near Lockhart River

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Concrete structures near Lockhart River

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Concrete structure near Lockhart River

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

 


Photo: Michael Musumeci

Gasoline drum near Lockhart River with words
"Property of Air Force U.S. Army" clearly visible on it.

 


 

Crawford, John Brian
Number: 440276
Rank: Flight Sergeant [Flt Sgt]
Unit: 5 Communication Unit Garbutt
Service: RAAF
Date of Death: 14/02/1946
Place of Death: Iron Range, Qld
Cause of Death: Accidental
Memorial Panel: 111
Source: AWM148 Roll of Honour cards, 1939-1945 War, Air Force

Elliott, Walter John
Number: 80078
Rank: Leading Aircraftman [LAC]
Unit: 26 Op Base Iron Range
Service: RAAF
Date of Death: 03/01/1944
Place of Death: Cairns, Qld
Cause of Death: Ground Accident
Memorial Panel: 113
Source: AWM148 Roll of Honour cards, 1939-1945 War, Air Force

Geisel, George Morris
Number: 440279
Rank: Flight Sergeant [Flt Sgt]
Unit: 6 Service Flg Trg School Mallala
Service: RAAF
Date of Death: 14/02/1946
Place of Death: Iron Range, Qld
Cause of Death: Accidental
Memorial Panel: 115
Source: AWM148 Roll of Honour cards, 1939-1945 War, Air Force

Law, Colin William
Number: 414048
Rank: Flying Officer [FO]
Unit: 5 Communication Unit Garbutt
Service: RAAF
Conflict: 1939-1945
Date of Death: 14/02/1946
Place of Death: Iron Range, Qld
Cause of Death: Accidental
Memorial Panel: 112
Source: AWM148 Roll of Honour cards, 1939-1945 War, Air Force

Robertson, Graham Brindley John
Number: 412717
Rank: Pilot Officer [PO]
Unit: 19 Bombardment Sqn USAAF
Service: RAAF
Conflict: 1939-1945
Date of Death: 13/09/1942
Place of Death: Iron Range, Qld
Cause of Death: Accidental
Memorial Panel: 134
Source: AWM148 Roll of Honour cards, 1939-1945 War, Air Force

 

MILITARY AIRCRAFT CRASHES IN THE IRON RANGE AREA DURING WW2

13 Sep 42 Iron Range USAAF B-26 Marauder 1 killed, #40-1433 "Kansas Comet"
16 Nov 42 Iron Range USAAF B-24 Liberator 90th BG
16 Nov 42 Iron Range USAAF B-24 Liberator 90th BG
16 Nov 42 Iron Range USAAF B-24 Liberator 90th BG
16 Nov 42 Iron Range USAAF B-17 Flying Fortress possibly 43rd BG?
26 Dec 42 Iron Range USAAF B-24 Liberator 10 killed
10 Feb 43 Iron Range area USAAF C-47 Dakota ?
12 Apr 43 (1) Iron Range USAAF? P-38G Lightning #43-2382
15 Jun 43 Portland Roads, near Iron Range RAAF P-40 Kittyhawk A29-362
15 Feb 44 Iron Range ? ? Lt. Hawke killed
abt Jul 44 near Iron Range RAAF P-40M Kittyhawk A29-362 (#43-5668)

 

Military Units based in the Iron Range area during WW2

 

Sydney Robert Lynch (Q114569) died at Iron Range on 30 September 1942.

Can anyone help with details of his death.

 

NOTE:-  Michael Musumeci from Lockhart River is currently seeking and attempting to track down any veterans of Iron Range during World War 2. If you were based at Iron Range and would like to assist in the compiling of the Iron Range history please make contact via email on ironrange189@hotmail.com.au. Please CC: me a copy of your e-mail to Michael. My e-mail address is pdunn@st.net.au

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"Queensland Airfields WW2 - 50 Years On"
By Roger R. Marks

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Michael Musumeci, Ray Buckley, W.E. Rollins and Mark Sierant for their assistance with this home page. 

 

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 Peter Dunn 2005

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This page first produced 6 March 2005

This page last updated 17 June 2007