NELSON BAY, NSW
No 20 Radar RAAF (early warning radar) was located at the top of the hill on Tomaree Head near Tomaree Battery (or Fort Tomaree). The Fort Tomaree site is on the southern peninsula of Port Stephens, NSW. There is a well constructed track that leads to the peak of the headland.
The Radar Site provided electricity to the area (415v 11kw) primarily to power the rotating radar antenna. Power was however also transformed for the use of the military installations in the area including RAN Station 307.
The collapsed radar tower was recovered by the RAAF in 1993 from the top of Tomaree Head. The turning gear base of the radar tower was returned to its original position in 2001. The rest of the radar tower is still stored at the RAAF Base at Williamtown.
This memorial has been placed on the site of the former WW2 radar station. Margaret Russell can be seen behind the radar monument.
Laurie Leckie was based at the 20RS site for about 5 months in 1943. Laurie advised the following:-
"The Americans were everywhere at that time - heavy concentrations round Nelson Bay and numerous camps in the then bush off the Newcastle to Nelson Bay Road.
We usually relied on their transports (trucks) when going on leave back to Newcastle hitching rides - ex Newcastle usually picking them up at the ferry crossing. We also got lifts on Australian Army trucks and Air Force trucks.
One of our good shifts was the evening shift when we would go up earlier and cook our own tea in the serviceable kitchen that was part of the doover. We always had lashings of mashed potato. We took our rations up with us and prepared everything in the kitchen.
The Army battery was further round the rock facing out to sea - but I can only recall one visit to have a look at their set up.
Sometimes when "off shift" we would explore the coast/beaches on ocean side South from Tomaree. There were barbed wire entanglements along the beach.
Our main job at 20 was plotting flight movements ex RAAF Williamtown, plus all flight movements along the coast in our vicinity."
The following story of 20 Radar RAAF was written by C. E. "Ted" Williams. It is taken from the book "More Radar Yarns".
"Tomaree is essentially a huge boulder about 500 feet high, and forms the southern headland of the entrance to Port Stephens, which, incidentally, is an excellent deep water port. It was officially Fort Tomaree, and housed about 500 Army men, but there was also a contingent of Garrison Infantry, "The Old and Bold", all WWI veterans. There were also a few Navy types for ship recognition.
Mains power had not yet been brought through, so we would have to rely on a stand-by unit, a 25KVA Ford V8.
When we drew up to the bottom of the "hill", we saw that there were two ways to the top. The people who had erected the building had constructed a miniature railway going up the hill at an angle of 45° with a trolley operated by a cable and winch. The alternative was a narrow path which zig-zagged its way to the top. Needless to say, for some reason which eludes me now, we were unable to use the trolley, and obviously we would have to do this job the hard way, a man on the corner of each cabinet, with frequent changes of men, and much loss of sweat. (The receiver cabinet weighed 1000 pounds and the transmitter 1200). Up to this time, most of our experience with NCO's had been DI's, and I am quite certain that the example set by Scotty and Ray, influenced us all, when we too became NCO's.
When we finally made it to the top, we found that everything had been prepared for us. The aerial was all matched up, the RF switch was mounted on the wall, and it was obvious where we were to position the transmitter and receiver. There was even a duct under the floor to take the synchronizing cable from the receiver to the transmitter. Unfortunately we could not use it because the conduit was too small to take the PT29M which was the only cable that we had.
So, late in the afternoon of Sunday 12 April 1942, 20RS became operational, three weeks to the day after 31RS at Darwin.
Now we must admit that the steel mesh and concrete camouflage was incomplete, and on going on my first leave to Newcastle, the unpainted mortar stood out like a sore thumb.
Because of the dangers of the patch, it was decided to run eight hour shifts, midnight to 8 am etc. The Boss quickly organized bunks, for anyone who didn't want to risk the path in darkness: most decided to take the chance.
One of the lovely things about this camp, was that the Army had a wet canteen. Life was indeed
Not long after this I was thoroughly caught out one night when I was on the dog watch. The Boss had told me that W/Cdr Pither was paying us a visit and would be arriving about midnight. Therefore would I apply a bit of spit and polish so that the place looked good when Mr Pither inspected it. About 0100 hours when the plotting board operator was curled up on the floor alongside the plotting board, and I was thinking that I had better start some cleaning up, there was a loud knock at the door. Fortunately this woke up my sleeping beauty who scrambled onto his chair, because when I opened the door, there was the Boss with the Wing Commander. Luckily the place was not too messy, but the Boss did give me a rather reproachful look. However, I put it to you, what other "stranger" would be so foolhardy as the climb that path at 0100 hours. Perhaps it was this ability that permitted George Pither to achieve so much in radar.
In due course, this mains power came through, and our rather worn standby-by unit was relegated to its proper task, with an off-duty operator sleeping alongside it in case of power failure.
Also about this time, stresses caused by high winds knocked a few teeth off a cog in the aerial turning gear. This put us off the air for a few days until the NSW Government Railways came galloping to the rescue with a replacement gear made from stronger steel. For me, climbing out to the end of the array to fasten a rope so that we could stop it thrashing around, was just a foretaste of some of my future RAAF activities.
Soon after this we had our tragedy. One of the replacement mechanics, along with one of the operators, was rock-fishing when a freak wave got them both. One body was recovered but not the other. At this stage, I discovered that there was more to being a corporal than going to the head of the meal line. The CO gave me the job of going through belongings, and making an inventory. This rather harrowing experience contributed to the growing up of a corporal who had celebrated his nineteenth birthday at Tomaree.
Somewhere about the three month mark, I had the dog watch, and went up to the radar about 2200 hours, to find Jacky in a state of near panic. The screen was so filled with interference that the station was effectively off the air. After a bit of elimination, we tracked the problem down to the transmitter blower, which, while quite adequate for aircraft use, was quite unsuitable for continuous operation, where 1000 hours was run up every six weeks.
A vacuum cleaner seemed to be the best solution as a stop-gap, so we roused the CO out of the Officers' Mess. He in turn roused the Fitter DMT and gave him a purchase order, and dispatched him to Newcastle with instructions to find a shop where the owner lived on the premises, and which furthermore, had a vacuum cleaner for sale.
The Fitter DMT did his job well, and by 0600 hours we were back on the air with the vacuum cleaner propped up on a log. It "held the fort" nobly, until a really suitable blower turned up in two or three weeks. Since this blower was now located outside the building, we had a much quieter operations room.
By now the equipment had got over its birth pangs, and had settled down to a relatively trouble free existence. This gave us time for such niceties as painting the concrete floor to control dust, etc.
Sometime during July around 1530 hours we spotted a periscope travelling northwards so it was promptly reported to Fighter Sector. Time went by, we followed its straight line path for about an hour. Nothing happened until about 1800 hours when a Walrus appeared to survey the scene, of course by then the submarine had long since departed leaving us to wonder about the activities of Fighter Sector."
I'd like to thank Geoff Russell for his assistance with this web page.
© Peter Dunn 2006
This page first produced 5 January 2008
This page last updated 30 July 2008