NO. 1 WIRELESS UNIT RAAF
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2

 

The first seven RAAF personnel to be trained as part of No. 1 Wireless Unit in a "special intelligence" course were trained at Victoria Barracks in Melbourne in July 1941. They were the first personnel in No. 1 Wireless Unit which was to be involved in the interception of Japanese Naval and military traffic. The members of the first group trained were:-

Shirley "Snow" Bradshaw
Edward "Ted" Cook (see photos below)
B. Crosby
G. "Taff" Davis
Clarence "Clarrie" Hermes
Alf Towers (see photos below)
Jim Wilson

They were all qualified radio operators and extremely proficient in international Morse code. Crosby did not finish the course and the remaining 6 operators were sent to Darwin by 3 September 1941 where "Snow" Bradshaw, as senior NCO, headed the intercept group in Darwin.

They set up two intercept radios (Kingsley AR7's on the top floor of the "Camera Obscura" building at the RAAF Darwin airfield. They worked in continuous 4 hour shifts intercepting Japanese naval "point to point" and "aircraft to ground" traffic from Japanese at the following locations:-

- Palau
- Saipan (Marianas)
- Tokyo
- Truk (Caroline Islands

Their intercepts were sent to the navy cryptology section in Melbourne via RAAF Signals Darwin. They enciphered their messages to Melbourne in a secret cipher before passing them over to the RAAF Signals personnel. This ensured that their intercepts of Japanese Kana code or encoded messages were not apparent to other military personnel to protect the secrecy of their intercept operation.

In the mean time the RAAF began to establish their own small administrative and intelligence group in Melbourne. H. Roy Booth was in charge of this new group. Their task was to start to learn how to process the intercept information sent from Darwin.

The RAAF Kana operators in Darwin intercepted many important transmissions leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Darwin intercept group was reduced to four due to illness. Jim Wilson had a falling out with Group Captain Scherger after he refused entry to Scherger to their intercept station on the grounds that it was "top secret". Apparently Sherger arranged for Jim Wilson  to be transferred south on the grounds that he had gone "Troppo". Ted Cook became sick and was hospitalised.

The early morning shift detected abnormal traffic on the morning of 19 February 1942 from Kendari in the Southern Celebes and between aircraft and possible aircraft carriers. The abnormal traffic was passed on to Group Captain Scherger, the Commanding Officer of RAAF Darwin. Unfortunately no precautions were taken at Darwin on that fateful day. 188 carrier-based aircraft attacked Darwin in the first raid followed by 54 land based bombers in the second raid. There were 243 killed and about 350 injured on this tragic day.

Orders were sent from Melbourne for the four healthy Kana operators in Darwin to disperse to civilian radio stations across the northern parts of Australia as follows:-. 

"Snow" Bradshaw - Wyndham, WA
Alf Towers - Broome, WA
G. "Taff" Davis - Groote Eyelandt, NT
"Clarrie" Hermes - Groote Eyelandt, NT

Snow Bradshaw was evacuated to Wyndham in Western Australia onboard a De Havilland Rapide. The Rapide was attacked while landing at Wyndham airfield by a flight of Japanese Zeros during the first enemy air raid on the town on 3 March 1942. The crew and passengers abandoned the Rapide, which trundled along the runway on fire. It stopped at the end of the runway where it burnt itself out. A group of nine "Betty" bombers then bombed the Wyndham airfield leaving a number of large mud holes in the runway.

Alf Towers was slightly luckier than Snow Bradshaw. He had departed Wyndham airfield just prior to the Japanese air raid in a Lockheed 10A piloted by Jimmy Wood. They landed at Broome in Western Australia about 30 minutes after a very large Japanese bombing raid on the town in which at least 70 people were killed.

The use of the civilian radios proved totally unsuccessful as the Kana operators could only use the radio receivers when not being used by the civil air radio service. This meant it was impossible to keep a constant watch on Japanese activities.

Then on 7 March 1942, a top secret small RAAF Intercept Station was set up in 2 houses at Pimlico in Townsville under Wing Commander Booth. The two houses backed on to each other, one being at 21 Sycamore Street, Pimlico and the other being at 24 French Street, Pimlico. Operators based in these houses would intercept Japanese wireless signals and break the Japanese KANA code. Radio equipment was installed in No. 24 French Street.

Location of houses used in French Street and Sycamore Street, Pimlico

On 25 April 1942 this small RAAF Unit was given its new name of No. 1 Wireless Unit and then became part of General Douglas MacArthur's new joint American-Australian Sigint organisation called Central Bureau

The newly named No. 1 Wireless Unit comprised 7 RAAF, 1 AMF and 4 United States Army personnel. Flight Lieutenant Clem Blakely was the Commanding Officer of No. 1 Wireless Unit.

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Wing Commander Booth

no1wu-01.jpg (59497 bytes)

In February 1999, 24 French Street, Pimlico, was the residence of Syd and Alice Bennett.  Syd told me that the wireless equipment was located in their house.  They bought the house off Mrs May Mulraney.  At the time that the house was commandeered by the RAAF, a taxi driver called Gibson was renting the house.  21 Sycamore Street was damaged in Cyclone Althea and has now been replaced by two low set flats.

1wu11.jpg (46045 bytes)

24 French Street, Pimlico during World War 2.   Note the tents pitched on the other side of the road and the large truck parked outside the house. Photo supplied by Keith Carolan, an ex member of No. 1 Wireless Unit.

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A very poor photo of No. 21 Sycamore Street, Pimlico

On 25 April 1942 a further 3 houses were requisitioned to extend the operation of the secretive signals intelligence unit. The houses were 25 and 26 French Street and No. 3 Sycamore Street. No. 25 may have been a vacant block where the tents were pitched. (Can anyone confirm?)

no1wu-02.jpg (50383 bytes)

26 French Street, Pimlico - Syd Bennett told me that this was the cookhouse for No. 1 Wireless Unit.  Syd told me that there were tents across the other side of French Street from their house, possibly where 25 French Street is located.  It is not known whether the houses in French or Sycamore Streets have been renumbered.

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26 French Street during World War 2.  Note the large truck parked outside the house. Photo supplied by Keith Carolan, an ex member of No. 1 Wireless Unit.

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A very poor photo of No. 3 Sycamore Street.

According to another reference, No. 1 Wireless Unit established itself in Townsville in February 1943.  The personnel were housed at Roseneath, a railstop 15 kms out of Townsville for security reasons.  The unit headquarters consisted of a permanent building, with the WAAAF sleeping huts and cold water ablutions across a paddock from the main camp.  The intercept and intelligence operations rooms were located in an isolated area in the bush past Stuart.  They were located in a concrete bomb-proof building camouflaged as a farm house.

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No. 1 Wireless Unit Intelligence and Intercept Operations Room at Stuart,
Townsville in 1943 where operators broke the Japanese secret Kana code.

I believe that the No. Wireless Unit bunker was located near the North West corner of the intersection of Southwood Road and Hunter Street, Stuart near the line of large trees near the fuel tanks on Copper Refineries property. See the map below (Can anyone please confirm this?)

3 Fighter Sector HQ bunker
                                
(is just up here off the map)

Bunkers in the Stuart and Roseneath areas during WW2
Click on the hyperlinks on the above map to go to the relevant home page

The Japanese were never aware that their ground to air radio contact was being intercepted by the operators at No. 1 Wireless Unit.  Absolute secrecy was essential. Any contact with the outside world was via Roseneath. Staff worked together and took their leave together in case a stray word to another operator revealed the secret nature of their operation. 

Sgt Edward "Ted" Cook was one of the instructors who taught the new members of 1 Wireless Unit at Central Bureau's location in a large house called "Nyrambla" at 21 Henry Street, Ascot in Brisbane.

"Nyrambla" 21 Henry Street, Ascot

 

The following Photos were supplied by Ted Cook via his daughter Kathryn Joslin.
All photos except for one, were taken at 21 Henry Street, Ascot

1wu01.jpg (118914 bytes) Back Row: R.D Boughen. L. Barker

Middle Row: K. Gregg. S. Morris. T. Harvey

Front Row: Cpl. D. Tapper, Sgt. F. Slattery, F/Sgt. E. Cook, Unknown, Cpl. K. Myers

1wu02.jpg (129385 bytes) Back Row: R. Quast, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Mabb, Cleal

Middle Row: Unknown, Farquharson, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Lee, Unknown, Unknown

Front Row: Sgt. Pat Albion, Sgt P. Hay, Sgt. W.T. Stead, F/Lt. W. Clark, Sqn Ldr H. Booth, F/Lt Linton, F/Sgt Ted. Cook, Sgt. F Slattery

This photograph was taken in the park outside of Ascot Racecourse possibly near the Fire Station used by Central Bureau.

1wu03.jpg (128226 bytes) Back Row: R. Keast, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Williams

Middle Row: All Unknown.

Front Row: Cpl R. Kay, F/Sgt E. Cook

1wu04.jpg (132875 bytes) Back Row: Unknown, Unknown, Sparks, Unknown

Front Row: Unkown, F/Sgt E. Cook, Unknown

1wu05.jpg (143159 bytes) Back Row: Unknown, Borrett, Unknown, Unknown

Third Row: Deer, Unknown, Smith

2nd Row: All Unknown

Front Row: F/Sgt E. Cook, Sgt J. Jaffrey

1wu06.jpg (132335 bytes) Back Row: All Unknown

Middle Row: Sgt P. Hay, Sgt J. Jaffrey

Front Row: Sgt F. Slattery, Sgt Alf Towers, F/Sgt E. Cook, Sgt T. Stead, Sgt P. Albion

1wu07.jpg (251608 bytes) Back Row: All unknown

Middle Row: All Unknown

Front Row: Sgt Alf Towers, Cpl D. Tapper, F/Sgt E. Cook, Cpl K. Myers

1wu08.jpg (237381 bytes) Back Row: Harry Dornan, John Lloyd, Keith Barkell

Middle Row: Norman Rolfe, Desmond Ryan, Max McCredie, Ernie Davie

Front Row: Sgt P. Hay, F/Sgt E. Cook, Sgt. J. Jaffrey

1wu09.jpg (159646 bytes) Back Row: Stan Harper (standing on a pillar!), Colin J. Brackley, B. 'Spud' Murphy, W. "Bill" Adair, Stan Chequer,
Gordon Wik.

Middle Row: Alwyn Petherbridge, Dennis Moore, Mac Reid

Front Row: Sgt F. Slattery, Sgt J. Jaffrey, F/Sgt E. F. "Ted" Cook, Sgt. T. Stead, Sgt Alf Towers

1wu10.jpg (298297 bytes) Back Row: All unknown

Third Row: All unknown

Second Row: Stanley Dunstone, rest unknown

Front Row: Cpl D. Tapper, Sgt F. Slattery, F/Sgt E. Cook, Cpl K. Myers

 

Sergeant Joy Linnane wrote in the 1980's:-

Here [at Stuart] we concentrated on air-ground activity.  Each operator was given a frequency to monitor and as Jap planes took off from their bases [in and around New Guinea] and sent messages from the air back to them, we intercepted the messages, the D/F located their positions, the interpreters and code people extracted the information and in a matter of minutes, the nearest Squadrons were alerted and flew out to defend and attack.  Quite often an operator could follow right through to the Kana "I am being attacked" signal and perhaps silence thereafter.


Photo:- via Ben Eagleton

Training at Ascot Vale, Victoria:- L. to R. Back Row:- Phyllis Brownson, Dawn McMahon, 
Front Row:- Joy Linnane, Molly Lask, Nancy Roberts
Standing at right:- Joyce Charles

Ben Eagleton told me that his mother Nancy Eagleton (nee Roberts) was an operator with No. 1 Wireless Unit.

No. 1 Wireless Unit is featured in a book called "The Eavesdroppers", by Jack Bleakley, ISBN 0 644 22303 0

 

Squadron Leader Lawrie Stratford
RAAF Signals Operator

worked at an "off limits" HF/DF station
on Woolcock Stree
t near Garbutt airfield

 

E-mail from Chris Young
His friend Rod Trower is the son of

a member of No. 1 Wireless Unit

 

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ON ULTRA ACTIVE SERVICE
The Story of Australia's Signals Intelligence Operations during World War II
By Geoffrey Ballard

THE RAAF WIRELESS UNITS

1 WIRELESS UNIT
Of the RAAF Wireless Units, the first to become operational was 1 Wireless Unit , in
Townsville, in April, 1942, with Flight Lieutenant Blakely as it first Commanding Officer. He was assisted by Captain H. Brown, US Army, and four US Air Force sergeants who were experienced in Sigint and who had escaped to Australia from the Philippines.

The Unit achieved its first tactical success during the short period of air raids on Townsville, giving up to seven hours' warning in advance to the local Air HQ.

In January, 1943, a forward detachment of 1 Wireless Unit went to Port Moresby where it took over the Naval Air commitment from the Army 55 Wireless Section. The ensuing months proved to be the most successful air-raid warning period in the history of the RAAF Wireless Units and provided classic examples of the effectiveness of "Sigint" in a tactical operational role. Air Raid No. 106 on Port Moresby on 12 April, 1943, was an outstanding example of this. The enemy aircraft engaged in the attack left Kavieng (New Ireland) and Rabaul (New Britain) and a warning was passed to the authorities at Buna and Port Moresby before the aircraft had even reached the north coast of New Guinea. The resulting interception by Allied aircraft was most effective, one third of the enemy planes being destroyed.

Early in 1943, a draft of WAAAF signallers was posted to 1 Wireless Unit at Townsville and they included Joy Linnane who tells a colourful story about her recruitment, training and experience:-

Quite early in the formation of the RAAF Wireless Units, a decision was made to include WAAAF pre-trained W/T operators......

Eventually, in early 1943, we were posted to 1 Wireless unit, Townsville, where we were barracked first at St. Anne's and then at the bush camp at Roseneath, living under primitive conditions. The operations room was located in an isolated area near Stuart. This was a remarkable building, camouflaged as a farm-house, and inside furnished most impressively with all the sophisticated equipment necessary to a first class intelligence establishment. There were D/F and teleprinters, scrambler phones, plotting tables and dozens of radio sets.

We were small "cogs", doing 8 hour shifts, each radio receiver covering a different frequency. We intercepted air/ground and air to air messages, sent by enemy aircraft often on their way to bomb our bases. As each message was intercepted, it was quickly passed into the intelligence room. Enemy aircraft positions were fixed by D/F and warnings forwarded to the targeted areas. It was always a great satisfaction to operators when enemy aircraft signalled - "I am being attacked", and we knew our warnings had got through and Allied squadrons were on the job.

We were a dedicated group and gained great satisfaction from our work. We had lots of fun, too - dances in the rec. hut, swimming, trips to Magnetic Island, but always with our own unit.

As the action moved away, the RAAF intercept operators went on to land with invasion forces in the Philippines. The WAAAF were posted to Central Bureau in Brisbane and we continued to work with that organisation. There we ended our service. It was a tremendous experience, and friendships made then endure to this day.

In August, 1943, the rest of 1 Wireless Unit arrived in Port Moresby and took over the Army Air commitment from the Army 55 Wireless Section.

 

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I received the following e-mail from a former class mate on 26 July 1998:-

Hi Peter,

Liked the sites. I have a friend here in Dubai whose father was with No 1 Wireless Unit, the RAAF radio intercept unit based first at French Street and later out at Stuart. It was this unit that intercepted the Japanese bombers' departure messages from Rabaul and allowed the P-39's to be airborne and at altitude in time to intercept the incoming Emilys. (The RAAF radio operators took down the Japanese Kana Morse messages verbatim and it was then decoded to straight Japanese and then to English.) The USAAF claimed that they had shot down the Emily they damaged on one such intercept. However, the RAAF unit intercepted its safe landing report at Rabaul the next morning. The American pilot was still credited with the 'kill', both for the propaganda/morale value and more importantly because the RAAF couldn't admit to the world that they were reading the Japanese forces' mail!

The book about the intercept unit gives an amusing account of the concrete block house built at Stuart to resemble a 'Queenslander' wooden house. Some clown mounting a mock attack on the building ran up the steps and nearly brained himself trying to open the 'door'. This block house was located on the site of the present day copper refinery and it was destroyed, (not without some difficulty), when the refinery was built. I understand that it took quite a quantity of explosives to remove it.

Regards Chris Young

 


 

Subject:   No.1 Wireless Unit
Date:           Fri, 26 Jan 2001 12:19:09 +1100
From:          Brian Coleman <bcoleman@alphalink.com.au>

Hi Peter,

Do you have any information on No.1 Wireless Unit at Jacky Jacky, Higgins Field, Cape York. I have a friend whom I meet every 2nd month at a Camping Rally, who served with No. 1 Wireless Unit RAAF, at Higgins, as a wireless intercept operator decoding KANA. I noticed that there was no reference to Higgins in the No.1 Unit information.

Regards

Brian


 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank John Lloyd for his assistance with this web page.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"The Eavesdroppers - The best kept secret of World War 2"
by
Jack Bleakley

National Archives Australia References

Title
DWB [Director of Works and Buildings] - Property - Townsville Qld - Number 1 Wireless Unit - Stuart Junction - Disposal of surplus assets
Series number
A705
Control symbol
171/106/569
Contents date range
1946 - 1950
 
Access status
Open
Location
Canberra
Barcode no
3302534

 

Title
Department of Air - Telegraph channel - North Eastern Australia W/T station Rooneys Building Townsville - number 1 Wireless Unit Camp, Stuart - Queensland [7 pp]
Series number
MP721/1
Control symbol
W451/128
Contents date range
1944 - 1945
 
Access status
Open
Location
Melbourne
Barcode no
5784457

 

 

 

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 Peter Dunn 2006

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This page first produced 10 July 1998

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