MINEWATCHING ORGANISATION - BRISBANE & MORETON BAY
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII

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The object of the Minewatching organisation in Australia was to locate the position of mines dropped in rivers or coastal areas from enemy aircraft, so that action could be taken to clear the shipping channel with minimum delay and to prevent movements of ships in known danger areas.

On 16 October 1941 the District Naval Officer (DNO), Queensland submitted a proposal to the Secretary of the Naval Board in Melbourne that the total area that was considered to be able to be mined in the general Brisbane area extended from the entrance to the north west channel to Victoria Bridge in the Brisbane city area. He proposed that this area be carved up into three areas as follows:-

Section "A - North west channel Fairway Buoy to Cowan Cowan (20 miles)

Section "B" - Cowan Cowan to Pilot Light (14 miles)

Section "C" - Pile Light to Lytton ( 6 1/2 miles)

Section "D"  - Lytton to Wharves in New Farm Area (7 1/2 miles)

                    - Wharves in New Farm area to Victoria Bridge (4 miles)

 

He proposed that lookout posts be established as follows:-

1. Battery observation posts at Bribie Island, Cowan Cowan and Lytton with supplementary Lookout Posts in the vicinity

2. Pile Light

3. Wharves

4. Intermediate Lookout Posts as required

 

He proposed the following communication facilities:-

(i) Battery Observation Posts - There was already direct communications with Combined Defence Headquarters (CGH) by L/T or R/T and direct L/T from C.D.H. to Operations Room.

(ii) Pile Light - was in communication with C.D.H. by L/T (through Exchange)

(iii) Wharves was in communication with C.D.H. by L/t (through Exchange)

(iv) Naval Depot and Naval Stores had direct communication by L/T with Operations Room

(v) Intermediate Lookout Posts would make use of nearest telephone, or alternatively make a pre-arranged signal to the nearest Lookout Post equipped with L/T

 

He proposed the following manning arrangements:-

(1) Battery Observation Posts and adjacent Lookout Posts - Garrison Troops or Volunteer Defence Corps

(2) Pile Light - Lighthouse personnel (24 hour watch is kept)

(3) Wharves - Permanent watchman (all members of the A.R.P. Organisation employed by owners)

(4) Naval Depot and Naval Stores - Naval ratings and Dockyard Police

(5) Intermediate Lookout Posts - It may be possible to employ certain A.R.P. personnel supplemented by special mine-watching personnel. (The employment of A.R.P. personnel for this duty to be discussed with the A.R.P. Committee)

 

He considered it desirable to have boat patrols between the Pile Light and the mouth of the Brisbane River. They would also prove necessary for other duties in connection with the defence of Brisbane Port.

A Department of the Navy Minute Paper dated 18 November 1941 comments on the proposal by the District Naval Officer, Queensland to establish:-

8 posts utilising existing naval and military establishments

23 posts co-opting permanent wharf watchmen

14 new posts

 

The Minute Paper commented that the scheme could be divided into two portions, namely the Plan for Moreton Bay and the Plan for the Brisbane River. The Minute Paper proposed that DNO Queensland be informed as follows:-

(a) A boat station should be provided as near as possible to the buoy at the North West Channel

(b) Stations should be planned at 400 yard intervals between the Pile Light and Lytton. The boats required for this service needed to be first class, and Naval Auxiliary Patrol (NAP) should be consulted with a view to their provision.

(c) One station manned by service personnel should be placed in the New Farm area and in the Story Bridge area. (between stations 20 and 28, and 31 and 35).

(d) The Minewatching policy was being reviewed with particular reference to the occasions on which positions should be manned; the nature of construction of posts; and communications.

 

The Secretary of the Naval Board, Melbourne wrote back to DNO Queensland on 22 December 1941 advising of the above decisions.

The Secretary of the Naval Board Melbourne wrote to DNO Queensland again on 31 January 1942 advising that the general policy set out in Navy Office letter 04075 dated 22 January was to be implemented as soon as possible. It stated that the Department of the Interior had been directed to confer with DNO Queensland concerning construction of posts. The letter stated that elaborate communications was not considered necessary. The use of existing telephones and the use of runners to these telephones would suffice. It was not proposed to install R/T to boats solely employed in minewatching duties.

The letter of 31 January 1942 approved the construction of 40 shore posts and asked for an estimate of construction costs to be sent to the Naval Board. The letter acknowledged that some boat stations in the channel between the Pile Light and Lytton would be required and requested an estimate of the number of boat stations that could be provided by the Naval Auxiliary Patrol.

DNO Queensland sent a message to Naval Board on 20 February 1942 giving an estimated cost of 960 Pounds for 33 Caulkerson and 6 Special Posts, all fully equipped, and sought approval to proceed. This request was approved by the Naval Board on 26 February 1942.

A letter dated 20 April 1942 from DNO Queensland to the Secretary of the Civil Defence Organisation in Brisbane indicated that 38 blast proof and bullet proof watching posts were being constructed on the banks of the Brisbane River between Lytton and Victoria Bridge and were to be completed by mid May 1942. The letter indicated that once completed it was intended to man all posts on several successive nights in order to exercise all personnel. It stated that it was not intended that posts be manned continuously. A proportion of the posts were to be manned on nights of half moon or when the weather was considered to offer fair flying conditions for carrier borne aircraft. All posts were to be manned in the event of an impending raid. Exercises would be carried out periodically with all posts manned.

The letter of 20 April 1942 to the Secretary of the Civil Defence Organisation also indicated that 13 posts would be manned by Service personnel and the remaining 25 posts would be manned by members of the Women's National Emergency Legion (WNEL) who were to be enrolled in the Civil Defence Organisation. It was proposed to that 171 WNEL's would be required for the rosters and that about 200 WNEL's would be required to cover absenteeism for various reasons. Recruiting and training of all personnel was to be completed by the time the posts were completed.

 

The letter of 20 April 1942 to the Secretary of the Civil Defence Organisation also made the following requests:-

(a) Supply of steel helmets for the approximately 200 volunteers

(b) Supply of Metal Badges - Minewatchers were to provide their Arm Bands at their own expense

(c) Provide an allowance for meals and fares

(d) Provide similar condition for release from Civilian duties as applied to Fire Watchers - when posts as manned in winter it may have been necessary for Minewatchers at remote posts such as Pinkenba to leave their place of employment about 30 minutes before their normal finish time, and the next morning start about 30 minutes late.

 

The Secretary of the Civil Defence Organisation replied to DNO Queensland on 30 April 1942 agreeing:-

(i)  that volunteer members of the Minewatching Organisation be enrolled by the DNO Queensland and the Application Forms be lodged with the Portmaster Brisbane.

(ii) That such volunteers be supplied with steel helmets and badges as such equipment becomes available

(iii) that no allowance for meals and fares be made to volunteer members of the Minewatching Organisation

(iv) That no action be taken in regard to seeking concessions as to the time off for volunteer members of the Minewatching Organisation

 

The Secretary of the Civil Defence Organisation requested that DNO Queensland submit a design for a badge for the Minewatching Organistion.

The DNO Queensland wrote to the Naval Board Melbourne on 23 April 1942 advising progress with the Minewatching Organisation. He advised that construction of the 38 Posts between Victoria Bridge and Lytton had commenced and was scheduled to be completed in mid May 1942. He included a plan showing the approximate numbered 38 Posts along the Brisbane River. He advised that these Pots would be manned as follows:-

Women's National Emergency Legion - 25 Posts

US Army Air Corps - 5 Posts

RAN - 3 Post

Lytton Fortress Troops (L.F.T.) - 5 Posts

 

He advised that all Officers in the WNEL's had been appointed and that a considerable number of WNEL Minewatchers were being trained. Part of the training included Naval ratings teaching them signalling with torches so that watches could be synchronised and reports passed in the event of a breakdown in telephone communications. The Minister for Civil Defence had approved that the Minewatching Organisation be a branch of the Civil Defence Organisation and enrolment had been placed the jurisdiction of the Portmaster who had been instructed that the DNO Queensland would control arrangements as to the recruitment of volunteers and the functioning of this branch of the organisation.

Bearing plates, torches and watches had been supplied to classes and trained Group Officers for the Minewatchers who had been detailed to their Group. A number of Minewatcher Message Forms (see picture below) and practical exercises were to be carried out in a darkened room. Working in pairs, watches were synchronised by signal, and Message Forms filled out for bearings on an illuminated flag.

An application had been made to the Commander of the Brisbane Covering Force to declare a Prohibited Area between sunset and sunrise from Hamilton to Luggage Point for a depth of 25 yards from the edge of the north bank of the river to safeguard the Minewatchers and to avoid sabotage.

DNO Queensland reported to the Secretary of the Naval Board that U.S. Army Air Corps personnel had established anti-aircraft batteries in the immediate vicinity of Posts 18, 23, 24 and 26 and arrangements had been made for the manning of these Posts and Post No. 25 by USAAC personnel.

DNO Queensland reported that Posts 19 to 38 were either on properties equipped with a telephone or with a telephone in the immediate vicinity. All these telephones were place don the special A.R.P. Switchboard so that they will be allowed to operate during an Air Raid or an Alert. Posts 1 to 18 were in isolated areas and DNO Queensland requested approval for the installation of party lines by Army Signals at an estimated cost of 100 Pounds. Additional costs were required to connect Posts 8, 14 and 18 to the nearest Post Office Exchange line at an estimated costs of 50 Pounds. The Lytton Group had a Post Office Exchange line in the vicinity of the B.O.P. and Army Signals ran a line to this position.

A large scale map of the Brisbane River had been prepared and the Department of Harbours and Marine was tasked with surveying and plotting all the installed Posts and the Zero bearing for each post on this map. The Plates at each Post were marked 0 - 90 degrees right and 0 to 90 degrees left and installed with the Zero bearing approximately at right angles to the river bank. Copied of the completed map were held by magnetic minesweepers operating in the area and at C.D.H.

DNO Queensland advised that HMAS Kianga was the only vessel available at that time in Brisbane area with an LL Sweep. HMAS Tambar was fitted to operate electric skids, two of which were fitted and kept available at Brisbane. HMAS Kianga would carry out a clearing sweep if magnetic mines were dropped in the Brisbane River by enemy aircraft provide the mine was in an area that it could be exploded without endangering ships or wharves in the river. If the mine position had been observed fairly accurately HMAS Tambar would be used towing a skid. All shipping in and out of the Brisbane River would be stopped until the mine had been found and dealt with or at least until a Clearing Sweep had been made by HMAS Kianga. Any mines dropped close to ships or wharves would have been rendered safe by specially qualified divers.

In the 6 miles area between Post No. 1 and the Pile Light NAP boats were posted about a mile apart. and a single boat patrolling between each pair of anchored boats and the outside boats. This meant there were 6 NAP boats in anchored positions and 7 patrolling boats. Any reports of mines were to be signalled to Lytton or the Pile Light and then on to CDH.

DNO Queensland advised Navy Board that his proposal to use Wharf Watchmen for Posts would not proceed for a number of reasons:-

  1. Watchman did not keep their watch on the river front and made periodic rounds of premises well out of site of the river.

  2. During an Air Raid Warning Watchmen had ARP duties to perform and would not be available for Minewatching

  3. When a ship is berthed at a wharf it is quite impossible to see the river from the wharf. All posts were then positioned opposite wharves for that reason.

DNO Queensland advised Navy Board that 25% of Posts would be manned on nights of half moon or more and that all posts would be manned in the event of an impending enemy air raid.  On an average about one in three or one in four of the Posts would be manned during the day. Navy Board advised that Japanese Policy seemed to be that raids were almost exclusively carried out buy day and for that reason some Posts should be manned by day particularly in the lower stretches of the Brisbane River where mines could fall unnoticed.

 

Minewatching Organisation Victoria Bridge to Lytton along the Brisbane River.
Lytton to Pile Light was covered by Boat Stations manned by Naval Auxiliary Patrol

 

Minewatching Message Form

 

 

Two WNEL Minewatchers at their post on the banks of the Brisbane River in November 1942.

 

Note the Minewatchers emblem on the armband of the WNEL inside the Post bunker.
The emblem was a dark navy blue with an anchor and the word "Minewatcher" in red.
Lady inside bunker is holding a bearing plate used to locate position of suspected mines.

 

Minewatcher armband emblem

 

DNO Queensland wrote to the Naval Board on 17 May 1942 advising that a number of the WNEL Minewatchers would be unable to continue in the Night Organisation unless they were reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses of the following nature:-

  1. Minewatchers were required to proceed direct from their places of business to their Posts in order to be in position before dark, and they would therefore be unable to return to their houses for their evening meals.

  2. After they completed their Night Watches at daylight, they would rarely have time to return to their homes for breakfast before proceeding to their daily work, and this meal therefore had to be purchased

  3. Tram fares would be incurred in every instance.

DNO Queensland advised Naval Board that the Civil Defence Organisation was not prepared to remunerate any Voluntary members. He sought an Allowance of 2 shillings and 6 pence to be made to the Minewatchers for each night spent on duty.

DNO Queensland reported to the Naval Board via a letter dated 18 May 1942 that 9 Posts had been completed and 29 were under construction and scheduled for completion in June 1942. He reported that 128 WNEL's were under instruction in Morse signalling by torch under the instruction of Yeoman of Signals and practical exercises in taking bearings and were under instruction by the Staff Officer (Operational) in the filling out of Minewatching Forms. Examinations were to be held shortly and successful candidates would be enrolled as Minewatchers. Additional volunteers were coming forward daily and it was expected that sufficient volunteers would be trained by the time all Posts were operational.

Arrangements were made for one or more RAAF aircraft to drop smoke bombs in the river for a daytime exercise. Meteorological balloons and hydrogen balloons hade been obtained for use in night exercises.

A note dated 29 June 1942 proposed a letter to DNO Queensland to advise that Naval Board advised that the risk from minelaying by carrier borne aircraft was considered to be strongly diminished at that present time and it was considered unnecessary for Minewatching Posts to be manned at that time.

DNO Queensland sent another letter to the Naval Board on 24 June 1942 recommending a new proposal for manning Minewatching Posts. He proposed manning at a reduced scale (3 Posts by Day and 9 Posts on moonlight nights) on a voluntary basis, rather than by mobilising for full-time duty. This scheme would necessitate night duty being undertaken by Minewatchers on one night in every four during approximately 14 days in every month. Before the proposed voluntary scheme could be implemented it would be necessary to mobilise for fulltime duty the Chief Minewatcher, Miss H. Le Marchant, a member of the WNELs was was temporarily employed in a clerical role with the US Army.

The Chief Minewatcher was under the general direction of Lieutenant Commander V.W. Bowden, RAN for the entire organisation and administration of the Minewatching personnel which comprised 2 Deputy Chief Minewatchers, 16 Group Officers and approximately 80 Minewatchers of whom about 75 had passed their qualifying exams in Signals and general Minewatching duties. DNO Queensland recommended to the Naval Board that the Chief MInewatcher be paid equivalent to the pay rates of a Flight Officer (I guess he meant a Flying Officer) in the WAAAF and that she continue to wear her WNEL uniform pending establishment of the WRANS..

The Naval Board obtained approval from the Minister for the Navy for the nightly allowance of 2 shillings and 6 pence per person and added the provision that this would only be paid during exercises which required Posts to be manned all night, and that it would be paid no more than once per fortnight per person.

The Naval Board was still of the opinion that manning of Posts was unnecessary as previously advised to DNO Queensland. Naval Board however was concerned that the very successful volunteer organisation in Brisbane may lose their enthusiasm which was a risk should the threat level increase in the future and manning was required. Naval Board also was not in agreement in mobilising the Chief Minewatcher and eventually appointing her as a WRANS officer. Naval Board decided to seek further opinion from DNO Queensland regarding Miss Le Marchant's services in view of altered manning conditions.

DNO Queensland was advised on 25 August by letter that approval was given to the payment to Minewatchers of an allowance of 2/6d for each night spent on duty to meet out-of-pocket expenses.

The Secretary of the Naval Board wrote to DNO Queensland on 15 September 1942 advising that the Naval Board still considered it unnecessary for Minewatching Posts to be manned and that personnel, where available, should be trained and exercised, so that Posts can be manned should the occasion arise. The letter commented that it was assumed that the construction of all Posts had now been completed.

On 24 September 1942, the Naval Officer In Charge (NOIC), Naval Staff Office, Brisbane wrote to the Secretary of the Naval Board noting that the Naval Board considered it unnecessary to continue regular manning of Posts. NOIC noted however that the practice was to arrange for all Minewatchers to man their Posts on two nights per month in order to provide the training referred to and to maintain the interest and enthusiasm which was so essential to ensure the success of any Voluntary Organisation. Moonlit nights were selected for these occasions, and exercises with the collaboration of aircraft were included when practicable. NOIC also advised that all 39 Posts had been completed and in certain cases had been connected by telephone to G.P.O Exchange.

In about November 1942, Thomas J. Hawkins, the Secretary of the Department of the Navy, Navy Office, Melbourne sent a Secret Memorandum to all NOIC's except Darwin and Port Moresby advising that he was directed by the Naval Board to state that information had been received from the Naval Officer-in-Charge, Brisbane, that Minewatching exercises were carried out at that port in conjunction with the RAAF Wirraway aircraft which dropped 8 1/2 lb bombs in the vicinity of Minewatching Posts. He stated that although the exercises had only be conducted during the day, they were of considerable value in training personnel to take accurate bearings, to accustom them to the sound of approaching aircraft and to retain the interest of the volunteer personnel employed. He advised the NOICs to take steps, if not already done, to contact the local RAAF Authorities with a view to the provision of exercises on similar lines to those described.

An article in the Brisbane Courier Mail of 18 January 1943 stated that:-

"First members were drawn from the Women's National Emergency Legion, and minewatchers wear the uniform of that organisation, though most recent recruits wear civilian dress with armband and badge, as uniforms are not available.

............

As the organisation is part of the Women's National Emergency Legion, all minewatchers are allowed to use the headquarters of the Legion, 35 Adelaide Street, as their club room.

One of the most creditable features of the Brisbane Minewatching organisation is that it is the only minewatching organisation in Australia, if not the world, which is manned by women.

..........

A limited number of vacancies exists in this highly important organisation, and those who wish to apply for admission should do so by letter or in person to the Chief Minewatcher, Naval Staff Office, Commercial Bank Building, Queen Street."

 

Each Minewatching post was about 6 feet square and was equipped with a stretcher. Each post when operational was to be manned by two Minewatchers with one Minewatcher on watch duties at any point in time.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Russell Miller for his assistance with this web page.

 

REFERENCES

National Archives of Australia - Mine Watching organisation - Moreton Bay & Brisbane River, Series No MP1049/5, Control Symbol 1924/4/594, Item Barcode 471258

 

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This page first produced 3 January 2015

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