COAST WATCH ORGANISATION
OR COMBINED FIELD INTELLIGENCE SERVICE
SECTION "C" OF THE ALLIED INTELLIGENCE BUREAU
The Coast Watching Organisation of World War 2 was based on from the original Australian Coast Watching organisation which started in 1919 when selected civilian personnel in coastal areas were organised on a voluntary basis to report in time of war any unusual or suspicious events along the Australian coastline. The concept was quickly extended to include New Guinea (but not Dutch New Guinea) as well as Papua and the Solomon Islands.
The Coast Watching Organisation (WW2) commenced in 1939 under the command of the Royal Australian Navy through the Naval Intelligence Division, Navy Office, Melbourne. Lieutenant Commander R.B.M. Long was the Director of Naval Intelligence at that time. Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt, who was on the Emergency List, was personally selected by Commander Long, mobilised and appointed Staff Officer (Intelligence), in Port Moresby. He had operational control of the Coast Watchers in the north eastern area of defence of Australia. This included the Australian Mandated Territories, Papua, and the Solomon Islands. There were about 800 personnel in the Coast Watching Organisation in 1939.
Eric Feldt had resigned from the Navy before the war and was employed by the Government in New Guinea. He knew the Island people, the Government Officials and the Plantation Managers who all placed great trust in Eric Feldt. Because of Eric Feldt, many civilian Coast Watchers opted to stay in New Guinea after war was declared and other civilians were ordered to be evacuated. They volunteered to stay behind Japanese lines and risked being captured as a civilian spy by the Japanese.
The Headquarters for the Coast Watching Service moved from Port Moresby to Townsville staying there until November 1942. Messages were encode and transmitted by telegraphy using the Playfair Royal Naval code. This code was later modified and eventually replaced by new codes. Messages reporting approaching Japanese aircraft were not encoded.
In 1942 the remaining Coast Watchers were mobilised into Navy service.
The Coast Watchers, such as Paul Edward Mason who was located on the southern end of Bougainville Island, would monitor Japanese activities and maintain radio contact with the Combined Operational Intelligence Centre (COIC) located in a secret command centre inside Castle Hill in Townsville. COIC was part of the Area Combined Headquarters located at Green Street in Townsville.
The Coast Watchers included reliable persons such as:-
- Post Masters
- Harbour Masters
- Railway officials
- School teachers
- Local police
- Government servants and officials
- Civilian airline pilots
- Patrol Officers
- District Officers
- Plantation owners
Many of the above Government officials would have ready access to radio equipment as part of their normal public service role. They would report on:-
- unusual or suspicious events
- sightings of ships, aircraft or floating mines
- other matters of defence interest
The Navy would supply the Coast Watchers with Playfair Codes for their communications. Pedal radios were initially used for some of the remote Coast Watchers who did not have access to radios in their normal Government job.
The Radio Stations run by the Coastal Radio Service under RAN control at Darwin, Thursday Island, Townsville, Port Moresby and Rabaul assisted the RAN Coast Watching scheme. They received and relayed information about enemy military activity to and from Coast Watchers who operated behind Japanese lines. These Coastal Radio Stations had a dedicated receiver constantly tuned to a particular frequency in the 6 MHz band, which was know as "X" frequency. The Coast Watchers used Teleradios which were fitted with specially cut crystals which operated on this same frequency. The "X" frequency receivers at the Coastal Radio Stations were left on loudspeaker 24 hours a day to ensure all messages were heard.
Darwin Radio Station provided the link between Naval Intelligence and the Coast Watchers around the north west coast. Thursday Island Radio Station covered the Torres Strait islands and Cape York Peninsula. The AWA Radio Stations at Port Moresby and Rabaul covered the islands of Papua and New Guinea.
RAN Intelligence Officers were stationed at Fremantle, Darwin, Thursday Island, Townsville, Rabaul, Port Moresby, Tulagai, and Vila to provide local supervision. All intelligence information was channeled to Naval Intelligence Division, Navy Office, Melbourne.
Photo: Peter Dunn
Coast watchers wireless radio, AWA
Field Set 6 (FS6) Mk II Type 245775, Serial No. 3064
complete with power supply pack. Type IH6439, Serial No. 2310. On display
in the North Queensland Military Museum at Kissing Point in Townsville.
The Coast Watchers worked on a voluntary basis entirely without remuneration. The Naval Intelligence Division produced and distributed a document called "The Coast Watching Guide".
After General Douglas MacArthur came to Australia and was appointed Supreme Commander of the South West Pacific area, Commander Long called a conference in Melbourne of all the Intelligence groups. Eric Feldt attended this meeting. Commander Long outlined a scheme to form a unit from all the different Service Units of the different countries which would report directly to General Headquarters (GHQ). This new unit would be funded by all the countries involved and would carry out activities behind enemy lines using resources from all of the countries involved. Not long after this meeting the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) was formed in June 1942.
The Coast Watch Organisation or Combined Field Intelligence Service then became known as Section "C" of the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB). The role of Section "C" was "obtaining all possible information about the enemy, his disposition, movements, strength, etc. through such agencies as the coast watchers, native agents and civilian operations".
The Coast Watchers in the South Pacific Area remained part of Australian Naval Intelligence. To avoid any confusion with the two line of command, Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt was placed in charge of the Coast Watchers in both areas. He would report to GHQ, SWPA for the South West Pacific Area and to Naval Intelligence, Melbourne for the South Pacific area.
Guardfish and Subchaser SC 761 rescues
Coast Watchers from Bougainville
Magnetic Island boat "Paluma"
was once a support vessel for the Coast Watchers
Coast Watchers on Norfolk Island
Edward Douglas "Slim" Otton
A Coast Watcher on Bougainville
Richard Duffield is very interested to acquire any extra info on his father-in-law, Kenneth Tweeddale Bridge, one of the celebrated coast watchers mentioned in the book "The Coast Watchers".
"The Coast Watchers"
By Eric Feldt
"Lonely Vigil: Coastwatchers of the Solomons"
by Walter Lord [Viking Press, 1977]
If you were you a Coast Watcher please send me an e-mail
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© Peter Dunn 2006
This page first produced 7 August 2001
This page last updated 14 January 2015