197TH COAST ARTILLERY (AA) REGIMENT
NEW HAMPSHIRE NATIONAL GUARD
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2

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visits since 31 March 2004

 

The 197th Coast Artillery (AA) Regiment (197th CAAA AW), New Hampshire National Guard, arrived in Brisbane, Queensland on 9 March 1942 on board the SS Monterey. The individual batteries of the 197th Coast Artillery (AA) had earlier trained in several armouries in New Hampshire until mobilized and consolidated in about 1941. One of its armouries was in Portsmouth, a seacoast city on the Piscataqua River.

The 197th was comprised of the following structure:-

1st Battalion
Battery "A"    15 Searchlights
Battery "B"    4 x 3" guns 
Battery "C"    4 x 3" guns
Battery "D"    4 x 3" guns

Batteries B, C & D, each had one SCR-268 Radar, an early model antiaircraft radar for gun and searchlight direction.

2nd Battalion 
Battery "E"      3 platoons, each with 4 guns
Battery "F"      3 platoons, each with 4 guns
Battery "G"     3 platoons, each with 4 guns
Battery "H"     3 platoons, each with 4 guns

The 2nd Battalion was issued with:- 

The 197th CAAA had been shipped to Australia to set up defensive positions against a feared landing by Japanese forces. The 197th left the United States on 18 February 1942. They stopped in Brisbane awaiting orders from General MacArthur's staff. While anchored in Brisbane everyone went ashore and went on many exercise marches over the country side. The guns were taken off the ship and deployed in the local area around the dock. A few days later they received orders to move to Western Australia. The troops stayed on board the SS Monterey while they were in Brisbane.


Photo via Russell Miller and Dave Spethman

American soldiers arriving in Brisbane complete wearing the
new green light steel helmets which protected the neck. One
soldier is carrying his banjo, barracks bag and Springfield rifle.

Warren Rollins of Battery "E" of the the 197th CAAA AW made the following notation in his diary:- 

On March 14, the SS Monterey sailed out of Brisbane to Perth and the Fremantle Harbor. We set up defensive positions along the key leading to the submarine base. 

"E" Battery of the 2nd Battalion of the 197th Coast Artillery (AA) Regiment arrived in Fremantle on 23 March 1942 and manned a number of defensive position (50 Calibre machine guns) along the quay leading to the US Navy Fremantle Submarine Base until 27 July 1942. 

Warren said "Our regiment was one of the first to arrive in Australia and it was equipped with an Automatic Weapons Battery with 50 cal. machine guns. A Gun Battalion, the 744th with 3 inch anti aircraft guns, and a search light Battalion. Our 50 Calibre anti-aircraft machine guns were used against low flying planes. They were set up along the runways on both strips (Iron Range Recovery Base). While in Fremantle we were set up along the key leading to the Fremantle Submarine Base and lived with the Australian soldiers in the buildings along the tracks." 


Photo via Russell Miller and Dave Spethman

Officers and half a dozen sergeants possibly of the 197th CAAA all wearing pistols, march
from the USA Transport Docks in Brisbane possibly on one of their exercise marches.

 

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Closer view of the above photo

 


Photo via Russell Miller and Dave Spethman

 The 197th Coast Artillery (AA) Regiment (197th CAAA AW) marching along
Seymour Rd. at Ascot towards Camp Ascot at the intersection with Kent Street.

 

197thcar03.jpg (272815 bytes)
Close-up of the above photo

 

 

Picture taken from the same place on the corner of Seymour Road and
Kent Street on 7 February 2004 approximately 62 years later.

 


Photo via Russell Miller and Dave Spethman

Three-inch anti-aircraft guns being unloaded from
the transport ship's swimming pool on arrival in Brisbane

 


Photo via Russell Miller and Dave Spethman

Camp Ascot - March 1942

The 197th CAAA AW left Perth on 27 July 1942, and arrived in Townsville on 8 August 1942. 

Warren Rollins said "We spent a month in Townsville camped In the woods (possibly Armstrong's Paddock) and we used this time to learn how to go down rape nets and toughening up exercises. The rope training came in handing when we went ashore at Subic Bay in the Philippines later on." 

They left Townsville on 27 September 1942 and arrived at Iron Range on the tip of Cape York Peninsular on 29 September 1942. Battery "E" was deployed there along Gordon Strip and Claudia 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 Claudia 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."

The following is from the Diary of Warren E. Rollins of "E" Battery of the 197 CAAA New Hampshire National Guard:-

Jan 2. 1943     The 400th' Bomb Group (sic Squadron) lost another plane at Port Moresby. It crashed on takeoff. There were six survivors.

Jan. 3, 1943    Hot and damp. I saw a P-39 a P-40 and a P-38 land today. It is the first time I have seen a P-38 on the ground.

Jan 5, 1943.    We moved the tent closer to the gun pit today. My name was turned in to Battalion Hdqtrs today for promotion to Sgt. Hot and muggy. Had to spread crushed gravel on floor of tent. It was to muddy.

Jan. 10, 1943  A B-24 made a crash landing because the brakes didn't work and would have gone off the end of the runway into the trees. It landed on the tail with some damage.

Jan. 13, 1943  Test fired the guns in the gun pits. My machine guns fired good and checked out fine.

Jan. 16, 1943  The batry officers check the positions often. we know when they are coming

Jan. 18, 1943  Test fired the guns and then cleaned them. The guns are manned 24 hours a day I checked the guard lat 12;30 at night.

Jan 22, 1943   It is rumoured that the 90th Bomb Group is going to move to New Guinea and Us with them. The Japs bombed Milne Bay and port Moresby today.

Jan 2?, 1943.  They gave us three cans of hot beer today.3.2 The first beer in 6 months for us.

Jan 26. 1943   I am in charge of the water for the gun crews this month. I picked up the barrels and filled them a the engineers place in the jungle.

Jan 26, 43      The roads are almost impassable because of the mud . It rains every day. We have to get the chlorinated water.

Jan 27, 43      We do have movies shown every night.

Feb. 4, 43      Test fired the guns/

Feb 7, 43       The 321st and the 318 (319th perhaps) Bomb groups (sic squadrons) moved today to NG

Feb. 8, 42      Had an air raid alert

Feb. 13, 43    It rains hard every day now that the monsoon season has started.

Feb. 13, 43    The 3 inch guns test fired today.

Feb. 24, 43    WE are able to jerry rig lights from the wire from all the wrecked planes here

Feb. 24, 43    We are getting ready for the new colonel to visit Iron Range soon. He will bring our payroll money. (Footnote This is the Colonel that was killed when the new plane crashed on the island.)

Feb 26, 43     Talked with Aussie friend today

Feb. 26, 43    A P-39 made a crash landing on Gordon strip. The front wheel was stuck. Not much damage. A P-39 while taking off on Claudia strip got a flat tire and skidded around. At this time most of the troops have left Iron Range for Port Darwin and New Guinea

March 6, 43   We are now attending classes on the 40 MM Bofor. They will issue them to us soon.

March 7, 43   We had an air raid alert this morning but no air raid

March 14, 43  It rained so hard today there was a foot of water on the runway. Our gun pits keep filling with water.

March 20, 43  Lt Richard Coughlin Inspected our guns. Sgt Clemons is on the other gun in my section.

March 10, 43  Cairns raided today 130 miles away. (Note:- I am not aware of any Jap raid on Cairns - Maybe it was a recce aircraft)

April 4, 43      We have a diet of kangaroo meat and wild boar.

April 9, 43      They are rebuilding the runways for heavy bombers now.

April 13, 43    Got a report that Japanese had landed 150 miles away. An un identified plane flew over all guns were alerted. There were two alerts yesterday

April 14, 43    Unidentified planes flew over the jetty. They expect air raids any time now

April 15, 43    Two more alerts today

April 16. 43    Yellow alert today plane 50 miles away

April 20, 43    Runways are ready for use. Two Bristol Beauforts and a DC3 landed on the new drome. The weather is fine now with a full moon and cooler. We are now able to listen to the Japanese stations on a radio now Tokyo Rose and she gives the name of our unit.

March 21,43   We loaded the btry onto a freighter at the jetty. The name of the boat that will take us to New Guinea is the Dutch Freighter the Duntroon.

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.

On 18 December 1942, USAAC B-24 Liberator, #41-23825, known as "Texas Terror", crashed into the southern side of Mount Straloch on Hinchinbrook Island in far north Queensland during a violent storm. The aircraft was part of the 400th Bomb Squadron of the 90th Bomb Group. It was being flown from Amberley to Iron Range by 1st Lieutenant James Gummier for delivery to the 90th Bombardment Group. Gummier and his eleven passengers were all killed in the crash. 1st Lt. Gummier and his 4 crewman had picked up 7 passengers at Garbutt airfield in Townsville on their way to Iron Range. Two of these passengers were members of the 197th Coast Artillery Regiment:-

Col. Carroll G. Riggs
Lt. Raymond F. Dakin

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.


Photo via Warren Rollins - 4 April 2004

The 197th is now serving in Iraq. They took with them the battle flag
from the 197th CAAA that the unit carried in Australia in 1942.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Warren "Wally" E. Rollins, who was a member of the 197th CA (AA) Regiment for his assistance with this home page. W.E. Rollins told me that he got a thankyou from the Lord Mayor of Perth and other than that nothing has ever been said of their occupation in Fremantle. 

I'd like to also thank Nelson Lawry, Russell Miller and Dave Spethman for their assistance with this web page.

 

REFERENCES

"Diary of WWII, North Queensland"
Compiled by Peter Nielsen

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

 

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 Peter Dunn 2003

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This page first produced 31 March 2004

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