US ARMY EARLY WARNING
POINT LOOKOUT, STRADBROKE ISLAND
Richard C. Hartman was based at a US Army Early Warning Radar site (SCR-270) at Point Lookout on Stradbroke Island for one month in early 1942.
Richard remembers an eatery run by some Aussies where they took their meals. Richard believes that the eatery had apparently been a restaurant before the war. They were housed in a series of little huts lined along the shore above the high tide line.
Richard was one of a group of forty Air Corps Privates that left San Francisco aboard a troopship USAT Torrens in the middle of October 1942 and arrived in Townsville, north Queensland about a month later in November 1942. They had all been trained as radio operators and technicians as well as ASV radar technicians. After a few days in Townsville, they travelled by train to Brisbane to the 5th Air Forces Headquarters at Archer Field (Archerfield) in Brisbane. As there was only one ASV set in the entire 5th Air Force at that time, they initially did not know what to do with them until they found that all 40 were qualified radio operators.
Richard describes his group and their training :-
I was one of forty Army Air Corps Privates shepherded by four First Lieutenants traveling as a group of casuals. In Army parlance, a "casual" is any of its members traveling as an individual rather than as part of a distinct unit. Homeless, unloved and with no rank, a casual Private subsists at the very bottom of the military pecking order.
In its travel orders, the group was identified by the letters "OAR" followed by a numeral that I no longer remember. One of the wits among us declared that "OAR" stood for "Orphan Annie Reserves" (1). "Orphan" certainly befitted our status, and the name stuck with us.
We were an unusual bunch. Every one of us had attended two Air Corps Technical Schools: ROM School at Scott Field, Illinois where we had been trained as radio operators and mechanics, and RL School at Boca Raton, Florida, "RL" was understood to stand for "Radio Location" which was a euphemism for radar. At that time, the word "radar", what it meant and how it worked were little known outside of the Armed Forces. Airborne radar was particularly hush-hush. One type of unit embodied an explosive cartridge to destroy its circuitry should the aircraft be downed in enemy territory. We had spent weeks familiarizing ourselves with equipment classified SECRET, and had been ordered never to use the word "radar" off the base or imply that we were anything other than ordinary radio operators and technicians.
The radar equipment we had studied was termed "ASV" (air-to-surface vessel) for locating ships and surfaced submarines on the open ocean.
Richard C. Hartman and another one of the 40 men were sent over to Stradbroke Island where an early-warning radar (SCR-270) was being operated by a group of Signal Corps servicemen from the 565th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion who had not been trained as radio operators or technicians and were having trouble maintaining radio contact with Brisbane only a few miles away.
Richard believes they arrived on Stradbroke Island on about 10 December 1942. They managed to locate and fix the radio problem in a half a day, and then had nothing to do but enjoy the beautiful deserted beach. Unfortunately, the surf was too high to make it for safe for swimming.
Richard believes he and his buddy we were at Stradbroke Island for about a month until they were returned to Brisbane. Richard was then assigned to Air Service Command Headquarters, and his friend went to one of the Squadrons of the 90th Bomb Group, then stationed at Doboduro in New Guinea.
With no ASV radar equipment in the theater, Richard had nothing whatsoever to do. He pestered, begged and cajolled his officer to be transferred to New Guinea where there was at least something going on. Hence my transfer to the 9122th Signal Depot Company (Avn) a few miles outside of Port Moresby around 1 March 1943.
Richard remembers seeing Australian aircraft on the radar screen at Stradbroke Island. These were Australia aircraft which would buzz their location frequently.
The advanced radar equipment that the US Army in the South West Pacific Area eventually obtained was known informally as "H2S", "H2X", "BTO" (bombing thru overcast) and "BB" (blind bombing). Richard believes the official designation was "AN-APS-15". It had a rotating parabolic antenna contained in a radome that could be lowered from the waist of the aircraft, and a PPI type display. Richard said that it was a joy to operate and maintain. The original Mk1 ASV gear had been designed in England with no thought of the humidity and heat of New Guinea, and its power transformer had a nasty habit of shorting out and spewing hot tar all over the place. They received the B-24s equipped with the new gear while he was stationed on Biak Island early in December 1944.
According to one of the ship's Norwegian crew, it was intended that our voyage across the Pacific terminate at Dalgety's wharf in Sydney. However, the ship was ordered to transit Capricorn channel, and make for Townsville. We were taken to a transient camp on the outskirts of town to await further orders. I think it was operated by the RAAF. Like most transient camps it was rather slip-shod. But there was redeeming feature---every morning, for breakfast, there was an unlimited supply of chilled slices of dead-ripe pineapple. After almost a month aboard a ship with no fresh fruit or anything else, nor anything cold, the chilled pineapple was a godsend.
One of the officers that had accompanied us all the way from radar school in Florida took off for Sydney to find out what next. He returned in 3 days with orders taking us by rail to Brisbane. It was a rough trip on a day coach with toilet facilities at an absolute minimum. We arrived at Archerfield an unshaven, dirty, smelly and wrinkled bunch to find that we were not only unexpected,. we were unwanted.
During those few days in Townsville, we were free to visit the town. It certainly wasn't much of a place, but we did get an introduction to "warm" Aussie beer. I think the bars were open only about two hours in the afternoon. There was no evidence of the thick juicy beefsteaks that had occupied our dreams for weeks. Most soldiers dream of girls; we dreamed of food!
In later months, I passed through Townsville several time, but only to spend a night at the airport.
I was one of 40 US Army Air Corps Privates that arrived at Townsville on Nov. 25, 1942. We were a group of airborne radar specialists who had traveled across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco on board the USAT Torrens.
Someone has mentioned the terrible food at the Armstrong Paddock transient camp. True, except for one saving grace: every morning, the breakfast layout included a washtub full of crushed ice in which were interred slices of dead ripe pineapple. We had not tasted any fresh fruit or anything cold since leaving Hawaii on Nov. 8. That chilled fresh pineapple was like manna from Heaven.
We were at Townsville only 4 days until receiving orders sending us to Brisbane by rail. It was a rough overnight trip. We had traveled the width of the US in a smooth-riding heavyweight Pullman sleeping car with a white- jacketed porter to see to our needs, but for the Queensland trip were jammed into a bone-jarring wooden day coach with a bare minimum of sanitary facilities. We exhausted the water supply within 2 hours, and had to rely on the contents of our canteens which we filled at every station stop. Urinating off the open end of the coach became an accepted practice.
On several occasions during the War, was obliged to spend a night at Townsville, but I was always able to avoid Armstrong's Paddock.
49 Radar RAAF Point Lookout
I'd like to thank Richard C. Hartman for his assistance with this web page.
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© Peter Dunn 2006
This page first produced 29 May 2007
This page last updated 27 July 2014