CHARLEVILLE AIRFIELD
CHARLEVILLE, QLD
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII

 

The following report is from the History of the Queensland Main Roads Commission 1939 - 1945:-

Charleville

The work of enlarging the previously existing civil aerodrome at Charleville began in December, 1941, and was finished in January, 1943. It consisted of clearing, grubbing, grading, gravelling, drainage and bitumen surfacing, the construction of taxiways and dispersal strips, besides excavations for large fuel tanks and the preparation of building sites. The first runway of 6,000 feet was completed to a stage suitable for aircraft landings within a week. Three gravelled runways in all were constructed and 88 acres of bitumen surfacing completed. Dust provided a nuisance and molasses spraying was tried with fair success. The maximum number of men employed was 335 and the approximate value of the work was £228,000.

The Queensland Main Roads Commission constructed an aircraft bore sighting range at Charleville Airfield.

Twenty five P-40 Kittyhawks of the 20th Pursuit Squadron (Provisional) USAAF escorted by B-24A Liberator #40-2374, left Brisbane on 29 January 1942 on their way to Darwin. One of the P-40s #89 flown by 2nd Lt. Bernard Oliver, cracked a wing on landing at Charleville Airfield on 29 January 1942. The aircraft was left behind in Charleville whilst the others flew on to Darwin.

The Douglas A-24 Banshees of the 27th Bomb Group passed through Charleville in February 1942 on their way to Darwin. One of their A-24s broke down at Charleville Airfield and the excited locals lined the airfield fence to look at the aircraft.

In 1942 Charleville Airfield became the Reception Depot for new USAAF aircraft arriving in Australia from the USA, where they were serviced, repaired and stored prior to being allocated to operational squadrons. The 45th Air Base Group and its attached units looked after this Reception Depot. Whilst control of the airfield was handed over to the United States Army Forces in Australia (USAFIA) on 10 July 1942, the 45th Air Base Group and some of its attached units were based at Charleville Airfield as early as 15 April 1942.

Five large hangars were erected at Charleville Airfield during WWII. Four hangars were 96 feet by 96 feet and the fifth and last one constructed, Hangar 101, was a very large 184 feet by 174 feet. The Qantas Ltd Hangar at Charleville Airfield was used by the 45th Air Base Group.

The book "The Battle of Brisbane" by Thompson and Macklin stated that "in a Tokyo studio, Iva D’Aquino, a.k.a. Tokyo Rose, was learning to pronounce Queensland names like Camooweal and Charleville for her propaganda broadcasts". Japanese spies in Australia ensured they knew where the new airfields were being located.

On 4 August 1942, Lieutenant Morris Friedman and his crew from the 93rd Bomb Squadron of the 19th Bomb Group were transferred to the 64th Bomb Squadron of the 43rd Bomb Group. They had orders to pick up a plane, "Chief Seattle", from the Charleville Depot and deliver it to their new squadron at Fenton, south of Darwin. They picked up the aircraft and flew first to Daly Waters, not being able to locate Fenton. After receiving directions, they continued the flight to Fenton the next day. The 64th Squadron was waiting for the first of their new B-17Fs from the United States. When "Chief Seattle" arrived, it became their first and only B-17, but just for a day. On 6 August 1942 they lost it when additional orders came through for the crew and plane to fly to Townsville for an assignment with the 435th Squadron of the 19th Group.

 

The five hangars can be seen in this 26 June 1943 aerial photo

 

The following entry is from the Heritage entry for Hangar 7 at Eagle Farm Airfield in Brisbane. Apparently the change from Eagle Farm to Charleville was because of the concern of a possible Japanese invasion:-

The construction of hangars 3, 4, 8 and 9, at Eagle Farm Airfield to an Australianised RAF Type A 1917 design, were begun by contractor T.H. Dennis, but in April 1942 construction work ceased and the hangars were relocated to Charleville. This situation changed quickly, and the hangars were relocated back to Eagle Farm from circa November 1942, to eventually double the length of Hangars 1 and 2 at Eagle Farm, and create hangars 3 and 3A (work was still being carried out in January 1944).

From National Archives of Australia:- BP1/1, Volume 2; page 10 of 515; AWCQ Meeting No. 73 held on 15th September 1942.

1324. CONSTRUCTION OF CONCRETE SLABS - CHARLEVILLE AERODROME:
Blank requisition was received from U.S. No. 3 Base Station for the construction of concrete slabs at Charleville Aerodrome. This was accompanied by a memorandum from the Construction Manager suggesting that a price be obtained from Mr. Dennis who is constructing hangars at the aerodrome. It was decided that a price should be secured from Mr. Dennis as suggested and Mr. Barker will arrange for finalisation of a contract if the price is suitable.

Operational Training Group #1 was also based at Charleville Airfield where they trained bomber crews on how to use the Norden Bomb Sight. A special concrete building, which still exists today, was built to house and secure the Norden Bomb Sights.

 


Photo:- Kristy Rowland

The concrete WWII Norden Bomb Sight building at Charleville Airfield

 

Brigadier-General Ralph Royce visited Charleville Airfield a couple of times as noted in his wartime diary as follows:-

5 May 1942
Gowan, Kurtz, Legge, Alley & I breakfasted at hotel – to Bankstown, off at 9:05 – Alley made
the trip and took many pictures – landed Charleville 12:30 (3 hrs. 25 mins.) – lunch at off. Mess
in new hospital – Lt. Col Cruse – to plane & off at 1:40 taking ten ferry pilots with us. Landed at
Laverton at 5:35 (4 hrs 55 mins) – to house taking Norman Alley with us – dinner & coon can.

14 May 1942
Up early – mess – to field – off at 7:00 for Daly Waters 8:55 (1 hr. 55 mins.) talked to Lieut in
charge of detachment of base group – off at 9:10 for Cloncurry 12:10 (3 hrs.) lunch in mess – off
at 13:45 to Charleville 1700 (3 hrs. and 15 mins) – to mess with Lt. Col Cruse and then to
Charleville Hotel – bed early and then Northcutt came in and talked to me quite awhile

6 June 1942
Up at 4:30 – picked up Bill Courtney and Sherrod at hotel and to Laverton – trouble starting
engines – to club – finally off at 12:45 and to Charleville – Bostock, Perrin, Van Atta, Courtney,
Sherrod & myself and crew of seven – Kurtz piloting – I landed ship. Col Cruse took us on tour
and to Charleville Hotel – Sherrod ill & to bed – dinner at Corones Hotel – bed early.
Plane loaded with magazines, games, candy, cigarettes, etc. for Moresby. 1 case of liquor for
Scanlon – minus 3 bottles for Sneed – also 3 cases of beer for Bladin.
12:40-16:50=4 hrs. 10 mins.

2 July 1942
Breakfast at house – office – to field at twelve and off in B-17 for Charleville – to hotel – talked
business about an hour – cleaned up – to Corones Hotel for dinner & to bed early
Carmichael, Chaffin, Schriever, Nichols, McAdam, Schreiber and 4 mechs.
12:15-16:50=4 hrs. 35 mins.

By November 1942, Mr. L. S. Steine visited Charleville Airfield to prepare an estimate to paint the hangars. He noted that by that time there were only a small number of personnel on site mainly USAAF personnel. He saw four prefabricated workshop buildings, each 80 feet by 40 feet, being dismantled for relocation elsewhere. There were no aircraft and the airfield looked deserted. The Americans also dismantled another three prefabricated workshop buildings, each 80 feet by 40 feet at the Glenroy Wool Scour. An earlier request had been received by the Allied Works Council from Lieutenant Larson, USNR, for four of these buildings, two required urgently and the other two in the near future for barracks and stores buildings. Colonel M. C. Young, Air Corps, Chief of Staff advised that the request should not be favorably considered as the four structures were required for a forward base overseas and the other three were being used for storage but once the storage space was no longer required the buildings were required for another advanced base. Lieutenant Larson was advised that the four buildings were not available.

The Allied Works Council commenced erecting various camp areas at the airfield in readiness for the occupation of the airfield by 15 Operational base Unit RAAF. On 25 January 1943, Mr. M. C. Cox, the Queensland Construction Manager for the Allied Works Council noted that a substantial number of buildings for Camps A, B and C were completed along with water services and sewerage for Camps A and B. The Parachute Drying Tower was finished and the sewerage pumps for Camp C, which served the Workshop Hangars 103, 104 and 105, were on site. Hangar 101 the largest hangar was mainly completed.

No 15 Operational Base Unit RAAF was formed at Charleville Airfield, on 4 March 1943 with 17 personnel under the command of Flight Lieutenant Victor John Bahr (272550). 15 OBU's primary role was to operate and make secure the Charleville airfield and the RAAF Fuel Depot and Store at Glenroy Siding (Glenroy Scour Siding), Charleville.

 


Photo:- Allan Tonks

A history board on the bitumen baths at Charleville Airfield

 

The above history board indicates that the enlisted men of the 43rd Bomb Group dug holes in the ground and lined them with bitumen so that they could be used for a relaxing bath. One of the tour guides in Charleville tells a slightly different version of what they were used for. Their story states that there were a series of around five bitumen baths, and possibly more. The shallow bitumen baths were designed to fill one to the other, so that a strong chemical solution could be added for delousing purposes that required an approximately 40 second submersion for removing lice, ticks, etc and as a medical preventative.

 


Photo:- Kristy Rowland

Remains of one of the bitumen baths dug in the ground at Charleville Airfield

 


Photo:- Kristy Rowland

Items recovered from a WWII slit trench at Charleville Airfield

 

The Alphabetical List of Landing Grounds - Queensland shows the following entries for Charleville"-

Another Emergency Landing Ground ELG in the area was Bonnievilla Airfield.

Steve Meekin remembers the black drums that the bitumen came in (44 gallons size) were still around the airfield in the very early 1960s with a lot of them around town being used for other things such as squashed flat and used as bulkheads for road works. There were still some hangars at the airfield in the early 1960s that have now been demolished. Steve also remembers that around Charleville in those days there were quite a number of telephone poles made from pre-formed metal interlocking sections. His father told him that they were erected by the Americans.

 

Charleville Meatworks Airfield ELG

Flights by William R. Eaton of 19th Bomb Group
through Charleville during WWII

Air Force Ball

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"Queensland Airfields WW2 - 50 Years On"
by Roger Marks

"History of the Queensland Main Roads Commission 1939 - 1945"

"The Battle of Brisbane"
by Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Steve Meekin and Allan Tonks for their assistance with this web page.

 

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This page first produced 23 August 2019

This page last updated 10 September 2019