42ND CHEMICAL LABORATORY COMPANY
BASE SECTION 3
CLAYFIELD, BRISBANE, QLD
The 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company (42d CLC) originally known as the 3rd Chemical Field Laboratory was established in May 1941 at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, USA. The Unit left the USA on 21 November 1941, in the Pensacola Convoy headed for "PLUM," the code name for the Philippines. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, their convoy diverted to Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia arriving on 22 December 1941.
On 28 January 1942, Capt. John C. Morgan, of the 3rd Chemical Field Laboratory Company, established a chemical section in USAFIA. Col. William A. Copthorne arrived on 2 February 1942 with a number of experienced officers and enlisted men. Known as the Remember Pearl Harbor Group, these men were being rushed to the Pacific to serve wherever senior command and staff officers and specialists were needed. Copthorne became chemical officer and was assigned to the USAFIA Chief of Staff's special mission for co-ordinating relief shipments to Corregidor.
The 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company initially had their headquarters in Somerville House in Brisbane but then moved to Ingarfield Private Hospital at 90 Bonney Avenue. Clayfield. This may now be the Bonney Vale Hostel. The enlisted men of the 42 Chemical Chemical Laboratory Company had billets at 59 Bonney Avenue, Clayfield which extended into the adjacent property.
On 5 June 1942, Captain Cone, Richard M., O-250706, of the 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company was killed in the crash of an unknown bomber aircraft near Archerfield Airfield in Brisbane. Second Lieutenant Parker, James W., O-385535, of the Chemical Warfare Service, initially survived the crash but subsequently died of his wounds on 8 June 1942. It is believed a at least 7 crew and passengers died in this tragic accident. Captain Cone and 2nd Lt. Parker were carrying out experiments to determine whether incendiary bombs could be improvised from training bombs, using gasoline thickened with crude rubber as a filling.
Maj. Burton D. Willis, Chemical Officer, Base Section 3 in Brisbane, would provide training for the 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company (formerly the 3d Chemical Field Laboratory). He held several courses in chemical warfare defense, using a classroom at the Queensland University. Colonel Copthorne dispatched Captain Burke to open a theater training school. Captain Burke reported to the Brisbane Base Section 3 Headquarters on 12 July 1942 to establish a chemical warfare school for all American forces. Whilst it started as a Base Section training school it was in preparation to become a SWPA CWS School. The first 33 gas officer students were actually in training before the school was approved in August 1942. Whilst the third class of unit gas officers was in progress the school officially became a SWPA theatre activity as part of the Chemical Warfare Service Training Centre. The third class graduated in September 1942.
Norman Fine joined the 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company in June 1944. By this time the 42nd had been in Brisbane more than 2 1/2 years and some of the men had married local Brisbane girls and had children, and lived off the base. The base for the 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company was actually two large houses in Clayfield, an upmarket Brisbane suburb where many homes had private tennis courts. One house was used for living quarters and their mess facilities, while the other house contained the laboratory and animal quarters. Wallabies and cockatoos were common pets.
42nd Chemical Laboratory Company, outside the Mess Hall in Bonney Avenue, Clayfield. It is believed that this house was No. 122 Bonney Avenue, located on the corner of Bonney Avenue and Victoria Road. There is a three story apartment block located on the site now.
Back Row L to R:- T-4
Wisniewski, T-5 Forrester, T-5 Brunke, Pfc Heller, Pfc Pawlak, T-4
Vannah, Cpl Slates, Pvt. Lang, Pfc Smart, Pfc Dillavou, Pfc Bucher,
Pfc Windgassen, Cpl Jones, T-5 Caskey, T-5 Layman, Pfc Benn, T-5
Schweitzer, T-5 McCarty, Pvt. Morgan, T-5 Lendel
In October 1943, Major H.W. Hillis was the commanding officer of the 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company
One early job for the 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company from the Quartermaster Corps was to turn 100,000 pounds of fatigue uniforms into camouflage suits for the soldiers fighting in New Guinea and the islands. The 42nd produced a dye using local products. Another assignment was to study the physical properties of CWS agents at high altitudes and low temperatures. Problems of water purification, rust inhibitors, skin dye for personal camouflage, and improved methods for using napalm are but a few examples of the developmental projects undertaken. In the analytical department, analyses of defective ordnance components, captured enemy explosives, soap and solder flux, and many other materials helped smooth our Pacific war effort.
Initially chemical warfare teams near the front line sent flamethrowers, smoke candles, pyrotechnics, gas masks back to either the US 42nd Chemical Laboratory at Clayfield or to the Maribymong Victorian Munitions Supply Laboratory for expert analysis.
Here are some examples of Miscellaneous reports by the 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company on Japanese equipment included in Captured Material Technical Reports (CMTR):-
CMTR No.21: Japanese Army Gas Mask Nomenclature (25 October 1943)
CMTR No.28: Facepiece, Japanese Hood-type Gas Mask (21 March 1944)
Norman Fine's initial assignments were analysis of captured Japanese material. On one Pacific island, there was a cache of 55-gallon drums containing a watery, purplish liquid with a smell reminiscent of Teaberry chewing gum. Analysis found methyl salicylate and traces of a soluble iron salt in aqueous dispersion. The iron and salicylate reacted to form a purple compound. No literature was found with the drums, and the purpose of the liquid remained a mystery (perhaps it was a liniment). On another island, drums of a viscous, inflammable liquid were discovered. Distillation and qualitative tests showed that the liquid was benzene thickened with a methacrylate polymer. The liquid was probably intended for flamethrowers.
A problem of mineral analysis was that it required liquids of varying density for physical separation by flotation. One dense liquid needed was methylene iodide, which was not available in Australia. It was synthesized by first preparing a large batch of iodoform which was then reduced to methylene iodide. Obtaining chemical reagents was a constant problem. Those requisitioned from the United States involved many delivery uncertainties and delays. One time, they ordered 10 grams of dithizone, a reagent used for trace analysis of heavy metals. Dithizone is a very fluffy substance: 10 grams would fill a large jar. Several months later, a truck pulled up and began unloading 5-gallon, widemouthed carboys, each filled with dithizone; 100 pounds had been ordered owing to a clerical error. They distributed dithizone to every laboratory in Australia.
The CWS had a large cache of CW agents stored in 2-ton tanks in the Australian outback. The 42nd had the task of inspecting and maintaining the tanks. This was a very desirable mission, although it was somewhat hazardous. A convoy of trucks and jeeps loaded with "C" rations and apparatus set out for a two-day trek to the dump. Using protective suits that encased the entire body, the team inspected the tanks and took samples for later quality-control analysis in the laboratory back at Brisbane.
U.S. forces landed in the Philippines on 20 October 1944, and by 3 March, 1944 Manila was occupied. It was time for the 42nd to move back to its original destination. Laboratory equipment and reagents were packed in crates. The 42nd had acquired a large supply of 1-pound cubes of metallic sodium in hermetically sealed tins; these were not to be taken to Manila. There was too much sodium to employ the laboratory method of disposal: dissolving sodium shavings in alcohol. Men of the 42nd disposed of the sodium cans in the waters off Brisbane. They hurled punctured sodium cans over the stern of their boat. The huge eruptions of yellow flame and the sodium cans skimming over the surface made an impressive display. The 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company left Brisbane for Manila in June 1945.
Gerson Kegeles was another member of the 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company.
The 42d Chemical Laboratory Company in World War II: A Chemical Reminiscence
CML Army Chemical Review, Sep 2003
By Norman Fine
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"Australia @ War" Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 6 October 2009
This page last updated 02 February 2019