The US Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) provided the capability to conduct chemical warfare if it was required.

The 3rd Chemical Laboratory Company later known as the 42nd Chemical Laboratory Company (42d CLC) arrived in Brisbane in late December 1941 and by mid 1942 it was still the only CWS unit in the Pacific theater. They had almost no chemical equipment or chemicals.

The Adjutant General requested that the US Army's technical services, which included the CWS, complete a study to determine the number of soldiers the supply system would need and the methods they would use to get supplies to the depot in Australia. The Office of the Chief of the Chemical Warfare Service used this study to determine the required amount of chemicals to send to Australia. Mustard Gas was the only chemical retaliatory agent available at that time for transport to Australia. Due to limitations with shipping space, only 870 of the 1,000 tons of mustard agent required was sent to Australia in heavy bulk containers.

Colonel William Copthorne, a senior CWS officer organised through the Department of the Army (US) the delivery of a special plant from the United States to process the mustard gas and put it into mines, spray tanks, and bombs. The unassembled plant arrived without any diagrams or instructions. After much trial and error they successfully assembled the plant and filled 14,000 bomb casings. These bombs had originally been intended for the Philippines, but ended up staying in Australia after the Philippines fell to the Japanese.


AWM ID Number: 012653

Colonel William A. Copthorne, Chemical Officer, United
States Army Forces in Australia (USAFIA) 21 June 1942


More problems were encountered with lack of instructions when the M10 spray tanks used on aircraft arrived in Australia without accessories or filling instructions. CWS filling plant was able to to fill enough M10 spray tanks to supply a 63 aircraft raid if required.

The US Army arranged for landmines to be manufactured locally in Australia as they were in short supply. Chemical agents were then added by the CWS. Artillery shells casings were also in short supply and  had to be shipped to Australia in scarce transport space. They were also then filled using the filler plant.

By March 1943, a Chemical Warfare Plan was in place in case the Japanese decided to use chemicals. The plan required chemical weapons to be stored in six locations. By late 1943, the CWS had made significant progress which enabled General Douglas MacArthur to have the ability to use chemical weapons offensively against the Japanese if required.

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.



Chemical Warfare Service in the Southwest Pacific During World War II
by Dr. Burton Wright III


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This page first produced 7 October 2009

This page last updated 14 January 2020