ARTILLERY PRACTICE
AND CHEMICAL WARFARE TRIALS
AT MISSION BEACH 
IN FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII

 

The northern end of Mission Beach in far north Queensland was used for spray testing of Mustard Gas in December 1944. There is also evidence of that event by the presence of steel spikes found in trees at the end of the beach which the locals say was where white sheets were hoisted into the trees to aid with the accuracy of the bomber spraying. A later trial on 4 January 1945 was delayed when a spray tank attached to the wing of an aircraft fell off onto the Cairns Airfield. A decontamination squad was rushed to Cairns to clear the contaminated area.

Jack Legge, a physiologist, was a civilian scientist, engaged in research with the Services and Munitions Department, from 1942-1946. He and physiologist, Dr Hugh Ennor were attached to the Australian Chemical Warfare Research and Experimental Section, which in August 1944 was absorbed into 1 Australian Field Experimental Station at Proserpine. In September 1944 1 Australian Field Experimental Station became known as 1 Australian Field Trials Company, Royal Australian Engineers (RAE). As part of their duties they examined casualties to quickly identify the effects of any chemical weapons. The gas trial tests were located at Townsville, North Brook Island, Proserpine and Mission Beach.

 


Photo:- AWM Accession No. PO3332.008

A member of the Chemistry Section of the Australian Chemical Warfare
Research & Experimental Section
setting up equipment including bubblers
and injectors on Mission Beach in preparation for spray trials.

 


Photo:- Via Sylvia Stoltz

Setting up for Spray Trials on Mission Beach

 


Photo:- AWM Accession No. PO3332.007

Members of the Chemistry Section of the Australian Chemical Warfare
Research & Experimental Section
setting up equipment including bubblers
 and injectors on Mission Beach in preparation for spray trials.

 


Photo:- via Sylvia Stoltz

Chemistry Section personnel loading crates of bubblers into
American "jeep" after spray trial in December 1944

 

There are reports from boys who were at Mission Beach during the war that they saw oil marks on the beach at Wongaling near Nissen Creek where two 25 pound artillery guns apparently fired shells back into the forest area. Don Wheatley found one of these shells in the forest area. Ken Gray was shown the shell when Dave Nissen had the shell on loan from Don Wheatley. The shell has a cloth label attached to it by Don Wheatley stating that it was a mustard gas shell which is not correct. Graham McKenzie-Smith commented that the "projectile has been fired (rifling marks) and had no fuse so was an ordinary practice shell, with no connection to the cartridge".

 

Aerial photo showing location of two guns, where the
projectile was found and the location of the storage depot

 

This 1951 aerial photo of the area where the storage depot
was reported to be located shows a clearing in that area

 


Photo:- Ken Gray

25 lb round found at Limbo Creek apparently fired from Mission Beach

 


Photo:- Ken Gray

Cloth label which says "Gas Shell. Used in
experiment at Stoney Creek near Mission Beach"
It was not a Gas Shell. See above explanation.

 


Photo:- Ken Gray

Dave Nissen holding the 25 lb round

 


Photo:- Ken Gray

UXO Warning sign at Limbo Creek near the Licuala Walking Trail

 

Apparently the Wheatley boys and Ralph Nissen saw shells that were stored at a depot behind today's Police Station. There is still a sign in the forest at Limbo Creek which warns of Unexploded shells. Sylvia Stoltz mentions Mission Beach forest in her interviews.

 

This advertisement is for low-level bombing practice from 18 May to 15 June
1944 for a location further north of the area covered above.

 

There were many other advertisements for either Low-level Bombing Practice or Artillery Firing Practice in the Mission Beach area during WWII. The ones that I have found are covered in the table below.

 

DATE TYPE OF EVENT LOCATION
Between 10am and 2pm on 30 March 1944 to the 5 April 1944 Artillery Firing Practice Northern Boundary: From the junction of South Maria Creek and Bingil Bay Road thence along El Arish - North Hull Road to crossroads at Fenby's Gap, thence East along road to the coast.

Eastern Boundary: From Mission Beach Settlement South along the coast to a point 1,000 yards North of Qld. Mission Station.

Southern Boundary: From the southern end of Eastern Boundary direct West to Mt. Douglas.

Western Boundary: From Mt. Douglas a line North West along crest of Tam-O-Shanter Range to South Maria Creek thence following the creek North till it crosses the Bingil Bay Road.

Between 10am and 2pm on 6 April 1944 to the 12 April 1944 Artillery Firing Practice Northern Boundary: From the junction of South Maria Creek and Bingil Bay Road thence along El Arish - North Hull Road to crossroads at Fenby's Gap, thence East along road to the coast.

Eastern Boundary: From Mission Beach Settlement South along the coast to a point 1,000 yards North of Qld. Mission Station.

Southern Boundary: From the southern end of Eastern Boundary direct West to Mt. Douglas.

Western Boundary: From Mt. Douglas a line North West along crest of Tam-O-Shanter Range to South Maria Creek thence following the creek North till it crosses the Bingil Bay Road.

Between 2pm and midnight on 13 May 1944 and between 8am and 4pm on 14 May 1944 Field Firing Practice Northern Boundary: A line running East and West along Garner's Road to junction of Bingle Bay Road a distance of approx. 4,000 yards

Southern Boundary: A line running East and West from Clump Point through Walker Hill Range approx. 3,000 yards in length.

Eastern Boundary: A line formed by High Water mark running North and South along beach from Clump Point to Garner's Beach approx. 5,000 yards.

Western Boundary: A line running North and South from junction of Garner's Beach Road and Bingle Bay Road, Mission Beach Road approx 5,000 yards.

Daily from 18 May 1944 to 15 June 1944 inclusive Bombing practice Bounded on north by a line running East and West 200 yards South of Fenby's Gap - Mission Beach Road, on the East by the sea, on the South by an East West line 2,500 yards South of Fenby's Gap - Mission Beach Road, and on the West by a North South line 1,000 yards West of the Clump Point Road.
29 May 1944 to 20 June 1944 inclusive Bombing Practice Bounded on the West by a line 1,000 yards West of Clump Point road, on the East by the sea, and on the South by lines running East and West 1,000 yards North and 500 yards South of Bolton's Saddle.
15 November 1944 to 29 November 1944 (2 weeks) Low-level Bombing Practice An area lying between the Tully - Clump Point Road and Mission Beach bounded on the North by the El Arish - North Hull Road and on the South by a line running East and West through Jurs Gap.
29 November 1944 to 13 December 1944 inclusive (2 weeks) Low-level Bombing Practice An area lying between the Tully - Clump Point Road and Mission Beach bounded on the North by the El Arish - North Hull Road and on the South by a line running East and West through Jurs Gap.
6 December 1944 to 20 December 1944 inclusive (2 weeks) Low-level Bombing Practice An area lying between the Tully - Clump Point Road and Mission Beach bounded on the North by the El Arish - North Hull Road and on the South by a line running East and West through Jurs Gap.
30 December 1944 to 13 January 1945 inclusive Low-level Bombing Practice Mission Beach from Porter Creek to a point 4,000 yards South and extending inland to a depth of 300 yards.

 

Public Warning Notices for
Chemical Warfare Trials in north Queensland

 


Markups on 1" to 1 mile military map by Ken Gray

Approximate location of the Low-level Bombing Practice and Field Firing Practice.

 

The UXO data sets only shows the above small area (brownish colour) in the Mission Beach area. This
is part of the much larger area for Artillery Practice shown above in red.  This brown area is described in the
UXO data set as "Mustard gas fired by the Australian Field Experimental Station". The north eastern corner
of the brown area was where the 25lb round was found.

 

The RAAF Chemical Research Unit sprayed HTV (MM) and Levinstein mustard from M10 spray tanks fitted to a Beaufort bomber on the edge of a lightly wooded area overlooking Mission Beach.

Private Cynthia Cranston Collins (SX38650) remembered that during the Mission Beach trials, the scientific support staff had to help the scientists by wading out into the water on the mustard gassed Mission Beach whilst wearing full protective clothing. They took continuous samples of the contaminated air to allow the concentrations of the gas to be determined.

If the low level bombing shown in the table above was associated with the work of the RAAF Chemical Research Unit they were using Beaufort bombers.

John Henry Roche (NX149287), a Gunner with the 13 Field Regiment, and a few others volunteered for chemical warfare experiments. Roche was voluntarily attached to 1 Australian Field Trials Company on 8 December 1944. They knew nothing about Mustard Gas. They arrived at Innisfail in mid December 1944. They were told they would be required to move through a rain forest area near Clump Point (this is probably referring to Clump Point as the locality rather than Clump Point the peninsula) which had been bombed with mustard gas three days earlier. Each of them were allocated their own roped off path through the jungle. Roche's understanding was that they were trying to find out how close they could come to the mustard gas remnants before sustaining any burns. They wore respirators and standard issue Army khaki uniforms minus any underwear!! They wore no protective clothing, or ointments. Roche said:-

"It was moist in there and you picked up mustard gas ... it was everywhere ... it looked a bit like sump oil in the undergrowth and it was black in colour."

Path 200 yards long and 100 yards wide near Clump Point were contaminated with sixteen 65 lb bombs released from low-flying Beaufort aircraft on parallel paths. The target was to have 60 tons of chemical charging per square mile. Groups of five to ten men travelled along their allotted paths some one to four days after the low level bombing. Roche made twelve journeys along his allotted paths which saw him covering 1,750 yards in 2 1/2 hours approximately 96 hours after the paths were bombed. They carried rifles during these experiments to closely simulate real conditions.

Conditions were unpleasant in the jungle trials with temperatures around 83 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 76 percent humidity. They took regular four minute rest breaks and were allowed to sit on uncontaminated ground.

Lt. Col Freddie Gorrill, the head of the Research Unit also included a test of the effects of personal cleanliness on the incidence of sepsis, or infection, associated with mustard gas burns. During an earlier conference in the USA commented on 9 August 1944 on this extra test as follows:-

"This trial required the volunteers to make traversals in clothing which they had worn for the previous 24 hours, and to remain in the clothing subsequent to exposure for lengths of time varying up to one week, without showering or washing. Whether or not an individual was asked to remain in the clothing for one week and to refrain from washing, or to change into clean clothing and was at least once every two days, depended on the severity of his burns being sufficient to include him in the sepsis trial, and on the existence of a volunteer with equivalent burns who could serve as a control. This decision was made after all the volunteers had worn the clothing for at least 24 hours after the trial."

Roche wore his clothing for a week or more after the trial without washing. Whilst he was walking through the tropical rainforest he slipped on a damp leaf and landed on his butt in a pool of black, oily mustard gas. Roche made the following recollection:-

"I was a bit concerned. I told them I slipped and they told me not to worry but to leave my clothes on. The next day I came up in like a bad sunburn. They still kept putting me on route marches. The idea was to keep going for as long as possible."

Roche had a very blistered behind which made it difficult for him to walk. He continued with the route marches for a few more days. He would try to hold his clothing away from his skin to stop any painful rubbing. The official report noted that moderate or extensive damage had been sustained by all the volunteers except for two involved in the 48 hour and 72 hour marches. Most of the volunteers sustained moderate burns during the 96 hour marches. Roche however suffered severe burns as indicated in the report:-

"This man, Roche, was severely burned on the buttocks and backs of the thighs. He became entangled in some vines and, on being released, accidentally sat down on a contaminated bomb casing. M5 ointment was immediately applied to the external surface of his trousers and he completed the traversal."

Roche did not receive any medical treatment as part of the adherence to battle conditions. He continued to wear the mustard gas soaked khaki uniform. He was eventually declared medically unfit for battle duty and was admitted to Innisfail Hospital on 17 December 1944 where the Chemical Research Unit had taken over the top floor of the hospital. He was transferred to "X" list. (not sure what that means).

Roche commented:-

"Each day they would measure the size of the burns and extract some of the liquid. They also got us to swallow a long rubber tube and took 10 cc's of gastric juices off the stomach. They put it in a test-tube and it used to finish up looking like a rainbow in the test-tube."

Roche was finally discharged to 1 Australian Field Trial Company 14 days later on 31 December 1944 still suffering "systemic effects which occurred when sufficient mustard gas was absorbed through the skin". The systemic or whole body effects included nausea, poor appetite and epigastric pain after meals. Roche returned to his unit and amazingly enough he volunteered for more mustard gas experiments.

The RAAF Chemical Research Unit, grew from a unit within the Special Duties Flight Detachment of No. 1 Aircraft Performance Unit (1APU) which was formed at Laverton, Victoria in late 1943. At the time they were using Vultee Vengeance and Beaufort bomber aircraft. The unit relocated to Bowen in Queensland in about August 1944 sharing the Bowen airfield with 9 Squadron RAAF. The RAAF Chemical Research Unit was formed on 15 August 1944 and was attached to Headquarters RAAF North-eastern Australia.  On 1 December 1944, the CRU assumed control and responsibility for the airfield and its installations at Bowen after 9 Squadron moved out on 30 November 1944. The CRU comprised 12 officers and 112 airmen as at 5 December 1944.

The ADF Serials web page shows following aircraft were attached to the Chemical Research Unit for Gas Bombing experiments:-

Vultee Vengeance

A27-33     #41-30962     12ARD   28 Dec 1944
A27-42     #41-30982     1APU    19 June 1944    Aircraft damaged on landing at Proserpine 11 Oct 1944

Beaufort

A9-189   
A9-192   
A9-195
A9-199    Crashed on 24 Feb 1945 at Bowen

9 Squadron RAAF was to carry out an aerial photographic reconnaissance of the Tully district (less than 20 kms from Mission Beach) for the Chemical Research Unit in Walrus HD812 on 23 September 1944 crewed by Flight Lieutenant Howard and Flying Officer Crawford and Pilot Officer Smith. They took off from Garbutt airfield but "due to unsuitable weather (generally 10/10 cloud over target area) photography was precluded until 27th when A/C flew to TULLY on weather report of 2/10 cloud. However on arrival over the area it was raining and completely overcast. A/C proceeded to CAIRNS where it was learnt that Survey Flight had procured photos approx. 6 months previously, so project was cancelled."

On 26 October 1944, Walrus HD812 crewed by Flight Lieutenant Rose, Flying Officer Thorpe, and Pilot Officer Smith arrived in Cairns from Bowen to carryout a Photo reconnaissance near Innisfail for the Chemical Research Unit.

During WWII the population in the Mission Beach area was about 40 to 50 residents. Clump Point was another name commonly used for the general area.

The following table is a summary of information located in the Operations Record Book for the RAAF Chemical Research Unit. I have not included travel flights or circuits and bumps but have included any local test flights associated with the CW trials.:-

Date Aircraft Pilot Target Location (or as specified) Details of Mission
21 Nov 44 Beaufort A9-192 F/O E. F. Glasson Mission Beach Low level bombing. CW trials.
22 Nov 44 Beaufort A9-199 F/Lt C. H. Parkinson not specified, probably Mission Beach Townsville - Cairns. CW trials.
23 Nov 44 Beaufort A9-192 F/O E. F. Glasson Mission Beach Bombing 3,000 feet. CW trials.
23 Nov 44 Beaufort A9-192 F/O E. F. Glasson not specified but probably Mission Beach Low level bombing & photography. CW trials.
26 Nov 44 Beaufort A9-199 F/O E. F. Glasson not specified, probably Mission Beach Returned from Cairns after CW trials.
28 Nov 44 Beaufort A9-199 F/O E. F. Glasson not specified, probably Mission Beach To Cairns for CW trials.
4 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-199 W/O Langley not specified, probably Mission Beach To Garbutt and Cairns for CW trials.
4 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-181 F/O E. F. Glasson Mission Beach To Cairns for CW trials. Low level bombing. Returned from Cairns 5 Dec 44.
4 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-195 W/O Edenborough Mission Beach To Garbutt and Cairns for CW trials. Low level bombing. Returned from Cairns 5 Dec 44.
8 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-199 W/O Langley not specified To Garbutt and Cairns. CW trials.
8 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-181 F/O E. F. Glasson not specified, probably Mission Beach To Cairns duty CW trials. Returned Bowen 12 Dec 44.
8 Dec 44 Beaufort A91-95 W/O Edenborough not specified, probably Mission Beach To Cairns duty CW trials
11 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-195 W/O Edenborough Mission Beach From Cairns from low level bombing. CW trials completed.
11 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-199 W/O Langley Mission Beach From Cairns from low level bombing. CW trials completed.
15 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-181 F/O E. F. Glasson not specified, probably Mission Beach To Cairns. CW trials. Returned Bowen 20 Dec 44.
16 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-195 F/Lt C. H. Parkinson not specified, probably Mission Beach To Cairns. CW trials. Returned Bowen 17 Dec 44.
26 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-199 P/O Langley Mission Beach To Cairns in connection with CW trials. H.T.V. (M.M.) and Mustard sprayed from M10 American spray tanks during experimental trial over Mission Beach. Returned from Cairns 2 Jan 1945.
29 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-181 F/Lt E.F. Glasson Mission Beach To Cairns with crew & maintenance personnel for CW trials. H.T.V. (M.M.) and Mustard sprayed from M10 American spray tanks during experimental trial over Mission Beach. Returned from Cairns 2 Jan 1945.
29 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-195 F/Sgt Taylor Mission Beach To Cairns with crew & maintenance personnel for CW trials. H.T.V. (M.M.) and Mustard sprayed from M10 American spray tanks during experimental trial over Mission Beach. Returned from Cairns 2 Jan 1945.
29 Dec 44 Beaufort A9-192 W/O Edenborough Mission Beach To Cairns with crew & maintenance personnel for CW trials after local test flight. H.T.V. (M.M.) and Mustard sprayed from M10 American spray tanks during experimental trial over Mission Beach. Returned from Cairns 2 Jan 1945.
3 Jan 45 Beaufort A9-181 F/Lt E.F. Glasson Probably Mission Beach To Cairns for further CW trials. Returned from Cairns on 4 Jan 45. Probably spray trials.
3 Jan 45 Beaufort A9-195 W/O Edenborough to Cairns

F/Sgt Taylor from Cairns

Mission Beach To Cairns for further CW trials. Probably spray trials. Returned from Cairns 5 Jan 45. Mustard gas sprayed from American M10 spray tanks during experimental trial over Mission Beach at low level.
3 Jan 45 Beaufort A9-199 P/O Langley Probably Mission Beach To Cairns for further CW trials. Returned from Cairns on 4 Jan 45. Probably Spray trials.
3 Jan 45 Beaufort A9-192 F/Sgt Taylor to Cairns

W/O Edenborough from Cairns

Probably Mission Beach To Cairns for further CW trials. Probably spray trials. Returned from Cairns 5 Jan 45. Mustard gas sprayed from American M10 spray tanks during experimental trial over Mission Beach at low level.
6 Jan 45 Beaufort A9-199 F/Sgt Taylor probably Mission Beach To Cairns on CW trials. Returned from Cairns on completion of CW trails.
6 Jan 45 Beaufort A9-192 W/O Edenborough Probably Mission Beach To Cairns on CW trials. Returned from Cairns on completion of CW trails.
6 Jan 45 Beaufort A9-181 P/O Langley Mission Beach To Cairns on CW trials. Returned from Cairns on 7 Jan 45. Mustard gas sprayed from American M10 tanks during experimental trial over Mission Beach at low level.
4 Feb 45 Beaufort A9-199 P/O Langley Mission Beach To Cairns. CW trial. Returned from Cairns on 7 Feb 45 after completion of CW trial. Experiment with 65 lb over Mission Beach.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Graham McKenzie-Smith, Geoffrey Plunkett, Sylvia Stoltz, and Ken Gray for their assistance with this web page.

 

REFERENCES

"Chemical Warfare in Australia"
"Australia's Involvement if Chemical Warfare 1914-1945"
by Geoff Plunkett

"The Unit Guide - The Australian Army 1939 - 1945 - Volume 3 of 6" - page 3.596
by Graham McKenzie-Smith

"Keen as Mustard"
"Britain's horrific chemical warfare experiments in Australia"
by Bridget Goodwin

ADF Serials

9 Squadron RAAF Operations Record Book (NAA file)

 

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This page first produced 24 January 2019

This page last updated 17 March 2019