THE MAGNETIC BATTERY
MAGNETIC ISLAND FORTS
INCLUDING RAN STATION 21
DURING WWII

 

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The Forts in 1964 - Left to right, my sister Vicki,
my brother Brian and my father Jim Dunn

 

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The Forts in 1964
My brother Brian Dunn admiring the view

 

The Magnetic Battery was built by the Queensland Main Roads Commission using local labour. Construction of the complex started on 28 September 1942 and was finished 10 months later on 10 July 1943.

There were two large 155mm M1918 Grande Puissance Filloux (GPF) US made guns with 26 foot long barrels mounted on Panama mounts. Magnetic Battery was manned sequentially by men from "B", "L" and "T" Heavy Batteries of the Australian Army's Letter Batteries. Some sources incorrectly suggest that the guns were operated by the Royal Australian Navy.

They had a 6 foot recoil and could throw a 105 lbs shell to a range of 18,000 yards. The guns never fired a shot in anger but it is believed they did once fire a warning shot on a U.S. Navy P.T. Boat that arrived in the bay unannounced.

Equipment used at Magnetic Battery:-

2  155mm guns
2  seacoast searchlights 60 inch
1  set of fire control equipment including:-
     - 2 range finders - optical
     - 1 range finder - RDF (radar)
     - Plotting and Spotting equipment
Ammunition - high explosive shell with the M51 fuze (long range) at the rate of 10 units of fire per gun

The Royal Australion Navy establishment co-located at the site was known as RAN Station 21, the Port War Signal Station (P.W.S.S.) Magnetic Island. Amongst other duties, they ran an Examination Service for the Port of Townsville.

The artillery batteris looking after these guns comprised:-

- O.C. or Battery Commander Major Nichol
- Captain Wright
- Captain Wild
- Battery Engineer Captain Lovegrove ("Passion Valley")
- Captain Allen
- 4 Junior Officers
- approximately 100 W.C.O.'s and O.R.'s including about 20 A.W.A.S

There were also two large Sperry 3 million candle power searchlights, one high above White Lady, at Horseshoe Bay and the other above Florence Bay.  They each were powered by their own diesel power generator.  There were about 20 engineers looking after these searchlights.

The 13th Australian Radar Unit also had a radar installation high in the hills on a point overlooking Orchard Rocks.

 

Truck on Magnetic Island. The back of the truck was filled with large stones to
maintain traction on the track from the Magnetic Battery to Radical Bay

Photo from Ross Thomson of "D" Aust Heavy Battery

 

There was apparently a searchlight or radar
unit located at nearby Radical Bay.

 

Another myth busted! - A couple of articles in the Townsville Bulletin in January 1999 incorrectly suggested that there may have been four large guns on Magnetic Island not two (see photo below).

 

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Photo of four large guns suposedly sent to Magnetic Island
Photo from North Queensland Military Museum - Incorrect - see below

Problem solved: These are actually the guns of "U" Battery in August 1945
at Torokina. The photo was taken by Reg Kidd, the co-author of the
book called "The 'Letter' Batteries" by Reg Kidd and Ray Neal

 

An article on page 19 of the Townsville Bulletin on Monday 25 January 1999, included the above photograph. It stated that Eric Hall of Gulliver remembered seeing four large guns while riding his bike one day. His father was the Tug Master on board the boat "Marina". One Saturday, the "Marina" towed a wooden barge with two of these guns on board to the north eastern end of Magnetic Island to Rollingstone Bay. Being a Saturday, Eric went on board the Marina to help his father. The other two guns were used at Magazine Battery on Magazine Hill at the Townsville Harbour.

Another myth busted! - I have heard another story that suggests that the Big Gun on top of the Big Gun Butcher in Logan Road at Springwood in Brisbane is one of the guns from Magnetic Island. It is actually a different type of 155mm gun. It is a 155mm M1A1 Long Tom field artillery gun. This gun was once sitting in a wreckers yard that used to be located in the same area many years ago. The Big Gun was removed from the top of the building that it was on in late June 2003, to make way for a new Big Gun Shopping Centre to be built.

 

Big Gun in font of Big Gun Butchers at Springwood

 

Closeup of the Big Gun

 

Another myth busted! - Chris Peters had heard an incorrect story that the "Big Gun" near the intersection with Kingston Road, used to be one of about 12 anti-aircraft guns positioned on top of Mount Gravatt during the war years. There were never any anti-aircraft guns on Mount Gravatt. There was only ever one American searchlight (not 12) on top of Mount Gravatt from April to June 1942 operated by the 94th Coast Artillery (AA) Regiment. Chris indicated there were more anti-aircraft guns on top of Mt Coot-tha as well which is also incorrect.

 

WWII Bunker Tour of Townsville

 

WW2 Bunkers & Fortifications in the Townsville area

 

REFERENCES

"The 'Letter' Batteries - The History of the 'Letter' Batteries"
by Reg Kidd and Ray Neal

 

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 Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 31 July 1998

This page last updated 16 March 2019