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Garbutt Aerodrome in Townsville

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Garbutt aerodrome was initially established as a lightly gravelled runway with a pavement 100 feet wide to carry service aircraft.

When the RAAF base was established at Garbutt the runway was widened to 150 feet.

A sketch dated 19 June 1940 shows the position of new Explosive Stores 102 and 102A to be erected at Garbutt Airfield.

In November 1941, the Commonwealth Works Department requested three runways to be extended to 5,000 feet by the Main Roads Commission (MRC). The Townsville City Council had built the early runway.


Garbutt Airfield with Many Peaks Range and Magnetic Island in the background


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Aerial view of Garbutt airfield in 1943


The longer runways were required for Lockheed Hudson bombers and B-17 Flying Fortresses. Both of these aircraft needed to reach a much higher speed before taking off.

The MRC did their calculations after analysing soil test results. The pavement thickness was increased to allow for increased weight pressure by aircraft with wheel load intensities of 6 tons per square foot. The MRC allowed six weeks to complete the project.

Garbutt ended up being one of the major wartime airfields in Australia during World War 2. It was used extensively by the USAAF, Dutch and RAAF.

Gravel for the project was obtained from the Townsville City Council quarries and the Bohle River quarries. Plant was acquired from local authorities to ensure the project was completed on time.

Clearing, grubbing, forming and draining was completed on time by working three shifts per day. Floodlights were installed to achieve the target of 6 weeks. Gravel was delivered to Garbutt at up to 4,000 cubic yards per day.

As Garbutt became more important to the war effort, American hangars and other buildings with additional taxiways, dispersal points, inspection pits and hideouts were built. This was followed by a general regrading of the area, the construction of splinter-proof shelters and slit trenches for use in case of enemy action, caches for petrol drums, water supply and storage, access roads and approaches to remote control and meteorological stations.

The Allied Works Council built two 29.3 metre long span timber hangars at Garbutt.

Twenty two 31.7 metre span nail jointed three-pin arched stores and workshop buildings were also erected. The light hand-nailed trussed arches in these latter structures were built from green hardwood. They have all since been demolished.

Another eight 51.8 metre span three-pin nailed arch camouflage hangars were built at Garbutt. They were designed to be of a temporary nature but some were later re-roofed with sheet metal. The arches had a rise of 10.9 m. The main arch cords were only 17 mm x 50 mm.

Aeradio station VZTV was a ground to air radio station located at Garbutt airfield.

Bomb Dumps were established on the Town Common to the north of the airfield by both the RAAF and the USAAF.

There may have been another bomb dump near the location where the Norline Drive-in was later built. Some buried WWII bombs were discovered in that general area in about 1972/1973.


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Construction of taxiway connecting the two new hangars with the runway


Kel McCully and Mike Beil told me that their father-in-law, Alf Prince, recognised the above photo immediately, remembering when it was taken. He said that his truck was the first on the site, bringing in equipment etc. There was only bush in the area at the time, and all the timber had to be cleared by hand. Alf remained on the job until the strip was completed. He said that a concrete watering trough for cattle was located at the end of the airfield. The Americans flew over and said they would not land until such time as the trough was removed, so a few blokes from the Council went out and blew it to pieces. Alf's truck was a 1939 Ford tipper Alf also worked on many airstrips in the north from Cairns to Townsville. He also mentioned that aircraft that flew into Townsville before the Garbutt airfield was constructed, used to land on the Bohle flats, about 8 km from Garbutt. 


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Hangars and tarmac built for RAAF Transport Squadron.
This looks very much like the hangars and buildings where I spent
many hours with No. 1 Flight Air Training Corps at Garbutt in the 1960's


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Three hangars with Castle Hill in the background. The centre hangar
was not there in the 1960's. I used to park my car on the concrete
apron where it used to be, when attending regular Friday night
parades at No. 1 Flight Air Training Corps


A detachment of three C-47 Dakotas from 34 Squadron RAAF flew freight into Garbutt airfield in Townsville from Batchelor airfield in the Northern Territory from about June 1944. They also carried out a daily courier service to Townsville. In August 1944, the three C-47's from Batchelor airfield and two C-47's from Parafield relocated to Archerfield airfield in Brisbane to carryout special flights to New Guinea. 

In mid October, three C-47's and four air crews from 34 Squadron RAAF were detached from Parafield to Higgins Field in north Queensland for special operations to Hollandia, Noemfoor, Tadji and other locations. They relocated to Garbutt airfield in early November 1944. They relocated back to Parafield on 13 November 1944.


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Long Nosed Lincolns of No. 10 Squadron RAAF parked in front of the Igloo - 1961


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23 October 1966 - RAF Shackletons parked on No. 1 Flight ATC's Parade Ground
The slopes of Mount Stuart can be seen in right hand side of this photo


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August 1944 - Garbutt Control Tower
Hangar 76 is behind the tower. The top half of the tower has been removed


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Aerial shot of Garbutt looking southwards
18 Liberators lined up at Garbutt


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Garbutt Aerodrome during World War Two
The current civil terminal is located just below the Igloo shown on the photo


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Aerial shot of Garbutt airfield.
Note the Control Tower end of the airfield
is camouflaged to look like streets


Townsville Harbour Board erects
large aircraft hangars near Garbutt Airfield



I'd like to thank Kel McCully for his assistance with this home page.



"The History of the Queensland Main Roads Commission"
"During World War II 1939 - 1945"

"Queensland Airfields WW2 - 50 Years On"
By Roger R. Marks

"Wings Around Us"
by Rodney G. Cardell


Can anyone help me with more information?


"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products

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 Peter Dunn OAM 2020


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This page first produced 4 September 1999

This page last updated 21 February 2020