DEFENCE OF TOWNSVILLE
After the Japanese bombed Darwin on 19 February 1942, Major-General George Vasey issued an operational instruction on 10 March 1942 explaining the role for the Australian Army's Northern Command. Thursday Island and nearby islands were to be defended to the "limit of human endurance". Townsville was to be defended by its local brigade group which was required to be active and aggressive. In the event of impending defeat there was to be a scorched earth procedure implemented and a withdrawal to Charters Tower to the west. Brisbane was to be defended against sea, land and air attacks.
The following is a facsimile of a Most Secret document detailing the Townsville Defence Scheme.
The officer in possession of this document will be responsible for its safe custody, and that its contents are not disclosed to any unauthorised person.
The document will be kept in under lock and key when not in actual use.
: : TOWNSVILLE DEFENCE SCHEME : :
1. Although the garrison available for the defence of TOWNSVILLE will be constantly changing, the broad principles on which the plan is based are unlikely to alter to any extent.
2. Amendments, principally concerning changes of units of the garrison, will be issued as necessary.
3. In the event of the unit holding this copy of the scheme being relieved, the incoming unit will take over the document issuing a receipt for it, copy of which will be forwarded to this HQ.
: CONTENTS :
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1. The TOWNSVILLE DEFENCE SCHEME has been prepared in this form, to enable a new Commander taking over either all, or part of the forces in the TOWNSVILLE area to become rapidly acquainted with the intentions of the previous Commander, his plan, and the factors that have influenced its preparation.
2. The object of the scheme is the defence of TOWNSVILLE.
"Your role is the defence of TOWNSVILLE. In carrying out your role you will avoid being shut up in TOWNSVILLE and when its defence is no longer practicable you will withdraw towards CHARTERS TOWERS." (First Aust Army Operation Instruction No 6 dated 4 May 42).
"Troops (including VDC) located within the area of field formation, though under L of C Area for local administration, will in emergency, be under the command of the field formation for operations. The Commander of the field formation will decide the time at which he will assume command of such troops for operations, and may make plans and issue instructions concerning actions in an emergency." (GHQ SM 7621 dated 28 Apr 42).
"In case of landing attacks the Senior Commander of Allied Land Forces on the ground will assume supreme command in the area in which attack is made, including all elements of the three forces therein except bombardment aviation which will remain under the command of the Allied Air Forces Command. " (First Aust Army Operation Instruction No 10 dated 13 May).
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(a) To facilitate control and organisation, command of troops shown in para 5(b) has been vested in Commander No 1 L of C Sub Area, vide 5 Aust Div Operation Instruction No 37, copy of which is attached at Appendix "A".
(b) An operations room has been set up at HQ 5 Aust Div with direct communications to all units concerned. This layout is shown in diagram at Appendix "B".
5. FORCES AVAILABLE FOR DEFENCE OF TOWNSVILLE
Order of Battle falls naturally into four sections:
(a) 5 Aust Div less 11 Aust Inf Bde Gp
(c) United States Army base personnel (including Army Air Corps ground staffs).
(d) AAF Fighter and reconnaissance units.
NOTE: 11 Aust Inf Bde Gp has been detached for the defence of the CAIRNS and MAREEBA aerodromes, and cannot be depended on to take part in any operation directly affecting the defence of TOWNSVILLE. It will however, remain under command of GOC 5 Aust Div.
The surrounding country is generally wooded with light timber greatly restricting the field of fire. Native spear grass is everywhere up to 2 feet high in the dry season and until burnt off provides a measure of concealment. The timber is not sufficiently large to be an obstacle to tanks.
(b) Hill Features
(i) CLEVELAND (1800 feet) on the East side of CLEVELAND BAY joined to the mainland by swamp, mangrove and sand pans.
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(ii) MUNTALUNGA (800 feet) South of CLEVELAND BAY and seperated from the foreshore by swamp, mangrove, and sand pans.
(iii) ELLIOT (3400 feet) a rugged extensive massif South of MUTALUNGA and seperated from the latter by a narrow valley through which runs the railway from BRISBANE. ELLIOT bars any approach to TOWNSVILLE from the South-East.
(iv) STUART (1900 feet) an extensive feature 6 miles due south of TOWNSVILLE dominating the BURDEKIN HIGHWAY.
(vi) MANY PEAKS (700 feet) at the Western entrance to CLEVELAND BAY and seperated from TOWNSVILLE by low lying open ground, swamp and sand pans.
(d) Rivers and Creeks
Details of creeks and rivers showing their value as anti tank obstacles and suitability for landing craft are shown at Appendix "C".
(i) South-East - the narrow valley between MUNTALUNGA and ELLIOT joining the BURDEKIN HIGHWAY at STUART.
The approach from the South-east after crossing the BURDEKIN RIVER runs through flat and swampy country to GIRU, where the rail and road bifurcate. A track suitable for motor transport follows the railway to STUART, but the better road passes to the South of MOUNT ELLIOT, joining the BURDEKIN HIGHWAY at WOODSTOCK.
(ii) South - the BURDEKIN HIGHWAY to CHARTERS TOWERS dominated by the Eastern portion of STUART feature.
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All roads, other than those referred to above, are earth tracks. The following important tracks within the area in various stages of development:
(iv) ANTIL PLAINS - ALLIGATOR CREEK via gap between THE SISTERS and ELLIOT.
(v) ALLIGATOR CREEK - CROMARTY via col between SADDLE MOUNTAIN and ELLIOT.
(vi) STANLEY - NOME
(vii) ANTIL PLAINS - ROSS RIVER road via West of MOUNT STUART
(viii) MINGELA - THORNTONS GAP - TOWNSVILLE.
7. PROBABLE PRELIMINARY OPERATIONS BY THE ENEMY
The choice of beaches for large scale landings on the QUEENSLAND coast is restricted by the BARRIER REEF which runs from the Northern extremity of the QUEENSLAND coast to HERON ISLAND 40 miles off the coast at GLADSTONE. Passages through the reef for large vessels are confined to a number of points, the protection of which is the responsibility of Allied Naval Forces. Movement by a large expedition from the North, inside the reef, would provide a most vulnerable target for both our air and naval forces. Furthermore, such an expedition would be without the protection of land based aircraft.
It seems likely therefore that any attack in the TOWNSVILLE area would be preceded by a landing farther North, probably in the vicinity of COOKTOWN or CAIRNS with the object of establishing an advanced base from which a further advance could be undertaken with the support of land based aircraft.
8. SUBSEQUENT OPERATIONS BY THE ENEMY
Having completed, or at least partially completed, the operation described above it is reasonably certain that the enemy will advance on TOWNSVILLE with the object of availing himself of, and denying to us, the port facilities and the comparatively good communications both the South and inland. Such an advance might be by land, or by sea under cover of land based aircraft, or by a combination of both. If such an operation were successful he would gain an invaluable sea, land, and air base from which to continue operations to the South.
9. PROBABLE METHOD OF ATTACK BY ENEMY ON TOWNSVILLE
(a) It is possible that the advance to the South (vide para 8) would be divided into a series of bounds, with the object of successively securing more advance bases. The most valuable intermediate objective from the point of view of an attack on TOWNSVILLE would be the INGHAM - HALIFAX area. INGHAM is approximately 80 miles from TOWNSVILLE and has available some harbour facilities at LUCINDA POINT. Other advantages include a landing ground at INGHAM and good road and rail communications with the South.
(b) From INGHAM there are three possible lines of approach:
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10. THE COAST ROAD
The coast road from INGHAM to TOWNSVILLE is suitable for two-way motor transport traffic. Its main disadvantage lies in the fact that movement off the road is restricted by the coastal range to the West, and the coast to the East to an average width of 8 - 10 miles until the range swings away to the South 20 miles North-West of TOWNSVILLE. It is crossed by a large number of creeks and streams, none of which are really effective obstacles.
One of the most suitable areas for blocking this approach lies astride the road in the vicinity of Rollingstone. Notes on other positions for delaying an enemy advance from INGHAM on TOWNSVILLE are included at Appendix "D".
11. THE INLAND ROUTES
The inland routes through EWEN present almost overwhelming difficulties for a large force. Passages through the coastal ranges are limited to a difficult pass on the MOUNT FOX road and an equally difficult pass through MOUNT SPEC and the PALUMA RANGE from Moongobulla to EWEN. These bottlenecks could be held for a considerable time by very light forces, and considerable delay imposed on the enemy. The inland tracks are unmade but are generally passable to four-wheel drive motor transport in dry weather. It would be possible for a small force, supplied by air in the initial stages, to cut the TOWNSVILLE - CHARTERS TOWERS road, using this route.
It follows therefore, that the MOUNT FOX and MOUNT SPEC roads are of the greatest importance and must be held at all costs. Not only would the enemy thus be prevented from entering our rearward areas, but by retaining these passes we would have avenues for attacking his communications.
12. THE APPROACH BY SEA
A seaborne landing, covered by land based aircraft, is a natural corollary to a thrust down the coast road. The object of such an operation might be one or all of the following:
Such an operation, if successful, would sever our communications in every direction and must accordingly be prevented at all costs.
/ 13. Other eventualities
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13. OTHER EVENTUALITIES
The possibility of concurrent airborne attack cannot be overlooked, although this could be undertaken only after our own air forces in the area had been destroyed. Objects for such an attack could include:
(a) The seizing of key points in TOWNSVILLE itself.
(b) The disruption of communications
(c) The disorganization of supplies
(d) In the event of the fall of TOWNSVILLE becoming a probability the prevention of the demolition of vital installations.
These objects might also be achieved by a seaborne raid in the close vicinity of TOWNSVILLE, possibly supplemented by the use of parachute troops.
It follows therefore, that any plan formulated for the defence of TOWNSVILLE, must include measures to counter the following likely action on the part of the enemy:
(a) An advance South from CAIRNS and/or INGHAM
(b) Movement inland via MOUNT FOX or MOUNT SPEC roads
(c) Landings North of BOHLE RIVER; and between CHUNDA BAY and the BURDEKIN RIVER.
(d) Seaborne or airborne raids on the city area
15. PRINCIPLES ON WHICH PLAN IS BASED
The plan to counter enemy operations as envisaged above is based on the following principles:
(a) A comprehensive demolition scheme, designed to delay and harass any enemy advance from the North, and to prevent movement from the coast inland.
(b) The close defence of TOWNSVILLE by troops at present located in the city area i.e. base and L of C troops under cpmmand No 1 L of C Sub Area (vide 5 Aust Div Operation Instruction No 37).
(c) A mobile offensive role by 5 Aust Div (less 11 Aust Inf Bde Gp). In this regard the following extracts from First Aust Army Operation Instruction No 9 are quoted:
"Fixed defence are of little value as a means of holding the JAPANESE in check. An entirely different method of
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defence must be used. This method must be of a very mobile nature ....
"Prompt counter attack by mobile reserves, which have been held some distance from the beach, is the correct tactic to neutralize and destroy JAPANESE landing parties.
"Aggresive action and counter attack will be the basis of our defence. For this purpose all Commanders must retain as great a portion as possible of their forces in a mobile role, ready to seek out the enemy and strike him hard and often, and so regain the initiative which is always with the attacker."
16. OUTLINE PLAN
(a) BASE AND L OF C TROOPS
Units placed under command Commander No 1 L of C Sub Area, vide Part II para 4 (b) of this scheme must be prepared to carry out the following tasks:-
(b) 5 AUST DIV (less 11 Aust Inf Bde Gp)
5 Aust Div must be prepared to carry out the following tasks:
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17. Grouping of Units
(a) 29 Aust Inf Bde Gp (MONFORCE)
(b) X Bn Gp (CHUNDAFORCE)
(c) L of C and Base Units Gp (TOWNFORCE)
(d) Div Tps Gp
(e) Owing to the considerable variation in the Order of Battle of United States troops in the TOWNSVILLE area, and the fact that the nature of their duties is likely to require their withdrawal from TOWNSVILLE before an attack takes place, no definite task has been alloted them. During the precautionary stage however, those remaining will be formed into a separate United States group to which a suitable task will be allotted.
(f) Supply, Medical and Ordnance Services will be centralised, under HQ 5 Aust Div.
/ 18. Initial Dispositions of Groups
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18. INITIAL DISPOSITIONS OF GROUPS
Concentrated in area West of LONETREE HILL 0075, except for beach defence guns located as shown at Appendix "E".
Disposed in TOWNSVILLE area.
(d) Divisional Troops Group
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As set out in 5 Aust Div Operation Instruction No. 37.
(d) 2 Aust Cav Regt (Ingham Squadron Group)
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(e) 2 Aust Cav Regt (GIRU Squadron Group)
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Detailed instructions concerning responsibility for preparing and executing demolitions will be issued separately to the persons concerned.
21. DEGREE OF READINESS
From normal training and operational duties, units responsible for the defence of TOWNSVILLE will pass through two stages of readiness:
(a) Precautionary stage (Stand to)
(b) Final stage (Action Stations)
GOC 5 Aust Div will decide the degree of readiness to be adopted, according to the progressive urgency of the situation, and will issue the necessary orders.
22. PRECAUTIONARY STAGE (STAND TO)
(a) "Stand To" will be ordered when it is considered that a landing on the NORTH QUEENSLAND coast is likely, within a period of 14 days.
(b) The order "Stand To" will be issued by signal or by LO. If by signal, the message will read:
"(Codeword) Stand to Ack All informed"
23. ACTION TO BE TAKEN ON RECEIPT OF ORDER "STAND TO"
(a) By all Units
(b) By 2 Aust Cav Regt
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(c) By R A E
(d) By Sigs
Sigs 5 Aust Div will lay buried cables :-
(e) By MONFORCE
(f) By CHUNDAFORCE
(g) By A A S C
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24. FINAL STAGE (ACTION STATIONS)
(a) "Action Stations" will be ordered when it is apparent that a landing on the NORTH QUEENSLAND coast is imminent.
(b) Order will be issued by LO or Immediate Signal. If by signal, message will read:
"(Codeword) Action Stations Ack All informed"
25. ACTION TO BE TAKEN ON RECEIPT OF ORDER "ACTION STATIONS"
(a) All units will move to battle dispositions as laid down in Part IV para 18 of TOWNSVILLE DEFENCE SCHEME.
(b) AASC will establish ammunition points each containing one second line refill as follows:-
For MONFORCE - at Crossing of BOHLE RIVER at 8078
For CHUNDAFORCE - at PARTINGTON SIDING 9775
26. ALLOTMENT OF UNITS TO GROUPS
Commander 29 Aust Inf Bde will nominate Commander CHUNDAFORCE and with CRA and CRE 5 Aust Div will detail its components. CRA will detail artillerty sub-units to come under command GIRU and INGHAM squadrons 2 Aust Cav Regt. These will be notified to HQ 5 Aust Div as soon as detailed.
(a) Commanders will make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the whole of the area involved, including areas not directly affecting their own particular tasks. It may eventually prove necessary for units to fight in localities far removed from those allotted in this scheme. Particularly, all Commanders must possess a thorough knowledge of all roads and tracks between INGHAMand AYR, and as far South as the BURDEKIN RIVER.
(b) Partially prepared defensive localities exist in the TOWNSVILLE and ROLLINGSTONE areas. Commanders will familiarisze themselves with these, in case the necessity for occupying them should arise.
Locations of these are shown at Trace "F" attached.
A number of artillery troop positions have also been prepared, and observation posts selected. These are shown at Trace "G".
Commanders will prepare plans in accordance with tasks allotted them. The following Commanders on completion of plans, will forward one copy to HQ 5 Aust Div:
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"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products
© Peter Dunn OAM 2020
This page first produced 7 April 2001
This page last updated 22 February 2020