US NAVAL MAGAZINE AND MINE ASSEMBLY DEPOT
AT CAMP COOT-THA
AT J.C. SLAUGHTER FALLS
MOUNT COOT-THA, BRISBANE

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On 18 September 1942, Mount Coot-tha Reserve was acquired under Regulation 54 of the National Security (General) Regulations for use by the US Navy as a Naval Magazine and Mine Depot. The US Navy was deemed to have taken possession of the site on 1 June 1943 although some Hirings Documents state it was occupied by the US Navy from 21 May 1943 through to 30 August 1945 (approx. 28 months) and transferred to the Royal Australian Navy from 1 September 1945 until 17 May 1946 (approx. 8 months).

The role of the US Naval Magazine at Mount Coot-tha in Brisbane, Queensland was to obtain, store and issue all types of ammunitions and explosives to all U.S. Naval activities and ships in the Brisbane area.

The Naval magazine at Mt. Cooth-tha comprised:-

 

Naval Magazine and Mine Assembly Depot Locations
including map, photos and videos

 

In addition to buildings and shelters that were constructed specifically for the safe storage of munitions, there was also "unlimited open storage for storing bomb type ammunition, projectiles and small arms ammunition". The US Navy lease for Mount Coot-tha also incorporated adjacent land close to Mount Coot-tha where more ammunition was stored. One example of this included 80 acres of the property of Mr. H. A. Levitt, of Payne Road in West Ashgrove/The Gap which was occupied from 18 May 1943 through to about 14 September 1945. This area was clearly used for the open storage of munitions, with no buildings being constructed. The US Navy bulldozed a fire-break completely around the paddock and also around the various bomb dumps established in the area. Another 214 acres, 3 roods and 28.35 perches belonging to Mr. John A. Alder (deceased) of Payne Road was taken over on 1 June 1943 by the US Navy and used for open storage.

The area occupied by the US Naval Magazine and Mine Assembly Depot, including the open storage areas, extended as far as Payne Road to the north western boundary, to Moggill Road on its western boundary, as far south as Birchley Street at Chapel Hill and to Mount Coot-that Road on its eastern boundary. See the plan below. The property owned by the Kelley family, highlighted in green below, was excluded from the Hiring.

 


Plan:- NAA Barcode 5807255, Series No. MP150/1, Control Symbol 569/216/2034

Plan showing the extent of the former US Naval Magazine and Mine Assembly Depot

 

Between 23 February 1943 and 31 March 1943, No. 1 Mobile Explosives Investigation Unit transferred four Thompson .45 caliber sub-machine guns and two Colt .45 caliber automatic pistols to the US Naval Magazine and Mine Assembly Depot.

Roads were maintained in good working order by the US Navy but when the area was taken over by the Royal Australian Navy on 1 September 1945, it was only manned by a skeleton staff and road maintenance was not carried out. The R.A.N. requested the Allied Works Council to inspect the area in December 1945 and have the necessary repairs made to roads in the area. A report on the condition of the roads and an estimated cost of repairs of 720 was prepared by Council Engineer Mr. Jennings, Engineer Mr. Anderson of the Department of Works and Housing and Lieutenant Stanley Kenneth Woodman, R.A.N. Mr. Try from the Department of Works and Housing carried out an inspection on 13 May 1947 after the works were performed.

On 15 September 1945 there were 8 Officers and 179 enlisted men stationed at the US Naval Magazine at Mount Coot-tha.

In May 1944, the Brisbane Military Telephone Directory had the following entry under US Naval Base Headquarters, Navy 134, Naval Base Activities:-

Naval Magazine:
    Commanding Officer:
        Lt. Keeting, R.L.

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Company "D" of the 55th Battalion Seabees from Camp Seabee located at Eagle Farm built a Mine Depot at Camp Coot-tha in the J.C. Slaughter Falls area of Mount Coot-tha on Brisbane.

The following were some of the personnel involved in the construction of this mine depot at Mount Coot-tha:-

R. Coleman
J. Collins
A. Cooper
J. Cordero
T. Correll
H. Craig
V. De Witt
R. DeWIre
W. Driggers

M. Dring
H. Duncan
J. Duncan
J. Dymus
H. Elliott
L. Else
E. Feazle
J. Feeley
D. Fender
J. Fickert
A. Figone
E. Ford
G. Hansen
R. Harper
C. Haulman
F. Heller
H. Henderson
L. Hill
S. Holliquilla
F. Horre
R. Huff

J. Humphrey
V. Hunter
M. Imberi
G. Jisa
A.E. Johnson
C.E. Johnson
L. Johnson
P. Johnson
F. Jordan
O. Kangas
C. Keller
M. Knowles

 

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Construction of a road up the valley near J.C. Slaughter Falls on Mount Coot-tha

 

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Work at the mine depot at J.C. Slaughter Falls

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Covering the ammunition huts with soil to keep the temperature even

 

Armco building nearing completion

 

Looking east. Samuel Griffith Drive is between the large quonset and the
trees. Stuartholme is located just off the photo at the top on the skyline.

 

Looking east. Samuel Griffith Drive is between the large quonset and the trees.

 

Looking west towards Mount Coot-tha. Samuel Griffith Drive is in the foreground. The cement floor of the quonset building on the left is used today as a parking lot.

 

On 3 July 1943, Commander Service Force, Seventh Fleet reported as follows:-

MINE ASSEMBLY DEPOT (BRISBANE)

Six (6) Mark 12-1 mines and parachute housings were transferred to ARCHER FIELD (Archerfield) for DARWIN, NORTHERN TERRITORY.

 

On 4 July 1943, Commander Service Force, Seventh Fleet reported as follows:-

MINE ASSEMBLY DEPOT (BRISBANE)

The office moved from Service Force to Mount Coot-tha and was temporarily installed in the B.O. Mess Hall.

 

On 1 August 1943, Commander Service Force, Seventh Fleet reported as follows:-

MINE ASSEMBLY DEPOT NO. 1

Took up on books 200 Mk 12-1 mines without parachute housings or parachutes, and 240 Mk 1-1 electric detonators received during July from Navy 135.

 

On 26 August 1943, Commander Service Force, Seventh Fleet reported as follows:-

U.S. MINE ASSEMBLY DEPOT NO. 1

Kildall, Theo R. reduced in rating to Y3c by sentence of Summary Court Martial and transferred to Navy 134 for further transfer to Navy 135.

Forest fire sighted at 1522 S.W. of Mt. Coot-tha area between Bielby and Fleming Roads. Fire Fighting party dispatched under Lieutenant Poccal A. Beckford, Jr. at 1700 the party called for tank wagon and the Commanding Officer repaired to scene of fire which was fully under control at 2330.

 

On 22 September 1943, Commander Service Force, Seventh Fleet reported as follows:-

U.S. MINE ASSEMBLY DEPOT NO. 1

Fire reported in Gold Creek reservoir area some 3 miles west of this station. Forest unbroken between this area and Mt. Coot-tha and wind high and unfavourable. Detail of 33 men with equipment left to join Commanding Officer to combat fire. Fire reported on 20 September finally out. Parties had fought this fire since that date. Lt. (jg) C. E. McCalif, gunner T.W. Mullin and Dahlkamp, Edwin (a), GM2c ordered to Navy 245.

 

On 30 October 1943, Commander Service Force, Seventh Fleet reported as follows:-

MINE ASSEMBLY DEPOT NO. 1

Approximately 30 tons miscellaneous aircraft bombs were delivered to U.S.S. SAN PABLO.

 

On 23 November 1943, Commander Service Force, Seventh Fleet reported as follows:-

U.S MINE ASSEMBLY DEPOT NO. 1

Board of Investigation, of which the Commanding Officer of this station Lt. Comdr. X. Martin Smith, USNR, is Senior Member, Lt. Clifford C. Becher, USNR, Member, and Lt. (jg) H.W. Decker, USNR, recorder met for the purpose of inquiring into and reporting upon the circumstances attending a collision of US Navy truck number 192S and Brisbane C.C. Transport Department Tram #410 at or about 2000 on 16 Nov. 43 on Countess Street. Fifteen A Mk I-IV British mines receiv d from the RAAF.

 

On 16 December 1943, Commander Service Force, Seventh Fleet reported as follows:-

U.S. MINE ASSEMBLY DEPOT NO. 1

Flash flood topped all sandbags revetments on East Ithaca Creek road. Warehouse #2 flooded to 4" depth. Footbridge and power lines across East Ithaca Creek carried away. Working party from Mine Depot and Naval Magazine called away, and Simpson's Road bridge over East Ithaca Creek saved.

 

Mine Assembly Depot No. 1, together with Field Torpedo Unit Group #1 and an Australian Mine Unit, arrived at Manus on 5 May 1945 from Cairns, for staging prior to forward movement.

Many of the existing park trails were once used to access these depots. Garrisons of troops based on Mount Coot-tha helped to ensure that the Japanese spies and the residents of Brisbane were kept in the dark about the various military activities on Mount Coot-tha during World War II. There were US Army and Australian Army searchlights located near the site of the Mount Coot-tha lookout and restaurant. There were no anti-aircraft guns on Mount Coot-tha.

The Royal Australian Navy occupied the former Naval Magazine and Mine Depot as a holding unit from 1 September 1945 through to 17 May 1946.

David Hinchliffe, Chairman of the Brisbane City Council community policy committee, has been leading some research by the Brisbane City Council into the wartime history of Mount Coot-tha. David Hinchcliffe said that about 120,000 tonnes of high explosives, bombs, depth charges and materials used in the production of mines were stored at various depots on Mount Coot-tha.

 

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Councilor David Hinchcliffe at the bush chapel at J.C. Slaughter Fall

 

One of the few reminders of these activities is an open-air post WWII bush chapel that now sits on the former slab of a building of the Magazine and Mine Assembly Depot.

 

Picnic area erected on top of one of the concrete slabs
for the Assembly Plant building on 31 August 2003 located at the end
of the road before the track to the summit of Mt. Coot-tha

 

The same Picnic area on 31 August 2003

 

Mount-Coot-tha Kiosk

The Mount Coot-that Kiosk was possessed under Regulation 54 of the National Security (General) Regulations for the Assistant Quartermaster-General, Queensland Lines of Communication Area, Australian Army on 7 May 1942, probably for use by searchlight units. The Kiosk was then transferred to the US Navy from 9 May 1944. The US Navy vacated the Kiosk on 31 August 1945 and it was occupied by the Royal Australian Navy on 1 September 1945. When the Kiosk was commandeered by the Military, Mrs. Banks, the Kiosk's tenant, remained in her living quarters. Although she was unable to run the Kiosk anyone, she stayed to look after the animals at the small Zoo which had opened in 1930.

 

Damage to Kiosk

On 10 July 1946, Mr. J. E. Nystrom, of Maud Street, Newstead told the Courier Mail that "Vandals who wrecked the shelter hut at Mt. Coot-tha Summit were not Americans. "Every Window and wall panel in the hut had been shattered." Mr. Nystrom went on to say:- "When the Americans left Mt. Coot-tha, the hut was in pretty good shape. The trouble started after the Royal Navy took over from the Americans. I saw working parties, which included several civilians, stop outside the hut and throw bricks through the walls."

On 17 April 1947, Vice Mayor of Brisbane, Alderman Moon, stated that the damage that had been done to the Kiosk and other facilities after the troops had left had been repaired. He also stated that the Brisbane City Council would "spend 3,000 on road improvements and parking facilities to make Mount Coot-tha - Brisbane's outstanding scenic and panoramic viewpoint - a better attraction than it was before the war."

 

Small Zoo

On 25 March 1941, an American Squadron of seven US Navy ships arrived in Brisbane for a visit. Many of the sailors visited the small Zoo near the summit of Mount Coot-tha and were met there by a rousing "Hip, hip, hooray" from George the cockatoo.

Lieutenant Douglas Malcolm Campbell (QX45282), a former QC of the Queensland Supreme Court, with the 56 Anti-aircraft Searchlight Company, who was in charge of a searchlight site on Mount Coot-tha during WWII, received a message from the guard at the bottom of Mount Coot-that one day that General Douglas MacArthur was on his way to the top of the hill. It turned out that General MacArthur was taking his wife Jean and son Arthur to the small Zoo at the top of the hill. Lt. Campbell arranged for one of the Banks girls to take Arthur MacArthur down to the animals whilst the General and his wife had a cup of tea in the Kiosk with Lt Campbell and Mrs. Bank. Lt Campbell met Jean and Arthur Macarthur on a number of other occasions during more visits to the zoo.

 An article in the Brisbane Telegraph on 14 January 1947 indicated that the Zoo had been previously been shut down and that City Hall authorities expected that when Brisbane was to be provided with a full zoo, it would be established at Mount Coot-tha.

 

Bush Fire Threat in November 1945

At about 1pm on 8 November 1945, a fire had started near the end of Wool Street, Toowong. The dry grass burnt quickly and the fire started to spread beyond Anzac Park towards the Mount Coot-tha reserve. The fire fighters started to burn a firebreak in the threatened areas of the ammunition dumps in case the fire moved in that direction, which it did. A large bush fire eventually threatened the still operational Naval Magazine on Mount Coot-tha on the afternoon of Friday 9 November 1945.

The fire was fought by firemen, service personnel, police and other civilians. Over 100 personnel battled the fire for over five hours. Fire Headquarters reported that the fire was under control by 5:30pm. Damage had been limited. At least 500 acres of grass a scrub had burnt out.  No buildings had been affected.

A second bush fire broke out on the afternoon of 10 November 1945 with firemen fighting the blaze for about two and half hours to prevent it spreading to the 3,000 tons of explosives stored by the Royal Navy on Mount Coot-tha.

Concern was raised in the Courier Mail on Saturday 10 November 1945, that the explosives stored were very close to the city, and that the war was over, the authorities should take the earliest opportunity to remove the explosives.

 

Closing down and delousing

On 13 January 1946 a Royal Australian Navy spokesman stated that the Mount Coot-that former Naval Magazines would be removed within the next two months. Brisbane Lord Mayor, Alderman Chandler, and Brisbane's Fire Chief, Mr. J.C. Stephens, requested a thorough comb-out of the bush at Mt. Coot-that for explosives after the ammunition dump was removed.

The Courier Mail featured a photo on the 19 February 1946, showing Navy and Army men using mine detectors to locate and stray ammunition. A Navy spokesman said "that much work would still have to be done before Mt. Coot-tha could be restored as a national park."

The Brisbane Telegraph reported on Friday 8 March 1946, that a major portion of the Mount Coot-tha ammunition dump had been examined by mine detectors with more sections still being tested.

On 11 April 1946, the Courier Mail reported that the Brisbane City Council hoped that the 2,544 acres Mount Coot-tha reserve was still under RAN control but was expected to be handed back to the council soon. A Navy spokesman said that the area was still closed to the public and guarded and it would still be some time before the Navy would vacate the area. Non-explosive ordnance still had to be removed and arrangements made to dispose of the buildings. He said that "larrikinism" (cute name for vandalism!) had caused damage to property in the dump area. Windows had been broken and walls of buildings damaged by stone throwing and other acts of willful destruction. He was unable to determine when the site would be re-opened to the public.

On 16 April 1946, a Navy Spokesman reported in the Brisbane Telegraph that the area had been cleared of all explosives and stores except for one store containing ordnance. A Navy spokesman reported on 17 April 1946, that the Navy was still waiting approval from the Defence Department in Melbourne regarding handing over the buildings in the Ammunition Dump. Col Withy, the Regional Manager of the Commonwealth Disposals Commission, states that he had no authority to dispose of the buildings until they were declared surplus.

 

Theft from RANA Depot Mount Coot-tha

On 3 August 1946, A. L. England, Officer-in-charge, R.A.N. Armament Depot, Brisbane accompanied detectives from the Criminal Investigation Branch of Queensland Police to Magazine Nos. 22 - 27 after a report of theft had been received from a partner in the nearby Gold Mining Claim. Most of the fibrolite linings from Magazine Nos. 22 - 27 had been removed and the whole of the hardwood floor (50 ft x 20 ft) in Magazine No. 27 had been removed.

Two men in a lorry had been observed by the caretaker of the Gold Mining Claim removing the materials over the previous few weekends and at night time. A general survey of other buildings revealed that other general damage had been done by campers etc. Mr. England recommended that the fibrolite buildings should be disposed as as soon as possible before they are un-saleable due too being too badly damaged.

On 5 September 1946, Acting Commander Shaw, on behalf of the Naval Officer-in-charge, wrote to the Naval Board in Melbourne to update them on the incidence of theft from the R.A.N. Armament Depot at Mount Coot-tha. The letter confirmed that the buildings were processed for disposal on 11 July 1946 and that the Commonwealth Disposals Commission would sell them by auction in approximately 6 weeks time. 30 days were to be allowed after any sale for the removal of the buildings. Acting Commander Shaw had requested the Commonwealth Disposals Commission to hasten the disposal of the buildings.

Acting Commander Shaw advised that only the Administration block was being guarded by Peace Officers and that it was considered an unwarranted expense to consider securing the whole of the rest of the former Naval Magazine. He advised that the Department of Works and Housing had surveyed and assessed the damage as a result of the theft at 58. 0. 0. The Criminal Investigation Branch in Queensland Police had been informed of the theft.

 

Disposal Sale

On 10 October 1946, the Disposal Commission held a two hour disposal sale of stores, buildings and equipment from the former Mount Coot-that Naval Magazine and Mine Depot. Income from the sale amounted to 6,500. The area had been examined with mine detectors and declared free of all ammunition some months before the disposal sale. The sale was conducted by Ray White.

Metals sheets from the underground magazines were to be used to roof garage premises of Mr. L. Firth at Southport. The magazines measured 50 feet x 20 feet and were sold for 9 each. Does anyone know if they still exist at Southport?

Several "igloos" were sold to farmers from the Darling Downs and were to be used to house farm equipment at Crows Nest and Pittsworth. Does anyone know if they still exist?

Other "igloos" were sold to a petroleum company for erection in Brisbane to hold equipment sores for further geological research. Does anyone know if they still exist?

Mr. J. W. Downing of Woolloongabba (possibly 13 Ipswich Road) bought one to replace a workshop destroyed by fire at Woolloongabba. 

Two iron garden seats were removed from the sale when it was realised they belonged to the Kiosk.

The highest price paid at the sale was 625 for a pre-fabricated steel building 100 feet x 40 feet.

The buyers of the steel Armco type buildings experienced considerable difficulty in dismantling and removing his purchases as large quantity of earth had to be removed from above them and there were hundreds of bolts holding the structures together.

 


 

I visited Mount Coot-that on 31 October 2018 with Allan Tonks. Here are some videos that I took of some of the former Naval Magazine sites:-

 

Administration Building slab - Mount Coot-tha

Garage Building Slab - Mount Coot-tha (lot of background noise)

Assembly Plant Building - Mount Coot-tha

Different view of the Assembly Plan building - Mount Coot-tha

Detonator Locker No. 5 - Mount Coot-tha (only remaining ammunition structure on the hill)

Armco M8 - Mount Coot-tha

Armco A6 - Mount Coot-tha

Armco A7 - Mount Coot-tha

Post WWII Bush Chapel using slab of former Naval Magazine building - Mount Coot-tha

Circular Structure - probably associated with a former gold mine

 


 

Searchlight units on Mount Coot-tha during WWII

 

REFERENCES

"The 55 Seabees 1942 - 1945"
Published by the officers and men of United States Naval Construction Battalion 55

"History of Mount Coot-tha" by Janet Spillman

Articles by Peter Collins in Brisbane "Sunday Mail" of 6 June 1999 and 8 August 1999

"Holiday Tour - To Brisbane and the Great Barrier Reef", Kiama Independent, and Shoalhaven Advertiser, Saturday, 15 June 1940, page 4 - mentions small zoo at the summit of Mount Coot-tha

"Two Thousand Envoys of Goodwill", Telegraph (Brisbane), Saturday, 29 March 1941, page 9 - mentions Zoo

"Council getting its Parks back", Telegraph (Brisbane), Tuesday, 18 September 1945, page 5

"Bush Fire threat to Ammunition", Telegraph (Brisbane), Thursday, 8 November 1945, page 1

"Fight to keep fire from Brisbane Ammunition Dump", Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), Friday, 9 November 1945, page 4

"Too near to be safe", Courier Mail, Saturday, 10 November 1945, page 2

"Second fire in area of big explosives dump", Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), Saturday, 10 November 1945, page 1

"Bush search for stray bombs near city urged", Courier Mail, Monday, 14 January 1946

"Army excuse for keeping parks 'Weak'", Courier Mail, Tuesday, 15 January 1946, page 3

"Check on explosives", Courier Mail, Tuesday, 19 February 1946, page 1

"Navy hasten Mt. Coot-tha Clearing-up", Telegraph (Brisbane), Friday, 8 March 1946, page 2

"Eildon Hill Reserve may soon re-open", Courier Mail, Thursday, 11 April 1946, page 3

"Mt. Coot-that cleared of explosives", Telegraph (Brisbane), Tuesday, 16 April 1946, page 1

"Decision awaited on Mt. Coot-tha", Telegraph (Brisbane), Wednesday, 17 April 1946, page 8

"Says G.I. Joe, not Chalet Vandal", Courier Mail, Thursday 11 July 1946, page 5

"War Magazine Gone from Mt. Coot-tha", Courier Mail, Friday, 11 October 1946, page 3.

"Mt. Coot-that again will be Tourist Drawcard", Telegraph (Brisbane), Tuesday, 14 January 1947, page 5

"Mt. Coot-that Road Repair", Courier Mail, Friday, 18 April 1947, page 5

"RANA Depot Mt Coot-tha - theft from", NAA File, Item Barcode 5933068, Series MP150/1, Control Symbol 589/201/1173

"Lease of Recreation Reserve situated at Mount Cootha, Brisbane by the United States Navy, RAN (Royal Australian Navy) and Royal Navy, NAA File, Barcode 5807255, Series NO. MP150/1, Control Symbol 569/216/2034

War Diary, Commander Service Force, Seventh Fleet, US Navy

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Allan Tonks for his assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information?

 

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 Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 21 May 2000

This page last updated 29 November 2018