In early 1942 the Queensland Main Roads Commision was directed to erect buildings, anti-aircraft gun emplacements, command and battery observation posts, underground plotting room, magazines, accomodation for officers and men, a 20,000 gallon concrete tank, and a 20 bed hospital at Cowan Cowan (aboriginal Kau-in Kau-in) on Moreton Island. There were also instructed to build a Controlled Mine Station (RAN Station 3) with accommodation for officers and men of the Australian Navy.

"Polly" Underwood, author of the book "The Reflections of an Old Grey Mare - A Salute to those who served", was appointed Sister-in-charge of the Camp Hospital at Cowan Cowan on Moreton Island. This was possibly some time around June 1942. "Polly" and the other sisters lived with the lighthouse keeper Harry Wadsworth and his wife. The Commanding Officer at Cowan Cowan was Major Keith "Rip" Forster. the next Commanding Officer at Cowan Cowan was Major Arnold Bennet.

"Polly" describes in her book the existence of a British mine layer off Moreton Island called "Job Fifty-one". She described it as a very "hush hush" operation. It was laying mines across to Bribie Island. "Polly" and the other sisters from Cowan Cowan were often invited on board the minelayer to watch movies. They used to sit on top of the mines while they watched the movies. They were assured that they were not armed.

David Spethman told me that "Job-51" was not the name of the ship but the name of the secret operation that they were carrying out. David believes that the ship was actually the British ship, HMS Atreus.

The mine field was connected to a firing button in the detonation room at Caloundra. There was a direct underwater line from the Bribie Forts to the Caloundra Telephone exchange. Elva Wendt was one of the operators on the telephone exchange.

Captain Campbell had a pet monkey called "Butch" on board "HMS Atreus". The monkey used to receive a share of the sailor's daily rum ration and he would get up to all sorts of tricks once he was under the weather. Captain Campbell later in life retired to Orpheus Island.

"HMS Atreus" was later placed in dry dock in Brisbane for some running repairs.

In Ron Donald's book "Fort Bribie" he mentions on page 28 that the Royal Navy's HMAS Athene was being used to lay mines on the seabed in the North West Channel between Bribie and Moreton Island.

In Captain William J. Ruhe's book, "War in the Boats", page 36, (Brassy's, Incorporated, with foreword by Tom Clancy), he speaks of coming to within 5 seconds of his submarine being blown up by an allied mine across the entrance to Moreton Bay, before "recognition signals were exchanged and the activated mine was turned off.

On pages 63-64 of his book, Captain Ruhe writes, "As before, we were challenged by the (Australian) shore station guarding the bay, and as before, the army used an incorrect challenging procedure. When a correct recognition signal was sent by S-37, the shore station gave the wrong reply. There was much blinking back and forth to straighten things out, and all the while the S-37 was posing as good bait for any Japanese submarine the might be lurking off the entrance to Moreton Bay."


US Submarine almost sunk by the Controlled Minefield in Moreton Bay



Underwood, Polly, "The Reflections of an Old Grey Mare - A Salute to those who served", City Printing Works, Rockhampton, 1987

"The History of the Queensland Main Roads Commission during World War II (1939-1945)"

Donald, Ron, "Fort Bribie", 1995



I'd like to thank David Spethman for his assistance with this page.


Seaward Defences for Moreton Bay


Was American Submarine USS Triton
accidentally sunk in Moreton Bay by friendly fire?


Australian Coastline mined during WW2
by the Allies, the Japanese and the Germans


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 10 December 2000

This page last updated 22 February 2020