US ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS (USACE)
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. The first American forces arrived in Brisbane, Australia on 23 December 1941 via the Pensacola Convoy which had originally been headed for the Philippines.
As the numbers of Allied troops in Australia increased, the defence building program in Australia was kick started. The US Corps of Engineers played a significant part in building military infrastructure in Australia.
The Australian Government established the Allied Works Council (AWC) during World War 2 and from 26 February 1942 it assumed control for all defence projects for the Allied Armies. It was centred in Melbourne and was headed by:-
- E.G. Theodore, the Director General of Allied Works
- C.A. Hoy, the Director General of Works from the Australian Department of the Interior
- Lieutenant-Colonel E.H. Heiberg of the US Corps of Engineers
The US Corps of Engineers built numerous airfields, hangars and other buildings etc throughout Australia.
46th Engineer General Service Regiment
At the start of the war in the Pacific all the Americans had was two white general service regiments, the 43rd Engineer General Service Regiment, and the 46th Engineer General Service Regiment, as well as the 808th Engineer Aviation Battalion. They had two colored separate battalions, the 91st Engineer and the 96th Engineer battalions which comprised black labor troops. They had no equipment and very few officers. Major-General Hugh J. Casey requested authority to transform the 91st and 96th, in name, to a general service regiments. That meant they could get more authorized white officers and more authorized equipment. The 91st and 96th Engineer battalions had been recruited, trained, organized as supplemental labor. They were given no special engineer training. They had no special engineer construction equipment. They had relatively few officers compared to the large sizes of their companies, so that their management and their control were difficult problems.
The Americans had only one engineer supply company for the whole theater of war and one maintenance company. This fell far short of what was needed. Major-General Hugh J. Casey submitted an emergency requisition list of his needs for troops, but was unable to get them. In some cases they werent even available back in the States. At the time, the objective seemed to be to organize and train combat divisions rather than a balanced force.
Many military installations were required in Australia and New Guinea. As resources were thin on the ground and the personnel working for the Allied Works Councilwere generally older men, and not qualified for combat, the Americans were concerned with convincing the Allied Works Council to take over the work that was being done by the US Army Corps engineer units on the mainland. This included those in the more advanced or exposed areas, such as up in North Queensland and the Darwin area.
There were a number of Black American troops stationed in Australia during World War II including the following units:-
- 91st Engineer Regiments
- 96th Engineer Regiments
- 29th Quartermasters
- 48th Quartermasters
- 92nd Quartermasters
- 349th Quartermasters
- 810th Aviation Engineers
- 811th Aviation Engineers
There was also a group of black doctors and nurses under the command of Major Arthur Simmons by late 1943.
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© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 3 June 2000
This page last updated 06 September 2018