No. 312 Radar Station RAAF was at the following locations during WWII:-

Mascot, NSW
Horn Island, QLD
Wessel Island, NT
Marsden Park, NSW
Strathpine, QLD
Wells Feature, Tarakan, Borneo
Deniliquin, NSW

Three radar stations, Nos 311, 312 and 313 travelled from Sydney on the SS Wanaka in February 1943 to Thursday Island. The radar equipment, under the charge of the mechanics, was placed in shops on the waterfront opposite the Metropole Hotel. The rest of the gear and personnel were transported to Horn Island where they remained until they were transhipped to their final destinations - 311 to Archer River on Cape York, 312 to Wessel Island, Arnhem Land and 313 to Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Wessel Island is now known as Marchinbar Island.

Squadron Leader Edward Robert Victor Jaggard (250911) was the Commanding Officer in March 1942 whilst 312 Radar Station was located on Horn Island.

Flying Officer Wyndam Murray Richardson (256769) of No. 1 Mobile Works Squadron surveyed Wessel Island to select sites for the radar tower, camp and other facilities. His Field Notes sketch was dated 12 April 1943.

Radar equipment for Wessel Island was loaded on the SS Islander on 21 April 1943. They left for the island the following day arriving there on 23 April 1943. The radar on Wessel Island was operational on 15 May 1943. Work commenced on building a tower for the radar on 23 July 1943 and was completed on 11 August 1943. The radar was moved to the new tower on 15 August 1943 and was operational the following day.

Whilst fishing on a beach on Wessel Island in 1944, Leading Aircraftsman Maurice "Maurie" Isenberg (162667) of 312 Radar Station RAAF found five old copper coins. He did not know what they were and he stored them in a small tin. He rediscovered the tin in 1979 and decided to ask a museum if they could help identify the old copper coins. The museum advised Maurie that the coins were about 1,000 years old. Maurie had also marked an old map with an "x" indicating the rough position where he had found the coins. At the same time he also found another 4 coins which were from the Dutch East India Company. One of them dated back to 1690.

Anthropologist Ian McIntosh and his team believe that the coins date back to somewhere between the 900s and 1300s. The coins have been identified as African coins from the former Kilwa sultanate, which is now a World Heritage listed ruin on an island near Tanzania. McIntosh plans to visit the island in July 2013 and also hopes to find and visit a "secret" cave which local aboriginal legend says was full of doubloons and ancient weaponry. Should McIntosh discover more about these mysterious coins and the "secret" cave, the history of the first visitors to Australia may need to be totally rewritten.

Petty Officer Winston John "Jack" Jensen (B/V152), an RAN (SIS) Coastwatcher, operated a Wireless Telegraphy (W/T) listening post on Wessel Island during WWII. "Mad Jack" Jensen had a hut near a bay that was later named Jensen's Bay after him.


Edited by Ed Simmonds & Norm Smith

By A D Banks

My first posting was as Technical Officer at 312RS at Cape Wessel. Here we were provisioned once a week by 6 Communication Flight and occasionally by the MV Amarylis. Com Flight pilots would usually stay overnight. But sometimes “Shiny Bums” would get themselves a ride in the “Dragon” and often stay over until the next flight.

The pilots didn’t like it and we didn’t want them.

So the pilot, Jack Slade, and I hatched a plan. Over the meal one night, when our “guest” was the Senior Administrative Officer from 44 Wing in Darwin, we discussed the “horrific” dangers of an early morning take off from our strip when there was no wind. We talked about near prangs and the added risk in the case of an overloaded Dragon.

I don’t know how well the SAO slept that night but I can say that he looked somewhat pale when he boarded the aircraft next morning. The strip was 500-600 yards long finishing at the top of a cliff several hundred feet high above the sea.

On take off, Jack held the plane on the ground to the cliff’s edge and then let it stagger down towards the waves.

The SAO may have dined out on his “lucky escape” but we had fewer worries with visitors thereafter.


Edited by Ed Simmonds & Norm Smith

By D H(Doug) Beard

When our posting came through to Wessel Island, it was difficult to find out just where it was and how we would get there. Eventually a small dot in the Arafura Sea on a map was found and this was to be our home for the next six months.

The first stage of the trip was by Catalina to Melville Bay. The trip was memorable for me because I went to sleep in a gun blister and received the worst case of sunburn I have ever had. By the time we arrived at Wessel my whole face was peeling, giving the appearance of some horrible tropical disease.

We left the next morning on an Army supply boat having been billeted in an Army camp overnight. The trip was only 80 miles, so we expected a pleasant one day trip. Instead we had four days of crawling along through uncharted waters with a man on the starboard bow "swinging the lead". We'd heard of the expression before but it was quite interesting to watch. He stood on a specially constructed platform out from the hull with a safety rail around him.

He constantly swung the weighted rope marked in fathoms and called the depth to the bridge. When he was down to "And a half three, Sir", the ship would stop. If it was "By the mark, three, Sir", we would go astern and try to find deeper water. This is why it took four days to cover 80 miles. Finally on a dull squally afternoon, the ship stopped and we heard the anchorchain being let out. There was no land in sight, but we were told we had arrived and a long boat was lowered to take us ashore. All our gear and supplies were loaded in and we set off on a two mile trip. We landed on a deserted beach with a group of curious natives our only reception committee.

After standing in the rain for about half an hour, we heard a rumbling in the jungle and an old Fordson tractor with trailer appeared down a dirt track. Everything was loaded on the trailer and we charged off to find the camp. It was about a mile from the beach by a very narrow completely overgrown track. Once we hit a deep gutter while crossing a creek and several kit bags finished up in the water.

On arrival at the camp we were taken to a tent in the middle of a large pond, so the first job was to drain the pond and settle in. A few days later the rain stopped and we got everything dried out and began to enjoy our Island Hideaway.

We really enjoyed a very pleasant war on Wessel with a large group of friendly natives to look after us doing all the routine chores around the camp in addition to providing us with beautiful seafoods which they speared from their dug-out canoes. Lobsters were enormous and we actually got tired of them when they were our only food when the plane could not land with fresh supplies.

A DH86 Dragon normally brought mail, fresh meat, butter etc, once a week, but after prolonged rain the airstrip was out of commission. On one occasion after we had been subjected to week after week of lobsters, oysters and fish, the pilot decided to come down low over the strip and just toss everything out. This was fine until one of the lads received a broken leg after being hit by a side of beef. The boxes of butter also suffered somewhat by being dropped from about 100 feet. We managed to salvage some of it.

There are many pleasant memories of Wessel where we had complete peace in wartime. One unusual episode involved a 16 ft python. We met it in middle of the track at 2 am on our way between the Ops Room and the doover. It was curled up and it was impossible to get around it because of the thick jungle. I went back and phoned through to the Duty Crew asking that they meet us at the scene with a 303 which they had with them. The monster was duly dispatched and it was decided that we should take it back to camp to show the others.

Then we had a better idea and draped it outside the CO's tent with the front six feet across the floorboards and the head propped up facing towards the sleeping CO who happened to a young ethnic Chinese, just off course and not too sure about this mad bunch he had to command. After we made a little noise the CO woke up, saw the snake, took his trusty 38 and emptied the chamber into an already very dead snake. We didn't wait around to witness his embarrassment, but he took it all in good spirits.

Another unusual experience was when I went "native" for two days during a break. My tent boy was Prince Baranuyu, son of the Chief and next in line to the leadership of the tribe. He was very skilled at living off the land, so two of us went with him to live as they lived. We slept in a cave, started a fire with fire sticks, speared and cooked a wallaby, speared fish and lobsters, dug for yams and generally experienced life as it had been lived for thousands of years. We were quite happy to return to the comparative comfort of the camp.

A never-to-be forgotten experience was to witness a circumcision corroboree when a number of young boys were admitted as men to the tribe. A harrowing spectacle for us, but I guess much more so for the young boys undergoing an "operation" by the witch doctor with a rusty cutthroat razor without the benefit of an anaesthetic. The worst part was the group of wailing women who were injuring themselves to alleviate the boysÕ pain.

Not recommended for the faint hearted !

Wessel was an interesting interlude on a very pleasant island, but after six months, it was good to return to civilization and not to have to eat all those lobsters.



Edited by Ed Simmonds & Norm Smith

1,000 year old coins found in Northern Territory may rewrite Australian History


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This page first produced 20 May 2013

This page last updated 03 March 2020