51 WIRELESS SECTION
AUSTRALIAN SPECIAL WIRELESS GROUP,
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2
51 Wireless Section was one of the 11 Field Sections of the Australian Special Wireless Group, AIF. They were part of MacArthur and Blamey's new top-secret intelligence unit called Central Bureau which comprised Australian Army, RAAF and US Army personnel. They were stationed at Coomalie Creek near the airfield from 1942 until 1945.
51 Wireless Section personnel intercepted the Japanese Kana signals, recording them and forwarding them to Central Bureau where the code that was in them was deciphered.
51 Wireless Section personnel built their own huts at their camp at Coomalie Creek. The huts would hold 6 to 8 personnel. The main roof was sheeted with galvanised iron and the walls were made from pandanus palms. Each man had his own bed with hessian stretched 3 feet off the ground between a bamboo frame. While they were in at night they could hear the sound of the white ants due to amplification of the noise through the hollow bamboo bed frame. One of the 51 Wireless Section personnel was surprised to find his bible had a hole in it after the white ants had eaten through the shelf to get to the bible.
51 Wireless Section personnel paid 2 cartons of beer to have a football oval graded by one of the other local military units.
There was a set room on a hill in the 51 Wireless Section camp where 12 Army radio operators worked a 12 hour shift, which was part of a 24 hours per day continuous operation. Each operator had two high-powered radio receivers. One of the receivers was receiving every radio signal sent by one Japanese operator and the other receiver was receiving every signal sent by the other Japanese operator. This way each Section 51 operator could monitor both sides of a "conversation".
In April 1943, Section 51 Wireless Section operators intercepted Japanese signals which gave a detailed itinerary for the famous Japanese Naval Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. As a result of this intercept US Army Air Force P-38 Lightnings of the 339th Fighter Squadron od the 347th Fighter Group were able to intercept Yamamoto's aircraft and shoot it down killing the Admiral.
51 Wireless Section personnel were able to warn Darwin of impending Japanese air raids. The Japanese would bring their aircraft down from Kendari in Borneo to Koepang the day before they would bomb Darwin. They did not even have to read their messages to know that Darwin would be bombed the next day. They only had to be aware that the Japanese aircraft had arrived at Koepang. 51 Wireless Section personnel were also able to provide information that would allow the Allies to bomb Japanese aircraft while they were on the ground at Koepang.
A successful attack on Koepang airfield on the 28 February 1943 led to the destruction of 12 Japanese aircraft and 9 others being badly damaged. After receiving news of the success counter attack via Mic Sandford at Central Bureau, Brigadier John Rogers wrote a Most Secret & Personal letter to General Blamey, advising Blamey of the successful 'Y' work (traffic analysis) by 51 Wireless Section. They had tracked and interpreted the wireless communications of 20 Japanese bombers over a 3 day period. Captain Geoffrey Ballard had advised the RAAF Officer in the NW Area HQ the expected arrival time for the Japanese aircraft. Based on this information the RAAF were then able to attack the Japanese aircraft after they had landed at Koepang. Rodgers advised Blamey that Geoffrey Ballard was "quite a youngster when he joined us as a private in the Middle East and has proved a decided acquisition on the Special Intelligence side of W/T work".
In August 2000, a commemorative plaque was erected on the concrete foundations of the former officer's quarters to honour the group's wartime efforts. Former 51 Section members who attended the ceremony were Arthur Gray from New South Wales and Professor Paul Moffit and Bert Neil from New South Wales.
Photo:- Via John Gray
Left to right:- Professor Paul Moffit, Bert Neil and Arthur Gray in August 2000, in front of commemorative plaque
Photo:- John Gray 2012
Commemorative Sign at Coomalie Creek for 51 Special Wireless Group
Photo:- John Gray 2012
Commemorative Plaque 51 Special Wireless Group at Coomalie Creek
I'd like to thank John Gray and Dennis Goodrich for their assistance with this web page.
"On Ultra Active Service - The Story of
Australia's Signals Intelligence Operations during World War II"
by Geoffrey Ballard
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"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 6 July 2002
This page last updated 17 January 2020