R.A.A.F. Armourer LAC Des Pope
at work on Lincolns during "Operation Tropic Strike" 1954
Collection: Argus newspaper collection of war photographs. Post World War II.
Snake Creek Bomb Dump after a little Flare-up 1959/60
Photo of the mishap at snake creek Darwin
When a truck which was being loaded with a mixture of explosives when
someone dropped an open box of flares and grabbed at the falling box only
managing to set one off flare thus all bods around ran. The truck & buildings in
the area all were no more...........Nick giudes
A recollection by
John Saunders No 4 Intake (Dewdrops)
Indonesian Confrontation 1964
1. Briefing by Mick Mather. Al (Friday is NO meat) Hind hands on hip at the back. Greg Gannon
2. Bruce Rolls and Hal Webber strap hanging on tent stay.
3. Rolls & Webber in same position, then Greg Gannon, John Whitfield, Oodles Etheridge
Tents in background used as resting area. A/C on standby with 2x live sidewinders and full
No1: FlgOff Stan Deadman 75 Sqn ARMO, FSGT Taffy Davis, WOFF Jerry Johnson getting 3" rockets ready on the ORP Darwin 1960.
|No2: Graeme Eales (LHS) and Ted Arneson (RHS) in 75 Sqn Gun Bay Darwin 1960.|
|No3: Ted Arneson bolting a bomb carrier onto a 75 Sqn Sabre at Darwin in 1960.|
|No4: L to R: (?) also the 1st from left in other ORP photo ; Cliff Morgan ; Stan Deadman ; Taffy Davis ;
|No 5: 75 Sqn ORP Darwin 1960
Good one for the guessing competition.
L to R (?) ; Des Stark ? ; Frank Worrell ? ; Spike Jones ; (?) ; two laying down - no idea ? ;
next to tent ?, back to camera ? ; 3 sitting (?) (?) Darrell Johnstone ; Dan McCann ; Ted Arneson ; (?) ; Cliff Morgan ; far right (?).
Berry Springs 1970-71?
Arm Sect OLA Darwin 1970-71
76 Sqn Flight Line
|Leanyer Swamp Darwin April 1980|
|The Hornet pic is the 75 Sqn CO's bird.
Photo was taken from the 4wd Banner Recovery Vehicle by me on and Air to
Air Gunnery Camp in Darwin - 1992 I think.
The Tomcat grounded at Tindal and 75 Sqn fixed her up with some unique
The Tomcat again - and an old Delemere Air to Ground
1944 Darwin 548 Sqn RAF Spitfires (RAAF Armourers)
L to R Back: Heath, Hay, Read, Bounds, Cpl Lock
Front: Cpl Smith, Hunt, MacKay, Lawson, Cheetam
Darwin 1957 Living Quarters
|Darwin Photos 1957
Bomb Demolition Near Fenton Airstrip, NT late 1960's
Standing Left: Ted Snodgrass
Far Right: Bill Hayward
About to pick up his shoes: Taffy Davies
This page started with a call for help
from Bob Alford
As you can see there have been a couple of interesting replies and anyone who has anything to add is encouraged to to add there memories to this page!
|As an ex-Gunnie (is there such a thing as an ex-Gunnie?) I have been asked to provide advice the the Parks and Wildlife Commission up here regarding the old bomb dumps on Bombing Rd. They are preparing a display for the 60th anniversaruy of the Darwin bombings for next February. I did have a letter in Air Force News and one in Wings but got only one answer - from Bill hayward who couldn't recall much about them as he'd had a stroke.
What I need are some anecdotes or recollections of any Gunnies who might have been involved at the bomb dumps. We propose using extracts of any recollections as quotations on the interrpetive display being prepared for one of the old Armco arched magazines. I've been able to line up four Mk 82 bombs through Gary Bowman (Bowdog) and some other gear for the display but desperately need some recollections. Can you help?
I also advised Bill Haywood that Bob Wendell (1978, I think - while we were at 1CAMD) Tubby Holt, Dick Flack and Giao Ferlito have died, and I heard only this weekend that John Bretton had also gone. Pity.
Hope you had a good St.Barbara's Day - I didn't get to ours unfortunately as I was obligated elsewhere and was crook anyway.
JULY 1962 to SEPTEMBER 1963
by KEN EDWARDS
When I arrived at Darwin on 4th July 1962 for my tour of duty I thought that it was a staging unit for arrival and departure aircraft with a remote bomb dump at Snake Creek. As I settled into my duties as a Corporal Armament Fitter I discovered that the base conducted a wide variety of tasks.
Some of these tasks were carried out at the following locations:
a. Base Squadron Darwin;
b. Snake Creek;
c. Frances Bay;
d. Leanyer Swamp Range;
e. Quail Island and
I will now endeavour, with my rusty memory, explain about the locations and occurrences that took place:
On my introduction into the Armament section, I met a mixture of those whom I knew and others that I would get to know and those whom we would all farewell. Flt Jim Dewar was the Armament Officer who was highly respected in the Armament trade, and unfortunately was retiring from the RAAF within one month. Cpl John Hammond and Lac Blue Lupson were also heading south in the same period.
The other personnel that were remaining and arriving were; Flt Gordon Marshal (new Armament Officer), WOFF Merv Wilkinson (Snake Creek), WOFF Jack Dunstan, F/Sgt Reg Cuff, Sgt Seafus Comer, Sgt Col Reed, Cpl Jack Kupfer (Snake Creek), Cpl Fred Fearnly, Lac Cliff Morgan, Lac Rick Cook, Lac Darryl Fuller, Lac Tubby Holt (Snake Creek), Lac Terry O’Keefe and Lac Bob Mackay.
Our duties at base squadron consisted of:
a. Aircraft borne equipment servicing;
b. Ground support equipment servicing;
c. Servicing transit aircraft as required;
d. Explosives servicing;
e. Explosives preparation as required;
f. NCO for Leanyer range as required during mobility exercises;
h. Range targets manufacture and servicing and
i. Guard duties etc.
Snake Creek is situated close to Adelaide River about seventy miles from Darwin. The unit was previously operated by the RAN. Some time after WW2 the unit was taken over by the RAAF. The unit was used as a storage area for all types of munitions that was required for practice operations and the operational defence of Darwin.
The Snake Creek bomb dump as it was known, was ideally situated in natural undulating land and safely away from civilian establishments. The living and working environment was rugged in those days when compared to other RAAF units.
I spent four weeks working there and had the feeling that place was closing in around me. The heat and humidity caused you to lose a lot of your vitality. Working and living in close proximity to each other also caused tempers to flare up at times.
On the less serious side things there was some amusing events that took place as follows:
One evening while I was having a convivial with my mates, there was this very loud explosion; one of the airmen went for a shower and discovered a King Brown snake in the shower area, so he went back to his quarters, got his shotgun and blasted it.
Jack Kupfer was always good for a laugh; he had a baby crocodile in his possession and was showing it to a visitor in the recreation area. He explained on how dangerous they were, even in this baby stage. He had to leave the area for a moment or two so he placed the creature on a high shelf out of the way, when he returned he went to retrieve it from the shelf, that was when the little monster wrapped its mouth around Jack’s finger and bit it to the bone. I wasn’t around to hear what Jack said to that saurian.
Myself and another armourer had a very interesting experience on the work front; we had finished stacking 1000LB HE bombs to three tiers on steel railway lines inside a storage building and every thing appeared to be in order, we checked our time pieces and it was down tools time. We locked up and we were walking away from the building when we heard a noise like thunder, yes you’ve guessed it, the entire stack had slid to the floor, however, we didn’t go anywhere near the building until the next morning.
Verdict: Wooden dunnage with decent chocks would have prevented this, however, the termites devour the timber like a fillet steak.
Merv Wilkinson had some rotten luck with his bomb servicing line; there was a large stack of bombs in the open, outside of the laboratory where they had all been checked. The details of the inspections had been chalked onto the bomb casings and the necessary paper work would be done later. That night an unseasonal rainstorm drenched the area including the bombs and all the chalk was washed off. I can imagine what was said that particular morning.
There was a piggery on the unit and housed some of the biggest porkers I have ever seen, these animals belonged to the tea-club and they were fed from the mess leftovers. When some spare cash was required the pigs were then sold.
On a serious note there was an incident that occurred on the bomb servicing line at Snake Creek; an equipment assistant was replacing a transit base to one of the HE bombs and there was a localized explosion. The transit base was blown off and struck him on the legs but he was more shaken up than injured, a very lucky boy at that time.
The cause of this incident was because some explosive substance was in one of the stud holes on the base of the bomb and when George tightened one of the stud bolts belonging to the transit base into the base of the bomb the detonation occurred. This necessitated a special inspection on all the HE bombs in the RAAF. There were four stud holes on every bomb base and each one was tested for explosive substance. This testing was completed prior to the closure of Snake Creek and the move to Frances Bay.
A very serious accident occurred at Snake Creek circa 1960; some unserviceable explosives were being loaded onto a motor transport vehicle, one of the stores was an old aircraft reconnaissance flare and it was accidentally ignited as it was being loaded onto the vehicle, this in turn caused the vehicle to blow up and it took out three or four explosives storehouses with it. The messing and headquarters areas were treated to the resulting blast, however, nobody was injured because of an orderly evacuation.
Snake Creek ceased its normal operations in March 1963 and most of the munitions had been transferred to Frances Bay by then.
Frances Bay is situated adjacent to RAAF Base Darwin in natural undulating land close to the ocean. From early 1963 Frances Bay took over the operations that were carried out at Snake Creek.
This arrangement was far better for the personnel because they had the advantage of living in single or married quarters on the Darwin base and didn’t have to wait until the weekend to visit the city of Darwin.
The disadvantage of Frances Bay was its close proximity to the built up area. In those days the bureaucracy would never have thought that Darwin was going to grow so big so fast.
During the working hours we found that it was ideal for bomb preparation operations because the bombs could be collected on bomb trolleys and transported across the Stuart highway and on to the Darwin base.
There is one incident that is worth a mention; Fred Fearnly and I were towing some bombs on single beam trolleys from Frances Bay to the base and as we were traveling on a short stretch of the Stuart Highway two 500LB HE bombs fell onto the side of the road,
I stood guard over the two errant bombs and Fred continued onto the base. He came back with two troops, a lifting bar and an empty trolley, no problems.
Verdict: Don’t put bombs on one side of a single beam trolley and none on the other.
Leanyer range was part of a swamp and was used as a practice firing range for military aircraft. The range was situated about five miles from the RAAF base at Darwin. Aircraft used practice munitions on the range during mobility exercises, usually twice a year during the dry and wet seasons.
One safety precaution that was necessary before entering one of the quadrant buildings was after unlocking the door, the door was kicked open and you peered very cautiously inside to see if a King Brown snake was anywhere inside. Luckily I never encountered any of the two fanged serpents.
An amusing incident occurred one day; some of the servicing crew from the other trades were hunting for mud crabs in the swamp when they heard some loud explosions. Their natural thoughts turned to aircraft and bombs and there was much panic in vacating the area. They found out later that it was Seafus Comer demolishing derelict ordnance with some PE4.
Quail Island is situated in the Timor Sea north of Darwin. I’m not sure of the distance but it took about four hours by work-boat to get there. The island was used for High Explosive (HE) bombing during mobility exercises. This was necessitated by the closure of HE bombing at the Leanyah Swamp range. The disadvantage of using Quail Island as a bombing range was well documented by the lovers of the large sea turtles. The island was used by these turtles for laying their eggs.
The targets that we erected on the island consisted of 44 gallon drums wired together and from what I was told they became a haven for two fanged serpents.
Batchelor is situated in close proximity to Rum Jungle. The reason that I have mentioned Batchelor is because it was once an area where derelict ammunition, such as 20mm HE projectiles were laying around on top of the ground. This hazard was caused by burning the rounds of ammunition in open pits at the end of WW2. During this burning procedure the projectiles that didn’t explode were scattered in a wide circle surrounding each pit.
A small team of us armourers went from Darwin to the hazardous area after a child had been badly injured from an exploding projectile that had been placed in a camp fire. Our task was to collect the derelict projectiles. The task proved to be too large for us and a clean-up procedure was put into operation by a different department.
I guess that the area was cleared many years ago.
Personnel attached to Darwin:
The armourers that I can remember being attached to Darwin during my stay were: Sgt Doc Livingstone, Cpl Col Walker, Lac Greg Gannon, Lac Jim Kaulins, Lac Wally Crust.
AL1 18 Dec 01
I arrived in Darwin in January 1965 after flying from Sydney via Adelaide and the mail run flight stopping at all airports between Adelaide and Darwin. ( Correction here, lost count of my travels. I was an Appy 1961-63, 2AD Richmond 1964 and Darwin 1965. Went to Wagga for an electronics course in early 1966 then to 30 SQN Williamtown/Darwin in 1966-67) I arrive to join Base Squadron Transit Flight. SQNLDR Bill Hayward was the ARMO. Armament Section was responsible for providing services to transient aircraft, two Dakotas and two Huey helicopters. The section also had an armoury, Leanyer Range and the Bomb dump at Frances Bay.
Some names from that time include. Sgt Al Jensen, CPLs Barry ‘Tubby’ Holt, Tom Walsh, Max Brame, Kev ?, LAC John Duncan.
As the youngest troop I was assigned as Bills gopher for the many demolition tasks that came our way. My role was to prepare the vehicle, a jeep, and get the food from the mess. We ate well on those trips. .Helping Bill involved regular trips to Bare Sand Island, a bombing target in the Arafura Sea, the pilot farms at Tortilla Flats 100 km south of Darwin which was once used as a practice bombing range and the uranium mine at Rum Jungle which once housed a RAAF airstrip.
The daily routine involved preparing the Daks and Hueys and handling transient aircraft, of which there were many. I recall refuelling Air Force 1 (USAF) with the then Vice President of the USA on Board. The Base was closed off with a ring of local Police on the boundaries, RAAF Police dogs inside the boundary fences, and a dozen Marines immediately around the aircraft, a Boeing 707. Each of the ground crew was assigned a Marine who followed us around wherever we went. They clearly knew what had to be done and instructed us in refuelling procedures etc. In spite of their intense scrutiny we still managed to put a red kangaroo on the tail. They were a little miffed at that but nowhere near as upset as the captain of a Valiant V bomber who spat the dummy because the aircraft was painted with a new radar reflecting paint and the red kangaroo ruined it. “Hey Boris, would you believe I can see a flying kangaroo crossing the Arafura Sea?”
I have many memories of working in Base Squadron apart from the bomb dump but that is for another day.
The bomb dump was a place to behold and a great place to work. It was hidden in the bush and accessible by a single road (Bombing Road) from the RAAF Base across the highway. It wasn’t until many years later that I realised that the Darwin Harbour was just over the hill from the bomb dump. The Sturt Highway was a two lane divided road as it passed the base. The most notable feature were the March Flies that were everywhere a had a nasty bite. On quieter days we would catch them and stick them onto a piece of luting (used as a sealant for bombs before Silastic etc).
There were two buildings near the entrance , one for administration and the other, a bit further away, for bomb preparation. Most of the explosive stores were in underground half round storehouses. At the time I arrived there were thousands of bombs carpet laid on the many flat areas, usually stacked 3 high. They were very stable British origin bombs of 500 and 1000 lbs. Just as well they were stable for in the wet season the grasses grew to 3 meters, died off in the dry and were then flattened by the strong winds known as the ‘knock-em-downs’ (because that is what they did to the grass). On many occasions the dry grass caught fire and burnt out the area. There was no point in trying to put the fire out so we let them burn through the bomb stacks. This had the distinct advantage of chasing off the many snakes that lived in the area and made it much easier to count the stock and get the bombs out for use.
One of the more exciting jobs we had was preparing the bombs for use in Vietnam. We couldn’t drop dirty unpainted bombs so we dutifully pulled them out, loaded them onto single beam bomb trolleys and brought them down to the bomb line where we cleaned, scraped, repainted and remarked what seemed like 10 million of them. It was in Darwin that I learned the true purpose of the 1 inch red band we painted around the nose of all HE bombs. I think it was Tiny Brooks who told me, “watch that red ring, if it starts getting bigger, run like hell”.
Allied to the bomb cleaning was maintenance of bomb tails. There were so many types and marks that I was constantly confused. So what was the difference between a No 1 Mk2 and a No 3 Mk 7*?. One particular type had flip out fin extensions that were extended on dropping. To service the tails, usually to treat corrosion, one attached a winding device, took up the tension then unwound the spring gradually easing the fins out. After painting the reverse occurred. Many gunnies had to change their underwear when they failed to correctly insert the locking pin and let the retractor go too soon.
Our favourite visitors were the Poms who came over in Victor and Valiant ‘V’ bombers for exercises. The mess brought in extra food! We had baked beans for breakfast, real eggs, not etherised replicas, and potatoes in every form imaginable. Mind you, we locals paid for it after the exercises were over and we went back onto standard rations. “What’s for dinner cookie? Can’t you read the menu? Yeah, but what’s on the menu doesn’t match what I can see in the trays” Luckily there was a hamburger joint not far away.
There are many tales told of daring Sabre fighter knucks trying to get a missile away as these magnificent aircraft flew over at 60, 000 ft plus. Base squadron supplied extra troops if the RAF squadrons were short handed so we learnt to bomb up these beauties. The RAF ‘Red Caps” were as diligent as the US Marines when it came to supervision. We still tagged them.
Bare Sand Island was the target for the bombers, our Canberra’s included. One great job was painting one hundred and fifty 44 gallon drums white, loading them onto a Navy work boat, then floating them onto Bare Sand at high tide. The drums formed a ring to be used as a target by the V bombers. First aircraft across sent the whole lot scattering. After that a pyramid with slats for sides was constructed at great expense. The theory was that the pyramid could be seen as a target from altitude but the blast and shrapnel would go straight through. The first Canberra that dropped a bomb had a dead hit and destroyed the target.
Unexploded bombs on Bare Sand meant another job for Bill’s gopher. I was dropped off on the island before flying commenced by our chopper, and left there for the day to find and mark any UXB’s. Luckily I was never dropped on a HE bombing day. Bare Sand Island is 200m long and 50m wide, nowhere to hide. I was picked up at the end of the day. If I found any UXB's Bill planned an expedition to demolish them. That is also another story not related to Fanny Bay.
Having prepared the bombs at Frances Bay we also had to deliver them to the bomber squadrons. To do this we had a Clarktor towmotor and single beam bomb trolleys. We would set up a train of up to 6 trolleys and haul them from the bay across the Sturt Highway, blocking traffic as we went, to the base. Now, at the first intersection between Bombing Road and the highway, there was a sudden drop which had to be negotiated with care. On one very hot Darwin day I was pulling a bomb train and I managed to get woozey just as I went over the drop. I managed to jackknife the trolleys and spilt four bombs across the highway, blocking the road for nearly an hour.
Mike Boyle reminded me of another incident when I turned over a load of bombs on the road around the storage area. I had forgotten the Clarktor's reputation for brake failures and came down the hill and couldn’t get into a low enough gear to slow the train. Over they went. With single beam bomb trolleys it was easy to overturn the load simply by turning too sharply and jamming a front wheel under the centre beam. The old Type F trolley was brought into service soon after that to carry the bombs. As I recall a special purchase was made. The Type F was modified by placing two timber beams about 8 inches by 2 along the frame and a steel strip placed along the top to provide a set of rails. The single beam could carry 4 bombs and the Type F about 8.
Speaking of blocking things. On one occasion, Bill had to dispose of twenty or so Markers Marine, each 3 ft long, sea water activated and capable of burning for 24 hours. So Bill got half a dozen 44 gallon drums and cut the top out (well, the troops did) and filled them with sea water trucked in for the occasion from the harbour. We spiked the markers and dropped them into the salt water filled drums. Now, the markers burn for at least 24 hours and give off dense smoke. The smoke is even denser when you have twenty burning at the same time. The wind in Darwin has a bad habit of changing direction over a 24 hour period, for example from blowing away from the airport to blowing across the airport. Darwin airport had to be closed. Oh, by the way, did you know that once you start the markers burning you cannot stop them?
Another demolition task came our way when a large quantity of explosive ordnance was damaged and had to be burnt. There was a burning pit at Frances Bay so we loaded it up with timber soaked in diesel oil, rags to get it going and then laid the EO on top. The lid a thick steel plate was then placed on top. Now, as I remember, on of the items being burnt was a rocket motor. It ignited and burned fast. Very fast. Extremely fast. Fast enough to throw the steel lid 50 meters and scatter the unburnt EO across a large area. We did better the second time, two small loads instead of one as I recall.
And speaking of scattering. We armourers are accustomed to living with danger (ha, ha) and become a little blase when handling bombs. Not so our transport drivers who were far more sensible. Bombs were lifted from the stack using a diesel articulated crane and a two armed chain sling. Bomb lugs were screwed into the bomb and the slings attached. Normally one picked up two bombs stacked side by side without fuss and lowered them onto the single beam bomb trolleys. I recall one incident where we picked up two bombs that were separated by a gap. The old crane had something less than smooth hydraulics and the two bombs were picked up too quickly and collided in the middle with a resounding bang. Still haven’t seen that driver. He refused to work with us after that. Don’t know why.
Bill Hayward loved to blow things up. Any opportunity was taken. I mentioned Bare Sand Island. On one occasion I found a 500lb and a 100lb bombe nestled close together on one end of the island. Bill and I were taken out by the Navy in a work boat and set adrift about 100m off shore. Only problem was the dinghy we were in had oars but no rollicks so we had to paddle ashore. Thanks Navy. Anyway, Bill set the PE charges on the bombs and set the fuse burning. We walked down to the other end of the island and crouched in the curl of the sand dunes created by the waves. We were safe of course as we were wearing tin helmets at the time. There was an almighty boom, frightened the life out of me and shook the island. Shrapnel went whizzing over our heads. Damn said Bill, that wasn’t loud enough!. It was for me. After lying in the hot sun for 30 minutes we went back down the island to discover Bill was right. The 500lb bomb was gone but only the rust was scraped off the big one. Using all our remaining PE : That will fix the b.. said Bill. Down the island again. Just as we counted down 5..4..3. a light plane flew overhead (who reads NOTAMS anyway) Off she went. An almighty eruption. Up went the bomb, the island shifted ten feet to the right, and the plane did a swooping dive like you’ve never seen. ‘Get your bloody head down’ yelled Bill. I couldn’t resist a look. This time the shrapnel hit the sand a few feet from where we were crouched against the sand dune.
I have never been so terrified in my life, except perhaps for the time I was being returned from the island by chopper after a days search and a thunderstorm came between us and home. Low on fuel, the pilot indicated that we had but one way to go! Toss your gear over board he ordered! (Pilots usually made us sit at the sides with the doors open and demolition kit between our legs with orders to toss it out on his call.) My gear wasn’t the only thing that went overboard I can tell you, lunch… breakfast, inner lining of my stomach to name a few.
One of the fun days out was the trip to Tortilla Flats and the pilot farms and then to Rum Jungle. Tortilla Flats was used as a bombing, rocketry and gunnery range during the war. In the early sixties the Government experimented with farming and as the range was nice and flat, they created farms from the range. One farm of course contained the central aiming point of the old range which was full of derelict EO. First we marked it out with signs. Farmers would be ploughing at night in the cool and went straight past the signs. Then we tried fences. Many times we got a call to extract a mortar round or bomb from under a plough, often mixed with fencing wire. Usually we arrived to find that the young lad who was doing the driving had gone home to Mother.
On these trips Bill would get the demolition kit and I arranged the rations and two S&W 38 pistols with ammo. After the serious work we would head inland and return along very poor tracks. The old jeep had a drop down windscreen which made it easy to drive with one hand and shoot with the other. Nothing escaped our frenzied shooting. Even less was ever hit. It was from Bill that I learned the art of long tail bait fishing. Take one small piece of PE and a short length of safety fuze with detonator. After lighting the fuze throw it like a grenade into the river. All sorts of rubbish floated to the surface but I don’t recall ever getting a fish!.
Our other haunt was Leanyer range. Tiny Brooks seemed to be OIC. The master quadrant was home to a very large python snake that liked to rest over the door. Tiny’s favourite pastime was to send unsuspecting new troops in to open up the quadrant. As you opened the door, the snake fell down on top of you. No wonder gunnies have weak hearts.
Our vehicle for the range was an old Power Wagon, 4 wheel drive American truck that could go anywhere but required special skills to drive. Wheel alignments had not been invented for them. Ideal for the range which in the wet season was very boggy. So boggy that Kev almost lost the jeep one Friday. We had to come up with an excuse to Bill to take the power wagon from the base down to the range with half a dozen troops to dig the jeep out without letting out the truth. Bogged to the floor boards it was, and sinking.
An interesting feature of Leanyer Range was its habit of spitting out unexploded bombs during the wet season. The ground moved so much that bombs travelled around underground and from time to time found their way to the surface. I am sure the range clearance team could tell many delightful stories of Leanyer.
Mick Boyle's Darwin
I read Gas Watson’s account of Frances bay and my recollections are much the same, as I spent a bit of time there in the early to mid 60’s. Perhaps I was there earlier than Gas as the bomb stacks were slightly different when I first started bomb servicing. In those days they were in the same storehouses as Gas talks about, but the stacks themselves went something like this.
In each storehouse there were two lengths of railway track, side by side about 18 inches apart with a cross piece on top at each end. The bombs were then stored on top of these tracks into the shed. Once the initial first layer of bombs filled the area on the rail track, then stacking on top of these began. This was thought to be too cumbersome and slow as to remove or replace the bombs on the second and subsequent rows required the use of an electric portable gantry crane. An old Deutz powered this crane, yes the same type as used on the flight line many moons ago. The legs of the gantry went each side of the bombs and two bombs were collected at a time and the armourers duly pushed this cumbersome thing to the front door and lowered them to the ground.
At this stage an MT driver, using a Car Crane (Kar Krane?) that had a swinging front boom, would use the chains and lugs to deposit them on the single beam bomb trolleys. As you can see, this operation was very slow. However, when we put the bombs back in the shed after servicing, wooden rails were placed on the top of each layer of bombs and all the crane driver had to do was manoeuvre them through the door and the Armourers would roll them into position. This cut out the use of the gantry.
Having seen how simple it was to replace the bombs, someone had a brilliant idea of how to then get the bombs out of the sheds without using the gantry. Wonderful idea and it worked. The crane driver would take off the top bomb near the door followed by the first bomb in the next lower row. This continued until there was only the bottom bomb holding the whole pile together and was held in place by the crosspiece. Making sure the trollies and crane were out of the way, the driver would then shout “Banzai” and remove the bottom bomb. The whole stack would then collapse and come tumbling out the door. Probably not regarded as best practice but it worked. Still remember the two Works-and-jerks types who were not in on the scheme and being in the vicinity heard the “Banzai”, looked up and saw all the bombs spilling out and were soon posted as missing in the bush.
The guard dogs were also stored on base at Frances bay. They were not far from the bomb servicing line and can still recall hearing the ruckus one day when one of the dog handlers who was cleaning the kennels, stood on the tail of someone else’s dog. The dog chewed his arms and legs before they could get him out of there.
Forgot to mention that the ring road that meandered through the dump was strictly ‘one way’ only. This I believe was brought about by the unlucky action of one of the Armourers who managed to lose the whole string of loaded single beam bomb trollies on the downhill section through the bends. Everyone knew that when towing with the old Clarktor tow motor, more speed could be gained by building up the rev’s and as gravity and inertia took over on the downhill sections, shift into angel gear. Pity the brakes were never much good on those things. After that episode, the one-way road went uphill through the curves, which only left one down hill straight section for us rev heads to show our stuff.
About the mid sixties they reviewed the bomb servicing interval I think and instead of doing an inspection every two years or so moved it out by several years. After this, the Darwin Gunnies section had surplus troops and cut backs began.
One other story before I go and this had nothing to do with the bomb dump. Servicing hangar (now destroyed) was where we all went to work (nearly said worked) and this memory stands out more than most. All tech musterings had to do duty crew and this day I remember was monsoonal and when a visiting Skyhawk landed from an American carrier nobody went out to marshal it into position on the flight line. It duly parked itself with the drag chute trailing on the ground and waited for the rain to cease. Eventually the rain slackened off and Jack Read, an Instrument Fitter, said that as he was on duty crew then he supposed he better go and see what needed doing.
Now Jack was fat and never moved above a trot so he ambled out to the aircraft and when he got there he looked up and asked the pilot, who had by then popped the canopy, “Is there something I can do for you, mate”
The pilot replied in his best Yankee drawl “Yeah guy, you can call me a tanker”.
So Jack pointed up to the pilot and said in his best Aussie drawl “OK, you’re a Tanker”
Well, there’s a few memories from the old shellback days and I suppose there are more stories locked away in the old brain somewhere but to get them out would probably require a good afternoons drinking with some of the old stagers from back then.
Meanwhile, take care,
This part of a personal memory exercise and is the second chapter.
A posting to No 2AD Richmond in January 1953 was the reward for three years of intense study and hard work at Wagga and I think second prize would have been preferable. The Depot was and still is, I guess, just the service equivalent of a factory, complete with the same sort of environment with the difference that everything was tidy and
clean. In fact, we probably spent as much time cleaning the place up as we did producing serviced equipment, which was the reason for the depot. Equipment which had finally reached the state of disrepair where it needed re-building was sent to the various depots around the air force (1AD Laverton and 3AD Amberley being the other Depots) for some quite lengthy overhaul processes. All sorts of equipment were included in the inventory, from aircraft on down. Instruments, engines, electrical and of course armament systems were all grist for the mill. Five of my gunnies` course came to 2AD. Bob Thompson. Ivan Baker, Curley Bailey and Rodney Brett were with me and we were not received with open arms or hearts. Somewhere along the line the Boss had got a down on Appys and we were not given much encouragement which makes it all the more mysterious why the four of us were sent to Darwin some few months after our arrival, on what really turned out to be a `jolly` to the tropics.
At the time, there was a very large operation in progress, in the NT, by the armament world. This consisted of removing all the WW2 explosive ordnance from the area and transporting it by sea, to the south for re-furbishing and up-dating.
In hindsight, the fact that this was old ordnance and possibly dangerous, may have been the motivation to send us
potentially expendable ex-Appys on the trip, but it backfired because everything went beautifully and we had a beaut time in Darwin, having been flown up by Mr. QANTAS in what I remember as a Constellation. The scars of the Jap attacks were still very much in evidence. On the base the old gym/movie theatre was still a bombed out shell as were the Bank of NSW and the Post Office in the town itself. Ivan Baker’s brother, who was in the navy during the war and was killed in Darwin, was in the War Cemetery at Adelaide River so we hired a car and drove down. It was about seventy miles down the `track and the whole way, it seemed, was lined with airstrips. We stopped for photographs of the Snake Creek sign, which was one of the joke postings we had talked about at Wagga. Some joke.
Next day, at the Darwin base, they wanted someone to go down to Snake
Creek bomb dump to assist by acting as a tally clerk. As we had just graduated as Armament Fitters, we would know what each piece of ordnance was and this appeared to be the main reason for our presence in Darwin.
Well, why not? So I put my hand up and off I go with in the ration truck with the other passenger, the new cook attached to the depot. Turned out he was a terrific cook and had been working in the Sergeants Mess (they always get the best) but he had been a bit too fond of the cooking sherry and they sent him off to dry out at Snake Creek. We gained where the Sgts lost.
Snake Creek was one of those little units like Evans Head, away from the main stream, with the difference that there was no little town to live in. It was way out in the bush being some seventy miles south of Darwin and some miles from Adelaide River which was at best a one dog, one Pub town.
The set up was typical I think of most explosive storage areas. Concrete lined bunkers dug into a convenient hill side with a rail spur running in from the main line.
The pub was a great attraction of course and we used to trundle down there after work in the unit ambulance for a couple and home for a beaut tea. There was no system of wet canteens for the troops in those days, hence the saying, when someone was promoted to Sgt `he got the beer stripe!`.
I had my first experience of driving a tractor in that time at Snake Creek. The unit had an old one for shunting the railway trucks which were carrying the ordnance to Darwin waterfront for loading onto the ship. One morning I was up and about before the main mob and a train turned up to hook up and go. The wagons had to be pushed somewhere or other and there I was. I got the tractor started alright but didn’t know, then, that you didn’t change
gears as with a car so I had some fun before I got the ping that it goes into the gear you want, right from the word go.
By way of recreation one afternoon I was allowed to go wallaby shooting. They gave me a .303 and some ammo and pointed me off to the West. No compass and totally unknown territory but off I went quite happily.
I saw an incredible amount of what could only be described as the `garbage of war`. Old concrete floors, bits of hand grenades and rifle charger clips were lying almost any where one looked. Quite obviously this area had been heavily populated during the war.
Anyway, I shot a wallaby and took the tail for the cook and, without too much difficulty found my way to the main road and thus back to camp. I must have walked only four or five miles but it was an interesting experience.
I must point out that we were in Darwin for about three weeks and I was only at Snake Creek for one of those.
I hope these memories will be of some use.
John Saunders No 4 Intake (Dewdrops)