Backward Glance Fort Bribie and the grim days of World War ll - Part 1
  • Wednesday 18 July 2018

In about 1940, Bribie Island assumed a vital role in Australia’s coastal defences, especially in the protection of the Port of Brisbane.

It was not until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941 that Australian coastal defence posts quickly gained momentum.

In early 1942 Allied Land Headquarters issued orders for the raising of coastal artillery batteries in Queensland. N Battery Fortification on the northern end of Bribie Island was one of them. Known as Brisbane Fortress five batteries were dispersed to parts of the coastline which were incorporated into the Brisbane Fire Command.

Colonel J Whitelaw designed the N Battery Fortification Bribie Island which was to be completed during 1942. The construction cost of Fort Bribie’s concrete structures was $110,000 (55 thousand pounds) and were built by Civic Construction Corps workers for the soldiers yet to come.

Members of the Volunteer Defence Corps also helped with the building of military constructions on Bribie Island. In May 1942, WWI decorated ADF officer Frank Nicklin MM became commander of the 6th Battalion VDC on the Near North Coast.

The heavy artillery regiment was to be positioned on N Bribie Battery. All along the beaches, in the area later known as the Sunshine Coast, barbed wire was strung to deal with any unexpected invasion and some gun emplacements were installed.

Bribie Island had tactical advantages over Caloundra as it was closer to the North West shipping channel. It had the most effective site for the guns which had a range of 19 kilometres.

In 1939 Redbank Military Camp became the home of the first Queensland 2/9th Australian Infantry Battalion. The first AIF military unit to reach Bribie was a composite group of three rifle platoons, one machine gun platoon, signalers, trench mortar, engineering and intelligence personnel.

During World War ll, units stationed at N Battery Bribie Island included a Garrison Battalion, an AIF Composite Company and a Militia Battalion. The camp site was about 400 metres square.

Bribie always had a good supply of underground fresh water. Soldiers dug out a fresh water reservoir which was spring fed and included a pump house near the Bribie military camp. It was situated near the lighthouse and keeper's cottage.

Caloundra was classified as a restricted zone with military sentry posts on the Bruce Highway near Landsborough, the main access going into Caloundra and towards Northern Command camped in the Battery Hill region.

5th Field Regiment with their heavy artillery were transported in 1940 to Battery Hill. This was the first time for the 5th Field Regiment that munitions had been carried by motorized vehicles, having previously been pulled by horses.

In 1940 the transport trucks carrying the guns became bogged in the muddy areas around Duck Holes on the approach to Caloundra and had to be pulled out by the Regiment’s horses. First practice shot fired at Battery Hill was on May 29, 1940.

Interestingly Battery Hill was not named during World War ll. It got its name from a much earlier period of military history when Robert Bulcock senior erected an observation tower to watch out for Russian warships during the Russian Scare ca 1880. Thankfully no Russian ships ever arrived. 3rd Division Australian Army Provosts (Military Police) were camped in the Landsborough area, an important zone where both road and rail crossed+. Thousands of troops disembarked, camped and trained in that district before leaving for war zones. 

Still today Landsborough Railway Station has a heritage listed bomb shelter on the main platform.

AIF Artillery Fortress Command headquarters under the command of Lt Colonel Thompson was situated in Burgess Street, Caloundra. From there the Batteries on both Bribie N Battery and Moreton Island’s Cowan Battery had an anti-submarine detection loop positioned between the islands running along the sea bed.

Moored mines could be exploded from the shore if enemy vessels intruded into Moreton Bay. Further south on Bribie was No.4 RAN at Woorim which was built into the frontal sand dune. The American Naval Commandos were positioned at Toorbul Point.

American and Australian forces, both infantry and commandos, held practice amphibious landings about midway up the ocean beach.

The Americans provided much superior invasion craft to those available to the Australians and both countries worked well together when training on our North Coast beaches.
RAAF Wirraway and Boomerang planes from Amberley Air force base were regularly seen over Pumicestone Passage as they simulated bombing and strafing exercises.
From early 1942 American personnel began to arrive without fanfare or official comment, in increasing numbers that demanded attention especially in places like Brisbane and seaside towns on the coast.

Most Australians embraced their glamorous allies with enthusiasm though rivalry and misunderstandings sometimes occurred.

In fact, Brisbane became the largest United States Naval Base in Australia set up on April 15, 1942.

By mid-1943, Brisbane served as the main base and chief supply point for the allied naval assault on Eastern New Guinea.

Due to the strategic importance and close proximity to the coastline the shipping lanes were heavily patrolled leading into Moreton Bay and the Port of Brisbane.

Military coast watchers were stationed along the coast line in homes owned by local residents and leased during the war years by the Australian Army.

These troubling times caused attention to be focused on Caloundra and other small beach side and country town regions for fear of invasion. Many of the local residents at that time moved their families away from the Coast. Rumors were rife and people were worried with their men away fighting in the Middle East and then later in New Guinea and the Pacific region.

During the war years, two homes located in Burgess Street were requisitioned by the Australian Coastal Artillery. Number 19A Burgess Street, known as 'Compten', was the Officers' Mess, with a dining area under the house. ‘Delamere’ 19 Burgess Street, was used by the Coastal Artillery HQ. The Signalers, with military coast watchers were stationed in neighbouring houses.

Other homes were commandeered to watch shipping movements in the North West Shipping Channel. The Coast Artillery Transport section was situated behind the Burgess Street houses and was accessed from King Street. A three storey Royal Australian Navy Signal Tower was constructed, with 30.48cm thick concrete walls, on the corner of Victoria Terrace, at Wickham Point, just in front of the R.A.N. Signal Station No: 1, which was located at 34 Victoria Terrace.

A large private home in Canberra Terrace called 'Buena Vista' was commandeered during the war years and was used as the Fortress Observation Post. This was the fire command post, working in conjunction with the letter batteries in the region.

There is some speculation as to the exact whereabouts of the Fortress Observation Post, with some people believing that it was at ‘The Camp’ 15 Burgess Street and others that it was the Burgess home at Bald Knob.

On a July 1944 map the Fortress Observation Post Range Finder base level was stated as being 165.67 feet above sea level, which converts to 50.49 meters above sea level. The old Caloundra lighthouse site is 47 meters above sea level, which would indicate that Canberra Terrace, was in fact the site of the Fortress Observation Post.

‘The Camp’ at 15 Burgess Street was built in 1912 and burnt down during the mid-1990s.

Next week we will continue with Part 2 of the grim days of World War ll.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.

Image captions:
Hero image: Infantry soldiers and officers standing near an Infantry Training Camp at Tooway Lake, Caloundra, 1940.

Carousel images:
Image 1: Soldiers building a bridge over Tooway Lake during World War Two, ca 1940
Image 2: Third Division Military Police camped near Landsborough, ca 1943.
Image 3: Ships Company, R.A.N. Station No. 1, Caloundra Head, 1945.
Image 4: Cleaning duties, outside the WRANS cottage in Memorial Lane, Caloundra. L-R: Babs, Betty, Doris and Francis, ca 1945.
Image 5: Fort Bribie coastal artillery personnel, ca 1943.