Operation 'Potshot'--Exmouth Gulf 1942-44.
The impact of the United States entry into the Pacific war was more noticeable on the east coast of Australia than elsewhere. However, residents of Western Australia were concerned about the threat of a Japanese incursion, either naval or military, into the Indian Ocean. Their State was closer than Brisbane or Sydney to Malaya, Singapore and the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), now occupied by the Japanese,. Whereas Australia's armed forces involvement in Europe and the Middle Fast had been their emotional preoccupation, now Western Australia's focus was to be on the defence of Western Australia. In 1942 Australian and American defences were stretched right across the South West Pacific Area. The Japanese were at their zenith of expansion, and promising more of the same. To counter this threat, 3rd Australian Corps deployed the 2nd and 4th Infantry Divisions and 1st Armoured Division for the defence of Perth and northern areas.
So it came to pass that the United Stales Navy (USN) sent submarine and air forces to Perth/Fremantle that year to provide a counterweight to forces already deployed on the east coast of the continent. While there is adequate coverage in Australian and American historiography on forces concentrated near Perth, less is known about Operation Potshot--the establishment of an advanced aerodrome and submarine base at the southern end of Exmouth Gulf. Here RAAF and AMF units combined with USN forces to construct, man and defend a base, the aim of which was to increase the number of submarine patrols sailing from the west. The USN closed down their facility when its utility was no longer necessary. The aerodrome continued to be developed into a modern air base known as Learmonth.
The Establishment Phase
In early 1942 the first USN forces arrived in Fremantle and Perth. Their commander, Rear Admiral Charles Lockwood, set up his headquarters on St. George's Terrace, Perth. Initially, his force consisted of a submarine tender and it was followed by submarines that had sortied from Pearl Harbor (Hawaii) to terminate their patrol in Fremantle. A squadron of Catalina PBY-1 maritime reconnaissance aircraft soon followed to augment RAAF patrols that already covered convoy mutes of the Indian Ocean and was based at Crawley Bay. As Fremantle was closer than Pearl Harbor to the northern war zones, as was Brisbane, from whence submarines were sortieing to cover the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, it made sense to create a base to improve coverage of the NEI and beyond. Resources directed to Fremantle were considerable, and soon Lockwood could say submarines operated there from. Coincidentally, once the Japanese logistical organization extended to the NEI, their bombers began the bombardment of targets on Australia's north coast from airfields in Java and other islands. Principal targets were Darwin, Broome and Wyndham and their aerial reconnaissance and bombing extended south to Exmouth Gulf. A chain of RAAF radar stations with a range of 60 miles had been constructed along the coast, but responding meaningfully to their warnings was a problem as yet unsolved.
Aerial reconnaissance at this time reported large numbers of invasion barges at Timor. Something had to be done. General Macarthur's Headquarters sent an instruction to Lockwood to form a task force to propose a military installation to deal with the threat Perth was also Headquarters of 3rd Australian Corps, GOC Lieut General H Gordon Bennett. In July Bennett seconded his Corps Commander, Royal Artillery, Brigadier Bruce Klein (1) to the task force, whereupon Klein learnt that a new base was to be established in the North West Cape area. Surveys showed that the Exmouth Gulf region was an ideal location to base submarines should a Japanese invasion threat materialise. By not having to proceed to Perth, submarines could refuel and replenish at Exmouth and thus spend more time on patrol.
The Australian War Cabinet had approved the construction of an airfield at Yanrey, about 40 miles (60 kms) east of the southern end of Exmouth Gulf, to provide protection for the proposed advanced naval base. It was closer to the main northern road than Exmouth and the response time for fighter aircraft to intercept raiders depended on their incoming direction. If, as anticipated, the enemy would approach from the west the extra distance to be covered would be crucial to limiting their damage. In the event Brigadier Klein was asked to make a reconnaissance of the area. His report suggested that it was feasible to construct an airfield near the area where the USN would ultimately select as suitable for their facility. Klein was to select two sites--one next to the USN area and another three miles further north.
At Klein's first briefing with Lockwood, the latter remarked, "Well, we'll take a potshot at it". (2) From then on the venture (initially a Quonset hut camp) was known by that name. The American initiative's first step was to reconnoitre the area on foot, and Commander 'Pinky' Thorpe took a carload of colleagues to look over the site. They pronounced it suitable, and based on spring seasonal conditions, even for submarine crews' recreation leave. On this latter point he was wildly astray, as events later showed. (3)
On 11 September 1942 Admiral Lockwood flew Brigadier Klein and Lt Col John S Young, a Staff Corps officer and commander of Fremantle's anti-aircraft defences as well as Klein's anti-aircraft artillery advisor, north in a US Navy Catalina (4). The group took quarters in an American seaplane tender (USS William B Preston) and next morning the ship moved towards the beach. As it approached the shore Lockwood turned to the captain and said, "Take her in as close as possible". The captain turned a doubtful eye on the uncharted waters and replied respectfully, "We have never had the honour of having an admiral aboard, sir. Will you take her in?" The admiral did. There was grinding sound as the ship hit bottom. Turning to the captain, Lockwood ordered, "Lower a motorboat for us and have this damned ship off before I come back." (5)
Brigadier Klein, Young, together with Lockwood and Commander J L Thew (USN) made up the first landing party, who had to wade ashore and view a desolate landscape of sand dunes, spinifex and hundreds of kangaroos. Nearest habitation was 20 miles (32 km) away. Klein's preliminary recce party covered about 10 miles (16 km) on foot and they decided the layout for the aerodrome and anti-aircraft defences. Lockwood and Thew sited their facility east of the aerodrome on the coastal dunes. Then it was back to the tender, which was then floating free. On his return Lockwood said to the captain, "You will not inform the Navy Department we went aground".
On 6 November 1942 Admiral Lockwood flew Mai General John Whitelaw, MGRA (Maj General Royal Artillery at AHQ the most senior artillery officer), the RAN's Commander H J Buchanan (Naval Headquarters staff officer) and Klein in a Catalina to Exmouth gulf to get the final approval for the project. (6) After engine troubles with the first Catalina the party eventually made its destination in another. At this time an agreed 'modus operandi' had been established by American, British and Australian navies for the operation of joint facilities, but the Americans were generally exempt from their directives. Approval was forthcoming and the Americans (4 officers and 64 enlisted men) swung into action. The Base Commander was Lt W J R Hayes, USN. One of his engineers had devised a 'Perth Hut', a rectangular, portable galvanised iron affair. This enabled the insulated Quonset huts to be used for personnel purposes. During the next three months a base capable of holding 1,000 men bloomed in the desert, known as 'Yankeetown'. Huts, stores, oil storage tanks, jetty were the major building constructions. Adjacent to the airstrips were the major civil engineering projects. (7) The latter comprised three runway layouts north of the Australian aerodrome area: one was oriented 80 degrees (magnetic) and was never completed: the other two intersected, their bearings being 155/335 and 139/319 respectively, and were for US Navy use.
The Americans also installed a section of 75 mm M1A1 field guns in sandbagged gunpits close to the shoreline to engage any surface targets. After the devastating Japanese air raid on Port Hedland the Americans were very concerned about the air defence of the facility. This was agreed by the commanders as being an Australian obligation.
Anti-Aircraft and Coastal Defences
At this time the coastline of WA was divided into seven sectors for ground and air defence. Exmouth fell between De Grey River near Port Hedland south and west to north of Geraldton. Ground troops comprised 11th Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) Battalion with detachments at Port Hedland (40), Roebourne (23), Onslow (18) and Camarvon (60). 29th Garrison Battalion had full time troops at Port Hedland and Camarvon. A mobile force (13th Infantry Brigade) based at Melville Camp had the role of moving quickly to a threatened area of the coast in the event of an enemy landing, for which it trained. (8) The RAN's official historian (Gill) noted that a sergeant commanded a section of 18 pounder field guns at North West Cape. Another feature of the defence security was the use of low-level codes to refer to locations. Onslow became 'Jarrah', Yanrey 'Poker' and Potshot was unaltered until its security was compromised by sloppy signal work a short time after its establishment. It then became 'Erosion'. There was also another convention of referring to these delivery destinations for stores. The three above were 'Mike', 'Soup' and 'Fish'. (9)
Brigadier Klein reported his requirement for anti-aircraft defences to Army Headquarters (AHQ) in Melbourne. On 3 December an advance party of Captain Fred Ingram (ASC), 3 officers and 52 other ranks of 5th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Training Battery sailed on USS Trinity, a fleet oiler, to Potshot in preparation for the installation of the guns. On 27 December 11 Officers and 224 ORs of 4th Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) Battery and its associated support units (searchlights, radar, signals detachment and workshop section) arrived at Fremantle en route from its previous Goode Island base (near Melbourne) with eight 3.7 inch mobile heavy anti-aircraft (AA) guns, two Bofors 40 mm light anti-aircraft guns, two AA radars Mark 2 and four AA searchlights. (10) On 30 December it left for Exmouth Gulf where equipment was transferred onto barges, unloaded at the pontoon jetty and taken to the gun areas selected. In all 4,600 rounds of 3.7 inch ammunition was landed. Captain Ingram was able to report that the guns were 'proofed' by 5 January. The balance of the unit's equipment arrived on 14 February on MV Koolinda. Q Movements, the army organization responsible for transferring personnel, vehicles and weapons between centres had much experience in this field.
In fierce heat gunners dug gunpits to protect the embryonic airstrips, installing their equipment and calibrating and 'surveying in' their guns. No. 1 Battery (No. 452 Gun Station) was sited a mile (1.6 km) south and No. 2 Battery (No. 453 Gun Station) a mile north of the American jetty. Their HQ was sited nearer the former and searchlights either side (half a mile) of the US Camp. 12 Browning 0.5 inch calibre machine guns arrived with RAAF airmen and became part of the air defences.
When all the anti-aircraft gunners had arrived and had a chance to settle in Brigadier Klein arrived for his inspection on 19 February, and was not impressed with what he saw. Personnel were slovenly, unshaven and lacked discipline. No.1 Gun Station was congested, and Battery HQ and Workshops were wrongly placed. Camouflage was poor and he gave directions for its improvement. Every time a plane was in the air it was to be used for training. There were numerous administrative matters also requiring rectification and attention. (11) The battery commander was put 'on notice'.
Lt Col Jones inspected the unit a month later and found much had changed for the better--general smartness good and turnout improved. The Base Commander was evacuated to Perth on medical grounds and Captain G K Richards appointed Acting Base Commander. On 22 March the first practice shoot was held for both heavy and light weapons which coincided with an inspection by the Maj General Royal Artillery, (MGRA), Maj General John Whitelaw, of Army Headquarters. It was reported that the shooting was well controlled and effective results obtained from both gun stations. LAA gun crews lacked experience and their results were less noteworthy. Most importantly Klein was able to report 'a remarkable improvement was seen in general conduct, bearing etc.. a very favourable impression was gained'. However there were still deficiencies to be made good, and it was noted that the appointment of a Camp Commandant had been wise. (12)
However, in the hustle and bustle attendant on establishing the base many of the soldiers and airmen had never been trained in the use of weapons and other vital stores had not arrived. In the planning stages it had been agreed by Klein and Lockwood that American personnel were not to mix with the Australian. The underlying reasons for this was the differing ration scales, standard of amenities, service 'cultural differences' and disciplinary codes. However, and important amenity had not been forgotten for the Australians--there was a beer ration! (13)
With the arrival of the RAAF 76 Operational Base Unit (OBU) command and control arrangements had to be put in place to ensure the smooth administration of the site with the least possible friction between the services. The command of AMF troops was given to Maj J Stokes-Hughes as Camp Commandant, for, in addition to the gunners there were part of a General Transport Company (Army Service Corps), a Detachment from an Employment Company (comprising alien Chinese labourers on the site), a Detachment from 2/2nd Boring Platoon (Engineers) for water supplies and a Detachment from 8 Supply Personnel Company. In May 1943 Potshot boasted 27 officers and 757 other ranks--almost an infantry battalion in numbers. (14) As with all military establishments, Standing Orders were soon in place, which practice was also a feature of the RAAF administration of its personnel. A feature of both of these documents was that they detailed the procedures to be followed should the Japanese attack along the north coast by amphibious or aerial assault, especially the destruction of warlike stores. The tender USS Pelieus would be withdrawn south should that occur. All commanders orders, even those of the OC 76 OBU, were enjoined to "react vigorously to any enemy threat". (15) The air defences were first tested at night (2309 hrs) on 21 May when 4th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery engaged two Japanese aircraft at 17,400 feet (4,580 m) for one minute and despatched 47 rounds from their eight 3.7 inch guns. Their bombs dropped into the sea. Next night, (0036 hrs)a single aircraft dropped nine bombs which mused neither damage nor casualties. On 16 September two Japanese aircraft approached the area, and 4th Battery despatched 27 rounds. This was the last occasion when enemy aircraft entered the area, although there were several occasions when alerts were sounded, guns were manned but no engagements took place. (16)
On 18 September 1943 4th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery was designated 140th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery under the command of 102nd Composite Regiment which had nominal control over all WA AA units. It moved further north to Corunna Downs whence it was disbanded.
Light anti-aircraft (LAA) defences were not neglected, and in the event a Troop of six Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft guns of 2/8 LAA Battery moved from Onslow in April. In May 1943 the other Troop deployed to Potshot and was replaced by A Troop, 151 LAA Battery under command of 102nd Composite Regiment in September 1943. It was at Naval Base as part of the overall defence of Fremantle from August 1942. By November that year all the military units in WA were being wound down and 151st LAA Battery was disbanded at Bellevue Camp in December 1944.
Building the Airstrips
The construction of what was to become RAAF Learmonth air base was to be a long-lived saga of 'bureaucracies in action' that lasted well beyond the time frame of this account of Potshot. To begin with the terrain was inhospitable, being low sand dunes 15 feet high (5 m) intersected by numerous washaways that were beholden to the prevailing winds all through the year and torrential rains during the 'cyclone season'. If there was an advantage that Brigadier Klein saw it was ease of construction in moving earth for those newly invented machines, bulldozers.
The land was secured under National Security (NS) Regulations and the WA State Government Country and Main Roads Board became involved in December 1942 through contractors to construct the strips. Each strip was 5,000 feet (1525 m) long and oriented 65/245 degrees (true) and 5/185 degrees respectively. Expenditure approved was 48,800 [pounds sterling] for the 'aerodrome' and 29,400 [pounds sterling] for 24 dispersal areas and connecting taxiways. Dispersals had to be strong enough to support a loaded fighter aircraft, Kittyhawk, Boomerang and Spitfire, and (to anticipate) a medium bomber, for example, B-25 Mitchell, later on. An amount of 1,250 [pounds sterling] was allocated for gravel and tar sealing both strips. (17)
The contractor chosen by the government engineer was not part of the Civil Constructional Corps organization and, ergo, beholden to Manpower Regulations then applying through industry and defence works and projects. Labour problems soon arose. Potshot was 100 desolate miles (160 kms) north from the main north coast road junction. This added enormously to feelings of isolation. Whereas servicemen were relatively well provided for by ration scales, shelter etc., contractors were a different story altogether with little flexibility, short of coercion, to get the workmen 'on side'. In high summer the situation begs one's imagination when the engineer's report noted that 'the men were in primitive camp conditions'.
Despite these difficulties progress was made. The 'aerodrome' site was described as 'ideal' in one report--'on sandy ground high above the flat surrounds; no lying water; sea breezes and 300 yards to the beach'. A hydrographic survey was also requested as Exmouth Gulf was seen as an alighting site for the Ceylon (Sri Lanka)--Australia seaplane route. It was not long before the airmen began asking for improvements to the basic design of the aerodrome. The south and south western ends of the strips were connected by a taxiway with a refuelling area closer to the 65 runway. Taxiway layout was circular, beginning and ending at the ends of each runway, as shown in the diagram. Each runway was extended by 500 feet (150 m) and 1,700 feet (500 m) respectively, and a 2,000 feet (600 m) stopway for overshoots added to the northern ends of both runways. A 5 KVA Toledo flarepath for night operations was installed.
In mid March 1943 a cyclonic storm of immense proportions and fierce winds drenched Potshot and surrounds with 4 feet (1.3 m) of water. It blew down and flooded tents and stores and added to the airmen's difficulties of operating from the runways until the water subsided, when as it eventuated, the base was under its most significant threat. Worse occurred at the USN installations. Their timber jetty escaped damage but the pontoon wharf and tank barge were blown ashore and beached one and a half miles (3 km) to the north. The crane barge suffered a similar fate.
The Japanese Threat and Naval Responses
In February 1943 Rear Admiral Lockwood learned that his superior officer in CINCPAC Headquarters at Pearl Harbor had been killed in an aircraft accident and he was to succeed him and be promoted vice admiral. His own strong preference was to remain operating from Fremantle "because it would be going backwards to go to Pearl Harbor". He was overruled by Admiral Chester Nimitz and to Hawaii he went. Lockwood's style had made Fremantle and Perth a popular place for his crews. Before he left he made generous references to the warmth of Australian people. (18)
His successor, Rear Admiral Ralph Christie, was a torpedo specialist, and arrived at a time when a second more modern submarine tender joined his station. He and his staff were of the opinion that Potshot base was unsuitable. During the monsoon/tropical cyclone season refuelling from a tender was hazardous and disrupted often. The desolate landscape contrasted unfavourably with Perth as a recreation destination. The last straw came when the tender USN Pelieus in the gulf and was spotted by a Japanese reconnaissance plane. Next nights the base was raided and the tender withdrawn soon afterwards.
The Japanese Navy was very active in the Indian Ocean more so with surface warships than submarines. The latter were augmented by several German U-Boats that patrolled the major sea mutes to and from Fremantle to the Middle East via Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and South Africa. On 8 March 1944 there was considerable anxiety when the presence of a heavy cruiser squadron (flagship Aoba) was reported to be standing off the Western Australian coast west of Carnarvon, 800 miles north west of Fremantle, heading south west. Quite by chance after a rain squall had cleared it had been sighted by a 6,100 ton tramp steamer, SS Behar, which sent a sighting report before being stink by gunfire. Naval Intelligence deduced from other Japanese fleet movements and sightings that it was probably heading for the Naval Base at Fremantle or on a raiding foray on convoy mutes in the Indian Ocean. There was a full moon and the estimated time of seaward bombardment was placed as 11 March. The USS Pelieus and HMS Maidstone, a Royal Navy tender, and eight freighters were despatched to Albany. Five submarines put to sea on picket lines and HMAS Adelaide and HMS Sussex anchored in Gage Roads as anti-aircraft defences. Extra air reconnaisance patrols were mustered. Coastal Artillery defences were fully manned in readiness--even eager anticipation. Full 'Red Alert' was reached in the afternoon of 10 March, but by 12 March the situation eased. It was the high point for testing the western coastline defences in the war. (19)
As mentioned 76 OBU was first on the ground at Potshot and its commander had the onerous task of establishing a base "from scratch". It was not an auspicious beginning to his unit's task when not long afterwards a powerful cyclone struck. Nonetheless, RAAF logistics delivered to him two thousand 250 and 500 lb high explosive bombs with instantaneous and 5 second delay fuses. Supplies of .303 inch and 0.5 inch machine gun ammunition and defence stores soon followed. The unit's official records of the period are, on the one hand, requests for all sorts of equipment to make good deficiencies and the need for trained personnel. The reverse traffic from higher headquarters was for returns showing the status of stocks of warlike stores and noting that trained personnel were at a premium and relief could not be expected at least in the short term. For example, there was an acute need for a Cypher Clerk, probably one of the key other rank appointments on the unit, and this provides the reason for the earlier comment on security of messages by wireless.
In the RAAF way, explanations were sought first from the unit CO, and this was commented on by his wing commander, and this in turn was commented upon by the group commander. 1 Fighter Wing was commanded by Group Captain P Jeffrey and 79 Bomber Wing by Group Captain C Eaton. Given that the air war was being directed by HQ 5th Air Force General Kenny (USAF) in Brisbane and Port Moresby, the real 'air war' was between Darwin and Rabaul and points north.
There was a compounding problem with the short range of the radars. At their best a range of 60 miles (100 km) was possible, and during the cyclone season, much less. The Air Officer Commanding Western Area, Air Commodore R J Brownell, maintained that "fighter interception was impossible" in a report at the time. However, it was possible for 'alerts' to be given to Potshot so that the appropriate response could be organised and coordinated. (20)
The first Fighter Squadron to occupy Potshot was No 76 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader Keith Truscott, DFC in February 1943. (21) Their Kittyhawks were replaced with a Flight of CAC Boomerangs of No.85 Squadron in April. On 21 May when the radars at Onslow and Vlaming Head located enemy aircraft approaching the area, two fighters were scrambled to intercept. The enemy dropped their bombs aimlessly into the gulf and the Boomerangs returned without a sighting. Next night the enemy returned and again a section of aircraft sent aloft to intercept. Nine bombs fell into the gulf and that was the last incident of Potshot's aerial war, although there were further 'alarms'.
As previously mentioned, the ominous Japanese naval presence in the Indian Ocean concentrated the minds of the air force command. Air Vice Marshal Bostock was ordered by Allied Air HQ in Brisbane to take immediate action, as a result of which Nos 18 Squadron (Kittyhawks), 31 Squadron (Beaufighters) and 120 Squadron (Mitchells) were to deploy to Potshot and two other Spitfire squadrons to Perth. Brownell was already organising his area command defences. He disagreed with Bostock on sending three squadrons to Potshot. Brownell's appreciation was that the Japanese would be unlikely to attack Potshot and that 750 miles (1,200 km) was too far away to aid the defence of the Perth area. Were Darwin to be the enemy's objective squadrons at Exmouth could return to Darwin more rapidly. At No. 1 Fighter Wing Jeffrey told his squadron commanders that, "a Japanese naval task force was loose in the Indian Ocean and headed in the general direction of the Perth area".
The concentration of squadrons from far away places called for leadership, organisation and luck of a high order. Each squadron would move in two phases--aircrew and aircraft in the first followed by maintenance crews with sufficient stores (light equipment) for a fortnight. Urgency was the keynote. One record shows that 23 transport aircraft were assigned to the movement of squadrons from the east. Two Spitfire squadrons from Darwin fared the worst. Their track to Perth via Potshot encountered dust storms, torrential cyclonic rains and finally bushfire smoke at their destination. The official historian noted, "they arrived scarlet eyed, bearded, sunburnt and unkempt". No 120 (Netherlands) Squadron flew across the Nullarbor and arrived at Potshot without any basic stores, such as messing, tentage etc. They explained, "no one told us to bring anything". Given the state of Potshot and the travails of 76 OBU, this was one of a series of omissions, some humorous, some serious with which the airmen had to grapple. It was some days before all the squadrons, not only those at Potshot, were fully operational again. On 20 March all the squadrons were ordered to return to their home stations.
Both Jeffrey and Eaton noted that the exercise "provided experience of the rapid movement of squadron".
During World War 2 many temporary 'bases' and fortifications were established around Australia's 12,000 mile (19,200 km) coastline. The sites of radar stations, Letter Batteries--heavy and medium artillery for coast defence--emergency landing grounds (ELGs) and advanced air strips, temporary camps for all services (and Americans) are now more militarily or archaeologically important to the map maker or student of military history. Potshot is unique to some extent because it remains as a much upgraded facility. However, in its dual role as a forward submarine base and aerodrome it had its singular moment of importance to the war effort in March 1943 and owes its genesis to a dynamic American naval commander who was one of the best admirals in the war. The role of Brigadier Bruce Klein and his AIF/AMF personnel was contributory but essential nonetheless, and Potshot cements his and their place in our military historiography. What the Japanese may have ventured had Potshot not been defended can only be speculated. Their aerial efforts were no more than nuisance value, but it was enough for 140th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery Commander to raise with the Army hierarchy the 'question of eligibility of the gunners for a Returned from Active Service' badge for those who served, like their brethren in Papua New Guinea. (22)
The site was wound down as the Japanese threat diminished. The USN facilities and personnel were off the site in July 1943 but fuel supplies were kept topped up. On 4 September, Operation Jaywick an Australian and British operation against Japanese shipping in Singapore harbour was mounted from Potshot, where the Krait refuelled before heading north.
76 OBU's main role, it is surmised, was to improve the site and cater for aircraft movements between Perth and Darwin, provide fuel and other services within its competence. Both No 18 (Netherlands) and No 120 Squadrons were still them in March 1944. As Allied successes continued, the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) started to take a post-war interest in the aerodrome as did Qantas Airways. The latter operated Catalinas on across Indian Ocean missions for personnel, documents, stores, light equipments of various kinds, If land based transport aircraft continued to develop, as portended by the Douglas DC-4 and latex DC-6 types at the expense of flying boats, then Potshot should be upgraded to reflect that. The importance of the 'Empire' link was much to the forethought in official thinking, based as it was on wartime experience. Thus, in October 1944 Qantas and the Shell Petroleum Company, with DCA backing, sought additional finals for the 5/185 runway extension to 9,000 feet (2,700 m) and 300 feet (90 m) wide, hardstandings, fuel storage and appurtenant works to the tune of 245,000 [pounds sterling]. In making a case for this development, one RAAF officer noted that, in a 'minuted' comment against it that the difference in the great circle route distance between Sydney and Colombo via Pearce Air Force Base was a mere 65 miles (100 km). (23)
On the initiative of the Camp Commandant, Maj Stokes-Hughes, a plaque was set on the exact spot of the original landing when the army moved out. A 1945 cyclonic storm washed it away, but its site is recorded on the topographical map of the gulf (Series R611, Sheet 1753, Ed. 2-AAS). Learmonth continued to be developed into the facility for use by civil and military aircraft.
The area became famous from the discovery of petroleum beneath the featureless scrub in 1952 when Ampol Petroleum and Caltex Oil Companies drilled for off. The geologists knew nothing of Operation Potshot so in June 1952 a new plaque was set, this time at the entrance of the oil field search headquarters not far from the site of the original.
The author wishes to thank Mr Graham McKenzie-Smith and Mr D A S Lambert, Historian, The Heavy Anti-Aircraft Association (WA) for their help in the preparation of this article. Mrs Susan Davies (daughter of Brig. B E Klein) provided her father's photograph albums and other material. Margaret Lewis, Australian War Memorial Research Centre, was generous in her support for information on 3rd Australian Corps, and also Mai General John Whitelaw,(junior) Retd.
(1) Brigadier Bruce Edmunds 'Brickie' Klein, b. Perth 31 JAN 1900, d. 28 NOV 63, Mona Vale, CCRA and other staff appointments. (Klein used a RAAF 19 Communication Flight De Havilland Dragon aircraft to visit the Gunners. The aircraft code letters were B EK).
(2) C. Lockwood, Sink 'Em All, pp.29-34.
(3) op. cit., p. 45-47. See also AWM 54 831/3/26 Area Reconnaissance of Exmouth Gulf Bay--1942.
(4) Young had been a Adjutant/Quartermaster of 3rd Field Brigade, RAA (M). A tall, thin man, he was 'Streak' to his intimates.
(5) The Westralian, undated press clipping in B E Klein's Scrap Book.
(6) G H Gill, Royal Australian Navy, 1942-1945, AWM Official Series, p. 105. The document was 'The Planning, Operation and Provision of Personnel for Naval Bases'.
(7) C Lockwood, op. cit., p.54-55, pp.59-60.
(8) By the end of November 42 2nd Division was based at Geraldton and 4th at Morawa.
(9) AWM 52 4/1/7 HQRAA 3Aust Corps Memo 20 JAN 43.
(10) AWM WD Anti Aircraft Units Order of Battle NOV 1941--SEP 45. See also R K Glyde, Coast Defences of Western Australia, 1826-1963, MS pp. 191-192. Unloading equipment took eight days. One account states that personnel from 5th Training Battery were at POTSHOT for about six weeks from October.
(11) AWM 52 4/1/7, CCRA's Report, 19 FEB 43, Appx. 16. Supplies of razor blades had not arrived. Klein's visit next day to the Detachment, 2/3 LAA Regiment at Onslow was a much happier (for him) occasion.
(12) AWM 52 4/1/7, Notes and Observations made by MGRA and CCRA Visit 18-26 Mar 43, 27 Mar 43, App. 15, pp.3-5.
(13) AWM RAAF File A11243 of March 1943. There was one Chaplain to service the spiritual needs of the military.
(14) AWM 52 4/1/7, 3 Corps Operation Instruction of No. 42 of 24 FEB 43 'Control of POTSHOT Area'. The AMF Artillery sub-units were: 452 & 453 Australian Heavy Gun Station 166 & 167 Australian Coast Artillery Search Light Section 4 Australian AA Bty Signals Detachment & Wksp Section (EME Workshops)
(15) AWM 52 4/1/7, 3 Corps Operation Instruction No. 48 of 18 MAR 43.
(16) AWM 52 4/1/7 WD 3 Corps MAY 43: R K Glyde, op. cit., p. 191 and G Odgers, Air War Against Japan, 1943-1945, AWM Official Series, p.158. See also E N S McNabb, Pot Shot Profile, 1942-1946, p.21. Three occasions and 'warning status' were 8 DEC 43 and 23 JAN 44 (Yellow) and 31 MAY 44 (Red).
(17) NAA Western Area Headquarters, A705/A11243 of 23 MAR 43 for months of MAR--MAY 43
(18) C Lockwood, op. cit., p. 255 and 'United States Navy Operations 1943', Journal of the Naval Historical Society, Monograph No. 183, p.8.
(19) G H Gill, op. cit., p. 338-340.
(20) Radar Station 310 was at Vlaming Head and 314 at Onslow. Brownell's comment is from G Odgers, op. cit., p.136-139.
(21) Squadron Leader Keith Truscott, DFC and Bar, b. 17 MAY 16, Killed in Aircraft Accident 28 Mar 43. Truscott was practising shooting at the shadow of an aircraft on the water and misjudged his height. Other relevant NAA documents are: A705 7/1/1709 RAAF Potshot Landing Ground, 1943-1953 and A11095 2/50/INT, Reports by F/OGF Hill--Exmouth Gulf Visits, 1943.
(22) NAA 'Returned from Active Service Badge', A5799 65/1947, 1947.
(23) NAA Western Area Headquarters, A705, RAAF Potshot (Learmonth) Aerodrome Works, 1944-46 and Report on Operations, 10/20 May 1944 and Routine Orders.
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|Author:||Smith, Alan H|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2003|
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