3 AUSTRALIAN CORPS
2ND AUSTRALIAN RADAR DETACHMENT, RAA

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Recollections of Noel Desmond Gray of RADAR during WW 2 and secret mission

I understand details of a secret surveillance mission carried out by me to an island somewhere North of the equator are still bound by the secrecy agreement signed by me prior to action. I am not prepared to divulge any further details. Please check your military records.

Because of the secret nature of my military service and training in radar I have kept no records of times, locations or dates as we were forbidden from log keeping. I don’t believe any of the following is secret as I signed no agreement about the following.

I served for a time at the USN Submarine Base at Exmouth Gulf in West Australia. It was known as "Pot-shot" and was protected by British GLll radar equipped Australian 3 inch and 3.7 inch anti-aircraft batteries as well as a strong contingent of US ancillary personnel equipped with land based Bofors guns. Apart from an extended fighter strip there were two Australian fighter squadrons, several squadrons of US Catalina flying boats, a US naval force of small fighting ships and the USS PELIUS, the sole submarine tender in the SWPA South of the Pearl Harbour. The base was set up to protect this valuable military asset.

I was the senior radar armament artificer in Exmouth, a member of AEME attached to 3 Aust. Corps within 2nd Aust, Radar Detachment, RAA. I was responsible for installing, calibrating, and maintaining all army radar equipment in the area. We were bombed by Japanese "Betties" on several occasions. On one occasion a stick of twelve Japanese bombs fell 50 yards (the furthest) east of our Radar campsite in a line making 30 degrees with the centreline of our camp. I was buried on one occasion when my slit-trench wall collapsed and was rescued by my mates a short time later. When regaining consciousness and after downing a fifth of Scotch the matter was treated as a joke and I did not seem to sustain any permanent injury, but who knows. The matter was never reported medically on my request as no one else was hurt.

Several of my group and I reconnoitered Rough Range looking for a Japanese ground party that had been landed from submarines or dropped by parachute. They probably used two-way radio but we lacked the communication equipment to prove the point. They signalled to Japanese offshore Naval forces with Very lights from their high vantage points when they sighted any significant military movement of Allied forces at sea or on the ground. We found evidence of the existence of the Japanese patrols from discarded cigarette packets, food cans, (tinned fish) and worn-out shoes. I personally reported that to General Blamey at LHQ in Melbourne. Untrained RAAF and the USN personnel undertook similar missions from time to time but were also unsuccessful in making direct contact with the Japanese patrol.

4. Yes I Embarked from Melbourne (Williamtown) and headed South across Bass Straight in a stinking rusty US cargo ship. I have forgotten its name but think it was a Liberty ship. After a week or so at sea, battened down due to huge seas, I was disembarked at the Port of Adelaide only to be told that we had been heading for a r/v with naval ships to escort us to Singapore but Singapore had been captured by the Japanese and we were back on Australian soil. We were handed movement orders back to our units from memory. The date must have been early in February 1942 as Singapore fell about the middle of February 1942 just before Darwin was first bombed which was 22nd February, 1942. Four radar personnel from my group were already in Singapore when it fell. One died (possibly two) in Changi POW camp. (One was Sgt. Ken Wharton and I have forgotten the other). Two returned after surviving three years or so in prison camp. One died soon after returning (Sgt. George Norman) and the fourth I understand is still living. (Lieut. John Wright)

The second occasion of travelling on the high seas during the specified dates during the war was on the 4,000 ton cargo ship TSMV Koolinda. (Its sister ship TSMV Koolama was sunk in Broome during a Japanese daylight bombing raid.) I embarked from Fremantle in WA with several radar sets as deck cargo together with the nucleus of the 2nd Aust. Special Radar Detachment, RAA bound as we thought for Darwin. There were submarines in that area at the time so the Captain of the ship zigzagged and put into Geraldton following the second night at sea. He stayed in port most of the following day leaving at dusk. A similar course was steered that night arriving at Exmouth Gulf unescorted in the morning of the following day where we unloaded our radar sets and disembarked.

I was on a radar reconnaissance trip to Papua’s North coast choosing alternate radar sights, when about to return to Port Moresby in a US C47 transport from Lae, two military police arrived just prior to take-off with two Japanese officer prisoners of war. They stopped and searched the prisoners before boarding the aircraft only to find grenades strapped under each arm of each prisoner. They were immediately and expertly disarmed. After gaining the requisite altitude the plane flew the gap in the Owen Stanley Range. Here the two Japanese alighted without their parachutes, dying a Shinto hero’s death. Had those two bastards not been searched, I would not be telling stories out of school, they would have raised their arms, armed the grenades and blown the arse off of "Big Toe". (The name of the aircraft) From memory I was away from Australia for only five days on that occasion. At no time in the last couple of examples was I in a "Theatre of War" running into months or years like many of my less fortunate colleagues but I nevertheless came close to joining them on many occasions.

These examples simply go to illustrate that we old soldiers, particularly corps troops, did not have to be confined to theatres of war for extended periods for lives to be at risk or lost and one wonders why any Australian government has waited so long to provide the assistance promised.

 


 

Noel Gray was transported to an island somewhere south of Japan by the submarine USS Swordfish which was later sunk with all hands. He was very unwell when he was when he returned to Australia and spent some time recovering in hospital in Fremantle and his recollection was clouded by drugs injected to (as he thought) make him forget. Christoper Gray told me that the people that recruited him were US and Australian (Z-Force) units.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I'd like to thank Christopher Gray for his assistance with this home page.

 

Does anyone have any information on Noel Gray's
secret mission to the island south of Japan?

 

I need your help

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 Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 3 July 2001

This page last updated 03 April 2015