105 MOBILE RDF STATION
POINT CHARLES
DARWIN, NT
DURING WWI

 

In March 1942 the RAAF decided that more RDF cover was required in the Darwin area. An SCR 268 radar (the Americans used the term RADAR) which had been modified for air warning was flown to Darwin. These units were known as a MAWD or Modified Air Warning Device.

The equipment was dismantled on 24th March 1942 and packed onto two trailers, with a total weight of approximately twenty tons. The equipment arrived at Batchelor by the 6th April 1942. It was all assembled by 25 March 1942 and moved over 100 miles of bush county to Point Charles. The Mobile RDF Station was operating two days after it arrived on 20 April 1942. Warnings of the approach of enemy aircraft were passed by W/T circuits to No 5 Fighter Sector. These links were known as telling circuits. The RDF Station was named No. 105 RDF Station RAAF on 1 June 1942.

 

Specifications for MAWD SCR 268

Type MAWD                                                     MADE IN USA

Modified Air Warning Device                               Modified SCR268

Type of Array                                                    Stacked dipole arrays, one Tx and two for Rx one for azimuth and one for elevation.

Frequency Mc/s                                                204-206

Pulse Recurrence Frequency                             1366

Pulse Width, Micro seconds                              5--9

Pulse Power, KW                                             50-80

Display                                                            two A Type Tubes

Maximum Normal Range                                   100 Miles

Remarks                                                         RPL modified some SCR268'S for air warning for use on mainland Australia in early 1942

 

105 RADAR in its comparatively short length of service, was known by all the names adopted for the new detection system. The station was known as:-

Mobile RDF Station       23 Mar 1942 to 31 May 1942 .

105 Radio Station         1 Jun 1942 to 31 Dec 1942

105 RDF Station          1 Jan 1943 to 31 Aug 1943   (during which time 44 RDF Wing was formed in February 1943)

105 Radar Station        1 Sep 1943 to 15 Oct 1943

 


 

THIS IS MY STORY OF 105 MOBILE RDF STATION POINT CHARLES DARWIN APRIL TO
DECEMBER 1942. (WW2) THE SECOND RDF UNIT AT DARWIN.
105 STARTS UP AT POINT CHARLES BY BOB MEREDITH

Commanding Officer, P/O P.E. EVANS,
Early assistance & relief by P/O RAY RYAN & P/O HAL PORTER.

Early in April 1942, I left 31 RDF station at Dripstone to join with the POINT CHARLES crew, and to pick up the equipment from BATCHELOR. From there we departed for POINT CHARLES on the western side of DARWIN HARBOUR from where the Darwin lighthouse looked out over the open sea. Our route was approximately 100 miles through very rough country. There were no roads, and we had only a rough map and a compass.

There were two eight wheel American Army trucks on loan, with each carrying around ten tons and a RAAF tender with about three tons, all with our gear, tucker, stores etc. I cannot remember the number of personnel perhaps there were eight or ten men. The trip took two weeks, and at times it was so slow we had to walk beside the big trucks, wielding axes to cut trees and branches to clear the way .We had load shifts, tyre blowouts, we had to ford streams, ditches and gullies, and of course we were bogged many times by one vehicle or another, We then had to use both front winches on the trucks to pull the other out, and sometimes we would be held up for hours, even at times with the hold up extending overnight.

It was at one of these bogging hold ups that we had a frightening experience. The bogged truck had its cable attached to a tree and the other truck its cable attached to the bogged truck when the strain became so great the steel cable sang like a violin string. Suddenly the cable attached to the tree snapped. It snaked and whipped all around the place even cutting down small trees, luckily without striking any personnel, although we were spread all over the place. We were indeed very fortunate. It was a very good lesson.

At night we just stopped where we were, ate hard rations, and slept on our groundsheets, then off again at first light. I remember having to hang a blanket from the tail-shaft under a truck, and use it as a hammock to get off the ground because of heavy rain. The water just flowed through and under my hammock. At last, after arriving at the site, our first priority was to unload the American trucks so they could return, then we began to set up the unit.

It was "ON AIR " within a day or so, but our camp was a shambles. Actually I remember it was a week or more before we got our tents up and began to settle in. The NAVY delivered our fuel by dropping 44 gallon drums overboard, and we had to swim out to retrieve them, with a sentry always placed close by to watch for sharks and crocs. We walked the drums in to the beach, where they were manhandled up the cliffs with ropes to be stored.

The NAVY boys made it quite clear they were not hanging around they got out in one hell of a hurry. They liked plenty of sea around them!!! Our food was bad, mosquitoes and sand flies drove us mad !! The first few weeks were very hard on all of us; but I believe the job was well done, with all of us including our C.O. doing anything and everything to keep the unit performing and it did perform well!!!!

Medically and physically we all suffered. We had an up hill battle with the food rations and dysentery, then there were troubles with ulcers, sand fly poisoning, mosquito bites and Dengue fever. I had Dengue twice; the first time I kept going (just), but the second time I landed in hospital at BERRIMAH. They told me later I was taken out by boat. A few kilometers north of us along the beach was a deserted banana farm. We used to walk up there and bring back a stick of bananas and hang them from the ridge pole of the tent until the lower bananas became ripe, then we really enjoyed them.

A Jap Naval Bomber, a "Betty", was shot down near us and crashed in the bush a few kilometers inland from our camp. I was in the party sent out to bury the dead, retrieve their dog tags and identify sex, as intelligence reports suggested that the Japs were using female aircrew as radio operators. There were no women in this crew, and we buried seven bodies. On the beach below the unit, we were able to swim and paddle about in cutout Jap belly tanks, and go hunting for turtle eggs. They were hard to find for they were buried very deep. What stuck in my mind was the practice we had of cutting a small hole in the cliff wall and placing our mugs there to catch fresh clean and cool drinking water. It amazed me so close to the sea.

One point I would like to make in closing this article was that at the beginning of this unit, which was second only to 31 RDF at DRIPSTONE, we never knew its name or number until much later. History tells us now it became 105 POINT CHARLES in June 1942, but we didn't know that until after we left the unit. As a matter of fact my personal papers from the RAAF. doesn't even mention 105, so in theory I was never there.

 


 

"ON GUARD"--------AT 105 RDF POINT CHARLES DARWIN APRIL 1942
BY BOB MEREDITH.

 

Security at 105 RDF in the early days of *42 was not at the top of the station's priority list. The main problem while settling in at Point Charles was to get the unit in position and on "air". The Guards (there were only a few of us) were busy working with all other ranks to make camp and to become operational, although sentries were posted at night near the Doover.

Later on as we settled down, we installed a Twin Vickers machine gun post for anti-aircraft defence which was manned by the crew only when the unit picked up an "unidentified". This post was situated on top of the cliffs north of the Doover and Lighthouse. 105 itself was completely isolated with the sea basically all round it, except for the total virgin scrubland south of the camp on the peninsula, so we relied on the security of isolation and camouflage. At night we always observed a strict black-out, so after dark any movement was restricted only to what was necessary, like changing shifts for the guard & operators at the Doover and guard at the Generators.

I do remember an incident on guard duty one night. Leo Merritt (ex Collingwood footballer) and I were sitting on a box back to back, as was the practice; we had Tommy Guns on our knees with safety catches off, which also was the practice. Leo spoke to say his leg had gone to sleep, and he'd have to stand up, which he did. The gun fell off his knees with his finger still in the trigger guard, and the weight of the gun on his finger was enough to fire the gun. Leo received two bullets wounds to his left leg, one below the knee, the other just above the ankle. His leg was badly injured by the .45 calibre bullets.

He was very lucky, as I learned later that his leg was saved. Of course he was sent south for treatment. Guard duty was always a bit scary, but we always went on duty in pairs which helped a lot. There were all sorts of queer sounds heard on a still night, also there were animal eyes and their movements. It was always reassuring to say "It's only an animal or bird" which helped each other. Also at this time the area was under constant attack from the air, and air raids warnings, real and false were coming all the time .

During daylight hours, all sorts of duties were performed, and by all musterings, may I add. The most disappointing aspect of 105 's life at this early stage was the very very poor food, mostly out of tins, and mainly Gold-fish, Bully Beef, Rice, Dog biscuits and sometimes that horrible tinned butter (more like running oil) though there was bread now and then. Of course this did not help our health problems, and things were bad with tropical ulcers, prickly heat, dermo, stomach upsets, and Dengue Fever everywhere.

The mosquitoes and Sandflies were murderous, plus the living conditions were not the best. We were under canvas on dirt floors with only low cyclone stretchers, not much protection from the elements. We mostly washed our bodies in the sea as we were always swimming, when we could of course. Our only transport at the time was by boat as it was the only way out then. Our personnel really struggled to keep working, we often stood in for each other just to keep the unit functioning. However , conditions at 105 gradually improved as time passed

 


 

POSTED FROM 105 TO AN SGU COURSE.

About the end of November 1942 , I was posted to a Security Guards Unit Advanced course, designed to train personnel, Guards mainly, for the security of AOB's(Advanced Operational Bases). The Security Guard Unit was first formed about September or October 1942, and was located just south of the RAAF Base Darwin, at the end of the north-south runway, opposite "Hell - Fire Corner" Winnellie.

Sgt Monty Wood (still a friend of mine today 2007) was one of the first instructors. Three or four courses were completed, then the unit moved to the 31 Mile site, where it became known as 31 MILE SGU, under the command of S/Ldr McKennon. The unit grew into a very large training establishment with not only RAAF personnel, but also Army and Navy Iads. There were up to 2000 men in training at any one time. The course was very tough, mainly spread over 24 hours each day,

We could be called out of bed during the early hours in full battle gear, then route marched and map read (navigate) through the bush, even in pouring rain. We did have stand down periods which varied, even an odd day stand down, The course was four weeks long. The course also comprised weapon training in Vickers, Bren, Sten, English Browning, American Browning, 20 mm Cannon, AntiI Tank Gun, Grenades, Field of fire, Thompson Sub Machine Gun, Mortars, Hand Grenades, Explosives, Mines, Gas, Aircraft Recognition, Ship Identification (sloop, destroyer cruiser etc.) and of course we were well instructed in rifle and bayonet drill.

To my knowledge after passing out, personnel were posted back to their units or to AOB's or similar. ln my case it was to another RDF unit. I was posted from 105 Point Charles to 39 Port Keats, then under the command of P/O Radcliffe. I was in charge of all AA guns and their installation, explosives, blasting out gun pits, fields of fire, training of crews, testing, maintenance, camouflage ammunition storage, trip and barbed wire defences, and security in general which included the Doover up on Mt Goodwin .We were housed together in tents, also bark huts, and ate in a common mess. But as Sergeant Guard, I was always responsible to the CO, he gave the orders.

 


 

WHEN THE STATION CLOSED

CONCLUSION.

105 Radar indeed proved a worthy 'second ' to 31 RS which historically was the first Australian station to operate in a war zone. 105 was set up in a hurry to increase the effectiveness of 31 RS, and to back up the lone station in Darwin. It was equipped with modified gun laying gear to do a big job, at a lonely isolated camp at Point Charles where life at first must have been mighty basic, just tents and hard rations.

Its results were astonishing. At its advanced westward site, its range was anything from 50 to 140 miles, besides giving a reasonable accurate height reading on closer plots. From April 1942 until it closed 17 months later, 105 plotted enemy planes on more than 80 occasions. This may seem impossible considering there were in all 64 raids, but there were plots in and out ...recces...2nd waves...3rd waves. 105 plotted them all with remarkable success, possible because the station was located close to the usual track in to the target area.

In August 1942, 38 RDF & 39 RDF at Fourcroy and Port Keats came on air and relieved the critical urgency and pressure somewhat, but 105's good work continued until it closed in October 1943 with a record second to none really. It was indeed a record to be proud of. 105 and its men deserve more credit and recognition than they received. Perhaps this small history will help.

From Morrie Fenton's "The 105 mobile R D F Station at Point Charles (1942 - 1943)"

BOB MEREDITH.

 


 

The MAWD

 

THE "MAWD"  (With extracts from 'Echoes over the Pacific,' page 49.)

In February 1942, American forces arrived in Australia bringing with them both SCR 270 and SCR 268 equipment. The latter were gunnery sets but without predictors, and the Australian Amy could not use them. So the RAAF acquired them, and with modifications devised by Radio Physics, their range was increased to 100 miles....and so the MAWD (Modified Air Warning Device) came to be.

The MAWDS were first known as 'Mobile Radio' Sets, and they filled an urgent need in Australia, even though they were a bit tough on the operators who sat out in the open, completely exposed to all the elements while operating and hand-turning the heavy aerial.

There appear to have been eight MAWDS set up in Australia which were numbered 101-105 and 107-109; and of these 105 and 109 became operational in the NWA. 105 was cut into sections fort transport by air to Batchelor, from where it was transported overland through the rough bush country to Point Charles, where a lighthouse at the western approach to Darwin harbour was located. Here it notched up a very creditable service. Its record was probably all the most impressive because of it's Service in the most critical time of Australia's defence, and was second only to 31 Radar at Dripstone in the Story of RAAF radar in NWA. At that stage, there was no RIMU - no Radar Wing - and Fighter Sector was still probably of the tent variety.

At Point Charles, life for the men was obviously very basic...primitive almost. Food supplies wear of the tinned variety...and very little variety at that. There were few facilities other than those the men set up themselves, and recreation and entertainment also depended on what the men could think up. Swimming, fishing and walking were the obvious recreations, though there was a deserted banana farm not far from the camp which also provided a variation to the tinned food.

The 'station closed in 1943 after other stations, easier to operate and far  easier on the operators, took over the watch over Darwin. Meanwhile 109, the other MAWD in the NWA, had been set up and was operating at Nightcliff, next to 31 at Dripstone. That station closed in September 1943 with its crew manning the new station 59 at Lee Point.

 


 

NOTE:- The area was known as Point Charles during WWII. Charles Point is the modern name for this area.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Bob Meredith for his assistance with this web page.

 

REFERENCE BOOK

A Saga of Achievement
by E.R. Hall (1978)

Echoes Over the Pacific
by Ed Simmonds and Norm Smith (1995)

 

Can anyone help me with more information?

 

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 Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 8 June 2009

This page last updated 10 October 2016