Connect with us

Your Time Magazine

Bribie on the frontline

Remnants of the fortifications on Bribie Island.


Bribie on the frontline

With the outbreak of World War II, Bribie Island was catapulted from coastal backwater to the frontline of Australia’s defences GARRY REYNOLDS describes how civilians had to leave a patch of solitude when it became a military outpost.

The Australian coastline was a dangerous place during World War II, with 54 Axis surface raiders and submarines, both German and Japanese, sinking 53 merchant ships and three warships.

More than 1751 military personnel and civilians died.

An army and naval presence was needed at Pumicestone Passage to prevent enemy intruders getting to the Brisbane River, a strategic port. This was tricky, as friendly ships and submarines had to be able to pass.

On Bribie, a reinforced concrete fort and sophisticated anti-submarine undersea defences protected the vital sea lanes to Moreton Bay.

Today, there are remnants of Fort Bribie’s observation towers, gun emplacements and plotting rooms as well as searchlight platforms. Two six-inch guns, believed to be salvaged from the HMAS Sydney, were mounted at Fort Bribie but have been removed.

There are structures once linked to electrically triggered undersea mines and detection loops to identify enemy submarines and nocturnal surface raiders. These were controlled by 10 naval stations spanning Moreton Bay.

Electric cables ran from Bribie Island to Cape Moreton to form a loop connected to a magnetometer. If a Japanese submarine passed through that loop, it caused a change in the magnetic field indicated by instruments at Bribie Island, Moreton Island and Caloundra monitoring stations.

Mines were laid between the loops at Caloundra. They could be detonated only by an electrical charge from stations on shore after “friend or foe identification” by trained military observers alerting a patrolling naval interception vessel.

Army detachments dug in around these stations to protect them from commando attacks.

In 1939, temporary artillery batteries were positioned at Caloundra and Bribie to support the Navy against the threat from raiding Japanese warships. After Darwin was bombed, security was tightened with military checkpoints at Caloundra restricting access for civilians.

Bribie was not only pivotal for Australia’s defence but for launching aggressive counter attacks.

It became a crucial training ground for Australian and American forces rehearsing integrated amphibious attacks by the Allies. Lessons learned on Bribie would help General Douglas Macarthur in his Brisbane headquarters roll back the rampaging Japanese in a victorious Pacific island-hopping campaign.

Bribie’s natural landscape not only provided a test for the troops stationed there, but served as a testing ground for what faced the men and their equipment in the Pacific. The exposed island was a hostile environment with its intense heat, wind-blown sands, sudden storms, and lack of effective cover from enemy naval gunfire and aerial attack.

The northern searchlight platform in 2013.

Tradesmen from the Civil Construction Corps built barracks on Bribie for the AIF and civil aircraft were prohibited from flying over the island.

After the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, extra riflemen and machine gunners were despatched to Bribie. They crouched in a network of mosquito infested trenches and camped in flimsy tents. Many of these raw recruits were wide-eyed country lads fresh from training at Redbank.

At this early stage of the war, everybody was on edge as an enemy invasion was a genuine possibility. Troops slept at their posts while sentries were constantly on guard and patrols maintained throughout the night.

News about the Japanese push towards Australia was invariably depressing and perhaps intimidating.

Bribie’s troops felt forgotten by the rest of the nation which had been lulled into a false sense of security by the supposedly impregnable British fortress in Singapore.  The new arrivals should not have been surprised at the poor quality of the food that was presented on Bribie as an alternative to bully beef tinned rations.

Essentially, any soldier on the island who said he could cook was appointed to the role. Many who came forward were chasing the extra 30 percent pay allowance paid for a chef.

Defence precautions increased in the city with concrete air raid shelters built at railway stations. There is still one at Landsborough.

Primary school children were issued with ear plugs, kerchiefs, and pegs hung around their necks. They were to put the pegs in their mouth to stop biting their tongue or breaking their teeth from the percussion waves of exploding bombs.

Tensions were heightened when on May 14, 1943, the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur was sunk by a Japanese submarine south of Moreton Island with the loss of 322 souls.  This was when the Americans arrived at Bribie and Toorbul Point with their big landing vessels.

Today in the hustle and bustle of the city and the quiet solitude of Bribie Island, the trepidation and tension of the war seems far away. While the wartime structures may be eroding, the memories and appreciation of the commitment of the men and women who defended Australia on the Bribie frontline remain.

More in History

To Top