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Features -History

Brisbane’s role in WWII focus of new book


DAMAGED: USS Growler at the submarine base in
New Farm, Brisbane.
Photo: Courtesy Peter Dunn Australia@War

DAMAGED: USS Growler at the submarine base in New Farm, Brisbane.

Photo: Courtesy Peter Dunn Australia@War

What started as a “filler” for the Queensland Maritime Museum’s newsletter is now the first book to be written about Brisbane’s role as a key base for the
United States’ submarines during the Pacific Campaign of World War 11.

US Subs Down Under: Brisbane 1942 - 1945 was co-written by museum members, Peter Nunan and David Jones, and published by the US Naval Institute.

The book was launched in Australia on March 21 by Her Excellency the Governor of Queensland, Quentin Bryce AC, and coincided with the 60th anniversary of the closure of the Brisbane submarine base (on March 11, 1945).

About 70 US submarines docked in Brisbane during World War 11 for maintenance and repairs.

For the last three months of 1942, there were as many submarines sailing on patrol from Brisbane as there were from the main US base at Pearl Harbor.

“I was editing the museum newsletter and looking for a filler when I found a passing reference to the first group of US submarines to arrive in Brisbane during the Pacific Campaign,” Peter explained.

“I was a boy in Brisbane at that time and quite familiar with the Yanks, yet I had no idea that any US submarines were based here.”

Peter’s interest in the subject coincided with that of fellow Museum member and published author, David Jones. The two pooled their knowledge and resources, and took six years to research and write the book.

Released in the United States late last year and widely praised by the reviewers there, the book chronicles a vital chapter in the United States’ wartime strategy in the Pacific. Brisbane was associated with one of the most dramatic US submarine actions of the day – that of USS Growler.

Early in 1943, Growler was rammed by a Japanese warship off Rabaul, and its bow was bent at right angles. To spare his crew, CMDR Howard Gilmore (wounded while on deck) gave the command to dive, effectively sacrificing his own life.

He became the first American submariner to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, the USA’s highest military award for bravery.

Growler came straight to Brisbane for urgent repairs – and the dockers at Evans Deakins’ shipyards at South Brisbane added their own artistic touch before sending her on her way.

Using large nickel plates, they created a kangaroo icon (which they attached to the submarine’s bow) and dubbed her “The Kangaroo Express”.

The kangaroo became Growler’s mascot.

Another memorable submarine was USS S46 which left Brisbane ready for action only to be immobilised for six days off Townsville. The ship’s cook came down with the mumps and an onboard epidemic occurred.

Historic images throughout the book also reveal much about the men who manned the US submarines during the war.

As well as hosting children’s Christmas parties in Brisbane, they made the most of rest breaks at camps and guest houses at Redcliffe, Toowoomba and the Gold Coast.

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