Darra Ordnance Depot and freak explosion

Darra Ordnance Depot in 1945.  Oz@War (www.ozatwar.com/locations/darraordnancedepot.htm)

The Darra Ordnance Depot was situated on Archerfield Road. 

The US 636th Ammunition Ordnance Company (black soldiers, white officers) was in charge of the weapons systems, vehicles and equipment and had to make sure that these were ready and available, and in perfect condition, at all times. They also managed the developing, testing, fielding, handling, storage, and disposal of munitions.

It was the largest munition depot in South West Pacific war theatre. Some 70 civilians were deployed as guards on horseback around the perimeters of the Depot, including several locals. 

The main access was from Archerfield Road with two more entrances from Progress RD (the Wacol Gate) and the back gate on Blunder Creek Rd. There were day and night transports to the train station at Wacol or to the wharves.

The site was dangerous so there were no buildings except an fire tower and a command post. The latter was situated where the old Archerfield Homestead once stood. Homestead Park is the former garden of the Homesteads.

The army groups was in 1943 assisted by the 577th Ordnance Ammunition Company, the 28th Chemical Company, the 48th Quartermaster Truck Regiment and the 5203rd Quartermaster Truck Battalion.

Freak War Dump Blast

Courier Mail Brisbane 24 January 1947
QUESTIONS about a Dutch dump of 300 tons of ammunition at Darra, which was the scene of a violent explosion yesterday, were answered last night by Dutch and R.A.A.F. officials.

Yesterday’s explosion was a freak, and unlikely to occur again, and probably was caused by water mixing with chemicals in the ammunition, said the R.A.A.F. officer in charge of the dump.

Dutch authorities to-day will investigate the explosion, which, occurred soon after 11.30 a.m. yesterday. A Dutch Army spokesman said last night that 300 tons of Dutch ammunition were stored at Darra. Of these. 180 tons had been marked for disposal. It had not been decided what was to be done with the remaining 120 tons, which was still usable.

The Australian Army had undertaken to dispose of the useless ammunition.

Quantity of ammunition lost in yesterday’s explosion was not known. The dump consisted chiefly of mortar bombs, hand grenades, and rifle and revolver cartridges.Two other dumps of about equal size, both of which were within 20 yards of the explosion, remained intact.

Fireman’s Escape
The explosion started a fire, flames from which rose 20 feet in the air. Firemen who were called were powerless to fight the blaze.A piece of shrapnel smashed the windscreen of the fire truck, which was parked more than 200 yards from the dump.

A fireman who had been sitting where the shrapnel struck had just descended from the wagon and was lucky to escape serious injury. Rain prevented the flames, from spreading through the surrounding bush, and the fire burned itself out within two hours.

Flying-Officer Dutton, the R.A.A.F. officer in charge of the dump, said that Dutch ammunition was stored at Darra because there was no other dump available round Brisbane. He had made repeated efforts to get the Dutch to remove the ammunition, because plans had been made for closing the dump. No Dutch ammunition had been taken away, but some had been brought in since he took over command of the camp about nine months ago. The Darra unit was known as a replenishment centre. It supplied ammunition to the R.A.A.F. for training, and also served as a store.

Source: Trove – National Archives of Australia

Eye witness account: Explosion at Dutch ammo depot

Next grenades started to explode followed by small arms ammunition.Shrapnel was flying everywhere ruining the roof of a nearby house and smashing the windscreens from the approaching fire brigade vehicles. They obviously didn’t enter the site. The carnage went on for 4 hours and fortunately the nearby stockpile of 250lb bombs didn’t go off.Eyewitness account from Keith Brough published in the book World War II stories from Brisbane’s South West by Vicki Mynott.

The cause was indeed that after a heavy storm, rainwater had seeped through the tarpaulins covering mortar bombs, the water reached a Seamarker flare and made it to go off. These markers alert rescuers for pilots who crash in water After the war the RAAF cleaned up any remaining dangerous ammunition.

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