On the 7 November, 1941, one month before the attack on Pearl Harbour, the RAAF was given full responsibility for Australia’s ground-based early warning radar operations. From this date and until the end of hostilities on 15th August 1945, a total of 142 ground radar units were brought into operation.
One of these ‘Air Warning’ radar stations was located on Saddleback Mountain, Jamberoo and under formation order AFCO 11/42 the unit became operational on 20th April, 1942. Radar Station No. 18 was the highest air warning set operated by the RAAF being at 1321 feet above sea level. Apparently this site was excellent for shipping and low flying aircraft because the main lobe slid down the hill and stayed close to the water.
On the 20th July 1942, eight WAAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force) personnel arrived on site to man the station. According to the website, www.radarreturns.net.au, Radar Station No. 18 was the first unit to employ WAAAF operators. Following is a story from Jo Dunbar (nee Lehmann) who was stationed at Radar Station No. 18 during World War 2. This tale appears on Peter Dunn's "Australia @ War" website - www.ozatwar.com - and is reproduced here with permission:
It was 19 February, 1943. The place 18RS on Saddleback Mountain near Kiama. I was on duty in the dark old doover hut, on the tube gazing at the black screen and pulsating green light. Nothing but permanent echoes were showing on the screen. The aerial swept round monotonously; the same assorted PE’s came up from the same mountains. Then I detected a tiny blip not seen before. I called the plot and began tracking it. The blip was so tiny that it kept getting lost in the regular “grass” and then it would show up again. When it was time for me to leave the tube, the following operator was unable to locate the mysterious blip. So, I went back “on the tube” and was able to follow a broken course for some time. Fighter sector advised that they had no aircraft in that area and that the plots were too erratic to do anything about them. Unkind suggestions came back, such as “one should not drink alcohol from the compasses” and other distressing implications. The station was put on alert as the plot showed that unidentified plane was coming our way. We never actually saw it and the whole thing was forgotten.”
Apparently the mystery was solved fifty years later by David Jenkins in an article he wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald. David wrote about Japanese pilot, Susumi Ito, who made two unchallenged flights in Australia. The first was over Sydney Harbour before the midget submarine attack in May 1942. The second was on 19 February 1943 when he flew very low right down the NSW coast and then returned to his submarine off the coast.
Susumi Ito said that he flew low between the mountain peaks, so as to remain undetected. But he did not go undetected after all. Jo Lehmann plotted him while on duty at 18 Radar Station, Kiama. But Susumi was able to take his photographs and went home. Susumi Ito went on to become the President of an office equipment and computer firm in Japan. He was interviewed by David Jenkins and the full report of this venture can be found in David's book, "Battle surface: Japan's submarine War Against Australia, 1942-45".
No. 18 Radar Station was made non-operational on 1st September, 1945. All operations ceased and the unit closed on 21st September, 1945.
Photos: Australian War Memorial Photograph Collection
Return to Local History Articles