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RAN Armament Depot Darwin (Snake Creek and Frances Bay)

The RAN Armament Depot (RANAD) Darwin comprised a major depot at Snake Creek, and a sub-depot at Frances (Francis) Bay, in Darwin. It was developed by the Royal Australian Navy between 1943 and 1945 to provide a secure bulk storage site. Its major use was probably to support the British Pacific Fleet during late 1944 and 1945.

Snake Creek is located near Adelaide River in the Northern Territory, about 110 kilometres south of Darwin. The Frances (or Francis) Bay sub-depot was located within the present city of Darwin.

Unlike most other RANADs in Australia, the Darwin depot was manned by servicemen, rather than civilians, as it was located in an operational area.

The remains of the depot are listed on the Register of Significant Places of the National Trust, Northern Territory.

The citation for this listing reads:

"Snake Creek Armament Depot is one of the Northern Territory’s most extensive extant World War II military sites. It was constructed between 1943 and 1945 after the Navy identified the need for a semi-remote magazine. The design included a road system and a 2.85 km rail loop from the North Australia Railway, an ammunition storage area capable of storing 3,500 tons of high explosives, and related facilities. A total of sixty-nine structures were built, some into the hill slope and some entirely above ground. It appears that the whole complex was camouflaged against aerial observation. The RAAF controlled the facility between 1953 and 1962, a period which included the days of the confrontation with Indonesia.

The facility fell into disuse in the 1970s and subsequently the site was vandalised and much material removed."

Information about RANAD Darwin is difficult to come by. A personal account that provides an eyewitness perspective on the operations of the depot during World War 2 was originally published in the Naval Armament Journal, Volume 2 No. 10, April 1967.

In 1948, major demolition operations were conducted at Snake Creek to dispose of surplus RAAF mines:


"Consequent on the decision to transfer to the R.A.N. Mine Depot, Swan Island Mines and components on R.A.A.F. charge at Darwin, a party of nine members of the Swan Island staff left Melbourne in early May by air for Darwin. ...

The mines were in rather poor condition ... and it was the job of the Swan Island party to sort out the sheep from the goats. ... They worked under fairly difficult conditions ... and after approximately 9 weeks of hard toil the so called good mines and components were packed and crated ready for shipment south. ...

651 No. of these mines ... were shipped to Melbourne in L.S.T. 3501 and are at present being unloaded at Swan Island." (RAN Mine Depot Swan Island Newsletter, August 1948)
Photograph of demolition of mines at Snake Creek

Mines Being Placed for Demolition at Snake Creek 1948

"Lt. Cdr. Croft M.B.E. R.A.N.R. (R.M.S.O.) and a small party of ratings are now in Darwin disposing of these mines by demolition. The demolition area is some 47 miles from the mine dump, and owing to the poor state of roads and small number of trucks available, only about 14 mines can be transported daily..The accumulation, together with bombs being disposed of by the R.A.A.F., is dealt with at the end of each week. The largest quantity to be demolished at one time, so far, is 194 tons." (Naval Ordnance Branch Newsletter, August 1948)
"Disposal of "A" Mines Held by R.A.A.F. On R.N. Account

"19. The demolition of 933 "A" Mines at Darwin has been successfully completed. Upwards of 200 "A" Mines together with dumps of aircraft bombs were demolished at the one time. The danger area was considered to be 7 miles and shrapnel was found at 4 miles from the explosion. A length of safety fuze to provide 20 minutes burning was employed, connected to cordtex, detonator No. 21 and mine primer, 20 to 30 mines being primed in each stack. According to press reports, and photographs of the demolition site before and after ... the effects of the explosions were terrific, the older residents must have been reminded of the bad days of 1942." (Naval Ordnance Branch Newsletter, December 1948)

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Robert Curran
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