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The US Navy at Newington

Introduction

The US Navy Ammunition Depot at Newington, although located within the extended RAN Armament Depot, operated as an independent unit. There is some documentary evidence to show that it was under construction by November 1942:

"9. In addition to the R.N. and R.A.N. stocks maintained at Newington there are, or will be in the near future, a total of 16 Armco Shelters containing ammunition, the property of the United States Navy ..." (ASO minute S.C.168/1/300 to Rear-Admiral-in-Charge, Sydney dated 10 November 1942)

Clark Steffen's Story

(The following personal recollection is a free transcription of a conversation between the author of this page and Clark Steffen on 11 July 1986.)

Gunner's Mate First Class Clark Henry Steffen, USN, originally from Iowa, USA, was stationed at Newington between about May 1943 and September 1945. He was then a member of 135 Ammunition and Ordnance Unit.

Clark underwent recruit training during the North American winter of 1942-43 at the Great Lakes Training Center. Following training, he attended Torpedo School and was then sent to San Francisco by train for posting. During this journey he was taken ill with fever and was hospitalised in Reno, Nevada, thus losing contact with the rest of his draft from the Torpedo School. Arriving eventually in San Francisco he was posted to accompany a shipment of torpedoes to Australia. He arrived in Brisbane a few days after the sinking of the hospital ship CENTAUR (about 16 May, 1943) and was impressed by Brisbane's rain. After a short period in Brisbane he was posted to Sydney.

The HQ of 135 Ammunition and Ordnance was at Grace Building in York Street, Sydney and its trucks were garaged in Sussex Street, near the Burlington Hotel. As well as the Newington site, other storage areas were near Mascot aerodrome and in a brickworks, off Parramatta Road at Homebush, near the Ford Motor Plant.

When Clark first arrived at Newington, the storehouses were still under construction and much ammunition was field stored under tarpaulins or corrugated iron sheets. The area used by the USN comprised the present "Bull Ring" and adjacent areas occupied by the concrete and steel arch storehouses. Roads were unsealed and in wet weather it was necessary to push trucks through the mud into loading positions using a Caterpillar bulldozer.

The unit barracks was the old Carnarvon Golf Clubhouse which was located near Fariola Street. At first there was no cook and meals were taken at a Greek cafe on Parramatta Road, Auburn opposite the Melton Hotel. Later, a cook and pharmacist's mate were provided.

Most of the ammunition was received from the USA by cargo ships and unloaded at the Darling Harbour and Pyrmont wharves. The ammunition was trucked between the wharves and Newington although occasionally lighters were used. Ammunition was shipped out from Newington to forward bases by truck to the wharves and thence by ammunition ships, including the PYRO and NITRO.

The Officer-in-charge at Newington was Warrant Officer Orem.

Unserviceable ammunition was loaded into mud barges which were then towed to sea and opened to dump their contents. Many rounds of 40mm ammunition were broken down at Newington using a length of pipe as a vice. The projectile was pushed into the pipe and the crimp was broken by hand leverage. Propellant was burnt on site. The largest calibre of ammunition handled at Newington was 6-inch. At the Homebush brick kilns the work of moving ammunition in and out of storage was very hard due to the confined conditions.

The number of people in the unit grew from about 25 to 150 as the war progressed. Included in this number were some personnel who had escaped from Corregidor to Darwin by fishing boat.

The unit also maintained the ammunition and guns on defensively armed merchant ships in the US service.

At the end of the war, much of the remaining ammunition was dumped at sea. The unit's trucks were moved to Brisbane. Clark, who had married an Australian, Lucy Elizabeth Cooch, in September 1944 returned to the USA with his wife but emigrated to Australia in the early 1950's.


U.S. Naval Advanced Base, Sydney

"The capital of New South Wales, Sydney is Australia's largest city and port. On 1 February 1942 a U.S. naval base at 33 degrees 50 minutes S.; 151 degrees 10 minutes E. was established there in connection with the main Royal Australian Naval Base and extensive commercial harbour facilities. The base came under the jurisdiction of Commander, Naval Forces, Southwest Pacific, which in March 1943 became the Seventh Fleet. Beginning in May 1942, the destroyer tender Dobbin operated in Sydney harbor to help repair naval vessels. In late 1942 and early 1943, battle-damaged cruisers and destroyers began arriving at Sydney for repairs at the Royal Australian Navy's dockyard and the large graving dock at Wooloomooloo, as well as at commercial facilities. Sydney was also an important place for normal overhauls as well as for all classes of naval warships. By early 1943 it had become an assembly point for the many small- and medium-sized landing craft (LSTs, LCIs, and LCMs) heading out to the Southwest Pacific Area. There they were repaired and made ready before heading north to other amphibious installations.

With the help of Australian labor, Seabees in the summer of 1943 increased U.S. naval facilities at Sydney by the construction of a naval supply depot, ammunition depot, and base hospital. Sydney functioned as a rear area supply base in addition to its important ship-repair role. However, with the increasing complexity of forward bases in New Guinea and the Admiralty Islands, its supply installations were dismantled in the summer of 1944 for shipment elsewhere. Only the ammunition depot remained to service ships under repair. Meanwhile, Sydney had become the main base for the British Pacific Fleet. U.S. facilities at Sydney were disestablished on 5 December 1945." (P. E. Coletta and K.J. Bauer, United States Navy and Marine Corps Bases, Overseas, P. 315)

The U.S. Naval Magazine at Newington

Photo of US Navy magazines at Newington

US Navy Magazines at Newington

"The U.S. Naval Magazine at Newington was an element of U.S. Naval Base, Navy 135; its mission was to receive, store, issue, and overhaul ammunition. The magazine at Newington was comprised of ten 25' x 100' steel magazines covered with earth; six 20' x 100' steel magazines covered with earth; twenty 25' x 50' cement magazines covered with earth; one 25' x 20' covered with earth; one 12' x 12' detonator storage and three quonset 12' x 26' huts; two 30' x 100' cement magazines. These were all constructed on Reverse Lend Lease.

There were also five and one half acres of open stowage available. The magazine also had a number of buildings at Mascot for non-explosives.

In September 1944 the personnel of the magazine comprised five officers and approximately 94 enlisted men. Officers were:

Lt-Comdr Charles M. Cunneen - Commanding Officer
Lt William E. Hopkins - Executive Officer
Ch. Gunner Arthur C. Orem - In Charge Newington
Ch. Gunner Harold E. Houghton - Shipping & Receiving
Lt(jg) Roger Sands

(Commander Service Force Seventh Fleet Roster of Officers 1 September 1944/Base Facilities Report Southwest Pacific Area 15 September 1944)"

For more information about the Newington site during World War 2 visit the page "The Experience of War at Sydney - 1939 to 1945".

Material on this page may be copied for personal use. If you intend to republish any substantial part of the page in any manner, please acknowledge the source and provide the URL of the page.

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au