The newspapers are full of a story about a mutiny by African-American GIs in WW2 at Townsville, Queensland, Australia. Apparently the story was covered up at the time. Couldn’t have been as big as the news story would have it as casualties were remarkably low when you consider 700 rounds were fired. Here are the details…….
An Australian historian has uncovered hidden documents which reveal that African American troops used machine guns to attack their white officers in a siege on a US base in north Queensland in 1942.
Information about the Townsville mutiny has never been released to the public. [Blog Ed. that is questionable!]
But the story began to come to light when James Cook University’s Ray Holyoak first began researching why US congressman Lyndon B Johnson visited Townsville for three days back in 1942.
What he discovered was evidence detailing one of the biggest uprisings within the US military.
“For 70 years there’s been a rumour in Townsville that there was a mutiny among African-American servicemen. In the last year and a half I’ve found the primary documentation evidence that that did occur in 1942.”
During World War II, Townsville was a crucial base for campaigns into the Pacific, including the Battle of the Coral Sea.
About 600 African-American troops were brought to the city to help build airfields.
Mr Holyoak says these troops, from the 96th Battalion, US Army Corps of Engineers, were stationed at a base on the city’s western outskirts known as Kelso.
This was the site for a large-scale siege lasting eight hours, which was sparked by racial taunts and violence.
“After some serial abuse by two white US officers, there was several ringleaders and they decided to machine gun the tents of the white officers,” Mr Holyoak said.
He has uncovered several documents hidden in the archives of the Queensland Police and Townsville Brigade detailing what happened that night.
According to the findings, the soldiers took to the machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons and fired into tents where their white counterparts were drinking.
More than 700 rounds were fired.
At least one person was killed and dozens severely injured, and Australian troops were called in to roadblock the rioters.
Mr Holyoak also discovered a report written by Robert Sherrod, a US journalist who was embedded with the troops.
It never made it to the press, but was handed to Lyndon B Johnson at a Townsville hotel and eventually filed away into the National Archives and Records Administration.
“I think at the time, it was certainly suppressed. Both the Australian and the US government would not have wanted the details of this coming out. The racial policies at the time really discluded [sic] people of colour,” Mr Holyoak says.
Both the Australian Defence Department and the Australian War Memorial say it could take months to research the incident, and say they have no details readily available for public release.
But Townsville historian Dr Dorothy Gibson-Wilde says the findings validate 70-year-old rumours.
“Anytime it was raised, people usually sort of said, ‘Oh you know, no that can’t be true. Nobody’s heard about that’, and in fact it must have been kept pretty quiet from the rest of the town,” she said.
Mr Holyoak will spend the next two years researching the sentences handed out to both the officers and the mutineers involved, and why the information has been kept secret for so long.
This made out to be big news but website www.ozatwar.com has had a write-up on this event on it’s site for some time, as follows:
By August 1942, there were about 7, 258 Negro servicemen based in Australia. One such Negro unit was the 96th Engineers General Services Regiment airfield construction Battalion that was based in the Upper Ross area near Townsville to construct the Upper Ross airfield (Kelso field).
On 15 April 1942, about 100 men of the 96th Battalion were involved in a fight in Townsville. They had been rounded up by white soldiers with fixed bayonets and loaded guns.
On 22 May 1942 between 8 pm and 9 pm several shots could be heard coming from the Negroes camp. One of the many to hear the shots was the late Arthur Kelso who was riding his horse on his property at Laudham Park, on Five Head Creek in the Upper Ross area just outside Townsville. He heard the initial shots and judged them to be about 1.5 miles away. The shooting continued and he could then hear Thompson sub machine guns. The firing continued until about 11pm.
Many of the locals who heard the firing thought the military were playing “war games”. However all hell had broken loose at the camp. One source suggested that the riot started when a white Captain struck a Negro soldier. Arthur Kelso indicated that drunken Negroes started to fire guns at their white officers, who then returned the fire.
A road block was set up to prevent the rioting Negroes from entering Townsville. There were reports of 250 Negroes on the rampage and that they had commandeered some trucks and were heading into town. Arthur Kelso reported that he later heard that 19 coffins had been ordered to bury those killed in the riot.
Dick Kelso, Arthur’s brother, who was with the 11th Brigade was one of those who manned a road block on Ross River road that evening after the riot. Dick said they were issued with live ammunition and Bren Guns as well. Dick reported that the rioting Negroes had been stopped and turned back at another road block near Corbeth’s water hole on Ross River.
Another report on www.politicalhotwire.com highlights:
Armed Australian troops were sent in at the height of the emergency on the US base.
George Gnezdiloff, then a 20-year-old private in the north Queensland-raised 51st battalion, was told to block Ross River Road with his bren gun carrier. Other soldiers were issued with a password, Bucks, as they deployed to bottle up the Americans.
Gnezdiloff and his crew were ordered to shoot the mutineers on sight. “We had ammo, the lot,” the now 90-year-old recalled yesterday from his home in Proserpine, 300km south of Townsville.
“We weren’t mucking around, I can tell you.”
The disgruntled African-Americans were from the US 96th engineers, a labour battalion that had the thankless job of building the airfields and barracks around Townsville. Racial tensions had been simmering for months, creating a poisonous atmosphere on the base at Kelso Field, southwest of the city. On the night of May 22-23, 1942, it boiled over. The men of A and C companies took up arms against their white officers, angry at claims a black sergeant had died at the hands of a white superior.
Sherrod’s report says the mutineers resolved to kill their commander, Captain Francis Williams, of Columbus, Georgia. “They fired several hundred rounds at his tent,” it says.
After Williams escaped “almost certain death” by diving into a slit trench, the rebels turned a machine gun on other officers as they fled. There is no record of whether any were hit.
The mutinous A and C companies of black engineers were hurriedly packed off to New Guinea, where the Australians of the 51st Battalion were also bound, to confront the Japanese.
More than 10,000 African-American servicemen were put to work in north Queensland during the war, and Holyoak says the racial violence at Kelso was not isolated. Other clashes between white and black US personnel took place at Torrens Creek, Ingham and Mt Isa in 1942.
The researcher believes Roosevelt was aware of the tensions, and this may have been a factor behind the visit of his wife, Eleanor, to Townsville in 1943, when the then first lady dropped in on the newly established North American Services Club in Flinders Street – a “negro-only” establishment.
The best part is the report made by Lyndon Johnson, see attached paper.
This report also contains comments on MacArthur…and his super-size ego. Interesting reading.
See also…..MacArthur’s Hubris