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March 15, 2012
WHEN 31 Radar Station
(31RS) arrived at its
Dripstone Caves site
outside Darwin to set up
its radar on February 9, 1942, its anti-
aircraft defences comprised a .303
rifle with no magazine or ammunition.
It would have been useless, any-
way. On the day of the bombing of
Darwin 10 days later, the men faced a
worrying 10 minutes when a Japanese
dive bomber circled the site.
FLTLT Kevin Wass, then a
19-year-old radar operator, said he
believed the reason the aircraft did not
attack was because radar was so new
the aircrew had no idea what the radar
Kevin enlisted in Brisbane on June
6, 1941, and was one of the first of the
new specialist radar operators.
The system was so new they did
not even train on working equipment.
Arriving in Darwin, the men had to
make the equipment operational with-
out knowing exactly how it all fitted
together and other problems.
It was a complex task, made worse
by being under enemy attack.
Kevin said the general feeling
about the raids was one of complete
"I saw three formations of 27
aircraft each in the first raid and also
saw three Kittyhawks heading out to
sea just as the raid began," he said. "I
saw a parachute come from each and
the aircraft crash into the sea. I don't
think they even knew the Japanese
"The second raid came in about
11am; it comprised 54 bombers and
When the RAAF base moved
65km south to Adelaide River, 31RS
remained in Darwin. It was effectively
65km ahead of the frontline, and
could detect aircraft up to 225km or
60 minutes out.
"I could detect a Japanese recon-
naissance aircraft come over the west
coast, over to Daly River then Charles
Point and then offshore."
An hour after the plane left, anoth-
er raid would start. "However, as our
fighter aircraft became available, they
would be despatched and wait for the
Japanese aircraft," he said.
He said that after the move of the
base, the station had difficulties with
maintaining communications and get-
ting even their daily basic needs.
"It would take transport vehicles
a full day to arrive with our rations.
However, we were able to get tins
of food that washed ashore from the
After his time in Darwin, FLTLT
Wass posted to New Guinea to set up
and operate other radar stations before
retouring to Brisbane and then Nelson
Bay.In 1958, he commissioned and was
posted to RAAF Bases Richmond,
Butterworth and Darwin.
While he was at Richmond, on
February 10, 1964, his wife was in
hospital giving birth to his youngest
son and he hoped to have time off. It
was not to be. That night, the RAN
aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne col-
lided with its escort destroyer HMAS
Voyager off Jervis Bay, and he was
required for air traffic control of air-
craft involved in the rescue.
He was in Darwin on Christmas
Eve 1974 when the town was dev-
astated again, this time by Cyclone
FLTLT Wass played an important
role in re-establishing the radar, which
had been taken out as well as assisting
with the huge air traffic control task-
ing and getting the base operational as
well as clean-up activities.
For this he received a commenda-
tion.He also suffered a severe gash,
which needed stitching.
"I'm allergic to painkillers so
the doctor gave me a stubby of beer
before he stitched me up," he said.
FLTLT Wass retired in 1976.
10 minutes of anxiety
SITTING DUCK: The unprotected 31 Radar Station's site at Dripstone Caves .... fortunately, the attacking
Japanese aircraft had no idea what it was. Inset: Kevin Wass who was a 19-year-old radar operator in 1942.
Photos courtesy Geoff Wass
Bombing of Darwin
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