A History Of Pittwater - Part 4 West Head Fortress - Pittwater Pathways
"Fighting fit" - saving the West Head forts from invasion
WEST HEAD BATTERY BROKEN BAY, PITTWATER, NSW DURING WWII
The remains of the West Head Battery or West Head Fort are located in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, overlooking the entrance to Broken Bay and
Pittwater, in New South Wales. The battery comprised two Quick Firing (Q.F.) 4.7" Mk IV ex-naval guns, an observation post, ammunition storage
and two nearby searchlight posts.
Photo: via Andrew Bevan
Anti-submarine boom net across the entrance to Pittwater.
Barrenjoey Lighthouse can be seen in the background. This
area is regularly seen on the TV Show "Home and Away"
Eighteen year old Jack "Bluey" Mercer was one of 80 servicemen sent to the site to establish West Head Battery and install the two Q.F. 4.7" Mk
IV guns in the 3rd week in January 1941. He did his rookie training at North Head Barracks and he then went to Middle Head to learn the skills
he would required when he moved to West Head Battery. A Major taught them the art of repository, which in artillery terms meant the ability
to move heave weights with relative ease using basic materials. All their work was done by hand and they used block and tackles, levers and
Before "Bluey" had arrived on site the site had been cleared by the Fortress Engineers and they had installed the cutting, the gun emplacements,
a vertical railway line and a horizontal railway line between the two gun positions. The huts had also been installed by that time. "Bluey"
and his group were tasked with moving the guns from the top down to the bottom of the cliff and then installing the guns and making them operational.
They would wake up at 5:30am, have breakfast at 6:00am and be down at the bottom of the cliff at 6:30am to start their work for the day. They would
take a break at lunch time and come back up to their camp area and then go back down again and worked through to about 6:00pm at night or until
they ran out of daylight. "Bluey" Mercer said that all the men loved their cook. Their food was very good. Any of the men who collected firewood
for the cook would receive some special goodies, so the cook was never short of firewood.
Their first job was to get one of the 7 1/2 ton gun pedestals off the truck onto a platform on the railway line. Once it was off the truck, they
used wooden rollers to move it on to the platform. It was too late for them to attempt to move the pedestal to the bottom of the cliff. They
were up at 5:00am the next morning to start work. Unfortunately the brake failed and the gun pedestal went to the bottom at an uncontrolled
speed and a 2 1/2 ton concrete counterweight came to the top of the hill at the same speed which caused the Major to tell the men to scatter.
The concrete counterweight became airborne for a short while and speared into a gantry. The gun pedestal flew off the platform and had to be
recovered. This caused a few weeks delay in their program. They used a dolly on the horizontal line to move the pedestal to the gun site.
The Australian Army work boat Korree supported the men at West Head Battery with equipment and supplies. Jack Kelly was the coxswain of the Koree.
The first gun that was installed was fired five times, to test it to make sure it was properly installed. This is called a "proving shoot". This
was done at night time in conjunction with testing the searchlights. When the guns fired a lot of houses in Palm Beach turned their outside
lights on despite the blackout restrictions.
While he was at West Head "Bluey" was sent to a number of Artillery Workshops for training and he eventually qualified as an Armament Artificer.
"Bluey" left West Battery at the end of March 1942 and the two guns at the Battery was totally operational by that time. He moved to Jervis Bay
to assist with installation of a Battery there.
There was a telephone cable installed between West Head Battery and Juno Point Battery.
A report by the 5th Australian Anti-aircraft and Fortress Company RAE (5 Aust AA & Frt Coy RAE) indicated that the guns emplacements at West
Head had scrim camouflage netting and mock rock installed for camouflaging the gun sites.
It would appear there may have been a Bofor Anti-aircraft battery on the Bairne track near the West Head Battery.
"Z" Special Unit had their Camp Z located on the top of a cliff at Cowan Creek, at nearby Refuge Bay. They carried out mock attacks on the West Head
Batery location and other military camps in the general area.
On 24 November 2014, the NSW Heritage Minister and Member for Pittwater, Rob Stokes, announced $200,000 for works at the WWII West Head Battery
which will be used to build new stairs and restore access to the old soldier’s track at the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park site. This money
was in addition to the $6500 already being used for new signage.
Photo: Jim Macken Collection Probably the arrival of the men who were to install and commission the two guns
Photo: Jim Macken Collection The Naval gun mounted on its pedestal mount
Photo: Jim Macken Collection Proud of their work installing the gun
Photo: Jim Macken Collection One of the gun positions
Photo: Jim Macken Collection The camp area at the top of the hill
Photo: Jim Macken Collection The horizontal railway line between the two gun positions
The rear of one of the bunkers.
I assume this is the Battery Observation Post
Possibly one of the gun positions or one of the searchlight bunkers.
Photo: Jim Macken Collection Test firing or proving one of the guns
One of the guns in 1942
Scrim camouflage netting. Looks like it may be over the horizontal railway line
Peter Dunn would like to thank Andrew Bevan for his assistance