NORTHAM'S involvement and contribution to the war effort during WWII can never be underrated with the rediscovery of a number of strategically important military establishments within the shire based in and around Burlong, Springhill and Spencers Brook.
In a continuing series of revelations of these establishments is the identification of an RAAF inland aircraft fuel depot (IAFD) near Burlong Pool on the Clackline-Spencers Brook Road.
Often mistaken for grain silos, the depot was part of a very strategically important aviation fuel storage network across the country designed for the quick supply of fuel to aircraft defending Australia against the ever-increasing threat of invasion.
As early as 1939, the Chief of the Air Staff of the RAAF requested a committee to investigate the specifications for storage tanks in inland locations to store aviation fuel and tetraethyllead (TEL) for the defence of Australia and in particular in Western Australia to protect the east-west strategic air route.
They were to be located inland for immunity from air attack from carrier based aircraft.
The construction of 31 IAFDs was approved in War Cabinet Minute No. 1963, dated March 9, 1942.
These sites would store 20,760,000 gallons (93,420,000 litres) of aircraft fuel.
Ten were built in New South Wales, seven in Queensland, four in Victoria, four in Western Australia, four in South Australia, one in Tasmania and one in the Northern Territory.
Following is a list of IAFDs built across Australia operational between 1942 and 1944 most with the dates of commissioning and de-commissioning;
1. No 1 IAFD Ballarat VIC 1942 29AUG44
2. No 2 IAFD Warragul VIC 1942 14JUN44
3. No 3 IAFD Cootamundra QLD 1942 14JUN44
4. No 4 IAFD Wallerawang NSW 1942 ?
5. No 5 IAFD Muswellbrook NSW 1942 29AUG44
6. No 6 IAFD Grafton NSW 1942 29AUG44
7. No 7 IAFD Toowoomba QLD 1942 29AUG44
8. No 8 IAFD Gayndah QLD 1942 29AUG44
9. No 9 IAFD Charters Towers QLD 01JUN42 29AUG44
10. No 10 IAFD Northam WA 1942 14JUN44
11. No 11 IAFD Solomon Town (Port Pirie) SA 1942 14JUN44
12. No 12 IAFD Wolseley SA 1942 14JUN44
13. No 13 IAFD Violet Town (Seymour) VIC 1942 14JUN44
14. No 14 IAFD Tocumwal NSW 1942 14JUN44
15. No 15 IAFD Deniliquin NSW 1942 14JUN44
16. No 16 IAFD Goulburn NSW 1942 ?
17. No 17 IAFD Wagga Wagga NSW 1942 29AUG44
18. No 18 IAFD Parkes NSW 1942 14AUG44
19. No 19 IAFD Narromine (Dubbo) NSW 1942 14JUN44
20. No 20 IAFD Tamworth NSW 1942 14JUN 44
21. No 21 IAFD Yarraman QLD 1942 29AUG44
22. No 22 IAFD Roma QLD 1942 29AUG44
23. No 23 IAFD Cloncurry QLD 1942 14AUG44
24. No 24 IAFD Alice Springs NT 20MAY42 NOV44
25. No 25 IAFD Narrogin WA 1942 14JUN44
26. No 26 IAFD Merredin WA 1942 29APR44
27. No 27 IAFD Boulder (Kalgoorlie) WA 1942 14JUN44
28. No 28 IAFD Gladstone SA 1942 14JUN44
29. No 29 IAFD Yelta (Mildura) VIC 1942 14JUN44
30. No 30 IAFD Mona Vale TAS 1942 14JUN44
31. No 31 IAFD Crystal Brook SA 1942 14JUN44
Other bulk storage with a distribution of some 27,000 drums was held at Broome and Cunderdin in Western Australia, Ceduna in South Australia, Mona Vale in Tasmania and Batchelor-Birdum in the Northern Territory.
Ocean terminals for the receiving of fuel were also operating at Brisbane, Cairns, Gladstone and Townsville.
Originally some of the depots stored fuel in drums and were referred to as inland storages for reserves of aviation spirit and others designated RAAF inland storage depots which were later referred to as RAAF inland petrol depots (RIPDs) with Northam being numbered No 12 RIPD.
With another later standardisation of the name, the depots were finally designated an inland aircraft fuel depot or IAFD.
The eventual construction of the brick and steel tanks at the depots was substantially carried out by the Allied Works Council made up of bricklayers, carpenters and manual labour and completed by October, 1943.
A total of 31 IAFDs were in operation by May, 1944.
All IAFD sites were located on railway lines for access by rail tankers but were situated well away from the airfields they serviced as they were bulk storage facilities.
Fuel would be transported from the IAFD to the airfield fuel tanks by road tanker. Northam was perhaps an exception as to whether an airstrip was nearby.
RAAF No 10 Inland Aircraft Fuel Depot (10 IAFD) was built in Northam on the Clackline-Spencers Brook Road near Burlong Pool, alongside the Northam to York rail line.
It was built in late 1942 and de-commissioned on June 14, 1944.
Like other inland aircraft fuel depots Northam's No 10 had a workforce of nine personnel: one non-commissioned Officer (NCO), a storekeeper, a cook and six guards.
Accommodation was provided in the existing Guard House, however the number of guards for Northam was later increased to 16 with essentially 24-hour, seven days a week security for the depot.
Northam's No 10 IAFD had initially three tanks built; two were the standard 120,000 gallon (540,000 litres) to store aviation fuel and one 40,000 gallon (180,000 litres) for the mixing of aviation fuel with tetraethyllead (TEL) mixing tank.
Later in January, 1943, an underground tank was installed with a capacity of 300,000 gallons (1,350,000 litres).
In a secret minute dated August 20, 1942, lies an indication of the progress made at Northam with the construction of the tanks and the preparation to fill them with aviation fuel:
NORTHAM. Foundation complete 23/8/1942, tank complete 30/9/1942 concrete 1/11/1942. Drum storage site to the East of Depot now not required.
Tetraethyllead (common name tetraethyl lead), abbreviated TEL, is an organolead compound which was mixed with gasoline (petrol) beginning in the 1920s as an inexpensive octane booster which allowed engine compression to be raised substantially, which in turn increased engine performance and fuel economy, especially for aircraft.
TEL was phased out around the world in the mid-1970s because of its toxicity and the tendency to damage catalytic converters.
Today, it is still used as an additive in aviation fuel for piston engine-powered aircraft and automotive racing fuels to increase the octane (burn) rating of the fuel.
TEL, considered a precious commodity during WWII for it's power enhancing properties, was stored at Northam in 15 drums in an underground bunker with a half-ton tripod and chain block and rope slings over the hatchway for drum handling.
As mentioned, airstrips were generally located away from the fuel depots as a safety measure; however, Northam was possibly an exception because of Northam's closeness to the coast and within range of carrier-born enemy aircraft.
There is anecdotal evidence of an airstrip running from the current gate in an east-west direction alongside the depot and further evidence the area was protected with an anti-aircraft artillery battery perhaps consisting of 3.7-foot anti-aircraft guns in service with the Australian Army during WWII.
There is a record of the presence of the 66th, 418th and 419th anti-aircraft stations as well as the 12th Australian Artillery Training Battery at the Northam Army Camp in August, 1943, the camp being accessible from the fuel depot via a river crossing and dirt track from near Burlong Pool to the camp itself.
In close co-operation with the United States Army Air Corps the costs and fuel distribution were shared with the RAAF with the USAAC having additional bulk fuel inland storages at 13 of the 31 IAFDs.
Peter Weston is a Northam-born, Perth-based lawyer who can be contacted by email firstname.lastname@example.org or PO Box 399, Bull Creek, WA 6149.
Any further information, feedback or photographs is appreciated.
Next week: US 7 Ammunition Naval Depot (7 NAD) Navy 137, Springhill.