Military Tunnels and Bunkers
- Road Tunnels
- Historic Tunnels
- Military Tunnels and Bunkers
- Forgotten Tunnels on the City Circle
- Railway Tunnels
- Harbour Tunnels
- Sydney's Lost Tunnels
- Sydney's Abandoned Railway Tunnels
- Underground Reservoirs
From the early days of colonial Sydney, its Governors saw the need to defend Sydney from an invasion by sea. By the city's centennial year, Sydney's defence network had been enlarged to include coastal defences with development reaching its zenith during World War II. Most fortifications of all eras were hastily built, as much to ease the people's minds that something was being done to defend them rather than to establish an efficient defence system. They were under gunned, poorly designed and often outdated by the time they were finished.
Even the fortifications built during World War II were put up quickly, and have deteriorated quickly. It is estimated that of about one hundred anti-aircraft and searchlight positions, less than half a dozen remain. Almost none of the hundreds of kilometres of barbed wire laid during the war survives. Only a few air-raid shelters in back yards are known to still exist. The remnants of Sydney's defence system will perhaps never be used again as modern methods of warfare have made them obsolete.
There are a number of tunnels and bunkers located beneath HMAS Watson on South Head at Watsons Bay. In 1848 Lieutenant-Colonel James Gordon developed a definitive plan for the defence of Sydney town which involved 30 heavy guns located at Inner South Head and Middle Head, 9 heavy guns at Sow and Pigs Reef, 2 heavy guns at Pinchgut, work at Bradley's Head and changes to the Dawes Point Battery. In 1853 a Government Committee on the Defence of Port Jackson recommended Harbour defences be upgraded immediately in view of the threat of an European war with Russia. Governor FitzRoy appointed Colonel Barney to improve Harbour defences based his plans on Gordon's recommendations of 1848. The original Outer Battery, which is the earliest of the fortifications on South head near the Hornby light and old lighthouse keeper's residences, were built in 1859. They are the only fortifications erected on South Head as per Gordon's recommendations at that time and included a tunnel lined with brick, later covered with concrete.
The cobble-stoned roadway near the top of the steps above Camp Cove is a remnant of the original road constructed in 1871 along which military hardware was transported to the various installation points on South Head. The Inner Battery was built in 1873 and consisted of a series of gunpits and numerous lookout points on the headland from Green Point and Lady Bay. Five guns were aimed across Watsons Bay. A new Outer Battery was erected beyond the Hornby light and facing the ocean and a series of tunnels to connect the inner and outer batteries were cut.
In 1914, the guns were briefly mobilised, but never fired in anger and more bunkers were erected. One has a hand painted 1915 with an upwards pointed arrow (the defence department symbol) above it. During World War II, a new series of tunnels were built linking HMAS Watson to a wharf used to offload military supplies at Camp Cove. These tunnels are quite deep and rather labyrinthine, their entrances today are blocked by steel doors. At the same time, a series of new observation bunkers were cut deep into the cliff face. These include one which was particularly well placed for viewing the Lady Bay nudist beach.
Located near Macquarie Lighthouse in Christison Park, Vaucluse, these fortifications were built in 1893 with others at North Bondi, Clovelly, Henry Head and Bare Island (Botany Bay) as part of a coastal defence update. All the fortifications housed 22-tonne 9.2 inch breech loading disappearing guns housed in below ground cavities with concrete walls ten metres in diameter. The barrels of each gun weighed 22 tonnes. The Signal Hill disappearing gun was housed in the centre of three gun pits. It was last fired in 1933 and removed in 1937 when it was replaced by two 6-inch Mk. II guns placed in each of the outer pits. These were removed after World War II. The barrel of the disappearing gun is on display at the Artillery Museum at North Head. Two levels of rooms were constructed under the gun emplacement in 1915. These were interconnected to bunkers and observation boxes by tunnels also built at the time.
This fort was designed to protect the entrance to Botany Bay during World War II and superseded a smaller fort on Henry Head built in 1893 to supplement the firepower of the nearby Bare Island fort. The Henry Head battery included two 6-inch breech-loading disappearing guns aimed across the mouth of Botany Bay, searchlights and observation posts linked by tunnels. Ruins of the fort remain. Cape Banks armoury included two 9.2 inch disappearing guns as well as a battery of anti-aircraft guns, torpedo launching facilities, barracks, electricity generating plant, hospital and plotting rooms. The fort was de-commissioned after World War II. The remains of the installation are located on the cliffs behind the New South Wales Golf Course. UBD Map 297 Ref E 16
Built in 1942, the military installations at Long Bay (Boora Point), Cape Bailly and Cape Banks were three of a number of fortifications built on the coast as first line defence against naval attack by the Japanese. Construction was pre-empted by Japanese submarine activity off the coast of Sydney in 1941 and 1942 which included a number of homes in the eastern suburbs being shelled and the entry of three minisubs into Sydney Harbour. The Long Bay installation consisted of two 9-inch guns which had a range of 26.4 kilometres, a battery of anti-aircraft guns, barracks and an electricity generating plant. Its pair of gun circles are joined by two tunnels. The guns were fed by shell loaders bringing their defensive cargo up from baffled rooms below. They were never fired in anger as no further naval activity by the Japanese off Sydney occurred. The forts were de-commissioned after the war.
Located beyond the Anzac Rifle Range, the buildings of the Long Bay fort remain largely intact though in an advanced state of disintegration. A narrow gauge railway leads through a trench from the start of the Gun Circle tunnels, past a few storage buildings to the base of a three storey lookout tower, then on to emerge 400m west of where it started. The tower has lookouts on two levels, a storage room on the other. The mount for a machine gun still sits in the floor of one of the lookouts. A burnt out 1999 Jeep Cherokee sits in a trench, blocking the passage. A small lookout sits at the cliff edge on the flat area of Boora Point where the fight scenes in the movie Mission Impossible 2 were filmed. The view (right) is from the lookout.
Located at North Head, Manly in the Sydney Harbour National Park, the fort was completed in 1938 and was manned continuously until the 1960's. It consisted of two 9.2-inch coastal guns in two emplacements connected by an underground tunnel. The guided guns could rotate 360 degrees and had a range of 27 kilometres. They were supported by two searchlight elements, and three 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns. This battery is today the home of The Royal Australian Artillery National Museum. It contains the history of Australian Gunners and houses a variety of guns from the early colonial period, including medium and heavy field artillery, anti-tank mortars, air defences and coastal artillery. UBD Map 238 Ref C 16
The point of Middle Head is riddled with a network of lookouts, gun placements, and ammunition stores, all inter-linked by tunnels and passages. Most were constructed in 1871 to the design of Colonial Architect James Barnet and remained untouched until the Second World War when they were re-opened and upgraded. The nine guns mounted at Middle head were never fired in anger, but four men were killed in April 1891 in the accidental detonation of a mine.
Associated with these fortifications are early roads, a stone lined defensive moat and numerous isolated structures such as Observation Posts and Searchlight Posts, range finding stations, quarry sites and archaeological remnants of earlier structures. The whole area is littered with remnants of military occupation of various types. The last use of the Middle Head forts was in the 1960s when the tunnels (right) were used to train some of Australia's first troops to Vietnam in the 'Code of Conduct' course (lessons in how to withstand torture and interrogation). In 1970, the forts were transferred to the Sydney Harbour National Park and the area is now largely used for recreational purposes. UBD Map 217 Ref L 7
The fortifications at Bradleys Head are the best preserved of all those to be found around the shores of Sydney Harbour. The oldest fortifications, alongside the mast and crows nest of HMAS Sydney, date from 1803. Others nearby were built by Gov. Gipps without British Government approval in the 1840s. Partly constructed of sandstone blocks and partly carved out of the bedrock, the battery was built as part of Sydney's inner line of defence. A sandstone wharf was built in conjunction with the fort. It is said that a tunnel was cut into the cliff from the sandstone wharf to the firing wall area.
The fortifications up the hill above the shoreline were erected in 1871 as part of a series of fortifications built at that time to defend Sydney. These included guns, firing walls and a series of tunnels. They remained operational but totally ineffective - fortunately they were never required to be put to the test to prove this - until well after World War I. UBD Ref: Map 237: 2C
Back in 1801, Governor King had established a small battery at Georges Head on land later given to an aboriginal family by Gov. Macquarie as an experiment to introduce them to the farming methods of the white man. The settlement was abandoned in 1822 and the area remained unoccupied until the 1870s when it became a key part of new fortifications designed to protect the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Remains of these fortifications, located at the highest point opposite the Harbour entrance, still exist and can be accessed via a walking path from Chowder Bay.
An ingenious and advanced designed Casemate is a key part of the fortifications at Middle Head that were built to the design of Colonel Scratchley between 1882 and 1886 in accordance with the 1877 recommendations of Sir William Jervois. It originally housed three 18 tonne 10-inch rifled-muzzle-loading guns, two of which were transferred here from Georges Heights and one from Middle Head in 1886. These guns were housed in three giant chambers built of mass concrete with walls and roof about 1.8 metres thick and were built into the excavated cavities in the sandstone bedrock. Each chamber was provided with a magazine and shell store and opened at the rear to a covered roadway. The guns were intended to fire on enemy ships as they navigated the passages around Sow and Pigs Reef, within the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Another larger fortification is located above and adjacent to the Beehive Casemate at cliff top level.
During World War II (1942) a range of other structures were built including a quick-firing anti-submarine gun emplacement with adjacent observation tower and numerous associated structures such as machine-gun emplacements, staff quarters, water tanks and a piezo-beam station near the waterline along with tracks and steps linking them. They are located on the east side of Chowder Bay Road around Obelisk Point close to the cliff escarpment. By the 1960s, military involvement in the area had all but ceased and in 1970 the unused portions were incorporated into the Sydney Harbour National Park and are now reserved for recreational purposes. The underground chambers have been sealed from general access as a result of cracks appearing in the concrete walls but the site is still accessible.
The Royal Australian Navy has a tunnel system under its Garden Island Naval Base, extending under Potts Point as far as the Kings Cross area. They contain a power station, offices, air raid shelters and a command centre. Some of the tunnels under the Garden Island Naval Depot were built to be able move guns from one side of the island to the other and to transport ammunition. Under and around the Captain Cook Dock there are tunnels associated with the dock itself. There is also a pit (now sealed) that was dug in the 1800's as a store for provisions should the island ever come under siege.
Two separate tunnel systems were blasted out of the sandstone under Garden Island during World War II. They were to serve as air-raid shelters in case the Royal Australian Navy base was attacked. The northernmost bunker is made up of five interconnecting tunnels that once housed back-up generators, a telephone exchange and a casualty clearing station. During a refurbishment in 1978, most of the tunnels were reinforced with concrete and steel. They are now only used to run communication and fuel lines across the Island. Some tunnels were named after London landmarks including Petticoat Lane and Saunders Corner.
Part of the arc of the northbound siding tunnel from St James station which was intended for the Gladesville line is believed to have been used by General Macarthur as his wartime headquarters and the Fighter Sector. The tunnel ends directly under the Mitchell Library where there is a rock face and a pilot tunnel at roof level and it is believed that this tunnel housed the command centre. Manned by Australian and American personnel, the centre was connected to radar stations, weather signals, movements from airports, army and Volunteer Air Observer Corps reporting posts, air raid sirens and blackout control. A huge table carried a map of the New South Wales coast and adjoining areas, on which movements of aircraft and shipping were plotted. The staff at the centre were billeted in the nearby Metropole Hotel, occupying three of its floors. Entrance to the tunnel was by a set of wooden zig zag steps leading down from the middle of the road opposite the State Library. The staircase and a pill box above it have long since been removed but a manhole above the stairwell still exists in the roadway of Shakespeare Place.
Soldiers on duty when Japanese submarines entered Sydney Harbour recall that, though all the warnings, blackouts, sirens, etc. were set off, the people of Sydney thought it was just another practice raid and did not take too much notice. Such was not the case in the tunnel and a number of personnel got jumpy, fearing the Fighter Sector would be targeted by the Japanese as the orders to depth charge the subs would have been given by Fighter Sector. One guard actually rushed up the steps and machine-gunned a few cars travelling along Macquarie Street with their lights on.
A soldier who recalled the incident said the guard actually shot an Army official through the leg as he was coming to Fighter Sector. Due to poor ventilation in the tunnel, the headquarters were moved to Bankstown where the Operations Room was set up in the local picture theatre, surrounded by barbed wire enclosures.
Though its location and very existence has been kept a secret for many years, a wartime communications bunker similar to that at Bankstown was built on private property on Kurrjong Ridge and still exists today. Hidden by the grass and weeds that surround it which make it hard to see from the road, it was built in 1943 for surveillance and communication purposes by the RAAF nearby. It housed 14 people who worked there during the war including a Corporal, a Lieutenant, a Decoder, AWAS personnel and a Sergeant. In the mid 1980s the intact bunker suffered a similar fate to its counterpart near Bankstown, and was burnt out by vandals who left only a derelict shell. The bunker consisted of a large, narrow room roughly 40m by 15m with two smaller rooms on each end, one for air-conditioning and power, the other a toilet block.
A narrow strip of windows near the roof of the bunker at ground level allowed some natural light in. The windows used to be shaded by steel shutters. A wall along the main room's length has collapsed after having been vandalised. According to the owner of the property on which the bunker was built, a secondary wall backing onto the rear of the bunker has fallen down due to heavy rains during the late 1950's.
Thalia Kenway Reserve in Marion Street, Condell Park, is a rather inconspicuous suburban park which hides a secret - below it is a 3 story underground bunker which was used during the latter part of World War II as the co-ordination centre for Allied wartime aircraft and shipping movements in the South Pacific. On 25 February 1942 No 101 Fighter Control Unit was formed at Bankstown. It occupied the bunker known as No 1 Fighter Sector headquarters, serving there as a separate unit under various names until becoming a section of Air Defence headquarters, Sydney on 21 January 1945.
The primary use of the Sydney Air Defence Headquarters was the location, tracking and interception of all planes in the eastern area of the South West Pacific. It was the centre of the Australian defence network, where, in co-operation with the highest officers of Navy and Army, Australian bombers and fighters were controlled in defence and attack against the enemy from this location. The bunker was manned at all times in shifts that the Air Force called "Flights". Most of the personnel that worked in the bunker were local. Even so, the Air Force provided accommodation for them in Chapel Road, Bankstown whilst buses with blacked out windows transported military personnel to the bunker.
All staff for the bunker had to undergo special training, including 'plane identification' training that also took place at Chapel Road. The bunker was manned by members of the No.2 Volunteer Air Observer Corps, the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force, members of the Royal Australian Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces. A transmitting station for the bunker was located in Johnston Road, Bass Hill and was a building of above ground construction.
Believed to be associated with the operations of the bunker was the development by De Havilland of a manufacturing facility on one side of Bankstown aerodrome. This factory had completed the manufacture of 212 Mosquito fighter-bombers by the end of the war. Rumour has it that a tunnel links the bunker with the factory but evidence of this and the tunnel itself has yet to be found. Likewise, it is thought that a narrow gauge railway once connected the two locations. The existence of a street called Railway Parade in the vicinity, which is no where near existing railway lines, supports this theory. Still largely intact, the bunker was built under what was known as Black Charlie's Hill, which at the time was an undeveloped area of virgin bush. The complex had reinforced concrete walls nearly two metres thick, which surrounded kitchens, dining rooms, showers and toilets, as well as the operational rooms and a huge air-conditioning unit. One wall featured a giant map of the south-west Pacific War Zone, where submarine and aircraft movements were tracked.
From 1945 to 1947 the Bankstown bunker was used as a covert Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base. he bunker appears to have been decommissioned when the ADHQ was disbanded in 1947. A caretaker kept an eye on the complex until 1949, when it was sealed. The bunker and surrounding land remained in military ownership until 1971, when it was transferred to the Commonwealth War Services Homes Division. The intention appears to have been to develop the land immediately, but the matter of what to do about the bunker arose. The idea that it should be preserved appears to have been considered, however concerns that such a move might complicate or block the sale of the land arose.
With all the appearances of a deliberate attempt to seal its fate, the interior of the building was trashed and set on fire in 1973, ruling out forever the possibility of restoring it for posterity. Two years later the land was passed to the Australian Housing Corporation which let contracts for the construction of that part of the Wattawa Estate which now occupies the site. The land was bulldozed, the entrances to the bunker buried under tons of rubble and soil. In the 1970s the concrete one metre-thick roof of the bunker was turned into a small park for villa-style homes that were built around it.
UBD Map 251 Ref F 16
During World War II a major wartime manufacturing plant was located in Chullora. The site once occupied 100 acres (40 ha) of land surrounded by Rookwood Cemetery, Brunker Road, Hume Highway and Centenary Drive. The site was said to have been the largest secret manufacturing plant in Australia which was used for the production of military weapons, plane components, tanks, and ordnance. Over two-thousand men and woman were employed to work at the factory on a daily basis. During the war the factory produced components for 700 Beaufort, 380 Beaufighter and up to 50 Lincoln aircraft. Over 54 ACI tanks were built as well as 60 General Lee tanks that were adapted for use in the Australian Military, as were local jeeps in the 70s. The factory also produced 81 cupola turrets for the British Matilda tanks. Post war it was handed over to the railways to use as workshop facilities for the new diesel engined locomotives and self propelled car sets. This worked in well with the railway needs at the time as Redfern (Eveleigh) was devoted to steam engines and Clyde freight wagons.
An underground bunker and tunnel system is still located on this site. It is located just south of the Strathfield Golf Course and south east of Rookwood Cemetery. The bunker is directly under a block of flats in Davidson Street and Marlene Crescent. The entrance to the bunker is by steel doors set in concrete into the hillside in a railway cutting which runs from alongside the railway line parallel to Marlene Crescent at a platform called the Railwelders and which leads under the block of flats. The doors to this bunker were welded up in the late 1980s. The ventilation shafts that were once visible from the Hume Highway have been removed.
Apart from the bunker, there is also a network of storage facilities that extend under the railway workshop. One storage bunker located under the Rolling Stock Store (one end of the workshop) was used as a storage cellar for slow moving rail parts. The blast doors and pit still exist and were in original condition a number of years ago. There was some major flooding problems in about 1981. When new guttering was fitted to the workshop in 1980, the plumbers thought the blast pit next to the HE storage bunker was a drain (there were a lot of weeds growing in it) so they dumped the entire watershed from the roof down it! Needless to say there were cases where the water level was right up to the trap door, which had to have it pumped dry a few times. Sometime between 1977 to 1978 the steel access doors were fitted with locks. The steel access doors were bolted into the side of a stormwater drain which runs along the old RTA building in Chullora, then under the Hume Hwy and eventually under the rail workshop.
Air Raid bunkers located at the Locomotive Workshops Administration Offices - were used these for document storage until the mid 1980's when they were demolished. It has also been alleged that a tunnel approximately four miles long connects this complex with the Bankstown Bunker.
It is alleged that there are several other bunkers in the Bankstown area which operated as "outstations" of the Bankstown bunker, such as under an electricity block house on the corner of Milperra Road and Henry Lawson Drive, and a demolished bunker under Condell Park High School. Anoher confirmed bunker site was the Remote Receiving station" at Padstow Heights, a semi-underground concrete reinforced building. Little is known about its history though it was reportedly heavily vandalised in 1945. It was located in Picnic Point National Park, near the South Sydney Power station, and based on a comparison of contemporary and historic maps, the Receiving Station and the present day Sydney South electricity substation share the same footprint, with the latter apparently situated directly above the former. The substation is bounded on its southwestern and southeastern sides by Henry Lawson Drive, in the Georges River National Park.
The Camden Operations Building is located on the side of the hill that leads to the small creek on the southern side of the Camden airfield. It is quite large inside, with large access doors at the eastern end. There are two vertical shafts that lead to the top of the hill. The Wireless Telegraphy W/T Transmitting Building Bunker that provided wireless communications for the Camden Operations Building Bunker was located south of the Camden Airfield. Steel ladders in the two vertical shafts were used to gain access. Inside the bunker, which has a curved roof, were long tables like parachute rigging tables. The remains of some wood reinforced trenches can be found on a rise on the western side of the airfield. After the war, the Camden bunker was renovated by the the Air Training Corps (ATC) or use as a small bore rifle range, probably using a .303 rifle with with a .22" Morris tube. The ATC used an old hut on the site for accommodation for week end general service camps.