Secret documents lift lid on WWII mutiny by US troops in north Queensland – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

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.

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,” Mr Holyoak told AM.

via Secret documents lift lid on WWII mutiny by US troops in north Queensland – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

The plight of Black American soldiers in the US Army in World War II was not always a very happy one. The unit in question was an engineer unit. And the Engineers had a higher proportion of those soldiers in the lowest mental categories. As every commander knows, that leads to a tendency to greater disciplinary problems.

And while I cannot condone mutiny under any circumstances (save to prevent an atrocity), the leadership here was likely far from blameless. The Army had the quaint notion that black units should have officers from the South, as those officers had a unique understanding of the culture, and would be best suited to command them. But the large numbers of blacks in the Army that came from norther states, and had no experience with the more outrageous aspects of Jim Crow were not exactly thrilled with this prospect.

Further, many engineer units at this time had a majority of their officers from Officer Candidate Schools, hastily trained, with an emphasis on the technical aspects of their mission, and a paucity of leadership training. Those very units that required superb leadership were extremely unpopular with white officers, who wished to serve with white troops, and tended to get less than the cream of the crop in commissioned leadership. It was not a recipe for success. That so many black units did as well as they did is amazing sometimes.  While many black units had legitimate grievances, so many members of these units wanted to show the world what they were capable of, that a level of esprit often developed that amazed the Army leadership.

One of the best popular books on an African American unit in World War II was Brothers in Arms, by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who, after his NBA career embarked on a successful career as a historian.


5 thoughts on “Secret documents lift lid on WWII mutiny by US troops in north Queensland – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)”

  1. As I read your post and the comment above, a raised some issues in my thinking. Mutiny is a very serious subject, not to be taken lightly. Many people start to look at this subject by first, separating everything else away from it. Any time they do this, one of those things that is separated away from the trials is the truth. As I read this, my sense is this, what is it about this situation that we don’t know? This would include, before, during and after the event. A question that needs to be considered is this, where did the mutiny start? Didn’t start with the enlisted or did it start with the command? This is the reason for things like the UCMJ and many other laws rightfully imposed upon the military.

    Aggie raises a very valid point, if this was mutiny, there would need to be a court-martial. If the court-martial returns with a finding that mutiny has been committed, all the characters are in essence being tried. This would include both all layers of command, civilian and military. You don’t try the enlisted, without asking serious questions of the total command. The only thing I am trying to do is to make sure everything is in context.

    Aggie, I figure the trials might have been conducted in the area of Australia called the outback.

    1. I think you’re right that any mutiny is as much an indictment of the chain of command as the mutineers themselves, in terms of the overall discipline of unit, if not in a legal sense.

      I suppose there are exceptions here and there, but good leaders get good results from poor troops, but poor leaders get poor results from good troops. See Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence, especially when cited in FM22-100 and receiving disgruntled troops.

      Further, see the mutinies of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.

    2. This wasn’t the only mutiny of a black unit during WW2. Black Stevedores at Port Chicago, now called the Concord Naval Weapons Station (may be closed now, but don’t know) who refused orders to load an ammo ship. The ship they had been ordered to load blew up, either that day or a day or so later. There was a book about the mutiny about 20 years ago that I came across in a book giveaway in Marietta, OH.

  2. The Port Chicago Mutiny happened because the Black ordinance loaders refused to handle munitions in a way that had caused an explosion about a month earlier. When the explosion happened, in July 1944, the CO of the base had been holding “speed loading” competitions and setting loading quotes which were above the level that the ordinance officers (who were the midlevels officers at the facility) considered safe. The whole thing got compounded by the fact that the actual crews doing the loading were overseen by junior officers who bought into the CO’s mania and started turning the whole thing into a betting exercise.What caused the exact explosion is questioned, but ground zero was a Liberty ship carrying 2,000 tons worth of TNT. That then triggered off a nearyby box car with more explosives and fuel aboard another Liberty ship. Made for an explosion about 3 miles in diameter and with debris that went up as high as 12,000 feet in the air. All 390 men on the piers nearby were killed. More were wounded the further out from the epicenter.

    After the port was put back into working order, most of the surviving loading crews were brought back under the same officers to begin loading munitions. The Board of Inquiry into the explosion somehow managed to find that there was no problem with any of the CO’s policies and that they had no part in the explosion. So when the crews were told to start loading, at the same rates as before, the mutinied.

    Concord Naval Weapons Station, the successor to Port Chicago facility, is in the process of being closed.

    On another note, if we were French, there would be no mutiny to investigate. Instead, it would be “collective indiscipline.” Mutinies are rarely ever broadcast during war. It took decades for the ANZAC incident at Etaples to come to light.

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