Corunna Downs


I first heard about a secret airforce base in 1979 during my training with the Department of Aviation. A number of the instructors had been in the RAAF during WWII and were involved in the early radar sites. One such radar was at Corunna Downs. When I transferred to Port Hedland the opportunity arose to visit the old base. Over the years I have been able to research and discover more about this site and I have been able to visit often. During the years many small treasures have been found from old bullets, dixie tins, bomb fins and even an ID Disc.

From Corunna Downs Secret Air Force Base

The base was established late in 1942 with the commencement of building the runways. During the initial phases of the allied strikes back at the Japanese, the USAF 380 Bomber Group operated from the base. As the war pushed the enemy further back, the RAAF 25 Squadron flew missions from Corunna. The planes often flew from Cunderdin into the base to fuel and bomb up, before departing to strike the enemy in Indonesia. The unit's historical records which can be viewed at the National Archives of Australia site show many missions to Corunna, including training and reconnaissance flights.

From Corunna Downs Secret Air Force Base

When you travel around the old airstrip and onto the taxiways it is easy to forget that the encroaching bush is reducing the width from 16m to something that causes scratches on the car as you drive through.

Munitions were brought into Corunna from Port Hedland on the old railway. It is arguable that the freight loading helped deteriorate the line to a point beyond economic repair.

From Corunna Downs Secret Air Force Base

It is often said that other Pilbara towns were bombed while the Japanese were searching for Corunna Downs. However, there is no real evidence to support this. The base was so secret that it is unlikely the Japanese even knew it existed. One of the RAAF signallers wrote to me saying "The base was so secret that there were other military units stationed there that we didn't know about until a life fire exercise".

There are also many rumours about a bunker too. This appears to be a myth, though probably founded in some truth. A bunker can be anything from a small sandbagged hollow to a full blown concrete building (such as at Rottnest). At the old radar station there is a depression that was some sort of shelter during the war. This is what I think is the bunker.

From Corunna Downs Secret Air Force Base

And stories abound of guns and vehicles. I know in the early 1980's that live mortar rounds were graded up when a new track was made into the site. I have seen the list of inventory that the RAAF had at Corunna during the war, and there weren't that many trucks or cars. Perhaps the Americans left something, but I am sure that enterprising Australian soldiers and airmen would have utilised them.

Try standing in one of the revetments at night and close your eyes. Imagine the noise of men refuelling and loading bombs. Imagine the scream of 4 powerful motors turning the propellers and the blast of wind as the plane rolls forward. Imagine the relief at war's end and how quickly everyone wanted to leave and never return. Perhaps this is why so much has been lost and forgotten.

From Corunna Downs Secret Air Force Base

These are the Operational Base units that I have been interested in. Yanrey, Corunna and Nookanbah are similar in design.

Operational Base Unit NumberLocation
73Corunna Downs
76Potshot (Exmouhth)


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