HMAS ASSAULT

In June 1942, General Douglas MacArthur announced his decision to bring combined operations training in Australia under the control of the American GHQ, with one Australian and two American divisions to be trained as soon as possible.
1942-1943

An aerial inspection was undertaken of the eastern coast seeking a suitable site for a combined operations training centre. Port Stephens was chosen because it offered good shelter from Japanese submarines and was sparsely populated with less than 200 people living in the area.

Plans for HMAS Assault.

Meanwhile, the Australian Army was pushing ahead with plans to establish training facilities in Queensland. Subsequently, two training centres were established before the end of the year: the Australian Army established the Combined Training Centre at Toorbul Point (now Sandstone Point), Queensland, and General MacArthur ordered the establishment of the Joint Overseas Operational Training School at Port Stephens, NSW.

 

By August 1942, the Royal Australian Navy had conducted a survey of the Port Stephens site and drawn up plans for an establishment providing for 60 officers, 500 sailors and 100 landing craft.

Recreational Hall.

Canteen.

Dining Hall and Galley.

Garage and Motor Transport.

Naval Athletics at Assault Oval - now Bill Strong Oval.
(Courtesy of Port Stephens Historical Society.)

Nelson Bay.
(Courtesy of Port Stephens Historical Society.)

Meanwhile, the Australian Army was pushing ahead with plans to establish training facilities in Queensland. Subsequently, two training centres were established before the end of the year: the Australian Army established the Combined Training Centre at Toorbul Point (now Sandstone Point), Queensland, and General MacArthur ordered the establishment of the Joint Overseas Operational Training School at Port Stephens, NSW.

 

By August 1942, the Royal Australian Navy had conducted a survey of the Port Stephens site and drawn up plans for an establishment providing for 60 officers, 500 sailors and 100 landing craft.

Entrance to HMAS Assault.

In September 1942, the training centre, to be named HMAS Assault, was commissioned with HMAS Westralia serving as accommodation until the onshore facilities were completed.

 

Nine motorboats were requisitioned for training purposes while construction of landing craft was undertaken in Australian shipyards. The Allied Works Council organised the construction of the sick bay, sister buildings, mess hall and several other buildings on the site now occupied by the Community Arts Centre Port Stephens.

HMAS Westralia.

HMAS Manoora.

HMAS Kanimbla.

HMAS Assault transferred ashore in December 1942. An American Amphibious Training Group was also established nearby and the two facilities were combined as the Amphibious Training Centre (ATC) in February 1943 under the overall command of Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey, USN, bringing all combined amphibious training in Australia under American command. Training at HMAS Assault from then on included US soldiers and marines, Australian Army soldiers, and RAN personnel.

HMAS Kanimbla, HMAS Manoora and HMAS Westralia were all converted to infantry landing ships during 1943. With Manoora and Westralia making numerous voyages ferrying American personnel between Port Stephens and Melbourne.

 

The base was established to accommodate 560 officers and men, but as many as 870 were stationed there at its peak, leading to the construction of further accommodation towards the end of 1943. Some 67 buildings were initially constructed of galvanised corrugated iron including a hospital and engineering workshop.

 

To accommodate the large influx of landing craft to the site, boat moorings were laid and the existing jetty was fully reconstructed and extended to a length of 510 feet (155.4m) with an “L” shaped extrusion of 162 feet (49.4m) which formed the boat compound.

A boatshed and slipway were also constructed and completed in August 1943.

Quad Gun Tractor at Shoal Bay.

HMS Assault trained landing craft crews, beach parties (naval commandos) and combined operations signals teams. From September 1942 to October 1943, 100 officers, 100 coxswains, 120 beach Commanders, 453 boat crews, 250 stokers and 40 signalmen were trained by HMAS Assault.

 

This was in addition to the 20,000 US soldiers and 2,000 Australian soldiers who, although receiving their primary training in the US part of the ATC, had also received training at HMAS Assault.

US 32nd Infantry practice beach landings at Shoal Bay.

Vultee Vengeance over Shoal Bay.

1944-1953

n August 1944, the decision was taken to reduce the training school to care and maintenance only. This continued until April 1945, when the depot was paid off and transferred to the British Pacific Fleet. The British Pacific Fleet briefly occupied the base and it became the

Royal Marine Commando Depot.

 

In June 1945, the sick bay was turned into a small hospital ward of about 10 beds.

In 1949, the facility was taken over by the Commonwealth Employment Service to house European migrant workers.

 

The first 49 migrants arrived to help set up the hostel, with the Nissen huts already there being divided into six rooms and the other buildings used to accommodate larger families.

1953-1955

The sick bay was reopened as a hospital and the first baby was born in December 1949.

The hostel was closed in mid 1953. Early in 1953, it became apparent that a hospital was needed for the isolated community in Port Stephens and this facility was considered as a potential site.

 

However, a licence to operate as a hospital was not granted until May 1955. During the time between the migrants vacating the Centre and a Hospital Committee taking possession, the buildings had been badly vandalised.

 

In July 1955, the Hospital Committee commenced equipping and furnishing the buildings.

The Nissen huts were sold to the public.

1956-1981

The Hospital began functioning in April 1956 and continued until 1981.

1981-Present

On Monday 10th August 1981, the buildings were officially handed over to the Port Stephens Society of the Arts to be administered as a “Cultural Centre” open to all and the Community Arts Centre Port Stephens still operates there today.

Over the ensuing years changes have taken place and improvements carried out, to

the extent that only one of the original buildings, the “Hospital”, remains.

The Hospital Building in the 80's.

ABOUT US

The Tomaree Museum Association Incorporated aims to develop a  regional museum and interpretative centre to document, protect and promote the history and changing natural environment of Port Stephens.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF TRADITIONAL CUSTODIANS

The Tomaree Museum Association acknowledges the Worimi people,
the traditional owners and custodians of the land and waters upon which Tomaree Museum stands. We should like to pay our respect to the Elders
past and present, and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that this
website contains a range of material which may be culturally sensitive
including records of people who may have passed away.