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Oamaru Coastal Defence Complex
(Restoration Project)
Authored by Rod Tempero for the Historic Places Trust Magazine

For the first time since the Russian Scare of the late 1800s the New Zealand coast line was under a serious threat from a foreign power. Unlike the Russians, whose main theatre of expansion were British Indian Territories, the Japanese had the means and the expertise to invade and land troops by sea. This was a new and unpleasant experience for New Zealanders. Suddenly with the fall of France, the evacuation of the BEF and The Battle of Britain, New Zealand embarked on a period of conscription for Overseas Service and the organisation of territorial and local defence.

Oamaru's National Reserve (Veterans of WW1) had their first parade in August of 1940. Lighting restrictions on all coastal districts were introduced in March 1941. With the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, the War became very close to home. The Territorials were mobilised, the National Reserve went into camp at the Oamaru Race course, service in the Home Guard became compulsory and finally Cape Wanbrow became a Military area closed to the public.

Putline of the works
Outline of the works
"Fort Wanbrow" came into being with the estimates for the establishment and erection of a gun emplacement, Battery Observation Post, Magazine and other camp buildings were approved by Cabinet on May 21st 1942, thus forming 141st Heavy Battery NZA. By July 3rd the camp was ready to house the members of the gun crew and auxiliary troops. The emplacement was of the familiar "Gloucester" type but with a rectangular block needed for an American 5" Naval Gun instead of the usual round block for the more common 6" British Ordinance.

The gun, a 5" or 51 calibre MKVIII US Naval Gun, mounted on the 30th July, serial No. 1506 was built in 1919 by the US Naval Gun factory. It was supplied with a MKIX mount for shore installation. Maximum range was 16,500 yards with arc of fire of 190 degrees, sights were MKXXI tangent.

The gun itself came via Pearl Harbour after being salvaged from the three Utah Class Battleships which sank after the Japanese attack. The ships were the USS Arizona, (sank upright and left as a war grave), the USS Oklahoma, (turned upside down, sold for scrap in 1946), the USS Nevada, (damaged, beached and returned to service in December 1943). All had twelve 5" guns as secondary armament. Vice Admiral H.N. Wallin (ret.) USN then a captain in charge of salvage wrote "They were recovered by divers from the battleships after submersion in sea water from December 7th to May 1942, the 14" guns from the main turrets were turned over to the Army for Hawaiian defence, the smaller guns were used in lend lease agreements for friendly powers." It's appearance according to one Oamaru man assigned to clean the gun on it's arrival, Mr. Eric Fraser, " It had the appearance of being immersed in sea water, by the time it went up to the Cape it looked like a new gun"

On the 27th July 1942 personnel were transferred from 80 Battery Godly Head and 81 Battery Eastern Point, both from 11 Heavy Regiment NZA under the command of 2nd Lieutenant L.A. Watson. They were supplemented by men from 19th Independent Infantry Company Local TF Force. On 2nd February 1943 a Range Finder was delivered and installed, as well as an emplacement for a Bren Gun on an Anti-Aircraft mount, this was the only air defence for the whole of the Oamaru area!

The gun fired three times, the first on Sunday 25th July 1943. In August as a result of reductions in coastal artillery this Battery was handed over to Area 11. On the 25th September 1944 the ammunition was removed and on the 17th January 1945 the Armament was shipped to Burnham. At it' peak the camp had a War establishment of 2 officers, 40 NCO's and enlisted men, plus one Attached Civilian Medical Personal. The magazine held 61 projectiles, 60 cartridges, (silk tubes filled with black powder and TNT 36" long) but only 7 firing tubes! (a cartridge about the size of a 303 blank used for firing the gun. Also held in the magazine were 6,800 rounds of .303 ammunition plus unknown quantities of .455 revolver .45 auto and some 2" mortar bombs.

Personal weapons held in the Armoury were one '455 Webly MKVI revolver, one 1'flare pistol, one .45 ACP Thompson Sub Machine Gun, one 303 MK1 Bren Machine gun with spares, thirty two .303in SMLE Rifles and one 2 in Mortar.

The restoration of the Cape Wanbrow Military Area is now into it's fifth year, The Magazine has had new doors constructed, it is now secured and used to store materials. The observation post has a security fence surrounding the structure. Shutters have been made and installed and restoration of the interior is well advanced. A track has been bulldozed down to this area for ease of access. The gun emplacement has had it's doors rebuilt and is also secured. Restoration of fire damaged ammunition shelves can now be started. The group has also restored a 25 pounder gun Howitzer formally on display at Waitaki Boy's High School. The gun and recently purchased Barr and Stroud Range Finder, identical to the one used on the Cape's OP are now on display in a local museum in the Harbourside Area. Relocation of the original guard hut (found in the Haka area) and two of the original 2 man huts are two of the group's long term plans. Short term the restoration and location of the Range Finder to the Observation Post should be completed by December 1997.
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