World War II Tunnels

Following the bombing of the fuel oil storage tanks at Stokes Hill on 19 February 1942 in the first Japanese air raid, engineers began looking at British government designs for oil storage tanks in underground tunnels secure from aerial bombardment.

In 1943 contractors Johns and Waygood began work on a series of tunnels running under the escarpment. The tunnels were, on average, designed to be about 15m underground. The longest tunnel, Tank 10, was nearly 200m long. Pipe headings connected the rear ends of the tunnels to an underground pumping station. The tanks were designed to hold distillate, diesel and furnace oil.

A camp was set up nearby for about 40 workers but estimates of the total manpower required were as high as 400 men. Conditions were tough and contrary to their expectations the men were not paid above award wages or overtime. As a consequence industrial action slowed the construction pace.

The tunnels were lined with concrete and thin steel to prevent cracking under bombardment creating a virtual tank within a tank. By November 1944 the tunnels that still exist today, 1,5,6, 10 and 11 had been lined with welded steel sheeting. Despite these precautions, it became apparent in 1945 that the tunnels leaked. As water seeped between the steel lining and the concrete walls, corrosion set in. Various solutions were attempted but with little success. By the end of the war, estimated costs for the entire project, if completed, would have been well in excess of £1 000 000.

In the 1950s, tunnels 5 and 6 were used to store jet aircraft fuel for the RAF and RAAF. After about three years and a period of heavy rain the whole system became inoperable because of seepage and was not used again.

World War II Tunnels attraction located at the Darwin Waterfront Precinct on Kitchener Drive was reopened in 1992 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin.

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