The Importation of Chemical Weapons

The only practical way to import the bulk stocks of chemical weapons was by ship.

Australia’s initial order of stocks of chemical weapons for the Army and the Royal Australian Air Force occurred in March 1942. The first documented arrival of chemical weapons involved 250 mustard-filled storage drums on the vessel Heuraki which docked on 29 May 1942. In August 1942, a major shipment which comprised a variety of bulk containers and weapons for the Air Force arrived on the Nigerstrrom. The first Army stocks arrived at 1 Base Ammunition Depot, Albury, from Williamstown (Victoria) on 11 August 1942. The date of arrival coincides with the arrival of the Nigerstrrom and the weapons can be assumed to have been on this ship as well.

The bulk of chemical weapons supplies for the Australian forces reached Australia in the summer of 1943 and, by February 1943, virtually all of the items which had been ordered in March 1942 had arrived with only a small quantity of mustard still outstanding. There were sundry problems with mustard gas bombs and drums that had leaked in transit. This problem was compounded by the leaks (caused by careless loading, damage in transit or the build up of pressure in a hotter climate), contaminating the wooden hulls and pitch from which it was almost impossible to remove. The soaked in agent meant mustard gas vapour was continually in the hold and necessitated full protective gear, a burden in a hot environment. Whatsmore, when the phosgene bombs were removed from their refrigerated hold into the hot summer the high pressures generated caused leaks.

The unloading of bulk agents and weapons proved hazardous at first, with a number of wharf labourers and service personnel injured handling the initial shipments. This led to a revision of safety practices and the use of trained service personnel (chemical warfare armourers) only to handle chemical material. Ships identified as having imported chemical weapons are the Heuraki (1942), Glenhartney (1942), Lossiebank (1942), Nigerstrrom (1942), Trentbank (1942), Idomeneus (twice in 1943), Taranaki (1943), Birchbank (1943), Empire Strength (1943), Sussex (1943), Trojan Star (1943), Glenapp (1943), Menelaus (1943), Empire Glade (1944), Ajax (twice in 1944) and the Fremantle (1945)

The American forces in Australia independently imported chemical weapons and stored them at sites under American supervision. The first American stock reportedly arrived in May 1942. The chemical stockpile increased as the United States War Department diverted supplies to Australia which could not be landed in the Philippines and as the South-West Pacific theatre chemical supply officers bought what they could in the local market.