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Published April 24th 2021
First WW2 deaths on home soil
Just out of Beachport, South Australia, on the shores of picturesque Rivoli Bay, you'll find a memorial to the first Australian servicemen lost in action on home soil during World War 2; two Able Seamen killed as they attempted to make safe a German sea mine on Monday 14th July 1941.
Beachport, South Australia is an idyllic Limestone Coast fishing port but in July 1941 it found itself on the front-line in World War 2. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Throughout World War, 2 German submarines frequently patrolled the Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean and routinely released mines in the region. The Beachport mine was found floating in Rivoli Bay, off South End by two cray fishermen on Saturday 12th July 1941 and immediately reported to the police.
The Beachport memorial was erected in 1971 in memory of AB Thomas Todd and AB William Danswan, Royal Australian Navy. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The next day, Sunday, a Navy Rendering Mines Safe (REMS) Team arrived in Beachport. The team comprised a Lieutenant Commander and two Ratings, Able Seaman Thomas Todd of Port Adelaide SA and Able Seaman William Danswan from Junee NSW.
The team located the mine about 9 AM on the Monday, attached a line and set out to tow it to Beachport. It was a long, slow tow, not arriving in Beachport until 2 PM when they commenced dismantling the device. Unable to do so safely, it was decided to tow the mine, packed with as much as 300-Kilograms of explosive, further east, away from town, where it would be detonated on an isolated stretch of beach.
The German mine was located off Southend and towed to Beachport. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
On arrival, a demolition charge was set and over a kilometre of cable run out to a point from where the detonation could be triggered safely. But the cable crossed a railway line and before the charge could be set off a rail car ran over and severed it.
Todd and Danswan returned to the mine to reset the charge. We 'll never know for sure what happened but some reports suggested that as the pair approached it a wave hit the mine picking it up and dumping it heavily back onto the beach triggering an explosion. The blast was felt 35-Kilometres away in Millicent.
Able Seaman Todd died instantly and Able Seaman Danswan succumbed to his injuries moments later.
The Rivoli Bay foreshore at Beachport where Navy personnel attempted to destroy the mine. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
At the time of our visit, wife Janet and I had recently welcomed our Navy diver son home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan where he served as a bomb disposal technician disabling or detonating Improvised Explosive Devices. For us, the time spent on that beach was incredibly emotional and a very sobering experience.
The Beachport Memorial Lookout was erected in 1971.
A WW2 German mine similar to that found in Rivoli Bay on display at Port MacDonnell, South Australia. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Getting There …..
Beachport is on South Australia's Limestone Coast 311-Kilometres southeast of Adelaide. The Beachport Memorial is about 2-Kilometres east of town, just off the Millicent Road.
The German mine on the beach at Beachport prior to the disastrous attempt to to detonate it. Image Courtesy of The Australian War Memorial
Why? Pause for a moment on this beautiful stretch of coastline to remember two young men who, through a tragic accident, became the first two Australian servicemen to lose their lives on Australian soil during World War 2.
When:All year round
Phone:Beachport Visitor Information Centre (08) 8735 8029
You have highlighted a small part of our history and thanks to the memorial will never be forgotten. I've always thought bomb de-arming was an incredibly brave occupation. You also highlight the fact that German and also Japanese submarines regularly were active in Bass Strait during WW2.