Cover-Up Of Townsville Mutiny: Black GIs Turned on Officers

Jamie Walker, The Australian, February 11, 2012

Black US troops mutinied in Townsville in 1942 and turned machineguns on their officers, in a secret chapter of the war in the Pacific that has come to light through the papers of the late US president Lyndon B. Johnson.

The scandal was hushed up for nearly 70 years after being described in a report given to and apparently kept by Johnson as “one of the biggest stories of the war which can’t be written, shouldn’t be written”.

The subject of rumour and speculation for decades in the north Queensland city, it has now emerged that the mutiny was probably reported at the time to the White House by Johnson, then a young and ambitious US congressman, after he visited Australia in June 1942 on a fact-finding mission for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The report Johnson took back to Washington, written for him by US journalist Robert Sherrod, tells how 600 African-American GIs seized their base and went on the rampage, trying to kill their white officers.

Some terrorised local civilians.

Armed Australian troops were sent in at the height of the emergency on the US base.

George Gnezdiloff, then a 20-year-old private in the north Queensland-raised 51st battalion, was told to block Ross River Road with his bren gun carrier. Other soldiers were issued with a password, Bucks, as they deployed to bottle up the Americans.

Gnezdiloff and his crew were ordered to shoot the mutineers on sight. “We had ammo, the lot,” the now 90-year-old recalled yesterday from his home in Proserpine, 300km south of Townsville.

“We weren’t mucking around, I can tell you.”

The disgruntled African-Americans were from the US 96th engineers, a labour battalion that had the thankless job of building the airfields and barracks around Townsville. Racial tensions had been simmering for months, creating a poisonous atmosphere on the base at Kelso Field, southwest of the city. On the night of May 22-23, 1942, it boiled over. The men of A and C companies took up arms against their white officers, angry at claims a black sergeant had died at the hands of a white superior.

Sherrod’s report says the mutineers resolved to kill their commander, Captain Francis Williams, of Columbus, Georgia. “They fired several hundred rounds at his tent,” it says.

After Williams escaped “almost certain death” by diving into a slit trench, the rebels turned a machine gun on other officers as they fled. There is no record of whether any were hit.

“No better illustration of the barrier between the races can be found than this: investigating officers must depend on a private investigation by a negro sergeant whose pipe was shot out of his mouth,” the report says.

Sherrod was a well-regarded correspondent for Time and Life magazines, based in Australia during 1942, as a Japanese invasion threatened.

His interaction with Johnson in Townsville was uncovered by local researcher Ray Holyoak after he began investigating what the future US president was doing for three days in the north Queensland town in one of the bleakest periods of World War II.

Johnson had quite a time on his tour down under. He flew to Queensland from Melbourne in an ageing US Air Force bomber that almost ran out of fuel and crashed in the outback.

Frustrated by wartime censorship, Sherrod sought out the congressman on his arrival in Townsville, and at Johnson’s request typed out the account of the mutiny at Kelso Field he had gathered from US officers.

The report lay among Johnson’s personal papers until Holyoak, a 38-year-old heritage consultant in Townsville, approached the US National Archives for information about Johnson’s Townsville stopover.

His request was passed on to the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, which forwarded a thick file containing Sherrod’s report to Johnson.

Holyoak believes LBJ passed the report off as his own when he returned to Washington and presented his findings to Roosevelt. “The copy I have suggests he tore the front and back covers off Sherrod’s report and took the credit for it with Roosevelt,” Holyoak told The Weekend Australian.

Further digging by Holyoak, who is applying to turn his findings into a doctoral thesis at James Cook University, revealed that about 100 of the mutineers eluded the dragnet thrown up by the Australian troops.

At midnight on May 22, 1942, the war diary of the 29th infantry brigade records that “Negroes seized their own arms” at Kelso. Two companies of the 51st Battalion, including Gnezdiloff’s light armoured vehicle, were hurriedly mobilised.

The old Digger phoned in to local ABC radio yesterday, pleased to be able to tell his story at last.

“We finished up on Ross River Road and were told to stay there,” Gnezdiloff said, fleshing out the story to The Weekend Australian.

“We had the bren (light machine gun) set up. If any of the negro soldiers came near us, we were told to shoot them.”

Would he have fired? “I don’t know . . . that was up to my sergeant,” he said. “I was thinking about it, about what I would do.

“And I would have probably told the gunner to shoot over their heads. I didn’t mind those Americans at all . . . some of them seemed all right. And I couldn’t see the sense of shooting them when they had come over here to fight a war with us.”

Gnezdiloff was not put to the test: none of the Americans came his way, and his team was recalled at about 3am, according to the brigade war diary.

But the crisis was not over. Some of the mutineers went bush, terrorising farm families around Kelso, today a thickly populated suburb of Townsville.

According to Holyoak, the attempted rape of a local woman and other incidents were reported to police.

The mutinous A and C companies of black engineers were hurriedly packed off to New Guinea, where the Australians of the 51st Battalion were also bound, to confront the Japanese.

In a 1991 interview with the LBJ library, included as a file in the documents given to Holyoak, Sherrod said he was later told by Johnson he had destroyed the report of the Kelso mutiny because it was “too hot”. The veteran journalist died in 1994.

Holyoak doesn’t buy this. He believes Johnson used the reporter’s work to “enhance his profile with Roosevelt and improve his political ambitions”.

How else, he argues, would the supposedly destroyed account of the mutiny have turned up in the late president’s papers?

Then there’s Johnson’s personal notes. They paraphrase aspects of Sherrod’s report, suggesting he did use it without crediting the journalist.

More than 10,000 African-American servicemen were put to work in north Queensland during the war, and Holyoak says the racial violence at Kelso was not isolated. Other clashes between white and black US personnel took place at Torrens Creek, Ingham and Mt Isa in 1942.

The researcher believes Roosevelt was aware of the tensions, and this may have been a factor behind the visit of his wife, Eleanor, to Townsville in 1943, when the then first lady dropped in on the newly established North American Services Club in Flinders Street—a “negro-only” establishment.

Black American soldiers in Queensland during World War II.

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  • Anonymous

    Something tells me that Steven Spielberg will not make this incident into a movie.   

    • Anonymous

       Maybe he can make a movie ab0ut how these black soldiers heroically fought back against white oppression?

      • A vet of the Tuskeegee Air Men in my town was asked to attend the premier of Red Tails.  When asked how he would review the movie he said it was ok but he really wished that the movie would have been closer to the truth.  The truth?  He said he would have preferred that the movie showed all the cooperation they received from white servicemen.

  • Apropos that Lyndon Johnson helped cover this up, though what I find strange is that he was something of a “white racist” in his two campaigns for the U.S. Senate from Texas.  Since he already knew about this mutiny when he ran for the Senate, one would think he would have brought this up.

    I have heard the theory that it wasn’t as much “integrationist humanitarianism” or social justice that led President Truman to integrate the Armed Forces, but the real reason was black incompetence in all-black units during WWII and Korea.  In other words, the Top Brass wanted to distribute blacks as thinly and evenly as possible to keep any one unit from having too many incompetent blacks.  Maybe another leg of the reasoning was what happened in Townsville — Maybe the Top Brass knew that too many blacks in one unit would mean a much higher risk of mutiny, fragging and violence against the civilians, so the idea of integrating the military was to disassemble the risky black companies.

    • That concept sure failed in the 1970s with the on station mutinies on US warships.  A white navy officer friend at the time told me of carrying his .38 round the clock and the only times he felt safe from black violence was while flying his scheduled ASM missions.

    • Zorro

      The way to deal with such a problem is to not arm blacks in any Service Company. They are there to work and build Air fields, while the White men flew the Fighters and Bombers, and fought in the Infantry.

    • Bon, From the Land of Babble

      Apropos that Lyndon Johnson helped cover this up… he was something of a ‘White racist’ in his two campaigns for the U.S. Senate from Texas.  
      A White racist president as well!  After he forced through ‘The Great Society’ legislation (that vexes us to this day), he celebrated his victory by stating to his aide:

      We’ll have these n****** voting democrat for the next 100 years.Bon

  • Tim

    Just saw the movie Red Tails last night. Or the first half.  Just can`t sit in a theatre for more than an hour any more. Anyway, It said “Inspired by a true story.”   I went, “Hmmm…”  So it isn`t actually a true story, it was merely “inspired by a true story”…  That fact became apparent when in their first air to air dogfight, The Red Tails shoot down 8 Me-109`s without losing one of their own. Including  someone who was “inspired” by the Blond Knight of Germany, including a Knight`s Cross with Oakleaves.. Wasn`t he on The Russian Front?!?  (Aviation buffs please post performance specs of P-40`s against the Me-109G… Like another poster on another site I also found the romance between one of the pilots and an Italian hottie to be somewhat over the top. Did they have “players” in World War II?  I must say that the opening sequence was outstanding. I don`t like computer generated graphics, they strike a person of my age as artificial. But these seemd to enhance the film not take away from it. Anothe thing I found to be inaccurate was the plea for Black pilots who would “Stay” with the bombers and not go off galavanting after glory. If I recall that`s what fighters do.  Meet the enemy away from the bomber streams…

    • Anonymous

      Did they have “players” in World War II? 


      Here’s one:

      Emmett’s father, Louis Till, was drafted into the U.S Army. In 1943. While serving in Italy, he raped two women and killed a third.

      (Had to go to 4th page of Google results to get a clear answer for a known fact.)

      • Anonymous

        Nice one.

        You just know that Till’s defence at his trial was somthing along the lines of “But I wuz jus’ gettin’ muh freek on!!” 😉

    • Anonymous

      “Just can`t sit in a theatre for more than an hour any more. Anyway, ”

      If you can tolerate an hour of the bogus stories that are concocted nowadays you’re there for an hour longer than what I would spend.

      We buyDVD’s and rent from the internet where we can closely read the synopsis and view the main characters. If one of them is black or if it’s one of the comic book animation movies, it’s a pass.

      • Anonymous

        Well, stay away from the telly for the next few weeks……………Saint Whitney Houston is getting  holier and holier by the minute.

        • Anonymous

           It’s all over NPR also.  Every few minutes Sunday morning they’d break in to tell us that Whitney Houston was still dead.

        • Anon

          So true! I won’t watch a minute of it. I remember right after her death people saying “she is in a better place” now.  The same thing when Michael Jackson died…even that Nicole Smith…..Really, where is their ” better” place located?

          Where did all this idiocy come from?  Is everyone going to heaven? Hardly, not even close.  Yet even Christians say the same thing about anybody who has died!  They should know better.

    • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    George Lucas’s next film! 
    Of course, the black solidiers mutinying will be turned into white and denzel washington and a ‘magical negro’ cook  will save Australia. 

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, Hollywood greatly exaggerates the exploits of the Tuskegee airmen, but completely ignores what blacks really do in military. It’s not just this example. U.S. black soldiers in Okninawa have been brutally raping young women and girls there for years. This is the reason why Okinawans protest that military base so virulently. The press coyly hides the race of the offenders and tries to turn it into something anti-military. I’m sure this Australian news story will be completely ignored by the U.S. press as well. I am suprised that the Australian press mentioned it…they seem to have the same problems with liberals that we do. On other fronts, I wonder how many German women and girls black soldiers have raped over the years. I’m sure the German press would never mention such a crime. Many German women are so quick to fornicate with U.S. black soldiers, such an event would not be considered a serious crime in that liberal country. I digress. Whenever the MSM mentions the Tuskegee Airmen, the movie, or similar, we need to mention the Townsville Mutiny in the comments section. We need to educate the public on what really goes on the “diverse” US military, past and present.

      • Tim

        I wonder how many German women and girls Black soldiers have raped over the years…. My guess would be about 1% of what The Red Army did in two weeks of April and May 1945….

        • Anonymous

          That’s true, the red army did rape millions of women and girls…not only in Germany but in Eastern Europe as well. Although it was stopped eventually, that can never be forgotten. Our interracial rape problem is not being stopped…it just continues to get worse. Since the civil rights movement, blacks have raped about several times more people than the red army did in WWII. Not much is being done to stop it, as it keeps getting worse.

  • Anonymous

    How is “Red Tails” doing at the show?  I actually wanted to see it.   I wanted to count the number of scenes where ignorant looking whites with drool running down their chin, missing teeth and spitting tobacco juice would say, “kain’t no N-WORDS fly no planes…ain’t no such-a-thang!”   Now, that’s entertainment!


    Does it really matter.  Blacks were shooting whites and officers in Vietnam too and that is kept secret.  Every rumor about Blacks in the military are probably true. 

  • Anonymous

    It would be interesting to hear race reality stories from military veterans and current soldiers. Please post as many as possible. Thanks.

    • Anonymous

      I served in the Marine Corps in the late 1960s and early 70s.  During training at Camp Pendleton, us white Marines were advised by our NCOs to travel in groups when going around on base to the enlisted club, etc. as gangs of black Marines were on the rampage.  It was not much different in Vietnam where most of the blacks were in support roles.  The blacks in combat situations generally had to “behave themselves”  . . .

  • Anonymous

    Here is the pdf of Johnson’s origianl write-up:

  • Anonymous

    Here’s another source with an audio report:

  • One has to wonder what other bits of history are hidden.

  • Anonymous

    Another piece of forgotten military history:

    Houston Riot (1917)

  • In August, 1917 more than one hundred black soldiers of the 3d Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment stationed in Houston, Texas mutinied against their officers. The mutineers seized arms and ammunition and engaged in a three hour riot. This riot was in protest to the abuses that local white civilians had perpetrated against the soldiers and the lack of concern about those abuses shown by the unit’s commanders.

    Robert V. Haynes, A Night of Violence
    (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976).

    • 🙂


      • Anonymous

        Actually it’s what happens when you mate race realism with a bit of irrational right-wing dogma, religious fundamentalism, and global-warming denial. And while I’m sure many people here would like that mix, I prefer my race-realism straight or mixed with other kinds of realism or science.
        I also find the constant automatic reloading, haphazard layout, and ads that look like articles, distracting.
        It does have some good stuff though.

        • Thanks for your suggestions.

          Annoying ads?

          Actually, I only had one ad.  I removed it.

          Refresh rate too frequent?

          Slowed the refresh rate.

          Haphazard layout?

          Look again.

          Left column: tech, science, entertainment.
          Center column:  Domestic politics and related.
          Right column: Human interest, crime and international.

          Right-wing dogma?

          Guilty.  (I prefer “conservatarian perspective”.)

          Religious fundamentalism?

          Guilty. Sort of.
          I’m not religious, but defend religious liberty.

          Global warming denial?

          Guilty again. (I prefer global warming realist.)


          I merely by-pass the PC race filters.

          More positive feedback?

          Would be greatly appreciated.


  • Anonymous

    Sounds like the modern-day, mainstream media……..doing their best to cover up the barbarity that is committed daily by Urban Americans.

  • Anonymous

     People around Darwin remember the Japanese 1942 bombing raids with the same horror the Spanish remember Guernica.

  • Tim

    Yes, but in the movie They shoot down 8 Me-109G`s without loss in their P-40`s to DESERVE the newP-51`s…

  • A naval aviator friend was there, it happened and was serious and such problems continue up to today.  I’ll never forget seeing the spread in Life magazine, the ship trailing a tall plume of smoke from an on board mutinous arson, the shame of it, horror that it happened on an American warship…

  • Tim

    “They prefer the support functions to front line duty..”  So would I, so would I…

  • Anonymous

    There was a correspondent to another thread above, who called himself, ironically, ‘whiteman’, he loved to claim that ‘blacks are stronger than Whites’.

  • Zorro

    True. But according to several Special Forces Soldiers, Whites make up the majority of Combat Arms.

  • Anonymous

    I bet there are many more untold stories of race related problems in the military during WW2 and the Korean War era.

    But the floodgates of such problems really opened up during the Vietnam War era.

    From what I’ve heard, many Amren articles could be written about race conflict in the US military during the late 60s and throughout the 70s.

  • jeffaral

    Eleanor was in fact jewish. What a surprise!!!

  • Anonymous

    At least the allied command prosecuted. Now such crimes would be largely ignored and covered up.

  • Anon

    Blacks/nonwhites got away with it even back then. Especially in OUR military. Makes one wonder if WE will ever stand up and demand complete separation from these people and deportation of every single one of them. Anything less will never work.

  • Anon

    I totally concur. I have said for a long time that I do not want a single White man to fight for “freedom” for this multiracial country we live in today. What is there that we want to “keep”?  What “freedoms” do we Whites enjoy in our own land?  Are we safer, better off, happier or whatever else one can think of?  NO!

    • I have forbid both a son and daughter from joining the services for that reason.  My daughter has received numerous academmic awards from the Air Force and they are after her big time.  After having a visit from former brass I asked why they were on this latest “mission”.  Man to man, I was told that they are under enormous pressure to recruit minorities and women and they would highly prefer filling their quotas with highly intelligent, patriotic white women versus the alternatives.  And one of our visitors was a ret. 2 star and he nodded and looked at the ground when I told him why my children would not serve with my approval.  Besides the combat and discipline problems related here, I just don’t think my son or daughter need to deal with the other issue, homosexuals and the increasing incidence of rape.  What a world, my father, a WWII vet and his generation, what do you think they would have done then if they knew what was to become of our country today?

  • I can imagine that lacking access to white women was what propelled the riot.