Originally known as the 27-Mile, this area was included in the 1869 surveys of Port Darwin and its hinterland by George Goyder’s men.
The site for the roadside fighter strip at the 28-Mile peg was selected during the Aerodrome Development Program to construct a number of roadside fighter strips south of Darwin in early 1942. Working from pastoral and other maps, Flight Lieutenants Yeaman and Brogan selected a number of sites, including those that later became Strauss and Livingstone airstrips and Hughes airfield.
Construction of a second roadside fighter strip in the Darwin area, Strauss Airfield, 27 miles, or 45 km, south of Darwin on the Stuart Highway commenced in early 1942 by the US 808th Engineer Battalion, assisted by the US 147th Field Artillery Regiment. Some work was carried out by hand, at times using earth filled drums as rollers, until the arrival of heavy engineering equipment in later March 1942.
During World War II, the facilities included a 1.5 km long, 30 m wide runway of taxiways and aircraft revetments (parking bays) for twelve fighters, and later extended to accommodate 46 aircraft. Strauss was developed at a cost of £62,151 in American funds. The airstrip was used throughout the war and was decommissioned at the end of 1945.
Initially known as the 27-Mile Airstrip, Strauss was informally named in honour of their former Commander, Captain Allison Strauss, a veteran of the Philippines campaign, of the 8th Squadron 49th Pursuit Group, USAAF who was lost in combat over Darwin on 27 April 1942.
Over the following months 8th Squadron pilots intercepted Japanese aircraft over Darwin. Despite the primitive conditions for servicing aircraft, the unit scored a large number of the 70 kills credited to the Group and its sister squadrons, the 7th and 9th, in the Darwin area.
In September 1942 the three squadrons were ordered to New Guinea, and by the 30th most American personnel had departed. Australian P-40 Kittyhawks of No. 76 Squadron, RAAF, commanded by Squadron Leader Keith “Bluey” Truscott, arrived on 9 October. Number 77 squadron established itself at Livingstone airstrip further south.
Anti-aircraft defences also arrive and 1 Aust. Light A-A Battery set up its 40mm Bofors guns around the airfield perimeter. Earlier defences had comprised .59” machine guns set up on homemade mounts and manned by American 8th Squadron personnel. The defences were later bolstered at various times by the 2/1st, 149th, 159th, 161st and 160th Light A-A Batteries.
During the changeover period the runway was sealed, while taxiways and inserts were graveled and then oiled to seal them. Personnel from No. 1 Airfield Construction Squadron RAAD took only six days from 30 October to complete the task.
During 1943-44, RAAF Spitfires of No. 452 Squadron operated from the airstrip and were involved in air combat over Darwin and Fenton Airfields, claiming a number of the 65 Japanese aircraft downed by No. 1 Fighter Wing. No. 459 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, operated Spitfires from Strauss from mid-1944. As the most intact of the roadside airstrips, Strauss provides a tangible reminder of the air war over Darwin during the critical months of 1942-43.
Strauss Airfield is entered in the Northern Territory Heritage Register.
Jan 1943 Pilots of No 76 Kittyhawk Squadron RAAF congregate in the rear of a 3 ton truck AWM NWA0035
Clive Killer Caldwell DFC Wing Commanding Officer No 1 Figher Wing Strauss c1943 AWM NWA0458