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Press Release: Cape Otway appeal for war history

Issued: 19 November 2005

THE secret war history of Cape Otway’s radar station, built after the Germans sank a US ship in Bass Strait, deserves to be told, according to Lightstation manager Paul Thompson.

Desperate to uncover photographs, memoirs and anecdotes about the Bass Strait war against Hitler’s forces, Mr Thompson has now gone public with his appeal.

The story of the station was hugely significant for Australian and American war history, Mr Thompson added.

“It was built in 1942 after the US steamship SS City of Rayville sunk off Cape Otway,” he said.

“Very few people realise the Germans came down this far south, or that they successfully sank three ships sunk in Bass Strait,” Mr Thompson said.

“The Germans pirated a Norwegian merchant trading vessel called the Storstad off the coast of north western Australia and turned it into a mine layer and renamed it Passat.

“The Rayville was struck by one of 40 mines the Passat laid off Cape Otway, but they laid over 100 mines in key areas of Bass Strait.”

Mr Thompson said the Lightstation raised the alarm on November 8, 1940, and Apollo Bay fishermen rescued 37 crew members, but one man was lost.

He became the US Military’s first casualty of World War Two.

The radar station is undergoing a $20,000 restoration and Mr Thompson is desperate to track down as much history and information possible so it can be included in the project.

“Now after almost 60 years the Radar Station at Cape Otway, one of only two built on Victoria’s southern coast, is being preserved and we want to interpret its little-known history,” he said.

“The station is one of the best examples remaining of this secretive war effort.”

The project includes a new disability-friendly access track, plus a new look-out platform.

Anyone with information on the station’s history can contact Mr Thompson on 5237 9240.

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