About 600 African American troops from the 96th Battalion, US Army Corps of Engineers, were stationed at a base outside of Townsville called Kelso Field. They were a labour battalion and their main job was to build bridges and barracks. The rumour that a black sergeant had died at the hands of a white superior resulted in the troops of A and C company mutinying. On 22 May 1942, aiming to kill their commander, Captain Francis Williams of Columbus, Georgia, the black troopers began firing machine guns at the tents of white officers, resulting in an eight-hour siege. At least one person was killed and dozens severely injured, and Australian Army soldiers were called in to roadblock the rioters.
American journalist Robert Sherrod wrote a report on the mutiny but it was suppressed, as future US president Lyndon B. Johnson, then a young congressman, was visiting Townsville at the time. The mutiny was revealed by a historian in 2012.