Japanese bombers attacked Darwin, Australia.
On February 19, 1942 Japanese bombers attacked Darwin, Australia.
Photo: During the BOMBING OF DARWIN, a ship explodes in the harbor, while HMAS DELORAINE, at anchor, begins rescue efforts.
Two hundred and forty planes from Japanese aircraft carriers, the same group that had attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941– attacked the town of Darwin in the north of Australia, in the first attack ever made on Australia.
HMAS MAVIE, HMAS KELAT, USS PEARY, and merchant ships BRITISH MOTORIST, NEPTUNA, ZEALANDIA, MAUNA LOA, and MEIGS, were all sunk.
HMAS PLATYPUS, HMAS SWAN, HMAS GUNBAR, WARREGO, KARA KARA, KOOKABURRA, KANGAROO, BAROSSA, and COONGOOLA, the hospital ship MANUNDA, USS WILLIAM B PRESTON, and five merchant ships were damaged.
One hundred and seventy of the 250 dead in the attack were ships' complement.
Two attacks were planned and led by the commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor involved 188 attack aircraft which were launched from four Japanese aircraft-carriers in the Timor Sea, and a second raid of 54 land-based bombers. The carrier battle group consisted additionally of two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, seven destroyers, three submarines, and two other heavy cruisers on distant cover.
At 0935 Father McGrath of the Sacred Heart mission on Bathurst Island, who was also an Australian coastwatcher, sent a message using a pedal radio to the Amalgamated Wireless Postal Radio Station at Darwin that Japanese aircraft were flying overhead and proceeding southward. The message was then relayed to the Royal Australian Air Force Operations at 0937.
No general alarm was given until about 1000 as the RAAF officers there wrongly judged that the aircraft which had been sighted were the ten USAAF P-40s, which were returning to Darwin at the time after reports of bad weather forced them to abort a flight to Java via Kupang, West Timor. As a result, the air raid sirens at Darwin were not sounded before the raid.
The Japanese raiders began to arrive over Darwin at 0958 HMAS GUNBAR was the first ship to be attacked, being strafed by several Zero fighters. At about this time, the town's air raid sirens were belatedly sounded.
The Japanese bombers then conducted dive bombing and level bombing attacks on the ships in Darwin Harbour. These attacks lasted for 25 minutes and resulted in the sinking of three warships and six merchant vessels, and damage to another ten ships.
The ships sunk were USS PEARY, HMAS MAVIE, USAT Meigs, MV NEPTUNA (which exploded while docked at Darwin's main wharf), MV ZEALANDIA, SS MAUNA LOA, MV British Motorist. The oil tanker KARALEE and the coal storage hulk Kelat sank later. At least 21 labourers working on the wharf were killed when it was bombed.
All but one of the P-40s was shot down or destroyed on the ground at RAAF Darwin. Japanese aircraft bombed and strafed the base and civil airfield, as well as the town's army barracks and oil store. All facilities were seriously damaged.
The bombers began to leave the Darwin area at about 1010.
On their way back to the carriers, their crews noted two Philippine-registered freighters lying just outside the port, FLORENCE D and DON ISIDRO. This information contributed to planning for the second raid that afternoon and both vessels were sunk.
Japanese losses may have been as few as five aircraft and three crew. However, another 34 Japanese aircraft landed safely with battle damage.
Warrant Officer Katsuyoshi Tsuru and First Petty Officer (1st class) Takezo Uchikado were killed when their Aichi dive bomber (bu. no. 3304; tail no. AII-254) crashed near RAAF Darwin. Sergeant Hajime Toyoshima (a.k.a. Tadao Minami) was taken prisoner after crash-landing his damaged Zero (bu. no. b. n.5349; tail no. BII-124) on Melville Island. Those who ditched near the Japanese fleet and were rescued included Flyer 1st class Yoshio Egawa and the Aichi crew of Flyer 1st class Takeshi Yamada and Flyer 1st class Kinji Funazaki.
In 2013, a reference was discovered in Japanese records to a Nakajima torpedo bomber suffering wheel damage from a "gunshot" and both crew (names unknown) being rescued after ditching by INJ TANIKAZE.
The second raid, which began around 1145, involved high altitude bombing of the Royal Australian Air Force base by twin-engine machines.
The two raids killed 235 people with a further 300 to 400 wounded. Thirty aircraft were destroyed, including nine out of the ten flying in defence, nine ships in the harbour and two outside were sunk, and some of the civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed.
The Japanese lost four aircraft to a spirited defence: two Val bombers and two Zero fighters. One of the fighters crash-landed on Melville Island to Darwin’s north, and its pilot was captured by a local Aboriginal man, to become the first prisoner of war taken on Australian soil.
Contrary to widespread belief at the time, the attacks were not a precursor to an invasion. The Japanese were preparing to invade Timor and anticipated that a disruptive air attack would hinder Darwin’s potential as a base from which the Allies could launch a counter-offensive, and at the same time would damage Australian morale. The Japanese also planned to take New Guinea, cutting Australia off from US support. Denying Darwin’s ability to act as a base would help achieve that aim.
The air attacks across northern Australia continued until November 1943, by which time the Japanese had raided the Top End over 200 times. The last enemy aircraft was shot down over the Territory in June 1944. During the war other towns in northern Australia were also the target of Japanese air attack, with bombs dropped on Townsville, Katherine, Wyndham, Derby, Broome and Port Hedland.
The Japanese attacked Darwin 64 times and the last attack occurred in late 1943.
In the hours following the air raids of February 19, 1942 believing that an invasion was imminent, some of Darwin’s civilian population began to stream southwards.
Approximately half of Darwin’s civilian population ultimately fled. The panic in the town was paralleled by confusion at the RAAF base, where personnel were directed in difficult circumstances to other areas in great numbers.
"Our veterans did not forget about us .... Let's not forget about them." From Michael Levesque