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Saturday, February 18, 2012


This piece of Australia's history has largely been kept quiet for many years.
 Very little was publicly known about the air raid attacks on Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory during WWII. In order to minimize panic about an imminent invasion, the official line at the time was that it was a minor raid with only 17 lives were lost.

Here's the real story:

On 19 February 1942 mainland Australia came under attack for the first time when Japanese forces conducted  two air raids on Darwin. Four days earlier Singapore had fallen to the Japanese leaving the British demoralised and about 10 weeks before that Pearl Harbour in Hawaii had been involved in a devastating attack.

I imagine Australian citizens were feeling isolated and fearful about defending themselves when the majority of their troops were far away helping to defend other parts of the world leaving Australia severely undermanned.
The Japanese it seemed, were quickly sweeping southwards.

The two attacks on Darwin, led by the commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour, involved 54 land-based bombers and approximately 188 attack aircraft which were launched from four Japanese aircraft-carriers in the Timor Sea.

In the first attack heavy bombers pattern-bombed the harbour and town; dive bombers escorted by Zero fighters then attacked shipping in the harbour, the military and civil aerodromes, and the hospital at Berrimah.

The attack lasted about 40 minutes.

The second attack, which began an hour later, involved high altitude bombing of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Parap which lasted for 20–25 minutes. The two raids killed at least 243 people and between 300 and 400 were wounded. Twenty military aircraft were destroyed, eight ships at anchor in the harbour were sunk, and most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed. 

 More bombs were dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbour !!

The belief at the time was that the Japanese were preparing to invade Australia and there was a wide spread belief that the government had a plan to abandon northern Australia to the Japanese should they invade from the north.

The so called "Brisbane Line", a line drawn from Perth across Australia to Brisbane, was to be the defensive line. The government denied that this was true, but comments by General Douglas MacArthur make it seem likely that it had at least been discussed as you can read here:
"On 16 March 1943, General Douglas MacArthur held an "off-the-record" talk to the Press from 12:15pm to 2:15pm at his General Headquarters in the AMP building on the corner of Queen Street and Edward Street, Brisbane. General MacArthur caused quite a flurry of interest from the press members present when he mentioned the infamous "Brisbane Line". It was reported in the Brisbane "Courier Mail" on 17 March 1943 that MacArthur had indicated that the Brisbane Line ran from Perth to Brisbane. When further questioned by the Press on his statement he then distanced himself from his earlier statement."

As you can imagine those who lived north of this line were fearful of being abandoned and many of those who lived in Darwin immediately fled southward.
The air attacks on Darwin continued until November 1943, by which time the Japanese had bombed Darwin 64 times. During the war other towns in northern Australia were also the target of Japanese air attack, with bombs being dropped on Townsville, Katherine, Wyndham, Derby, Broome and Port Hedland.
So now, 70 years later, we are finally remembering what happened in Darwin during World War II with memorials and ceremonies.
About time !!

It is interesting to acknowledge that no invading Japanese serviceman ever set foot on Australian territory in Darwin or anywhere else despite midget submarines managing to penetrate Sydney Harbour.

Edit: I have no idea why the last section is in a different font and size and I can't seem to do anything to fix it !! @#$*%


  1. I never knew about this part of the WWII story. Thanks for enlightening me.

  2. I had no idea of this part of our wartime history until I went to Darwin 4 years ago. The Adelaide River Cemetery pays homage to those who died and is a little eerie . It's strange to think of these things happening in our country but something that should be taught in schools too I think. So many people died in the raids on Darwin.

  3. Whilst the War was well documented here especially in my childhood I don't ever remember knowing anything about attacks elsewhere in the world and especially not this one - thanks for the enlightenment!

  4. I've just been reading about this on the bbc news website. I never knew anything about this...

  5. I didn't know until I saw the film "Australia" but husband who has been twice to Aus, said he visited the museam at Darwin and saw photos of it "flattened".

  6. Oh, I am so glad you wrote this post. Now I know too. Everyone remembers Pearl Harbour...