Attack on Darwin – 75 years on

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attacks on Darwin. It was the largest air attack by the Japanese since Pearl Harbour two and half months earlier.

236 Australians were killed during the air raids. (Compare Cyclone Tracey in 1974 which killed 71)

It marked the culmination of a very anxious month for Australia.

During 1941, the world watched nervously as the Japanese Imperial forces swept down Eastern Asia. By early February 1942 they were bearing down on Singapore.

The British had a significant military presence in Singapore. Everyone thought Singapore, dubbed “the Gibraltar of the South”, was certain to stop the Japanese advance.

The Battle of Singapore lasted only one week and ended with a British surrender. Singapore fell on 15 February 1942. It was the largest surrender of British forces in history.

Suddenly, the Japanese were on our doorstep. Panic hit Australia. Darwin was evacuated leaving only 2,000 souls.

On 19 February 1942, the Japanese attacked in two waves. The first wave hit Darwin at 10.00am. The raiding party were spotted by coast watchers at 9.30am but were mistaken for Allied planes. (The same mistake was made by the US before the attack on Pearl Harbour).

No alarm was sounded before the attack and the devastation was horrendous.

The second wave attacked at midday. At the time, 65 Allied naval and merchant ships were sitting in the harbour. Damage was extensive.

The attack was the largest ever on Australian soil. But it was not the only attack.

During 1942–1943, the Japanese attacked the Australian mainland, offshore islands and coastal shipping on no less than 97 occasions. Broome, Wyndham, Katherine, Townsville, Port Hedland and Exmouth Gulf were a few of the targets of Japanese aggression. Darwin was attacked on no fewer than 20 occasions.

In May-June 1942, Japanese mini-subs were found in Sydney Harbour. Ten Australians were killed by these attacks.

The fighting in Europe would not conclude until May 1945. Australia was heavily committed to fighting on the continent with little regard for its own backyard. How quickly could the Australian government bring back their troops?

…..Our women shall walk in honor,

Our children shall know no chain,

This land that is ours forever

The invader shall strike at in vain.

Anzac! . . . Bapaume! . . . and the Marne! . . .

Could ever the old blood fail?

No foe shall gather our harvest,

Or sit on our stockyard rail.…….

We are the sons of Australia,

Of the men who fashioned the land,

We are the sons of the women

Who walked with them, hand in hand;

And we swear by the dead who bore us,

By the heroes who blazed the trail,

No foe shall gather our harvest,

Or sit on our stockyard rail.

– MARY GILMORE (as depicted on the $10 note)

Lest we forget.