The Bombing Of Darwin


It was the bright morning of Thursday 19 February 1942 just before 10am. Since the attacks on Pearl Harbour, Darwin was the base of the 7th Military District of Australia and Port Darwin had become an important staging point for ship convoys and aircraft on their way to the fighting in the northwest. A fleet of ships carrying Australian and American troops and supplies, escorted by USS Houston, had returned to port after an attack by Japanese aircraft and submarines.


I was unaware of the impending danger as I worked through the morning, but at 9:58am the roar of planes overhead could be heard. Many people believed that it was simply American aircraft returning from war but, as the crashing of bombs and the crackle of machine gun fire began from over 260 Japanese aircraft, it soon became clear that this was not the case.


At this time there were a large number of ships in the port, including the US destroyer Peary. But within minutes of the first attack Peary had been sunk and with it a loss of 80 lives. As Japanese planes continued to role in, so did the devastation. Sunk also was the large US transport Meigs and the Australian ship Neptuna. Loaded with heavy explosives, it blew up with a terrifying explosion dumping burning oil and shrapnel into the harbour. I then witnessed five merchant ships being sunk and the hospital ship, Manunda, being hit but, luckily, surviving to play an important role in caring for the injured.


I quickly took shelter in a slit trench, clad in shoes and tin hat. The bombardment of enemy planes continued as dozens of men were blown into the water only to have to swim through burning oil. I could hear the screams of terror as men were blown to pieces or burned alive. I sat crouched as women and children were rushed into bomb shelters hurriedly. Many men tried to help the dead, dying and survivors by plucking them from the water and loading them into small boats. These heroic acts would remain unknown to almost the entire Australian public but it did not seem to worry these brave men as they risked their lives to save others.


I witnessed planes fly into the town and prayed they would show mercy against the innocents taking shelter. My prayers would go unanswered. The Post Office was hit and the air-raid trench in the Post Office garden received a direct hit, killing all nine people within it. Horrifically I saw the Darwin Hospital being bombed in an act of malicious damage, but fortunately there was no loss of life.


By 10.30am the first raid was over. It had lasted just over half an hour.


Shocked survivors were now emerging from cover and trying to assess the damage and life loss, when, at 11.58am, the attack resumed. This second attack was neither on the city of Darwin nor Port Darwin but in fact the airstrip. This was an easy target for the Japanese as all aircraft was out in the open and un-camouflaged. The remaining Kitty Hawk was destroyed together with a Liberator and 10 other aircraft. Surprisingly, only seven men were killed.


Finally the carnage ceased and I emerged to discover a burning, ravaged city. People lined the streets, crying and blood covered. Children were screaming for their parents and wondering through the desolate streets. Burned and mutilated bodies lay still floating in the burning Harbor and covered the surrounding wharves. Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers. Killed. I knew then that I was lucky to have survived but still felt resentment towards this survival, as I had to live with the images burned into my mind forever.


While the devastation and confusion produced by the surprise attack did cause some military personnel to leave the town, I feel the need to acknowledge that many military personnel, on shore and on ships, stuck to their guns in the face of an awesome Japanese aerial bombardment of a largely defenseless town. In the harbor, despite lack of warning, the crews of navy ships manned their guns with remarkable courage as Japanese bombs rained down on their ships. In Darwin harbor, the American destroyer USS Peary took a direct hit from a Japanese bomb. Many witnessed the vessel\'s