Today marks the anniversary of the 1942 bombing of Darwin by Japanese forces in what remains the largest attack on mainland Australia by a foreign power.
During World War II, around 10,000 Allied troops were stationed in Darwin making the town an important Allied base for the defence of the Dutch East Indies, and thus a target for the Japanese Imperial Army.
The attack on Darwin through two Japanese air raids orchestrated by none other than Mitsuo Fuchida, the commander who had 10 weeks earlier bombed Pearl Harbour. Over 240 Japanese aircraft descended on Darwin’s port and harbour, and killed at least 243 people with between 300 – 400 military personnel and civilians left injured. Twenty military aircrafts were also destroyed while eight ships were sunk during the attack. The National Archives of Australia state that most of the city’s military and civil architecture had been blown to smithereens.
The event is often referred to as the “Pearl Harbour of Australia” although more bombs were dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbour. Darwin was clearly ill prepared for the attack and it took the Japanese forces just 40 minutes to destroy Darwin harbour, and then the town. The second attack struck an hour later when the Japanese began bombing the Royal Australia Air Force base in Parap.
So, why did the Japanese opt to attack Australia on that fateful day? At that period, many believed the attack on Darwin would lead to an invasion of the country. However, experts today believe that the Japanese had their sights on invading Timor. However, the Japanese forces reasoned that Darwin would send troops in aid to Timor in the event of an attack. The air raids on Darwin would pre-empt that possibility, while dealing a crippling blow to morale in Australia.
In fact, so devastating were the air raids on Darwin, the Australian government decided to keep the full extent of the carnage under wraps, with the earliest reports mentioning only 17 people had been killed in the attack.
The air attacks on the city continued until November 1943 by which time Darwin had been bombed 64 times, and northern Australia, 97 times. Ironically after the war, the people of Darwin employed a Japanese salvage company based in South-East Asia to salvage the Japanese wrecks.