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Darwin Australia Bombing Raids
Australia Movie Exposes Darwin Bombing Raids
Baz Luhrmann's Australia Movie features as its climax the Darwin bombing raids of 1942. Its a useful history lesson as most Australians have no idea that Darwin, and other northern town including Broome were raided by the Japanese from 1942 on. Only 12 days after the fall of Singapore on the 7 February 1942, the first Japanese raid occurred on the 19 February 1942.
The initial raid on Darwin by the Japanese, was the largest Japanese raid since Pearl Harbour in the previous December. On the day of the first raid 188 planes dropping more than 300 bombs and 243 people killed and over 300 wounded. There were 44 boats in the harbour before the raid. In the initial raid eight ships were sunk. From that first raid until the last on 12 November 1943 Australia lost over 900 people in air raids, 77 aircraft and several ships. There were a total of 64 raids on Darwin and another 33 raids on other northern Australia targets.
Australia Has Forgotten the Darwin Raids
According to a recent Newspoll over 80% of Australians don't know that more bombs were dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbour. Twelve percent of Australians aged 18 - 34 thought that Sydney was the Australian city most attacked most during World War 2.
You can't just blame the education system though. The raids were suppressed by the government of the time. Singapore had just fallen: An event that Winston Churchill called the "worst disaster" and "largest capitulation". Now the unstoppable Japanese were attacking an Australian town. The government of the day knew that most, if not all of Australia was undefendable.
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Darwin: A Town Devastated in 1942
It will be never known for sure how many people died in the Darwin raids. Locals estimate between 900 and 1100 died but censorship may have seen the figures deliberately under-stated in the official histories.
In 1942 there was only 2000 people living in Darwin. Of that number only 63 women and only another 300 were military personnel. Of course only white people are counted in those figures as Aborigines were still decades away from being recognized in statistics or as citizens. The day of the raid was normal wet season day with temperature of around 33C and humidity at 90%. There was warning: a local priest on remote Bathurst Island to the north of Darwin saw the fighters and passed a warning to Darwin at around 9:30am. No air-raid warning was given. The raid lasted about an hour and there was general panic. There was a human stampede south from the narrow Darwin peninsular: the so-called "Adelaide River Stakes". People ran, rode bikes, horses, cars and didn't stop until they reached Adelaide River 115km to the south on a dirt road. Darwin was effectively abandoned with no water, electricity, communication or leadership.
The Japanese commander, Fuchida, wasn't very impressed with Darwin, considering it "hardly worthy of the Nagumo Force" noting that although the town was "fairly large" there was only a single pier. None of the few planes at the airfield managed to take to the air and the what anti-aircraft guns there were woefully inadequate for modern warfare.
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Stokes Wharf, Darwin
The scenes set in Darwin in the Australia Movie was mainly shot in Bowen, Queensland, because little of 1940's Darwin has survived the raids and Cyclone Tracey in 1974.
The original Stokes Wharf is still the main wharf in Darwin and it was used in the bombing raid scenes. Stokes wharf today is mixture of commercial and military wharf and tourism tourism and recreational services including shopping and arguably the best fish and chips in Darwin.
The area is being redeveloped for larger ships but the foreshore with the ineffective aircraft guns. Its also possible to tour the air raid tunnels used to store explosives near Stokes Wharf
Modern Day Darwin Australia PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
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