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Darwin Australia Bombing Raids

Updated on March 17, 2011

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.

Darwin Bombing Raids, Australia Movie's view
Darwin Bombing Raids, Australia Movie's view

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.

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.

Australia Movie To Own

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 Photos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Darwin coastlineDarwin Anti-Aircraft GunsDarwin Anti-Aircraft Guns
Darwin coastline
Darwin coastline
Darwin Anti-Aircraft Guns
Darwin Anti-Aircraft Guns
Darwin Anti-Aircraft Guns
Darwin Anti-Aircraft Guns


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    • profile image


      9 years ago

      What shames me more as an Australian is that even less in known about the heroic deeds of the American kittyhawk pilots of the 49th pursuit squadron who took on the Japanese raiders and whom mostly died in combat during the first minutes of battle. These were mostly young inexperienced and fatigued pilots. Very breve men who dont get the recognition they so richly deserve from this country.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      escuser moi quel qun oeut me dire pourquoi darwin a été bombarder sil vous plait ? quel sont les cause de ce bombardement

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      11 years ago from New Zealand

      Neither nor Australia nor New Zealand cover much local history - or didn't anyway when I was a school. I never did any NZ history and had no idea about Australia's bombing raids while I knew all about the war in Europe and Pearl Harbour!

    • Drake's Compass profile image

      Drake's Compass 

      11 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina - for now

      Hi Lissie!  Thank you for this informative article on the Darwin air raids.  I'm an American newcomer to HubPages who has a great admiration for Australia, and would love to visit someday (maybe that's because I'm half-British half-cowboy at heart)!

      I'm surprised that most Australians would think that Sydney was the most-attacked Aussie city during's tempting to think so because of Sydney's size, but there would have been little strategic utility for the Japanese to do much save for some sub attacks (which they did launch).

      Looking forward to reading your other posts and learning more about the land Down Under!

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      11 years ago from New Zealand

      Oops - bad typo - will fix! Yes you are right re the Brisbane line - basically the only defendable part of country is the bottom corner - with line from Brisbane to Adelaide - actually nothing much as changed - why do you think the Ausralian government makes such a big deal about illegal immigrants sailing from Indonesia - beause even with radar its pretty darn hard to stop wooden boats landing in northern Australia - the reality is that landing in most of northern Australia is rather nasty way to die in most cases...

      I don't know whether the Japanese new about that vital undersea cable - I think it was more the idea of just keep on expanding and them thinking that northern Australia would be a good place for aircraft to raid their possessions e.g. Indonesia (Dutch East Indies) and PNG (from Cape York in northern Queensland). Ironically Broome particularly had a large Japanese population who had come to be divers in the pearl industry

    • profile image

      Ian Horton 

      11 years ago

      I hope it's a typo. The story says that "Australia was UNDEPENDABLE". Should that have read "undefendable"? My one and only criticism.

      I'd forgotten that Darwin was bombed so soon after Pearl Harbour and had wondered why the Japanese had targeted it at all. It wasn't a large town at the time and had limited military presence or infrastructure.

      One thing it did have, which the Japanese would have known about, was that Darwin was the northern entry point of the undersea cable from Indonesia (Dutch East Indies). Cut that off and there goes a major communications channel. Perhaps the Japanese knew what impact losing the cable would have caused.

      Something else many Australians, for that matter the rest of the world, wouldn't be aware of, and this comes back my "undefendable" correction, is that the Australian Government at the time had, with much angst I would say, decided that should the Japanase invade successfully the top half of the continent/country would be let fall. Troops would be withdrawn from there and deployed further south to defend the bulk of the population. That boundry was known, i believe, as "The Brisbane Line".

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      11 years ago from New Zealand

      No idea what you are talking about so I guess you are a drunk Aussie LOL

    • profile image

      late pioneer 

      11 years ago

      Aussie has designs on NZ. Watch for it. They will save NZers from themselves.

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      11 years ago from New Zealand

      Yes it has grown up quite a bit - though its still more a town than a big city - but in comparison we'd seen for weeks since we left Cairns it was of course huge! This is the year to fly in Oz there are some nice airfares getiting discounted with the drop in international visitors! Have a good trip

    • earnestshub profile image


      11 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thanks heaps for this hub Lissie, I lived in Darwin in the late seventies and went to the war museum and saw some of the devastation there.

      I did not realize how big Darwin has become, so appreciate the late model photos.

      You have inspired me to make the treck again, but by air this time! We did a slow crawl up the east coast last time and took six months to look at places on the way up.

    • profile image

      Writer Rider 

      12 years ago

      Good point. I enjoy their sense of humor.

    • ajcor profile image


      12 years ago from NSW. Australia

      Good hub - Lissie - very informative. That would be the Australian/NZ humour/ribbing that maybe makes us appear that way - - in reality many Australians have family and friends who have emigrated to NZ and vice versa - quite a flow between the countries. Personally my stepson and his family plus my aunt live in NZ and I look forward to visiting them soon. cheers

    • profile image

      Writer Rider 

      12 years ago Australia and New Zealand but I personally think there's more animosity between the two then there is between the United States and Canada since we merely tease each other on our differences whereas Australia and New Zealand seem to consider each other uncivilzed. I could be wrong, this is not an insult, just an observation (not intending to be rude).

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      12 years ago from New Zealand

      @Amanda it acutally explains why the Austalians are much more keen on the Americans and than the English: Churchill stuffed up Singapore entirely,underestimated the Japanese and was in no position to help Australia. The Americans really did save them - that plus the length of the Japanese supply line

      @cw NZ has the same love hate relationship with Australia that Canada does with the US - Australia is quite aligned with the US in foreign policy while NZ isn't aligned with anyone

    • countrywomen profile image


      12 years ago from Washington, USA

      Lissie- This piece of history reminds me of our Indian History when they were squeezed between the british and the japanese invading military. One of my ideal destinations is Australia/NZ besides Canada for their relative immunity to such violence. I learnt something new today. Great hub.

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      12 years ago from UK

      Hi Lissie.

      I must be woefully ignorant, because I had no idea that Australia was bombed in any serious way during the second World War! I know tons about what happened here in the UK because I grew up with the stories. Both my parents were Londoners. My Dad was away for part of the war in the RAF, and my Mum went right through the war living and working in London, and she had many tales to tell of bombing raids and so on.

      I'm not suprised that the younger generation have so little clue about what went on. To them it must seem like ancient history. In my son's school there is a small hill that the children climb on and roll down. It's quite a feature in an otherwise flat landscape. I was talking to an elderly friend recently and I mentioned the hill, and she immediately told me that it housed an air raid shelter. There's no immediate evidence of this these days, and I wonder whether the teachers covering the second world war as a topic even know, or would think to mention it.

    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      12 years ago from New Zealand

      Well I wouldn't say doomed -but I like history - it shows just how little that humans have changed over the last 10,000 years or so!

    • profile image

      Kevin Forbes 

      12 years ago

      Hi Lissie,

      thanks for your hub, I have been to Darwin, (Melbourne resident) and I am somewhat shocked at the level of understanding and awareness of history.

      No wonder we all have to go through this kind of rubbish all over again.

      No-one remembers or understands.


    • Lissie profile imageAUTHOR

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      12 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for visiting Storytellersrus - the Darwin raids are surprisingly unkinown even by Australians - well there were until all the publicity for the movie! I don't know anything about Samuel Perkins and neither dos Google - at least in an Aussie context!

    • Storytellersrus profile image


      12 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      I'm excited to see this movie and I found your Hub wonderful, thanks so much! I had no idea this is what the movie took in, nor was I aware of the horrific human numbers lost in Darwin. The little clip of local news was lots of fun to witness. Great reporting from down under, Lissie.

      BTW, do you know of a Samuel Perkins the third? My brother just named his Aussie pup after the fellow and I am unfamiliar with him.


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