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70th Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin

Updated on April 13, 2012

The 70th Anniversary of the bombing of Darwin (Northern Territory, Australia) was remembered today. Following years of preparation: The Bombing of Darwin Memorial Museum was opened today. Among the Museum's many attractions includes a video simulation of the bombing. Along with numerous war artifacts from that time. The United States Ambassador along with the Australian Prime Minister and Governor-General are in Darwin to lead the commemoration ceremonies.

For the first time official public recognition of the significance of Darwin has come into national prominence. More bombs and planes attacked Darwin than did atPearl Harbour. The event happened just days after the Fall of Singapore. Though Darwin was never given the Hollywood treatment the way Pearl Harbour was. 188 planes launched from Japanese Aircraft Carriers consisted of the first wave of bombing. A second wave of land based Bombers arrived only a couple of hours later. More than six hundred bombs landed on Darwin on that fateful day. The main force involved in the raid was the 1st Carrier Air Fleet which was commanded by Vice-Admiral Chūichi Nagumo. The same Japanese Commander along with his fleet of war ships that attacked Pearl Harbour in Hawaii months earlier. Darwin was bombed with little if no resistance. The official death toll at the time was only 17. The real figure though was 253+ fatalities. USS Peary was one of the American ships in port at the time-it was destroyed.

After the massive 19 February 1942 Japanese raid, the Northern Territory and parts of Western Australia's north were bombed 62 more times between 4 March 1942 and 12 November 1943.


As well over 700 were injured. The Curtin Government at the time fearing widespread panic downplayed the entire event claiming only 17 died. No real recognition of the event occurred until recent times. This bombing it has been said was the catalyst for the establishment of the ANZUS Treaty for permanent military ties between the United States and Australia. Now military bases in Darwin will host an extensive American contingent training on a rotational basis up to 2,500 troops. This was announced as a strategic decision by President Obama on his last visit to Darwin and Australia in November 2011. The ANZUS Treaty is the most fundamental treaty amongst two Allies which was signed and has meant very close military and civilian ties between United States and Australia ever since which included Australia involvement and commitment in the Vietnam Wars.

MV Neptuna exploding at Stokes Hill Wharf
MV Neptuna exploding at Stokes Hill Wharf | Source

Before today had you heard about the Bombing of Darwin?

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On the 19th of February the 70th Anniversary commemoration service will take place to finally honour those who were the victims of the bombing of Darwin during WW2. According to Historians the attack on Darwin was meant really so that American could not use Australia as a safe base during the second World War. There was only one American destroyer in Darwin on that day. The purpose was also to make Darwin an unworkable port for the alliance war effort.

At about 9.15 am the Japanese force was spotted by an Australian Coastwatch personnel on Melville Island. While the coastwatcher radioed a warning to the authorities at Darwin, RAAF officers there wrongly judged that the aircraft which had been sighted were actually the ten USAAC P-40s, which were returning to Darwin at the time after bad weather forced them to abort a flight to Timor. As a result, the air raid sirens at Darwin were not sounded. One of the numerous reasosn of the failure to defend Darwin was a failure of shells which were unable to be used in the tropics.-The fuses did not work. The shell canisters were marked 'not to be used in the tropics' yet these shells had been stored in Darwin for two years.

Darwin Harbour after the bombing
Darwin Harbour after the bombing | Source

This was the first time in Australia's history that Australia was attacked. There have been many call to make this day a National day like ANZAC Day or Memorial or Remembrance Day.

Darwin Northern Territory site of the bombing of Darwin

President Obama visits Darwin Nov 2011

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    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 

      6 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Very interesting piece, I had never heard of this before. It is also interesting to note that it was the failure to identify an attack that allowed bombings in both Pearl Harbor and Darwin to happen with little resistance it seems.

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      I had heard very little about the attack on Darwin, as it was obviously well suppressed for years.

      The movie 'AUSTRALIA' covered it a little.

      I truly had no idea that there had been so many bombing raids. Which is actually shocking!

      These bombing raids were a precursor to invasion. It seems to have stuck in the Aussie consciousness.

      Until reading this excellent hub I hadn't really thought about it that much.

      Voted up interesting. Thanks for sharing this information.

    • barryrutherford profile imageAUTHOR

      Barry Rutherford 

      6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Indeed it has been only recently made more public. during the War the Govt did not want to frighten the populous into panic in Brisbane Sydney & Melbourne. In fact the population of the whole of Australia in 1942 was 7,137 million people. Thats just over 7 million today its 22 million. So you can see how Australia was a much smaller place. Communication was by telegraph poles. You can see why the Govt did not want the population to panic etc... Thanks for your comment Nell!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Hi, I must admit that I never realised that Darwin or in fact any part of Australia had been attacked until I watched the film Australia, but yes because it wasn't made into a film and was played down its not very well known, it should have its own national day, nell

    • barryrutherford profile imageAUTHOR

      Barry Rutherford 

      6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      AE Evans very different times. Darwin was little more that a very small town then. totally unprepared because we expected Singapore then held by the Brits to defend any onslaught from a invader. Unfortunately Singapore went down only a few days earlier as it was attacked by land from the rear although it's Harbour was heavily fortified...

    • barryrutherford profile imageAUTHOR

      Barry Rutherford 

      6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      maxoxam41 thank you for very much your comment !

    • maxoxam41 profile image

      Deforest 

      6 years ago from USA

      By bombing Darwin the Japanese intelligence was right in their previsions of a U.S. military base! What I don't understand is why it is still or why aren't they international military bases in the U.S.?

      Very informative.Thank you for opening a sad page of the Australian history.

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 

      6 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      How sad the Darwin was not prepared and for Australia to be attacked was horrific. Why did Australia not wish for America to use their space as a safe haven? War is not good regardless of the location. Thank you for writing about the 70th anniversary were lives were also lost. What a honor and a tribute to all of the crews family.

    • Poohgranma profile image

      Poohgranma 

      6 years ago from On the edge

      A very informative article. Well done!

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