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 MilitaryDistrict of Australia and Port Darwin had become an important staging pointfor ship convoys and aircraft on their way to the fighting in thenorthwest. A fleet of ships carrying Australian and American troops andsupplies, escorted by USS Houston, had returned to port after an attack byJapanese aircraft and submarines.
I was unaware of the impending danger as I worked through the morning, butat 9:58am the roar of planes overhead could be heard. Many people believedthat it was simply American aircraft returning from war but, as thecrashing of bombs and the crackle of machine gun fire began from over 260Japanese 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 theUS destroyer Peary. But within minutes of the first attack Peary had beensunk and with it a loss of 80 lives.
As Japanese planes continued to rolein, so did the devastation. Sunk also was the large US transport Meigs andthe Australian ship Neptuna. Loaded with heavy explosives, it blew up witha terrifying explosion dumping burning oil and shrapnel into the harbour. Ithen witnessed five merchant ships being sunk and the hospital ship,Manunda, being hit but, luckily, surviving to play an important role incaring for the injured.I quickly took shelter in a slit trench, clad in shoes and tin hat.
Thebombardment of enemy planes continued as dozens of men were blown into thewater only to have to swim through burning oil. I could hear the screams ofterror as men were blown to pieces or burned alive. I sat crouched as womenand children were rushed into bomb shelters hurriedly. Many men tried tohelp the dead, dying and survivors by plucking them from the water andloading them into small boats. These heroic acts would remain unknown toalmost the entire Australian public but it did not seem to worry thesebrave men as they risked their lives to save others.I witnessed planes fly into the town and prayed they would show mercyagainst the innocents taking shelter. My prayers would go unanswered.The Post Office was hit and the air-raid trench in the PostOffice garden received a direct hit, killing all nine people within it.
Horrifically I saw the Darwin Hospital being bombed in an act of maliciousdamage, 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 thedamage and life loss, when, at 11.58am, the attack resumed. This secondattack was neither on the city of Darwin nor Port Darwin but in fact theairstrip.
This was an easy target for the Japanese as all aircraft was outin the open and un-camouflaged. The remaining Kitty Hawk was destroyedtogether with a Liberator and 10 other aircraft. Surprisingly, only sevenmen were killed.Finally the carnage ceased and I emerged to discover a burning, ravagedcity. People lined the streets, crying and blood covered.
Children werescreaming for their parents and wondering through the desolate streets.Burned and mutilated bodies lay still floating in the burning Harbor andcovered the surrounding wharves. Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers.
Killed.I knew then that I was lucky to have survived but still felt resentmenttowards this survival, as I had to live with the images burned into my mindforever.While the devastation and confusion produced by the surprise attack didcause some military personnel to leave the town, I feel the need toacknowledge that many military personnel, on shore and on ships, stuck totheir guns in the face of an awesome Japanese aerial bombardment of alargely defenseless town. In the harbor, despite lack of warning, the crewsof navy ships manned their guns with remarkable courage as Japanese bombsrained down on their ships. In Darwin harbor, the American destroyer USSPeary took a direct hit from a Japanese bomb. Many witnessed the vessel’sforward gun still firing at Japanese aircraft as the Peary slid beneath thewater.I still remember a friend of mine running up to me on the streets anddescribing to me what they had endured that fateful morning.
The first raidon Darwin was, for him, a 40-minute period of embarrassment. With his firstwarning being the rumble of approaching aircraft and machine gunfire, whichcommenced whilst he was taking a shower at his home at about 10am. Hequickly climbed into a bomb shelter, half naked, with many other civiliansand waited for the fighting to stop, as there was nothing that they coulddo to help the people left outside.
Around the town, there were some amazing stories of escape from injury. Afriend of mine, Reginald Rattley, aged 26, a telephone mechanic, had triedto shelter with the Postmaster’s group but found the trench too crowded. Hesought shelter over the Esplanade cliff to the beach.
As he jumped a bomb-blast lifted him forcibly on to the sand where he landed safely.Some people claimed that a conspiracy to bury the dead bodies was at work.One man reported, “About three days after the bombing they had these bargesdown near the wharf. Three of them were piled with bodies; I’d imagine 3000bodies at least on those three big barges. It is believed that they weretowed out to sea through the boom defence – where they were sunk. Nobodyknew who they were; they were all colours, races and sizes.
Nobody knewwhere they came from. They were found in little old shanties where theywere gathered up.” This, although maybe not entirely true, disgusted me.By the following weekend much order had been restored, but not until aftersome extraordinary behavior. There had been widespread looting of thedeserted houses and businesses by civilians and military men.
Some of thelooting was reasonable as the goods were being requisitioned for militaryuse. Hundreds of Darwin civilians acted the way many people do under warconditions: they became refugees, leaving the town by any means they could.This attack has always been in comparison with the attacks on Pearl Harbor,December 7 1941 and with justice. In both instances, there is convincingevidence of a failure of command to bring defences to a state of readinessin the face of a clearly growing threat of Japanese attack.
Darwin’smilitary commanders should have placed the town’s very limited defences onfull war alert after the forced return of the Timor. At Darwin, as at PearlHarbor, air force officers ignored a large formation of unidentifiedaircraft, which would have given a timely warning of an enemy approach.The bombing shattered the township. It was the heaviest loss of life onAustralian soil since European settlement in 1788, and the first time thatan enemy nation had attacked our mainland.
Although the bombing of Darwinwas front-page news in Australia next day, the full extent of the damageand loss of life was not revealed by the Curtin government.From the first day that the government revealed the details about thebombing of Darwin to the greater public, it was evident that the truth wasnot going to surface and that a cover-up was underway. Many southernnewspapers reported far less than the truth in the days afterwards; an actof media control that many governments exercised in war to lessen theimpact on public morale. The numbers of casualties, obviously in thethousands, were reported to be only around 250 and the amount of ships inthe harbor, approximately eleven, was described as only eight.
The bombing of Darwin stands as the most destructive enemy attack everperpetrated against Australia in its history. The day that brought home toAustralians that, in this war, they were truly fighting for their country.A day that will never be forgotten.pic – 10HI2Bibliography: – http://www.battleforaustralia.org.au/darwin.html – http://www.airwaysmuseum.com/DN%20bombing%2042%20article.htm – http://www.awm.gov.au/units/event_59.asp – http://www.mua.org.au/journal/april_2002/darwin.html