Falling bombs and the rise of a nation: Introduction
A couple days ago I saw and posted about a movie called 1917 about WWI. I received a comment saying that the two World Wars were, in fact, not truly world wars at all but European affairs...I understand not everyone spends almost forty years of their lives reading about and researching war history of their home nation, however I have. This means I have gained a strong understanding of the wars Australia has been in, including the First and Second World Wars; I believe them to have been global, but that's just my opinion.
I've decided to do a series on the World War Two bombings of Darwin, Australia, a much-censored series of events that probably many Australian's don't really understand fully. This post introduces it.
It is safe to say Australia's national identity was forged on the Gallipoli Peninsular on the shores of a far-away land in 1915 during the First World War. It was when the nation came together in answer to Britain's call for aid and we fought and died together on a massive scale. The ANZAC legend was born. src
It was not until 1942 however, shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbour (harbor), in the USA, when Australia found themselves in a fight much closer to home...Indeed a fight for the Australian mainland itself, which Japan desperately wanted to possess in support its war effort.
The Darwin bombings, and indeed the bombing-attacks in Broome and Exmouth in Western Australia and Townsville and Cairns in Queensland, brought the war home to Australian shores for the first time ever and were a momentous event in the nations history. Even Sydney Harbour and Newcastle in New South Wales suffered attacks by Japanese midget submarines. With our fighting men serving in theatres around the globe in support of the Allies' war effort Australia was vulnerable and Japan new it.
Back to Darwin...
On Thursday February 19th 1942, ten weeks after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese dropped more tonnage of bombs upon Darwin than they had in the Pearl Harbor attacks...And they kept coming back for almost two years.
It has been a part of Australian history previously covered up by the government of the day, headed by Prime Minister John Curtin; Heavily censored at the time to avoid panic amongst the Australian public and to ensure intelligence didn't make it back to the Japanese. But over the years and decades the stories have emerged and it's some of those I'll share in my short series.
Within one hour of the Pear Harbor attack Australia had become a target with Japan's Admiral Yamomoto radioing through Top Secret order No. 92 to the Japanese fleet to launch a surprise attack on the Australian port of Darwin which they required for their warships and invasion of Australis itself. With Japan's Sensulikan-class submarines active in the area the addition of the carrier-fleet boded ill for Darwin.
On the 18th February, the day before the attack and three days after Singapore fell to the Japanese, the fleet arrived in the Arufura sea only 300km off the shore. Akagi, Soryu, Kaga and Hiryu were the four Japanese aircraft carriers that steamed towards Australia together with a heavy cruiser riding shotgun, one for each of the carriers plus nine destroyers. There were also 3,500 Japanese troops set to make the initial ground invasion on Darwin after the bombing.
Just as an aside...The fall of Singapore happened after the Japanese invaded down the Malayan Peninsular and on 18th February as the fleet steamed towards Darwin my (future) dad was a boy living in Malacca, British Malaya...Now brutally occupied by the Japanese. I have written about this previously. Posts you can read here: Part one || Part two || Part three All written as stories, as told to me by my dad.
Back to Darwin...
Part cowboy town with cattlemen and swinging saloon doors, part tropical port and part Aussie bush town Darwin was a multicultural town brimming with people working the ports, the cattle-trade, pearling and in supporting usual businesses most towns have. It was (and is) an important port being the northern-most port in Australia and a direct link to the rest of the world.
February 19th, the day of the first bombings, dawned like any other and as the town awoke, and the temperature climbed quickly in true tropical-north style, the townsfolk went about their business oblivious to the looming threat. In only hours there would be more dead and dying in the streets and on sinking warships than at any other time before (or since) on Australian soil...But they didn't know that yet and so life went on...Beers with cobbers at the pub, walking the dog, nurses and doctors performing rounds in the local hospital, walking with the family on Cavenagh Street enjoying the rare break in the wet-season cloud. It was a beautiful day...It was also a good day to fly...
I haven't really thought about how I'll present the information, or stories, but I'll attempt to make it interesting and informative. I understand that many are not all that interested in this sort of thing, or history in general, however I hope some take the time to have a read and learn about this small slice of Australian history.
It was a series of events that changed Australia forever and turned Darwin into a major military installation with some 40,000 military personnel on the ground at all times including some 3,000 United States Marines...That's now, so you can see how seriously those attacks in 1942-1944 were taken. (I have a suspicion, that the current force and operational capability in Darwin in grossly understated but the above is what's reported to be the numbers.)
If Australia's identity was forged in the trenches of Gallipoli, the Western Front and in the deserts of Africa during World War One it was during the maelstrom of Japanese bombings and in other actions of World War Two in which it was battered and hammered into the proud legacy we have today.
I hope you join me for part one soon.
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This has been researched personally in Darwin, via the Australian War Memorial and through books by Peter Grose, Garry Gallagher and Douglas Lockwood.