Falling bombs and the rise of a nation: The props turn

in OCD2 months ago

A little while ago I announced a series I would do about the bombing of Darwin, Australia. I've done three posts so far and it's time for part four. You can find the other three by following the links part one, part two and part three here.

Darwin, Australia - Early hours 19th February 1942
The pilot flashed the navigation lights of his scout plane, noted the corresponding flashing torchlight from the ground, performed a lazy circle of the harbour noting the position of the warships below, and headed back out to sea. The spy on the ground has done his job.

Down below, aboard the troopship Zealandia, Third Officer Charles Stewart stood anchor-watch. He noted the Japanese reconnaissance plane, the obvious communication with someone on the ground and decided to log it but not disturb the Captain until morning.

Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi
The mechanical crews had been running-up the engines since 0500, arming and positioning the attack planes on deck for takeoff. Now, a few hours later, Flight Commander Fuchida (as mentioned in part two) inspected his plane, tail code 301, noting his 500 pound bomb complete with fuse were in place.

Satisfied, he headed over to Lt. Commander Itaya, the leader of the 36 Zero fighters that would escort the bombers, and received the message they were prepared.

Fuchida already knew the dive bombers were ready to launch from aboard the carrier Soryu and so with a last glance at the weather report over Darwin, scattered cloud but good visibility, he moved back towards his command-bomber even as the loud speakers boomed "All HANDS TO LAUNCHING STATIONS!" src

The Zeros launched first heading upwards to patrol the 360 degrees of sky around the carrier group to protect the high-level bombers as they launched. It took 20 minutes to get all of the bombers airborne and for them to form up into their flight-formation, all done silently as a strict radio-silence-protocol was being maintained by the Japanese.

The time was 0845 and as Fuchida brought the attack-force to a bearing of 148 degrees he knew he would be over his target in just over one hour: Darwin, Australia.

Tiwi Islands mission
Father John McGrath and a local man spot the flight of Japanese planes at high altitude and they rushed to call it in.

"Eight SE to VID. Big flight planes overhead. Going south. Very high. Over."

"Eight SE from VID. Message received. Stand by." Lou Curnock, the VID duty officer replied. It was 0935.

History would note that Lou's log showed an entry at 0937 reading simply: Phoned R.A.A.F Operations 0937. (R.A.A.F stands for Royal Australian Air Force).

Protocol for Lou at Operations was to pass the message to Area Combined Headquarters, then the Navy, the Army and finally the air-raid-siren wardens.

But there were no sirens on this day.

Casuarina beach, 19th machine-gun battery

Radio exchange - Sergeant Bill McDonald to Captain Brown, 23rd Brigade HQ:

"Sir, there is a large formation of Japanese planes crossing the coastline right above my head."

"Mac, I'm busy, how do you know they're Japanese?" Captain Brown replied a little testily.

"Because they've got BLOODY GREAT RED SPOTS ON 'EM SIR!"

20 miles inland over the Mary River
After crossing the coast above the 19th machine-gun battery and flying 20 miles inland Fuchida's attack group performed a 180 degree turn to approach Darwin from the South-East, with the sun behind them - A classic back-door attack.

One of Japan's tactics of the day was to use a much larger force than was required to perform the task. It reduced the margin for error, boosted morale amongst the pilots and crews and struck fear into the enemy...The attack force approached confident that their attack would be a surprise and a success.

They were right.

Ten American P40 Kittyhawk fighters on escort duty
They took off from Darwin around 0915 to escort a convoy of ships to Timor. Due to very low cloud the escort was called off and the flight turned for Darwin, splitting into two flights on the way back, A and B flights one at high altitude and one at low.

At 0937, the same time Fuchida's attack force was flying inland, nine Zeros, fresh from downing a hapless Catalina flying boat, came across the P40's and attacked from above.

Lt. Robert Oestreicher was in command of the flight of P40's:

"I was able to get a small burst into one Zero who rolled in his climb and shot me. I spun out, regained control at 4,000 feet and climbed again to 12,000. That was when I encountered another eight enemy planes at 20,000 feet circling like hawks. I then called over the radio for the others to head for the clouds five miles south of Darwin which were at an altitude of 2,500 feet but no one responded."

Oestreicher was alone in the air, except for the Zeros which were in an attack frenzy. The rest of B-flight was dead or ditched into the ocean after a brutal dogfight that only took minutes.

Jack Peres, the first pilot to be killed in combat over Australia, crashed at Gunn Point. His plane was found many years later and the tail section showing his tail number 189 now sits in the Darwin Aviation Museum.

That was the first dogfight above Darwin, one in which the enemy reigned supreme. I have purposely shortened it as I may cover it a bit later but wanted to mention Lt. Robert Oestreicher and his P40 Kittyhawk called Miss Nadine. I may expand upon the dogfight and this pilot later on.

All the players were in place now, the Japanese attack force was preparing it's bombing run and the people of Darwin, unsuspecting of the attack, went about their day...

...Remember Duty Officer Lou Curnock at VID station? He received the radio communication from the Tiwi Islands...He was still at VID station receiving messages and he now logged the time as 0958. It was almost 10am and the bombing of Darwin was about to begin.

The day was 19th February 1942, the day Australia would be bombed for the first time.


Tomorrow isn't promised - Design and create your ideal life, don't live it by default
An original post written by a human
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Wow lot's going on at the time, so sad these wars.

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Darwin was a major harbour for the allies at the time and a major staging point. There were many shops, aircraft and men there, who hbis why the Japanese ended up dropping more bombs in the initial attack than they did ten weeks earlier at Perak Harbour.

There was lots going on for sure...I haven't even scratched the surface, just wanted to give the impression that it was chaotic, and they there were blokes like me and you involved. Every day people. That's why I use people names.

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From my limited knowledge, the Japanese soldiers including the zero pilots were very fierce warriors.

They believed that the emperor was a god so they would fight to the death.

That is completely correct.

They had a strong Samurai-culture where to be dishonored was worth than death and so they performed selflessly.

The Army used to recruit from the town's keeping the young recruits in the same military units. It was brilliant as each one wouldn't dare do something dishonourable knowing it would get back home and forever shame the family.

They were fierce, loyal and very brave indeed.

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Wow, I didn’t know that about the family’s

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Brilliant strategy. Of course, the training was incredibly brutal including barbaric bashings. Add in the fact they saw the Emperor as god-like and it wasn't conceivable that one would disobey an order from him and, you got some mighty tough competition on your hands if you happen to be the enemy...The Aussies, Brits and Yanks were to find out first hand.

Not sure if this is true, but you may know.

The Americans took some high ranking Japanese leaders and showed them a test detention of a nuclear bomb in the Nevada desert and told them if they did not surrender that America would use this weapon on them.

The Japanese believed the emperor that they would be victorious and ignored the display.

Hmm, not sure about that to be honest but quite possibly. They were talking peace right up to the Pearl Harbour attack (the Japanese) and had a reasonable relationship with the yanks. It's possible.

What I do know is what the Empower said, the people believed 100%. It's an interesting thing really. After the war of course that all changed.

Funny to think that most Japanese now know absolutely nothing about it. (One of my sister in-laws is full Japanese and she doesn't know anything about the war.)

That makes sense about your sister in law.

Have you spoken to Chinese people about how the feel about the Japanese, very eye opening.

The Japanese have not really apologized for their atrocities, unlike Germany who have bent over backwards to apologize and make thing better for what happened.

Again this is only what I have been told, I can’t say any of this is factual.

Chinese and Japanese generally hate each other, yes.



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It's been driving me crazy ever since I read the first one in this series: there's an archival site a group of Steemians created in 2017- maybe you know of it already.- your series would be a stellar addition.

Sigh. I used to have a pretty awesome working brain until some 18 wheelers decided it would suffice in an impromptu game of ping-pong ;) I just might have to go looking thru my archives...

There's also a world map from another group.

Much appreciation for all your diligent work in providing this for us, I know it's not a small task! I wish my vote were higher!

I have heard there's places on steem where I could place my work...I mainly write for my own enjoyment though and so I don't pursue them.

I'd love to see some of your work, so feel free to tag me if you do something you think I would like! Oh, and don't worry about your vote, your engagement is what means more to me. Much appreciated.

Howdy sir galenkp! love these war stories. So no word got to Darwin at all about the planes coming?

Nope, they found out the same way as Pearl Harbour did, when the bombs started falling.

It's sounds similar to Pearl Harbor where people saw the planes coming but they didn't think it was an attack. Just incredible.

Yes. It was the same Japanese carrier group who attacked Darwin as Pearl too. The same gutly lead both attacks as in my post here. (Fuchida.)

Right. Great information. It's been so many years, actually decades, since I've studied WWII that I've forgotten lots of major details.

Yes, that happens I guess. I think I've forgotten things along the way, but that's ok as I get to re-learn it all over at some other time.