Air Raid Darwin, This is No Drill — Plus 75 Years

Seventy five years ago today, on Feb 19, 1942, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia had been turned from a backwater port supporting a railway distribution system for cattle and other agricultural products into the forward staging air and sea facility for the Allied Defense of Java against the Imperial Japanese Military juggernaut that was over running the Philippines and South East Asia.  And in this role, Darwin became “Australia’s Pearl Harbor” as four carriers of the IJN 1st Air Fleet — the dreaded  Kidō Butai — arrived. They delivered a raid of 188 strike planes  comprised of 36 A6M Zero fighters, 71 D3A “Val” dive bombers, and 81 B5N “Kate” torpedo bombers that arrived at around 10:00am.  This raid was followed later around noon the same day by 54 high altitude, land based, twin engine bombers (27 Mitsubishi G3M medium bombers and 27 Mitsubishi G4M medium bombers) that gutted the RAAF Darwin airfield.

The strike on the port of Darwin sank 11 vessels — including the US Navy’s only seaplane tender in the South Pacific — saw another 3 vessels grounded and left an additional 25 ships damaged.

RAAF Darwin was the forward staging base for the “BRERETON ROUTE“, a pre-WW2 air ferry route through Australia to the Philippines named after General Lewis Hyde Brereton that avoided Imperial Japanese territorial possessions.  The route was being used at this time predominantly to support the movement of P-40 fighters, B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers plus A-24 dive bombers (USN SBD’s in USAAF service) to Java.   As such, the field was filled with planes.  Of the RAAF aircraft present, six Hudson light patrol bombers were destroyed and another Hudson and a Wirraway (a trainer re-roled as a fighter for the lack of anything else) were badly damaged. Two American P-40s and a B-24 Liberator bomber staged for Brereton Route the were also destroyed.

These strikes doomed the defense of Java logistically and were the beginnings of a series of 53 strikes on Australia lasting two years.

Below are a series of links commemorating the battle —

It has been 75 years since the bombing of Darwin

Bombing of Darwin 75th anniversary: Darwin’s underground shelters | NT NewsSTILL hidden within the hilly terrain and dense bushland are a network of bomb storage shelters that reveal a desperate cat-and-mouse tale of hide and seek from Japanese bombers.

Bombing of Darwin 75th anniversary: attacks inspired Territory resilience | NT NewsTHE resilient Territory spirit was born the day Darwin was bombed Lord Mayor Katrina Fong Lim told the 75th anniversary marking the event.

Bombing of Darwin 75th anniversary: Veteran Peter Hackett recalls Top End experience | NT News

ON Christmas morning, 1941, Peter Hackett slipped into a coma as the Ghan pulled into Oodnadatta.

World War II attacks outside of Darwin need more recognition, historians say – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)While Darwin bore the brunt of World War II attacks in northern Australia, historians are calling for more recognition for places outside of Darwin that were bombed by the Japanese.

75 years since the Japanese attack on Darwin – Sunday Morning – ABC Radio Does commemorating events like the attack on Darwin or the fall of Singapore show how little remembering does to change who we are and what we are capable of?

Darwin bombing: 75 year commemorationONE of the last surviving World War II veterans to witness the Darwin bombings says the diggers involved never got the recognition they deserved. Tasmanian Brian Winspear can still picture the sun glinting off the bombs like confetti as hell rained down on the city 75 years ago.

75 years on, Darwin bombing remembered | Photos, video | Illawarra Mercury The first wave attacked the CBD and harbour infrastructure. The second wave came for the RAAF base.

As it happened: Japanese bombers attack Darwin The bombing of Darwin 75 years ago was the single largest attack ever mounted by a foreign power against Australia. WWII had come to the Australian mainland.

Bombing of Darwin commemorations mark 75th anniversary since Japanese attacks – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Survivors and veterans of the bombing of Darwin 75 years ago have been honoured for their role in preserving freedom and rebuilding peace.

‘They’ll be over tonight‘: veteran recalls Darwin terror raids – Seventy five years to the day after Japanese bombs devastated Darwin, Warren Stickley vividly remembers the night he shone a spotlight on an enemy bomber so fellow soldiers could blast it out of the sky.


9 thoughts on “Air Raid Darwin, This is No Drill — Plus 75 Years”

  1. “Northern Territory”.

    By the way, there’s a yarn – true or not I don’t know – that part of the logic for the siting of the Aussie capital, Canberra, was that it should be beyond the range of naval shelling.

  2. There was some talk a couple of weeks ago that Australia was “America’s most loyal ally” and therefore should be free to mock and criticize Trump.

    If anyone wants to know why it is an ally, this story is a hint,

    Obama has taken our military down to the point that we could do little if China tried to do a 1942 style raid.

  3. >>If anyone wants to know why it is an ally, this story is a hint,

    Mike K

    I’ve always seen it as Aussie desperation at British abandonment.

  4. Trent,

    An excellent and enlightening post, as usual.*

    I’m going to check out the various links.

    In the meantime, more, and quite detailed, information about the Japanese raids on Darwin, let alone Australia’s role in the Second World War (Pacific Theater, that is), can be found at Peter Dunn’s website (…appropriately enough…) “Australia @ War”, at

    Peter has a section on Japanese raids on Australia, at

    There’s also a section on Japanese reconnaissance flights over Australia, at


    * My favorites? “Revisiting the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative”, and, “Hiroshima, Nagasaki & The Invasion That Never Was (+70)”, the latter especially because my late Father – an engineer in the 25th Infantry Division – would have been in the first assault wave on Kyushu.

  5. “The Invasion That Never Was”: my father was training for that too. He was delighted not to have to participate.

  6. >>In the meantime, more, and quite detailed, information about the Japanese raids on Darwin, let alone Australia’s role in the Second World War (Pacific Theater, that is), can be found at Peter Dunn’s website (…appropriately enough…) “Australia @ War”, at

    I have a copy of Peter Dunn’s 5000(+) page web site via a thumb drive he sells.

  7. The raid on darwin is a warning to all about defence preparations.
    For reasons that are still not clear Australia had no defence program before 1939. To Australia’s surprise the 100 day offensive was apocalyptic and there appeared to be no resources or personnel to prevent Japanese success. The command structures went into a denial of reality. In fact what seems to occur is often seen in major disasters when people especially those in command positions deny that anything is happening. When reports were received about an approaching attack they were discounted. When Darwin was bombed, command structures collapsed: a pall-mall withdrawal south ensued; the confusion was such that some personnel did not stop until they reported to barracks thousands of miles away in Melbourne. Even worse the civilian administrator in Darwin instead of managing the recovery of the town ordered staff to recovery his belongings from the residence and fled to Alice springs leaving wounded to die in the ruins of the residence.

    Luckily the Japanese navy wished to prevent any reinforcements getting to belingered allied troops in SE Asia and not invade. The naval force proceeded to perform a similar feat upon the British bases in Celyon. Where again disaster denial resulted in less than perfect defence. So the Japanese Navy prevented any relief of Allied forces in the region.

    The idea that troops would have been available to defend Darwin if they had not been sent to Nth Africa is another myth. the Australian troops were raised for that expedition from the civilian population. Australia had no effective infantry force to deploy.

    The primary mistake was the belief Australia could get bye without a modern operational defence force. That it had the diplomatic networks to ensure others would provide miltary solutions. They was also a belief that our enemies would only marshal forces about the size of our own, and follow our assumptions of how war should be conducted.
    If we don’t learn from our mistakes we will repeat them.
    wayne corker

  8. Trent, I really enjoy reading your PTO posts. I would love to see
    one on the whole US strategy – e.g. how the duel SW and Central
    Pacific offensives were decided on, and your opinion on the best
    strategy in the PTO.

    So if you are at all interested, I would love to see your thoughts.

    That is, unless you have already done that – I think I have read
    all your PTO posts, but might have missed one.

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