‘Australia’s Pearl Harbour’ – the bombing of Darwin

The destroyer USS Peary on fire. At about 1045, Peary was attacked by Japanese dive bombers, and was struck by five bombs. The first bomb exploded on the fantail, the second, an incendiary, on the galley deck house; the third did not explode; the fourth hit forward and set off the forward ammunition magazines; the fifth, another incendiary, exploded in the after engine room. A .30 caliber machine gun on the after deck house and a .50 caliber machine gun on the galley deck house fired until the last enemy plane flew away. Peary suffered 88 men killed and 13 wounded; she sank stern first at about 1300 on 19 February 1942.

The 19th February 1942 saw the first and most deadly bombing attack on the Australian mainland during the whole of the war. Japanese planes attacked the largely undefended northern city of Darwin and hit it with more bombs than at Pearl Harbour itself. The main targets were the ships in the harbour but the town was also hit in a second wave and at least 243 people died in total.

The shock to Australia was far greater than the military significance of the raid, which was not a prelude to invasion as some thought. Subsequent official secrecy surrounding the raid, mainly designed to cover up the poor level of defences, only caused more controversy and rumours about much larger casualties.

Private William Busby was one of those who saw the raid and was very honest about his reactions in a letter home:

When the raid started we were out on a working party, we saw a lot of planes and before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’ we had disappeared and stayed hidden until all was over.

What with A.A guns firing, bombs dropping and planes roaring all over the sky, the noise was like fifty trains blowing off steam and blowing their whistles all at once.

After all the noise had gone and everything was quiet it was great fun talking about how we felt while the raid was on. Well, I for one had the wind up properly, but after it was over I was fine again but while it was on I hugged the ground pretty close.

Read the whole letter at Helen Smith’s blog

Ozatwar has a comprehensive account. More images at Flickr. See also Bombing of Darwin: 70 years on

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Len Falkiner February 21, 2012 at 1:22 pm

I am currently reading “AUSTRALIA UNDER ATTACK The Bombing of Darwin – 1942″ by Douglas Lockwood. Very interesting to learn about as I didn’t know Australia had come under enemy attack.

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