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