Australia Under Attack – Japan Bombs
Japan's air raid on Darwin in the Northern Territory on 19 February 1942 was the first of almost 100 such raids across the top of Australia. Australians were no longer simply defending the Empire. They were defending their home.
After Japan’s devastating attack on the American Fleet at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 Australia awakened to the possibility that the war, which till then had predominately been fought in the northern hemisphere, could potentially reach the Australian mainland. When Singapore fell on 15 February 1942 they knew it was a just a matter of when.
Even before Singapore fell Prime Minister John Curtin was considering the dangers of an overreliance on Britain to defend Australia and its immediate region from possible attack. Britain had not committed anywhere near the naval or air power it had promised for Singapore. In reality Singapore was Britain’s “Gibraltar of the Orient” in name only. Curtin had begun talks with the Americans.
Intelligence from the Australian Imperial Force (2nd) as early as 3 February suggested Imperial Japanese Navy carriers could be preparing to operate within range of the North East Coast of Australia. The report urged that Anti-Aircraft batteries be readied and concentrations of stores and equipment, at ports and elsewhere, should be avoided. It recommended defences be examined and if necessary, completed.
But it was not the north east coast that was the target. Just days after Singapore fell, at around 10am on 19 February, the skies over Darwin in the Northern Territory filled with Japanese fighter planes and bombers – in greater numbers than had descended on Pearl Harbor some 10 weeks earlier. The war had reached Australia. A second wave attacked just before midday. By day’s end 235 people had been killed and hundreds wounded. The Japanese destroyed 30 aircraft, either on the ground or in the air. Eleven ships were sunk. Military and civilian facilities in and around Darwin lay in ruins. This was the first of many raids on Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.
Darwin’s strategic importance as a supply and staging base for Allied troops saw it take the brunt of the air raids. Of the 97 separate attacks between February 1942 and 12 November 1943, 67 were on Darwin.
Japan’s air raids on mainland Australia cost some 900 lives, both military and civilian.
The Australia at War (1942) commemorative series of pennies and limited edition medallions remembers both the devestating air attacts and also the sea campaign launched by Japanese submarines against land and sea targets soon after the first air raids. Australia at War will be available online in mid March 2017.
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