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80 Years Ago Today… the Japanese Bombing of Darwin

On 19th of February , just 73 days after the attack on Pearl Harbour (8th December 1941 Australian time) the Australian city of was bombed by the Japanese. The attack was led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who had also led the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbour, and was designed to neutralise Darwin in preparation for the Japanese invasion of the island of Timor to the north.

188 aircraft from the four aircraft carriers involved in the attack on Pearl Harbour attacked the city and port of Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory, Australia, at 9:58 am. The attack lasted around 40 minutes during which eight ships of the forty-seven in the harbour were sunk, eleven damaged and one beached. Included in the ships sunk was the destroyer USS Peary, whose crew manned the guns as she sank. 53 of the 144 crew survived. Also sunk were the ammunition ship Neptuna, with 45 lives lost and the tanker British Motorist. The hospital ship HMAS Manunda was damaged with 12 killed. Darwin itself was also hit, with many public buildings damaged.

A second raid lasting 25 minutes began an hour later. This high-altitude bombing raid was carried out by 54 land-based bombers and targeted the RAAF aerodrome.

Ten USAAF P-40 Kittyhawks of the 33rd Pursuit Squadron were based in Darwin and nine were destroyed in the raids, four in the air, four shot down attempting to take off and the last destroyed on the ground. An additional twenty aircraft of various types were destroyed on the ground.

These two raids killed at least 243 people and wounded between 300 and 400 people.

Japanese losses amounted to two D3A Val dive bombers and two A6M Zero fighters. One of the Zeros from the Hiryui (BII-124) crash-landed on Melville Island north of Darwin and the pilot, Sergeant Hajime Toyoshima, was captured by a local Tiwi man Matthias Ulungura, making him the first Japanese POW of the war. Toyoshima later died in the Japanese POW breakout at Cowra on the 5th of August 1944.

These two raids were the first of 64 attacks on Darwin up to the 12th of November 1943. In all, the Japanese attacked the north of Australia and islands in the Timor Sea over 200 times, ranging from Port Headland in Western Australia to Townsville in Queensland.

The attached photos show Japanese aircraft overhead of Darwin, the USS Peary and the crashed Zero, BII-124.

5 additional images. Click to enlarge.


5 responses

  1. Robert Oestreicher on his "Miss Nadine" P-40 landed safety with minor damages. He reported two kills, but these were questioned afterwards.

  2. Thanks for this great info, Michael!

  3. Gripping story Michael. I did not realise how many raids were done on Darwin by the belligerent Japanese empire.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Michael @michaelt

  5. Thank you Michael for the wonderfully written article.
    The first foreign attack on Australian soil was truely a disastrous day for Australia and the loss of Australian inocence.

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