TWO JAPANESE AIR RAIDS
AT DARWIN, NT
ON 19 FEBRUARY 1942

 

THE LEAD UP TO THE RAIDS

Although the Australian mainland was not invaded it was, of course, attacked by air and sea forces. By far the heaviest attack was the air raids on Darwin on 19 February 1942. Various estimates regarding the loss of life in this devastating series of attacks on 19 February 1942 have been put forward but these days, the "official" number seems to be 243 killed and about 350 injured or missing. The Brisbane Courier Mail" of the 20 February 1942 reported the large Japanese attack on Darwin and reported that "Damage to property was considerable. There were some casualties. Details not yet available"

As part of the leadup to this attack the Japanese carried out some reconnaissance flights. On 10 February 1942 a Japanese Mitsubishi C5M reconnaissance aircraft of the 3rd Kokutai which was based at Ambon flew over Darwin. They spotted 27 ships in the harbour and approximately 30 aircraft at the Darwin Civil and RAAF airfields.

There was a lot of confusion regarding the number of Japanese aircraft involved in these raids. The Brisbane Courier Mail reported the two raids on Darwin stating that 93 bombers were involved in the first raid. It indicated that four Japanese bombers were shot down. It also made mention that a Japanese "spy plane" had flown over Darwin the previous week. This would have been the Japanese reconnaissance flight on 10 February 1942.

NOTE:-   The book "Protect & Revenge" indicates that 54 Mitsubishi G4M heavy bombers had flown from their bases at Ambon and Kendari to bomb Darwin on 19 February 1942. In addition there were 18 dive bombers and 36 escorting Zeros from Japanese aircraft carriers. Perhaps this referring to the second raid that day.

Ten Kittyhawks (Warhawks) of the 33rd Pursuit Squadron (Provisional), led by Major Floyd Pell, had originally been on their way to Perth to be partially disassembled and placed on ships for Java. When they reached Port Pirie, they were diverted to Darwin for escort duty with the USS Houston convoy to Timor and then ferry to Koepang in Java. One of the aircraft crashed at Port Pirie killing the pilot and 4 more had become unserviceable

When they arrived in Darwin on 15 February 1942 they had found that the USS Houston convoy had already departed. On arrival Major Pell met up with Lt. Robert G. Oestreicher of the 3rd Pursuit Squadron and his P-40E which then gave Pell command of 11 aircraft. Oestreicher and Lt. Robert J. Buel had been left behind with their 2 unserviceable aircraft when the rest of the 3rd Pursuit Squadron left for Java on 10 February 1942.

On 15 February 1942, The USS Houston broke radio silence to advise that the convoy was being followed by a Japanese Kawanishi H6K "Mavis" flying boat of the 21st Air Flotilla based at Ceram. It followed the convoy for about 3 hours before it eventually dropped a number of 60 kg bombs from 3,000 metres. Lt. Buel and Lt. Oestreicher were both on patrol at the time, but only Lt. Buel could be contacted by radio. He was ordered to intercept the Japanese flying boat. Buel attacked the Flying Boat from the rear but was shot down by the rear gunner in the flying boat. Buel's smoking aircraft crashed into the sea. Buel however was also successful in hitting the Japanese flying Boat. It crashed into the sea.

After this incident, Major Pell led one of two patrols of 3 Kitthyhawks later that same afternoon, to give aerial cover for the Houston convoy. A flight of Japanese bombers attacked the Houston convoy on the 16 February 1942. The convoy threw up a firece anti-aircraft barrage which drove off the Japanese bombers. The ABDA Command ordered the convoy back to Darwin. They arrived back in Darwin harbour on the evening of the 18 February, the day before the major Japanese bombing raid on Darwin.

USS Houston and USS Peary both refuelled and left immediately bound for Tjilatjap. USS Peary was involved in an encounter with a possible Japanese submarine and after burning up a lot of fuel it returned to Darwin on 19 February 1942.

 

THE FIRST RAID

Japanese Vice-Admiral Chu'ichi Nagumo ordered a weather reconnaissance aircraft to fly over Darwin. It arrived over Darwin at about 7.30am. As its radio was unserviceable, Nagumo received no intelligence information back from the aircraft.

Nagumo ordered the attack on Darwin. The day turned out to be a fine day (weatherwise). There were about 46 ships packed into Darwin Harbour of that fateful day.

By the early hours of the 19 February 1942 the Japanese naval force was located about 350 kms north west of Darwin. The Japanese aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu were arming their aircraft and warming up their engines. 

By 8:45am the force of 188 aircraft led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida had been launched. It comprised:-

36    A6M2 Type "O" fighter aircraft
71    D3A "Val" dive bombers
81    B5N "Kate" high level bombers

A US Navy Catalina of the Patrol Wing 22 was unfortunate to be the first victim of the large Japanese force. It was attacked by nine Japanese "O" Type fighters near the northern tip of Bathurst Island. The pilot, Lt. Thomas Moorer was forced to crash land the Catalina into the sea. The crew, including 4 wounded men, were then rescued by the merchant ship "Florence D".

Some early warning of the Japanese raid was given by two sources but they were lost in the system and not acted on before the attack began. Lt. John Gribble (Navy Reserve) transmitted his sighting to the Naval Communications Station at HMAS Coonawarra at about 9:15 am. Father John McGrath at the Bathurst Island Mission radioed his sighting to the Area Combined Headquarters (ACH) at Darwin a few minutes later. While he was sending his message six Japanese fighters strafed the area where he was damaging some buildings and destroying a Douglas C-53 aircraft of the 22nd Transport Squadron

Mc Grath's message was received at the Coastal Radio Station V.I.D. Darwin at 9:37am and passed to the Area Combined Headquarters at the Darwin RAAF airfield. The message did not get through to the appropriate commanding officer, ensuring that the Japanese attack was a complete surprise as was the case with Pearl Harbor.

Commander Fuchida's attack force crossed the Northern Territory coast east of Darwin near Koolpinyah. They then turned to the north west and headed over the Noonamah area headed for Darwin. The surprise attack on Darwin began at 9:58am on 19 February 1942. 

 

THE DEFENCE BY THE US KITTYHAWKS

Ten aircraft of the 33 Pursuit Squadron (Provisonal) led by Major Pell's and had tried to follow the lead B-17 to Timor at 9.15am that morning but had to turn back due to fog. One unserviceable aircraft had been left behind in Darwin. On their return to Darwin, Pell and four others headed for the Darwin RAAF airfield to refuel while five others were kept in the air on patrol duties.

Lt. Oestreicher was the first pilot to spot the attacking Japanese force. Lt. Jack Peres was immediately shot down near Gunn Point, east of Darwin. Personnel from the 2/14th Australian Field Regiment witnessed this crash and took some time to convince their commanders that its had been shot down by a Japanese aircraft.

Lt. Elton S. Perry was also killed when his Kittyhawk was shot down. After being badly wounded in the left shoulder Lt. William R. Walker landed his aircraft at the Darwin RAAF airfield only to then see it strafed and burn to the ground on the runway.

 

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Lieutenant Walker's P40E Kittyhawk after the air raid on 19 February 1942

 

Major Pell attempted to take off from the Darwin RAAF airfield but his aircraft was hit by a strafing Japanese fighter aircraft and  was killed when he then parachuted out of the aircraft at about 24 metres. The fourth pilot killed was Lt. Charles Hughes whose aircraft was hit by gunfire as it raced down the runway to takeoff.

 

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Remains of a P-40 Kittyhawk of 33 Pursuit Squadron
after the bombing raid at Darwin on 19 February 1942

 

Lt. Robert McMahon took off and was immediately attacked by a Japanese aircraft. He bailed out of his P-40 over Darwin Harbour and was rescued by some US Navy personnel from Patwing 10 who had just evacuated their strafed and now burning Catalinas.

Lt. Burt H. Rice took off and also parachuted from his damaged Kittyhawk over Darwin Harbour and spent the night in mangroves. He was rescued the next day.

Lt. Bert Glover took off and his aircraft entered a flat spin and crashed on the Darwin RAAF airfield. Glover received minor injuries and watched as his aircraft was destroyed by strafing Japanese aircraft.

Nine Kittyhawks (Warhawks) were destroyed and four pilots, Major Pell, Jack Peres, Lt. Charles Hughes and Lt. Elton S. Perry were killed by strafing Japanese aircraft. Only the aircraft of Lieutenant Bob Oestricher survived the raid. Eleven RAAF aircraft were also destroyed.

 

ANTI-AIRCRAFT BATTERIES AND SEARCHLIGHT STATIONS DEFEND DARWIN

The Japanese were targeted by a number of anti-aircraft batteries as follows:-

2nd Anti-aircraft Battery
14th Anti-aircraft Battery

There were A-A Batteries at Darwin Oval, Fannie Bay, and other strategic locations around the town. After the high level bombers had completed their mission, the dive-bombers and fighter aircraft took over. 

The 14th Anti-aircraft Battery put their guns onto independent control. One of the guns manned by Jack Mulholland was assigned a 90 degree field of fire over Darwin Harbour. The dive-bombers were attacking the larger ships and the fighter aircraft were strafing the smaller vessels. The 14th's guns was too slow to engage the Japanese aircraft at such short range. The only strategy they could adopt was to put up a shield of fire above the ships in the harbour. The shortest recommended fuse setting was 2 seconds. They selected 1.5 seconds as the fuse setting to reduce the range before the shell would explode. Eventually one of the shells exploded near the nose of one of the dive-bombers. The damaged Japanese dive-bomber side slipped into the harbour.

The 19th Light Horse Machine Regiment had machine guns located on the oil tanks near the harbour. HMAS Katoomba, which was located in the floating dock at the time of the attack, put up an intense barrage of anti-aircraft fire. 

Most of the Searchlight Stations in Darwin were machine-gunned during the first raid. Lance Corporal F. Terone (N103222) assisted by Sapper Dick Spedding at Ironstone Searchlight Station managed to shoot one Japanese fighter aircraft down with their machine gun. This was the first Japanese aircraft brought down by ground fire over Australian soil during WW2. Jack Mulholland told me that this searchlight battery would only have had one Lewis Gun.

 

US NAVY CATALINAS ATTACKED

Three Catalinas of the US Navy's Patwing 10 were destroyed in the harbour as follows:-

#4 (BUAERO Number: 1214, ex- 102-P-27, ex- 102-P-12, ex- 1-P-12)
#8 (BUAERO Number: 1233, ex- 101-P-8,  ex- 18-P-8)
#41 (ex- Y-41)

Darwin based scuba divers working for a Japanese gas company Inpex found the wreckage of one of the above US Navy Catalinas in the East Arm area in the last week of May 2008. It was the last of six US Navy Catalinas wrecks to be found in Darwin Harbour.  Inpex is surveying the seabed in Darwin Harbour for a proposed gas plant. Diver Sue Sultana was the first to see the Catalina wreckage, in some 18 metres of water. The Northern Territory government is now considering the site for heritage listing.

 

PARAP CIVIL AIRFIELD ATTACKED

The Civil Airfield at Parap was also bombed. A de Havilland Puss Moth VH-UPN owned by Roy Edwards was destroyed in the attack. RAAF Wirraway A20-232 was damaged by shrapnel. At one stage there was reported to be 10 Zero's strafing the Civilian airfield at Parap. The first bomb was a direct hit on 13 Squadron RAAF's hangar. 13 Squadron RAAF suffered damage to their Headquarters area, their stores and spares. They had not long returned to Darwin after being based at Laha and Namlea in Ceram.

The hangar for 12 Squadron RAAF also suffered a direct hit. It was accommodating a number of US aircraft at the time of the air raid.

A "Val" dive bomber crashed in the sea, north of East Point after it was hit by a cone of gunfire from the town's defences. The gunner in the "Val" was killed.

 

p920657.jpg (140112 bytes) Darwin Air Raids, Feb 1942. Wrecked Lockheed Hudson.

Charles Eaton Photographic Collection via Mitch Williamson

 

SHIPS ATTACKED IN DARWIN HARBOUR AND NEAR BATHURST ISLAND

There were some 46 ships in Darwin Harbour at the time of the attack. 21 of these ships were sunk or were badly damaged. Two others, the Don Isidro and the merchant ship "Florence D" were destroyed near Bathurst Island. The freighter Don Isidro was beached near Bathurst Island.

The wreck of the "Florence D" was located located in late 2008. This was first reported on 30 December 2008. It was located by fisherman Wayne Keeping and diver Jim Miles lying in 10 metres of murky water on its starboard side off Bathurst Island. The ship was apparently carrying 500,000 anti-aircraft rounds. The bow of the ship had been extensively damaged. Wayne Keeping, located the ship by accident in 2006 using his depth sounder. He attempted to dive on the wreck twice in the following two years but had to battle numerous jellyfish and very strong tides. Former chief minister Marshall Perron put diver Jim Miles in touch with Wayne Keeping and within a few weeks they had located and dived on the wreck.

SHIP KILLED WOUNDED DETAILS
SS Admiral Halstead - - Damaged
SS Barossa     Damaged and sunk
SS Benjamin Franklin - - Norwegian tanker, Damaged (see Note below)
SS British Motorist 2 -  
HMAS Deloraine - -  
Don Isidro 11 survivors died on beach of Bathurst Island - 73 rescued by HMAS Warnambool on 20 February 1942. During the rescue they were bombed by a Japanese float plane. HMAS Patricia Cam was involved in salvage work on the Don Isidro on Bathurst Island in May 1942.
Florence D 4 (3 ship's crew, 1 US Navy aircrew) - 2,600-tonne cargo vessel. 30 survivors made it to Bathurst Island in a lifeboat and camped on the beach for 3 days before they were rescued.
HMAS Gunbar - RAN Minesweeper 1 8 First ship to be attacked.
HMAS Kangaroo 1 - Norman R. Moore (cook) killed
HMAS Kara Kara 2 - Emms and PO. Moore died after the attack on the boom ship HMAS Kara Kara. Emms died from his wounds on Hospital Ship Manunda
HMAS Katoomba - -  
Kelat - ? Coal Hulk, sunk on 24 Feb 42 as a result of damage. HMAS Tambar attempted unsuccessfully to salvage Kelat in 1943.
HMAS Kirra - -  
Manunda - Hospital Ship 11 18 seriously wounded

40+ minor wounds

 
SS Mauna Loa 5 - Sunk
HMAS Mavie - -  
USAT Meigs     Sunk
MV Tulagi 2 - The Captain of the Tulagi pulled up anchor and moved across the other side of the harbour and avoided being hit. It was apparently beached at that location. 2 US soldiers were killed on MV Tulagi.
Neptuna 45 ?  
USS Peary 91 ?  
HMAS Platypus - - Damaged
SS Port Mar - US Transport 1 - Beached
HMAS Southern Cross - -  
HMAS Swan - RAN Sloop 19 Breen, Purdon, and Sault killed
HMAS Warrego - -  
HMAS Warnambool     Escaped damage and no casualties
USS William B. Preston 10 - Damaged
Zealandia 2 died from wounds -  
TOTAL 191 107  

NOTE:- Sometimes there is some confusion between the above mentioned S.S. Benjamin Franklin, a US Liberty ship launched on 16 November 1941 which was attacked in Darwin Harbour on 19 February 1942 and the M.V. Benjamin Franklin launched in 1926 which was sunk exactly one year earlier on 19 February 1941 in the North Atlantic.

 

OTHER CASUALTIES

The Post Office, the Telegraph Office, the Cable Office and the Postmaster's residence all suffered either a direct hit or blast and were a complete loss. All the staff of the Post Office and Telegraph Office were killed which included the Postmaster and his family.

 

War Correspondent Robert Sherrod, od Time magazine, in front
of the remains of the Darwin Post Office in June 1942

 

There were many injuries as a result of the raids and the Darwin Hospital and the Berrimah Australian General Hospital were both very busy treating the seriously injured.

The Police Barracks were hit and were a total loss, together with the Police Station. Constable McNab was one of the wounded. 

The "All Clear" was eventually sounded at about 10:40 am.

 

DARWIN WHARF

There were about 22 wharfies killed during the Japanese attack on the 19 February 1942. 

Colwell Burleigh Giles was one of the 22 wharfies killed on the 19 February. His brother, Toby Giles was working along side him when the attack started. They were loading a ship when the Japanese air raid started. Toby remembered that he and his brother were running back along the wharf when something happened and Toby ended up in the water. Toby lost his leg in this incident and no trace of his brother Colwell was ever found. It is assumed that a Japanese bomb landed right on top of their location. Colwell Giles' name is on a Memorial in Darwin.

 

THE JAPANESE CASUALTIES IN THE FIRST RAID

From a variety of sources I have found information that suggests that at least 4 Japanese aircraft were shot down in the first air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942.

- A "Val" dive bomber crashed in the sea, north of East Point after it was hit by a cone of gunfire from the town's defences. The gunner in the "Val" was killed. 

- An Imperial Japanese Navy A6M2 "Zero", was hit in the oil tank by a single .303" rifle bullet over Darwin Harbour and crashed on Melville Island

- Two D3A "Vals" were shot down by Lieutenant Bob Oestricher.

Harry Gordon's book "Voyage from Shame" indicates that only two Japanese aircraft were shot down in the first air raid on Darwin. So could there be some confusion about who shot down one of the Val's. Was it Darwin's anti-aircraft guns or Oestricher's P-40? 

 

Can anyone confirm how many Japanese aircraft were shot down
in the first and second air raids on Darwin on 19 February 1942?

 

Terry and Yoshiko Gusterson have a copy of a letter dated 30 April 1942, written by Japanese pilot Shoichi Ogawa, who was flying beside Wt. Off. Katsuyoshi Tsuru in his "Val" dive bomber during the first Japanese air raid on Darwin. Katsuyoshi Tsuru was Yoshiko Gusterson's grandfather.

Shoichi states in the letter that he was not allowed to write any details until the Government approved everything. The letter stated, that on the 19th February 1942, Tsuru and others left the aircraft carrier Kaga at 7am in the morning and headed towards Darwin. Their target was the West Point base in the first bombing raid. He reached there at about 8.30am and bombed a military shed (airplane hanger) north east of Darwin. His mission was a success and then on the way back to the ship, he was hit in the gasoline tank and the airplane caught on fire. He crashed into the water at 8.46am, 2000meters east of the military airport. Ogawa received a radio message that one  plane had blown itself up in the ocean. It appears that Tsuru could have ejected from his plane as he wasn’t injured at the time but it would be a disgrace to himself and his country to remain alive. They believed that they should die for their Emperor.

When Shoichi looked back he saw flames 40metres high from Tsuru's plane. Pilots reported that the plane was still burning when they were returning to the Kaga after the 2nd raid. The other crew member in Tsuru's "Val" was NAP 1/C Musashi Uchikado.

Shoichi Ogawa knew Katsuyoshi Tsuru since Hawaii - Pearl Harbor and he mentioned also a Bismarck plan.

Some research by Robert Piper indicated that there are 19 bodies in the POW Camp at Cowra in New South Wales, who were from the Darwin air raids and that Katsuyoshi Tsuru was one of those. It is believed that Katsuyoshi Tsuru was originally buried at Darwin and then transferred to Cowra. Terry Gusterson' told me on 9 September 2002 that his Japanese father-in-law is very excited about possibly finding and visiting his father's gravesite (if it still exists).

Terry and Yoshiko Gusterson visited Darwin with Yoshiko's father in about 1997 and attended the museum at West Point. 

 

THE SECOND AIR RAID

As Fuchida's force had approached Darwin, Japanese aircraft were already taking off for a second air raid on Darwin for the 19 February 1942. Twenty seven G4M1 "Betty" bombers of the Tokao Kokutai, 23rd Koku Sentai took off from Kandari in the Celebes, while another twenty seven G3M1 "Nell" aircraft took off from their new base at Ambon. Their target was the airfields in Darwin.

 

"Betty" bomber

 

HOW MANY WERE KILLED IN DARWIN ON 19 FEBRUARY 1942?

Modern history seems to record that there were 243 deaths in Darwin on the 19 February 1942 after two major air raids by Japanese aircraft. Anecdotal evidence would seem to suggest there were many more deaths than this. Many of the servicemen that were in Darwin that day believe that more than 243 were killed.

The Australian Government initially announced that 15 people had been killed and 24 wounded. It took many weeks before the public in the other main cities of Australia became aware that hundreds had actually died.

One soldier based in Darwin at the time of these major Japanese raids says the he saw barges of tangled bodies towed out to sea after the attacks. The Mayor of Darwin at the time said that about 900 people had been killed.

Rex Ruwoldt who had been based at Lee Point, received their news bulletin over the filed telephone from their field Headquarters a few days after the raid. It mentioned an estimate of 1100 deaths which had been based on estimates from Army Intelligence. Rex believes that a large number of those killed were part of the 2,000 or so itinerant works in Darwin at the time of the attacks. They would have been caught by surprise and would not have had access to slit trenches.

Darwin Historian Peter Forrest believe the death toll was somewhere between 400 to 500. At the time of the attacks, there would have been significant numbers of evacuees from Java and Ambon. How many of these people were killed? 

Adelaide Historian John Bradford believes the figure is about 250 killed. He had been told a story by one person that he had been a member of burial party that had buried 1,500 people on a Darwin beach. 

Ross Dack was a member of a burial team at Mindil Beach. He said that there were lots of bodies which were shoved in a large hole dug by a bulldozer. Nobody counted the bodies. They were all black, covered in oil. Ross believes that the bodies were later exhumed and relocated to Adelaide River War Cemetery.

Unfortunately there is no documentary evidence to support these memories from many years ago. If there were that many, who were they all? The Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour database shows only 18 deaths for Military personnel killed in Darwin on 19 February 1942. 

Directly after the bombing the bodies of the dead were buried as close as possible to where they were found. This could be many number of places including the many of the beaches around Darwin. They were exhumed as soon as possible and re-interred at the Berrimah War Cemetery and then at a much later date they were once again exhumed and re-interred at the Adelaide River War Cemetery.

 

LIST OF THOSE KILLED ON 19 FEBRUARY 1942

Killed on ships 187
33rd Pursuit Squadron pilots 4
Australian Army ?
148th F.A., US Army 3
RAAF - at RAAF airfield ?
Catalina aircrew (#2306) 1
Post Office 10?
Darwin Wharf 22?
Civilians killed  4?
TOTAL 229?

I need your assistance to build up the details for this list.
I would like to start a list of the names of all those killed
so that they will always be remembered.

 

Details of those killed in Darwin on 19 February 1942 

 

US Army Personnel Wounded at Darwin on 19 February 1942

 

 

COMMISSION OF INQUIRY

The raid, was Japan's biggest single air attack since the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. During the Darwin raid some of the defenders displayed great courage. Others did not, and many, including servicemen, fled south. The conduct of the Australians after the raid was so disturbing that the government appointed Mr. Justice Lowe of the Supreme Court of Victoria to conduct an inquiry. Our extracts from his report to Curtin deal with the raid itself, not the aftermath.

 

Document 224

Lowe to Curtin

27 March 1942

Report

FINDINGS OF COMMISSION OF INQUIRY

...
The first raid commenced just before 10 a.m. ... A number of high altitude bombers came in from the south-east of the town, flying in a 'V' formation and at a height which was variously estimated by witnesses but was probably not less than 15,000 feet. One formation consisted of 27 bombers. The bombing was that which is known as pattern bombing in which the individual machines drop their bombs at a signal from the Squadron Leader.

The first bombs fell over the harbour. Having completed their run this group of bombers after a circuit returned and dropped bombs again in pattern over the town. Much difference of opinion was expressed by witnesses as to the number of machines engaged in this attack. I am inclined to think that the view of Air Marshall Williams is correct and that the number of high altitude bombers did not much (if at all) exceed 27.

After the high altitude bombers there came a number of dive bombers escorted by fighters, and these attacked the shipping in the harbour. The number of dive bombers and fighters is uncertain, but I think it probable that Air Marshall Williams is correct in his view that the total number of high altitude dive bombers and fighters did not exceed 50. The cause of confusion lies I think in the impression conveyed to witnesses that the same squadron returning for another run was an added group of enemy planes. An attack was also made about the same time by enemy machines on the R.A.A.F. aerodrome and on the civil aerodrome, and by machine-gun fire on the hospital at Berrima some 9 miles from the town, and in each case a good deal of damage was done which I shall presently particularise. The "All-clear": was sounded about 10.40 a.m.

THE DAMAGE

(a) On Water: The attack upon the harbour caused great damage to installations and shipping.  ... Alongside the inner limb of the pier when the  raid started were berthed the "Neptuna" and the "Barossa". The "Neptuna" had among her cargo a quantity of explosives. She was set on fire by enemy bombs, as was also the "Barossa" on the opposite side of the pier. After the enemy planes had departed the "Neptuna" blew up and caused the destruction of a large section of the inner limb of the pier, and it is probable, too, that the "Barossa" was injured by this explosion.

...
    Other ships lost in addition to the "Neptuna" were the "Zealandia", the "Meigs", the "Maunaloa", the "
British Motorist" and the U.S.S. Destroyer "Peary". Ships damaged were the "Barossa", the "Port Mar" (U.S.) and the hospital ship "Manunda".  ...

(c) On Land: On land the Administrator's office was hit by an enemy bomb and is a total loss.   ...   The Police Barracks are a total loss, together with the Police Station and the Government Offices attached. The Post Office, the Telegraph Office, the Cable Office and the Postmaster's residence all suffered either by a direct hit or blast and are a complete loss. The Civil Hospital was much damaged.   ...  There was some damage done to two or three private residences which are probably also to be counted a complete loss.

A second raid occurred about 11.55 a.m. and lasted for about 20-25 minutes. This raid was upwards of 27 heavy bombers which flew at a great height and indulged in pattern bombing, more than 200 bombs being dropped according to one observer. These bombers were unescorted by fighters. This raid caused much damage to the surface of the RAAF Station and to the Hospital thereon. No attempt was made in the second raid to bomb the town or the port.

(d) The Aerodrome: I have not sought to discriminate between the damage done on the RAAF Station by these two raids. The hangars and repairs shops were destroyed, the hospital damaged, and damage was also done to the hutments. The losses in aircraft were as follow:-

Australian 6 Hudsons destroyed on the ground
1 Hudson in hangar badly damaged
1 Wirraway badly damaged
American 8 P.40's [Kittyhawks] destroyed in the air
2 P.40's destroyed on the ground
1 B.24 [Liberator] destroyed on the ground (sic - This was an LB-30A)
1 P.40 damaged in the air

LOSS OF LIFE

...  It is impossible to spea[k] with certainty of the number of people who lost their lives, but I am satisfied that the number is approximately 250, and I doubt whether any further investigation will result in ascertaining a more precise figure ....

ACCURACY OF BOMBING

All the evidence given before me concurred in the view that the bombing of the Japanese, especially the dive bombing, was extremely accurate. The high level bombing did not achieve the same degree of accuracy, but was moderately accurate and caused a great deal of damage. Air Force officers, however, expressed the view that there were no novel tactics displayed and that the performance of the Japanese aircraft was not beyond their expectations. All these officers insisted that the accuracy was due to lack of  effective opposition by our own Forces, rather than to any specially high qualities displayed by the Japanese.  ...

WARNING OF THE RAID

There was a general con[s]ensus of opinion that the general alarm sounded [preceded] the falling of the first bomb by a very short space of time, probably seconds. A warning that a large number of aircraft had been observed passing overhead at a great height over Bathurst Island and were proceeding southward, was received by the officer-in-charge of the Amalgamated Wireless Postal Radio Station at Darwin at 9.35 on the morning of the 19th February. That officer repeated the message to RAAF Operations at 9.37. No general alarm was given in the town until just before 10 o'clock.

Evidence was given before me that according to the routine usually observed, RAAF Operations would communicate a message to A.C.H. (Area Command Headquarters) and that A.C.H. would communicate to Navy and Army Headquarters. RAAF Operations would also, in the normal routine, communicate a message to A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) Headquarters.

On full consideration of the evidence, I find that the failure by RAAF Operations to communicate with A.R.P. Headquarters is inexplicable. The excuse given in evidence for the delay was based upon the fact that earlier that morning a number of U.S. planes - P.40's - had set out for Koepang and, meeting with adverse weather, had returned. Some discussion, it is said, ensued as to whether the planes referred to in the above message were the American planes returning or enemy planes, and that this discussion accounted for the greater part of the delay which ensued.

I find it difficult to accept this explanation. The evidence now shows almost conclusively that most of the American P.40's had actually landed on the RAAF station when this message was received, and that the remainder - two or possibly three machines - had remained on patrol at some height. Moreover, the direction from which the planes were reported was not that in which the P-40's would normally be returning. In any event the Station Commander, Wing Commander Griffith, stated expressly that he did not consider that the planes flying over Bathurst Island southward might be American planes returning. Another significant fact was the jamming by the enemy of the radio telephone from Bathurst Island after the sending of the above message.

The delay in giving the general warning was fraught with disaster. It is impossible to say with certainty what would have happened if the warning had been promptly given when received by RAAF Operations at 9.37, but it is at least probable that a number of men who lost their lives while working on ships at the pier might have escaped to a place of safety.

There is much in evidence, too, which suggests that a warning of 20 minutes or even of 15 minutes might have enabled vessels in the harbour to get under way and move, and to have had a far better opportunity of avoiding the enemy attack than that which in fact they had. A twenty minutes warning might also have enabled the officials at the Post Office who were killed to have gone to a place of safety.

The warning received by way of Bathurst Island was not the only warning received. Military Headquarters received a separate warning through an observation post at 9.50, and there is evidence that Navy Headquarters were notified, possibly from A.C.H., at 9.45.

Much evidence was given in an attempt to fix the precise responsibility for the delay in giving the general alarm, and in tracing the actual communications which passed from R.A.A.F. Operations to other quarters. I have felt that time cannot usefully be spent in the circumstances in determining this matter, but it is plain that the Station Commander must take some responsibility for the failure of action on the part of R.A.A.F. Operations.

There is other evidence to indicate that this particular Service was conducted with some laxity. No log book was kept before 6th February, 1942 and the log book kept after that date discloses a gap in the entries between 16th and 20th February, 1942.  ....

[AA: A 2670, 116/1942]

 


 

Miss Daisy Martin was a part-Aboriginal girl who had been brought up at Kahlin Compound and was employed as a maid at Government House in Darwin. On 19 February 1942, during the Japanese bombing raids, she sheltered with the Abbott family and other staff at Government House.

Daisy was killed beneath falling masonry and concrete when the office received an almost direct hit from a 1,000-pound high explosive bomb. She was buried in a temporary grave at Kahlin Beach the next day, but was exhumed and reburied at Berrimah War Cemetery on 30 June 1942. Her body was later transferred to the Adelaide River War Cemetery.

A plaque in memory of Miss Daisy Martin was installed near the spot where she was killed on 19 February 1942.

 


 

Wing Commander A.R. Tindal, the Commanding Officer of No. 24 Squadron RAAF was killed during the first Japanese air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942. Carson's Field in the Northern Territory was renamed Tindal Airfield in honour of Wing Commander Tindal.

Some pictures from the Photo Album
of Frank Ellis, of 24 Squadron 

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Silvano Jung, John Bradford and Terry Gusterson for their assistance with this home page.

I'd like to thank Tony Derksen, the nephew of Colwell Burleigh Giles, one of the wharfies killed on the wharves in Darwin Harbour.

I'd like to thank Cameron Alexander for helping me to sort out the confusion between the two ships called Benjamin Franklin.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"Darwin Bombed"
"The Unit History of 14 Heavy Anti-aircraft Battery"
by Jack Mulholland

"Australian War Strategy 1939 - 1945"
"A Documentary History"
By John Robertson & John McCarthy

"Protect & Revenge" (Page 21)
"The 49th Fighter Group in World War II"
by S.W. Ferguson & William K. Pascalis

"Darwin's Air War - 1942-1945. An Illustrated History"
By the Aviation Historical Society of the Northern Territory (Bob Alford)

"The Weekend Australian" 
9 - 10 Feb 2002

"Hospital Ships - Manunda, Wanganella, Centaur, Oranje"
by Rupert Goodman

"Wrecks in Darwin Waters"
by Tom Lewis

"For Those in Peril - A comprehensive listing of the Ships and Men of the RAN who have paid the Supreme Sacrifice in the Wars of the 20th Century"
by Vic Cassells

"In the Highest Traditions ... RAN heroism Darwin 19 February 1942"
by John Bradford

"Bloody Shamble 2"
by ?

 

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books available at
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                          "Australia @ War"
                          

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©  Peter Dunn 2006

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This page first produced 25 July 1999

This page last updated 05 May 2013