NINE KITTYHAWKS DESTROYED
TWO JAPANESE  D3A VAL's SHOT DOWN

AT DARWIN DURING JAPANESE AIR RAID
ON 19 FEBRUARY 1942

 

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

 

The Japanese aircraft in the first raid on 19 February 1942 comprised:-

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

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 was referring to the second raid.

 

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Mitsubishi G4M1 "Betty" bomber

 

In mid February 1942, a group of 25 Kittyhawks left Amberley on their way to Perth to be partially disassembled and placed on ships for Java. Major Pell of the 33rd Provisional (Pursuit) Squadron, led the second flight of 15 Kittyhawks. When they reached Port Pirie, Major Pell and his group of 15 Kittyhawks were diverted to Darwin for convoy escort duty to Timor. They were then to be ferried to Koepang in Java. One of his aircraft crashed while at Port Pirie, killing the pilot and another 4 unserviceable aircraft were left behind.

Only 12 of the Kittyhawks made it to Daly Waters and of these only 10 made it to Darwin on 17 February 1942. After reaching Darwin, they had tried to follow the lead B-17 to Timor on 18 February 1942 but had to turn back due to fog. They stayed the night in Darwin hoping for clearer weather the next day.

 

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

 

Ten aircraft of the 33 Pursuit Squadron (Provisional) led by Major Pell had tried to follow the lead B-17 to Timor at 9.15am on 19 February 1942 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.

Nine Warhawks were destroyed and four pilots, including Major Pell, Jack Peres, Lt. Charles Hughes and Lt. Elton S. Perry were killed by strafing Japanese aircraft.

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.

Only the aircraft of Lieutenant Bob Oestreicher survived the raid. He shot down two D3A "Vals" during the air raid. Eleven RAAF aircraft were also destroyed. Jack Peres was the first pilot to be killed in the raid. His Kittyhawk crashed near Gunn Point, east of Darwin.

NOTE:- The story that Robert Oestreicher shot down two Vals is disputed by several historians. Bob Alford in the second edition of Darwin’s Air War, was joined by Tom Lewis and Peter Ingman in Carrier Attack, arguing he shot down nothing, using evidence from Japanese records and through logical analysis. Lewis has gone further in a paper presented at NT Archives, and in the Territory Tribute Writers’ Festival, where he analyses Oestreicher’s story to the extent of finding numerous falsehoods, while noting he was never accredited in the official WWII histories, and nothing was known of the two Vals claimed until July 1942, when the USAAF pilot wrote of them in a letter home, which was made much of by newspapers.”

 


 

There appears to be some confusion regarding the Japanese casualties in this first bombing raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942. From a number of sources I have now come across details of the loss of 4 Japanese aircraft:-

Aircraft No 1 "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. 
Aircraft No. 2 & 3 Lieutenant Bob Oestreicher shot down two D3A "Vals" during the first air raid on Darwin. (The two covered on this home page) - See the Note above which disputes this claim.
Aircraft No. 4 Imperial Japanese Navy A6M2 "Zero" crashed on Melville Island after it was hit in the oil tank by a single .303" rifle bullet over Darwin Harbour.

 

A number of sources indicate that only two Japanese aircraft were shot down during the first raid on Darwin. Is it possible that Aircraft Nos. 1, 2 and 3 are actually the same aircraft or did Lt. Oestreicher only shoot down one aircraft not two and that aircraft is the same as Aircraft No. 1 above. Or some other combination. Access to Japanese military records may possibly help to solve this problem. Can anyone help me unravel this mystery?

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"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)

 

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This page first produced 24 October 1999

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