19 February 1942 – War in Australia

17 02 2013

The Bombing of Darwin, 1942.

As a new resident in Darwin, I’m learning about this important day in Australia’s history and I’m disappointed to realised that is was not part of my school curriculum.  I grew up with a basic and brief understanding of World War II in the context of Europe and the Pacific war, but didn’t know that Australia had been bombed over and over and over again.  Here’s what I’ve found so far.  I must say, it makes really fascinating reading and coupled with visiting the remaining sites around town, is quite humbling.

Commemorating the Bombing of Darwin.  Cenotaph on the Esplanade.

Commemorating the Bombing of Darwin. Cenotaph on the Esplanade.

Under the command of Captain Misuo Fuchida, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour USA on 7 December 1942.  The task force was led by Vice-Admiral Nagumo Chuichi.  Once the damage had been done, he ordered Captain Fuchida to turn his aircraft carriers towards Australia. A week later, there was an order to evacuate Darwin as the Japanese campaign advanced through South East Asia and cut off the sea lanes to Australia. Over the next month, Japan advanced on Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.The British stronghold at Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15th of February. With all eligible Australian men deployed to Europe to fight the World War, Australia was under grave threat and only military personnel and civilians who provided essential services (Police, Post Office, Telegraphy, Communications, Nurses) stayed to man their Darwin posts. An invasion was anticipated at any moment which would mean a bloody struggle fought on Australian soil, city by city, village by village.  It must have been horrendous.

Legacy

Four days after Singapore fell,  on the morning of 19th of February 1942, Misuo Fuchida stationed his four air-craft carriers in the Arafura Sea, fresh from the devasation at Pearl Harbour.  They each carried 27 fighter planes and 54 bombers and launched, one by one. A radio report came through from Bathurst Island, just north of Darwin. Father John McGrath, a missionary on Bathurst Island 70km north of Darwin, reported “An unusually large air formation bearing down on us from the NorthWest.Identity suspect, visibility not clear”.  Ten US KittyHawk aircraft had left Darwin to fly over Timor and were due to return that morning, so the warning was ignored.  Everyone assumed it was the US pilots in formation. It was just before 10am.  There was hardly any time to sound a warning. People in Darwin initially thought the Americans had sent help – more planes ready to defend Darwin!!  188 planes were in the sky and the bombs began to drop.

Japanese "Zero" fragment.  Australian Aviation Heritage Museum: Darwin. NT.

Japanese “Zero” fragment. Australian Aviation Heritage Museum: Darwin. NT.

The Darwin Port was crammed with 45 naval vessels, merchant navy ships, American destroyers and Australian vessels.The port was destroyed, 20 military planes were destroyed, 14 ships damaged, 8 ships sunk, hundreds killed and injured. Oil spilled into the harbour and set the water on fire.  There was no escape.  Gwenda Hansen worked as a secretary at the Qantas Airways Office when the first bomb fell.  “We dashed out of our glass fronted office to go to ground”, she said. Ground was the nearest gutter.“We saw a bomb hit the lovely old sandstone post office.  During a lull we set out to run there to see if we could help anyone, but the planes came over again and we dived flat in the nearest paddock”.

Kitty-Hawk - strafed.  Australian Aviation Heritage Museum. Darwin NT.

Kitty-Hawk – strafed. Australian Aviation Heritage Museum. Darwin NT.

Darwin’s Parliament House now stands on the site of the old Post Office where nine civilians lost their lives as their slit trench took a direct hit.Over the course of half an hour, 71 medium bombers, 81 dive bombers and 36 fighters decimated Darwin – the harbour, airfield, communications centre and major facilities.All but one of the returning KittyHawks was shot down.

The raid lasted just over half an hour.

An hour later, the Japanese returned again, another raid of destruction.

There was another 63 bombing raids on Australia over the next two years.

Unknown civilian loss - 19 Feb 1942 - Adelaide River War Cemetery. NT.

Unknown civilian loss – 19 Feb 1942 – Adelaide River War Cemetery. NT.

Lest we Forget.

References for this blog post:
Japan on the Doorstep
Federation Frontline: A secondary school resource
The National Archives of Australia – the Bombing of Darwin
The Battle for Australia
The Bombing of Darwin





Victory Day – 15 August 1945

15 08 2012

V Letter!! – A letter home on Victory Day, 15 August 1945

VJ (Victory over Japan) or VP (Victory in the Pacific) is commemorated on 15th August and marks the end of World War II.  On this day in 1945 Japan accepted the Allied demand  for unconditional surrender.

The German High Command had authorised the signing of an unconditional surrender on all fronts in May 1945, which meant the war in Europe was over.  The Allied nations issued the Potsdam Declaration on 26 July 1945, calling for Japan to surrender or face ‘prompt and utter destruction’.  Japan responded with silent contempt, effectively ignoring the ultimatum, prompting the atomic bombings  of Hiroshima (6th August) and Nagasaki (9th August) after which the Japanese government agreed to comply in full.

Troops were spread all over the globe and were eager to make their way home.  Cpl A.R. (Roger) Crook, of the RAAF 21 Squadron (based in Borneo) wrote home to Australia with the news.  Here is his ‘V’ (victory) Letter to his beloved wife.

How do you like the news? – Victory Day, 15 August 1945

My darlings,
Just a line to let you know that I am OK and hope you are the same.  How do you like the NEWS?  I bet there was a fair sort of a celebration down home.  I would have to be stuck up here when it finished. We don’t know how long it will be before we get home.  But as I am a five years-er, I hope it won’t be long.  Any how it won’t be longer than 12 months, that’s all I signed up for.  I hope.  We will have a lot of work to do in the next few months I suppose but here’s hoping I get my discharge soon.  I will be straight away be having an understanding with Rowsell.  I bet he won’t like it.  Where is young Ron?  He didn’t see any operations at all.  I suppose he will be discharged now the lucky young devil.  How did Mum and Dad like the news?  We heard the news that it was over yesterday afternoon from Radio Tokyo but it was not confirmed until this morning.  Things were very quiet up here.  No celebrations at all. I only hope that I will be home for Christmas, the first in five years.  My we will have a celebration if I am.  I will get blotto once again like I did in Perth the last time, only worse!!!!!  (not if you can help it I bet).  Well my dearest, there is not much to write about up here and it is getting dark and I will close now. Give my love to all at home.  Tons of love and kisses, yours forever,  Roger x x x x

Service Medals – WWII The Pacific Star

We will remember them.
Lest we forget.








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