The Bombing of Darwin

So, the bombing of Darwin, AKA, also known as, the Battle of Darwin, occurred on the 19th of February in 1942. So, this was obviously during the Second World War, which was officially declared on the 1st of September, 1939, and into which Australia entered two days later on the 3rd of September in 1939, and only came to a close, only finished, on the 2nd of December, 1945.

So, at the time, Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced that 40,000 members of the militia would be called up for training and a 20,000-strong expeditionary force that was designated the Second Australian Imperial Force was to be created to serve overseas. So, this is how Australia got into the Second World War.

Where is Darwin? So, Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory of Australia, and it was named Darwin after the British naturalist and father of the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin, one of my absolute heroes, obviously, I’m an evolutionary biologist. Love Charles Darwin. And this happened in 1839, 100 years before Australia entered the Second World War, and was named so by the captain of the HMS Beagle shortly after it sailed into the harbour at Darwin.

So, why was Darwin bombed?

So, fast-forwarding a hundred years, during the Second World War, Darwin, despite being the capital of the Northern Territory was still a small tropical town with a pre-war population of not even 6,000 people. However, due to its strategic position in northern Australia, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force built bases near the town in the 1930s and the early years of World War 2. The US Army developed a plan in late-December 1941, a few months before the place was bombed, to make Darwin a hub of transshipment efforts to supply the Allied forces that had been sent to support the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies, which I believe is part of Indonesia, I don’t know if it’s all of it, but they were defending this against Japanese invasion.

So, these bases were also used by Allied forces, forces from the UK, forces from America, as an air ferry route designed to allow planes to avoid routes through Japanese mandate in the Central Pacific for bomber reinforcement of the Philippines. So, the planes were obviously trying to keep away from Japanese forces. They didn’t want to be shot down.

As World War Two continued, the Japanese expanded throughout Southeast Asia, and they captured places like Ambon, Borneo, and Celebes between December 1941 and early-February 1942.

The Japanese had scheduled landings on the island of Timor, which is part of Indonesia today, and they’d scheduled them to go ahead on the 20th of February with a subsequent invasion planned for the island of Java in Indonesia. In order to protect its landings that the Japanese military had already made from Allied interference and prepare for the scheduled landing in Timor, it decided to conduct a major air raid on Darwin. In the two months leading up to these air raids, all but 2,000 from Darwin were evacuated and Japanese submarines laid mines in the waters around Darwin greatly impeding the coming and going of Allied ships.

On the 10th of February, a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft overflew the tiny tropical town of Darwin and identified an aircraft carrier, five destroyers, and 21 merchant ships in Darwin harbour, as well as 30 aircraft at the town’s two airfields. Things were starting to ramp up.

The air raids.

Two raids took place on the 19th of February. Just before 845 a.m. in the morning, four Japanese aircraft carriers launched 188 aircraft with the main objective of attacking ships and port facilities in Darwin Harbour.

Despite a Christian missionary on the nearby island of Bathurst spotting the planes and sending a message by radio to the Royal Australian Air Force, they mistakenly judged that the aircraft must have been 10 US aircrafts that were returning from Java to Darwin at the time. As a result, no sirens were sounded before the raid and the forces at Darwin were caught completely off guard and with their pants down.

At 958 a.m. the Japanese raiders began to arrive over Darwin and attack the harbour ruthlessly for about 20 to 30 minutes. Eight Allied ships were sunk and 22 labourers working on the wharf were killed instantly as it was bombed.

Despite relatively intense Allied ground fire during the bombardment, the Japanese losses were minimal with as few as five aircraft and three crew members lost in the first raid.

The second raid comprised 54 planes, which flew much higher this time at about 5.5 kilometres up in the air, arriving over Darwin minutes before midday at 11:58 a.m. This time the sirens were blaring loudly on their arrival with the swarm of 54 planes separating into two groups, which approached the base one from the south east and the other from the north east, and as the two formations arrived at the same time they dropped their bombs simultaneously.

The onslaught was brief and the Japanese aircraft departed by 12:20 p.m..

The aftermath.

297 people are estimated to have died in the bombing raids including both military personnel and civilians, and a further 400 people were injured. A total of eight military vessels were sunk during the attack, with a further 15 damaged, and two merchant ships were sunk off Bathurst Island.

In the months that followed, Darwin was repaired and rebuilt, and they mounted an even more credible defense involving counter strike bombers, radar, and searchlights.

By the end of 1942, the tide was beginning to turn against the Japanese as they began to be pushed back out of the islands that they had taken in what is now Indonesia and Timor. And to this day, the bombing of Darwin remains the largest single attack on Australian soil.

Anyway, guys, I hope you like this episode. I hope you learned a bit about Australian history during the Second World War here, and about, obviously, the largest bombing that has ever taken place in Australia.


20,000-strong – comprising 20,000 of something, e.g. people in this case.

A bombardment – a continuous attack with bombs, shells, or other missiles.

A captain – the person in command of a ship.

A Christian missionary – a person sent on a religious mission, especially one sent to promote Christianity in a foreign country.

A civilian – a person not in the armed services or the police force.

A counter strike bomber – a plane used to defend against bombers.

A destroyer – a small, fast warship, especially one equipped for a defensive role against submarines and aircraft.

A formation – the action of forming or process of being formed.

A harbour – a place on the coast where ships may moor in shelter, especially one protected from rough water by piers, jetties, and other artificial structures.

A hub – the central part of a wheel, rotating on or with the axle, and from which the spokes radiate.

A labourer – a person doing unskilled manual work for wages.

A main objective (of ST) – the main goal (of ST); the primary reason for an action.

A merchant ship – a watercraft that transports cargo or carries passengers for hire.

A pre-war population of… – the population of ST prior to the war.

A Prime Minister – the head of an elected government; the principal minister of a sovereign or state.

A radar – a system for detecting the presence, direction, distance, and speed of aircraft, ships, and other objects, by sending out pulses of radio waves which are reflected off the object back to the source.

A raider – a person who attacks an enemy in their territory; a marauder.

A reconnaissance aircraft – a military surveillance aircraft designed or adapted to perform aerial reconnaissance, i.e. information about a region to locate the enemy or ascertain strategic features.

A searchlight – a powerful outdoor electric light with a concentrated beam that can be turned in the required direction.

A siren – a device that makes a loud prolonged signal or warning sound.

A submarine – a warship with a streamlined hull designed to operate completely submerged in the sea for long periods, equipped with a periscope and typically armed with torpedoes or missiles.

A swarm – a large number of people or things.

A vessel – a ship or large boat.

A wharf – a level quayside area to which a ship may be moored to load and unload.

A.M. – before noon. Hint: The abbreviation a.m. is short for the Latin phrase ante meridiem, which means “before noon.”

Aftermath – the consequences or after-effects of a significant unpleasant event.

Allied forces – forces of the alliance between countries like Australia, Britain, the USA, etc. During World War II.

An air ferry route – a passage through the air on which aircraft were ferried from the United States and Canada to Great Britain during World War II to support combat operations in the European Theater of Operations (ETO).

An air raid – an attack in which bombs are dropped from aircraft on to a ground target.

An aircraft carrier – a large warship with a deck from which aircraft can take off and land.

An airfield – an area of land set aside for the take-off, landing, and maintenance of aircraft.

An expeditionary force – a group of soldiers who are sent to fight in a foreign country.

An invasion – an instance of invading a country or region with an armed force.

An onslaught – a fierce or destructive attack.

Blare – make or cause to make a loud, harsh sound.

Bomb ST – attack (a place or object) with one or more explosive devices.

Capture ST – take into one’s possession or control by force.

Catch SO off guard – catch SO unaware or in a compromising position.

Catch SO with their pants down – catch SO unaware or in a compromising position.

Come to a close – end; terminate.

Credible – able to be believed; convincing.

Declare ST – say something in a solemn and emphatic manner.

Depart SW – leave SW.

Designate ST – officially give a specified status or name to ST.

Due to ST – because of ST.

Evacuate (ST) – remove (ST) from a place of danger to a safer place.

Expand – become or make larger or more extensive.

Fast-forward – move speedily forward in time.

Father of the theory of evolution – the person who came up with the theory of evolution. “The father of…” can be used for talking about the original inventor of ST.

Go ahead – occur; take place.

HMS Beagle – the ship in which Charles Darwin sailed to South America and the Galapagos Islands in 1831-6.

Identify ST – establish or indicate who or what (someone or something) is.

Impede ST – delay or prevent (someone or something) by obstructing them; hinder.

Interference – the action of interfering or the process of being interfered with.

Japanese mandate – (during World War II) an area in South East Asia that was controlled by Japan.

Judge ST – form an opinion or conclusion about.

Keep ST away from ST – stay away (or make someone stay away with regards to distance).

Launch ST – set (a boat) in motion by pushing it or allowing it to roll into the water.

Lay ST – put down and set in position for use.

Losses – the fact or process of losing something or someone.

Military personnel – members of the state’s armed forces.

Militia – a military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.

Mistakenly – by accident; incorrectly.

Mount ST – organise and initiate (a campaign or other course of action).

One of my absolute heroesa common expression used to mention – a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

Overfly ST – fly above ST.

P.M. – ‘post meridiem’ in Latin, which means after 12 noon.

Port facilities – a specific location in a port where passengers or commodities are transferred between land and water carriers or between two water carriers, including wharves, piers, sheds, warehouses, yards, and docks.

Push ST back – cause ST to retreat or move in a backwards direction.

Ramp up – increase in intensity.

Rebuild ST – make ST again.

Reinforcement – the action or process of reinforcing or strengthening; extra personnel sent to increase the strength of an army or similar force.

Repair ST – fix ST.

Ruthlessly – without pity or compassion for others.

Schedule ST – arrange or plan (an event) to take place at a particular time.

Second World War – A war fought from 1939 to 1945 between the Axis powers — Germany, Italy, and Japan — and the Allies, including France and Britain, and later the Soviet Union and the United States.

Serve overseas – fight in the armed forces for your state but in a foreign location.

Shoot ST down – cause an aircraft to come down by firing guns at it.

Simultaneously – at the same time; concurrently.

Sink ST – cause a vessel/boat to take on water and become submerged.

Sound (ST) – emit or cause to emit sound.

Spot ST – see ST.

Subsequent – coming after something in time; following.

Take place – occur; happen.

The coming and going of ST – movement back and forth of ST.

The tide was beginning to turn against ST“The tides are turning” or “the turn of the tides” is used to say that someone’s luck has changed whether going from good to bad or bad to good.

Transshipment – the shipment of goods or containers to an intermediate destination, then to another destination.