February 1942 (3)

 

 

Melbourne's "Argus" headlines, 24 Feb. '42

Melbourne’s “Argus” headlines, 24 Feb. ’42

 

In early 1942, Darwin, Australia was used as a military base, a transit area for men and aircraft heading out to their newly assigned areas.  The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) therefore had no fighters to ward off any possible enemy attack.  On 19 February, Darwin suffered its first and most devastating air raid.

 

a wrecked Lockheed Hudson

a wrecked Lockheed Hudson

 

The Japanese had assessed Darwin as a major threat to their operations on Timor and Java (Ambon had already been captured).  The 47 Allied Naval Merchant ships sitting in the harbor presented a desirable target, along with the township of military facilities.  Japanese aircraft carriers in the Arafura Sea were sent in for the first wave of attacks which lasted 42 minutes; catching American pilots on patrol by surprise and downing most of them.

 

ABDACOM-Area (1)

 

The Area Combined Headquarters in Darwin disregarded the warnings of a Catholic missionary on Bathurst Island and that of a naval coastwatcher on Melville Island as the enemy took off from Ambon.  This second wave arrived an hour later and  the strike was concentrated on the military airfield as their main objective.

In and around the harbour, ships, wharves and parts of the town suffered severe damage.  Three Allied naval ships and 5 merchant ships were sunk and another 10 were damaged.  Most of the 235-280 (references differ) people killed were victims of the first wave.  The second wave killed 6 RAAF servicemen and destroyed 9 planes on the ground.  Several of the civilians were killed in the township, especially when the Post Office and bomb shelter received a direct hit.  All together, approximately 260 enemy aircraft were used for these air raids.

 

debris in a bomb crater

debris in a bomb crater

 

This was the first of about 97 attacks Australia would receive from the Japanese; 63 of which would hit Darwin.  The final air raid would not be until November 1943.  The first two military medals for bravery on Australian soil were awarded to 2 antiaircraft gunners for their actions.  Other servicemen and civilians were commended for rescuing crewmen from the waters and burning ships; as doctors and nurses treated the victims.

The reason why the air raid sirens did not go off until just prior to attack and why message alerts were disregarded?  Perhaps some of the readers here can answer that in the comment section?

Lt. Walker's P40E Kittyhawk

Lt. Walker’s P40E Kittyhawk

Shortly after this attack, on 3 March 1942, Broome, Australia in the northern part of the country, received a devastating air raid without warning.  The Japanese aircraft swept in low over the township, bombing and strafing the harbour, airfield and town; dozens were killed or wounded and 24 aircraft were destroyed.  Many of the casualties were Dutch refugees from the Netherlands East Indies (aka Indonesia), whose flying boats were sitting in the harbour defenseless.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Humour – Australian style – 

7A

cartoon4

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Harold Baird – Godfrey, IL; US Army (9years), US Navy SeaBees  (Ret. 15 years)

Roy Baker – Oakville, CAN; RC Navy, WWII, HMCS Uganda

William Cooper – Melbourne, AUS; RA Navy, WWII, surgeon-lieutenantanzac

Frances George (nee Roberts) – Manaia, NZ; RNZWAAF # 2061889, WWII, CBI

Leo Mallard – So.Boston, MA; US Army & Navy, WWII

Andrew Ross – Redland City, AUS; RA Army, # 37872

Shirley Spanheimer – WPalm Bch, FL; US WAC, WWII, Sgt.

Lloyd Trotter – West. Australia; RA Air Force, WWII, pilot, POW

Ronald Walsh – Scarness, AUS; RA Army, WWII # Q130219

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on November 17, 2014, in WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 82 Comments.

  1. I only learned of this event from the year of my birth when visiting Australia in 2007 for my son’s wedding. It was good to read the story

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  2. My dad was stationed with the US army in New Guinea during the summer and fall of 1943. Something big was about to happen but he never said what it was nor talked about it but I know that the experience weighed upon his mind for the rest of his life.

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    • Did you figure it out? MacArthur’s troops had to move in on Salamaua, New Guinea; Halsey’s men hit New Georgia and fighting went on in Alaska? Being in New Guinea in 1942-44 was certainly no picnic in itself!!

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  3. I get such great information from your posts! I knew nothing about air raids on Australia but neither did many others on this side of the world I’m sure. Thanks.

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    • Quite right, Carol. We weren’t told a lot about our own troops either. It’s as though they wanted WWII to be as distant as the Fall of the Roman Empire. But, I do appreciate you learning right along with me on this journey through the history that still affects us today.

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  4. I fear that prejudice and a presumption of superiority caused most of the Allies to seriously underestimate the danger from the Japanese.

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  5. The Australian War Memorial has a bunch of photos of the aftermath of the bombing. Here’s one of them: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P04465.002/
    This bombing is also sometimes known as Australia’s Pearl Harbor. Found a good article from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17073472

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  6. If you dig into something called frontline australia.com.au and go down to the Bombing of Darwin you will find a document, which although it is really a teaching resource, contains interesting first hand accounts and maps. I think one of the reasons for a delayed warning response was the misconception it was American planes arriving. As for the reporting in the newspapers, the problem was they downplayed the seriousness, and fatalities and casualties were under- reported, presumably to keep a lid on panic. The significance was covered up for many years, for example, Darwin service medals were not issued until around the 90s. We claimed one on behalf of my husband’s father who was a Sapper in the engineers. He never spoke of his experiences and had passed by then, but we appreciated the belated recognition. One of your other readers has also talked about the destruction of Darwin in 1974. That was on Christmas Eve and was caused by a cyclone. Once again the city was evacuated. Not that there was much of a city left! I was a dental nurse in Adelaide at the time and we treated a lot of broken teeth and other damage so we got to hear some amazing accounts. That is an aside to WWII which is the subject of your post. Shall you also be covering the story of the Japanese midget submarines in Sydney Harbour? I think that was in May 1942.

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    • I thank you very much for your research and willingness to participate in the site here, Gwen. I greatly appreciate your contributions. In answer to question – we have GOT to have the midget subs!! We mentioned those at Pearl Harbor, we will mention them in Sydney! And you are correct again, it was in May 1942. Have a wonderful day!

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  7. Another really interesting post. Here in England I recently watched a History Channel documentary about the raid on Darwin.(The Bombing of Darwin: An Awkward Truth). It was totally scathing and said that the upper class English fools in charge were nowhere near up to the job. They were caught completely by surprise and were more afraid of civil disorder, looting and the possible theft of the contents of their wine cellars than in addressing the situation.

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    • Yes, I did locate information to that affect, but in the interest of the length of the post and not wishing people to think I (as an American) was bashing the British/Australian brass – I omitted it. Perhaps, in hind-sight, I should have included that, and I thank you, John, for doing so.

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  8. Good read. Although the modern theory is that the Japanese had no intentions of invading Australia and just wanted to wipe out air and naval defences, at the time that was not what it looked like and I can only imagine the level of fear in the northern parts of my homeland (and plans were afoot to cut of Australia as being a supply base which surely would have required boots on the ground?). From what I have read air raid sirens were sounded but not until just before the first wave of aircraft appeared so all too late.

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    • Yes, Deano, a few resources had the sirens going approx. 2 minutes before the bombs dropped – not much help there. What i have located as far as what plans Japan had for Australia – the best I’ve found so far was they did NOT give up hope of defeat in that nation until much later – hence the repeated air attacks. Australia is so large, they knew repeated air raids would be required – and they had to keep the Australians afraid that the America would never come to save them. (They were already abandoned by Churchill, who just wanted them as a supply for RAF pilots and army troops for Europe and his pet – the Middle East.)

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      • Yes thankfully Prime Minister Curtin “advised” Churchill that the ships with Australian troops returning from North Africa would not be diverted to Burma and were somewhat required in their own country that was under immediate threat!

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        • It seems to me, no matter what nation the resource comes out of, Churchill merely thought of the Commonwealth as a breeding ground for pilots and troops. He wanted to take from them, but he wouldn’t even allow them to defend themselves. In your opinion, am I reading all this data correctly, Deano?

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          • To a certain extent yes, but by then he had no real power beyond the realm of the United Kingdom. The Commonwealth came to their aid when needed but most of the major nations were independent countries (India was a major exception). So in Australia’s case we needed the soldiers to relieve the militia in New Guinea but huge numbers of air crews remained in Europe where they were most needed

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            • In ’42, most all your troops were in Europe or the Middle East and the rest in and around Burma. Those in Australia weren’t even trained properly yet, but then again, I wasn’t educated in Australia – so I’m no expert. Thank you very much for your opinion, Deano – always a pleasure.

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              • Something I recommend you take a look at is the role of the Australian Militia. These men are true heroes – under trained, ill equipped they were sent off to defend New Guinea an Australian territory (as the AIF was in the Middle East). The regular soliders called them “chocolate soldiers” as they thought they would melt at the first sign of enemy contact. Instead they became the first Allied troops to stop the Japanese advance in the south west pacific. Up there in the horrors of the Kokoda track and New Guinea highlands they stopped a much better trained and equipped Japanese Army. When the AIF troops eventually arrived to relieve them they saw these raggedy men and soon realised the horrors they faced and what they had achieved. Something no other troops had been able to do at that point. Amazing tales of courage can be read in “A Bastard of a place” (great book).

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              • p.s. not sure if I have mentioned it before but my Grandfather fought in New Guinea – he was a Staff Sargeant in the 57th/60th Battalion Australian Army.

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  9. Another very interesting post, GP. The picture of the doll in the crater is heartwrenching.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The significance of the raids described in Wayne’s Journal against Ambon become clear after reading your post. Until you post, I had not realized that Ambon was a staging point for raids against Australia by the Japanese.

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  11. Amazing reading, GP. Again.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for this post. I confess I was completely ignorant about the attacks in Australia in WWII until I saw the movie Australia. Then I spent some time educating myself. The map here was especially important; I find I grasp the battle and transport details better when I can orient myself geographically.

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    • That’s why I include the map – I’m the same way! In the Pacific, boundaries are not close as in Europe, the battles go on at the same time, different island, hundreds of miles away – I need the maps to keep me focused!! I’m very glad you took the time to read this story, Sammy.

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  13. Once again, I learned something new reading your blog, gp. Though it didn’t make sense that Australia would remain free of enemy action because of proximity to the then-Dutch East Indies, I didn’t realize just how many attacks it endured.

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    • As I told Cindy Bruchman, countries write what history they want. Anything not directly associated with the US was pretty much left out. Glad to once again fill in the gaps of history for you, Doug!

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  14. The doll in the bomb crater is so heartbreaking.

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  15. Wonder why Australia is rarely mentioned in WWII history? Great post as always. I learn something new every time I visit your blog. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Cindy. Countries seem to write history as they see fit. Here in the US is no different. Our books tended to start with WWII as though Pearl Harbor was beginning, when Europe had been fighting for 2 years by then. I’m glad to be filling in a few of holes (in both our educations).

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  16. Hi G – you know your blog is another one of those blogs where the comments are so rich and packed with gems too – so I like when I can skim them as well – 🙂 have a great day

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    • Yes, it was very interesting. One of the resources I was going through DID say that the bombings were hidden at the time, but as I looked into it – well, you can see I put The Argus headline in the post. School systems everywhere are tending to trim down history to the bare minimum, even more than they used to – that I have no answer to either. Thanks for the link, Ian.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. There were references to war damaged ships in Freemantle harbor in my Dad’s war letters. They passed by NZ and Australia in early ’43.

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  18. I did read somewhere why the sirens weren’t sounded, cant recall why gp, but was a significant error, plus not heeding the missionary and coast watchers warning.
    Thanks for refreshing my memory on this military episode.
    Darwin did get devestated years late when a cyclone destroyed the town.
    Ian

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    • A poorly situated town? I was thinking, maybe they didn’t sound the alarms, lest they frighten the citizens? I can not understand ignoring the priest and coastwatcher.

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      • I dont know about poorly situated town gp, its like many Australian towns and cities situated on a coastline, much like anywhere else where countries abbutt the oceans, I cant recall why the sirens werent sounded but will research further.
        Cheers
        Ian

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  19. This is history close to home. But again not something we were taught at school. Perhaps it was taught in Australian schools.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. These must have been scary days in Australia. I wish I could have read the newspaper’s front page easier. There was an article about Churchill: Pressure on Mr. Churchill.

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    • These newspapers can be found at Trove.com, it is an archive for Australian newspapers and open to anyone. So much easier than trying to locate anything in the US papers!
      Thanks for reading, Pierre – I always look for you.

      Liked by 2 people

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