Bombing of Darwin – 80 years since Australia came under attack

Saturday, 19 February 2022

The Hon. Scott Morrison MP
Prime Minister

The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel

On the morning of 19 February 1942, the fighting of the Second World War reached the shores of mainland Australia for the first time, when over 240 Japanese aircraft bombed Darwin.

On that day, tragically 252 lives were lost in two separate raids, including members of all three Australian armed services, Allied personnel, merchant seamen and Australian civilians.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison remembered all those who lived through the Bombing of Darwin and honoured the memory of those who lost their lives in the devastating attack.

“The Bombing of Darwin began a testing chapter in the history of our nation – a series of air raids across north-western Australia which continued for 21 long months until November 1943,” the Prime Minister said.

“It was the greatest threat our people ever faced. But in our darkest hour, we rose to the challenge. Australia’s response to the Second World War was the greatest national effort in our history, and like Gallipoli almost 30 years before, the Bombing of Darwin proved to be an early tragedy, followed by ultimate triumph.

“In New Guinea, Borneo, Solomon Islands, and across the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, Australia helped to halt and then push back militaristic Japanese forces. With our allies, we turned the tide against militarism, and won a heroic victory.

“Today, it is more timely and necessary than ever to acknowledge what they went through, and to assure their place in the story of our nation.

“We also acknowledge the deep and lasting friendship between the people of Australia and Japan – out of the suffering of war we have turned to each other in a spirit of reconciliation and respect. Our nations’ commitment to freedom, security and democracy now provides a solid foundation for the future peace and stability of the region.

“On this day in the city of Darwin – and in every part of Australia – we will remember. Lest we forget.”

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Andrew Gee said the 80th anniversary the Bombing of Darwin was an important time for all Australians to reflect on that dark day in Australian history.

“Few survivors of the terrible surprise attack on Darwin are still with us today to share their experiences, so the duty now rests with us to ensure their stories are told, and their courage and sacrifice is remembered,” Minister Gee said.

“It is hard to imagine the fear and confusion that must have been felt by the people of Darwin and Australia that day, when hundreds of enemy aircraft filled the skies above the city.

“The danger of invasion was real, yet the determination to defend was resolute and there were great acts of bravery from both the military and civilians.

“The first two Military Medals for bravery in battle on Australian soil were awarded to Gunner Wilburt Hudson and Lance Bombardier Fred Wombey, for their actions on that day.

“Our men and women in uniform, as well as civilians, rescued crewmen from burning ships, while local doctors and nurses treated the badly wounded survivors.”

It had taken Japanese troops just two months to overrun all of Thailand and Malaya, and invade modern day Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

By the middle of February 1942 the Allied ‘fortress’ of Singapore had surrendered, Timor had fallen and Darwin came under attack.

When the first wave of 188 Japanese aircraft struck Darwin, the bombing and strafing continued for about 40 minutes, targeting the port and ships, and overwhelming Darwin’s defences.

Eight of the 47 ships in the harbour – three naval and five merchant class – were sunk. The cargo of one ship, which included 200 anti-submarine warfare weapons, exploded as it lay alongside the Darwin wharf, causing further destruction.

A short time later a second wave of 54 Japanese planes targeted the Royal Australian Air Force Station a few kilometres north east of Darwin.

Sixteen Australian servicemen and one servicewoman were killed in the raids. The bombing killed at least 21 civilian wharf labourers and a bomb which hit the main Darwin post office killed the Post-master and his family, and six young women telegraphists.

The Destroyer USS Peary was also sunk in the raids, killing 88 American sailors and wounding 13 on board.

“Australia may have escaped invasion, but it did not escape further attack, with a total of 97 Japanese air raids inflicted on northern Australia over the next two years,” Minister Gee said.

“As the living memory of that day and the terrifying period that followed fades away, it is all the more important that we pause and reflect on a dark chapter forever etched in our nation’s history.

“On 19 February, I encourage all Australians to take time out to remember and honour all those who died in these attacks and in the defence of Australia during the Second World War.”

More information about the attacks on Australia in 1942 and the courage shown by service personnel and civilians is available on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Anzac Portal.


Media Contacts:

Prime Minister’s office: Press Office, (02) 6277 7744
Minister Gee’s office: Steve Kidner, 0466 385 097

The Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Sydney

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling provides 24/7 free confidential crisis support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families on 1800 011 046 or the Open Arms website. Safe Zone Support provides anonymous counselling on 1800 142 072. Defence All-Hours Support Line provides support for ADF personnel on 1800 628 036 or the Department of Defence website. Defence Member and Family Helpline provides support for Defence families on 1800 624 608.