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The Bombing of Darwin - 80 Year Anniversary

National Day of Observance - 19 February

In the initial attack at 9.58am on 19 February 1942, 188 enemy aircraft dropped more bombs over Darwin than were used in the attack on Pearl Harbour.

The attack was the first of at least 64 air raids on the Top End of Australia, which continued until 12 November 1943.

Remnants of WWII are still visible at many locations across Darwin, Katherine and Adelaide River. These sites offer visitors a chance to pay homage to both the heroes who fought on the frontline and the Territory's multicultural community affected by the bombing raids. Asian, European and Indigenous people worked alongside the allied servicemen as Darwin was attacked over an 18 month period.

The devastation suffered by Territorian families was profound. The evacuees who returned and the wider community came together to rebuild Darwin after the war, and many stories of tragedy and survival have been shared during these years.

No event in history has highlighted the tenacity, resilience, and spirit of those living in the Territory, quite as profoundly as the Bombing of Darwin.

Timeline of the Attacks

  • 08 December 1941 Japanese Imperial Forces attacked Kota Bahru and Pearl Harbour (7 December local time in Hawaii). One hour after the attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbour, Prime Minister John Curtin of Australia declared that "from one hour ago, Australia has been at war with the Japanese Empire".

  • 10 December 1941 British warships, Prince of Wales and Repulse, are attacked and destroyed off Malaya.

  • 16 December 1941 Evacuation of non-essential civilian women and children from Darwin ordered. By 18 February more than 2,000 people were evacuated. The normal civilian population during that era was around 5,000.

  • 15 February 1942 The British fortress of Singapore falls to Japanese forces who then prepare to invade Timor on 20 February. An Allied convoy leaves Darwin to reinforce Timor.

  • 16 February 1942 Heavy air attack forces the Allied convoy to turn back and return to Darwin.

  • 18 February 1942 The Allied convoy arrives back in Darwin.

  • 19 February 1942 8.00am: Japanese aircraft (36 Zero Fighters, 71 Dive Bombers and 81 Level Bombers) commence their mission.

  • 9.15am: Japanese aircraft are seen over Melville Island and then again over Bathurst Island at 9.35am. Warnings are sent by wireless but are misinterpreted. Allied Catalina aircraft are attacked and Bathurst Island airstrip is strafed.

  • 9.58am: Japanese aircraft drop the first bombs and commence their attack on Darwin Harbour and the city surrounds.

  • 12noon: Second wave of 54 Bombers attack the Darwin RAAF Base area. The attacks which began in Northern Australia on 19 February 1942 continued for 21 months.

  • 7 December 2011 The Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, declared 19 February as a national day of observance to be known as Bombing of Darwin Day.

Provided by City of Darwin.


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