The Attack

The Bombing of Darwin was the first attack by Japanese forces on the Australian mainland after Australia had officially declared war on Japan on the 9th December 1941. Echoing their success at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese struck with stealth, speed and force, dropping 681 bombs weighing 114,000 kilograms with accuracy and minimal losses.

The build-up of military infrastructure including an RAAF base in Darwin from the late 1930s made the town a pivotal asset in the defence of the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and supply of US bases in the Philippines at the opening of the Pacific War. And a prime target for the Japanese.

There were 65 ships in Darwin Harbour on the morning of Thursday the 19th, mainly Royal Australian Navy vessels, a troopship (SS Zealandia) a hospital ship (HMAHS Manunda), merchant vessels and the American ships USS Peary, USS William B Preston, USAT Meigs and USAT Mauna Loa.

In Darwin Harbour a few days prior to the raid. Foreground HMAS SWAN, centre USAT MAUNA LOA and background HMAS WARREGO. Image: USA Naval History and Heritage Command.

At 9.58am, 188 fighters, dive bombers and torpedo bombers launched from Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū, and Sōryū (all veterans of the Attack on Pearl Harbor) arrived over Darwin Harbour at 9.58 devastating the fleet in port, the port itself, much of the town and taking hundreds of lives in a matter of 12 minutes.