71st Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin commemorations
21 February 2013
Top End Defence personnel have honoured the courage and the sacrifice of those who perished during the first and largest enemy attack on Australian soil.
Supporting the 71st Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin commemorations, Defence members helped recount the events of 19 February 1942 with a Royal Australian Air Force fast jet flypast and ceremonial gunfire by the Army’s 8th/12th Regiment RAA.
The Bombing of Darwin was the first of more than 90 Japanese air raids across the Top End of Australia from February 1942 until November 1943.
Commander Northern Command Air Commodore Ken Watson said the event was a defining moment in Australia’s history.
“Until recently the events of this day have remained largely untold and yet this was the day that a small community fought with desperation against overwhelming odds to defend their homeland,” Air Commodore Watson said.
The first wave of 188 aircraft attacked Darwin at 9:58am on Thursday, 19 February 1942 from four Japanese Navy carriers steaming approximately 450km to the north-west. All four ships had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbour two months prior.
About 243 people were confirmed dead and between 320 and 500 injured. Eight ships (naval and civilian) were sunk in the harbour including USS Peary, in which more than 80 American sailors perished.
“As members of the Australian Defence Force it is a great privilege to help recognise the sacrifice of the men and women who gave their lives in order to preserve our freedom today,” Air Commodore Watson said.
On 7 December 2011, the Governor-General proclaimed February 19 a National Day of Observance, to be known as “Bombing of Darwin Day” in honour of those who fell during the attack.
Royal Australian Navy Sailors Able Seaman Bryce Robert, Able Seaman Ashleigh Egan, Able Seaman Robert May and Petty Officer Anthony Taylor (L - R) raise the national flags of Australia and the United States during a memorial service for USS Peary and her crew who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Bombing of Darwin, 71 years ago.
Embarking on a maritime border security patrol is pretty routine for an Armidale Class Patrol Boat – most of the time.
However, for the crew of Assail Four (Lieutenant Commander Paul Ukhoff) embarked on HMAS Maitland, their departure from Darwin on Tuesday, 19 February honoured a special occasion in the nation’s history.
A last-minute request from Headquarters Northern Command saw the boat divert to the waters adjacent the Darwin Cenotaph to participate in the 71st Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin commemorations.
En route to patrolling Australia’s northern waters, the boat created a dynamic backdrop as a crowd of more than 3000 veterans, dignitaries and the general public, viewed a flyover from four FA/18 Hornet aircraft from 75 Squadron, RAAF Base Tindal.
To commemorate those who defended Darwin 71 years earlier, the Army’s 8th/12th Regiment RAA then fired four 105mm M2A2 Howitzers from the Cenotaph in response at 9:58am, the same time the air raid sirens sounded in 1942.
Lieutenant Commander Ukhoff said it was an honour to be involved in such an important commemoration.
“We were preparing for a routine departure for border security operations when circumstances allowed Maitland to form the backdrop to the commemoration.
“It was a privilege for the crew to represent Navy on the occasion that marked the courage and sacrifice of those who defended Darwin 71 years earlier,” he said.
At the ceremony’s conclusion, Maitland set sail to conduct patrols as part of Joint Task Force 639, the military contribution to Australia’s Whole of Government maritime border security effort Operation RESOLUTE.
Navy ships present in the harbour at the time of the raids in 1942 were the sloop HMAS Swan, corvettes Deloraine and Katoomba, auxiliary minesweepers Gunbar and Tolga, patrol boat Coongoola, depot ship Platypus, examination vessel Southern Cross, lugger Mavie and four boom-net ships.
Personnel from patrol boat base HMAS Coonawarra also supported the USS Peary memorial service with a Navy flag raising party and the commemorative service at the Darwin Cenotaph.
Four F/A-18 Hornet aircraft from No.75 Squadron RAAF Base Tindal performed a low level fly past over Darwin CBD.
Just as they did 71 years ago, the air raid sirens sounded over the City of Darwin at 9:58am but this year the result of seeing fighter aircraft in the sky was very different.
Instead of Japanese fighters, bombers and dive bombers, Darwin residents were in awe with the flypast of four F/A-18 Hornet aircraft from 75 Squadron based at RAAF Tindal.
Moments later, four 105mm M2A2 Howitzers positioned at the Cenotaph roared to life, paying tribute to the men and women who defended Darwin against the first and largest attack mounted by a foreign power against Australia.
Participating in the 71st Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin commemorations, the jets flew in close “diamond” formation before performing a ‘bomb burst’ manoeuvre over Darwin Harbour.
The lead aircraft flown by Squadron Leader Dave Temme then repositioned to run parallel to the esplanade before performing a maximum afterburner climb in front of a crowd of 3000 veterans, dignitaries and the general public including 800 school children.
Squadron Leader Temme said the flying display was his first over the City of Darwin despite living in the Territory three times.
“Although the Japanese air raid on Darwin was the first and largest attack, it was just the beginning of nearly two years of sustained bombing across Northern Australia,” Squadron Leader Temme said.
“My grandfather was posted to Snake Creek, just north of Adelaide River during this period.
“It was an honour to fly today in memory of him and the courage and self sacrifice of the men and women who died defending our country.”
The air attacks on Darwin continued until November 1943, by which time the Japanese had bombed Darwin 64 times, the last raid occurring on 12 November 1943.
During the war, other towns in northern Australia were also the target of Japanese air attack, with bombs being dropped on Townsville, Katherine, Wyndham, Derby, Broome and Port Hedland.