On the 19th of February 1942, at around 10 in the morning, 260 Japanese planes conducted an air raid on the city of Darwin. Around an hour later another wave attacked.
At the time of the bombing the civilian population of Darwin was approximately 2000. Around 250 people were killed and nearly 400 injured that day. More bombs were dropped on Darwin on the 19th of February 1942 than during the attack of Pearl Harbour on the 7th December 1941 .
This news article of the 15th of February reported that the Japanese were sending small bombers on reconnaissance missions over the city of Darwin in the north of Australia. Apparently these reports weren’t taken as seriously as they should have been, Australians believed distance kept them safely remote from any direct attacks. Nobody expected that the first assault on the mainland would occur within days.
The two waves of attack on the 19th centred on the harbour and military ships docked there, the aerodromes, shipping lanes and Darwin hospital. By the end of the day most of the facilities and essential services in Darwin were destroyed. Many civilians left, and began heading south, understandably believing that the attack was the start of an invasion. These air raids were the start of over 100 attacks in the north of Australia for the next two years.
Last year the Australian government officially recognized the 19th of February as a national day of significance, but this year is the first time it has been officially celebrated. On Sunday during the ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of this event, Australia’s Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, opened a $10 million museum dedicated to the bombing of Darwin.
Thousands of people, including about 90 people who survived the attacks, attended the ceremony, flyover and re-enactment (guns, planes, no bombs, phew!). A service was also given to honour the 89 American soldiers that died when the USS Peary was hit in the harbour.