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PLAQUE NO. 131 ... GOVERNMENT HOUSE, DARWIN 

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On 19 February 1942, a military force attacked mainland Australia for the first time when Darwin was the target of two devastating air raids.  Shortly before 9.00 am that day, a strike force of 188 Japanese aircraft was launched from four aircraft carriers located mid way between Timor and Darwin.  The same force had attacked Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, ten weeks before – but it would drop more than twice as many bombs on Darwin.

Darwin was caught unprepared, when the first bombs fell at 9.57 am destroying a section of the main wharf at Stokes Hill and killing 21 waterside workers.  In the next twenty minutes, the attackers sank or disabled 21 ships, destroyed most of the waterfront facilities, and wrecked much of the town area.  Two hours later, a second force of 54 bombers attacked and severely damaged the Darwin RAAF Base.

At least 292 people were killed, and hundreds more were wounded during the two raids. Military and civilian administration was badly disrupted by the action. Fearing possible invasion some people left Darwin.

The Darwin region sustained at least 62 more air raids, up until 12 November 1943, but none were as destructive as the first two. 


GOVERNMENT HOUSE WORDING

Government House was bombed and repeatedly strafed during the first air raid.  The Administrator’s Office which was located in front of the House, was destroyed, and Daisy Martin an aboriginal staff member was killed.  The Australian flag flying in front of Government House was damaged by aircraft machine-gun fire, it is now displayed in the Australian War Memorial.

Nearby, where Parliament House stands today, nine people were killed and another was mortally wounded when a 450-kilogram bomb fell directly into a trench in which Post Office staff were sheltering.

In this first raid the Japanese were largely unopposed. The widely dispersed anti-aircraft batteries provided limited deterrence and the 36 Japanese Zero fighters were challenged by only five, American-piloted Kittyhawks.

Losses were heaviest on and near the shipping in the harbour, where more than 200 people died. The ammunition ship Neptuna disintegrated and 36 men were killed when it's cargo exploded. The destroyer USS Peary was trapped in the harbour and sank, guns still firing, with the loss of 91 men. Despite heroic rescue attempts many men died in the water, some drowned, some perished in the burning oil.


CONSEQUENCES OF THE RAID
           

The first raids on Darwin shocked Australia, however, the true magnitude of the destruction was censored.  In the immediate aftermath, military headquarters moved to Adelaide River and the civilian administration was withdrawn to Alice Springs. 

For the next few months, north Australian skies were defended by a small group of Americans flying Kittyhawk fighters.  Gradually, they reduced the Japanese aerial attacks. A dramatic build-up of defence personnel saw more than 60,000 based in the Territory by late 1942. Major infrastructure development accompanied this influx and some can still be seen today in the Barkly and Stuart Highways.

The threat of invasion receded and the Allies progressively launched offensive air attacks from Top End bases, taking the war back to the Japanese held areas in the islands to the north.

In Darwin, on February 19th each year, a ceremony is held in commemoration of the sacrifices of those men and women who came here to defend Australia in its darkest hour. 

 



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