Dimboola Memorial Secondary College School Captains Remi Kuhne, Kynan Clarke, Horsham College School Captains Kessia Peterson, John Paul Macalinga, with Darwin Veteran Frank Fischer (middle) at the Darwin Defenders Commemoration Service at Horsham College
Dimboola Memorial Secondary College School Captains Remi Kuhne, Kynan Clarke, Horsham College School Captains Kessia Peterson, John Paul Macalinga, with Darwin Veteran Frank Fischer (middle) at the Darwin Defenders Commemoration Service at Horsham College

First Mainland Attack on Australia in World War 2 , 19th February,1942.

By Charles Rees.

Australia was in readiness for a possible Japanese invasion from the north. A naval base was established in Darwin port and several aerodromes were airbases for the United States of America Airforce, Netherlands East Indies Airforce and our own RAAF. The Australian Army units were stationed at coastal defence positions. This included ‘The Wimmera Boys’, 19th Light Horse Machine Gun regiment.

 

Raised as a militia unit in 1940, based at Horsham, from the 1st Armoured Car Unit based at Horsham and 19th Light Horse Regiment, Horsham. Men from Wimmera towns and the Southern Mallee joined up. 900 of these men were attached to what became the 19th Light Horse Machine Gun regiment. Later named the 19 Machine Gun Battalion.

Late in 1941 they ‘moved out’ by train to Alice Springs, then by truck on rough unmade roads to be transferred to train cattle carriages a short distance from Darwin. They arrived into a sub-tropical landscape of lush humid jungle, a vast contrast to dry hot open countryside they knew.

Posted to the 23rd Brigade, companies of men were sent to various coastal outposts, some to Winnellie, 7km north-east of Darwin.

Harsh conditions of high humidity, mosquitoes,supply shortages and indifferent rations was just the beginning of their dangers and discomforts.

 

On the morning of February 19,1942, aircraft were sighted, at first they were assumed to be Americans on a training mission, but that changed quickly when, ‘It’s the Japs’,was shouted.

At 09.58am, 188 Japanese planes,launched from aircraft carriers in the Timor Sea, strafed and bombed Darwin, a 40 minutes raid, destroying the Post Office,the Telegraph and Cable Offices and the Post-Masters resident, as well as many other buildings, fuel dumps and aerodromes were damaged.

 

One hour later, another 54 land based planes attacked the harbour and military and civil infrastructure, lasting 25 minutes.

 

These air raids were to be the first attack on Australia by a foreign power. Imperial Japanese Navy Air Commander (later Captain) Mitsuo Fuchida lead the first wave. He also lead the air raid on Pearl Harbour on December 7,1941.

 

There were 45 ships were in Darwin Harbour, eight were sunk, with many other ships suffering various ranges of damage and 23 American and RAAF airplanes destroyed. The circumstances were desperate and

the defence was inadequate: WW1 guns, machine guns with one belt of ammunition and the infantry had five rounds only, some units did not have enough rifles nor fighter aircraft.

 

The survivors faced chaos and devastation. Nhill Darwin veteran, 95 year old, Frank Fischer, described the situation as ‘frightening and confusing, no one knew what was going on at the time’.

Due to confusion and the horror of the destruction on the unsuspecting people of Darwin, official figures of the death toll and wounded were varied. ‘The government of the day’ claimed 243 were killed and up to 400 wounded. However many more, maybe over a 1,000 were killed.

In fact the outcome was really strictly censored, with all documents stamped : ‘Not to be released until 1995’.

Officially,the Australian government restriction on information was to maintain the morale of the Australian people.

 

Hence we are still today learning more of what happened in Darwin during WW2. What is certain, Japanese aircraft made 64 air raids on Darwin and surrounds, with further attacks across northern Australia, until the November 12, 1943. This included Wyndham,Broome,Exmouth and Onslow in WA,  over 200 km inland to Katherine, Northern Territory and Townsville and Mossman in Queensland.

 

Some returned Dimboola men who served and witnessed the Darwin horror were Lester Marks, Gordon Haby, Cliff Sallmann, Eric Avery, Sam Pohlner and Max Goodier.

 

The ‘Darwin Defenders’ organisation hold a remembrance service in Horsham each year to honour the men of the Wimmera who gave their all in Darwin during WW2.

This week on Monday February 20, Dimboola Memorial Secondary College captains Kynan Clarke and Remi Kuhne represented Dimboola with dignity in their role at the Horsham College service.

 

Thank you : Warrant Officer David Sudholz, Norforce, Australian Army.

             Horsham Darwin Defenders.

             National Archives of Australia.

             Mr Frank Fischer, Darwin Veteran.