Australia was an essential member of the Allies in World II, playing a key role in the Pacific theater. Was Australia bombed in the course of the conflict?
The northern coast of Australia was bombed by Japan frequently between February 1942 and November 1943. The first and most devastating of these attacks came in Darwin, which was unprepared for the approximately 200 aircraft that raided the city. Australia soon improved its air defense, reducing the effectiveness of future attacks.
For more on Australia’s role in World War II and the attacks on the country, read on.
Australia joined World War II at the outset of the conflict in 1939, as a result of its relationship with the United Kingdom. The country entered the war against Nazi Germany.
Throughout the course of the war, Australia stood opposed to other Axis Powers, including Italy and Japan. More than a million Australians fought during the war, about half in Europe.
When Japan entered the conflict in 1941, Australia’s position in the South Pacific made it both a target and a key strategic location for the war in the Pacific Theater. As a result, Australian troops were withdrawn from Europe and operated closer to home.
Australian soldiers were primarily deployed in the South West Pacific Theater, where they fought in the Philippines, Borneo, the Solomon Islands, and the East Indies.
Attacks on Australia
World War II marked the first time that Australia had been attacked by a foreign enemy since the country gained its independence. It faced frequent attacks by the Japanese Air Force between February 1942 and November 1943, with air raids numbering more than a hundred by the end of the war.
The attacks on Australia varied greatly, ranging from individual torpedo attacks on Australian ships to smaller air raids from fighters and large-scale bombing operations.
The first and most devastating attack on the Australian mainland came on February 19, 1942, when the city of Darwin and its port were attacked by approximately 200 Japanese aircraft.
Air attacks continued for 20 months, across the northern coast of Australia, while naval attacks occurred mostly on the eastern coast.
Though the terrible impact of the bombings was evident to those who witnessed the attacks or their aftermath, southern Australia was left mainly in the dark. Wartime censorship and distance from the events meant that the southern population was mostly oblivious to the crisis on the north coast.
Regardless, the Australian leadership took the incidents very seriously. They implemented a series of air raid precautions and taught civilians how to react in case of an attack. The Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, and his government encouraged Australian civilians to believe that the country was under threat of a full-scale invasion from Japan.
While there is no evidence that this was the case, the government believed that the gravity of the threat would encourage all Australians, even those far from the attacks on the northern coast, to prepare for the worst and take civil defense seriously.
This was in contrast to the government’s censorship policies regarding the attacks. They wanted to keep the people in a state of alertness while also shielding them from the grim realities of the situation.
Attack on Darwin
Darwin, the first target attacked by the Japanese air force, served as a supply base and camp for personnel, ships and aircraft moving north to join the Pacific Theater.
Despite its military role in the war, Darwin had slim defenses and insufficient numbers of anti-aircraft guns. What defence the city had performed admirably but could not prevent the large numbers of Japanese aircraft from breaking through.
More than 250 people died in the attacks on February 19 but censors hid this number from the public eye. Rather than reassuring the population as intended, this lack of clarity only led to a greater sense of panic.
The attacks destroyed Darwin’s airport and much of the city’s infrastructure such as its largest post office.
In response to the attack, the military assumed control of Darwin, and non-combatants were evacuated from the city. The garrison soon doubled in size and the increased defences helped prevent future damage on the scale of the initial attacks.
Though they suffered heavy losses, the Japanese air force persisted in attacking Darwin for the following 20 months. The final Japanese air raid on Australia came on November 12, 1943, when nine aircraft attacked the town of Batchelor, south of Darwin.