75 years ago today…
The Rising Sun struck on both sides of the Pacific in December 1941. Simultaneous with the attack on Pearl Harbor Japanese troops landed in force at Kota Bharu, at the northern end of the Malay Peninsula. Tokyo’s advance southward was swift and largely uninterrupted; the British and Australian forces under the command of Singapore were unprepared both physically and psychologically. Singapore was known as ‘the impregnable fortress’, but seven weeks after setting foot on Malayan soil the Japanese extracted an unconditional surrender. The island became Japanese territory; thousands of men became POWs, never to see home again.
Four days after the surrender was signed, 188 Japanese planes rained hell on Darwin. It was the largest Japanese air attack since Pearl Harbor itself.
From the Australia.gov website:
The Japanese attacked with around 188 planes that had been launched from Japanese land bases and aircraft carriers in the Timor Sea. The Japanese fighters strafed land targets and shipping. Dive bombers attacked the ships in the harbour, the military and civilian aerodromes and the hospital. The dive bombers were escorted by fighter planes to protect them from Australian and allied planes. Eight ships were sunk and most of the others were damaged by bombs or machine gunfire.
The only air defences the allies had were ten fighter planes that engaged the Japanese planes. Only one allied fighter survived the first attack, with the Japanese suffering only one or two losses…
The second attack began an hour after the first ended. Heavy bombers attacked the Royal Australian Air Force Base at Parap and lasted about 25 minutes.
The two raids killed at least 243 Australians and allies. Almost 400 were wounded. Twenty military aircraft were destroyed, eight ships at anchor in the harbour were sunk and most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed.
With Singapore gone it seemed to many Australians that Darwin was the next target for Japanese invasion. In fact it now appears that the Japanese aim was to isolate The Great South Land and block US forces from supply. However, the air raids on Broome a short time later reinforced the fear that the Rising Sun would soon fly atop Capital Hill.
Video from the History Channel.