Australia yesterday began marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s World War II bombing of Darwin, an event seen as the nation’s “Pearl Harbor” and the root of its alliance with the US.
Air raids on the remote northern city on Feb. 19, 1942, killed at least 243 people and wounded hundreds in a wave of destruction authorities vastly downplayed at the time.
The bombing, which followed hard on the heels of the fall of -Singapore to the Japanese, unleashed panic in the streets of Darwin and was a taste of bombing raids across the country’s north that continued until November 1943.
While opening a museum exhibition dedicated to the event, Australian Veterans’ Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon said the Japanese battlegroup that covered Darwin’s skies in the air raid were the same group that had bombed the US Pacific Fleet at Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor.
“There were more airplanes in the first wave across Darwin than in the first wave at Pearl Harbor and more bombs were dropped,” he said. “The attack on our north was significant for all of us.”
Snowdon said while the Darwin bombing had never had the “Hollywood treatment” accorded to Pearl Harbor, the attack in which 89 US sailors from the USS Peary died had “forever cemented us as brothers.”
When US President Barack Obama traveled to Australia in November as he launched the US’ reinvigorated military mission in the Pacific, he toured a memorial to the USS Peary in Darwin, one of the vessels sunk on that day.
At the time, Obama said that “in a sense it was here in Darwin where our alliance was born in Australia’s Pearl Harbor.”
The scale of the bombing of Darwin was covered up by Australian authorities during the war, but even after hostilities ceased the event was not well known or understood in Australia despite its significance.