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The Top End at War

During World War II Darwin was bombed 64 times over almost two years, with the first two raids alone on 19 February 1942 resulting in the deaths of an estimated 243 people. Before this huge 80-man submarines raided the waters of the NT – one was sunk and remains outside Darwin Harbour today.

The strategic aim of the Japanese raids against Australia was two-fold: to safeguard their new empire, which extended to the islands north of Australia, and to take and hold new Guinea. This would allow the separation of Australia and America, and without an eastern base the United States would be unable to assault Japan.

The Allies fought back, using the Territory as a base, with Spitfire squadrons and radar defending the north of Australia, although further Japanese raids took place from Townsville, Queensland, to Broome in Western Australia, where around 86 people died in a raid on 3 March 1942. Eventually many bomber squadrons were based in the NT, while the giant harbour was used for a safe naval base from which Allied naval forces sallied to meet the enemy.

At the peak around 1943, there were over 110, 000 armed forces personnel based in Darwin and nearby areas. It was from Darwin that General Douglas MacArthur launched his campaign to liberate Manila and more generally to reclaim the Philippines from Japanese occupation.

The NT’s military history includes further basing by US forces in the Cold War; as a staging point for the Korean and Vietnam wars, and today it is home to thousands of military personnel who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Darwin Military Museum, while focused on WWII, is proud to highlight the complete military history of the north of the continent.

Recommended Reading:

Alford, Bob.  Darwin’s Air War . (2 nd  edition).

Lewis, Tom.  Zero Hour in Broome.  Darwin’s Submarine I-124 .   A War at Home  – an account of the first raids.

Williams, Peter .  The Kokoda Campaign 1942 : Myth and reality.

(All books available at our museum shop)