Darwin war history
Written by Norman Cramp, Director of the Darwin Military Museum.
It might surprise you to know that over severty-six years after the intital ‘event’ many Australians remain blissfully unaware that Darwin was the target of seventy-seven Japanese air raids over a period of twenty-one months. Darwin was basically undefended when the first attacking Japanese aircraft appeared in the skies above the township on 19th February 1942, although those service personnel who were in the town or on the ships in the harbour gave a good account of themselves.
The main targets on the 19th February were the harbour, the Stokes Hill wharving facilities, the township, the airfield and the RAAF Base. The map reproduced below provides a clear picture of the scale and spread of the bombing pattern, but left out of this image is East Point, where the wartime gun emplacements remain and Darwin Military Museum stands today.
Whilst East Point was not a primary target during the raids, I thought it worthwhile to provide a summary of events leading up to, and following, the raids of February ’42 so we have a mind’s eye view of wartime Darwin and developments at East Point.
1931: September, Japan invades Manchuria.
1932: Australian government approves the Darwin Emergeny Defence Scheme and the construction of two additional fuel oil tanks.
1932: August-September, Personnel of Darwin Detachment, 2x6” guns arrive in Darwin aborad HMAS Canberra, Australia and Albatross.
1932: 6” guns moved to East Point in preparatio of installation.
1933: Aboriginal prisoners from Fannie Bay Gaol commence work on installing the 6” guns
1933: 6” guns installed by February 1933, but test/proof firing planned for June postponed
1933: Darwin Garrison troops arrive under the command of Major Cyril (‘Silent Cyril’) Clowes,
1933: Searchlight engine room at Dudley Point constructed
1935: Port War Signal Station tower radio ‘shack’ and engine room commenced.
1937: Plans for anti-submarine boom net submitted. It was to be the longest such net in the world at 3.1 kilometres.
1938: 6” guns test fired but all were condemned. Type BL XI (produced in 1914) were installed and successfully test fired in June.
1939: Darwin Mobile Force arrives and is accommodated in the old Vesteys’ meatworks at Bullocky Point (current site of the Darwin High School).
1939: September 3rd, Australia declares war on Germany.
1940: Work commences at East Point and West Point on anti-submarine boom net installation.
1941: Work commences on 9.2” gun emplacements at East Point (budget of £415,000).
1941: 7th December, Japan attacks US Fleet at Pearl Harbour, simaltaneously attacking allied bases throughout the Pacific region. Australia decalres war on Japan.
1942: January, Imperial Japnanese submarine I-124 sunk off outside Darwin Harbour by HMAS Deloraine.
1942: 19th February, Darwin attacked by 188 Japanese aircraft in two raids. All work on gun emplacements at East Point halted and all equipment moved to Berrimah and then Alice Springs.
1942: 28th June, East Point attacked by Japanese aircraft. Little damage recorded.
1943: Work resumes on East Point gun emplacements with an increase in budget of £70,000.
1943: November, last Japanese air raid on Darwin/NT.
1944: February, first of the two 9.2” guns arrive in Darwin. Gun test fired in April.
1944: November, permanent manning of 6” and 9.2” guns around Australia officially ceased.
1945: March, second 9.2” gun test fired. All anti-aircraft and Coastal Artillery withdrawn from Darwin vicinity.
1945: August, Japan surrenders. The war is over.
1946: 9.2” guns sold to Burns Philp who were acting as agents for the Japanese Fujita Salvage Company. Ships in Darwin Harbour also salvaged by the Fujita Company.
1959: 9.2” guns fired for the last time and retired from service.
1969: East Point Military Museum, incorporating the Command Post and Gun Emplacement 2, opened by Royal Australian Artillery Association NT.
2012: The name of the Museum changed to Darwin Military Museum (DMM). While the 2x9.2” guns are now long gone, the 2x6” guns remain ‘on station’ within the DMM, along with 2x3.7” anti-aircraft guns that fired in anger during the period of the raids.
So, in summary, East Point had a relatively quiet wartime experience compared to the rest of the township of Darwin. Looking at the map and the fall of the bombs, it is no wonder that the town was almost totally destroyed but, somehow, the military and the few remaining civilian residents remained strong and determined and in due course won the day.
Lest We Forget
Darwin Military Museum
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Darwin Military Museum