Darwin war history
Dr. Tom Lewis OAM
Pearl Harbor is often compared to the Darwin attack but the similarities are very few.
Although both were surprise initial raids on an enemy of the Japanese Empire, the destruction caused in each raid was disproportionate in the extreme.
Some people say Darwin was “bigger” than the Pearl Harbor strike. The chairwoman of the Northern Territory's Centenary of Federation committee in 2001, Carole Miller, said: “'It was bigger than Pearl Harbour...and it's time the nation knew about this."
Many say: “More bombs fell on Darwin”, a phrase now common in much of the publicity surrounding the commemoration of the first raids. True enough but it is just used to be sensationalist if used without the correlation that the tonnage of bombs which fell on Pearl Harbor was greater: the Japanese were using smaller bombs in the Darwin raid. It’s a bit like saying the Darwin assaults were more significant than the Nagasaki raid because that attack on Japan only used one bomb.
The following tables shows the statistics of the two raids.
Explosive Ordnance tonnage – Pearl Harbor v Port Darwin
Pearl Harbor - First Wave
Pearl Harbor - Second Wave
Pearl Harbor Total
Port Darwin - Carrier strike
Port Darwin - Land-based trike
Port Darwin Total
Steve Bullard’s table: Wartime magazine No. 59 Winter 2012
The comparison is also a rather disingenuous one. A torpedo strike from a Japanese bomber would do far more damage than a bomb from the same aircraft: as air group leader Fuchida discussed in conferences before the attack: “…the torpedoes below the surface would do more effective damage than bombings from the air.” Torpedoes were not used at Darwin but they inflicted massive damage at the American base. To just compare the weapons by their weight is to miss this point.
Some say that more civilians were killed in the Australian raids. Untrue. There were 2,388 lives lost in the Pearl Harbor raids compared to 235 killed in Darwin. It’s generally held 68 civilians were killed at Pearl; 25 were killed in Darwin.
What about the ships sunk?
It has been claimed more ships were sunk at Pearl than in Darwin. Eleven ships were sunk in Darwin: nine inside the harbour. The largest warship was a destroyer, the USS Peary, with 88 of her crew killed. At Pearl all eight battleships of the US Pacific Fleet, the most important capital ship at the time, were sunk or badly damaged. The size difference between a destroyer and a battleship is immense. The comparison is similar to that of a car set beside a three-trailer truck. The firepower is commensurately similar.
Three cruisers – again, big, important ships – five destroyers, and seven other ships were also sunk or grounded. Most ships were raised and repaired, although for many wrecks this took years.
The strike at Pearl was a massive loss for American aircraft too, and that raid was far more destructive than Darwin’s. For example, 350 aircraft were destroyed or damaged whereas in the Australian assault 30 were lost.
None of this is to say that the 19 February 1942 strikes were insignificant. They were. The attacks were the first on the Australian landmass, and signaled a new and sometimes desperate stage of the war, which if Australians had not stood alongside Americans and prevailed in New Guinea, may well have seen invasion. The writer Douglas Lockwood called his 1960s book, the first published about the raids, Australia’s Pearl Harbour. It’s a good and deserved title. But the important differences should be emphasized, not minimized, to do historical justice to both of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Darwin.
Ingman, Peter. Citing, “NavSource Naval History”, http://www.navsource.org/Naval/ijnaf.htm
Smith, Carl. Pearl Harbor 1941 The day of infamy. Osprey. 2001.
Stille, Mark. Tora, Tora, Tora!: Pearl Harbor 1941. Osprey. 2011.
Bullard, Steve. “Were more bombs dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor?” Australian War Memorial. Wartime magazine No. 59 Winter 2012.
Kawano, Capt. Teruaki. The Japanese Navy’s air raid against Australia during the World War 2. Extracts of the Japanese Kodochosho. 1997.
 ABC News. http://www.abc.net.au/news/state/nt/archive/metnt-19feb2001-2.htm Accessed September 2012.
 For example in this article, which contains numerous errors:
DARWIN, February 19, 1942,
* 242 Japanese aircraft attack Darwin harbour, town and airfields
* Like Pearl Harbour a total surprise and no air raid sirens sounded
* More than 300 military and civilian personnel killed
* More bombs dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbour
News.com.au. “70 years on, survivors remember the Japanese bombing of Darwin.” http://www.news.com.au/national-old/years-on-survivors-remember-the-japanese-bombing-of-darwin/story-e6frfkxr-1226274422208. Accessed December 3012.
and in this travel website Darwinhub:
“More bombs were dropped on Darwin than at Pearl Harbour, resulting in 243 deaths.” http://darwinhub.com/about-darwin/darwin-history/ Accessed November 2012.
 Fuchida, Mitsuo. From Pearl Harbor to Calvary. California: eChristian, 2010.
 “The Japanese struck with the same carrier-borne force that devastated Pearl Harbor only ten weeks earlier. There was a difference. More bombs fell on Darwin, more civilians were killed, and more ships were sunk.” An Awkward Truth. Publisher’s web site: http://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=94&book=9781741756432 Accessed May 2012.
 “…and more ships were sunk.” An Awkward Truth. Publisher’s web site: http://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=94&book=9781741756432 Accessed May 2012.
Darwin Military Museum
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Darwin Military Museum