Darwin's war - remembered

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Desmond Paroz (author), ABIS Kayla Hayes (photographer)

Location(s): Darwin

Topic(s): Naval Heritage, 75th Anniversary

LTC Matthew Emborski, Deputy Commander Northern Command, CAPT Bryan Parker, RAN, Commander of the 1st Brigade BRIG Ben James, AM, DSM and Commanding Officer HMAS Coonawarra, CMDR Viktor Pilicic attend the USS Peary commemorative service held on Sunday, 19th of February 2017 at the Darwin Esplanade. (photo: ABIS Kayla Hayes)
LTC Matthew Emborski, Deputy Commander Northern Command, CAPT Bryan Parker, RAN, Commander of the 1st Brigade BRIG Ben James, AM, DSM and Commanding Officer HMAS Coonawarra, CMDR Viktor Pilicic attend the USS Peary commemorative service held on Sunday, 19th of February 2017 at the Darwin Esplanade.

The nation’s eyes were firmly focussed on the northern capital of Darwin on 19 February as the city paused to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin by Imperial Japanese forces.

The commemoration held at the Darwin Cenotaph was attended by a number of notable guests, including veterans of the conflict, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, and Her Excellency Lady Cosgrove, along with the Territory Administrator, Prime Minister, senior federal and state politicians, ambassadors and descendants.

These guests stood alongside community leaders, members of the public and former and current serving members of the Australian Defence Force.
Vice Chief of Defence, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, attended as the representative of the Chief of Defence and said it was a particularly significant commemoration for Australians.

“We often forget how dark 1942 was, from the fall of Singapore through to the bombing of Darwin and other cities in northern Australia, the loss of HMAS Perth and HMAS Yarra and other naval battles leading to the Battle of the Coral Sea," he said.

“It was a dark year, it was an uncertain year and the men and women of all our three services did their best to keep Australia strong and free,” Vice Admiral Griggs said.

“Darwin was then, and is now, crucial to the defence of northern Australia, and the Australian Defence Force’s participation in these commemorations – lead by Army’s 1st Brigade and supported by all three services – underscores this importance.”

The raids were undertaken by the same forces that attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, and residents and military forces initially believed the incoming aircraft were of British origin, and therefore were caught on the back foot.

The commemoration featured the sounding of an air-raid siren at 9:58am, followed by a fly-past consisting of three F/A-18 Hornets and an AP-3C Orion of the Royal Australian Air Force, which was responded to by anti-aircraft gunnery from the 1st Brigade’s 8/12 Regiment ashore and the Armidale class patrol boat HMAS Maryborough in Darwin Harbour. 

Maryborough was anchored over the wreck of the USS Peary which was sunk in the harbour during the raids, with the loss of 91 men. 

A service to mark the loss was also held on 19 February, with attendance by many of the same dignitaries, and a focus on the friendship forged between Australia and the United States as a result.

Commanding Officer of HMAS Coonawarra, Darwin's Navy base, Commander Viktor Pilicic was pleased to see the large turnout at the Darwin events.

“With 75 years having passed it is important that we never forget this massive and sustained attack on the Australian mainland," he said.

“19 February 1942 saw a significant loss of life that included not only members of the Australian military, but also large numbers of civilians, and notably the loss of United States military members that fought side-by-side with Australia to defend our shores.

“To see members of the Australian and international community stand together with Australian Navy, Army and Air Force personnel and US Marines showed that these important connections stand strong to this day,” Commander Pilicic said.

The attack was the first of more than 100 on northern Australia, and remains the largest single attack by a foreign nation on Australia. Some 235 Australian and Allied personnel were killed in the bombing mounted by over 240 Japanese aircraft.

A video of the commemoration is available here