Australian Defence Force members and an Armidale class patrol boat have provided a strong contribution to commemorative services held in the Northern Territory to mark the 77th Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin.
The Bombing of Darwin, which occurred on 19 February 1942, was the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australian soil. More than 240 people died, 500 were injured, 30 aircraft destroyed and 11 ships sunk in the attack.
The first commemorative event saw the United States Navy Clemson class destroyer USS Peary remembered at the Peary Memorial Gun on the Darwin Esplanade. Official records state that Peary was sunk by five Japanese aircraft bombs during the Bombing of Darwin, killing more than 80 members of the ship’s company.
The service was attended by Australian Defence Force members, ex-servicemen and women, special guests, and Darwin locals. A United States Marine Corps Colour Party and HMAS Coonawarra Flag Party conducted ceremonial duties as attendees remembered the lives lost during the sinking of Peary.
In support of the commemoration, the Armidale class patrol boat HMAS Armidale was underway in Darwin Harbour, sailing in close proximity to where the Peary wreck lies today.
In an address to the gathering, Commanding Officer of HMAS Coonawarra, Commander Darren Rushworth captured the poignancy of the occasion.
“Sweating it out in a faraway exotic land – you’re a sailor. A seagoing warrior manning the toughest warship built with Philadelphia steel surrounded by the best shipmates the Navy could bless you with.
“You’re serving the USS Peary DD-226.
“Then it starts – Pearl Harbor, December 7th 1941. Only two days later, you’re alongside in Cavite, Manila Bay – you are also attacked. The ship is merely scratched.
“For the next two months, the ship runs the gauntlet of air raids, submarines and enemy warships hunting your soul.
“Then it’s February 1942 and you’re in the exotic port of Darwin, a temporary homeport of sorts, safe in allied harbour preparing for your next mission.
“And then they come again, and for you, again.
“Alas, there are 64 other ships in harbour - plenty for the enemy to choose – but they choose you.
“Your warship, four funnels and gun mounts proud, lying fast to the tide building steam, thirsty for fuel, the blood of war.
“The luck of USS Peary runs out. She is hit not once, not twice, not thrice but five bombs destroy her soul and her souls on this day in Darwin 1942.
“Thank you USS Peary, thank you. You will not be forgotten,” Commander Rushworth said.
8th/12th Regiment Recreate the Bombing of Darwin
The sound of artillery and gunfire echoed around Darwin City and across the harbour during the 77th Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin.
Hundreds gathered at the Darwin Cenotaph to commemorate the event. Among the crowd were Australian Defence Force veterans, senior Government officials, senior ADF Officers of the Northern Territory, and many other serving members from across the Top End.
There was also strong attendance by Darwin locals and school children – all present to remember the fallen and mark a pivotal moment in Darwin and Australia’s history.
An address by Mr Matt Hall, a third-generation former Royal Australian Air Force pilot, set the scene before a tri-service Catafalque Party took post at the Cenotaph.
At 09:58am the air raid siren sounded and members of Army’s 8th/12th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery led a re-enactment of the fateful day, firing four M2A2 105mm Howitzers and General Support Machine Gun MAG 58s. Armidale class patrol boat HMAS Armidale supported the re-enactment from the harbour, simultaneously firing a 50 Calibre machine gun.
Commanding Officer 8th/12th Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Joe Wheatley said it was important to support the commemoration.
“It’s an opportunity to recognise the fighting spirit of Darwin and remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice 77 years ago.
“We remember the courage and commitment it took to rebuild the city of Darwin and make it the city it is today,” Lieutenant Colonel Wheatley said.
The Cenotaph then became a sea of colour as wreaths were laid by attendees representing an array of groups, organisations, and military units.
The Ode of Remembrance was recited by local high school student before the Last Post, a minute’s silence and The Rouse. A final simultaneous round from the Howitzers was an appropriate way to mark the day of remembrance.