Remember our military history
THIS year on Sunday, February 19 is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin.
Australians should never forget the 240 lives lost in the attack.
My father Able Seaman (Boom Defence) Frederick George Husband was in Darwin at the time of the two attacks.
Fred was a member of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve and was called up on September 2, 1939, and drafted to HMAS Karangi and HMAS Melville in November 1940.
In May this year it is also the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the depot ship HMAS Kuttabul by Japanese midget submarines at Garden Island in Sydney with 21 sailors killed.
Fred was on the Kuttabul convalescing and was fortunate to be at HMAS Penguin on the night of the attack. I am a Royal Australian Naval Veteran as were two of my brothers.
On February 19, 1942, mainland Australia came under attack for the first time when Japanese forces mounted two air raids on Darwin.
The two attacks, which were planned and led by the commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour 10 weeks earlier, involved 188 attack aircraft which were launched from four Japanese aircraft-carriers in the Timor Sea, and a second raid of 54 land-based bombers.
The carrier battle group consisted of four heavy cruisers - two on distant cover - a light cruiser, seven destroyers and three submarines.
In the first attack just before 10am, Kate bombers hit shipping, infrastructure and the town for about 25 minutes.
Val dive bombers and Zero fighters then attacked shipping in the harbour, and the military and civil aerodromes.
The second raid, at about 1.45 am, involved high altitude bombing of the air force base by twin-engine machines. The two raids killed 235 people with a up to 400 wounded.
Thirty aircraft were destroyed, including nine of 10 flying in defence, nine ships in the harbour and two outside were sunk, and some civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed.
The Japanese lost four aircraft to a spirited defence: two Val bombers and two Zero fighters.
One of the fighters crash-landed on Melville Island to Darwin's north, and its pilot was captured by a local Aboriginal man - the first prisoner of war on Australian soil.
Despite widespread belief at the time, the attacks were not a precursor to an invasion.
The Japanese were preparing to invade Timor, and thought a disruptive air attack would harm Australian morale and hinder Darwin's potential as a base from which the Allies could launch a counter-offensive. The Japanese also planned to take New Guinea, cutting Australia off from US support. Denying Darwin's ability to act as a base would help achieve that aim.
The air attacks across northern Australia, centring on the Territory, continued until November 1943, by which time the Japanese had raided the Top End over 200 times. The last enemy aircraft was shot down over the Territory in June 1944. During the war other towns in northern Australia were also the target of Japanese air attack, with bombs dropped on Townsville, Katherine, Wyndham, Derby, Broome and Port Hedland.
In the hours following the air raids of February 19, believing that an invasion was imminent, some of Darwin's civilian population began to stream southwards. About half of Darwin's civilian population ultimately fled.
The panic in the town was paralleled by confusion at the RAAF base, where personnel were directed in difficult circumstances to other areas in great numbers. Looting and disorder, and impact of the first raids, subsequently led the government to hurriedly appoint a Commission of Inquiry led by Mr Justice Lowe, which issued two reports, one on 27 March and the other on 9 April 1942.
However, within a few months, Darwin was mounting an even more credible defence, which grew to a coordinated response involving fighters, radar, and searchlights.
The response grew steadily to involve counterstrike from bombers, largely manned by US forces.