I discovered another day of infamy, that the horrible Second World War brought us, one not really known by most Americans, but one that Australians will remember for just as long.
February 19, 1942. Seventy-five years ago this weekend...
"The Bombing of Darwin, also known as the Battle of Darwin, on 19 February 1942 was the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia. On that day, 242 Japanese aircraft, in two separate raids, attacked the town, ships in Darwin's harbour and the town's two airfields in an attempt to prevent the Allies from using them as bases to contest the invasions of Timor and Java. The town was only lightly defended and the Japanese inflicted heavy losses upon the Allied forces at little cost to themselves. The urban areas of Darwin also suffered some damage from the raids and there were a number of civilian casualties.
The two Japanese air raids were the first, and largest, of more than 100 air raids against Australia during 1942–43."
- Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_DarwinI had no idea this ever happened, until I found myself on the very dock that was hit on the first wave of the attack.
|A striking image, as you're standing on the very dock where this happened.|
|Lest we forget...|
|The view of Darwin harbor today, in better times.|
The Australian military, as well as the populace, decided it was a good time to retreat a little inland, to let the outback serve as a natural ally against the invasion that all assumed was sure to come.
|The military retreated to here, as a first line of defense against the invasion. That's Darwin across the bay, with the harbor line low against the water.|
|The site is now the Charles Darwin National Park. I went expecting to find a bespectacled botanist park ranger combing through a treasure trove of botanical specimens, and found instead a deserted park with deserted WWII ammunition bunkers.|
|Well, now, this is Australia. An open bunker for anyone to examine. The Australians can still afford to trust folks.|
|An interesting side story here. Those pallets the boxes are sitting on...the hundreds of thousands of pallets used to import ammunition and other equipment from the US were left scattered all over the country after the war, and the Allied Materials Handling Standing Committee which had been managing war-time logistics was privatized as the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool. You may know that organization today as CHEP.|
The rest of Darwin's population headed farther, much farther inland, some as far as Alice Springs, 1500 kilometers away. But the bulk of them ended up in the little town of Katherine, a three or four day walk/ride back in those days, and waited out the war. The anticipated invasion never came, much to the relief of both the Australians and the Japanese soldiers.
|The highway between Darwin and Alice Springs today. I doubt it looked this good back in 1942.|
|Lots of remnants of the war still remain. Here at a roadside park near Katherine are the old foundations of a staging camp.|
|And this was the sunset she was pondering.|
The biggest disappointment of my trip is that I did not get to visit the Kakadu National Park, a huge preserve just east of the road I've described in this post, that Ludwig Leichardt and his men stumbled through in the closing stages of their first, successful trip. I was running just a little behind on my trip, and considering how exhausted I was, and that I could use a day in Darwin to recuperate before climbing on an airplane for an around-the-world return to Pennsylvania, I decided to bypass the park and leave it for next time.
But here's a nice slide show on Google Earth that gives us a taste of what awaits our visit.
Well, I could share hundreds of more photos, and a few more stories of Australia, but I guess you get the gist of it by now. A big land, a great people, and a dazzling variety of ecosystems. I hope to make it back again some day.