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Friday, February 17, 2017

Notes from the Road (15) - A Day That Will Live in Infamy

No, we're not talking about December 7, 1941, although we Americans will remember that one for much longer than any participants of that day in Pearl Harbor walk this earth.

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_Darwin
I 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 raid on Darwin differed from that of Pearl Harbor, in that Australia had already declared war on Japan. The similarity was that it was just as successful, and that the inhabitants were just as surprised that day as the waves of Japanese planes buzzed down.

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.
Well, I wandered around the park, and as I was once again in an unfamiliar range of forest, without the bespectacled guide I was hoping for, I could do little but walk and shoot.



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 as you go farther inland, the terrain gets noticeably rougher. But the natives still find peace there. I saw this young lady jogging barefoot down the road from the camp at Tennant Creek, and when I went back down the road later I saw her sitting up on this outcropping, admiring the view. 
And this was the sunset she was pondering.
I had one more walkabout on the this road, about 200 kilometers north of Tennant Creek the next morning. Much of the land had been burned over, but I found a spot that looked pretty good, and got out to stretch my legs. Once again, I struggle to identify any species, but I invite my Australian friends to identify any species they can, and leave the video time mark and species name in the comments.


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.


4 comments:

David Pal said...

I had never heard about the bombing of Darwin until now; it was never taught along with the more recognizable WWII theaters of war. There is likely quite a bit about Australia that the majority of us will never learn (let alone see) unless we go there for ourselves. Antarctica might be the forgotten continent, but it is surprising what most of us don't know about Australia. Great story, Chuck. It seems like an amazing place.

Don Lown said...

Thanks for sharing the info in your blogs. Australia had a good meeting and other excellent opportunities as illustrated in your info. Don Lown

David C Clark said...

1942 was the year that Australians joined the armed services in significant numbers, including my father. Until the bombing of Darwin, the war had been remote. Our Prime Minister told Churchill he wanted our soldier bought back to Australia and when Churchill said that they were needed in other theatres, the PM Mordred the troopships back to Australia. Dad told me that most Australians thought that Japan would invade. He joined the Engineers and spent a year teaching remote area farmers how to destroy assets that might have been of value to the Japanese should they invade.Afer the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the threat of invasion diminished. My father then joined the Air force. The area around Darwin is littered with abandoned air fields, munitions dumps and the other relics of the War.

Sir John said...

Thanks, Chuck. I was not aware of the Darwin Raid. My son Jason, who knows everything about history, did not know it either. -John Taylor