The war hits home

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The war hits home

The following is an extract from: Australia and World War II

© NSW Department of Education and Training, Learning Materials Production, Open Training and Education Network, 2001.


19 February 1942 was the day war first came to Australian shores. Darwin was thought to have been under threat from the time the Japanese first attacked Malaya so it was decided to evacuate civilians from the city. Women, children, sick and disabled people were moved south during December 1941 and January 1942 in case of a Japanese attack. However, although the civilians were moved out of Darwin, little else was done in preparation for an attack by the Japanese.

The fears of an attack on Darwin were realised on 19 February when Japanese aircraft bombed the city causing substantial damage. There was an immediate concern that Japanese troops were preparing to invade Australia. We have since learnt that the Japanese did not plan on invading Australia. However, the concern at the time saw Curtin ask for the American general, Douglas MacArthur, to be stationed in Australia and take over the command of the troops preparing to defend the south-west Pacific.

A further 60 raids on Darwin occurred between March 1942 and November 1943 resulting in 17 more deaths and even more people wounded and property damaged.


The bombing of Darwin caused great panic as many believed the raids would lead to a full-scale invasion of Australia. Most of the civilians who remained behind in Darwin after the evacuations in December 1941–January 1942 fled after the raids on 19 February. Several service personnel also deserted their posts and joined the exodus south.

The bombing of Darwin was followed by looting of shops and homes. Both Australian civilians and servicemen stole furniture, radios, cameras, clothes, etc, from homes and shops.

The Australian government wanted to avoid panic in the southern states so they censored the information provided to the public. Although 243 people died during the raid the news given out at the time was that only 11 had died.

The government was unsuccessful in trying to stop the panic caused by the threat of Japanese invasion. Civilians and servicemen who fled south gave eyewitness accounts of the death and destruction.


As well as the air raids on Darwin, some places in Australia, such as Newcastle and Sydney in NSW, were also shelled by Japanese submarines.

World War II reached the largest populated Australian city when Japanese submarines surfaced just outside Sydney Heads. Three midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour intending to sink the Australian and American ships docked there.

The Sydney ferry, Kuttabul, was being used as a naval depot (pronounced dep – o) when it was hit by a torpedo from one of the Japanese submarines and 19 people were killed.

The Allies defending Sydney Harbour managed to destroy two of the Japanese midget submarines within the harbour without any further damage to their own vessels. After being fired upon by the USS Chicago and HMAS Geelong, the third midget submarine was never heard of again.

Japanese submarines continued to travel along the east coast of Australia attacking Allied vessels. A number of ships carrying war supplies were sunk by the Japanese.

© NSW DET 2009

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