THIS year marks 80 years since Australia faced an unprecedented foreign attack on home soil. From February 1942 to November 1943, Darwin was the target of more than 64 air raids. The total number of bombs dropped was two-and-a-half times those dropped at Pearl Harbour.
February 19 was the day when Darwin was bombed by enemy forces in the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia. It left hundreds of servicemen and civilians dead and countless others injured.
The day is commemorated each year but this year special events have been planned to mark the 80th anniversary.
The Bombing of Darwin Day Commemorative Service will be held on February 19 from 9.30am-11am at The Cenotaph. The event, hosted by the City of Darwin, is free and open to the public.
On February 18 and 19, Arafura Wind Ensemble will present the 80th anniversary From Engagement to Peace, a homage, from 5.30pm at Christ Church Cathedral in Civic Park on Smith Street.
The City of Darwin is also offering special Bombing of Darwin 80th Anniversary Tour packages to mark the anniversary. The self-guided tours include Darwin's the Royal Flying Doctor Tourist Facility, Darwin Military Museum and Darwin Aviation Museum. Also included is the Bombing of Darwin Cruise, a one-hour experience on Darwin Harbour where you will go back in time to February 19, 1942. The tours can be taken on any day between February 17 and 21, with ticket prices from $60.
The Australian American Association NT is hosting two USS Pearly Memorial Services on February 19 at The Esplanade. The first is from 8.15-9am and the second will be held from 9.30-11am. Both are free and open to the public.
Battlefield Tours is holding a special four-night tour for the anniversary departing on February 16. Guests will hear from an expert WWII historian, attend a commemorative service for the bombing's anniversary, visit all of Darwin's military and WWII sites, as well as enjoy a special night time experience at the military museum. Package prices start from $1899 per person including four-star accommodation.
Important sites include:
- Darwin Military Museum, overlooking Beagle Gulf, is one of the best stops to understanding Darwin's role in WWII, housing WWII fortifications, military vehicles and larger artillery pieces.
- The nearby Defence of Darwin Experience, which offers visitors a powerful WWII audio-visual journey, with anecdotes from survivors and films containing actual footage from the attack.
- At Stokes Hill Wharf, the Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility uses virtual reality and holographic technology to transport you to the bombing scene of 1942, complete with films, story-telling "ghosts" and simulated cockpit experiences.
- The Darwin Aviation Museum hosts an impressive collection of the Territory's aviation history, including a massive B52 Bomber - one of the few surviving in the world - and wreckage of a Japanese Zero brought down during the 1942 air raids.
- The concrete and steel-lined WWII Oil Storage Tunnels, located at Darwin Wharf Precinct, were part of an overall defence strategy and remained a secret to the public until 1992. Today they are lined with photographs and relics, and make for a meaningful walk through history.
- If you're looking to hear more military insights and stories from local historians, enlist in a four-hour Bombing of Darwin WWII Heritage tour or Australia's Frontline: WWII Bombing of Darwin tour.
There are other important sites on the Stuart Highway (known as North-South Road in 1943)
- En route to Litchfield National Park, stop by Adelaide River War Cemetery and Civil Cemetery to pay your respects to the 434 military personnel and 63 civilians who were killed during the bombing. On February 20, an ecumenical service in memory of the lives lost will be held at the cemetery by Coomalie Council. The service will be held from 10-11am.
- A small detour at East Arm, 36 kilometres from Darwin, takes you to the Quarantine Anti-Aircraft Battery Site, a former command post during the war and the most complete anti-aircraft-gun-site in the area.
- Drive for an hour to the town of Batchelor, which was once an important RAAF base for the Pacific region. Learn more about military history at the Batchelor Museum, the departure point for the first bombing missions against the Japanese on Australian soil.
- Book a tour and see real-life artefacts at the former 4 Repair and Service Unit at Pell Airstrip.
Charles Darwin National Park
- Part of a network of military sites that formed Australia's front line of defence, today you can see ammunition storage bunkers and testing areas built in 1944 and used until the mid-1980s.
- Drive two hours south to Katherine, the southern-most point of Japanese bombing raids in the Territory and home to two Australian Army hospitals during WWII.
- For a solid history session, head to Katherine Museum. Housed in a former air terminal, it contains detailed wartime displays as well as pioneer memorabilia.
- View crater remains at Knott's Crossing Katherine, which was directly bombed in 1942.
- While Mataranka is best known for its hot springs, it was also a WWII base for more than 100 military units, including the Aboriginal Army Camp, established in late 1943.
- Heading back to Darwin, you'll spot aircraft alongside the Stuart Highway. Straus Airstrip, a former base for fighter squadrons in WWII, is one last surviving and most intact pursuit fighter installations in northern Australia.
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