WAR STORY: Guy Day-Lewis, who later served in the navy, recounts the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese.
WAR STORY: Guy Day-Lewis, who later served in the navy, recounts the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese. Mike Knott BUNGUY

Bombing of Darwin 75th anniversary: Survivor's tale

ON FEBRUARY 19, 1942, hundreds of Japanese warplanes launched a surprise attack on Darwin.

And standing on a wharf watching the planes come over was Guy Day-Lewis, who has lived in Bundaberg since 1950.

"There were 45 ships in the harbour, and 42 were sunk or damaged," he said.

Mr Day-Lewis said the Australian Government kept the details of the attack secret until 1995.

"The first bomb to hit Australia was in 1942," he said.

"No one could dispute that."

Mr Day-Lewis, now 93, said he did not immediately react to the situation.

"I was too young to realise what was happening," he said.

But Mr Day-Lewis soon realised he would have to take action to save his life.

The wharf he was standing on caught alight and next to it was moored an ammunition ship packed with depth charges and other munitions.

"I didn't know where to go," he said.

"I knew the ship would blow up because it was full of ammunition."

Mr Day-Lewis decided to take to the water.

"I had to swim about 200m from the wharf to the land in among the dead bodies," he said.

Mr Day-Lewis later served in the navy for six years.

According to the National Archives of Australia, Japanese forces mounted two air raids on Darwin on February 19.

The two attacks were planned and led by the commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour 10 weeks earlier.

They involved 54 land-based bombers and about 188 attack aircraft launched from four Japanese aircraft carriers in the Timor Sea.

In the first attack, which began just before 10am, heavy bombers pattern-bombed the harbour and town; dive bombers escorted by Zero fighters then attacked shipping in the harbour, the military and civil aerodromes, and the hospital at Berrimah.

The second attack began an hour later and involved high altitude bombing of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Parap and lasted 20-25 minutes.

The two raids killed at least 243 people and between 300 and 400 were wounded.

Twenty military aircraft were destroyed and eight ships were sunk.

Most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed.

The attacks were not a precursor to an invasion of Australia.

The Japanese were preparing to invade Timor, and anticipated that a disruptive air attack would hinder Darwin's potential as a base the Allies could launch a counter-offensive from.


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