February 19th, 1942, Darwin itself was bombed by 260 Japanese fighters and bombers twice during the day. The attacks were directed against the port and shipping and 252 Allied service personnel and Darwin citizens were killed during the two raids. Over the coming months raids were also made against Broome, Wyndham, Port Hedland, Derby, Darwin, Katherine, Townsville, Mossman and Horn Island (in the Torres Strait).
There were a total of 97 Japanese air raids against targets in the north of Australia which, along with the attacks on Sydney, mean that three of Australia’s six states were attacked as well as one of the territories.
The air raids did tie up a great deal of anti-aircraft defenses and managed to interrupt the shipping in the port so from a strategic point of view were probably considered successful by the Japanese High Command.
Interestingly, although a much less strategic target than Pearl Harbour, more bombs were dropped on Darwin in these first two raids and a total of 10 ships out of 45 were sunk. 23 Allied aircraft were destroyed for the loss of seven Japanese aircraft.
The four IJN aircraft carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū and Sōryū) that participated in the bombing of Darwin were later sunk during the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
Strangely enough there is some debate to the number of ships actually lost with estimates ranging from seven to eleven. Ships lost include, however:
- USS Peary, a United States Navy destroyer
- USAT Meigs, a large US Army troop transport ship
- MV Neptuna (used as a troop transport)
- SS Zealandia (used as a troop transport)
- HMAS Mavie, a Royal Australian Navy patrol boat
- SS Mauna Loa, a 5,436-ton US merchant freighter
- British Motorist, a UK-registered merchant refuelling oiler
- Kelat, a 1,849-ton coal storage hulk
Another two ships were beached and subsequently refloated bring the total to 10. 25 ships in total were damaged.
Aircraft lost were mostly US aircraft:
- 10 x P-40
- 1 x B-24 bomber
- 3 x C-45 transport planes
- 3 x PBY Catalina flying boats, and their moorers outside the harbour
- 6 x Lockheed Hudsons (RAAF losses)
All-in-all, an effective raid and along with the next 60-odd raids, it was enough to persuade the allies to use Brisbane and Fremantle as naval stations rather than Darwin.