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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12116


Mr SIDEBOTTOM (Braddon) (20:27): I thank the member for Solomon for raising this very interesting topic and for the recognition that she wishes to give through her motion to the events in Darwin on 19 February 1942. When war began in 1939, Darwin was a small Northern Territory town. By 1941, things had changed and Darwin was a potential target. By 7 December 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the invasion of Malaya, the falling of Guam and, of course, the bombing of Singapore, it became an even more strategic target. By late February, Port Darwin was an important staging point for ship convoys and aircraft on their way to the fighting in the north-west. It was particularly crowded on 19 February 1942. As the member for Solomon pointed out, it was the first enemy attack on Australian soil in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia. In December 1941, with events escalating in the region, women and children were evacuated from Darwin, leaving a civilian population of approximately 2,500. I note that little thought seems to have been given to evacuation of the rather large Aboriginal population at that time.

The bombing of Darwin commenced on 19 February 1942 at approximately 10 am. A missionary on Bathurst Island, Dr John McGrath—and possibly coastwatchers on, for instance, Melville Island—attempted to report a large number of aircraft heading towards Darwin, but his warning was discounted by the RAAF as a result of the mistaken belief that the aircraft were returning US P40 Kittyhawks. As a result of this mistake, the residents of Darwin received almost no warning of the first attack. Between 19 February 1942 and 12 November 1943 there were some 64 air raids on Darwin. There were two waves of aircraft on 19 February 1942. The first wave consisted of some 188 Japanese aircraft that were launched from four aircraft carriers in the Timor Sea. It is interesting to note that those four carriers were subsequently sunk in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. This was the same carrier force which had been responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was led by Mitsuo Fuchida, of Tora! Tora! Tora! fame, who I understand lived until 1976. The bombing commenced just before 10 am and finished at approximately 10.30.

Darwin at the time was the base of the 7th Military District of Australia. The Larrakeyah Barracks contained men of the 23rd Australian Infantry Brigade. There were also two Australian infantry anti-aircraft batteries and the important Royal Australian Navy base in Darwin, including a floating dock. The RAAF was represented at a base built in 1940 that was eight kilometres south of Darwin. I understand that, at that time, a radar station at Dripstone Caves outside Darwin was not yet operational. However, this newly invented aid was eventually of great help in forestalling subsequent attacks on Darwin itself.

There were 10 US Kittyhawks from the US 33rd Pursuit Squadron that attempted to intercept the Japanese bombers. Unfortunately, all but one of them were shot down before they were able to engage the Japanese bombers. Four US pilots were killed and only one Japanese Zero was downed by the defence force that was left—an anti-aircraft battery. The second wave consisted of 54 bombers, which bombed the RAAF base just before noon. This raid lasted approximately 20 minutes. The Japanese lost between five and eight aircraft in this raid.

It is estimated that the Japanese lost between five and 10 aircraft in the raids and, of course, Australian losses were much higher. There were some 97 air attacks on Northern Australia during World War II. The first prisoner of war to be captured on Australian soil was, Sergeant Hajime Toyoshima, a Japanese Zero pilot who was detained by a Tiwi Aboriginal.

The claim that there were more bombs dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor is made by Peter Grose in his book An Awkward Truth. The claim is plausible but, unfortunately, I have been unable to find an official source or sources to verify it. Eight ships were sunk in Darwin Harbour and 15 were damaged. Two merchant ships were sunk near Bathurst Island, just north of Darwin, and at least 243 people were killed. The Northern Territory News records that 'one of the first bombs severed the wharf from its shore approaches and killed 22 waterside workers'. Nine post office workers were killed after a direct hit on the trench they were sheltering in. Approximately 17 people were killed on merchant ships at Bathurst Island. Twelve people were killed aboard the hospital ship Manunda. The largest loss of life occurred aboard the USS Peary, with 91 of her 144 crew lost as a result of the bombing. Another 15 died on a the William B Preston and 320 people received hospital treatment for wounds. The wharf was badly damaged and the police station, police barracks, post office and administrator's office were all destroyed.

News of the raid on Darwin was given to the public by Prime Minister John Curtin, who at the time was in hospital suffering from exhaustion. Prime Minister Curtin's statement was brief and contained no details of the strength of the attack or the number of casualties. On 20 February, Arthur Drakeford, the Minister for Air, issued a statement that 15 people had been killed and 24 hurt. The statement also said several ships had been hit and no vital installations had been destroyed. The next day the casualty figures were revised upwards to 19 killed—nothing like the number that were killed or, indeed, the damage that occurred. Given that communications from Darwin had been totally cut for some hours after the raids, it is possible that these statements were made without access to the facts. But it is also true that in wartime the authorities will sometimes suppress information which would cause panic or have a negative impact on morale—understandably.

Peter Grose said that he found no specific censorship of the Darwin raids during his research for his book An Awkward Truth. The official figure of 243 dead was the figure arrived at by Justice Lowe in his then secret commission to the Curtin government. His report, called Bombing of Darwin, was commissioned by the government in early March 1942 and the initial report was delivered by 27 March.

Most subsequent commentators have agreed that Justice Lowe's figure of 243 dead was probably too low. Grose put the figure at 297 and reported the view of other commentators that the number might be higher again. The exact figures, as we understand, are difficult to arrive at because, at the time of the raid, the tide was running out to sea and, as a result, some bodies were never recovered. Peter Grose discounts the much higher numbers such as 1,000 on the grounds that large numbers of missing persons were not identified and, if the number of dead was so much higher than the official version, who were they?

Whatever the figure, the actual suffering and damage was real and significant. By mid-afternoon on 19 February 1942, large numbers of residents, fearing a Japanese invasion, were fleeing Darwin. The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History records that 'allegations of mass panic were exaggerated, but probably at least half of the civilians living in Darwin at the time of the bombing fled'. Darwin's population had already been halved by the evacuation of most of its women and children in the months since Japan entered the war. 'Breakdowns in discipline resulted in many Air Force men joining the exodus and in soldiers, including military police, looting the town'. The exodus from Darwin was popularly known as the 'Adelaide River stakes', located some 120 kilometres to the south. It is further recorded that government concerns about the impact of the bombings upon Australian morale resulted in them underreporting the casualties and the effects of the attacks. The assertions which I have just mentioned are controversial for some and are contested.

On a personal level, I would like to raise an incident that occurred on 19 February 1942 in relation to Royal Australian Navy Leading Cook Francis Bassett 'Richard' Emms. John Bradford in his book In the Highest Traditionsdetails RAN heroism in the raid on Darwin by Japanese aircraft in February 1942. He cites a letter written by the Lieutenant Commander Alex Fowler, CO of the boom defence squadron in Darwin in 1942. Darwin Harbour was protected during World War II by the world's longest antisubmarine boom, operated by a total of seven boom defence vessels. One of these, HMAS Kara Kara, was anchored as a gate ship. Alex Fowler wrote about Richard Emms:

His has been a shining example of the courage that must be shown by all if we are to beat this determined enemy.

These words are contained in a moving letter written to the widow of the sailor who had been mortally wounded in the stomach and back while defending his ship HMAS Kara Kara against waves of Japanese fighter planes during the murderous raid on Darwin in February 1942. Later Lieutenant Commander Fowler wrote a citation in support of this brave sailor, Leading Cook Francis Bassett Emms, who received a posthumous award for his valour and selfless sacrifice. Fowler wrote:

For courage and devotion to duty in action. While seriously wounded, he continued to fire his machine gun on HMAS Kara Kara during a continuous machine gun attack by enemy aircraft, thereby probably saving the ship and many of the ship's company. He eventually succumbed to his injuries.

In September 1942, Emms's gallantry was recognised by the award of a posthumous mention in dispatches. His story of bravery is little known, unlike that of his fellow Tasmanian, Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean, whom I have spoken about many times in this House. Author and naval historian John Bradford tried to correct this neglect and wrote an article for a local newspaper titled 'Northern Tasmania's unsung naval hero'. Strangely and sadly it was not published then.

Richard Emms was proudly Tasmanian. He was born in Launceston in November 1909, and he joined the RAN in March 1928. He served on the cruiser HMAS Canberra. Later, in 1935, he was one of crew of the HMAS Sydney when she sailed from England to Australia and was diverted to the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal because of the Abyssinian crisis. Emms's eyesight unaccountably deteriorated while he was in the Suez Canal, so much so that he faced permanent shore posting once his ship docked in Sydney in August 1936. But Emms was a sailor through and through and loved the sea. He retrained as a cook to ensure he could continue to go to sea. Emms's love of the sea, the Navy and his country eventually claimed his life. He died defending his ship, his mates and his country. His extraordinary valour earned him a posthumous mention in dispatches.

Interestingly enough, the story of Richard Emms is very similar to that of Teddy Sheean and very much the same as that of Jack Mantle of the Royal Navy who died in 1940 doing something very similar—that is, defending his ship and his mates. He was rightly awarded a Victoria Cross. Teddy Sheean was not awarded a Victoria Cross but was mentioned in dispatches. Richard Emms was not awarded a Victoria Cross and was mentioned in dispatches. As has been mentioned before: despite celebrating the centenary of the Royal Australian Navy, not one single person in the Royal Australian Navy has ever been awarded the Victoria Cross. Richard Emms now joins 13 others, along with Teddy Sheean, to have that recognised and, hopefully through the current review into military honours, formally recognised. (Time expired)