National Library of Australia

Photographs of the bombing of Darwin

Lorna Laffer (1909–1995)Kitty Hawks 1942

gelatin silver photographs; each 5.5 x 8.0cm

Donated by Lorna Laffer

Northern Territory Library
Photographs of the bombing of Darwin

On 19 February 1942, 188 Japanese aircraft headed toward Darwin, a major Allied base, for the first of 64 attacks over 21 months.

For the first time, the Australian mainland was under attack. Allied authorities knew a raid was imminent, but their defences were unaccountably underprepared and offered little resistance.

Thinking that an all-out invasion was likely, Darwin’s population began streaming south toward Adelaide River. Hundreds of servicemen deserted.

Lorna Laffer, a nurse from South Australia, captured the damage (she took several photographs and the rest are from her collection). In a letter to Sister Ellen Kettle, she wote: ‘The pictures of the Neptuna etc were given to me by Major Levitt as he was leaving the Territory ...’.

The Allied death toll on that first morning was about 250 people. Between 300 and 400 were injured. Twenty aircraft, eight ships and most of Darwin’s civilian and military infrastructure were destroyed. Japan lost about 10 aircraft.

The Japanese forces had no intention of landing in Australia— in fact, they were about to invade Timor and Java. The raids were designed not only to prevent an Allied counteroffensive, but also to damage Australian morale.

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