Filming the bombing of Darwin | Australian War Memorial

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Filming the bombing of Darwin | Australian War Memorial

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On the 19th of February seventy years ago, the city of Darwin was bombed. Sustaining heavy damage and civilian casualties in air raids by Japanese forces, this attack was the first of over sixty air raids conducted up until November 1943.

For footage of the actual bombing, we today rely on the films of amateur filmmakers who were living or stationed in Darwin at the time. They also took in scenes of destruction, filmed once the danger had passed. Though mostly black and white, faded, scratched and lacking a sound track, the films clearly convey the devastating effects of the attacks : masses of smoke rise against a clear sky, out of which a shot fighter plane drops to earth; ships stream plumes of smoke, and the wreckage of homes and more is seen.

Here are a few selections from the Memorial’s film collection of Darwin in 1942. See our YouTube channel to view the clips.


1. Bombing of Darwin , by Roy Wheeler. Title no. F04605.

Aboard the hospital ship Manunda moored in Darwin Harbour on February 19, Lieutenant Roy Wheeler filmed smoke rising from the USS Peary and the SS Zealandia, hit by Japanese aircraft. In other scenes, army personnel in tin hats and life jackets watch the bombing as it occurs, and the camera surveys damage done to the Manunda’s rigging, deck and windows.

2. The bombing of Darwin and aftermath February-March 1942 by Francis Sheldon-Collins . Title no. F04775
Sheldon-Collins, Captain and Commodore’s cook at Darwin’s Naval Headquarters, had ample opportunity to follow the bombing and its effects. In the first scene, smoke from bombs bursting on Darwin’s RAAF Station can be seen. These shots were taken from a rooftop at Myilly Point. In the second scene, Members of the 2/14th Field Regiment are seen proceeding to slit trenches for defence. Then the camera races to keep up as bombs rapidly fall across the landscape, hitting the Naval Barracks at Myilly Point, the hospital beach, the Naval Supply stores and the Naval Paymaster’s office. In the third scene, the camera follows the course of an aircraft shot from the sky. The film donor thought it was a P-40 Kittyhawk, which, he later observed , was not a craft to match the speed of the Japanese Zeros. In the fourth scene, we see a bomb crater by the hospital, while officer’s cook, N.J. Phillips, stands within to give an idea of the depth. Then follows scenes of damage to the town including the Supreme Court, the Administrator’s Residence, a block of flats nearby, the Post Office, and the Darwin Pier, damaged in the first air raid. Behind it, lying on its side, is the wrecked freighter Neptuna , lost when her cargo of depth charges was exploded by a bomb.

Read more about the bombing of Darwin here
Look here for more Darwin bombing content in the Memorial’s collection.

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