Darwin air raids and Japanese Airmen

Until the Pacific War started, Darwin was generally regarded as a remote tropical post in northern Australia. Australian defence in the north existed but was not strong when Japan entered the war in December 1941. Darwin was identified as an important naval port for the allied forces and 3000 US troops arrived in January 1942 to join several thousand Australian troops. Japan, on the other hand, did not want Darwin to be a strong military base as they were planning to invade Timor and carry out offensives in New Guinea and surrounding islands.

On 19 February 1942, the first Japanese air raid took place when 188 planes, including 36 Zero fighters, reached Darwin. In this attack, over 250 people died and 400 were injured. The air raids continued until November 1943 and the number of raids reached 64 in total.

Over this period, many Japanese planes crashed when they were shot down by the allies or suffered mechanical failures. When Japanese planes crashed to the ground, Australian teams were sent to the sites to investigate the wreckage and recover crew’s bodies. The bodies were initially buried nearby and later at Berrimah War Cemetery in Darwin as unidentified Japanese airmen. When the Cowra Japanese War Cemetery was established in 1964, all the graves were transferred from Berrimah to Cowra. Over the years, some airmen have been identified through historical research and some individual names were engraved on their grave plates.

The Cowra Japanese War Cemetery Database Project ( 2016-2024 ) © Embassy of Japan, Canberra