DCA's Role in the Second World War: Part 2
On Tuesday, 19 February 1942, the Japanese mounted a heavy bombing raid on Darwin. The civil aerodrome received a few minutes warning. The ground staff evacuated their offices and took shelter in slit trenches. The Aeradio staff rushed to the radio room to carry out their emergency procedures. An air raid in progress signal QQQ QQQ QQQ de VZDN was sent out, and repeated by Daly Waters. This was to turn back all civil aircraft which might be on their way to Darwin. The operators then sought shelter in the slit trenches.
At the end of the first raid, staff came back to put out the fires. Unfortunately the aerodrome fire tender was ablaze and the emergency power plant was badly damaged. In the Aeradio room the ceiling had been brought down, and the room was littered with broken valves. The control lines to the transmitter were open-circuited and all the radio equipment was unworkable. Radio staff then drove to the Darwin Coastal Radio Station to report the damage to Melbourne. This message was the first detailed news of the raid received by the rest of Australia.
While this message was being sent a second raid occurred. The radio staff then went to the transmitter site and opened an aircraft watch, backed by the AWA Coastal Radio Station. By early in the afternoon, Darwin Aeradio was back in business.
Bruce Acland, a DCA Aeradio operator (who later received a King's Commendation for Brave Conduct in recognition of his work during the raid), recalled: "The few days after the first big raid are a blur in the memory. We literally worked until we dropped, twenty or more hours at a stretch. I was involved mainly in setting up a station using aircraft equipment and batteries with a petrol charger at a deserted Chinese shop near the civil 'drome. Some of the others were dismantling the transmitters at the 'Eleven Mile' [site] and when they had completed this they took them by train to Katherine. During all this period VZDN was still on the air. Our staff dropped down to three Aeradio and one flight check officer, and the deserted Chinese shop became Darwin Aeradio. We shifted into the OICs residence near the civil 'drome getting what food we could from neighbouring houses and the RAAF Mess store on the aerodrome."
Much of the attack on Darwin was aimed at the harbour where the Flying Boat Base was located. The Base was under the control of DCA officer William Wake. During the first attack, five merchant ships were sunk and a further 11 vessels damaged. Hidden by the smoke of burning ships, the QEA flying boat Camilla (VH-ADU) received only minor shrapnel holes. Between the raids she was safely flown out and returned the next day to evacuate the companys staff.
DCA Coxswain John Waldie set about rescuing survivors in the departmental launch CA22. On the first two trips he was accompanied by Boathand Ray Crocker. He then made at least three trips alone. Waldie is known to have saved over one hundred men. William Wake, OIC, was knocked down by a bomb blast near the DCA Control Building but although badly concussed, he remained on duty. Wake and a boathand took another departmental launch out rescue survivors and later toured the harbour with Waldie. Flying boat operations ceased at Darwin after the raid, and after further raids the Base staff were withdrawn.
For some weeks there were no further bombing raids, only aerial reconnaissance and fighter strafing attacks. Bombing attacks then occurred on 19, 26, 28 and 31 March. Aeradio moved to a tin shanty adjacent to Parap Police Station. The operators dug a slit trench near the hut and fitted it so they could key their transmitter and listen on one of the receivers while in the trench. There was a telephone to flight section control and the anti-aircraft batteries.
(Photo: CAHS collection)