A look back to when Australia was attacked

HMAS Sydney was lost with all hands on November 19, 1941.


Six German Surface Raiders operated in Australian waters between 1940 and 1943, where they sank a number of small merchant ships and the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney, which was lost with all hands.

The German submarine U-862 also carried out attacks in Australian waters in late 1944 and early 1945.

The Japanese operated submarines on the Australian east coast areas from 1942 till 1944.

The midget submarine attack in Sydney Harbour in May 31/June 1 being the most known.

In May 1943, the Japanese submarine I-77 sunk the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur with the loss of 268 lives.

This attack resulted in public outraged and is still bitterly remembered today.


Over one hundred sorties by Japanese fighters and bombers hit the Northern Territory, Western Australia and islands off the north coast in 1942 and 1943.

These raids largely targeted airstrips, army and naval bases.

Civil infrastructure and supply areas were also hit.

The first deadly attacks on the morning of February 19 centred on Darwin.

Two hundred and forty two aircraft hit Darwin with a significant loss of life.

The raids were subject to heavy censorship and most of the general public had no idea of the scale or frequency of the attacks.

The main defence was provided by the RAAF and Allied fighters and a number of Australian Army anti-aircraft batteries.

Four Japanese aircraft carriers launched 188 naval aircraft which inflicted major damage to Darwin, later in the day fifty four land based bombers did further damage to the area.

Twenty military aircraft were destroyed and the casualty count was 235 dead and between 300 and 400 wounded. Only four of the invading aircraft were destroyed.

Amongst the places attacked between 1942 and 1943 were Horn Island, Port Hedland, Townsville, Broome, Katherine, Wyndham, Mossman, Milingimbi, Exmouth Gulf, Cape Londonerry, Carnot Bay, Bathurst Island and the Drysdale River Mission.

Darwin was attacked at least 45 times during this period.

Irene Ada Singleton, known as ‘Rene’ trained as a nurse in Melbourne and enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service in August 1940.

She was with the 2/4th Casualty Clearing Station when she was evacuated from Singapore as it was being over-run by the Japanese in February 1942.

She was aboard the ship Vyner Brooke which was sunk by Japanese aircraft.

Twelve of her nursing colleagues drowned and twenty one others were massacred when they were marched into the sea and machine gunned to death on Bangka Island.

She was one of the remaining thirty two survivors, who became prisoners of the Japanese.

It was a little over a year before her family knew of her captivity.

Rene died of illness and malnutrition brought on by the condition under which she was held and her life gave out on February 20, 1945. She was 35 years old.

She died not knowing her two brothers Ken and Douglas had been killed in action in 1942 in the North African campaign.

Rene, from the Maffra area is buried in the Jakarta War Cemetery, Indonesia.


Irene Ada Singleton.