70th anniversary of the bombing of Townsville during World War II

Headlines reporting the 1st bombing of Townsville during World War Two. Published in the Townsville Bulletin on 27 July 1942

When we think of Japanese air-raids on Australia during World War II we immediately think of the bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942, when 242 Japanese aircraft bombed the town killing at least 243 people. It was the first and largest single attack against Australia and 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of this tragedy. However many may not realise that the Japanese military also conducted three small air-raids on Townsville and one on Mossman during late July 1942. These four raids were definitely not on the same scale as the 64 separate bombing raids the residents of Darwin suffered between 19 February 1942 and 12 November 1943.

Garbutt Airfield Townsville, July 1942. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 171030

At the time Townsville was the most important air base in Australia. The first raid on Townsville occurred around midnight on the night of the 25-26 July 1942 - various reports mention between 2-4 Japanese flying boats dropping six bombs, all of which apparently landed in the sea. The second raid occurred at about 2 am on the morning of Tuesday, 28 July, carried out by a single airboat dropping eight bombs which landed near Many Peaks Range outside of town. The third raid occurred the following night, 29 July, about midnight, again by a single airboat, in fact the same pilot as the previous night's raid. During the third air-raid six allied aircraft unsuccessfully attempted to intercept the Japanese aircraft which jettisoned its bombs, seven of which landed in Cleveland Bay. An 8th bomb landed near the Animal Health Station at Oonoonba.

Taken from the Townsville Bulletin newspaper, 3 August 1942

The only casualty of the three air-raids on Townsville was a coconut tree when a bomb from the 3rd raid hit Oonoonba. The Oonoonba Bombing Memorial was dedicated near the site of impact to commemorate the 50th anniversary in 1992.

ABC war correspondent Chester Wilmot witnessed the third raid and recorded and described the bombing as it was happening. An audio file of this recording is available online.

Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

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My DOB was 1938, June 6. I came across a reference on the internet to the 'bombing' of Townsville in WWII. Unbelievable as it may seem, I remember two 'raids' on Townsville. In one, sirens screaming and my father, who had a severely damaged leg, endeavouring to put on his leg brace, and of the family going down into our slit trench in our back yard. The other raid felled a coconut palm tree at, according to the internet article, Oonoomba, a place very familiar to my family, my mother's best friend living there , but I don't recollect that a bomb was dropped there. About half of Townsville (including us) motored out to see the 'bomb damage' the following day at what my father said was an experimental coconut plantation. We lived near US Army Air Force base Garbutt (my grandmother's sister living across the road) and I remember seeing the sky filled with bomber planes returning to the base, some with smoke coming out of engines, holes in wings and fuseleges, bits and pieces flapping in the airstream. It must have been in May 1942 when planes flew out of Garbutt to the Battle of the Coral Sea. It was an awesome sight to a little boy, which is no doubt why I can recall it so vividly. According to my reading on the subject the aircraft were long distance surveilence flying boats, and carried few bombs. Probably dropped bombs to reduce weight and fuel consumption on their return flight. I also remember, about that time, my mother's two brothers coming to visit her and say farewell as they expected to die. They were being sent to a beach near Townsville to oppose an expected Japanese landing. They each had five rounds of ammunition for their Lee Enfield rifles. Fortunately, the landing did not happen.