East Point fortifications
From as early as 1892 a threat from Japan had been in the minds of Australia's military planners. In 1911 Field Marshal Kitchener noted that it would be sound policy to provide fixed defences to protect the Port of Darwin, recommending two batteries of two 6-inch guns, on the east and west points of the harbour entrance. However, Kitchener's recommendations remained on hold.
In 1919 Admiral Jellicoe was requested by the Australian Government to formulate a strategic plan for the defence of the Pacific. In part he recommended the establishment of a Far Eastern Fleet with its main base at Singapore, and Australian bases including Darwin. However, a 1923 conference saw the ‘Singapore Strategy’ born and with it the end of Darwin’s role as a major naval base. Instead it was to be a naval refuelling facility protected by four 6-inch guns.
The construction of the Esplanade and Doctors Gully Oil Storage Tanks, Oil Storage Tunnels and a pump house on Darwin’s foreshore behind Stokes Hill Wharf, was commenced in 1926. In 1932 men of the Royal Australian Engineers and Royal Australian Artillery arrived in Darwin to construct fortifications and accommodation for a garrison and by early 1933 foundations at East Point Fortifications were completed and works at Dudley Point and Emery Point followed. By 1936, four 6-inch guns, two each at East Point and Emery Point, command posts, magazines and searchlights were completed. The 6-inch guns at East Point were to be replaced eventually by two 9.2-inch guns.
A worsening international situation saw a strengthening of Darwin’s defences, with two additional guns installed at East Point, the construction of Larrakeyah Army Barracks and an anti-submarine boom net – the longest in the world. The build up of troops continued and by November 1940 there were over 2,200 troops in Darwin. Coastal defences were also commenced with a number of ‘Singapore’ type observation posts and defensive positions established along the harbour shore.
Work on the 9.2-inch gun emplacements began in mid-1941, however all work stopped following the Japanese raids of February 1942. Peter Roberts, a Gunner at East Point, was at his post as Zero fighters and dive-bombers attacked the East Point defences.
Some works recommenced at East Point in late 1942, however work on the 9.2-inch gun emplacements was delayed until March 1943. Cliff Taylor was a Troop Sergeant with the 19th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery at Fannie Bay in 1943.
During February 1944 the first 9.2-inch gun arrived belatedly aboard the SS Allara and was lifted onto its mounting. The first proof round was fired on 10 April. But it was all to no avail. Although the second gun was installed and three proof rounds fired in March 1945, War Cabinet had decided to reduce Darwin’s coastal artillery to one 6-inch gun and two six-pounders. By war’s end not a shot had been fired ‘in anger’ by the East Point batteries. As a final act the 9.2-inch guns were sold and cut up for scrap metal by the Fujita Salvage Company. The 6-inch guns were placed in long-term storage but restored to operational status in December 1952.
Two days after Prime Minister John Curtin’s speech, mainland Australia came under attack for the first time on February the 19th, 1942.
The Japanese attacks which were planned and led by Naval Commander Mitzu Fushida, the commander responsible for the raid on Pearl Harbour ten weeks earlier, involved aircraft from four aircraft carriers in the Timor Sea, and 54 land-based bombers. 47 vessels were at anchor in the harbour, or alongside Darwin’s Stokes Hill Wharf.
(sounds of aeroplanes dropping bombs)
In the first attack, which began just before 10 o’clock in the morning, 188 planes attacked shipping in the harbour, before bombing and strafing the town, the RAAF base, the civil aerodrome, and the hospital at Berrimah. Civillian contractor Stan Kennan was in his Smith Street workshop as the first raid began:
“It was a beautiful morning, and we were just having smoko. We heard this flight of aircraft approaching, and we walked outside and watched these aircraft coming in from the West.
They were coming in such perfect formation, it was a matter of moments to count the eight groups of nine, so 72 aircraft. You just had to admire their perfect formation. And a moment later, bombs were actually landing around the post office, around the walls.”
As the bombs rained down on the harbour, postmaster Hurtle Bald, his wife Alice, 16 year old daughter Iris and six staff hurried to the slip trench in the backyard in the post office. In the first minutes of the raid, the trench received a direct hit, killing them instantly.
The last round was fired on 21 August 1959, after which the guns were removed from their foundations and relocated to the Defence of Darwin Experience. The East Point World War II sites are entered in the Northern Territory Heritage Register and open to the public.
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