World War II historyin the Northern Territory
Travel to the Top End and discover how deeply Darwin is embedded in Australia’s military history. To this day, the Bombing of Darwin remains the largest ever single attack mounted on Australia by a foreign power.
As a strategic Allied military base, Darwin was the target of Japanese air raids in February 1942, with more bombs dropped on the city than on Pearl Harbor. Savage air raids continued to rain across the Top End during World War II, leading to a repositioning of armed forces in the Darwin region. Adelaide River, 113km south of Darwin, become a huge base for Australian and American headquarters.
As a result of this prolonged conflict, there are many incredible heritage sites in and around the city, and indeed through the Territory, including ammunition bunkers, airfields, oil storage tunnels, explosives stores and watch towers.
Local tour operators offer a range of insightful and informative guided tours of these heritage sites, or you can easily discover them yourself if you have the time to explore.
Fast-forward three quarters of a century from the end of the war, and a visit to a modern day Darwin is a step back through Australia’s military heritage. Traces of WWII are still visible and accessible around the Northern Territory and Territorians keep the history alive in the most contemporary of ways.
Darwin itself was the target of more than 64 air raids from 19 February 1942 to November 1943 and, as a result, there are many fascinating sites to uncover in what is now a vibrant, modern city. On any visit, you can easily discover underground oil tunnels, gun emplacements, explosive storage areas, and more, on guided tours, walks, cruises, and in contemporary museums using the latest computer technology.
Located at East Point Reserve, the Darwin Military Museum and the Defence of Darwin Experience play wartime footage and interviews with WWII veterans, and have curated a captivating collection of artefacts including uniforms, weapons and artillery pieces. To top it off, the museum houses a café which is steeped in lush tropical gardens – the perfect way to cap off a day of exploring.
A recent addition just minutes from Darwin at Stokes Hill Wharf, is the multi-million-dollar Bombing of Darwin Harbour and Royal Flying Doctor Service Experience. Cutting edge virtual reality transports you from modern-day Darwin into a world at war… from bombs falling and sinking ships at Stokes Hill Wharf to the wing of a Japanese bomber for a bird’s eye view of the city. Ghostly holograms eerily tell the stories behind every day people during the Bombing of Darwin.
Military sites in the NT
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Batchelor & Adelaide River
En route to Litchfield National Park – another must-see on your Top End visit – be sure to stop at the Adelaide River War Cemetery, to pay your respects to the civilians and servicemen lost during the 1942 bombing of Darwin and other campaigns.
Just a short drive from Litchfield Park’s entrance, it’s easy to spend an hour or two at the fascinating Batchelor Museum, which tells how this township became a strategic base for the Pacific region during WWII.
Down the Track
If you’re journeying south along the Stuart Highway, you’ll discover many fascinating reminders of the time when the war came to Australia. Several airfields are dotted along the highway and provide interpretive signage to help you find out more.
Keep your eyes peeled for the remains of WWII bomb craters in Katherine at Knott’s Crossing, or explore Australia’s first international airfield, Daly Waters Airfield – a site used by RAAF and US Army Air Force to conduct combat operations to really round out your NT Military Heritage experience.