In a speech given on 17 February 1942 Prime Minister Curtin called the fall of Singapore “Australia's Dunkirk”; two days later mainland Australia was attacked for the first time.
The attacks which were led by Naval Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who also led the raid on Pearl Harbour ten weeks earlier, involved aircraft from ten aircraft carriers in the Timor Sea and 54 land based bombers. Forty-seven vessels were at anchor in the harbour, or along side Darwin’s Stokes Hill Wharf.
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 Station Darwin, the civil aerodrome and the hospital at Berrimah. Civilian contractor Stan Kennan was in his Smith Street workshop as the first raid began.
Prime Minister Curtin
Only two things now stand between us and the overthrow of everything that we have, and of everything that we ever might hope to have. Those two things are: the heroism and fighting prowess of the men who go forward to battle, and the industry, zeal and devotion of the men and women who remain behind.
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 back yard of the Old Darwin Post Office. In the first minutes of the raid the trench received a direct hit, killing them instantly. The Westpac Bank suffered considerable bomb damage, the Victoria Hotel had a bomb explode in the backyard during the first air raid, while the nearby Commonwealth Bank escaped any damage.