JAPANESE BOMBING RAID ON DARWIN RAAF AIRFIELD
28 MARCH 1942

 

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Mitsubishi G4M1 "Betty" bomber

 

The Japanese Takao Kokutai sent an unescorted flight of 7 Mitsubishi G4M bombers to raid Darwin on 28 March 1942. As the Allied fighters had been unable to intercept a number of the recent bombing raids, the Japs decided they would not send any escort fighters.

Unknown to the Japanese, Captain James Selman, CO of the 9th Pursuit Squadron of the 49th Pursuit Group, had only just recently started a system whereby he endeavoured to have two teams of four Kittyhawks in the air at all times with four on the ground in reserve.

When the early warning systems raised the alert of a possible bombing raid, 2nd Lt. Mitch Zawisza's flight of 4 Kittyhawks from the 9th Pursuit Squadron was already over Beagle Gulf. The caught up with the Japanese bombers over Darwin RAAF airfield. The Mitsubishis bombed the runway but only caused minimal damage. They then headed west towards Timor over the Darwin dock area. Zawisza's 4 Kittyhawks intercepted them at 18,000 feet just before midday.

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Steven Poleschuk

Zawisza and his wingman Bill Sells, along with Steven "Polly" Poleschuk and his wingman Clyde Harvey, attacked the Japanese vee formation on the right flank. They peeled off to the right and swung around again for another two strafing runs.

 

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2nd Lt. Bob Vaught

Flight Leader 2nd Lieutenant Bob Vaught was also alerted of the potential bombing raid at Darwin and scrambled his five Kittyhawks of 9 Pursuit Group at Adelaide River to intercept the Japanese raiders. Vaught was previously a member of the 33rd Provisional Squadron which had mustered for Java. He signed on with Captain Selman's 9th Pursuit Squadron as it passed through Amberley airfield back in mid March 1942. He followed the group to Darwin in his Kittyhawk #94 "Bob's Robin", which had been rebuilt by Amberley ground staff from various RAAF wrecks.

After Zawisza's four aircraft had finished their third strafing run, Vaught's flight chased the Mitsubishis across the Gulf. Vaught attacked one of the smoking bombers from underneath. He could see his tracers hit the left side of the round fuselage of the Mitsubishi. It erupted in flames and spiralled down into the sea.

The Japanese bombers were then able to hide in some heavy clouds 100 miles out to sea. Just before they did so, Poleschuk made a final strafing attack at the last Mitsubishi and saw pieces fly of the bomber as his tracer bullets hit home.

The 5 Kittyhawks that had attacked the Japanese bombers all claimed heavy damage was inflicted on the Japanese bombers. Some Kittyhawks had been hit by the turret gunners on the Mitsubishis but the damage was minimal and was quickly repaired. None of the American pilots had been injured.

The Kittyhawks returned to Batchelor airfield where the following Tally was recorded:-

TALLY
Vaught 1 Kill
Sells 1 Kill
Poleschuk 1 Probable

After this reception, the Japanese then decided never to fly another unescorted bombing mission to Darwin.

The Unit History Sheet - Detail of Operations, Sheet No. 55  for Darwin "B" Flight, 13 Squadron RAAF has the following entry:-

28.3.1942.  Seven H/B attacked Darwin Aerodrome dropping from 40-45 bombs occasioning slight damage to the Wirraway Operation Room and runway. Enemy aircraft casualties, 2 destroyed, 1 probable, 1 possible.

 

The Japanese Version of this Bombing Raid

Takao Kokutai's record of the bombing raid:-

Seven land attackers (Betty or Nell: the original documents does not say anything) led by Lt.(jg) FUJIWARA, Takeharu, attacked the east a/f in Darwin but one of them failed to return.

0814 Seven left Koepang
1120 Arrived over Darwin
1122 Bombed East a/f in Darwin Bombed at camouflaged 3-4 large planes hiding in a forest near of the runway, several hits on the runway.
1127 Contacted by 7 P-40s, four kills including one probable.
1130 The bomber (plane commander: Yobi. Ens. ASAHIRO) received sevral hits on its port engine and it stopped. it failed to catch up with the rest.
1138 Aerial combat ceased.
1445 Six returned Koepang.

          They dropped 83 x 60kg bombs.

Note: Yobi Ens. means he joined the Navy after graduating from regular universities, colleges or schools for civil marine. He is not a graduate from the Naval Academy, He is not an aviator starting from a sailor either.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"Protect & Revenge"
"The 49th Fighter Group in World War II"

by S.W. Ferguson & William K. Pascalis

"Darwin Bombed"
"The Unit History of 14 Heavy Anti-aircraft Battery"
by Jack Mulholland

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to than Gordon Birkett for his assistance with the Unit History Sheet - Detail of Operations for 13 Squadron RAAF.

I'd also like to thank Minoru Kamada for his assistance with this web page.

 

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 Peter Dunn 2006

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This page first produced 2 November 1999

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