Attacks on Australia during World War II

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Due to Australia's geographic position there were relatively few attacks on Australia during World War II.[clarification needed] Axis surface raiders and submarines periodically attacked shipping in Australian waters from 1940 to early 1945 and Japanese aircraft bombed towns and airfields in Northern Australia on 97 occasions during 1942 and 1943. Technically Papua New Guinea was part of Australia until 1975, so the large Japanese invasion in 1942 was a significant invasion of Australia - just not as it is considered now.

Naval attacks[edit]

Six German surface raiders operated in Australian waters at different times between 1940 and 1943. These ships sank a small number of merchant ships and the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney. The German submarine U-862 also carried out attacks in Australian waters in late 1944 and early 1945.

Japanese submarines operated in Australian waters from January 1942 until July 1944. Major submarine offensives were carried out against shipping off the Australian east coast from May to July 1942 and January to July 1943.

On the evening of 31 May/morning of 1 June 1942, Sydney harbour came under direct attack from Japanese midget submarines. HMAS Kuttabul, a converted ferry being used as a troop sleeper, was hit and sunk. 22 sailors were killed, 19 Australians and 2 members of the Royal Navy.

The only Japanese force to land in Australia during World War II was a reconnaissance party that landed in the Kimberley region of Western Australia on 19 January 1944 to investigate reports that the Allies were building large bases in the region. The party consisted of four Japanese officers on board a small fishing boat. It investigated the York Sound region for a day and a night before returning to Kupang in Timor on 20 January. Upon returning to Japan in February, the junior officer who commanded the party suggested using 200 Japanese prison inmates to launch a guerrilla campaign in Australia. Nothing came of this and the officer was posted to other duties.[1]

Air attacks[edit]

The first air raid on Australia occurred on 19 February 1942 when Darwin was attacked by 242 Japanese aircraft. At least 235 people were killed in the raid. Occasional attacks on northern Australian towns and airfields continued until November 1943. These included:

  • 64 raids on Darwin
  • 9 raids on Horn Island
  • 4 raids on Broome
  • 3 raids on Exmouth Gulf
  • 3 raids on Townsville.


  1. ^ Frei 1991, pp. 173–174.


  • Clayton, Mark (April 1986). "The north Australian air war, 1942–1944". Journal of the Australian War Memorial. Canberra: Australian War Memorial (8): 33–45. ISSN 0729-6274.
  • Frei, Henry P. (1991). Japan's Southward Advance and Australia. From the Sixteenth Century to World War II. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0-522-84392-1.

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