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This Day in History

Australian History

Saturday, March 14, 1942. :   Japanese bombers make the first of nine attacks against Horn Island in Torres Strait.

     During World War II, the first real attack of the Japanese on an Australian base occurred with the bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942. That attack scattered the naval base at Darwin and demoralised Australians. Darwin continued to be bombed dozens more times over the following months, while other localities, both on the Australian mainland and offshore, also came under fire.

Horn Island is a small island which lies off the tip of Queensland's Cape York Peninsula, in Torres Strait. Just 53 km2 in area, it is known as Nurupai by its indigenous inhabitants. The island was settled by Europeans during the nineteenth century, mined for gold during the 1890s, and established as a pearling centre in the first half of the twentieth century. In the opening years of World War II, a large Allied air base was built, named the Horn Island Aerodrome, and used as a staging base for Allied aircraft between Australia and New Guinea, while any non-military and non-indigenous people were evacuated to the mainland.

The first of nine Japanese bombing attacks occurred on Horn Island on 14 March 1942. Mid-morning, eight G4M1 Betty bombers departed the Japanese base at Rabaul and were joined by twelve A6M2 Zeros for escort from Lae. Reaching Horn Island at 11:25am, they dropped 78 x 60kg bombs, 32 of which struck the island. Fortunately, no-one on the ground was killed. The Japanese bombers were intercepted by nine Kittyhawks of the 7th Pursuit Squadron which shot down two Zeros and claimed one bomber.

The defence of Torres Strait from Horn Island remains a little-known facet of World War II, but it was crucial, as Horn Island was the nearest operational airbase to the Japanese forces in New Guinea. Interestingly, early in 1997, divers located the wreck of one of the Zeroes near Thursday Island.

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