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WWII History

During World War Two (WWII), Darwin became the first mainland site in Australia to come under direct attack from the enemy when it was the target of more than 64 Japanese air raids, causing huge devastation and many civilian casualties. The Top End played a key strategic role in the defence of Northern Australia and much of its unique military heritage is well preserved. Gun emplacements, oil storage tunnels, bunkers, military airstrips and lookout posts are scattered in and around the city. Most are easily accessible and many are free of charge. Visitors are encouraged to explore this fascinating and often overlooked chapter in Australia’s history. 

A national day of observance, now officially named Bombing of Darwin Day, is commemorated annually with a City of Darwin community event at the Darwin Cenotaph on the 19th of February. Many additional commemorative services take place across the Top End on or around this day, attracting visitors and locals who wish to acknowledge the sacrifice of those who lost their lives, and the courage of all who served in the defence of the Top End.

Must do:

Take a journey back in time on a specialised WWII tour with Bombing of Darwin WWII Heritage Tour,  the Tour Tub, AAT Kings, Sea Darwin, Darwin Explorer, The Darwin History and Wartime Experience and Walk Darwin.

Visit Darwin Military Museum and Defence of Darwin Experience and Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility for an immersive, interactive, multimedia experience.

Follow the WWII Oil Storage Tunnels deep under Darwin city.


East Point Military Reserve

Originally established as Darwin’s main defence point to protect precious oil stores at Stokes Hill Wharf, 9.2 inch gun emplacements, an anti-submarine boom net, ammunition magazines, lookout towers, communication rooms, searchlight emplacements and command posts still stand in East Point Reserve, just eight kilometres from Darwin CBD along East Point Road.


Darwin Military Museum and Defence of Darwin Experience

Featuring a unique display of WWII memorabilia and wartime stories, the museum boasts fantastic relics, an extensive photograph collection, displays of war instruments and even restored guns constructed for use during the conflict. This is also the site of the amazing new Defence of Darwin Experience which provides visitors with an immersive, interactive, multimedia experience of the story of Darwin’s role in WWII. The museum is located within East Point Reserve and entry fees apply.


Charles Darwin National Park

This area was part of the network of military sites established during the development of Darwin as Australia’s northern defence line during WWII. The site has been restored to include an interactive display outlining Darwin’s role in the Pacific War. Charles Darwin National Park is approximately seven kilometres from Darwin along Tiger Brennan Drive. Gates are open from 8am-7pm.


WWII Oil Storage Tunnels

The WWII tunnels were constructed in 1943 to protect Darwin’s oil supplies. Photographic displays pay tribute to the men and women who served in Darwin during WWII. Self-guided tours are conducted daily. Please note the tunnels are closed December 1-27 and New Years Day. Entry fees apply.


Adelaide River War Cemetery

The only war cemetery in the Top End, this is the resting place for 434 service men and women and 63 civilians, all who died during the Japanese air raids. Situated on the north east banks of the Adelaide River approximately 120 kilometres south of Darwin, this special site is beautifully maintained amidst tranquil gardens.


Strauss Airstrip

The site, approximately 45 kilometres south of Darwin along the Stuart Highway, includes an information shelter and life-size cut-out plane images, and was an important landing strip used by American, British and Australian pilots involved in combat over Darwin and Fenton.


Australian Aviation Heritage Museum

From the WWII Spitfire to the B52 Bomber, the museum boasts an impressive presentation of aircraft and graphic displays depicting the Northern Territory’s long-standing involvement in aviation history.  Entry fees apply.


USS Peary Memorial/USAAF Memorial

Overlooking Darwin Harbour at Bicentennial Park on The Esplanade, the memorial is dedicated to the officers and crew of the USS Peary, which was attacked and sunk during the first Japanese air raid on Darwin. One of the guns later salvaged from the vessel now serves as a memorial to those lost in action. Also honoured here is Lieutenant Robert Buel, a United States Army Airforce pilot who lost his life on 16 February 1942 in an heroic attack on Japanese aircraft on a bombing raid over Darwin.


The Cenotaph/War Memorial

Overlooking Darwin Harbour in Bicentennial Park, the Cenotaph is Darwin’s memorial to those members of the armed services, rescue services, and civilian personnel who gave their lives in the service of their country in time of conflict. Flanking the Cenotaph, memorial plaques include dedications to the many who perished, as a consequence of the air raids on Darwin during WWII.


Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility

Visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service Darwin Tourist Facility - Two Iconic Territory Stories in One Iconic Location. Enjoy the heroic tales of the birth and growth of the RFDS and relive the drama of the Bombing of Darwin Harbour that rocked Australia in 1942.

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