Bombs rained from the sky, Katherine remembers

WAR YEARS: Katherine's main street during the war years, taken in 1943. Picture: Katherine Historical Society.

WAR YEARS: Katherine's main street during the war years, taken in 1943. Picture: Katherine Historical Society.

THIS Wednesday will mark three quarters of a century since Katherine was bombed.

Between 80 and 90 high explosive bombs were dropped on the, then much smaller, outback town by the Japanese as part of their seemingly unstoppable push south.

The shock raid on March 22, 1942 changed Katherine forever.

Although Darwin suffered many more raids, this one raid led authorities to rush families to South Australia to safety and signalled an even greater military build up in Katherine, remote from any possible invasion force.

It is pretty much the thinking behind the RAAF’s establishment of its biggest base at Tindal, just outside the town.

The Katherine raid came at the tail end of the wet season in 1942, a hail of shrapnel and high explosive from high in the sky.

It was the furthest encroachment of enemy invasion ever recorded on mainland Australia but most people have never heard of it.

“They mostly know about the bombing raids on Darwin in the war but you would be surprised how many people are amazed when we tell them that Katherine was bombed as well,” Katherine Museum curator Simmone Croft said.

On March 22, 1942, nine “Betty” bombers from the Japanese Navy dropped between 82-92 high explosive bombs, “Daisy Cutters”, as they were popularly known.

BOMB DAMAGE: A smoke cloud rises over Katherine after the raid. Picture: Katherine Historical Society.

BOMB DAMAGE: A smoke cloud rises over Katherine after the raid. Picture: Katherine Historical Society.

There was a large buildup of military personnel at Katherine during World War II.

It is presumed the Japanese were hoping to find either Australian or US aircraft at the Katherine airfield, which they failed to do but dropped most of their bombs in and around the airfield, location of today’s museum.

There was one fatality, an Indigenous man called Dodger Kodjalwal, and two other Indigenous people were slightly injured.

It is thought the 42-year-old was crouching behind a rock at the old airfield when he died.

Some of the bombs fell at Knotts Crossing, just missing a telegraph line crew and few more targeted the airfield in the bush at Manbulloo.

After the war, local people and new arrivals built on the military framework and infrastructure which was left behind to create a much larger town than Katherine may have been if it had been left out of the war.

The museum, the RSL sub-branch and Katherine Town Council are working together to organise a 75th anniversary of the bombing to be held at the museum at noon on Wednesday.

There will be a flypast organised by the 75th Squadron at Tindal RAAF Base, vintage vehicle displays and a special feature which organisers have kept secret.

A book outlining the events of the day, and a snapshot of how Katherine was during the period will be launched.

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