Deaths and diamonds

Australia is quietly remembering a series of events that the country hopes never to repeat.

It’s 76 years since the Australian mainland, airspace, offshore islands and coastal shipping were attacked at least 97 times during World War II.

I know it’s not the most cheerful subject for a travel reviewer to tackle. But, as usual, there’s a story behind the headlines – and this one is fascinating.

So here goes, (with apologies to military historians) ……


Remains of Customs House, Darwin – Wikimedia

Between February 1942 and November the following year, Australia and its shipping was the target of bombs, shells, torpedoes and bullets  from Japanese aircraft and submarines.

Aircraft flew 64 raids on the city of Darwin alone – and 33 attacks on other Northern Australian targets, including the towns of Broome, Townsville and Port Hedland.

In all, it’s said that the air attacks killed about 900 people; destroyed civilian and military facilities; and cost 77 aircraft and several ships.

The diamonds

And now for the story behind the story: in one incident, a Douglas DC-3 airliner operated by KNILM (KLM) and carrying eight passengers was shot down over Western Australia.

The plane, which was headed for the coastal town of Broome, crash landed on a beach at Carnot Bay, but was subsequently strafed and then bombed the following day.

Four passengers died.



The fate of part of the plane’s cargo – a package of extremely valuable diamonds – has become somewhat of an Aussie mystery.

I remember my late father’s explanation that the diamonds – destined for Australia’s Commonwealth Bank – were “nicked by fortune hunters who swarmed over the wreckage”.

Apparently, the downed plane did attract a strange cast of visitors in the aftermath of its crash – and more than £20,000 worth of diamonds were later handed in to authorities. In May 1943, three men were tried in the Supreme Court of Western Australia for theft of the diamonds.[5] All were acquitted – and no one else has ever been tried for the loss of the diamonds.

During the air campaign over Northern Australia, the Japanese lost about 131 aircraft.


Darwin Post Office – Wikimedia

Submarine attacks

It’s also heading for 76 years since Japanese submarines attacked Sydney harbour and the city of Newcastle, on Australia’s east coast, as part of a wider blitz of shipping in Australian waters.

Two midget submarines penetrated Sydney harbour defences and sank the depot ship, HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 seamen.

On the night of June 8, 1942, a submarine bombarded the eastern suburbs of Sydney and another fired shells into the coastal industrial city of Newcastle.


The guns at Newcastle’s Fort Scratchley returned fire.

See our review of this historically significant fort – and the night it sprang into action.

Aussie stories