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An Awkward Truth

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An Awkward Truth
The Bombing of Darwin, February 1942
By Peter Grose
Allen & Unwin, (2009)
ISBN: 978-1741756432

Reviewed by Harry S. Chou - May 3, 2011

On December 7, 1942 the Japanese carrier-borne group launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Ten weeks later, on February 19, 1942 the same carrier-borne group struck again. This time their bombs where aimed at the city of Darwin, located in the Northern Territory of Australia. This was the first Japanese attack on mainland Australia, and it was a far more devastating attack than was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The attack on Darwin saw more bombs dropped than at Pearl Harbor, and it resulted in more ships being sunk. In addition, the town of Darwin was nearly obliterated. Had the town had a larger population than it did, the death toll would have been staggering. While the real figure may never be known, official estimates state that about 250 civilians were killed in Darwin, while unofficial numbers range as high as 1,000 killed. Just accepting the official estimates, it is a massive number considering that there were only about 2,000 people living in the town at the time of the attack. In comparison, while there were about 15,000 military personnel stationed in the area, only about fifty or so Australian and American military personnel were killed during this attack. While most of the military stationed near Darwin where Australian, there were also several American ships in Darwin's harbor at the time of the raid. As well, several US Army Air Force aircraft and their crews were stationed in Darwin. One of the most important aspects of the bombing of Darwin was the heavy psychological toll that it took on the people who survived it...

An Awkward Truth: The Bombing of Darwin, February 1942 is the story of this Japanese attack on Australian soil. It was written by Peter Grose, who also wrote A Very Rude Awakening, which chronicled the Japanese midget sub attack on Sydney Harbor. In An Awkward Truth, Grose not only chronicles the minutiae of the attack, but also how the people of Darwin, both civilian and military, reacted to the attack, and how the government shaped the story after the attack was over. While there is much in question about this attack, in part because the government sought to hide the truth from Australians, one fact is clear - Darwin was devastated and her population panicked. As with Pearl Harbor, the residents of Darwin where unprepared for the attack, and afterwards feared that it was but a prelude to a land-based invasion. Many of the survivors, both military and civilian, fled the area. Looting occurred, many government officials failed in their duty, and disorganization reigned supreme. However all was not gloom, many people rose to the unexpected challenges that arose that dire day. Acts of heroism and valor are numerous, and some of the people in charge did everything in their power to protect those under their charge. In this gripping history, Grose provides an unbiased overview of not only what happened that day, militarily, but also how the military, government, and civilian populations rose, or failed to rise, to the challenges that they faced during and after the bombing attack.

In writing this book, Grose incorporated not only the well-known facts about this brazen attack, but he also delved into many covert records on the attack, perused unpublished accounts, and interviewed numerous survivors. The story is told mostly from the viewpoint of these survivors, with background information and military details filled in from other sources. The end result is a gripping popular history of the attack that is essential reading for anyone with an interest in military, Australian, or World War II history, as well as for anyone simply interested in reading a ripping good story that just happens to be true!

Related Reviews:

Battleship Oklahoma BB-37, by Jeff Phister, with Thomas Hone and Paul Goodyear.
An engaging history of the USS Oklahoma, with a special emphasis on the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, where she was sunk by Japanese bombers.

MacArthur's Undercover War: Spies, Saboteurs, Guerrillas, and Secret Missions, by William B. Breuer
In this intriguing narrative, Breuer, chronicles MacArthur's long-running covert war that he waged against the Japanese during World War II.

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