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19 February: On this day in history

What events happened on 19 February in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: February 19, 2022 at 6:06 am
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19 February 1942: Japan rains fury on Australia

A surprise bombing raid brings death and destruction to Darwin

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Few dates are as deeply etched into Australia’s imagination as 19 February 1942, which saw the bloodiest attack by a foreign power in the nation’s history. In all, 242 Japanese planes (from the fleet that had attacked Pearl Harbor) swooped down on Darwin, the Northern Territory’s capital, in two waves of terrifying intensity. “Men who were there during the raids declared it was worse than anything they had experienced in London,” reported The Sydney Morning Herald two days later. “It was a blitz of the most ferocious kind.”

Although Darwin was a key link in the defence of the neighbouring Dutch East Indies, few people seriously expected the Japanese to strike with such deadly speed. Even at 9.58 in the morning, as the first planes appeared overhead, there was no hint of the carnage to come. “There was very little warning of the first raid,” admitted The Sydney Morning Herald. Yet “within two minutes of the alert, bombs were falling. The bombers came over in seven or eight waves. It was perfect formation-pattern bombing. There were nine machines to a wave, and they came over at intervals of about three minutes.”

What followed was bedlam. At least 236 people were killed, and hundreds more were seriously injured. In particular, the Japanese targeted the American and Australian ships in the harbour, killing at least 80 people on USS Peaty alone.

Amid the chaos, order came perilously close to breaking down. Convinced they were facing a full invasion, many men abandoned their posts, and there were several reports of looting of “furniture, refrigerators, stoves, pianos, clothes [and] even children’s toys”.

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Yet as clouds of thick black smoke rose above the waterfront, the horror and panic in Darwin did nothing to undermine Australia’s commitment to the struggle. Indeed, the shock of the Japanese attack only strengthened many people’s resolve to fight back. “Whatever the future holds in store for us,” declared Prime Minister John Curtin, “we are Australians and will fight grimly and victoriously... Unity must be our watchword, national service our one desire.”

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries

19 February AD 197
Septimus Severus defeated Clodius Albinus at the Battle of Lugdunum.
19 February 1408
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, was defeated and killed by forces loyal to Henry IV the Battle of Bramham Moor. Although the Percys had supported Henry's usurpation of the throne in 1399, their belief that they had not been sufficiently recompensed for their service against the Scots led them to rebel in 1403. Northumberland was treated leniently after the defeat of his son Harry Hotspur at Shrewsbury, but rebelled again in 1405. After the battle at Bramham his severed head was displayed on London Bridge.
19 February 1473
Astronomer, mathematician and proponent of a heliocentric model of the universe Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Torun, Poland.
19 February 1789
William Fairbairn was born in Kelso. A pioneer in the use of wrought iron in construction, he opened a locomotives factory in Manchester, a shipyard in Millwall and produced the iron tubes for the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Strait.
19 February 1911
Birth in Bombay, India, of British actress Merle Oberon. A protégée of film director Alexander Korda, whom she later married, she rose to fame through her portrayal of Anne Boleyn in his 1933 film The Private Life of Henry VIII.
19 February 1962
Queen Elizabeth II gave birth to a son, Andrew Albert Christian Edward. In 1986 he was made Duke of York. At birth he was second in line of succession to the throne but, following the births of Princes William and Harry, he is now fourth.

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Authors

Dominic SandbrookHistorian and presenter

Dominic Sandbrook is historian and presenter, and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine

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