Establishment of RAAF Base Darwin

01 Jun 1940

Formed in June 1940, RAAF Base Darwin was very rapidly at the front line of Australia's defences at the outbreak of war in the Pacific. Darwin and its satellite fields housed a multitude of Australian and US units, operating throughout the South-West Pacific.

During World War II, RAAF Base Darwin served as a first refuge for retreating US Air Force units from the Philippines in 1941. The US Air Force Far East Air Force and its subordinate commands, V Fighter and V Bomber established headquarters at Darwin in late December 1941.

Darwin’s darkest day occurred on 19 February 1942, when mainland Australia came under attack when Japanese forces mounted two air raids on Darwin.   The first raid, which began at 0958hrs targeted shipping, infrastructure and the town.  The Second raid, at approx. 1145hrs involved high altitude bombing of RAAF Station Darwin.  12 Squadron lost two of its Wirraways during the bombing raid.  The Squadron and the base in general sustained significant damage. 

From 9 August 1944 to 20 February 1945 the USAAF 380th Bombardment Group based four squadrons of long-range B-24 Liberator bombers at the base.

Runway 09/27 was the first operational strip on Base designed for fighter aircraft. Threshold was located east of Billaroy Rd but has now been disbanded. Runway 18/36 still exists today but was the 'heavy strip' in 1940 and runway 14/32 was constructed initially for fighter ops however when sealed became the main operating runway.

Initial construction of buildings included the Officers Mess, Officers Accommodation, Officers Laundry, Main Hangar, Airman's Recreation Room and Cinema, HQ Building, Airman's Mess (which was partly destroyed in the bombing and never rebuilt), nine x Airman's accommodation bocks following, Sergeants Mess, Sergeant accommodation blocks, Admin Building, 2nd Maintenance, Air Traffic Control/Water Tower, Workshop and other buildings that were not rebuilt after the bombing.  Also construction of what is now the Horseshoe of Heritage Married Quarters were features of the base during its infancy. 

During the mid-1950s work commenced on Runway 11/29 and current taxiways and facilities.  This work was completed around 1958 at which time the Air Traffic Control tower was located to the south of Taxiway ALPHA. 

Today there is a diverse range of units permanently stationed on RAAF Base Darwin, including 13 Squadron, 114 mobile Control and Reporting Unit, Headquarters 452 Squadron, 452 Squadron detachment Darwin, 2 Security Force, 2 Expeditionary Health Squadron and Estate and infrastructure Group.  RAAF Base Darwin also hosts an extended deployment of United States Marine Corps personnel and their aircraft under the United States Force Posture Initiative.

RAAF Darwin is a busy operational base, hosting many exercises each year which includes Exercise Pitch Black, a multi-national exercise which attracts a large number of visiting aircraft and a spectacular for Darwin residents.

Related base

  • RAAF Base Darwin