Bombing of Darwin Warning Message

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After an obsessive effort by myself VK8BN  and Paula Chappel VK8ZI to find out the facts surrounding the radio call from Father McGrath on Bathurst Island warning of the approaching Japanese bombers prior to the Bombing of Darwin.

We can confidently say that the Radio used was indeed a pedal radio purchased in 1935 for the cost of 60 Australian Pounds with funds provided by the students of Kincoffal Convent, Rose Bay .

The Radio was capable of both Voice and Morse Code.

From the Book ” Darwin 1942″ Australia’s Darkest Hour by Timothy Hall

The message sent by Father McGrath   “EIGHT SE to VID  I have urgent message stop. An unusually large air formation bearing down on us from the north west stop. Identity suspect stop. Visibility not clear stop. over”

There are also many references on the internet that claim that Lt John Gribble was the first to report the sighting of aircraft from Melville Island.


“As a prelude to the first Japanese air raid on Darwin in February 1942, it has been commonly stated on many occasions that warnings had been received from coastwatchers by Coonawarra and these warnings were not passed on to the relevant authorities.  The statements regarding Lt John Gribble, on Melville Island sending a warning to Coonawarra is incorrect.  He was on Melville Island but had only a coastwatchers’ wireless set which had two crystal controlled frequencies.  Coonawarra maintained watch on neither of those frequencies.  The coastwatchers transmitted to VID, the commercial station.  Coonawarra took over some of VID’s receiving duties only after VID was badly damaged in August 1942.  Even then the coastwatch frequencies were monitored at naval headquarters, not at Coonawarra.  Father McGrath on Bathurst Island did send a warning which was received at VID and passed on the relevant RAAF authorities.  If this warning had been acted upon the loss of shipping in Darwin Harbour may well have been much lighter, as it was many ships were caught at anchor in very exposed positions. ”

It should be noted that in future years people may quote DARC references  on the internet that state the communication from Father McGrath was by Morse code as evidence of fact, when it is  more probable that it was by AM phone. A look at historical data from the ionospheric prediction service shows that communication with Bathurst Island and Darwin would have been good for a 6MHz signal on the morning of 19th February 1942.

See the attached Newspaper Clippings..

Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA _ 1889 – 1954), Friday 27 September 1935, p…

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW _ 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 18 September 1935, …

Advocate (Melbourne, Vic