- Rosenweig, Paul A.
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Tolga, HMAS Australia II, HMAS Coonawarra, HMAS Adelaide I, HMAS Swan II, HMAS Hobart I, HMAS Moresby I, HMAS Melville
- September 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As directed by Commander Tozer, that evening naval ratings were cleaning up the ships and wharf, and as expected, there were high level bombing runs the following day. Bill Bracht, one of Melville’s Petty Officers, recalled Tozer’s response: ‘As it was now evident that the Japs were trying to render the docks inoperative, our Captain decided it was too dangerous to have anybody working on the ships in daylight.’
The raids continued on a regular basis, and by 26 February the night parties had unloaded all ships and all burials had been completed. In documenting the history of that fateful day and its aftermath, Douglas Lockwood recorded:
‘The Royal Australian Navy did much that morning in helping defend the port and rescue survivors. The behaviour of the RAN sailors was exemplary and forms one of the more creditable aspects of the overall story’.
The Army came under much criticism for the unchecked looting and systematic theft which occurred, and the civil police stood by helplessly, believing that martial law had been proclaimed – Lockwood spoke of the ‘. . . attempted dictatorship by the military policemen whose only authority was a uniform and an armband.’ Many Servicemen went to the harbour and, for a small fee, sent their ‘loot’ south in a small ship.
One person, however, did do something in response to this situation. Immediately following the Japanese raids, Commander Tozer tasked his Petty Officers to establish a patrol programme around Darwin town area and the docks. Tozer explained to his Petty Officers his fear of Japanese landings as much as of sabotage and looting within the largely deserted town, and gave them a very clear mission for the night of 19/20 February: ‘The Navy will patrol the town tonight to prevent any looting or sabotage.’ The Administrator, the Honourable Aubrey Abbott, later reported:
‘An instance of the prevalence of looting is that when the Royal Commission appointed to investigate the air raid was taking evidence in Darwin from 5 to 10 March, soldiers, at that very time, were taking refrigerators, wireless sets, sewing machines and clothing in Army lorries to the wharf and selling them to sailors on the motor vessel Yochow for cigarettes and tobacco. Commander L.E. Tozer, RAN, saw what was going on, and the police at Brisbane, which was the vessel’s destination, were informed. When the ship arrived she was boarded by the police, who were able to prevent most of the stolen property from being thrown into the Brisbane River by the crew when they found the ship was to be searched. Twenty members of the crew were convicted.’
Sir Zelman Cowen observed: ‘. . . while there were some who performed poorly, the record also shows that there were men and women who displayed heroism and high courage.’ There were twenty seven decorations awarded for bravery and devotion to duty in Darwin on 19 February 1942, of which fifteen were to Naval personnel. Commander Tozer was one of twelve members Mentioned-in-Despatches (all Naval personnel): ‘For courage and devotion to duty whilst serving in HMAS Melville during an air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942.’ Bill Cook recalls that Tozer had already demonstrated his determination and bravery in the 1930s whilst serving in HMAS Australia (II):
‘There was drama in the Pacific Ocean when an American privately owned schooner sent out an SOS during very bad weather. We went to her aid and ‘Pup’ took away a volunteer lifeboat’s crew – in a 12 oared 32 foot cutter – to bring off the bulk of her crew.’
In Darwin a decade later, for his exemplary conduct, ‘. . . throughout the period succeeding that during which the Air Raid was in progress . . .’ the name of Commander Tozer was brought before the Australian Naval Board.
‘This Officer has displayed exceptional zeal and considerable powers of leadership in connection with implementing the Emergency Organisation of the Port which has become necessary in the absence of a Jetty and other facilities, and he was largely responsible for preventing the total destruction by fire of SS Barossa. I consider him to be deserving of recognition for outstanding qualities of Command, Leadership, Zeal and Devotion to Duty.’