Eagles over Darwin

American Airmen Defending Northern Australia in 1942

Dr Tom Lewis OAM

In 1942 the air defense of the northern Australian frontier town of Darwin was operated by airmen from the United States. Flying P-40E Warhawks, the pilots of the 49th Fighter Group fought a brave and innovative campaign against a stronger enemy that did much to safeguard Australia in its darkest hour.
Date Published :
March 2021
Publisher :
Avonmore Books
Illustration :
fully illustrated, color
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9780648665984
Pages : 140
Dimensions : 9.84 X 6.93 inches
Stock Status : In stock


In 1942, the air defense of the northern Australian frontier town Darwin was operated by airmen from the United States.

That year was very nearly the end of Australia as a country. To those men the present nation owes a debt.

A massive Japanese attack on Darwin on 19 February had left the town and its air base in ruins. An understrength squadron of USAAC P-40E Warhawks fought a gallant defense but was all but wiped out.

Northern Australia was now at the mercy of Imperial Japanese Navy Betty bombers and Zero fighters whose crews were both skilled and experienced. However, help was on the way. The 49th Fighter Group was the first such group formed in the US to be sent overseas after the start of the Pacific War. Its destination was Darwin.

From modest beginnings on makeshift airstrips, the 49th FG entered combat with its feared Japanese adversaries. Its P-40E Warhawks were poor interceptors but were rugged, reliable and well-armed. Unable to dogfight the highly maneuverable Zeros, the American pilots resorted to dive and zoom tactics more suited to their heavier fighters.

Over several months the 49th FG pilots fought a brave and innovative campaign against a stronger enemy that did much to safeguard Australia in its darkest hour. Today lonely and long forgotten airfields still bear the name of American pilots who made the ultimate sacrifice.

This is their story.

About The Author

Dr. Tom Lewis served for 20 years in the Royal Australian Navy, during which time he saw active service in Baghdad, where he led American forces, and East Timor. As a museum director he led two museums to new success; the Royal Australian Naval College Historical Collection at HMAS Creswell – for which services he received an Order of Australia; and the Darwin Military Museum, where he was Director for five years. He holds a master’s degree in Cold War Politics from University of Queensland and a Ph.d.in Strategic Studies from Charles Darwin University.

Tom was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 2003 for services to naval history. Further decorations include the Australian Active Service Medal; the Iraq Campaign Medal, and the United States Army Commendation Medal.

Tom is in popular demand from radio and television stations across the globe for his insightful comments on military history and how it intersects with modern-day life. He is a regular speaker to community groups, and appears often in TV documentaries, including lately with Neil Oliver in Coasts, and in Sir Tony Robinson’s Tour of Duty. He produced with Military Myths Defeated the documentary of The Borella Ride, the Anzac Centenary commemoration of Lieutenant Albert Borella VC, who rode 1000 kilometres in the Northern Territory Wet Season to sign up for the Great War. Tom was the Lead Historian for the Ride. Albert Borella VC, an Incredible Journey screened nationally in Australia on Channel 9. He was also Historian for the 2017 Northern Territory Government project The Territory Remembers, the commemoration of 75 years since the first enemy attacks on Australia. He lives in Darwin, Australia with his wife.


"...an outstanding history of the American contribution to the defense of the Darwin area..."

- Air Classics

"Lewis provides an engagement-by-engagement description of the 49th’s activities from February-September 1942."

- Air Power History

"The gallant story of the 49th Fighter Group is one that deserves to be better remembered in the U.S., and Eagles Over Darwin tells it exceptionally well."

- Aviation History Magazine

"The narrative is flawless from a military perspective. […] a fresh and unbiased look at the man and his military career."

- The Aviation Enthusiast Club

More from this publisher