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   Battle for Australia Association
    The 2016 Battle for Australia Commemorations

Patron: His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d)
             Governor of New South Wales

On 6 November 2016, the Battle for Australia Association was invited to be part of the Sydney Jewish Community Remembrance Day Commemoration. We were represented by Darren Mitchell; photos by Nadine Saacks.

 Sydney Wednesday 7 September 2016      

A great commemoration in Sydney. The NSW Police Band, St Andrews Cathedral School Choir, representatives of His Excellency the Governor, the New South Wales Government, Opposition, Diplomatic representatives of the allies who fought for our country’s freedom, service representatives and service organisations.

The keynote address was by Commander Rebecca Jeffcoat; one of the most moving ever given at this annual commemoration. CLICK HERE to download or view below.


Commander Rebecca Jeffcoat Speaks










CLICK HERE to view 121 photos of the ceremony, download and save in high definition if required.

 Perth Wednesday 7 September 2016      

The first Battle for Australia commemoration in Perth in 2016.

Battle for Australia is about honouring and acknowledging the sacrifice made by Australians that stood up to defend the nation against the threat of invasion.

A service commemorating this particular point in our history is long overdue in Western Australia. Going forward, one hopes that a Battle for Australia service will be held every year, so people remember the sacrifice of those who served to defend the mainland.

The following photographs are of a set of exhibits that have been held in both Rockingham and the Western Australia State Museum. These exhibits were well attended by the general public, which is necessary to raise awareness of the importance of the Battle for Australia.

The following photos (left to right), depict the Honourable Phil Edman MLC at the Cenotaph in Kings Park, Perth. This will be the site of the first Battle for Australia Ceremony in WA.

The second picture was taken of a crowd of individuals perusing the Battle for Australia exhibit at the WA State Museum in Perth.

The third image is an original Japanese military uniform, equipped with an authentic Japanese Katana, dating back to the Second World War. When people come into close contact with an authentic uniform such as this, they consciously acknowledge the reality of Australia’s involvement in the war. This serves to strengthen the importance of the Battle for Australia.

The final image is of an Army officer speaking to local school children about the weapons used by the Australians during the Second World War. It is encouraging that local schools were attending, and having their students interacting with the displays and the story, as young people are central to the future of remembering the Battle for Australia.

Perth 2016 Perth 2016
Perth 2016 Perth 2016

At long last, Western Australia has held its first Battle for Australia commemorative service.

The service was well attended by state and federal Members of Parliament, as well as those from the general public.

World War Two gunners, Mr Peter Hackett and Mrs Ronnie Roach, were also in attendance. This made the day even more significant, as it allowed them to pay their respects to their fallen comrades.

The Honourable Phil Edman MLC, Member for the South Metropolitan Region, delivered the commemorative address for the service.

In it, he highlighted the importance of commemorating the Battle for Australia, and called on future generations to continue to remember the sacrifice made by those brave Australians who fought and died to ensure that they could inherit a great country such as Australia.

A transcript of Mr Edman’s speech can be downloaded HERE.

Perth 2016 Perth 2016
 Perth 2016 

 HMAS Canberra Memorial Service, Canberra Saturday 6 August 2016      

Canberra 2016 Canberra 2016
Canberra 2016 Canberra 2016
Canberra 2016 Canberra 2016

Keynote address by LCDR Desmond Woods, RANR

Karl von Clausewitz famously wrote that war is the realm of uncertainly. The lived experience of war at sea bears this out. Ships like people can be the Victims of Circumstances, not of their making. So it is with the story of the RAN’s Heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra.

It can take many decades for the fog of war to be dispersed and the truth to become visible. When the survivors of Canberra arrived back in Sydney the ill informed told them that they should be ashamed because their ship had been shelled and lost without them having fired back. It was claimed that they were not battle ready. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

Listen to the eye witness account of Midshipman, later Commodore Bruce Loxton, RAN who was seriously wounded on the bridge of Canberra.

He robustly rebutted all claims that Canberra was not ready for action on the night she was lost. He was an eye witness on the bridge and he wrote:

"Ammunition and medical parties were standing by. In the boiler rooms all sprayers had been connected and were responding as the senior engineer opened the throttles. The engines had achieved the revolutions for 26 knots when all steam pressure disappeared.

All four 8 - inch turrets were fully manned the guns loaded and all control personnel were at their stations. The turrets were moving in unison as they sought their target. Torpedo tube crews and searchlight control parties were standing by. In short before power was lost, Canberra was ready in all respects to go about the business of engaging the enemy. The ship was working up to full speed. All that was lacking was an aiming point before opening fire and a little more time, because, just as power was lost the gunnery director saw the first Japanese cruiser on the port beam."

As we know at that moment a torpedo slammed into Canberra’s starboard side. Where that torpedo originated from has been extensively written about over many decades and this is not the time or place for such a discussion.

What we do know is that three minutes after Captain Frank Getting took command of his bridge his ship was no longer answering her rudder and was unable to train or fire her main armament. She took on a 7 degree list to starboard as her boiler rooms flooded and she lost way.

Simultaneously Japanese float planes dropped brilliant flares which perfectly illuminated all the allied cruisers in what came to be known as Iron Bottom Sound. In just two minutes twenty eight heavy calibre shells rained down on Canberra like a drumbeat and destroyed her as a fighting ship. Two salvos hit the bridge and killed or wounded the command team. The Executive Officer, Commander Walsh, was summoned to the bridge from his action station in the aft conning position. It was a scene of carnage. Captain Getting was clearly mortally wounded.

Before becoming unconscious he acknowledged his XO's presence and told him to "Carry On" and through the night Commander Walsh led the fight to save the ship.

A tremendous battle to control flooding and to put out fires with buckets and blankets ensued. There was no water main pressure because there was no power.

Fires on the upper deck were controlled but those between decks raged on unchecked.

Sailors threw ammunition over the side to ensure that it could not explode. They flooded magazines before fire could reach them. The dead were brought onto the upper deck. The wounded were found and taken to the wardroom which was converted into an operating theatre, lit by paraffin lanterns, where the medical team treated shattered limbs and terrible burns.

Captain Frank Getting, was taken below to be attended to by the medical team. Eye witnesses said that he knew he could not survive his wounds and insisted, when conscious, that Surgeon Captain Downward and his sick bay attendants leave him and work on his injured sailors who could be saved.

By dawn it became clear Getting’s life could not be saved and neither could that of his ship. They were both stricken and barely alive.

Canberra was beyond repair by the ship’s company and far from dockyard support.

She could not take her place in what remained of the fleet defending the Guadalcanal beachhead and the Marines transports.

Canberra’s dead were committed to the deep from the quarterdeck and her wounded and exhausted survivors prepared to be taken off by the destroyer USS Patterson which came alongside and, at the insistence of Canberra’s men, started embarking the stretcher cases first, including the unconscious Frank Getting.

Writing later to Rear Admiral Crutchley, RN, the Commander of the Task Force, Patterson’s Captain, Commander Frank R Walker, USN, chose to pay this tribute to the steadiness of Canberra’s exhausted men:

The Commanding Officer and entire ship’s company of the USS Patterson noted with admiration the calm, cheerful and courageous spirit displayed by officers and men of Canberra.

When Patterson left from alongside because of what was then believed to be an enemy ship close by there were no outcries or entreaties — rather a cheery ‘Carry on Patterson, good luck!’ — and prompt and efficient casting off of lines, brows etc. Not a man stepped out of line. The Patterson feels privileged to have served so gallant a crew.

This remarkable letter was a most gracious gesture from a Commanding Officer who had just lost 10 of his own men killed when his ship was raked by Japanese shells.

The destroyer USS Blue then came alongside and took off 343 survivors including 18 seriously wounded. Patterson returned to Canberra, as her CO Frank Walker promised she would, and took another 398 men to USS Barnett.

Captain Getting was operated on by American surgeons but died of his wounds on board USS Barnett on passage to Noumea. He was buried at sea on 9 August. Of the 819 serving in Canberra, 193 were casualties of whom, 84 were dead.

It took 263 rounds of 5 inch shell and two more torpedoes from US destroyers to sink the still burning, abandoned hulk that was Canberra.

This was a traumatic moment in the history of the RAN. This was the third Australian cruiser to be lost in war since December 1941; the light cruisers Sydney and Perth had been destroyed in battle and now the heavy cruiser Canberra was also gone.

In London British PM Winston Churchill, on hearing the news of Canberra’s destruction, decided that Australia should be given a Royal Navy cruiser to replace Canberra.

He wrote privately to the First Sea Lord:

"the Australians have lost their 8 inch cruiser Canberra. It might have a lasting effect on Australian sentiment if we gave freely and outright to the Royal Australian Navy one of our similar ships. Please give your most sympathetic consideration to this project."

HMS Shropshire, a County class heavy cruiser, a sister ship to Canberra, was chosen as the ship to be transferred. It was intended to change her name to Canberra. But before that announcement was made the USN announced that President Roosevelt had chosen to name the next Baltimore Class heavy cruiser to be launched USS Canberra.

This was the first and only time that an American warship has been named for a foreign warship. It was tribute and compliment to the courage shown by Canberra’s crew at Savo Island.

Canberra's battle scarred survivors came home to Australia to be treated and sent back to war. They were supplemented with new recruits and sent to Chatham dockyard in UK to pick up Shropshire and steam her back to the Pacific.

Captain John Collins and the ship’s company were pleased to get to sea as the Chatham dockyard was a target for regular Luftwaffe air raids and Shropshire’s anti-aircraft guns crews engaged the bombers night after night joining the Ack Ack defence of the naval town. Her Gunnery Officer, CMDR Bracegirdle, wrote of Shropshire’s ship’s company:

The welding together of Canberra’s veterans and young sailors with keenness and the possibility of retaliation against the King's enemies in the Pacific, was quite astounding. The ship was happy and efficient from the very first. A fine ship sailed into Sydney Harbour ready for battle and action.

All on board were burning for a chance to hit back and avenge their lost comrades and to show what they could do in battle when they were able to train their turrets and fight.

Inside Shropshire's 8 inch gun turrets the crews stencilled the name CANBERRA so that no one would doubt what the guns crews were fighting for. This was now a very personal war.

They got their chance. Shropshire was in the thick of the fight for 18 months in 15 battles starting in the South West Pacific.

She provided deadly accurate bombardments destroying Japanese shore batteries for the Australian and American armies.

In the mid Pacific she closed up to action stations to fight off waves of kamikaze suicide attacks and shot down at least eleven aircraft. Twice this lucky ship avoided torpedoes that passed within feet of her bow and stern.

Her greatest chance to hit back at the Japanese fleet was at the Battle of Surigao Straits in the Philippines in October 1944. Her target, along with other allied ships, was the powerful Japanese battleship Yamashiro. Shropshire’s gunners fired thirty-two broadsides, closing in to 12,700 yards to do so.

They achieved nineteen straddles and sixteen broadside hits – superb shooting by the standards of that era.

Shropshire's gun crews achieved their thirty two broadsides in fourteen minutes forty seconds - an amazing feat of strength and determination – worthy of highly trained athletes.

Yamashiro fired back and straddled Shropshire with massive 14 inch shells any one of which might have destroyed her.

The weary but jubilant gunners stopped firing to witness the sinking of the huge Yamashiro by USN ships and aircraft ably assisted by the Australian destroyer HMAS Arunta. The 84 dead from Canberra and Captain Frank Getting were well and truly avenged.

In August 1945 Shropshire steamed into Yokohama Bay and witnessed the surrender of Japan to the Allies on board the USS Missouri. Then she carried home from Japan, sick and emaciated Australian and British Prisoners of War. They were some of the last survivors from Japanese slave mines and included RAN who had survived the sinking of HMAS Perth in Sunda Strait in 1942.

Shropshire's was chosen to represent Australia and the RAN at Spithead and in in the London Victory March in 1946. Among the men marching were Canberra survivors. It was a long way from the Ironbottom Sound.

It was very fitting that they should be given this high honour. They were representatives of all those RAN officers and sailors, living and dead, including their 84 lost shipmates, who had made victory a reality.

There has not been another RAN seagoing ship named HMAS Shropshire but her name lives on as a Training Ship for Australian Navy Cadets.

It lived on in the memories of men who took her to war and lives still in the annals of the RAN. These young men brought great glory on their ship, on their Navy and on their homeland. Shropshire was manned by many men who had endured horror, fear and what we now call battle shock, yet they came back from death and defeat at Savo Island fighting hard and in doing so earned a very personal Victory in the Pacific.

At this memorial we remember Canberra’s 84 dead every year. We remember that members of the Royal Navy serving in Canberra were among her dead. And we remember all those USN who died defending the Marine Beachhead. When they sank USS Quincy lost 370 men, Astoria lost 219, and Vincennes lost 332. In total the United States Navy lost 1024 killed at Savo Island in cruisers and destroyers.

It learned the hard lessons of this battle. Sun Tzu, the Chinese Military strategist wrote 2000 years ago: Do not presume that the enemy will not come – prepare to meet him.

That age old lesson was re learned and the USN, RN and RAN went on the offensive and went on to win the Pacific War and destroy the Imperial Japanese Navy just three years after the Battle for Guadalcanal was won.

The USS Canberra went to war in 1944 and was hit by an air torpedo off Formosa. Ten of her sailors were killed. We remember them too.

Next year it will be 75 years since the Battle of Savo Island. The number of veterans of the RAN and USN who were there is now small indeed.

We remember them all today with pride, respect and affection. We remember those who were lost with Canberra, whom we never knew, and those who survived to fight another day in Shropshire returned to Australia to lead their civilian lives.

Many of us gathered here knew those brave men well. I am very aware that some of the veterans gave this memorial address in years gone by. They were our fathers, grandfathers and RAN colleagues and our friends. They were also lifelong members of the naval family and the Canberra-Shropshire Association.

Here at their memorial today the Last Post will sound for them all.

Lest We Forget

 HMAS Canberra Memorial Service, Brisbane Sunday 7 August 2016      

Keynote address by: Captain John Cowan, CSC RAN

Thank you for the invitation and opportunity to deliver this address to you on behalf of Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, Chief of Navy. He sends his greetings.

It is a privilege to remember, with you, the events of 1942; the only year in our national history when Australians have fought, with our allies, in direct defence of continental Australia.

November and December of 1941 were dark months for Australia. HMAS Sydney was lost to the German armed merchant raider Kormoran. All 645 of Sydney’s men were lost. They never knew that the last shells fired from the stricken cruiser debilitated their assailant.

In the Far East the British capital ships Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk. Hong Kong fell on Christmas day 1941. Malaya was invaded in December and despite a fighting withdrawal by the 15th of February 1942 Singapore was surrendered. This resulted in the imprisonment of 100,000 British, Indian and Australian troops, including the 8th Division of the AIF.

This capitulation was tragic for those who endured the brutality and suffered death during the incarceration that followed. Prime Minister Curtin warned of what he foresaw in the weeks ahead … this was a ‘Battle for Australia’ that would be fought over land and at sea – challenging Australia’s territorial integrity. His warning is the context for this address.

Today I can only mention a few individuals and shine a spotlight on some of the many events of that tumultuous year in which Australian men and women and their allies served and defended this nation at home and beyond our shores.

We remember the 65 Australian Army nurses who were ordered to escape from Singapore in the ship the Vyner Brooke. Only 24 returned from captivity to Australia after the war. Twenty two were killed by machine gun fire on a beach at Banka Island after their ship was sunk. Eight of the remaining 32 died as prisoners.

One of those last eight survivors was Sister Vivien Bullwinkel, the only survivor of the massacre. While still carrying a bullet in her hip she bound up the wounds and nursed starving Australian soldiers who needed her care.

We remember the destruction of Darwin on the 19 February by 188 Japanese carrier aircraft and more land based bombers, which killed 235 Australians both service and civilian.

Tragically, a timely radio message provided by a Navy Coastwatcher, Father John McGrath, on Bathurst Island, warning that formations of Japanese aircraft were on their way, was not acted on in time to save those lives.

Thirty allied aircraft were destroyed, including nine out of the ten flying in defence of the town. Nine ships in the harbour and two at sea nearby were sunk. Four Japanese aircraft were brought down that day. One Zero fighter, which later crashed on Melville island, was hit in its oil filter by a single round from a .303 rifle fired, very probably by an RAN Lieutenant Sydney Sharp who was manning a shore post. He was a noted marksman and he stood in the path of the Zero’s machine gun bullets and fired back with his rifle.

For Syd continental defence was personal and immediate! Lieutenant Sharp died aged 99 in June this year surrounded by his family.

The destroyer USS Peary was in Darwin harbour that day having narrowly escaped being sunk off Java. She suffered grievously before she sank with 88 sailors killed in action. She kept firing at the Japanese bombers while herself ablaze and with her ammunition exploding.

It was later written that: USS Peary’s magnificent reply in Darwin harbor, as Japanese dive-bombers swarmed around her, deserves a place in the legends of America’s long and heroic naval history.

Corvettes of the RAN were in Darwin harbour and under air attack. HMAS Deloraine, which had sunk a Japanese submarine I 124 in January, came to the rescue and saved many sailors lives that day. HMAS Katoomba was high and dry in a floating dock with her sailors firing every gun and rifle she had at waves of attacking bombers.

The air raids went on. On 3rd March the isolated and undefended town of Broome, was attacked. Eighty eight civilians were killed, many of them Dutch women and their children who had escaped by flying boats from their homes in Java, hoping for safety in Australia. More than 60 air raids were made on Darwin, Broome, Wyndham, Thursday Island and Townsville over the next two years.

We remember with great respect the lonely RANVR Coastwatchers across the South West Pacific who kept up a vigil for months and years and tapped out their vital warnings of Japanese activity. They also used their local knowledge to guide US Marines to victory in the Solomon Islands. But when they broke radio silence they knew that they risked pursuit, capture and execution.

Many paid with their lives for their devotion to duty. Many were decorated by the United States for their skill and bravery.

We remember the loss of HMAS Perth and the USS Houston in the Battle of Sunda Strait when heading south for Australia and safety. On the starlit tropical night of the 1st of March these two survivors of the Battle of the Java Sea, a week earlier, both now low on ammunition and fuel, ran into a Japanese invasion force landing troops on Java.

The two cruisers swiftly destroyed at least four transport ships before they were attacked by a powerful escort of destroyers and cruisers. They both fought back until they were out of ammunition, torpedoed and sinking. Captain Hector Waller’s last order was to abandon ship. Moments later he was killed on Perth’s bridge by shellfire.

Waller’s secretary was 21 year old Sub Lieutenant Gavin Campbell. He was abandoning ship when the fourth and final torpedo hit Perth exploded beneath him and blew him into the air and over the side with a broken leg.

Able Seaman named Bob Collins came to his aid. He used his sailor’s knife to hack off some strips of wood from a floating packing case, slashed Gavin's overalls to make bandages, and he splinted the leg as best he could on a lurching life raft.

It was the first of countless acts of mateship given and received by these Perth sailors in the months and years ahead, and it saved Gavin's leg and his life.

But Gavin's ordeal was just beginning. When he eventually staggered ashore on Java, Gavin - barely able to move - found himself alone on a beach with another wounded sailor. "We can't just stay here," Gavin told him. "We've got to move on or we'll die." And they began their extraordinary odyssey.

For three weeks these two wounded men staggered down the coast of Java, in the burning tropical heat of March. Gavin was wracked with waves of pain, limping and hobbling on a home made crutch, both of them tormented by hunger and thirst until eventually they entered a small town, where a Dutch nurse took them in, and bathed their wounds and fed them.

The Japanese arrived in the village the next day. For Gavin, this was the beginning of three long, agonising years as a prisoner-of-war. Three years of cruel abuse the rest of us can only imagine. Three years of seeing his mates sick and dying around him and the horrors of the Burma-Siam Railway.

There were 681 men in Perth's ship's company the night she was sunk. Hec Waller and 362 of his men still lie with their ship in Sunda Strait. They are not far from the 777 men of USS Houston and their valiant Captain Albert H Rooks.

Rooks was posthumously awarded the US Medal of Honour for his heroism that night. Houston carried 1,068 crew. Only 291 survived both the attack and being made prisoners of war.

Only 328 of Perth’s men survived the battle. Four of them died somewhere in Java. 106 of them died as prisoners. Less than a third of her ship's company, just 218 men, lived to return to Australia in 1945. Sub Lieutenant Gavin Campbell was among them. He served in the Navy post-war and died last December aged 94. He was the last of Perth’s officers and the last link of this kind to his much loved Captain Hec Waller.

HMAS Yarra, a small sloop-of-war, was the next RAN ship to be lost with her Captain, Lieutenant Commander Robert Rankin, and 137 of his men. On the bright morning of 4th of March in the Indian Ocean Yarra defended her convoy by sailing straight at the Japanese heavy cruisers attacking them. Yarra made a smoke screen to hide her defenceless charges and then Rankin charged through it to draw the enemy’s fire away from the ships he was defending.

In minutes Yarra was ablaze and Rankin was dead on his bridge. Leading Seaman Ronald “Buck” Taylor, having refused an order to abandon his 4 inch gun mounting, was still firing back, single handed, at the circling cruisers. He was killed in action in the most literal sense.

Only 34 survived the sinking. Many died slowly on life rafts before the last 13, within hours of death, were found, by chance, by a Dutch submarine and rescued.

Rankin and his crew’s sublime courage in the face of hopeless odds was recognised in 2014 by the Governor General with a Citation for Gallantry. Yarra’s last fight is now the gold standard in the RAN for dedication to duty in every generation and for all time. This story is taught to all those who join the Navy and will never be forgotten.

After the war General Douglas MacArthur spoke about the ships and men of the allied Merchant Navies and their performance in 1942. He said:

They brought us our lifeblood, and they had paid for it with their own. I saw them bombed in New Guinea’s ports. When it was humanly possible, when their ships were not blown out from under them by bombs or torpedoes, they delivered their cargoes to us who needed them so badly. The efficiency and the courage they displayed marked their conduct throughout the entire campaign in the southwest Pacific area. They have contributed tremendously to our success. I hold no branch in higher esteem than the Merchant Marine.

Many of the men he was speaking about were Australians merchant seamen sailing under the Red Ensign. As we rightly honour the Australian troops making their stand, and fighting and dying, at Isurava, in August 1942 we can easily forget that the New Guinea campaign began at sea, and was sustained from the sea. It was a maritime campaign.

The Japanese objective was to seize Port Moresby by sea. In May, at the Battle of the Coral Sea RAN and USN cruisers blocked their passage and so the Japanese High Command determined to take Moresby from the north by marching troops overland through the mountains. It must have appeared easy to those who planned it looking at a map without any knowledge of the terrain.

It was allied warships and merchant ships which maintained the sinews of war, the vital supplies flowing from Australia to the troops enduring the mud and blood and exhaustion of the Kokoda Track and repelling an invasion at Milne Bay. Sustaining troop’s efficiency and fighting spirit depends on supplies getting through to them.

It was USN and the RAN ships which cut the maritime supply lines of the Japanese army on the Kokoda Track and blunted their aggression. It was those same ships that escorted vast quantities of military stores and equipment into Port Moresby to be carried to the front line where every digger was dependent on what came up that precipitous jungle track.

Sea denial, sea control and command of the air over the battlefield by RAAF and the US aircraft were what defended our young Australian and American men in New Guinea 1942 – 43. Seaborne supply was what gave them their chance to turn the long retreat from Kokoda into an advance to victory

The brave young militia soldiers of the 39th battalion, and later the El Alamein desert veterans who replaced them, fighting through the Owen Stanley ranges, were being supported by every allied warship and aircraft that sank Japanese ships trying to carry fresh troops, food and ammunition to the starving invaders.

It was an exhausted, bleeding, hungry and beaten Japanese army, being hit by land, sea and air that fell back to the northern coastline where they were finally routed and defeated in 1943.

Queensland’s essential support for the New Guinea campaign is well known but Darwin’s part is often forgotten but it was also important.

In February 1942 it was badly unprepared for the onslaught intended to destroy the Top End as a forward operating base.

But in weeks RAN sailors in Darwin were operating the longest harbour defence boom in the southern hemisphere. They ensured that enemy vessels and submarines could not return to wreak havoc in that vast strategic waterway. This was unglamorous but vital naval work.

Darwin became a hardened target and a military and naval logistical base from which to prosecute the enemy and go onto the offensive.

By the middle of 1942, Darwin was mounting a layered defence, which grew to be a coordinated response involving fighters, radar, searchlights and anti aircraft guns.

The RAAF air ace Wing Commander Clive Caldwell shot down 6 Japanese aircraft in 1943 while leading spitfire squadrons in the air defence of Darwin.

From Darwin came counterstrike raids from long range bombers, largely manned by US forces. The RAN and USN continued to operate against the enemy from the restored port where the wreck of USS Peary remained.

There is no single day in 1943 on which the struggle to secure the intregrity of the continent was completed and the offensive that led to the Japanese Home Islands could be said to have begun. Sailors, soldiers and airman were fighting and dying in New Guinea and at sea long after the land battles were won.

The 1943 siege battles for the Japanese beachheads at Buna - Gona and Sananander, in northern New Guinea were very costly for the Australian and American army.

The Australian Hospital Ship Centaur was torpedoed in May 1943; 268 medical staff and crew died. Only 64 survived. Of the 12 Army Nurses on board, Sister Ellen Savage was the only one to survive.

But if there is one operation which can be considered the foundation of success it was the Battle of the Bismarck Sea fought between 2nd and 4th of March 1943.

In December 1942, having been beaten back along the Kokoda track, the Japanese decided to move 7,000 reinforcements from Rabaul directly to Lae.

On 28 February 1943, a convoy of eight destroyers and eight troop transports with an escort of approximately 100 fighters headed south to reinforce the New Guinea offensive.

Naval code breakers, in Melbourne and Washington, had decrypted messages indicating the convoy’s intended destination and date of arrival. The Allied Air Forces detected and shadowed the convoy, which came under sustained, round the clock, air attack.

Aircraft of the US Fifth Air Force and the RAAF attacked the convoy relentlessly. Most of the task force was destroyed, and Japanese troop losses were very heavy.

Out of 7,000 Japanese troops, who were badly needed in New Guinea, only 1,200 made it to Lae. Another 2,700 were rescued and returned to Rabaul. Their food, fuel, equipment and ammunition lay on the bottom of the Bismarck Sea.

After this decisive loss the Japanese High Command made no further attempts to reinforce New Guinea by sea. Without fresh troops, Japan could not hold the northern coastline of New Guinea and their whole position in the South West Pacific campaign was doomed.

So, just one year after Syd Sharp had fired his rifle at a Zero near Darwin, the cruisers Perth and Houston had gone down fighting, and little Yarra had won imperishable fame, the tide of war in the South West Pacific Pacific had turned.

In 1943 Japan’s unconditional surrender was still far off, - its date a matter for speculation. Much more blood, sweat and tears would be shed in its pursuit, but the certainty that victory would come had replaced the deep fears of early 1942. John Curtin’s worst concerns after Singapore fell had not been realized. Japan had been first checked and then defeated, by land, sea and air, north of Australia.

Once the defence of Australia was secured the nation’s ports then became the arsenals, repair yards and bases for the vast fleets of warships, tankers and troop transports, provided by the allies for the Pacific War of 1944 and 45. Australia and New Zealand became amphibious training grounds for American troops who went into action as they retook the Pacific island by bloody island.

USN submarines sailing from Brisbane and Fremantle sank Japan’s merchant fleet and tankers without which it could not hold the territory it had seized in 1942.

The USN paid a high price in lost submarine crews for this essential victory. Their sacrifice deserves our gratitude especially in this city which, for many of them, was the last place they ever went ashore. Those sailors are still on patrol.

The USN’s mighty carrier battle groups, with the enlarged RAN and the RN’s powerful British Pacific Fleet, with Australia behind them, would end the Empire of Japan in Asia and the Pacific.

The troops it carried forward and supported from the sea went on, with allies, to release from exploitation and oppression hundreds of millions of men, women and children from Manchuria to Manila.

When it was all over those liberated from POW camps included those surviving Australians, captured in 1942 who had endured all that pestilence, famine and savagery could throw at them.

Men like Lieutenant Gavin Campbell returned home. He married, raised a family, worked hard, told his story to grandchildren and book authors and lived well for another 71 years. He remembered his friends from Perth and those of his generation of young Australians and Americans who died defending this country in 1942.

What do we owe to this heroic generation of defenders now passing into history? First, we cherish and respect those still with us. We respect the memory of those killed in Darwin.

We honour the courage and tenacity of those who died fighting in the jungles of New Guinea and in its surrounding skies and seas.

We remember all those in the ships sunk off our shores, especially Australia’s tough merchant seamen torpedoed and mined off our East Coast carrying war supplies north.

We recall the bravery of those who swept the contact mines left in our coastal waters by the Japanese and German navies.

We remember the faithful RAN sailors who stuck to their guns and died fighting; like Leading Seaman ‘Buck’ Taylor. We remember their commanding officers like Waller and Rankin who took their ships into harm’s way and died doing their duty.

We remember with love those who came home and whom we knew well, our parents and grandparents.

We owe them all our remembrance and gratitude on this day and every day.

Their legacy to us is our life long liberty, prosperity and peace.

Today’s Last Post bugle sounds for them all.

Lest we forget

© Battle for Australia Association NSW Inc, ABN 52 276 883 255, PO Box 812, WAHROONGA NSW 2076, AUSTRALIA, Telephone: +61 (0)2 4384 1196, Email: