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A MUSICAL VOYAGE - Royal Australian Navy

A MUSICAL VOYAGE - Royal Australian Navy

- 102 – SPEECH BY THE

- 102 – SPEECH BY THE DIRECTOR OF MUSIC ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE OF THE CORAL SEA GIVEN AT KINGSGROVE RSL (2010 AND 2011) Thank you for the invitation to present an address at this ceremony marking this Anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. I would like to acknowledge the staff and cadets from Training Ship SIRIUS for their fine turn out today and the men and women of the Sydney detachment of the Royal Australian Navy Band for their musical support. In particular, I acknowledge the veterans gathered here today for their contribution to the nation during times of conflict; but also for their ongoing contribution to the fabric of Australian society. So we have present here today past, current and, hopefully, future generations of Australian seafarers in the company of veterans of the Australian Defence Force. As the Director of Music for the Royal Australian Navy I am mindful that musicians embarked in HMAS AUSTRALIA during the Battle of the Coral Sea would have been at action stations as members of gun crews, as shell bearers in magazines, in transmitting stations, as first aid parties and as lookouts. So I am pleased to also pay respectful gratitude to those former members of the Royal Australian Navy Band. In early 1942 as the list of military defeats for the Australian, British, American and Dutch military and naval forces began to mount, the feeling in the general populace of Australia must have been one of depression and a general expectation that the Japanese would invade at any moment. It is a fact that the Japanese forces were conducting preparations for the capture of Port Moresby, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa. The object of their plan was to extend and strengthen the Japanese defensive perimeter as well as cutting the lines of communication between Australia and the United States. It is important to note that the occupation of Port Moresby would have cut off the eastern sea approaches to Darwin and provided the Japanese Navy with a secure operating base on Australia's northern doorstep. The Battle of the Coral Sea prevented the direct assault of Port Moresby by sea, buying time and keeping open the northern sea lanes, and it made possible the successful defence of the Kokoda Track and the eventual recapture of New Guinea. The Battle of the Coral Sea was one of the major air and naval engagement of World War II. It was also the first naval engagement in history in which two fleets clashed, but neither fleet saw each other—it was fought entirely with aircraft. Australia’s part in the battle consisted of the heavy cruiser, HMAS AUSTRALIA, the light cruiser HMAS HOBART, and aircraft flown from bases in Queensland by both Australian and American crews. In late April 1942, US Intelligence detected a major Japanese flotilla heading toward the Coral Sea. The Japanese codename for the flotilla was Operation MO. Its objective was the invasion of the small but strategically important, Papuan town of Port Moresby. Admiral Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, responded by deploying his two available carrier groups. Rear Admiral Fitch, commander of Task Force (TF) 11 embarked in USS LEXINGTON, was ordered to sail and join Rear Admiral Fletcher's TF17, which was centred on the USS YORKTOWN in the Coral Sea. TF44 was deployed from the south under the command of Rear Admiral John Crace RN. This combined force, under the command of Rear Admiral Fletcher, was designated TF17. For the purpose of my short address I will focus TF44 which comprised HMAS AUSTRALIA (flagship), HMAS HOBART and USS CHICAGO supported by the destroyers USS PERKINS and WALKE. Early on the morning of 7 May, Admiral Fletcher split his force by detaching TF44 to cover the Jomard Passage and intercept the Japanese invasion force: this was an extremely risky decision and perhaps the most important in the entire battle. For not only did Admiral Fletcher weaken his own air defences; but he also exposed Admiral Crace’s ships to the possibility of air attack without hope of fighter protection, as had occurred five months earlier with disastrous consequences when Her Majesty’s Ships PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE were sunk by 86 Japanese aircraft. Royal Australian Navy Band: A Musical Voyage

- 103 – TF44 arrived off the Jomard Passage, near the Louisiade Islands, at about 2 pm on 7 May: this was the sea route through which the Japanese force was headed towards Port Moresby. Due to the major air threat that faced the cruisers, Admiral Crace ordered his ships to take up an anti-aircraft diamond formation. Japanese aircraft were sighted at about 3 pm. Admiral Crace ordered his Task Force to alter course so that the ships were heading directly towards the oncoming aircraft. In an attempt to make as difficult a target as possible each of the ships commenced evasive manoeuvring. This presented the narrowest possible target for the torpedoes launched by the Japanese aircraft, all of which, thankfully, missed. After releasing their torpedoes the aircraft strafed the ships and a number of sailors were injured. Admiral Crace’s Task Force then faced another wave of aircraft attack from high level bombers, which seemed to single out HMAS AUSTRALIA. Fortunately, the bombing attack proved to be ineffective. The skilful ship handling of Admiral Crace and his commanding officers also contributed to the safety of the ships. While the brunt of the battle was fought in other areas of the Coral Sea by US servicemen, TF44 including the Australian seamen on the heavy cruiser AUSTRALIA and the light cruiser HOBART played a very significant role in ensuring Japanese ships did not exit the Jombard Passage towards Moresby. Their presence in this area was important in influencing the decision by the Japanese Commander to turn back the Moresby landing force. Tactically the Battle of the Coral Sea was pretty much a draw, but strategically it was an Allied victory as the Japanese Port Moresby invasion force—scheduled to land on 10 May— was ordered to turn back. And although both fleets withdrew simultaneously from the engagement, crucially, the Japanese had two vital fleet carriers too badly damaged to be available for the decisive Battle of Midway one month later. Had all the Japanese carriers been present at Midway, the chance of American victory would have been greatly reduced, with incalculable consequences for the war in the Pacific. In essence, the Battle of the Coral Sea was the indispensable prelude to success at Midway. However, our success during the Battle of the Coral Sea came at great cost: � one of the American carriers was destroyed and one was badly damaged, � one oiler and one destroyer both sank, � 66 aircraft were lost, and � more than 543 allied sailors and airmen were killed or wounded. Today, we remember with thanks and pride the courage shown and the sacrifices made during the Battle of the Coral Sea. We shall never forget. Royal Australian Navy Band: A Musical Voyage

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