FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE OF THE CORAL SEA
The Hon. E. P. PICKERING
(Minister for Police and Emergency Services and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [4.23]: I move:
(1) Remembers with pride the victory of the Allied Naval Forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea 50 years ago.
(2) Expresses the gratitude of this House to the Members of the Allied Forces who were fighting to protect freedom and, particularly, remembers the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in that battle.
(3) Places on record the support of the House for the continuing peace processes being followed in areas of conflict in the hope that the agonies and destruction of war can be avoided for future generations.
Mr President, distinguished guests, my parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the Legislative Council for this important debate. Fifty years ago this week, the Coral Sea battle was fought. Its results for Australia - then and now - have been profound. In an immediate sense the Allied victory caused the Japanese to delay and ultimately abandon the seaborne invasion of Port Moresby. Instead, the Japanese forces tried to force a way overland to the city along the Kokoda Trail and, as has been recently commemorated, this attempt was stopped by the
brave actions of the Australian armed forces. Delay to the Port Moresby invasion meant that any threat to land on mainland Australia also receded. The Japanese, however, already knew that if they attempted this they would have a tenacious fight on their hands. I quote from an assessment of a Japanese chief of general staff dated 1942:
If the invasion is attempted, the Australians, in view of their national character, would resist to the end.
Australia did not face imminent invasion resulting from a fall of Port Moresby. The abandonment of a seaborne assault against the city meant that its strategic position on naval and air routes remained in Allied hands. It is known that, had Port Moresby fallen, Japan planned to move on Fiji, Samoa, and New Caledonia in order to further isolate Australia and secure the boundaries of Japan's occupied territories or the so-called "Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere". Apart from the obvious strategic importance of the Coral Sea battle, the victory was a great morale booster for the Allies after five months of lightning Japanese victories and humiliating Allied defeats. During those months Australia had looked on nervously as the Japanese war machine swept through Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Timor and the Philippines. Darwin had been bombed and, as one Bulletin
journalist remarked at the time:
War has ceased merely to be on Australia's doorstep. It is on the mat and reaching for the knocker.
In this dark hour the Coral Sea victory was a significant ray of light to public consciousness - the Japanese were human, they could be stopped and the worst imaginable was not inevitable. Another important spin-off from the battle was the military lessons learnt by the Allies in naval airpower and carrier warfare. These were to prove important during subsequent battles in the Pacific theatre. The damage inflicted on the Japanese Imperial fleet in the Coral Sea significantly affected the resources available to it in the crucial attack on United States forces at Midway. Although Americans and Japanese largely fought the battle, Australians played important roles in supporting the United States fleet and assisting in breaking the Japanese Imperial Navy's coded battle plans. By April 1942 Australian and American code-breakers working from Melbourne had made significant progress in cracking the cipher. The code-breakers knew an invasion of Port Moresby was planned, which ships were involved and the approximate date of the attack. Obviously, this intelligence gave the Allies a significant advantage when deciding how to counter the Japanese fleet.
The information also allowed the Royal Australian Navy to play a part in the action through the cruiser support group commanded by the Australian-born Royal Navy officer Rear Admiral Jack Crace. Rear Admiral Crace's six-ship support group was stationed at the head of the strategic Jomard Passage at Papua's eastern end through which the imperial navy had to sail if it was to attack Port Moresby. Among the ships under Rear Admiral Crace's command were HMAS Hobart
and HMAS Australia
, the latter of which was the support group's flagship. During the battle the ships were attacked twice by enemy torpedo bombers but none was damaged despite several narrow misses. In fact, it was reported that water thrown up by explosions by HMAS Australia
knocked those standing on the bridge to the deck. The escape was credited to Rear Admiral Crace's command that the ship zigzag at high speed to avoid the bombs and torpedoes.
Meanwhile to the northwest, for two days American and Japanese forces traded fearful punches. The battle which raged was unique in that the opposing naval groups did not sight each other; all the fighting was done using carrier-borne aeroplanes. It is interesting to note that President Bush took part in that conflict as the youngest aviator
at that time. Although the Americans suffered greater material damage, the bloody nose inflicted on the Japanese Imperial Navy, particularly the loss of one aircraft carrier and severe damage to another, caused the Port Moresby invasion to be called off, with obvious relief to the Allied forces. Thankfully the American and Australian forces prevailed in the Coral Sea and went on to fight side by side through many Pacific battles. Although the war bonding of Australia and the United States was created from necessity - Australia from the need for an ally to fight off invasion and the United States of America from the need for a secure base to drive the Japanese from the southwest Pacific - the relationship has endured and prospered during the past 50 years.
This relationship is the lasting legacy of the Coral Sea battle. Two nations with similar values, beliefs and cultures have benefited mutually. Good examples of this are the strength of trade between Australia and the United States, which amounted to more than $17 billion in 1991, and the fact that last year both nations again stood together in the face of aggression, this time in the Persian Gulf. Another example of the close bond between our two nations was the good will shown on both sides during the visit to Sydney over the past four days of more than 7,000 United States sailors commemorating the Coral Sea battle. As Minister for Police and Emergency Services, I can say that the American servicemen have been remarkably well behaved. The feelings of the Americans was summed up by the captain of the aircraft carrier Independence
, who said the Sydney welcome was the best he had encountered in 31 years' naval experience. The local economy has also welcomed the visit, with an amazing $7 million being spent by the sailors in just 96 hours.
However, when we look at where we are today, it is important to remember how we got here. The Battle of the Coral Sea plays an important part in that. Today, 50 years later, we have to remember the brave men and women who fought and died during that conflict. It was a turning point in the Pacific theatre of war and obviously, as Australians, we are glad the battle went the way it did because our country was threatened. War, however, is a human catastrophe. It is often as hard on the victor as it is on the vanquished. The families of the 1,074 Japanese killed would have grieved no less than those of the 543 Americans who perished. Apart from acknowledging the significance of the Coral Sea battle to Australia and the important relationship it helped forge with the United States, the conflict should serve to remind us all of the tragedy of war and the need to ensure that such disasters are not repeated.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN
(Leader of the Opposition) [4.32]: On behalf of the Opposition, I have the privilege of speaking to this motion. We commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea not in any sense of vainglory but as a genuine tribute to the courage and sacrifice of the Americans and Australians who overcame aggression in the Pacific and saved our Australian shores from invasion. During the last few days I have given some thought to what I should say today. In doing so, I came across the speech to the House of Representatives in which Prime Minister John Curtin announced the outbreak of the Coral Sea battle. In his biography of Curtin, Lloyd Ross points out that the Prime Minister was in the House for no more than the routine purpose of moving the adjournment of the House at the end of the week's sittings. Not more than a third of the seats were occupied. But as Curtin rose to his feet he was handed a note. He read it, and then proceeded to make what Ross Gollan, the correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald
, referred to "as his greatest speech - a dynamic and imperishable moment". As a tribute to the Americans and Australians we honour today - and as a better tribute than any words I could compose - I should like to put that speech on the record of this House. These were the words of John Curtin on 8th May, 1942:
That this House do now adjourn.
I have received a communique from the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces in the South-west Pacific Area stating that a great naval battle is proceeding in the south-west Pacific zone. This battle arises from the operations which began on 4th May and to which I referred in the House this morning.
The Hon. R. B. ROWLAND SMITH
The events that are taking place are of crucial importance to the whole conduct of the war in this theatre. I have no information as to how the engagement is developing, but I should like the nation to be assured that there will be, on the part of our forces and of the American forces, that devotion to duty which is characteristic of the naval and air forces of the United States of America, Great Britain and the Commonwealth. I should add that at this moment nobody can tell what the result of the engagement may be. If it should go advantageously, we shall have cause for great gratitude and our position will then be somewhat clearer. But if we should not have the advantages from this battle for which we hope, all that confronts us is a sterner ordeal and a greater and graver responsibility. This battle will not decide the war; it will determine the immediate tactics which will be pursued by the Allied forces and by the common enemy. I ask the people of Australia, having regard to the grave consequences implicit in this engagement, to make a sober and realistic estimate of their duty to the nation. As I speak, those who are participating in the engagement are conforming to the sternest discipline and are subjecting themselves with all that they have - it may be for many of them the last full measure of their devotion - to accomplish the increased safety and security of this territory. In the face of such an example I feel that it is not asking too much of every citizen who to-day is being defended by these gallant men in that engagement, to regard himself as engaged in the second line of service to Australia. The front line needs the maximum support of every man and woman in the Commonwealth. With all the responsibility which I feel, which the Government feels, and which I am sure, the Parliament as a whole shares, I put it to any man whom my words may reach, however they may reach him, that he owes it to those men, and to the future of the country, not to be stinting in what he will do now for Australia. Men are fighting for Australia today; those who are not fighting have no excuse for not working.
[4.37]: As one who had the honour of serving in the Royal Australian Navy during the second world war, I am extremely proud to support this most timely and important motion before the House. A little more than two years ago members of the New South Wales Parliament gathered at a special sitting of both Houses to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli on 25th April, 1915. That date will remain one of the cornerstones of Australian history, marking an imperishable moment in our past by which we first became conscious of ourselves as a nation. A tradition has now sprung up from that terrible experience focused on the bravery and camaraderie of the men who firmly established the reputation of Australians in battle. When war was declared between England and Germany towards the end of 1939, Australians rallied as brothers in arms to defeat the might of Germany. The tragic events of Pearl Harbour occurred on 7th December, 1941, when war was declared between Japan and the United States of America. It was truly then that the Pacific region became the forefront of the war. Early in 1942 the bombing of Singapore took place, closely followed by the Battle of the Java Sea. It was then that Australians realised that this country was indeed vulnerable to an invasion by Japan. Today we meet to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. That was indeed the turning point of the Pacific war. Since then Australians have celebrated Coral Sea Week as the anniversary of Australia's salvation from invasion.
One of the most interesting and informative books on the Coral Sea battle was written by Dr Coulthard-Clarke, Action Stations Coral Sea-The Australian Commander's Story
. In that narrative he pointed out that Japanese army staff favoured continuing the offensive in the Pacific Islands beyond New Britain, which already had been seized, to include the capture of the major Allied base at Port Moresby as well as the Solomon Islands, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa. The purpose of this thrust was to cut the vital line of communication between the United States and Australia,
thereby isolating Australia in gaining its potential as a supplier of fighting personnel and commodities, and a base from which resurgent American military might be applied against Japan's new possessions. The Japanese naval staff, on the other hand, advocated either a direct invasion of Australia or a western advance against India and Ceylon. The commander of the combined fleet, Admiral Yamamoto, a brilliant strategic thinker, still nurtured a scheme of his own. With America's greater economic base, and hence its capacity to outstrip Japan's military strength over time, he urged the bringing on of a decisive naval confrontation in the east by thrusting against the United States territories of Midway and the Western Aleutians.
Plans for invading Australia were abandoned in favour of a less ambitious scheme to simply isolate the Australian continent and effectively force it out of the war. An offensive was then planned by the imperial general headquarters. Tulagi, in the Solomons, and Port Moresby were to be seized by an invasion force and, from these bases, Japan would have air mastery of the Coral Sea. From Rabaul a force under Rear Admiral Shima would occupy Tulagi and establish a sea plane base which would threaten New Caledonia. Rear Admiral Goto would command the Port Moresby invasion group of 12 transports covered by seven cruisers and the light carrier Shoto
. This would steam from Rabaul by the Jomard Passage around the southern tip of Papua. Vice-Admiral Takagi would command a carrier striking force which would travel south from the Carolines, enter the Coral Sea from the east and destroy any Allied resistance. The ships in this force were the carriers Shokaku
, which were supported by two heavy cruisers and six destroyers.
The strategists planned to trap any Allied warships between the Takagi carrier planes and Goto's cruisers, after which Takagi's group would attack Allied bases at Thursday Island, Cooktown and Townsville. The ultimate aim of the naval drive was to force Australia out of the war. Admiral Nimitz, the Commander-in-Chief in Hawaii, did not even have this force at his disposal but he put together all he had under Admiral Fletcher's command and gave him no specific order other than to stop the enemy. Fletcher, in the aircraft carrier Lexington
, familiar with the Coral Sea, came steaming west from Pearl Harbour. The Yorktown
, the other aircraft carrier, already known as the Waltzing Matilda of the Pacific fleet, was ordered to cut short a period of refit at Tongatabu, waltz over to the Coral Sea and rendezvous with Lady Lex. Most of the ships of MacArthur's navy, not yet named the Seventh Fleet, also joined. These were the three cruisers, HMAS Australia
, HMAS Hobart
, USS Chicago
, and the few destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral J. C. Crace, an Australian serving with the Royal Navy.
Nothing much happened on 5th and 6th May when each big carrier force was searching for its enemy without success. At one time they were only 70 miles apart. Yet, during the whole of this campaign, neither force sighted the other from the sea. That sixth day of May, when General Wainwright surrendered Corregidor in the Philippines, marked the low point of the entire war for the American arm, but the next day opened with a bright dawn. The transition from Corregidor to the Coral Sea was startling and dramatic. At dawn on 7th May, Shokaku
sent out a search mission for the enemy, as they were suspected to be in the Coral Sea. Search planes sighted Fletcher's retiring fuelling group, fleet oiler Neosho
and destroyer Sims
, and made the second big mistake of this air crowded battle by reporting them to be a carrier and a cruiser. Admiral Takagi promptly ordered an all-out bombing attack on this helpless couple and sank them both.
The real Battle of the Coral Sea occurred on 8th May. On that day the Japanese
bomber pilots were more effective. The Japanese planes swept through the weak defence and scored two torpedo hits on Lexington
evaded torpedos successfully but both carriers were then attacked by dive bombers. Yorktown
was hit by an 800-pound bomb which plummeted through to the fourth armoured deck before exploding, killing and wounding 66 men. However, there were explosions, probably detonated by a spark from an electric motor, and new fires burst out below deck. The crew abandoned the ship and it was eventually sunk by torpedoes from the United States destroyer Philps
. Strong bombing attacks on the cruisers resulted in the battle really coming to an end for the Japanese, and they turned aside and headed back for their bases. The Battle of the Coral Sea had been won. Some had said that the Japanese had won a tactical battle, but strategically the honours were with the Allies. They had blocked the hitherto unstoppable Japanese advance and postponed indefinitely the seaborne invasion of Port Moresby.
The strategic reality is that, if the planned Japanese amphibious assault on Port Moresby had not been turned back at the Coral Sea, there would have been no subsequent victory in New Guinea. New Guinea would have fallen long before. The Australian mainland was never again as directly imperilled, and the Allies had gained both confidence and experience in naval warfare which would stand them in good stead, particularly as the great Battle of Midway was to be fought the following month. One Australian with a ringside seat for the Coral Sea battle was Lieutenant Peek in HMAS Hobart
. He later became Admiral Sir Richard Peek, Chief of Naval Staff from 1970 to 1973. Sir Richard stated that, in 1947, the English historian Sir Arthur Bryant had told him that three crucial battles in World War II stood out as El Alamein, Stalingrad and the Coral Sea:
Nothing I have learnt since has changed my opinion. It was the critical battle of the Pacific war,
Sir Richard said:
It was demonstrated for the first time that the Americans could hit the Japanese and although there were many other critical battles, that battle was the real test.
As one who served for a short while in the Royal Australian Navy as a midshipman in 1944, I have followed closely the history of the Royal Australian Navy throughout the second world war. I have traversed that area where the battle was fought on many occasions, having left Townsville to go through the Grafton Passage and then up to Manus in the Admiralty Islands, where we were based during that period. I often wonder, however, if many Australians recognise and realise how close to our shoreline the Battle of the Coral Sea was fought. It is indeed fitting that today, in both Houses of Parliament, honourable members should commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. I would like to place on record my deep appreciation of all those gallant men who served in the Allied force during that memorable Battle of the Coral Sea.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY
[4.49]: On this the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Australian Democrats pay tribute to those who fought in the battle, which has since been recognised as turning the tide of the war in the Pacific. Today, technology allows us to see action on the battlefront almost as it occurs, as the Gulf War coverage proved. It is uncanny to feel that one is among the troops as they head towards the encounter with the enemy, to witness their apprehension, their skill and their courage. This came home to me particularly last week when I watched the second of the documentaries on the Falklands War, which included the reminiscences and the remembrances of both Argentine and British men who served in the Falklands. One of
the most telling things was the sense of loneliness that the troops felt when they went into battle. I am sure that is an emotion felt by all our distinguished guests today who have fought in battle.
In the days of the Coral Sea battle there were no cameras to closely document those events, but it would not be difficult for us to imagine the emotions felt by the crews of the ships and aircraft involved. This battle took place at a dark time in Australia's history. For the first time Australia faced the threat of invasion. Darwin had been attacked by the same carrier force of the Japanese fleet that had attacked Pearl Harbour, and 15,000 Australian troops had been captured on the fall of Singapore. The southward expansion of the Japanese military appeared to be unstoppable. United States forces had been defeated in the Philippines and the Allies had lost five cruisers and nine destroyers in the Java Sea battle. The Japanese were poised to capture Port Moresby in order to clear New Guinea of Allied forces, and thereby to facilitate a planned attack on the key naval base at Midway Island. The intention was to have effective control of the seas and subsequently to attack Australia.
Fortunately, intelligence was received that a Japanese invasion fleet had left Rabaul for Port Moresby. Although the outcome of the battle was indecisive at the time - both the United States of America and Japan lost an aircraft carrier and support vessels - it is now recognised as the turning point in the Pacific war, and one of the important naval battles of all time. It was the first time that the Japanese navy had had a less than clear-cut outcome in battle. As such, the Battle of the Coral Sea boosted the morale of the Allies immeasurably. More importantly, 100,000 tonnes of Japanese shipping was destroyed. The Battle of the Coral Sea was a strategic victory also, in that it forced Japan to fight a land campaign in New Guinea. It led to the shelving of Japanese plans to invade Fiji, Samoa and New Caledonia, and it left open the sea route to the north of Australia.
As naval historian Lieutenant Tom Frame points out, the Japanese lost more carrier fighter aircraft than did the Allies, and the combination of naval air power and carrier warfare emerged as the key to future Allied successes. Indeed, they changed the face of naval warfare. Furthermore, the damage incurred undoubtedly weakened the Japanese navy and contributed to its loss a month later in the crucial Battle of Midway. Apart from the role which the Battle of the Coral Sea played in changing the outcome of the Pacific war, the battle is rightly seen as a symbol of the Australian-American alliance, which was then cemented. In this regard perhaps the Battle of the Coral Sea may be compared to two other great naval battles: the part played by the French fleet in Chesapeake Bay during the siege of Yorktown, which led to the surrender of British forces under Cornwallis; and, of course, the Battle of Trafalgar, where Admiral Lord Nelson broke the naval power of Spain and France and established Britain as the greatest naval power for the remainder of that century.
The Australian-American alliance has played a crucial role in Australia's defence policy for the past 50 years. Though we are fortunate today that our strategic environment is relatively benign, the importance of our defence relationship with the United States of America continues to be real. Coral Sea Week, in contrast to the solemnity of Anzac Day, is a week of celebration. Yet as we celebrate the victory of the Battle of the Coral Sea we remember that it was only through the sacrifice of those who served in our armed forces that it is possible for us to live here in freedom today. That is why I particularly wish to support the third paragraph of the motion: that this House
places on record its support for the continuing peace processes being followed in areas of conflict, in the hope that the agonies and destruction of war can be avoided for future generations. Men died in the Battle of the Coral Sea, I believe, in the belief that their children and their children's children would be saved the agonies and destruction of war. I believe that it is our duty to their memory to ensure that that occurs.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE
[4.54]: On behalf of the Call to Australia group I have much pleasure in supporting this motion, that we remember with pride the victory of the Allied naval forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea 50 years ago. Last Saturday I was privileged to be a member of the viewing group at the Sydney Town Hall who watched the Coral Sea march-past. During this past week, I heard, as did I imagine other honourable members, questions raised, by young people in particular, on open-line radio programs as to why we are remembering the Coral Sea battle, and some negative criticism about why we welcome the United States naval vessels into Sydney Harbour. For those reasons I wish to emphasise in my remarks that the Coral Sea victory, involving Australian and United States naval vessels, finally stopped the Japanese military machine in its tracks - especially the Japanese navy - in the same way as our brave young Australian soldiers stopped the Japanese advance in New Guinea on the Kokoda Trail.
The Coral Sea victory destroyed plans by the Japanese warlords to invade and conquer Australia. I have no doubt from my reading of history that these invasion plans were real. They were developed in great detail, including the printing of Japanese occupation currency for use in Australia, the planning for an initial 200-bomber raid on Sydney as a follow-up to the extensive heavy Japanese raids on Darwin, and also the submarine attacks in Sydney Harbour which were designed to cripple and sink Australian and United States naval vessels anchored in the harbour at that time. Honourable members should remember that the ocean zone off the coast of Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong was virtually a war zone, with the sinking of more than 30 merchant naval vessels by Japanese submarines. In addition, German naval raiders were operating in the Indian and Pacific oceans. I emphasise these points so that the importance of the Coral Sea battle, particularly the participation of the United States navy, is fully understood by everyone, and especially by the younger generation. It is right and proper for us to be genuine in our gratitude to the United States of America, to its government, its people, especially its armed forces, and in particular its navy in coming to the rescue of Australia. The prompt and strong support of the United States of America has enabled Australia to continue as a free, independent, democratic nation. It has enabled Australia to continue to be one of the few nations of the world that has never had a land battle fought on its soil. No citizen of Australia would ever want that to happen. Australia's future, its freedom and its democracy will continue to be closely linked with the United States of America as its main ally in this region.
The military strength and democratic traditions of the United States of America will ensure the future freedom and independence of Australia. Because Australia has a small population, its military forces are not adequate to protect its vast coastline. The scrapping of Australia's only aircraft carrier and the introduction of outdated diesel submarines has further put our naval forces at risk. Therefore it is necessary to maintain close co-operation with the United States of America. That co-operation is vital to Australia's future in this region, especially with the present unstable political environment. I hope that the United States navy will never need to rescue Australia from any future invader, but it is vital for Australia's future that it maintains and strengthens its political links with the United States of America. The people of the United States of America need to recognise that during President Bush's visit to Australia, the violent protests of such groups as the International Socialists Organisation represented only a
small, way-out fringe of Australian society and should not be taken seriously. The same remarks apply to those who protested against the arrival of the USS Independence
I believe that the majority of the Australian people want to maintain warm and friendly relations with the United States of America, as was shown by their enthusiastic support for the United States Navy Coral Sea visit to Australia, particularly here in Sydney, by their support for the Coral Sea parade and, particularly, by the thousands who wished to inspect the USS Independence
in Sydney Harbour, and by the warm welcome that the sailors of the USS Independence
received as they proudly marched with our Australian Navy and Air Force personnel through the streets of Sydney, as well as marching with both United States and Australian war veterans of the Coral Sea battle. We salute all the proud servicemen who took part in the Coral Sea battle and remember with gratitude the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom and democracy.
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER
(Minister for Planning and Minister for Energy) [5.0]: As leader of the National Party I warmly support the motion of the Leader of the Government and am pleased to have the opportunity to remember this very important moment in Australia's history, and in the history of the friendship of two great nations, Australia and the United States of America. Like 25th April, 1915, this week commemorates a remarkable turning point in our history. At Gallipoli was born what we now believe to be Australia's national consciousness. Out of those tragic and extraordinary 259 days on the peninsula came a new sense of our independent nationhood. That spirit of nationhood was reinforced in the Pacific war nearly 30 years later. Prime Minister John Curtin, in an historic statement to the nation at the end of 1941, made it clear what the coming year would bring when he said:
The Australian Government regards the Pacific struggle as primarily one in which the United States and Australia must have the fullest say in the direction of the democracies' fighting plan. Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom. We know the problems that the United Kingdom faces. We know the constant threat of invasion. We know the dangers of dispersal of strength but we know, too, that Australia can go and Britain can still hold on. We are, therefore, determined that Australia shall not go, and we shall exert all our energies towards the shaping of a plan, with the United States as its keystone, which will give to our country some confidence of being able to hold out until the tide of battle swings against the enemy.
Four months later the tide turned at the Battle of the Coral Sea. Whilst not a decisive victory for the Allies, it, for the first time, stemmed the inexorable wave of Japanese aggression which threatened to engulf Asia and Australia. Japanese control of the Coral Sea, as part of their plan to isolate Australia, depended upon their securing Port Moresby. Their attempt to do so with a seaborne invasion led to the Battle of the Coral Sea, in which Japan suffered its first major setback of the war. The battle was significant as the first in which the carrier-borne aircraft of both sides decided the issue without the surface forces coming in sight of each other. Though the Japanese were seen to have gained a tactical victory, they were forced to withdraw their invasion convoy and Port Moresby was saved. The importance of this battle, not just for the course of the war but for the course of Australia's history, cannot be overstated.
Australia's future in the post-war world was anticipated in Curtin's speech and then strengthened during the war as the American and Australian forces fought side by side to secure an Allied victory in the Pacific. This war, like the first world war, changed the face of the world dramatically and irrevocably, and though Australia's pre-war ties to Britain continued strong, the relationship forged in the Pacific conflict between
America and Australia stays with us to this day. The shared courage and sacrifice of the Coral Sea battle marked the beginning of a powerful and enduring Australian-American alliance. As Curtin predicted, 1942 was a critical period of challenge and change in our history. Australians rose to the challenge, fighting for their country with the courage and the spirit forged on the shores of Gallipoli. We have valued our alliance with the United States of America ever since and may it continue. Those servicemen and women who defended us, not only in the Coral Sea battle but throughout the course of the second world war, occupy a special and honoured place in our history.
The Hon. BERYL EVANS
[5.5]: Mr President, in February 1942 the United States Naval Air Forces in the Pacific learned of the likelihood of a Japanese offensive drive through the Solomon Islands to New Caledonia. There were continual landings in April by the Japanese forces at Palau, Truk, then Tulagi. This meant they had gained additional vantage points for air operations against New Guinea and the east coast of Australia. The Americans put into place the carriers Yorktown
, accompanied by five cruisers and 11 destroyers, 375 miles south of San Cristobal Island. On 1st May, 1942, a coastwatcher by the name of Paul Mason was on the southern tip of Bougainville, known as Buin. He reported Japanese warships leaving Shortland Island and heading west. North of the Solomons another coastwatcher reported Japanese warships and transports leaving Rabaul and heading south. This was to be known to the intelligence as the Port Moresby invasion fleet. They were going to rendezvous in the Coral Sea. There were more than 100 coastwatchers at that time scattered across the Bismark Archipelago and the Solomon Islands, covering an area of 1.6 million square kilometres. They belonged to the army, air force and navy. Their code name was Ferdinand after the Ferdinand who loved flowers but did not like to fight. They were to report any suspicious occurrences but were not to get involved. Without the coastwatchers' vigilance, it is doubtful whether the Allied fleet could have arrived in time to stop the Japanese reaching Port Moresby.
On 4th May the pilots of the Yorktown
squadron carried out an assault on Tulagi with dive-bombing and torpedo attacks. They sank a destroyer and several other smaller ships including a mine-layer. Further south the Americans made rendezvous with the Australian squadron, including the cruisers Australia
. On 7th May a strong formation of Japanese carrier-borne aircraft found the American tanker Neosho
and her escorting destroyer Sims
was sunk and the badly damaged Neosho
sank several days later. At 7 o'clock that same morning the combined Allied forces, including the carrier Chicago,
were 120 miles south of the eastern extremity of the Louisiade Archipelago. Meanwhile reconnaissance pilots of the Yorktown
reported sighting six enemy warships about 225 miles northwest. The entire air attack force from Yorktown
dive-bombed and torpedoed and sank the carrier Shoto
. There was also a heavy attack by Japanese torpedo-carrying aircraft the same afternoon and many of these aircraft were destroyed.
Early on the following day, 8th May, the opposing forces found each other through the eyes of their air reconnaissance crews. There followed a fierce battle in which the American aircraft force hit and severely damaged the carrier Shokaku
. The American carriers paid an equal, if not heavier, price: 33 Japanese dive-bombers and 18 torpedo-bombers attacked the Lexington
and the Yorktown
. The Lexington
was abandoned and sank. Though in terms of actual loss and damage the honours in the battle were fairly even, the Allied forces had in fact achieved their most important success since the war in the Pacific region began. The first great carrier-versus-carrier battle had been
fought. It was unique as the first naval-air battle in which there was no aircraft-to-aircraft or ship-to-ship combat. The opposing ships neither sighted each other nor fired a single shot at each other. Yet the Japanese were forced to postpone their frontal attack on Port Moresby and to delay their drive down through the Solomons. This is a very brief description of a most important battle. It is a period of the war that I remember vividly as I was with my father, who was a commanding officer of a flight training school. It was several months before I joined the air force. He warned me on one particular night to be ready to leave with other women at a moment's notice and not to ask questions. It was not until after the success of the battle that we knew why we had been alerted to a possible evacuation. I know it is very difficult for people today to realise what might have happened to Australia if the Allied forces had failed to turn back that Japanese force. Documents relating to the campaign compiled after the war show that as early as January 1942 the Japanese imperial headquarters had plans for the invasion of Port Moresby and Tulagi. The orders were brief and excessively simple:
The south sea force and the navy will occupy Port Moresby, the army will occupy Tulagi and Deboyne Island; they will establish bases and strengthen air operations against Australia; another unit will occupy Nauru and the Ocean Islands.
It is also difficult to put into words the tribute we owe to so many young men from the Australian and American air and sea forces who gave their lives to achieve the safety and prosperity we enjoy today. It is for them that today we remember and give thanks. Praising what is lost makes remembering dear.
Honourable members, it is a great pleasure for me to be associated with this motion, and I most sincerely endorse all of those sentiments of gratitude, respect, admiration and thanksgiving voiced by various speakers. I mentioned earlier that we are honoured by the presence in the gallery of 80 distinguished guests. It is always hazardous to single out names from such a galaxy, but I am confident that the others will forgive me if I mention just a few who specially represent the battle and the wider conflict we commemorate and give thanks for today. Sir Roden Cutler, V.C. - soldier, diplomat, governor, Australian extraordinaire! - never made the war in the Pacific. His valorous contribution was made on the other side of the world. Fortunately, he was spared to later make a much greater contribution to our nation. Major General Ken Ether was the distinguished commander of the 25th Brigade on the Kokoda Track. The 18-year-old to 20-year-old soldiers of his brigade won the first land battle against the Japanese at Imita Ridge and started to push them back. Major General Sir Ivan Dougherty commanded the 21st Brigade on the Kokoda Track and later in the assault landings at Balakpapan. Major General Paul Cullen commanded the 2nd/1st Battalion on the Kokoda Track. Also we have present Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Daly, a former Chief of the General Staff, who commanded the 2nd/10th Battalion at Balakpapan.
The brave exploits of those people and their troops would have been in vain, or not even have occurred, if at the Battle of the Coral Sea the Japanese invasion fleet had not been stopped and turned back by the combined naval forces of Australia and our great friend, ally and cousin, the United States of America. The gallant men of these navies are represented here today by Mrs Farncombe, the widow of a great Australian naval officer, the late Admiral Farncombe, who was captain of the flag ship HMAS Australia
, and Lieutenant Commander Moag, also a Coral Sea battle veteran. These distinguished Australians, the survivors of that critical battle at sea and the land battles that followed, are representative of Australia's valiant few who, despite the massive odds against them, defended our shores with their lives that we might today enjoy the precious gifts of
freedom and democracy. Our nation must always remember them and what they did - lest we forget. Also present in my gallery is retired Admiral J. A. Lyons of the United States navy, representing the armed forces of the United States of America, which came to our rescue in our darkest hour of peril. This was a desperate time and, although I was but a child of six and a half years at the time, I remember well my father and brother going off to war, the anguish of the loss of sons and husbands of family friends, the air-raid shelters and backyard slit trenches, alerts, blackouts, the submarine raid on Sydney, and, in 1942, being packed off to western New South Wales with thousands of other children. These desperate events created an indelible impression on my young mind and moulded many of my subsequent attitudes and actions.
Singapore, the bastion of the Empire, had fallen. Britain's two great deterrent battleships in the Far East had been sunk by the Japanese. The mother country could do no more. She was exhausted from single-handedly holding at bay the monstrous forces of fascism that had engulfed Europe. The defeat and humiliation of Pearl Harbour was a fact. Australia was desperately alone and exposed. This was not a matter of desertion, shame and blame on the mother country, as some would have it. It was a fact of life that this young country had to face. It was also imperative in terms of the free world strategy that Papua New Guinea and Australia should not fall but remain a base from which to roll back the forces of Imperial Japan. And so we joined with our American friends in the Battle of the Coral Sea and the wider battle for Australia and the Pacific. We played host and staging post to more than one million American servicemen in the years that followed. This created a level of gratitude and respect between our two peoples which we remember and renew each year, and especially today. It created a special relationship which many others nations find difficult to understand. This is typified by a comment which a dear friend of mine, now deceased, made every time he visited me in Australia. He was a Texan, a marine officer whom I met while he was serving in Vietnam. We became good friends. He loved Australia and visited here many times. When he did he would always say to me in his Texan drawl, - which I will not attempt to imitate, "I love this goddam country - it's the only place in the world where they really like the goddam Americans". He may not have been completely right, but every Australian who remembers knows what he meant, and why. I ask honourable members to signify assent to this historic motion, and honour the distinguished veterans seated in the gallery by standing in their places and carrying the motion by acclamation.
Members and officers of the House standing in their places,
Motion agreed to.
[The President left the chair at 5.18 p.m. The House resumed at 8.15 p.m.