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Stories of the defence of Australia - 1942

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Media Release The Hon Danna Vale MP   Minister for Veterans' Affairs Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence Federal Member for Hughes

VA46 Friday 3 May 2002


In 1942 the people of Australia were called upon, for the first time, to defend their own shores. Throughout that year, supported by their allies, Australians fought to turn the initial defeats of 1942 into the beginnings of victory in the Pacific. This series, issued by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Danna Vale, to mark the 60th anniversary of the defence of Australia, highlights some of the key events of those 12 momentous months.


Since December 1941, when Japan launched its offensive, the Imperial Japanese Navy had proven a formidable foe. The Allies had suffered a string of naval disasters from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to the Battle of the Sunda Strait, in which the Australian cruiser HMAS Perth was sunk with all hands either lost or taken prisoner. Other Australian ships lost in early 1942 were the sloop HMAS Yarra, sunk in a gallant action south of Java, and the destroyer HMAS Vampire, sunk by Japanese aircraft in the Bay of Bengal, off India.

The Battle of the Coral Sea would prove a turning point. The Japanese planned to capture Port Moresby, the most important Allied base in Papua New Guinea. An invasion fleet sailed from Rabaul with air cover provided by a second fleet comprising of three aircraft carriers. The Allies intercepted Japanese signals and dispatched two naval task forces to intercept the enemy, with the battle lasting from 5 to 8 May 1942.

The US Navy's Task Force 17, which consisted of two American aircraft carriers and three heavy cruisers, searched for the Japanese aircraft carriers while the Australian-commanded Task Force 44, under Rear Admiral John Crace, searched for the actual invasion fleet. Crace commanded the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia and light cruiser HMAS Hobart as well four American warships. Aircraft based in northern Queensland also flew search missions.

Neither side was certain of the other's position, but aircraft were launched from the American and Japanese aircraft carriers. On the morning of 7 May, aircraft from the American aircraft carriers located and sank a Japanese light aircraft carrier. Later that day Japanese bombers from Rabaul attacked the Australian task force, but did not score any hits. On the following day, each side launched more aerial attacks. Another Japanese carrier was damaged, but in return the aircraft carrier USS Lexington was so badly damaged that it had to be abandoned and sunk.

The Japanese lost more aircraft and could not maintain aerial cover over the invasion fleet. On 8

May, the surviving aircraft carriers and invasion fleet turned around and the threat to Port Moresby receded. The Allied and Japanese fleets had never actually got close enough for warships to fire at each other - the battle having been fought and won by aircraft.

The Allied victory in the Battle of the Coral Sea was crucial because it forced the Japanese to then attack Port Moresby over the Kokoda Track - an action doomed to failure. The Battle of the Coral Sea was a crucial tactical victory that helped turn the tide of the war.

Media contact: Rachael Thompson (02) 6277 7820 or 0417 265 289


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