The Royal Australian Navy has remembered the loss of HMAS Canberra (I) with a commemorative service over her final resting place in waters off the Solomon Islands.
As part of a series of commemorations for the battles at Guadalcanal, Navy personnel from HMAS Success, along with a detachment from the current HMAS Canberra, paid their respects at sea, laying wreaths over the wreck in memory of the lives lost on both sides of the Battle of Savo Island.
Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer, said the outcome of the war in the Pacific was dictated as much by the efforts to command the sea as the legendary land campaigns of Kokoda and Guadalcanal.
“The battle fields at sea can too easily be forgotten when there is no monument that we can we can look at and touch and feel, but our sea battles have been just as decisive and just as bloody as those on land,” Rear Admiral Mayer said.
“The scars of the sea battle wash away with the tide and there are no graves for the killed, but these men are not forgotten as they lay in the company of their shipmates in the silent depths below.
“Through commemorative services and by sharing their stories, we will always remember the brave exploits of our forebears who protected the quality of life we still enjoy today and those who shed blood for the sake of peace.
“There are 32 allied ships from the US, Australia and New Zealand that fought in the four major battles off the cost of Guadalcanal; a testament to the courage and endurance of the sailors and their commitment to win the sea fight and turn the tide in the Pacific,” Rear Admiral Mayer said.
In 1942, a combined United States and Australian force provided protection to transports and troops ashore during the landings at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. The campaign to stop the Japanese advance into the South West Pacific was vital to protect the sea lines of communication between Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
In the early hours of 9 August, the Guadalcanal campaign culminated in the Battle of Savo Island. The Japanese inflicted great damage to the Allied fleet, but quickly withdrew to avoid daylight counter-attacks, missing the opportunity to destroy the landing forces.
Canberra was badly damaged to the point she needed to be abandoned and sunk. While the Battle of Savo Island delayed the liberation of Guadalcanal by several months, the Allies ultimately achieved their objective; prevented the Japanese from capturing a base in the South West Pacific.
Eighty-four men lost their lives in the attack on Canberra and a further 10 died of their wounds. HMAS Canberra(I) remains the largest Australian warship ever lost in battle.
A history of Australians at Guadalcanal is available at http://www.navy.gov.au/history/feature-histories/australians-guadalcanal-august-1942 and a history of HMAS Canberra (I) is available at http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-canberra-i