Darwin commemorates the ‘battle that saved Australia’

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Todd Fitzgerald (author), Gunner Joel Mortlock (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Coonawarra, NT

Topic(s): HMAS Coonawarra, Battle of the Coral Sea

Australian Defence Force personnel in Darwin, together with the United States Marines, commemorate the 76th Anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. (photo: Gunner Joel Mortlock)
Australian Defence Force personnel in Darwin, together with the United States Marines, commemorate the 76th Anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

HMAS Coonawarra has joined with the Darwin community, members of the United States Marines and other Australian Defence Force personnel to commemorate the 76th anniversary of ‘the battle that saved Australia’.

The Battle of the Coral Sea occurred between 4-8 May 1942 and pitched Australian and US forces against the Imperial Japanese Navy off the north-east coast of Australia. 

Four aircraft carriers, 255 aircraft and 76 ships were involved. By the end, eight ships were sunk, 161 aircraft destroyed and 1,622 men killed.

Commanding Officer Coonawarra, Commander Viktor Pilicic, said it is seen as the battle that saved Australia because it was the first time the Allies stopped the Japanese advance in the Pacific during World War II. The Japanese had bombed Darwin three months earlier. 

“It was a tactical victory for the Japanese as they were able to sink more Allied ships than they lost,” he said.

“But for the Allies it was a strategic victory because it ensured the eastern approaches to Australia remained open and stopped the Japanese Navy having bases to conduct operations on Australia’s northern doorstep.”

Commander Pilicic said the commemoration honoured the sacrifice and dedication of the sailors and airmen who fought at the battle. 

He said it also recognised the alliance forged in the battle between Australia and the US.

“The Battle of the Coral Sea served as the foundation for the strong and enduring alliance that Australia has with the US and we see that here today as we stand side-by-side with the Marine Rotational Force - Darwin,” Commander Pilicic said. 

Following defeat at Pearl Harbor, the United States looked to Australia as a site for a forward base for the War in the Pacific. The Japanese Navy sought to block the move by waging direct war against the Australian mainland and nearby territories. 

The Battle of the Coral Sea ensued.

The battle was the world’s first sea battle between aircraft carriers and the first naval battle in which opposing ships neither saw nor fired on each other. The entire battle was fought by aircraft attacking ships.