75TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE OF THE CORAL SEA COMMEMORATION DINNER
SATURDAY 6 MAY 2017
ADDRESS BY COMMANDER ANDREW BURNETT ADC RAN COMMANDING OFFICER NAVY HQ- SA
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Tonight, I have been invited to talk on the subject of the unique relationship between our two great countries.
The United States is a vital ally, partner, and friend of Australia. The United States and Australia maintain a robust relationship underpinned by shared democratic values, common interests, and cultural affinities.
Economic, academic, and people-to-people ties are vibrant and strong but it is the defence relationship between our countries that the Australian public recognises and in my view, defines our relationship more than any other.
President Trump is reported to have said yesterday ‘Australia and the United States are rebellious children of the same British parent.’ I think the parent is of the opinion that one is a bit more rebellious than the other. But that isn’t important in our relationship.
I will talk about how our Defence relationship began and its progress to the present time.
We – I will use this term regularly during this talk – and by it I refer to both Australia and the United States – we marked the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2015.
Australia’s first diplomatic mission, outside of London, was in the United States. In 1940 B. G. Casey was the first diplomat sent by Australia to any foreign country other than the UK. He commenced in Washington in January 1940. But well before that we had a defence relationship.
Even before WW1 we had interaction. In 1908, Prime Minister Alfred Deakin invited the United States Navy’s ‘great white fleet’ to visit Australia during its circumnavigation of the world. The fleet stopped in Sydney, Melbourne and Albany. It was a sensational visit with 80,000 spectators gathering on Sydney’s South Head to watch the entry into the harbor. Prime Minister Deakin was a strong advocate for an independent Australian navy and used the visit to raise public enthusiasm on the subject. The visit was significant in that it marked the first occasion that a non-royal navy fleet had visited Australian waters.
Deakin’s plan worked and shortly after the visit, Australia ordered its first modern warships and set down the road to the creation of a navy, independent of the Royal Navy. I thank the United States for your assistance.
We first fought together in WW1 and since then, we have fought together in every significant conflict.
It was at the battle of Hamel on the Western Front in France on 4 July 1918 – I must admit the significance of that date only occurred to me whilst I was preparing this speech – where Australian and U.S. Troops first fought side by side. The United States had entered the first World War in April 1917, and after a build up and training, began offensive actions on the 4th of July 1918 in that battle. It was an Australian action under LTGEN Monash and U.S. Units were attached to the Australians for the battle. The battle was a resounding, textbook 90-minute success with the Germans suffering a significant defeat at the hands of the joint Australian and U.S. Force. So it is fitting that the first day in battle for U.S. Troops in WW1 was with Australians and proved so successful.
There is no record of interactions between WW1 and WW2 so we move to 1942.
The 75th Anniversary of the battle we celebrate tonight was one of many in WW2 where Australian and U.S. Forces fought side by side. Others include Midway, and Guadalcanal. Although no Australian vessels were present at the battle of Midway, Australian Naval Intelligence played an important part in helping to monitor Japanese movements and intentions. And the RAN provided a screening force at Guadalcanal, which included three capital ships. And I don’t need to remind you of the incredible contribution and sacrifice made by the United States at both Midway and Guadalcanal.
The battle of the Coral Sea was fought over five days between the 4th and 8th of May 1942.
It was fought between Imperial Japanese forces and a coalition of U.S. and Australian naval forces supported by U.S. and Australian land-based air craft in Queensland. It proved to be one of the most important naval actions of the early pacific war and was to have far-reaching strategic consequences for the Japanese.
The battle, in which the United States lost three capital ships including the carrier Lexington, 69 aircraft and over 600 men, was the first sea battle fought entirely by aircraft with the opposing ships not sighting each other during the 5 days.
Australia contributed two capital ships and did not incur any losses.
The Japanese losses were two capital ships, including a light carrier, three minor ships, 92 aircraft and over 900 personnel killed. The loss of the aircraft was particularly significant for Japan.
Neither side could claim victory but it was a significant setback for the Japanese by preventing their planned invasion of Port Moresby. It is an understatement to say that this had a significant benefit for Australia.
And it spelt the beginning of the end for the Japanese Navy where they were to suffer significant losses 4 weeks later in the Battle of Midway.
The Battle of the Coral Sea is the first time in WW2 that our forces fought together and, noting the fleeting nature of our joint enterprise at the Battle of Hamel in WW1, is the recognised moment that our enduring relationship began – 75 years ago.
Now, getting back to that relationship. This WW2 interaction wasn’t confined to the navy. At the highest level, GEN MacArthur was the Supreme Allied Commander South West Pacific and was in command of thousands of Australian troops. His headquarters was in Brisbane until 1944.
Our Armies and Air Forces also fought side by side and our Navies continued to do so through the war in the Pacific until it ended with the unconditional surrender in Tokyo Bay on the 2nd of September 1945.
It was to be a mere 5 years before the Korean War commenced in 1950. Australia entered that war when R.A.N ships and R.A.A.F aircraft joined the United Nations Forces on the 1st of July that year. Later, we contributed land troops. Of course U.S. Forces were part of that U.N. Force from the outset on the 27th of June 1950, so we served together again.
During the Korean War, in 1951, the ANZUS treaty was concluded between our countries and New Zealand.
The treaty, which enjoys broad bipartisan political support in this country, is Australia’s pre-eminent security treaty.
The agreement binds Australia and the U.S. and, separately, Australia and New Zealand, to co-operate on military matters in the Pacific Ocean region. Although today the treaty is taken to relate to conflicts worldwide.
It provides that an armed attack on any of the three parties would be dangerous to the others, and that each should act to meet the common threat.
The Korean War ended with an Armistice in 1953, and it was to be 9 years before we fought together again – in Vietnam.
The U.S. was there from 1955 with training teams and we joined in 1962 with a similar team. We were there together in combat until we left in 1973.
I have mentioned the ANZUS Treaty. This was invoked for the first and only time – by Australia – in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. On the 14th of September, Prime Minister Howard, having just returned from Washington, convened a cabinet meeting and issued a statement thereafter. Part of the statement read:
“the government has decided, in consultation with the United States, that article 4 of the ANZUS Treaty applies to the terrorist attacks on the United States. The decision is based on our belief that the attacks have been initiated and coordinated from outside the United States.
This action has been taken to underline the gravity of the situation and to demonstrate our steadfast commitment to work with the United States in combating international terrorism.
The Australian government will be in close consultation with the United States Administration in the period ahead to consider what actions Australia might take in support of the U.S. response to these attacks.”
As a result of that decision we have been standing shoulder to shoulder with our U.S. Allies in Afghanistan for 15 years, and in Iraq, on and off, since 2003. I have had the privilege to serve in both those areas of operations with many of our U.S. Allies.
Afghanistan is the longest war that Australia and the U.S. have been involved in.
Australia is still in there with our U.S. Allies but in a different role to our initial combat involvement – our countries, along with many other NATO members, are now training, advising and assisting the Afghan Forces to enable them to be self sufficient and secure their country without the requirement for foreign troops. I have to say though that we are some way from that goal.
We are both now in Iraq assisting the Iraqi Security Forces to defeat ISIS – again in the role of train advise and assist.
And the formal agreements between our countries on defence continue to this day.
We signed the U.S. – Australia Force Posture Agreement in August 2014, paving the way for even closer defence and security cooperation. Including the annual rotation of marines to Darwin, and enhanced rotations of U.S. Air Force aircraft to Australia.
Last month, 1250 marines arrived for the latest rotation. If you believe the media, they are here to prepare for the war against North Korea!
All of our major military exercises are conducted with the United States. Some have other participants as well, but the U.S. is with us in all of them. Exercises such as Talisman Sabre, a biennial combined exercise, being held this year in July. 30,000 Australian and U.S. Defence personnel will undertake high end war fighting exercises in Queensland.
RIMPAC is a major United States Pacific fleet biennial combined exercise. Last year 1650 ADF personnel participated in R.A.N ships and in R.A.A.F aircraft.
These exercises ensure and demonstrate the ability of our two defence forces to work together with the highest levels of interoperability.
Then there are the ongoing contemporary issues.
The U.S. – Australia Alliance is an anchor for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world.
U.S. and Australian bilateral security cooperation activities enhance the stability and resiliency of the Asia – Pacific region.
Both countries share an interest in maintaining freedom of navigation and over flight and other lawful uses of the sea, including in the South China Sea.
As stated, we work closely in Afghanistan and Iraq, and cooperate on efforts to degrade and defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and address the challenges of foreign terrorist fighters and violent extremism.
Arms control and counter-proliferation is another area of close cooperation.
Prime Minister Turnbull is in U.S. as I speak where he has held talks with President Trump on a number of these matters of mutual interest.
Yesterday, President Trump hosted Prime Minister Turnbull at a 75th Commemoration for the Battle of the Coral Sea on USS Intrepid in New York Harbor.
At that event, this battle, 75 years ago, was again recognised as the beginning of our enduring relationship.
May it continue as strong and vibrant for forever.