Australia commemorates loss of HMAS Canberra

The stricken Canberra following the action at Savo Island. This stretch of water is now known as Iron Bottom Sound after 32 Allied ships were sunk there during WWII. Photo: Royal Australian Navy

The Royal Australian Navy on August 9 marked the 75th anniversary of the loss of HMAS Canberra (I) during the World War II Guadalcanal Campaign.

The commemorative service took place 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.

“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.”

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.

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