Historical military ties between Australia and the Philippines date back to 1922 when Rear Admiral John Saumarez Dumaresq CB CVO, the captain of HMAS SYDNEY during the last two years of the First World War (1917-1918) and the first Australian born commander of the Australian fleet (1919-1922), was accorded the equivalent of a State Funeral in Manila. Rear Admiral Dumaresq died of illness in Manila while returning to the United Kingdom after completing his term as commander of the Australian Fleet and is buried in Manila Memorial Park, Paranaque.
During the Second World War—the single deadliest day for the Australian Forces occurred on 01 July 1942, when more than one fiftieth of all Australian Service Personnel killed during the 2173 days that Australia was at war lost their lives off the northwestern coast of the Philippines. They were prisoners-of-war captured at Rabaul in New Guinea and were being transported aboard the Japanese hell ship MONTEVIDEO MARU when it was sunk off Cape Bojeador in Ilocos Norte. A plaque commemorating those lost on the MONTEVIDEO MARU is included on the Hell Ships Memorial on the waterfront in Subic Bay.
Australian military involvement in the liberation of the Philippines began in June 1943, when eight Australian Servicemen who had escaped from Sandakan in Sabah joined the Filipino guerrillas fighting on Tawi-Tawi in the southern Philippines. Two of the men were killed during fighting and three others returned to Australia in early 1944, while the three remaining soldiers were transferred to Special Operations Australia and continued to fight on Mindanao until the island was liberated in 1945.
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) contribution to the liberation began with photographic reconnaissance missions over the Philippines from August 1944, while their contingent in the decisive Allied landings on Leyte consisted of a critically important signals intelligence unit. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) contributed cruisers, destroyers, hydrographic survey and landing ships, while Australian Army soldiers served as analysts serving in the RAAF signals intelligence unit and bombardment liaison teams and landing detachments aboard the RAN ships. The names of the thirty Australian sailors killed when a Japanese aircraft crashed into HMAS AUSTRALIA during the landings, as well as those of the other 62 Australians killed while fighting for the liberation of the Philippines are commemorated on the Australian Philippines Liberation Memorial in the MacArthur Landing Memorial Park in Palo on Leyte. Annually on 20 October the local government holds an commemoration ceremony in the park.
RAN ships also participated in the Battle of Surigao Strait on 25 October 1944 when the Japanese fleet attempted to destroy the Leyte landing forces but was severely defeated. The battle was the last pitting battleship against battleship and is known as the world’s last big-gun naval battle. A plaque commemorating RAN participation in the battle is located on a local memorial at the Lipata Ferry Terminal in Surigao City where the local government on 25 October also host an annual commemoration ceremony.
The Australian contribution to the second Allied landing in the Philippines on 15 December 1944 at San Jose on Mindoro to establish airfields from which to cover the planned Lingayen landings was smaller but no less significant. To guard against Japanese Navy interference from nearby Manila Bay, twenty-four RAAF Catalinas, six of which had flown up from Rathmines near Newcastle in Australia specifically to take part in the mission—mined the entrance to Manila Bay on the eve of the landing. One Catalina failed to return from the mission, the wreckage of which was recently identified on a ridge on the northern end of Mindoro. A memorial commemorating the mission and the nine men killed on Catalina A24-64 is located in the forecourt of the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific in Alas-Asin on the Bataan Peninsula near where the mines were laid and is open to the public.
The RAAF also contributed an airfield construction squadron to the Mindoro landing Forces to assist the US engineers in developing the urgently required airstrips. The RAN contingent consisted of an armed ocean-going tug that towed a barge of high-octane fuel from Leyte for US torpedo boats in protecting the Mindoro landing site, while the Australian Army's contribution consisted of an electronic warfare unit.
The third and final major landing in the Philippines was also the deadliest for Australia, with forty-six RAN sailors killed in three separate Kamikaze attacks while the ships were approaching and in the Lingayen Gulf. RAN cruisers, destroyers, hydrographic survey and landing ships together with their Army detachments participated in the operation. The RAAF contingent consisted of a detachment of the signals intelligence unit, which also included Australian Army personnel. A plaque commemorating the RAN participation in the landings is located in the Lingayen Veterans Memorial Park where the local government holds an annual commemoration ceremony on 9 January.
The RAN subsequently continued to contribute ships in support of minor landings at Subic Bay, Corregidor, Zamboanga, Iloilo and Cebu as well as in Central Mindanao where the three Special Operations Australia soldiers were still fighting.
Australia's military ties with the Philippines continued even after liberation. Operating from Manila, Mindoro, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan, RAAF Catalinas, Liberators, Kittyhawks and Beaufighters supported the Australian operations to secure the oil fields and refineries on Borneo between March and June 1945. Further north during the same period, RAAF Catalinas used the Lingayen Gulf as a staging point to mine strategic points on the coast of China to stem the flow of urgently needed essential resources to Japan from Southeast Asia.
Six years later, Australian and Filipino soldiers fought historic battles to defend South Korea during the 1951 Chinese Spring Offensive. The Battle of Yuldong on the night of 22/23 April is commemorated in the Philippines, while the Battle of Kapyong is commemorated in Australia on 24 April. Notably, on the same day as the Battle of Kapyong, the Filipinos and their light tanks fought together with an Australian Army officer commanding a troop of British Centurion tanks in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the 'Glorious Glosters'. A British battalion that had been surrounded by Chinese Forces on the Imjin River with the majority eventually being killed or taken prisoner.
More recently, Filipinos served in the Australian led International Force East Timor (INTERFET) during East Timor's transition to independence in 1999.