Australian Embassy
The Philippines

SP141019: Opening of the Australian – Philippine Liberation Memorial

Address by Ambassador Bill Tweddell
Opening of the Australian – Philippine Liberation Memorial

Palo, Leyte
19 October 2014

• Honourable Leopoldo Dominico Petilla, Governor, Province of Leyte
• Honourable Remedios Petilla, Mayor of the Municipality of Palo
• Honourable Alfred Romualdez, Mayor of Tacloban City
• Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps
• GEN Gregorio Pio Catapang, Jr, AFP Chief of Staff
• LTGEN Jeffrey Delgado, Commanding General, Philippine Air Force
• LTGEN Hernando Irriberi, Commanding General, Philippine Army
• VADM Jesus Millan, Flag-Officer-in-Command, Philippine Navy
• LTGEN Nicanor Vivar, Commander, Central Command
• MGEN Jet Velarmino AFP, Commanding General, 8th Infantry Division, Philippine Army
• Officers and personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,
• Colonel Francisco San Miguel (ret), Executive Vice-President and Secretary General, Veterans Federation of the Philippines
• Veterans
• Special mention to Lieutenant Commander Dave McPherson and the crew of HMAS Larrakia
• Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen


It is my great pleasure to stand before you today to recognise formally Australian Service Personnel for their contribution to the liberation of the Philippines 70 years ago.

Until today, the absence of graves of, and memorials to, those Australian servicemen killed in action during the liberation has belied the significance of the Australian contribution and sacrifice. Ninety-two Australians gave their lives, and many hundreds more were wounded. Though small by comparison to the losses of the Americans and Filipinos, it is a sizeable sacrifice, given that over 4,000 Australians were involved in the various battles on the sea, in the air and on the land.

The first contribution began soon after the fall of Bataan, when Australians living in the Philippines joined guerrilla forces in Luzon, Bicol, Mindanao and Sulu.

In early 1943, from his General Headquarters in Brisbane, Australia, General Douglas MacArthur planned the liberation, with the intention being to leap frog along the northern coast of New Guinea, through the Halmahera Islands, and on to the Philippines. To collect intelligence before the landings, Royal Australian Air Force photo reconnaissance Mosquito aircraft flew missions over the central Philippines from July 1944.

By October 1944, a modest number of Australian soldiers and airmen were attached to the US forces to take part in the Leyte Landings.

Artillery troops from the Army's 1st Australian Naval Bombardment Group and Australian intelligence personnel were attached to the US forces throughout the campaign. In addition, the Air Force’s newly formed No. 6 Wireless Unit was assigned to the landing force to intercept Japanese air communications and provide tactical intelligence to commanders in the field.

On the day of the Leyte Landings, the Royal Australian Navy contributed to the Attacking Force County Class heavy cruisers HMAS AUSTRALIA and SHROPSHIRE, along with Tribal Class destroyers HMAS ARUNTA and WARRAMUNGA. The River Class frigate HMAS GASCOYNE and the Harbour Defence Motor Launch 1074 were assigned to mine-sweeping, and HMAS WESTRALIA, MANOORA and KANIMBLA were assigned to the Landing Group.

The landings were successful. However, as dawn broke on 21 October, an enemy aircraft approached the stationary Attack Force and deliberately crashed into the foremast of HMAS AUSTRALIA.

Thirty men perished and 64 were wounded. Amongst the members of the crew who were killed that day was the Ship’s Captain, CAPTAIN Emile Dechaineux, who had previously been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

By the morning of 24 October, it was clear that there were two large Japanese naval groups heading towards Leyte to attack the Allied forces. It was to be the greatest naval battle in man's long seafaring history. This resulted in three major encounters: the Battle of Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait and the Battle of Samar. By 26 October, the Japanese fleet had been destroyed. The death knell had been sounded for Japan's war effort.

As Allied aircraft began operations from Leyte, Royal Australian Air Force Squadrons, operating Beaufighters and Bostons, moved forward to Morotai, bringing the southern Philippines within their range.

To prevent enemy interference in opening an airfield in Mindoro, Air Force Catalinas, the 'Black Cats', were selected for mine-laying operations on the southern tip of Palawan and in Manila Bay. During a raid on 14 December, a 43 Squadron Catalina A24-64 vanished. The wreckage and the remains of the nine crew were never found. It is likely that the aircraft was shot down somewhere in the vicinity of Corregidor.

Under constant bombardment, 3Airfield Construction Squadron went about their business at Hill Field at San Jose Mindoro, repairing the airstrip during the bombardment, filling in shell holes on the airstrip and moving crashed aircraft, allowing others to land safely.

With the airfields on Mindoro operational, the assault at Lingayen Gulf could now proceed, but not before HMAS AUSTRALIA suffered kamikaze attacks on 5 January, killing 16 crew, and, again on 6 January, killing 28.

On 9 January, at 0400 hours, HMAS AUSTRALIA, SHROPSHIRE, ARUNTA and WARRAMUNGA, and the rest of the bombardment and fire support group, protected the troop carrying ships, including MANOORA, KANIMBLA and WESTRALIA, for a successful landing at Lingayen.

Royal Australian Navy ships would go on to support the massive naval and aerial bombardment of Corregidor and cleaning-up operations in Palawan, Zamboanga, Negros, Cebu, Malabang, Parang and Cotabato.

After the liberation of the Philippines,Australians continued to fight the Japanese, and many of the units involved in the liberation of the Philippines moved on to participate in the Oboe landings, while new units were stationed in, or staged through, the Philippines in support of those and other operations.

Australian aircraft operated from Jinamoc, with a detachment of Catalinas conducting mining missions against ports on the Chinese coast. Kittyhawks and Beaufighters operated from Sanga Sanga airfield on Tawi Tawi, and Liberators were based at Puerto Princesa in Palawan to support the landing at Labuan, Malaysia.

In the end, although the war had moved on, the bodies of 92 Australians remained behind, the sacrifice paid by Australia for the small but significant role its forces played in the liberation of the Philippines.

The monument that you see before you lists the names of the 92 fallen and the units of the Australian Defence Force that contributed to the Liberation.

It also stands as a reminder of the long-standing friendship between our two countries. We were proud to heed the call again last year during Typhoon Yolanda with our service men and women, just as we had done 70 years earlier.

I would like to thank personally His Excellency President Aquino for his support to this memorial, and the Philippine Ambassador to Australia, Her Excellency Belen Anota, and her former Defence Attaché, Captain Ernesto Enriquez, who were also both instrumental in bringing to light Australia’s contribution. We are delighted to have Captain and Mrs Enriquez with us today.

I am grateful to the Office of Veterans Affairs, the Department of National Defense, the Department of Tourism, the Governor of Leyte and the Mayor of Palo for allowing the memorial to be built in this splendid park.

And, finally, I would like to acknowledge the personal support from the Chief of Staff Armed Forces of the Philippines, General Gregorio Pio Catapang, Jr, and the Flag Officer In Command of Philippine Navy, Vice Admiral Jesus Millan, for overseeing the construction of this magnificent memorial.