Captain Emile Frank Verlaine Dechaineux, DSC
Date of birth: 03 October 1902
Place of birth: Lanceston, TAS
Date of death: 21 October 1944
Place of death: Leyte Gulf, Phillipines.
Emile Dechaineux, born at Launceston in Tasmania on 3 October 1902, reached the pinnacle of his naval career when he was given command of the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia in 1944. Dechaineux's career began when he entered the Royal Australian Naval College at Jervis Bay, Federal Capital Territory, in 1916 at the age of 14. He graduated three years later and was promoted to midshipman in 1920.
Dechaineux travelled to England to undertake sea and shore training with the Royal Navy before returning to Australia in 1924. He served on HMAS Brisbane that year, was promoted to lieutenant, and in 1925 transferred to HMAS Melbourne, before returning to England in 1926. He qualified as a torpedo officer and naval air observer and returned to Australia, serving on several more ships and being promoted to lieutenant commander in September 1932. Three years later he was appointed Squadron Torpedo Officer in HMAS Canberra; he was in that post when he married Mary Harbottle in 1936.
A third journey to England followed in 1937 when Dechaineux attended the Royal Navy Staff College; he was promoted again, to commander, in June. He served in the British Admiralty's Tactical and Minesweeping divisions until April 1940 and made five trips to assist in the evacuation at Dunkirk as the commander of the destroyer HMS Vivacious. Dechaineux was then given command of HMS Eglinton, and operated on North Sea patrols. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1941.
Dechaineux returned to Australia that year to become Director of Operations at Navy Office, Melbourne. In June 1943 he was given command of Task Force 74 with tactical control of a destroyer formation that included US naval vessels. In command of HMAS Warramunga, Dechaineux operated in Australian and New Guinean waters, assisting in amphibious landings around New Guinea and in the Admiralty Islands. He was promoted to captain on 31 December 1942.
On 9 March 1944 Dechaineux was given command of the flagship of Task Force 74, HMAS Australia. Under his command, Australia supported Allied landings at Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea and at the islands of Biak, Noemfoor, and Morotai; by October his command had taken him to the Philippines. On the 21st of that month Australia was supporting American landings at Leyte Gulf when she was struck in the foremast by a Japanese dive-bomber. The subsequent explosion and fire engulfed Australia's bridge. Shrapnel disembowelled Dechaineux; he survived just a few hours and was buried at sea that night.
Dechaineux had been a highly regarded naval officer - winning promotions ahead of his contemporaries - and was expected to attain a senior command post. Subordinates considered him a decent man and fair captain quick to praise effort and initiative but not hesitant about punishing transgressions. The United States government posthumously appointed Dechaineux an Officer of the Legion of Merit and in 1990 the Australian government honoured him when it named a new Collins-class submarine the HMAS Dechaineux.