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.
Emile aDishya Dechaineux was born on 3 October 1902 in Launceston, Tasmania, to Lucien and Ella Dechaineux. In 1907 Belgian-born Lucien became art master for the Tasmanian Department of Education and the family moved to Hobart. Ella died in 1908, and Lucien later remarried.
Emile Dechaineux joined the Royal Australian Navy on 31 January 1915, two months after his 13th birthday. He spent four years at the Royal Australian Naval College at Jarvis Bay on the New South Wales south coast, and in January 1920 was posted as midshipman to the battlecruiser HMAS Australia (I). Nine months later he served in the destroyer HMAS Anzac (I), and the following year was sent to Britain for further training with the Royal Navy.
While serving in the battleship HMS Valiant in 1922, Dechaineuxas strong character impressed his captain, who described the 19-year-old as able to atake charge well and do the right thinga. He was made sub-lieutenant in December and lieutenant in 1924.
Like many naval officers of the period, Dechaineux spent several years in Britain on loan to the Royal Navy. Promoted to lieutenant commander in 1932, he became the squadron torpedo officer in the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra (I). On 20 November 1936 Dechaineux married Mary Harbottle in Hobart. The couple had a daughter and a son, who later became a career naval officer like his father, achieving the rank of commodore.
While attending the Royal Navy Staff College in 1937 Dechaineux was made commander and went on to work in the Admiralty. Following the outbreak of war with Germany, in 1940 Dechaineux briefly commanded the sloop HMS Egret. When the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from France he temporarily commanded the destroyer HMS Vivacious and conducted five trips to the continent to evacuate British troops. In August he took command of HMS Eglinton, hunting German E-boats in the North Sea, and for this he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Dechaineux returned to Australia in late 1941. In November 1942 became the captain of HMAS Warramunga (I), and four months later commanded a task group of Australian and American destroyers. For much of the year Warramunga was kept busy supporting a series of American amphibious landings on New Britain, New Guinea, and the Admiralty Islands. Dechaineux was promoted to captain on the last day of the year.
In March 1944 Dechaineux became captain of Australia (II), where he continued to impress both his superiors and subordinates. That October American forces landed on Leyte Island in the Philippines. The Japanese fiercely opposed every phase of the offensive, and during the morning of the 21st Australia was hit by a Japanese dive bomber. The aircraft crashed into Australiaas foremast, causing an explosion and a fire on the bridge. There were nearly 100 casualties, with many men suffering terrible burns, and Dechaineux was mortally wounded. An able seaman recalled that Dechaineux kept asking:
aLook after them.a aJust how serious are the injuries?a a Thatas all he was interested in a He died later in the day a He never uttered a moan or a groan. He was an outstanding person.
That night Dechaineux was buried at sea. He was 42. In all, 30 officers and ratings were killed or died of wounds, and 62 others were wounded. The United States posthumously awarded Dechaineux the Legion of Merit. The citation reads in part:
Directing his command with superb seamanship and great professional skill, Captain Dechaineux participated in vital and hazardous operations a fighting his ship valiantly in support of our landing in the Philippines.
In 2001 the RANas Collins-class submarine HMAS Dechaineux was commissioned in the captainas memory. Dechaineux is also listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with some 40,000 other Australians from the Second World War.