Biography

Birth date: 03 October 1902
Birth place: Australia: Tasmania, Launceston
Death date: 21 October 1944
Death place: Philippines: Leyte, Leyte Gulf
Final rank: Captain
Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
Units:
  • HMS Eglinton
  • Royal Australian Navy
  • HMAS Australia

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.

Rolls and Awards

Roll of Honour

  • Rank: Captain
  • Date of Death: 21 October 1944
  • Unit: HMAS Australia

Honours and Awards : Distinguished Service Cross

  • Unit: HMS Eglinton
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Honours and Awards : United States Officer of the Legion of Merit

  • Unit: Royal Australian Navy
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Collection Items

Photograph

017623

South West Pacific Area. 4 September 1944. Forward 8 inch turrets of HMAS Australia searching for the enemy. The heavy cruiser's Commanding Officer, Captain (Capt) E. F. V. Dechaineux DSC, RAN is on the bridge. Capt Dechaineux was killed on 21 October 1944 during the Battle of Leyte.

017623

017624

South West Pacific Area. 4 September 1944. Captain E. F.V. Dechaineux DSC RAN (centre) with the Squadron Gunnery Officer, Lieutenant Commander R.I. Peek (left) , on the bridge of the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia in a northern operational area.

017624

106692

Portrait of Captain E. F. V. Dechaineux, RAN.

106692

P02845.001

At sea. c. October 1944. Captain (Capt) Emile Frank Verlaine Dechaineux (Dishy) on the quarterdeck of HMAS AUSTRALIA on its voyage to the Philippines, prior to the battle of Leyte Gulf. Capt Dechaineux, with the aid of large maps, pointers and an address system, is providing the ship's company with...

P02845.001

P03187.004

Captain (Capt) Emile Frank Verlaine Dechaineux (Dishy) on the quarterdeck of HMAS Australia on its voyage to the Philippines, prior to the battle of Leyte Gulf. Capt Dechaineux, with the aid of large maps, pointers and a public address (PA) system, is providing the ship's company with an update on...

P03187.004

Manuscript

Legoe, Tom Elder, DSM (PM7252, Able Seaman, RAN)

Biographical manuscript summarising service experience of Able Seaman T.E. Legoe DSM during the Second World War. Details experiences onboard the HMAS Australia from 12 August 1944 to April 1945, including naval actions in the Philippines, Morotai Island, Leyte Gulf and Lingayen Gulf; as well as...

MSS2153

Film

The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Captain Emile Frank Verlaine Dechaineux, HMAS Australia (II), Second World War

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind...

PAFU2014/400.01

Timeline

Date of birth 1902-10-03 Lanceston, TAS.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1915-12-31 Enlisted in the RAN.
Other 1916 Entered the Royal Australian Naval College at Jervis Bay.
Other 1919 Graduated from the Royal Australian Naval College.
Date promoted 1920 Appointed midshipman.
Date returned to Australia 1924 Served on the HMAS Brisbane.
Date promoted 1925 Appointed lieutenant.
Other units 1925 Transferred to HMAS Melbourne.
Other 1926 Returned to England where he trained as a torpedo officer and naval air observor.
Date promoted 1932 Appointed lieutenant commander.
Other 1935 Appointed squadron torpedo officer in HMAS Canberra.
Other 1937 Attended the Royal Navy Staff College in England.
Date promoted 1937-06 Appointed commander.
Other units 1940-04 Given command of HMS Eglinton.
Date returned to Australia 1941 Returned to become director of operations at Navy Office, Melbourne.
Date of honour or award 1941-07-01 Awarded Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), for destorying German E boats after Dunkirk.
Other units 1942-11-23 Given command of HMAS Warramunga.
Date promoted 1942-12-31 Appointed captain.
Other 1943-06 Given command of Task Group 74.2 with tactical control of a destroyer formation that included United States Naval vessels.
Other 1944-03-05 Given comand of HMAS Australia.
Other 1944-10 Served in the Phillipines.
Date of death 1944-10-21 Died as of wounds incurred in an attack by a Japanese dive bomber during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Phillipines. Dechaineux was burried at sea.
Date of honour or award 1947-05-15 Posthumously awarded the American Legion of Merit in the Degree of Officer.
Other 1990 Collins Class submarine was named HMAS Dechaineux.