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Defence

THE HISTORY OF PHILIPPINES-AUSTRALIA DEFENCE TIES

Few people would be aware of the extent of Australia’s contribution to liberate the Philippines during World War II: from the escaped Australian prisoners of war who fought alongside Filipino guerrillas in Mindanao; to the strategic support of the Australian Government; to General Douglas MacArthur who planned the campaign from Brisbane; and to the Australian sailors who endured the terrifying ordeal of kamikaze attacks on Australian ships in the Leyte and Lingayen Gulfs. In total, 4,000 Australian service personnel took part in the campaign and 92 sacrificed their lives.

The campaign not only turned the war in the Pacific but forged a legacy of cooperation between Australia and the Philippines.

Over the decades, those ties have deepened. The depth of our defence cooperation was formalised through the historical signing of the reciprocal Status of Visiting Forces Agreement.

Training and educational exchanges are expansive. Over several decades, thousands of Filipino and Australian servicemen and women have trained alongside each other.

Today, our forces continue to work more closely together than ever before as we seek to promote a region which is peaceful, stable and where the rights of sovereign states are protected under international law.

MILITARY EXERCISES

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Our regular military exercises and exchanges help forge relationships, develop expertise and build trust. They help build strong bonds of mutual confidence among Australian and Philippine troops.

Image: Armed Forces of the Philippines soldiers conduct a combined amphibious assault exercise on Exercise Alon as part of Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2023 in the Philippines.

Image: Philippine Navy ships BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (front) and BRP Davao Del Sur (middle) conduct a maritime cooperative activity with HMAS Toowoomba (back) during a regional presence deployment.

Image: Australia troops move across a waterway with United States Marines and Armed Forces of the Philippines soldiers during a combined amphibious assault exercise on Exercise Alon as part of Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2023 in the Philippines.

Image: An Armed Forces of the Philippines soldier moves firing positions during a combined amphibious assault exercise during Exercise Alon as part of Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2023 in the Philippines.

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Image: An Australian Army soldier and soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines disembark from a United States Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft during a simulated assault on the urban operations training facility, Shoalwater Bay Training Area.

Image: Philippine Navy ships BRP Davao Del Sur (centre) and BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (back) conduct a maritime cooperative activity with HMAS Toowoomba during a regional presence deployment.

DEFENCE PACTS

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The decades after World War II saw the bonds of friendship between Australia and the Philippines expand. This was marked by increasing engagement through multilateral activities under the United Nations (UN) and the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), and formalised through historic bilateral agreements like the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) and the Joint Declaration On Australia—Philippines Comprehensive Partnership.

Image: In September 1954, Australian Minister for External Affairs, R. G. Casey (extreme left) and other delegates arrive in Manila for discussions leading to the establishment of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation. [United States Information Agency]
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Since the 1950s, Filipino and Australian soldiers have taken part in many peacekeeping and humanitarian and disaster response missions.

Image: Soldiers of the Philippine and Australian Army unload supplies from the back of a truck in front of a Philippine Humanitarian Support Mission to East Timor (PHILHSMET) building.

Image: Australian Defence Force medics and doctors help local Filipino emergency services with the medical evacuation of an elderly gentleman at Ormoc airfield during Operation PHILIPPINES ASSIST.

Image: Royal Australian Air Force Aircraftwoman loads a Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules at Cebu airfield during Operation PHILIPPINES ASSIST.

CAMPAIGN FOR FREEDOM

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Liberation of the Philippines

The liberation of the Philippines began with an assault on the beaches of Leyte Gulf on 20 October 1944. 

The main landings at Tacloban and Dulag were accompanied by a full bombardment from battleships, cruisers, destroyers and rocket ships. 

The Royal Australian Navy’s role was significant.  Among hundreds of landing craft were the Australian infantry landing ships HMA Ships Manoora, Westralia, and Kanimbla, which carried Allied troops on their way to the landing beaches in Leyte Gulf.

In the naval task forces assigned to guard the landing forces were a number of Royal Australian Navy warships: the cruisers HMA Ships Australia and Shropshire; and the destroyers HMA Ships Arunta and Warramunga.

Image: Heavy bulldozers and other giant pieces of machinery of no. 3 airfield construction squadron RAAF plunged from the open bows of the LSTs (landing ships, tank), serial nos. 697, 471, into the surf, and were driven up the foreshore.

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Leyte Landings

On the morning of the landings, HMA Ships Australia and Shropshire opened fire on enemy positions on the shore before sailing further out to sea to protect the flanks of the invasion fleet.

Later, many supporting units came ashore. Among the first was No. 6 Wireless Unit RAAF, an intelligence unit responsible for intercepting and decoding Japanese signals.

Image: Forward 8 inch turrets of HMAS Australia searching for the enemy. Commanding Officer, Captain (Capt) E.F. Dechaineux DSC, RAN is on the bridge. Capt Dechaineux was killed on 21 October 1944 during the Battle of Leyte

Battle of Leyte Gulf and Battle of Surigao Strait

By 24 October it was clear that Japanese forces were heading to attack the allied ships and forces at Leyte. HMAS Shropshire and HMAS Arunta were part of two Allied task groups defending the northern entrance to Surigao Strait. In the early morning of 25 October, they became engaged in the Battle of Surigao Strait – one of the four battles of the wider Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of all time.

After an intense battle, the Japanese fleet entering the Surigao Strait was crippled, protecting the southern flank of Leyte Gulf. Hours later, the Battle of Leyte Gulf was over giving the Allies a decisive victory which secured the liberation of the Philippines.

Image: HMA Ships Shropshire and Arunta I formed part of an Allied force of 34 ships which engaged a Japanese fleet in Surigao Strait, Philippines. (Royal Australian Navy)

MINDORO-LANDINGS

Mindoro Landings

Allied forces needed air bases which would be in fighter range of Lingayen Gulf, where the next major amphibious invasion was planned. Mindoro could serve as the advanced base for troops going to fight in Luzon, but the island needed airfields built.

Ahead of the Mindoro landings, the RAAF laid tactical mines to protect the naval convoys. Soldiers of Australian Military Forces Detachment Section 22 were amongst the first ashore.  Behind them was the No 3 Airfield Construction Squadron RAAF, which landed at Mindoro on 15 December 1944. The Australians were in control of building airfields as quickly as possible.

By nightfall, the Australians at Mindoro Island had unloaded all of their bulldozers, tractors, trucks, generators and other equipment and had moved a kilometre inland to where the first airfield was to be built.

Image: These Australians of No. 3 Airfield Construction Squadron RAAF were among the first to land on Mindoro Island. Leading Aircraftman H. Quick of Exeter, SA, is in the front. RAAF engineers were unloading their LSTs (Landing Ships, Tank) within five minutes of hitting the Mindoro Island beachhead on 15 December 1944.

Lingayen Landings

With the airfields on Mindoro operational, the operation to liberate Luzon could now proceed. In early January 1945, Australian warships took part in their next big naval action of the campaign when allied forces landed at Lingayen Gulf. Their objective was the capital, Manila.

On 9 January, HMA Ships 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.

The Lingayen invasion force was subjected to a fierce onslaught by Japanese kamikaze suicide pilots who extracted a heavy toll on Australian sailors. The gunners on all ships – although nerves were frayed by the extraordinary form of attack – kept up constant barrages that downed many kamikazes even though HMAS Australia was struck several times during the battle.  

Image: Lingayen Gulf, Philippines, 1945-01-09. HMAS Australia showing damage incurred from attacks by Japanese Kamikaze aircraft in Lingayen Gulf during the Luzon campaign. This photograph was taken from the USS West Virginia. (US National Archives Neg. No BB48-0272)
Victory in the Philippines and the Pacific

Victory in the Philippines and the Pacific

Following the successful landings in Lingayen Gulf, RAN 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.

The Royal Australian Navy’s participation in history’s largest naval battle at Leyte Gulf, and its role in providing support to nine amphibious landings during the campaign was a valuable contribution to the overall success.  

The allied victory in the Philippines turned the tide of the war, and was followed by military advances in the rest of the Pacific. The unconditional surrender of Japanese forces in August 1945 marked the end of the Second World War.  HMAS Shropshire was in Philippine waters when the Japanese surrendered and it sailed for Tokyo Bay for the surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945.

Image: HMAS Shropshire company, February 1945