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Image: The USS Lexington, shortly before her sinking. Nearly 3,000 men made it to safety, but over 200 lost their lives in the Japanese attacks and subsequent explosions.

Those readers with a keen eye for history will note that this week marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea with low key events lke the one here. I remember attending a 60th anniversary commemoration event for the batte, and looking with profound respect at the few remaining veterans of those events who were present that day. Of the thousands and thousands of men fighting in those actions I suspect none but a handful can now make it to commemorative ceremonies taking place this week.

Nevertheless I think it is important to remember the event, if only for its historical implications. The battle confirmed with startling abruptness that the era of the battleship dreadnought, with ships firing at each other on sight, was over. For the first time a fight at sea was characterised by the decisive role of naval air power, and lessons from the battle formed the template for future victories at sea.

coral sea

The battle, perhaps more than any other specific event, also saved Australia from (at best) Japanese dominance of the surrounding oceans. Australia’s media is innundated with usually trivial events that “stop”, “shape” and/or “define” the nation, almost none of which even come close to the impact on Australia’s destiny as the Battle of the Coral Sea.

In the great sweep of Southeast Asian history however, of which Australia is but a footnote, the battle marked the beginning of the end of another Empire. Just three months earlier the Fall of Singpore (mentioned here) marked the beginning of the end for Bristish colonialism in Southeast Asia. The implications and of consequences of that loss were apparent almost immediately, but with the relative Japanese success in the battle it would take much longer for the true importance of the allied force’s achivements in the Coral Sea, and again soon after at Midway, to emerge.

With the British gone, and the Japanese in a historical context gone a short time later, the era of United States imperial dominance in the seas of Southeast Asia was imminent. This era of US naval dominance in the region continues to this day, but it too will come to an end, perhaps sooner than many realise. Perhaps, as hinted here, it is effectively little more than an illusion already.