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(Australian Associated Press)
As military tensions rise in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia is commemorating the largest naval battle fought off its shores 79 years ago.
The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought in waters southwest of the Solomon Islands and east of New Guinea from May 4 to 8 in 1942, marked one of the most significant conflicts of World War II.
The Japanese had no intention to invade Australia in the attack and instead wanted to cut its supply line with America by establishing bases in the southwest Pacific Islands.
Allied forces intercepted and deciphered Japanese radio messages about the attack, with a US carrier force – supported Australian cruisers and destroyers – moving into position to fend it off.
“The battle, though fought at sea, largely took place in the skies,” Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester said.
“Aircraft from both sides fought valiantly, until the eventual turn-back of the Japanese due to high losses from US air attacks.”
It was the first major setback sustained by the Japanese during their advance south in the Pacific Ocean but didn’t come without a cost to the allies.
Although no Australians were killed in the battle, more than 650 Americans died when the USS Lexington was sunk.
“Today we pay tribute to the brave service personnel who fought to protect us during the Second World War, specifically those who fought in the Battle of the Coral Sea,” Mr Chester said.
It comes as diplomatic tensions between Australia and China remain high after Home Affairs boss Mike Pezzullo last week warned “the drums of war are beating” and raised the prospect of armed conflict.
Major-General Adam Findlay also reportedly gave a confidential briefing to Australia’s special forces soldiers last year warning of a high likelihood of conflict, while Defence Minister Peter Dutton last month said a war over Taiwan could not be discounted.