A veteran of three wars - WWII, Korea and Vietnam - Commodore Smyth's long and distinguished service with the Royal Australian Navy exemplifies the best traditions of that service in this, its 100th year. The Senior Naval Officer in Victoria will deliver the Oration.
The Cobby Oration series is named after Air Commodore Arthur (Harry) Cobby, CBE, DSO, DFC**, GM (1894-1955).
Commodore Dacre Smyth,
AO, Legion de Honeur, RAN
From The Times
December 30, 2008
Commodore Dacre Smyth: Battle of the Coral Sea veteran
Born in London, but moving as a child with his parents to Australia in 1925, Dacre Smyth went on to a distinguished career in the Royal Australian Navy in which he saw a great deal of active service during a career of nearly 40 years.
As a midshipman he first saw action in the Second World War at the "drawn" - but decisive - Battle of the Coral Sea, and later participated in the D-Day naval bombardment; as an officer in the destroyer Bataan he had an extremely active Korean War; and as commanding officer of the fleet replenishment ship Supply, he participated in Australian navy fleet train operations during the Vietnam War.
Dacre Henry Deudraeth Smyth was born in London in 1923, the son of Major-General Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth, who had won the VC at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898, commanded the 1st Australian Brigade at Gallipoli in 1915 and the 1st Australian Division on the Western Front. His First World War experience had given him a great affection and respect for Australian troops and in 1925 he emigrated to Australia with his family. There he bought and ran a sheep station at Kongbool, in the Western District of Victoria.
Dacre Smyth was educated at Geelong Grammar School from where he joined the Australian Navy in 1940. His first seagoing appointment was in the heavy cruiser Australia. There, as a midshipman, in May 1942 he was involved in the historic Battle of the Coral Sea, the first naval engagement in which the surface fleets of the opposing sides never even saw each other, and all the destruction was wreaked by aircraft, launched from their carriers or from shore bases. Although in terms of ship losses, it may well be termed a drawn battle, it was in fact a decisive one, since it frustrated the Japanese attempt to seize Port Moresby in the Australian territory of Papua in the Solomon Islands, and brought a halt to the Japanese advance on Australia itself.
On May 7, 1942, HMAS Australia, part of Task Force 44, the Australian cruiser squadron that supported the two US navy carrier-led task forces, came under constant air attack from Japanese aircraft. Skilful handling by her captain enabled her to avoid both bombs and torpedoes, and five enemy aircraft were shot down by the cruiser squadron's guns. From his action station in the communications room below the waterline Smyth had a "front-row seat" for the disturbing detonations of the Japanese near-misses that straddled his ship.
Smyth was subsequently posted to the UK and served in Coastal Forces in the Channel. He was next appointed to the gunnery department of the light cruiser Danae, which took part in Operation Neptune, the naval operation supporting the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. From his position in the cruiser's mast, from where he directed her fire on German strongpoints on Sword Beach, he had a grandstand view of the action.
At the end of the war he was back in the Far East where, in the Australian cruiser Norman, at sea east of Japan on August 6, 1945, he was called on deck by a fellow officer to see a "spectacular sunset". He immediately committed it to a poem describing the sun's rays falling on "towering columns all unreal yet huge/ Which waved and shuddered in grotesque delight", not knowing that he was describing the afterglow of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
In the postwar period Smyth was ADC to the Australian Governor-General Sir William McKell in 1948, and when the Korean War broke out in 1950 was in the Australian destroyer Bataan in which he saw action off the coast of the peninsula as part of the UN blockading force, in a number of bombardments that were hotly contested by North Korean shore batteries. He was back on active service again for his final seagoing appointment, that of HMAS Supply, during the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1970. He retired from the RAN in 1978 as Naval Officer in Charge, Victoria, in 1978. He was also ADC to the Queen, 1975-78.
In retirement Smyth became a prolific artist, publishing 12 books of his paintings on Australian themes between 1979 and 2001. From 1982 to 1994 he was on the board of David Syme & Co, publisher of The Age, Melbourne.
Smyth was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1997. In 2004 he was appointed to the French Légion d'honneur by President Jacques Chirac.
He is survived by his wife, Jenny, whom he married in 1952, and by three daughters and a son.
Commodore Dacre Smyth, AO, Légion d'Honneur, Royal Australian Navy war veteran, was born on May 5, 1923. He died on December 3, 2008, aged 85
Commodore Dacre Smyth, AO, Legion de Honeur, RAN (1923-2008)