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Dechaineux, Emile Frank Verlaine (1902–1944)

by Jane Peek

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Emile Frank Verlaine Dechaineux (1902-1944), by unknown photographer

Emile Frank Verlaine Dechaineux (1902-1944), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 106692

Emile Frank Verlaine Dechaineux (1902-1944), naval officer, was born on 3 October 1902 at Launceston, Tasmania, son of Florent Vincent Emile Lucien Dechaineux, an artist from Belgium, and his native-born wife Isabella Jane, née Briant. The family moved to Hobart where Emile was educated at the Friends' High School. In 1916 he entered the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, Federal Capital Territory. An average scholar and sportsman who was popular with his peers, he graduated in 1919 and was promoted midshipman in January 1920.

After cruises in H.M.A.S. Australia and Anzac, Dechaineux was sent to Britain for sea- and shore-training with the Royal Navy. He returned to Australia in 1924, joined H.M.A.S. Brisbane and was promoted lieutenant before transferring to Melbourne in 1925. Back in England in 1926-29, he qualified as a torpedo officer and a naval (air) observer, and was awarded the Ogilvy medal (1929) for gaining first place in the advanced torpedo course. In 1929-34 he served in turn in H.M.A.S. Anzac and Australia, and in H.M.S. Kempenfelt. Promoted lieutenant commander (September 1932), in 1935-36 he was squadron torpedo officer in H.M.A.S. Canberra. On 20 November 1936 he married Mary Grant Harbottle in St David's Anglican Cathedral, Hobart.

In 1937 Dechaineux travelled to England to attend the R.N. Staff College. His promotion to commander on 30 June that year, ahead of all his contemporaries, marked him out for advancement to high rank. Between December 1937 and April 1940 he worked in the Admiralty's Tactical and Minesweeping divisions. During the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, from 29 May to 3 June 1940, he had temporary command of the destroyer, H.M.S. Vivacious, and completed five trips. He subsequently commanded the destroyer flotilla-leader, H.M.S. Eglinton, in which he patrolled the North Sea and conducted successful searches for German E-boats. For 'outstanding zeal and devotion to duty', he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (1941).

Home again, in October 1941 Dechaineux became director of operations at Navy Office, Melbourne. He commissioned the Tribal-class destroyer, H.M.A.S. Warramunga, in November 1942. In June 1943 he was appointed commander, Task Group 74.2, and had tactical control of a formation of destroyers which included ships of the United States Navy. Warramunga operated in Australian and New Guinea waters. From November the vessel took part in bombardment and escort duties, supporting allied landings at Arawe and Cape Gloucester, New Britain, Saidor, New Guinea, and the Admiralty Islands. Again selected early, Dechaineux was promoted captain on 31 December that year.

On 9 March 1944 he took command of the flagship of Task Force 74, the heavy cruiser, H.M.A.S. Australia. In adapting to the much larger vessel, he realized the need to rely on the expertise of specialist officers; he appreciated the merit of his staff, and endorsed proposals to improve the equipment and armament of the ship through unofficial American channels. Between April and September Australia supported landings at Hollandia, on the north coast of Netherlands New Guinea, and at the nearby islands of Biak, Noemfoor and Morotai; she also participated in the bombardments of Wakde Island and of Aitape, New Guinea. By October Australia was in the Philippines.

Tall, with a misleadingly remote bearing, Dechaineux was regarded by his officers as an approachable, generous and humane captain; his sailors found that he held high expectations of them and that he was fair—quick to praise performances out of the ordinary, though hard on wrongdoers. He kept the ship's company informed of impending actions and their likely outcomes, and constantly tried to foster the men's welfare and to maintain their morale.

At dawn on 21 October 1944, while supporting the U.S. landings at Leyte Gulf, Australia was attacked by a Japanese Navy dive-bomber. Her anti-aircraft guns engaged the plane, but it deliberately crashed into the ship's foremast, causing an explosion and an intense fire on the bridge. Dechaineux was mortally wounded and died some hours later. He was buried at sea that night, along with twenty-nine officers and sailors who had also perished. The U.S. government posthumously appointed him an officer of the Legion of Merit for his seamanship, professional skill, leadership and devotion to duty. In 1990 the Federal government announced that a Collins-class submarine was to be named after him. His portrait is in the Tasmanian Art Gallery, Hobart. Dechaineux was survived by his wife, daughter, and son Peter who joined the R.A.N.

Select Bibliography

  • F. B. Eldridge, A History of the Royal Australian Naval College (Melb, 1949)
  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1968)
  • Royal Australian Naval College Magazine, 1916-19
  • Mercury (Hobart), 27 Oct 1944
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • private information.

Citation details

Jane Peek, 'Dechaineux, Emile Frank Verlaine (1902–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dechaineux-emile-frank-verlaine-9940/text17605, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Emile Frank Verlaine Dechaineux (1902-1944), by unknown photographer

Emile Frank Verlaine Dechaineux (1902-1944), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 106692