- A.N. Other
- WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Arunta I, HMAS Warramunga I, HMAS Shropshire, HMAS Australia II
- December 2019 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Paul Baker
Seventy-five years ago, on 18 October 1944, beaten only by the fast minesweepers and the attack forces securing the mouth of the Gulf, the crew of HMAS Gascoyne became the first Australians to enter Leyte Gulf since an RAAF Mosquito had carried out the initial aerial reconnaissance of the Gulf seven weeks earlier. The KING II landings conducted by Australian, British and US forces of the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA) and the Pacific Ocean Areas (POA) two days later not only led to the liberation of the Philippines, but proved to be the decisive thrust of the war against Japan, dealing the final destructive blow to the Japanese Navy’s ability to field a fleet, decimating the Japanese Air Forces to the extent they felt forced to adopt kamikaze tactics and driving a wedge between Japan and their critical resources in Southeast Asia. As SWPA Land Forces Commander General Blamey explained to Prime Minister Curtin, ‘There can be no question about the strategical correctness of the seizure of the Philippines, since this aimed straight at the heart of the Japanese ocean area’.
Although the Australian contingent in the landings only consisted of approximately 3,500 sailors, 236 soldiers and 20 airmen, they were far from minor players ‘attached’ to US forces as is so often reported. They were, in fact, integral members of SWPA units allocated to the KING II operation as a continuation of the SWPA offensive that began in earnest in 1943. With the most powerful warships in the Seventh Fleet, Australia provided half the major firepower for the Close Support Group as well as the critical interservice communications capability for US ships of the Group. To secure the ‘back door’ to the landing beaches, Australian landing ships landed a brigade sized unit to safeguard a critical passage used by PT boats in the Battle of Surigao Strait, while Australian signals intelligence personnel provided critical early warning of Japanese air attacks against the beachhead. Thirty Australians were killed in the fighting during KING II, and they are commemorated on the Australian Philippines Liberation Memorial in Palo on Leyte.
MUSKETEER – The Plan for SWPA Forces to re-occupy the Philippines
By July 1944, the eastern perimeter of the new Japanese defensive zone from Western New Guinea to the Mariana Islands had been penetrated at the extremities. In the north, the Marianas had been occupied by POA forces and were to be used as B-29 Superfortress bases for attacks on Japan. In the process of doing so, they had sunk two of Japan’s remaining three large aircraft carriers and shot down approximately 350 aircraft in a single day in what became known as the ‘Marianas Turkey Shoot’, gaining complete command of the sea and air in the Western Pacific. In the south, the Australian, British, Dutch and US forces of the SWPA had reached Biak on the north coast of New Guinea, one step short of Morotai in Indonesia, the final springboard to the Philippines. The two Allied commands were now converging on the Philippines. On 10 July, General Headquarters (GHQ) SWPA issued the MUSKETEER plan, for the conduct of the Philippines campaign. The basic scheme of manoeuvre remained unchanged from New Guinea, establishing air superiority over an area with airstrips, preventing the enemy from reinforcing the area, taking it by amphibious assault and then using the airstrips to establish air superiority over the next objective along the path of advance. The plan included four phases of amphibious landing operations:
- The KING series to secure initial lodgment in the Philippines and to establish a base of operations.
- The LOVE series to secure a safe route to and bases from which to support operations in Central Luzon.
- The MIKE series to destroy the Japanese garrison, occupy Luzon and support operations against Japan.
- The VICTOR series to consolidate areas by-passed in KING, LOVE and MIKE operations.
Leyte’s position on the Philippines’ central eastern seaboard made it an obvious choice for the main effort of the KING operations. The Leyte Gulf provided an excellent anchorage with direct access to the open Pacific as well as the waters of the archipelago, while the north-eastern coastal plain of Leyte held a main airfield at Tacloban and a new Japanese airfield system under development with four airstrips in the Dulag area 30 kilometres to the south. Importantly, the 50 kilometre stretch of beaches between Tacloban and Abuyog to the south, aside from being in close proximity to the airfields, also had the best landing beaches on the island with an absence of reefs or coral heads, and a favorable under-water gradient in selected localities which, except for occasional high surf, provided relatively few problems for an amphibious assault. In mid-September, POA carrier-based aircraft attacking Japanese airfields in the Philippines supporting the SWPA landing at Morotai destroyed or severely damaged about 500 of the estimated 884 Japanese aircraft in the country. POA reported that few serviceable planes in the Philippines were left to the Japanese, the bulk of the enemy’s oil supplies was destroyed, there was no shipping left to sink, the enemy’s non-aggressive attitude [was] unbelievable and fantastic, and ‘the area is wide open’. As a result, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered that some planned intermediate operations including the KING I landings in Sarangani Bay be cancelled and that A-Day for the ‘main effort’, the KING II landings in the Leyte Gulf, be brought forward to 20 October. Preparations for the SWPA’s expeditionary force’s leap forward to the Philippines were stepped up accordingly.
SWPA’s Expeditionary Force and the Australian Contingents
While maintaining responsibility for the defence of Australia and securing territory behind the line of advance, General Headquarters SWPA had developed what was effectively an expeditionary force which continued to grow in air and land strength. The Allied Air Forces (AAF) had been divided into two separate commands, the Fifth Air Force (5AF) including some RAAF squadrons becoming essentially an independent expeditionary tactical air force to support advancing army operations in New Guinea while RAAF Command with some US squadrons was responsible for the defence of Australian and AAF long range strategic operations beyond the envelope of tactical air force operations. In June, the AAF had been reinforced when the US Thirteenth Air Force (13AF) was reallocated from POA’s South Pacific Area to SWPA. Subsequently in September, as part of the plan for 13AF to take over 5AF airbases in New Guinea and Morotai as 5AF moved north for the Philippines campaign, the AAF commander ordered that the RAAF squadrons constituting No. 10 (Operational) Group under 5AF would be transferred to 13AF and would not take part in KING II. RAAF wireless units, however, were field units of GHQ’s Central Bureau providing dedicated signals intelligence support to SWPA. While Australian and US Army field units intercepted Japanese army communications, the interception of Japanese aircraft communications to provide local early warning of air attacks was solely the responsibility of the RAAF’s 1 Wireless Unit on Biak. With that unit remaining behind to support 13AF, 6 Wireless Unit (6WU), with a strength of 19 RAAF members, was raised from 1 Wireless Unit personnel on 9 October 1944 specifically to support 5AF during KING II.
SWPA Allied Naval Forces were structured along similar lines to the AAF. The Seventh Fleet was the SWPA’s naval combat and assault force, while the South-West Pacific Sea Frontier Force was responsible for defending Australia and the sea lanes. The Seventh Fleet was still relatively small in mid-1944, its combat units consisting of the Australian cruisers HMA Ships Australia and Shropshire, three US cruisers, 27 US destroyers and the Australian destroyers HMA ShipsArunta and Warramunga, 10 US torpedo boat squadrons and 30 US submarines. Despite SWPA Commander-in-Chief General MacArthur’s wishes, the dispersal of POA’s South Pacific Area assets in June saw POA retain the Third Fleet leaving the Australian heavy cruisers with their bigger guns the most powerful surface ships in the Seventh Fleet.Australian ships also played a major role in the Fleet’s Amphibious Force. HMAS Manoora had been the first landing ship made available for the force when it was established in 1943 and, due to the higher need for transports in other theatres, Manoora, HMA Ships Westralia, Kanimbla and a similar US ship were the only transports available to the Seventh Amphibious Force until April 1944. Australian frigates were also regularly assigned to the amphibious force as escorts and for service in the hydrographic and survey unit, while Australian escorts and auxiliaries were also allocated important tasks within the fleet. For KING II, Gascoyne and Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1074 were assigned to the Mine-sweeping and Hydrographic Group. The total number of RAN personnel involved in KING II would eventually be about 3,500.
By September 1944, SWPA Allied Land Forces (ALF) had swelled from 12 Australian and four US divisions a year earlier to seven Australian and 15 US divisions. MacArthur initially proposed using the two experienced AustralianImperial Force (AIF) expeditionary divisions which constituted Australia’s I Corps separately under US corps commanders in KING II and a MIKE operation. The proposal was rejected by ALF commander Australian General Blamey who could under no circumstances concur in the use of Australian troops unless they operated as a corps under their own corps commander and his staff who were highly trained and were long and well experienced. The Australian Prime Minister later explained to MacArthur that it was laid down in the 1914-18 war that the Australian Forces serving outside Australia should be organised into and operate as a homogeneous formation appropriate to their strength, and that they should be commanded by an Australian officer. MacArthur, however, considered it impossible to utilise the entire corps in the initial landing force, probably because as his Chief of Staff later told Blamey that it was not politically expedient for the AIF to be amongst the first troops into the Philippines, in large numbers at any rate. As a result, the plan was changed with a view to employing the Australian Corps for an operation against Aparri on the northern coast of Luzon prior to a landing at Lingayen Gulf in early 1945, after which a third Australian division would be used in the final drive on Manila.
Australian soldiers were, however, allocated to other roles for KING II. At least four officers from Australia’s First Corps were assigned to US units in the landing as observers. Attached to the three Australian landing ships were Royal Australian Engineers’ Landing Ship Detachments, a total of 201 soldiers, which had been attached to the ships at the request of the Navy since the Seventh Amphibious Force was formed and played their part in every major amphibious operation, launching assault craft and unloading equipment and ammunition as well as manning light anti-aircraft gun stations and anti-submarine watches. A further 27 soldiers from the Royal Australian Artillery’s 1st Australian Naval Bombardment Group were attached to the Seventh Fleet’s two Australian and three US cruisers for the landings, acting as the interface between the assault troops and the ship’s gunnery fire control team. Four Australian Army intelligence analysts from the
Central Bureau and a British soldier on secondment were also attached to 6WU.
The distance involved in leaping from SWPA’s forward-most base on Morotai to Leyte was over 1,000 kilometres. The isolation of the KING II landing sites and the size of the force to be landed meant it could not be carried out by SWPA resources alone, and would require massed carrier-based air support as well as the combined amphibious and naval forces available at the time. In order to capture the airfields quickly, the SWPA plan called for the simultaneous landing of two divisions in both the Tacloban and Dulag areas. As such, planning relied on POA’s Third Amphibious Force being attached to the Seventh Fleet to provide enough transport for the operation. As a result of the cancellation of the planned POA landing on Yap, however, the Attack Force, in its entirety of both assault shipping and troops, two POA divisions, were assigned to SWPA for KING II. Despite being a SWPA operation, there was now a perfect delineation between the Seventh Fleet landing of SWPA divisions in the Tacloban area called the Northern Attack Force and the Third Fleet landing of POA divisions in the Dulag area called the Southern Attack Force. With the Seventh Fleet’s Australian and US cruisers escorted by Australian and US destroyers constituting the Close Covering Group supporting the Northern Attack Force, the Third Fleet also provided protection and support in depth with a Bombardment and Fire Support Group of six battleships and six cruisers from the Third Fleet out in Leyte Gulf. Beyond them, sixteen escort aircraft carriers from the Third Fleet provided close air support and cover for the landings while, even further afield, the remaining six battleships, seventeen aircraft carriers and fifteen cruisers of the Third Fleet provided overall cover and support for the landings.
KING II – The Australian Experience
The need to secure the two islands in the mouth of the Leyte Gulf and the tip of the island to their south to ensure uninterrupted access into the gulf, intelligence reports of at least three minefields across the entrance to Leyte Gulf and the presence of a few shoals in the approaches to the landing beaches near Tacloban meant there were tasks that had to be completed before A-Day on 20 October. Accordingly, a vanguard consisting of a small Seventh Fleet attack group and the hydrographic unit, a combined Third and Seventh Fleet minesweeper unit, and a Third Fleet Beach Demolition Group arrived outside the Gulf on the evening of 16 October. Under cover of the Third Fleet’s battleships and cruisers, fast minesweepers led the attack group into the mouth of the Gulf on the morning of 17 October to land troops to secure the three islands. The hydrographic unit led by Gascoyne joined them in the Gulf on 18 October and immediately began marking shoals in San Pedro Bay. Gascoyne was attacked by a Japanese aircraft for the first time that evening, the bombmissing while the aircraft was possibly shot down. By the following evening, the minesweepers had cleared 227 mines while Gascoyne and her charges, HDML 1024 and two US minesweepers, had laid 32 buoys marking channels, beach approaches and shoals.
Soon after midnight on 20 October, A-Day, the Seventh Fleet’s Close Covering Group and the two Attack Forces moved down the cleared channel into the Leyte Gulf to prepare for the landings. Shortly after, Manoora, Westralia and Kanimbla peeled away from the Northern Attack Force as it continued on towards Tacloban accompanied by the Close Covering Group. Feeding into the southern end of Leyte Gulf, the Surigao Strait had been recognised as a vulnerability to the main landings, a ‘back door’ through which the Japanese could attack. To mitigate the threat, the three Australian ships had been tasked with landing a brigade-sized force on the southern tip of Leyte and the adjacent Panaon Island, securing the Panaon Strait to permit the passage of motor torpedo boats into the Mindanao Sea where they maintained early warning picket lines at the entrance to the Strait.
Escorted by HMS Ariadne and US destroyers, the convoy was attacked by a single Japanese fighter after daylight, but its bomb fell harmlessly well astern of Westralia and the aircraft disappeared. The landing was unopposed and, after the Australian Army detachments had offloaded the US force, the three Australian ships commenced their journey back into the Gulf proper while subjected to four unscuccessful single aircraft attacks, all driven off by anti-aircraft fire. They departed for Jayapura the next morning with the US landing ships of the Northern Attack Force.
Further north, as the Third Fleet’s battleships and cruisers were firing their pre-assault bombardment to cover the landings near Tacloban and Dulag, Australia, Shropshire and the two US cruisers of the Close Covering Group, each with an Australian Army bombardment liaison team aboard, were escorted by Arunta, Warramunga and five US destroyers into positions just off shore and immediately adjacent to the approaches to the assault beaches. They commenced bombarding the landing beaches, adjusting their fire as the assault troops approached the beaches, accompanied by their Australian observers. Once ashore the troops advanced, supported by naval gun fire requested through the shipborne bombardment liaison teams. It wasn’t until that afternoon that the Japanese really began to press with air attacks, and on the following morning the Australians suffered a disaster when a Japanese aircraft attempted to strafe the cruisers before passing between them where it was hit by fire from both ships and turned, bursting into flames and crashed into the foremast of Australia with its wing root from astern before going over the side of the vessel. Petrol that had probably gushed from ruptured fuel tanks of the aircraft caught fire and spread into the bridge. Thirty men including the captain and navigator were killed immediately or died of wounds over the following three days. Another sixty-four including soldiers were wounded. The number of casualties and the damage caused to the superstructure left the ship ineffective and Australia withdrew from Leyte Gulf that afternoon escorted by Warramunga.
Two soldiers and four airmen of a 6WU signals intelligence advance team aboard one of the command ships had actually intercepted a Japanese message ordering the aircraft to apparently concentrate on the two Australian cruisers close inshore. The team subsequently went ashore on 21 October where they were joined by the remaining 18 members of the unit on the following day. A camp was set up in the vicinity of some small hills approximately four kilometres from Tacloban where they began regular interception work. The intelligence gained by 6WU, including Japanese convoy movements as their progress was reported by aircraft covering them, was fed directly into the AAF intelligence staffs to be fused with other intelligence. From the beginning, AAF’s intelligence branch had a substantial Australian staff and at least one RAAF intelligence officer was also selected to move forward for KING II, boarding the aircraft carriers US ShipsIntrepid and Cabot from 20 October to brief pilots and aircrewmen.
The Japanese ‘Victory’ Operation
As the KING II landings were in progress, preparations for a major Japanese counterattack they had triggered were also underway. Following the loss of two of their three remaining large aircraft carriers in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June, and at the same time as the SWPA MUSKETEER plan was being developed, the Japanese developed plans to commit all available sea, air and ground forces to a decisive battle at one of four points along their inner defensive line where they expected the Allies to land. On 18 October, orders were given to implement the Philippines contingency version of the plan to crush the enemy. Confusion, disagreements and logistics meant that committing maximum ground strength to defend Leyte would take time with only one division on Leyte at the time and a second division to join them from Mindanao on the night of 24 October. A third division from Luzon and another on its way to the Philippines would also deploy to Leyte as soon as possible. In the meantime, the Navy and Air Forces were commencing the first phase of the Victory Operation, a concerted assault on the enemy invasion fleet.
The navy’s part of the plan called for almost the entire surface combat strength of the Fleet consisting of the last remaining large and five light aircraft carriers, two battleships converted to launch aircraft, seven battleships and 21 cruisers to be divided into three forces. The northernmost force centred on the large aircraft carrier augmented by three of the remaining five lighter carriers and two battleships fitted to launch aircraft by catapult, but with only 108 aircraft between them, was tasked with luring the Allied naval forces to the north. This was intended to allow a force of five of their remaining seven battleships, including the super-battleships Yamato and Musashi, and 12 of their remaining 21 cruisers and escorts, supported by land-based aircraft attacking the US carriers, to pass through the San Bernardino Strait in the central Philippines and destroy the Allied landing forces at daybreak on 25 October. A third force in the south, composed of the remaining two battleships, a cruiser and four destroyers was to pass through the Surigao Strait to assist in annihilating the Allied landing forces. Another group of three cruisers escorted by destroyers was to follow this third force through the Surigao Strait.
The POA carrier-based air attacks over the previous month had crippled the Japanese Army and Navy air units in the Philippines. Even with reinforcments arriving, the Japanese Army’s Fourth Air Army only had 150 aircraft while the Navy’s First Air Fleet had less than 50 and the Second Air Fleet 196 aircraft on the eve of a coordinated air offensive planned for 24 October in support of the Navy’s surface attack. Given the lack of aircraft, the First Air Fleet at Mabalacat, which had been specifically ordered to neutralise the US carriers of the Third Fleet by 25 October, decided that the most effective method of attack would be to crash dive Zeros loaded with 250 kilogram bombs into the US carriers and twenty-six of their Zeros were formed into a new unit given the title of Kamikaze Special Attack Corps. Unfortunately for the Japanese ships approaching Leyte, the unit was unable to launch a successful attack until 25 October.
The Battle of Surigao Strait
In addition to the troops on Panaon Island landed by the Australian landing ships, PT Boat and destroyer picket lines at the southern end of Surigao Strait while battleships were ordered to steam each night across the northern end, Seventh Fleet submarines were also ordered to patrol the western entrances to the Sulu and Celebes Seas and off northern Luzon to provide early warning of Japanese ship movements. Beginning just after midnight on 22 October, the submarines began to pick up major Japanese ship movements in western Philippine waters and sank two cruisers of the Japanese central force on the following day. Allied air searches on 24 October, the same day as the Japanese launched their air offensive, identified the three separate Japanese forces, one off north eastern Luzon, one heading for the San Bernardino Strait and the last for the Surigao Strait. Fortunately, attacks by Allied carrier aircraft that day managed to sink one of the super-battleships, Musashi, and forced the central Japanese force to withdraw. That night, the strong US Third Fleet covering force of newer battleships and large aircraft carriers, accompanied by light carriers, cruisers and escorts, moved north away from the San Bernardino Strait to attack the Japanese carrier decoy force, unaware that the centre force of Japanese battleships had again turned around and was again heading for the Strait, intending on converging on the Leyte Gulf with the southern Japanese force then passing through the Surigao Strait.
In the Leyte Gulf that night, the Third Fleet battleships, cruisers and destroyers under operational command of the Seventh Fleet began to take up battle formation with the Seventh Fleet’s three remaining cruisers (including Shropshireand all with Australian Army bombardment liaison teams aboard) and six remaining destroyers (including Arunta) at the northern end of the Surigao Strait in order to attack the Japanese force approaching the southern end. As the Japanese ships passed Panaon Island in the Strait after midnight, they were first attacked on the flanks by PT boats and then by destroyers including Arunta firing torpedoes as they closed on the northern end of the strait. As the Japanese ships continued towards the Leyte Gulf, they sailed directly towards the line of US battleships running perpendicular across their path which was flanked by the Allied cruisers including Shropshire. By morning of 25 October, the Allied torpedo attacks and subsequent gunfire from the battleships and cruisers had sunk both battleships, the cruiser and three of the four destroyers in the Japanese southern force. The group following them decided against entering the Strait but still lost one of its three cruisers to air attack later in the day. The Battle of Surigao Strait had been a resounding victory.
As the morning progressed, the Third Fleet began attacking the northern Japanese force of carriers, sinking its three light and one large carriers. In the meantime, however, the centre Japanese force of battleships and cruisers had passed through the San Bernardino Strait and turned south to attack the Third Fleet escort aircraft carriers and their destroyers which had been placed under operational command of the Seventh Fleet to provide close air support and cover for the landings. As the northernmost escort carrier group located east of Samar came under attack, the Japanese Kamikaze unit made their first successful attacks on the escort carriers as well. In the meantime, the victorious ships of the Battle of Surigao Strait were preparing to sail north to engage the central Japanese force when the Japanese suddenly ceased their attack and withdrew in order to continue on their primary mission to Leyte Gulf.
When they were approximately 80 kilometres from the mouth of the Gulf, however, the lack of information on whether the decoy carrier force in the north had suceeded in luring away the Third Fleet’s newer battleships and large aircraft carriers combined with a report that a large US carrier task force had been spotted to their northeast, and the knowledge that the southern force had failed to break through to the Gulf while there were indications that Allied reinforcements were concentrating there, it was decided to turn around yet again to attack what turned out to be a non-existent US carrier task force. At that stage, lack of fuel became a determining factor and the Japanese centre force turned back through the San Bernardino Strait to return to Brunei Bay, sustaining further losses as they withdrew. By the end of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, by some accounts the largest sea battle ever fought and, in the Surigao Strait, the last of the ‘big gun’ naval battles, the Japanese Fleet lost their last large aircraft carrier, three of their five light carriers, three of their seven battleships and nine of their 21 cruisers
Brunei Bay Postscript
As the Japanese naval forces withdrew, the Allies knew that the surviving Japanese ships were all probably damaged but could not be struck off the list, still posing a raiding threat to the Seventh Fleet’s cruisers once the Third Fleet battleships were withdrawn. Even the Seventh Fleet’s most powerful cruiser, Shropshire, was no match against Yamato. As a result, B-29 Superfortresses based in India bombed the Japanese dry docks in Singapore on 5 November to deny them repair facilities. Two days later, on 7 November, a US reconnaissance aircraft discovered a Japanese aircraft carrier, four battleships including Yamato and five cruisers still in Brunei Bay, as well as two cruisers off nearby Miri. While they had been able to refuel upon returning to Brunei Bay, ammunition resupply had to wait until the aircraft carrier Junyo arrived with the necessary ammunition on 6 November, the unloading of which was only completed after the ships had been spotted by the US reconnaissance aircraft. Coincidentally, that same evening, eight RAAF Catalinas were taking off from Darwin for Morotai from where they were scheduled to mine targets in Borneo, including four sorties against Brunei Bay on 9 November.
Considered ‘Navy business’, the ‘attack aviation’ focused AAF commander shunned aerial mining from its introduction in SPWA in 1943 in favour of more direct action while the Seventh Fleet’s aircraft were too few and poorly position to take on the role. RAAF Command, on the other hand, embraced the role and by September 1944 had three squadrons tasked solely with mine-laying, working to broad targeting directives from Commander Seventh Fleet in his capacity as Allied Naval Commander. At the end of October, after the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Commander Seventh Fleet had decided to extend the SWPA aerial mining program to targets on northern Borneo including Brunei Bay. With the discovery of the Japanese fleet, the Catalinas’ tasking was changed on arrival in Morotai for all available aircraft to conduct the Brunei Bay mission. That same day, however, partially in fear of an air raid possibly after spotting the US reconnaissance aircraft, the Japanese fleet put to sea and was seen sailing through the Balabac Strait into the Sulu Sea. As six Catalinas were dropping their mines in Brunei Bay that night, six of the cruisers were again spotted in the Sulu Sea. It was only on 11 November that two of the Japanese cruisers returned to Brunei Bay while the other warships refueled at Miri, although a reconnaissance of Brunei Bay and Kota Kinabalu harbour failed to find any Japanese ships at all on 12 November.
It was only on 15 November that reconnaissance aircraft again spotted up to three Japanese battleships and five cruisers at anchor in Brunei Bay where, by pure coincidence, the laying of a second round of mines by RAAF Catalinas had been planned since the start of November for that very night, most likely as a result of the sighting of the Japanese ships. With the Catalinas having closed the door on the Japanese ships in the Bay that night, some 40 13AF B-24 Liberators were sent from Morotai to bomb them on the following day. Although official reports state that photographs taken during the raid revealed that there was only one battleship, two cruisers, six destroyers and auxiliaries visible in the bay at that time, at least one eyewitness account suggests there were four battleships and six cruisers present. Five Japanese fighters attacked the bombers with one fighter shot down, while three of the Liberators were lost to antiaircraft fire. Unfortunately, only light near-miss damages were inflicted on the Japanese ships which had been seen and, after the raid, the Japanese fleet split up with three battleships including Yamato and escorts sailing for the Japanese homeland while the others headed southwest to Lingga anchorage south of Singapore. Four days later, on 20 November, the three battleships and their escorts passed the Penghu Islands in the Taiwan Strait and, in order to save fuel, ceased zigzagging as a defence against submarine attack. The ships were spotted by a US submarine just after midnight and the Japanese battleship Kongo was sunk in the ensuing attack, leaving the Japanese with only three serviceable capital ships.
The sailors who died from the attack on Australia are now recorded on the Australian Philippines Liberation Memorial which was dedicated in Palo in 2014 near where the attack happened, and where an annual ceremony is held to commemorate the KING II landings on Leyte.