- Bridges, Stuart
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1978 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Back in the operational area, Shropshire again became flagship while HMAS Australia went south. But throughout August she was a general without troops, as she alone comprised TF 74. In September, the cruiser gave support to the landings at Morotai as a prelude to the invasion of the Philippines. Then came the landings at Leyte, and for this operation, Shropshire and Australia were attached to the fire support and bombardment group of the Northern Attack Force, commanded by Rear-Admiral R.S. Berkey.
The Leyte landings took place on October 20th, preceded by an enormous bombardment. The next day, the Japanese suicide aircraft put in their appearance, arguably for the first time, and Australia took the dubious honour of being the first hit. Shropshire was nearby, and sent up a hail of anti-aircraft fire, but undaunted, the aircraft came on, whisking over Shropshire’s stern, and embedding itself in Australia’s bridge, killing 30 crew. Amongst the wounded was Shropshire’s first Australian captain, then Commodore Collins.
The Japanese Navy was at sea, and if they could break through to Leyte, then a rich prize awaited them in the form of fat transports and freighters. Their determination developed into the Battle of Surigao Strait.
The failure of the gallant Japanese attempt is well documented, but amongst such an array of capital ships, Shropshire’s part in the battle was not inconspicuous. That was mainly because the American ships were all using flashless propellant in the early morning battle, while Shropshire’s eight inch broadsides lit up the sky, attracting the enemy’s attention. Thus, amongst all those big American battlewagons, Shropshire came in for more fire than her size or importance warranted. But as in all other engagements, she emerged unscathed, and claiming two hits on a battleship.
Captain C.A.G. Nichols was in command of the ship at the time, and he wrote later that Shropshire’s salvo rate was better than anything she had achieved before.
After the battle, while other ships withdrew for a rest, Shropshire remained on station, providing support and seawards protection for the troops. The days saw determined Japanese attacks, but still Shropshire came through unscathed. On November 1, the American destroyer Abner Read was hit by a kamikaze, and in its death throes somehow fired its torpedoes, and only violent evasive action by Shropshire saved the old cruiser from being possibly sunk.
On November 16th, Shropshire finally came off station for a well-earned rest. In over two weeks at Leyte, her crew had been at action stations for almost 75 per cent of the time. With the New Year came the invasion of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines group. The actual invasion took place in Lingayen Gulf, and Shropshire was assigned to Bombardment and Fire Support Group TG 77.2, which consisted of half a dozen battleships, and a dozen aircraft carriers.
On January 6th, Shropshire took part in the bombardment of the town of San Fernando. Kamikazes were out in force, and Shropshire watched USS New Mexico, just ahead, get hit by one. Then it was Shropshire’s turn to come under Japanese attention, but a frantic AA barrage put the aircraft off its aim, and it plunged into the sea alongside the cruiser. Australia, in company with Shropshire, was hit again; then Shropshire had another lucky escape when the frigate HMAS Gascoyne hit a kamikaze diving on Shropshire. It exploded, showering the cruiser with debris.
By the 9th, Australia had been hit four more times, and was out of the war. Shropshire though, was still unscathed.
There followed support of the Corregidor landings, then a return to Australia. Fittingly, it was a fire support mission that was Shropshire’s last act of anger in the war.
On August 15th, Shropshire was in Subic Bay, the Philippines, when Japan surrendered. On the 19th, she sailed for Manila, thence to Okinawa and on to Tokyo, where she anchored, just one ship amongst 257 others.
Shropshire stayed on in Japanese waters until November 1945, when she sailed home to Australia.
In May 1946 she sailed for the UK with the Australian contingent for the Empire Victory celebrations.
She returned home in August, then in January 1947 went back to Japan, and returned home two months later to pay off.
She lingered on in Sydney Harbour until sold as scrap to a Sheffield firm. She departed Sydney on October 9 1954, towed by the Dutch tug Oostzee bound for the shipbreakers in Scotland.
She had fought her way from Australia’s doorstep to the Philippines and she was a lucky ship. She had mixed it with shore batteries, aircraft and battleships; and New Mexico ahead might be hit, and Australia astern could be nearly crippled, but never Shropshire. She packed a mighty punch, won high praise for her work, but at the same time was immune from enemy action. In all her Australian war service, she lost only five men – all in accidents.