- Shinkfield, Des
- Naval Aviation, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Arunta I, HMAS Warramunga I, HMAS Shropshire, HMAS Australia II
- December 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
January 5th 1945 was a day of continual alerts. Sixty nine bogies (enemy aircraft) were detected on our radar screen. About 1735 a Val dive bomber flew across the stem of the convoy. Every anti‑aircraft gun opened up on it, but in spite of the tracers seemingly going through it, it continued on. It was a decoy. No longer had we trained fore and aft when we saw a group of planes flying low off our port bow, skimming across the water out of the sun. An 8 inch barrage failed to stop them. Each aircraft singled out a target on which to home in.
The one that attacked us was a Zero. It came round our bows. I could see the pilot with the white scarf around his neck and the red suns on the wings. The pilot tried desperately to swing the aircraft on to the bridge, but the ship was moving at about 15 knots. Somehow the pilot managed to do a back flip and crash his aircraft on the port side between the 4 inch anti-aircraft guns P1 and P2, killing three officers and many others.
Some were blown overboard, never to be seen again. Thirty were wounded. We entered Lingayen Gulf on January 6th. There were sporadic air attacks. Shropshire had a narrow escape. A plane appeared to be diving on Australia, 200 yards astern of Shropshire. But it increased its height, then crashed into the bridge of the USS New Mexico. General Lumsden, Churchill’s personal representative was killed in the attack. At 1211 Shropshire was again near missed. At 1734 a Val suicide bomber came in from the starboard quarter and dived into our upper deck between S1 and S2 4 inch anti-aircraft guns, killing another fourteen and wounding twenty six. The teak deck was buckled, but the explosion went upwards and not downwards. I recall the explosion, and a sheet of flame near the director. Damage control parties quickly went into action to put out the fires.
Wings torn away
At 1831 Warramunga reported an aircraft diving on our formation. It was aiming for Shropshire‘s bridge. Leading Seaman Roy Cazaly sighted the aircraft and with an accurate burst of fire from his pom-poms, tore away its wings. The aircraft crashed close to the port side just ahead of the bridge and a bomb or petrol tank exploded almost against the starboard side. The bridge was sprayed 60 feet high, with salt water. Many ships were hit or near missed by kamikaze attacks on this day.
January 7th passed without incident, but at 0720 on January 8th a Dinah, a twin engined suicide bomber, attacked us on the port quarter. The pom-poms almost brought it down, helped by four American Hellcats, one of which received some of our friendly fire! The plane hit the ship’s side putting a hole in the Captain’s day cabin, but no serious damage was done. Then at 0739 another Dinah came in from amidships on the port side. In spite of anti-aircraft fire, it managed to reach the ship’s side and exploded, leaving a gaping hole 5 metres by 4 on the waterline.
No one was hurt, but the hit was close to the lower steering position, the TS, heart of the 8 inch gunnery system. Shrapnel had entered the stokers’ mess which was full of wounded men. One of the engines of the Dinah embedded itself in a Carley float on the upper deck. The ship’s galley bulkhead was also hit. The ship soon had a list of 5 degrees to port, but this was soon corrected, and the bulkheads shored up to stop them caving in. The ship’s speed had to be reduced, but we were able to continue to carry out our assignments. The last hit was received on January 9th. The ship had managed to carry out its bombardment assignment and was virtually standing still. It was a beautiful day and there was a Combat Air Patrol overhead. I decided to get out of the fore director and get some fresh air.
I was standing on the housing of the big ‘F’ rangefinder when I looked up and saw off our port bow two Japanese aircraft that had broken through the Combat Air Patrol. One was heading straight for us, the other for the USS Mississippi. It was about 38 degrees high. The Oerlikon on ‘B’ turret made no difference. I got back into the director pretty quickly and told the crew to get their heads down. I watched it until the last moment. I really thought my time had come. The wing grazed the director and hit the tripod behind us, which swung the aircraft into the foremost funnel cutting it almost in half, some of the aircraft going down the funnel, the rest over the side. Its bomb never went off. Perhaps the pilot failed to activate it before making his run. A fire started in the fan flat with the result that one of the boilers had to be shut down. A pilot’s torso was found a couple of days later and somewhat on the nose! We closed on USS West Virginia for protection.