- Pettit, Geoff
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Warramunga I, HMAS Shropshire
- September 1992 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
From SHROPSHIRE’S deck, it was obvious even to an untrained eye that the situation was serious and fluid. Ships milled around, formed up and then the formation was dispersed, in favour of a new location and formation.
Though he had lost the MUSASHI to air attack approaching San Bernardino Strait, Admiral Kurita debouched therefrom full of menace in the very early hours of 25th October. Admiral Halsey, commanding the U.S. Third Fleet, had given up guarding the exit from the Strait at the crucial time, being lured away by the apparent glittering prize of the Japanese aircraft carriers, which he did not know held only a few of their normal aircraft. He was not helped also by a badly worded signal from Pearl Harbour, appearing to reproach him in a somewhat insulting manner about what he was doing. Halsey was caught between two stools, although at least he did plunder some of the decoy force.
On his way to Leyte Gulf Kurita soon came across, unexpectedly, three groups of thin-skinned escort carriers, which were supporting the land operations. At one stage, so the story had it on board at the time, because of a reasonable ammunition stock and good shooting the night before, SHROPSHIRE was teamed up with three U.S. cruisers to act as a decoy force and draw Kurita away from the escort carriers: This force, much augmented with three of the old battleships did in fact start off towards the Japanese. In the event, Kurita, sustaining a few losses and fearing that San Bernardino Strait would be blocked, withdrew having inflicted losses much smaller than might have been. He retired through the Strait well ahead of Halsey, now trying vigorously to redeem his mistake. If Kurita had not called off his enveloping attack the RAN may well have been down another cruiser.
The Allies were masters of the watery field, but for some hours it had been a close call. The Battle of Leyte Gulf was critical in deciding the fate of the Philippines and thus MacArthur was able to redeem completely his pledge that “I shall return.”
Added to their losses in the battles the Japanese fleets were mauled further by U.S. aircraft as they retired. They did not put to sea again as a cohesive force, though the YAMATO made a suicide run to seek to assist the defence of Okinawa late in the war.
The first targets of the kamikaze campaign were the escort carriers, on the same morning as Kurita stumbled upon them. The campaign was named by the Japanese after a “Divine Wind” which had turned back an invasion force aimed at Japan centuries before. It went on until the last stage of the Pacific War, and did much damage; it delayed but it did not stop the giant leaps forward of the Allied, principally U.S. armed services.
That the kamikaze campaign was regarded seriously was evidenced by a unique occurrence in the RAN, namely that the ratings were asked for their views. There it was at the bottom of the Commander’s daily orders “Any rating who has a view on how better to combat these suicide attacks is to report to his Divisional Officer”. The general view of the ship’s company seemed to be that compared with bombing it did not increase the chances of being killed, but it increased the chances of being burnt.
H.M.A.S. SHROPSHIRE hitting the target – IJN battleship YAMASHIRO at 1500 yards. (Artist: Ian Hansen)
Ted – on p16 there is a full page map – separate pdf.
Though history is silent on whether any rating responded to this call, it was soon decided at senior level that greater fire power was needed – it was not enough to put holes or tear small gaps in the aircraft or even to kill the pilot. A substantial chunk or chunks had to be chewed off fast. Thus, when eventually SHROPSHIRE returned to base after Leyte, the officers had the U.S. officers in charge of ship repair over for a drink or several, so the story goes, followed by a signal to Navy Office asking for permission to replace the 20mm Oerlikon close range anti-aircraft guns with 40mm Bofors, of which the ship had a couple already.