- Pettit, Geoff
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Warramunga I, HMAS Shropshire
- September 1992 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Next morning, with typical U.S. generosity and go, barges with power plants were alongside, the gundeck was soon a shambles and in three days the Bofors were installed. Below was the incredible sight to any seaman of fire hoses snaking round the equipment pouring water into the bilges to take the ship lower. The trade off of one knot in speed and a little reduced manoeuvrability was much more than matched by the improved firepower. Off went the signal to Navy Office “Approval anticipated. Bofors installed”.
And just as well, for the kamikaze attacks in the Lingayen Gulf, Northern Philippines, landing in January 1945 were more severe. SHROPSHIRE’S charmed life continued, but on more than one occasion, only by the barest margin. AUSTRALIA became an “aircraft carrier” with five kamikazes coming aboard, but she carried out her full bombardment schedule before being withdrawn.
To return to the Leyte, operation; SHROPSHIRE witnessed some kamikaze attacks in the first days of the campaign, and then on 1st November received personal attention. A Japanese Navy bomber, code-named by the Allies Val (Aichi-99, single-engine), like an eager-beaver, entered the arena at about 6,000 feet during a conventional air raid. You could “smell it” as a suicide plane, coming in separately on a level course at a lower initial height than the other attackers. As it turned for the final dive it concentrated the mind to see an aircraft front-on with about 30 seconds to go.
Part of the way into the dive one barrel from a forward 8″ turret boomed out: the plane was not damaged, but the large explosion below it threw it off course and as the starboard pom pom crew frantically clipped belt to belt of shells, the plane’s port wing was chewed back from the tip as though a giant mouse was at work.
Now unstable, the kamikaze dived almost vertically, just missed its new target, an accompanying U.S. destroyer, but caused damage and sadly, casualties.
By throwing the aircraft off course SHROPSHIRE had proved the value of using its main armament in a close range anti-aircraft role. Rumour had it that the U.S.N. had expressed its concern in advance that in the haste of repelling a kamikaze attack its own ships would be hit.
In following days several attacks on SHROPSHIRE were unsuccessful but a regular though restricted toll was taken on the fleet – the high cacophany of anti-aircraft fire, the myriad black smudges in the sky, the sickening scream of the diving aircraft, the explosion and fire, and for damaged-only ships the extensive black mark. Early in November the campaign threatened the success of the Leyte landing and major re-deployment of the U.S. fleet had to be made. The opening of the fast carrier group attacks on Japan scheduled before the end of the year had to be deferred as the carriers were thrown into sustained attacks on Japanese held airfields throughout the Philippines theatre.
The official U.S. historian referred to the high quality of the SHROPSHIRE’S radar detection of enemy aircraft, ascribing the success to hot shot operators. “Porthole”, her code name, was first to alert the fleet, including U.S. battleships, approximately 75 per cent of the time. While no doubt the operators were good the key was the advanced technology radar set the British had installed in refitting the ship prior to transfer to Australian ownership.
During the week commencing dawn 20th October SHROPSHIRE’S ship’s company were at their action stations, getting some sleep in watches at times, for 146 hours out of the total of 168 and ARUNTA’S experience would have been very much the same.
After five and a half weeks in the Leyte area SHROPSHIRE, ARUNTA and a number of U.S. ships could be withdrawn as the troops ashore were now secure. In logistic terms it was a fairly near run thing for the ships involved. In the early days several of the smaller U.S. ships, such as sub-chasers, sought and obtained food from SHROPSHIRE, while she progressively ran out of some basic food commodities. The U.S. battleships in the Surigao Strait action, with ammunition stocks low, were restricted to opening fire at reduced range.
On a dull, hot, still mid-afternoon SHROPSHIRE returned to base in the extensive harbour at Manus, Admiralty Islands, Papua New Guinea. As she proceeded slowly down harbour the U.S. flagship’s band was drawn up on the battleship’s quarterdeck, and across the water came distinctly the music of “Waltzing Matilda”. A congratulatory signal was flashed from the U.S. base commander and one was received from the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Shropshire.