- A.N. Other
- RAN operations, Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Warramunga I, HMAS Shropshire
- December 2013 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By David Mattiske
A recent article in the June 2013 edition of the NHR brought back memories to the author who served in HMAS Shropshire during an important shore bombardment of Manus Island in early 1944. David had an interesting and unusual naval career joining the RAN at HMAS Cerberus as an Ordinary Seaman on 22 May 1943 and only really had one ship, being posted to Shropshire as an ABQMG on 17 Dec 1943. He remained with her until 12 March 1946 and was then posted to HMAS Lonsdale where he was discharged ashore 5 April 1946. In later life he moved to Mildura where he operated the paddle steamer Avoca. With a length of nearly 113 feet she was one of the largest of the river steamers and was involved in luncheon and dinner river cruises. David is now retired on the Gold Coast and has for many years been an active member of the HMAS Canberra/HMAS Shropshire Association.
In the latter half of 1943 ‘Operation Cartwheel’ was well under way. This was the planned offensive to retake Japanese occupied islands in the South West Pacific. On Boxing Day 1943 a massive bombardment and landing took place at Cape Gloucester in western New Britain, carried out by the recently reformed US 7th Fleet. To soften up the landing areas HMA Ships Australia and Shropshire each fired 30 broadsides, causing vast damage to Japanese installations. These were Shropshire’s first shots as a cruiser of the RAN.
The plan was to bypass Rabaul and attack Kavieng, a large Japanese base in New Ireland. The Admiralties were included in this plan, the date set for 1st April 1944. However, in early February, American forces in the central Pacific made a spectacular penetration into the Marshall Islands. This caused concern in MacArthur’s Headquarters as it indicated that the much cherished MacArthur strategy of return to the Philippines could now be given a much reduced priority.
MacArthur quickly came to the conclusion that he must rapidly increase the tempo of the drive to the northwest and with its magnificent Seeadler Harbour the Admiralties would become the springboard for the drive across the Southwest Pacific. Planning proceeded apace. At MacArthur’s Headquarters opinion was divided about the Japanese strength and whether it was based on Manus or Los Negros. As there was some risks involved in a hastily put together plan, MacArthur assumed personal control and flew from Brisbane to Milne Bay on 27 February. In company with Vice Admiral Kincaid he boarded USS Phoenix and proceeded to the Admiralties.
The assaulting force, the US 1st Cavalry Division of 1,000 men, commanded by Brig. General William C Chase, were transported from Sudest in destroyers, which included HMAS Warramunga.
After a shore bombardment on 29 February, the force landed at Hyane Harbour and quickly crossed to and occupied the airstrip at Momote. MacArthur went ashore and told Chase to now hold his position at all costs. Late that day the Japanese recovered from their initial surprise and launched a counter attack which was beaten off.
During the next three days the destroyers Warramunga (Senior Officer, Captain E Dechaineux, RAN) with US Ships Ammen, Mullany and Welles attempted to silence the Japanese batteries on the western tip of Los Negros, the islands of Hauwei and Ndrilo which were at the entrance to Seeadler Harbour. Despite the destroyers closing to 4,000 yards and bombarding Japanese batteries, these batteries were still causing trouble. Rear Admiral Crutchly had advised that destroyer fire power may not be sufficient. This was sound advice as another US destroyer, Nicholson, was hit and suffered considerable damage.
It was now obvious that a heavy bombardment on the islands of Ndrilo and Hauwei was required before troops could get into the harbour and land on Manus. On 29 February Shropshire sailed from Milne Bay to Sudest, joined up with Phoenix and Nashville and all sailed as Task Force 74 with Crutchley in command to a covering position north and west of the Admiralties should the Japanese attempt to send support from Truk.
HMAS Arunta, which had been in Sydney on leave, sailed for Sudest. She arrived there to join American destroyers which sailed with reinforcements on the 3 March, each destroyer carrying 100 troops and stores. They arrived at Hyane Harbour next day and after unloading Arunta reported to Warramunga and joined in bombardment duties. Warramunga was due for a spell and with American destroyers returned to Sudest, arriving on the 5 March. Captain Dechaineux recorded that: ‘This operation was most interesting and had a splendid effect on the spirits of Warramunga’s ships company.’
On the morning of 4 March when Warrumunga departed, Crutchley received from Kinkaid an instruction to bombard the troublesome Japanese batteries on Hauwei, and that afternoon at 1615 Shropshire opened fire at a range of 10,600 yards, closing to 9,500 yards and ceasing fire at 1624 hrs. Her fire was accurate and effective. She was followed close astern by Phoenix and Nashville. The Hauwei bombardment saw Shropshire fire 77 x 8inch shells and the Phoenix and Nashville fired 292 x 6 inch. Five Japanese guns were put out of action enabling some landing craft to get through into Seeadler.
Japanese artillery on Hauwei, Ndrilo Island and Pityilu Island quickly recovered and were still active and dangerous. After the destroyer Nicholson was hit on 6 March the cruisers were again called into action and on the 7 March Shropshire fired 64 x 8 inch and 92 x 4 inch, followed by Phoenix and Nashville who fired 243 x 6 inch shells. Shropshire observers were amazed to see, even during these operations, the Seabees already hard at work getting the airstrip on Los Negros ready for operations, and aircraft were landing before the fighting had been completed.
Traffic was now getting into Seeadler and the cruisers retired, reaching Sudest on 8 March. On 25 March all Japanese resistance was eliminated on Los Negros as was Manus the next day, so ending a brilliant campaign in which the ships of the RAN had played an important role. Within a few weeks Seeadler Harbour became a powerful naval base, the springboard of the drive to the Philippines and an important factor in the ultimate defeat of Japan.
Most, if not all Shropshire hands have distinct memories of Seeadler and Lorengau on Manus. Here is one: Kevin Day was a well known figure in Shropshire, captain of the Bofors on B Turret. He developed a nasty lung infection and was sent ashore to the American Hospital at Lorengau. One morning the ward was disturbed by a party which was going from bed to bed. When the party arrived at Kevin’s bed he was asked his name so they could record the presentation of a Purple Heart. This award was presented to Americans wounded or injured during service. Kevin explained that he was an Australian and did not think this applied to him. He was told on no uncertain terms that as a fighter helping the US in its battles he should get a Purple Heart. When Kevin retired and lived in Banora Point and an active member of HMAS Canberra/HMAS Shropshire Association, he delighted in bringing out for display this colourful trophy.