The cruiser HMAS Australia in 1937.

The cruiser HMAS Australia in 1937.

The bridge and forward superstructure of Australia in September 1944. This area was damaged when a Japanese bomber collided with the ship on 21 October 1944. Captain Emile Dechaineux (white uniform, facing right), was among those killed.

The bridge and forward superstructure of Australia in September 1944. This area was damaged when a Japanese bomber collided with the ship on 21 October 1944. Captain Emile Dechaineux (white uniform, facing right), was among those killed.

Among the 700 ships in the invasion force that crowded the sea off the Phillipines was an Australian force including the cruiser HMAS Australia, fellow cruiser HMAS Shropshire and a number of destroyers and support ships. On this day she suffered the first assault that led to her being amongst the most ‘kamikazied’ ships in the Allied fleet during the war.

The pilot of the plane crashed onto the HMAS Australia is not believed to have been ordered to make the attack, but acted on his own initiative. The first ‘official’ Kamikaze attacks would not come until a few days later, when attacks began at the instigation of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Nor was this the first time that Japanese pilots had committed suicide in this way, there had already been a number of cases where this was apparent.

From the dairy of General Valdes:

At 5:30 a.m. ‘general quarters’ were sounded. All rushed to their respective guns and fired at approaching Japanese planes. The Australian cruiser Australia was about 300 yards from our starboard side. A Japanese plane coming from the stern flew very low strafing the cruiser.

He accidentally came too low and hit the wireless and crashed on the forward deck near the bridge killing the Captain and mortally wounding the Commodore, who died six hours later. The cruiser Honolulu was also hit and was beached to save it. The Australia returned to Australia for repairs.

At 5 p.m. some more Japanese planes attacked us and we downed two.

See Phillipines Diary Project

Des Shinkfield was a 19-year-old midshipman on board HMAS Australia:

It was just after dawn when they appeared on our plot after flying over a nearby range of hills. We tracked them until two disappeared off the screen, presumably shot down, the third plane flew down our starboard side. It was hit by anti-aircraft fire from Shropshire, but the pilot regained control, did a U-turn and came up our port side with guns blazing and on a collision course with the bridge….

There were the bodies of the dead and dying strewn across the decks…. Some of the men were in dreadful agony from burns, others had suffered wounds from hot metal fragments, most were in shock. There was burning debris everywhere.

Gunnery Officer Richard Peek was on the bridge at the time of the attack, and was badly burnt:

It was a complete surprise when I saw an enemy aircraft fly across our stern, bank, then fly from our port quarter, apparently aiming at our bridge. ‘I called to our captain, who came over to the port after corner of the compass platform. We watched the kamikaze strike our tripod foremast, debris and flames, apparently from the petrol, covered the whole of the upper bridge. …

My next memory was of visiting our mortally wounded captain and telling him that everything was under control. My first feeling was horror that human beings could commit such attacks, but eventually my horror changed to an understanding of the pilots’ courage and patriotism.

Chief Petty Officer Roy Ashton:

There were fires to put out, bodies to be removed and the rescue of wounded men trapped under debris. … We were working in the forward part of the ship and I could see the bridge in flames . . . almost everyone on the upper deck was in shock but they all did what was required to save the ship.

See Australian Naval History.

On 21 October 1944, after bombardments in Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, Australia (II) was hit by a Japanese suicide plane. Six officers and 23 ratings were killed and her Commanding Officer, Captain E.F.V. Dechaineux DSC, RAN, later died of wounds. Nine officers, 52 ratings and one AIF soldier were wounded. Whether this was the first deliberate Kamikaze attack on an Allied ship remains the topic of debate. After this action Australia (II) was escorted by HMAS Warramunga (I) to Manus Island and thence to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides for repairs.

On 21 October 1944, after bombardments in Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, Australia (II) was hit by a Japanese suicide plane. Six officers and 23 ratings were killed and her Commanding Officer, Captain E.F.V. Dechaineux DSC, RAN, later died of wounds. Nine officers, 52 ratings and one AIF soldier were wounded. Whether this was the first deliberate Kamikaze attack on an Allied ship remains the topic of debate. After this action Australia (II) was escorted by HMAS Warramunga (I) to Manus Island and thence to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides for repairs.

{ 0 comments }

Oct

20

1944

General MacArthur “I have returned” to the Philippines

The famous image of General Douglas MacArthur making his return to the Philippines.

People of the Philippines: I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil – soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring, upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.

Oct

19

1944

Belgium: US troops stuck on the Siegfried Line

A wounded US soldier is attended to during fighting in the heavily wooded Ardenne region, Autumn 1944.

After that tragedy they began to probe every inch of ground with trench knives, gently working the knives in at an angle, hoping to hit only the sides of mines. This way they came upon many devilish little mines handmade from cottage cheese-type crocks and sealed with wax. Their only metal was the detonator, which was too small to be picked up by mine detectors.

Oct

18

1944

USAAF Liberator explodes in mid air over the Wirral

A USAAF Consolidated Liberator takes off in the early morning light from a bomber base 'somewhere in England'

Several bodies were half embedded in the soft soil, having clearly fallen from a height. We left the scene quite soberly. Several days later the police visited our school and others in the area warning against possessing live ammunition. Apparently, every single dangerous round of half inch calibre ammunition had been removed from the gun turret, and it was believed that schoolchildren were responsible.

Oct

17

1944

Germans civilians caught in Battle for Aachen

GI M1919 machine gun crew in action against German defenders in the streets of Aachen on 15 October 1944

Unfortunately, that was not all. Terrible things happened: Three Americans came to search the house for German soldiers. They were most friendly and polite. The commanding officer, a young, handsome, adorable boy… Yes, I was young! And then the unthinkable: they combed through the house and the factory… but they did not find anything, of course. The situation eased. They stayed for a while to discuss the situation.

Oct

16

1944

One man versus three machine guns

A 5.5-inch gun of 77th (Duke of Lancashire's Own Yeomanry) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery being manhandled into position to fire in support of 3rd Division advancing on Venray, 16 October 1944.

The destruction of these three machine gun posts singlehanded by Sergeant Eardley, carried out under fire so heavy that it daunted those who were with him, enabled his Platoon to achieve its objective, and in so doing, ensured the success of the whole attack. His outstanding initiative and magnificent bravery were the admiration of all who saw his gallant actions.

Oct

15

1944

Holland: Death in a minefield on the front line

A sniper demonstrates the superior 'Hawkins' prone firing position (right) next to another in the standard position, at the 21st Army Group sniping school near Eindhoven, 15 October 1944.

Unfortunately, the changed route apparently had not been reconnoitred and the inevitable happened — the carrier was blown up on a mine. Driver Smith was killed instantly, his left leg torn off at the thigh. Patrick was injured, sustaining a severe head wound (he told me years later that he still has a piece of metal in his head).

Oct

14

1944

Rommel is invited to commit suicide

Rommel with his aides in the Libyan desert in the spring of 1942.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had achieved worldwide fame as the ‘Desert Fox’, after the Wehrmacht ‘Afrika Korps’ were sent to save the Italian forces on the brink of defeat in North Africa in 1941. He had then taken a leading role in building the Atlantic Wall across occupied France, and had played his part in […]

Oct

13

1944

Arrested by the Nazis for “undermining morale”

Reichsführer SS Himmler addresses a meeting of the newly formed Volkssturm in October 1944.

So much for the window. On the walls, the inevitable obscenities and calculations of time still to be served — in weeks, days, hours, and minutes, even. Then, a veritable flood of Soviet stars, which gave the idea that the entire Red Army had been imprisoned here. And lastly, scratched into the concrete with a key, perhaps, the words, so very applicable to me: ‘My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ I read this, and darkness envelops me.

Oct

12

1944

Chuck Yeager downs five – becomes an “Ace in a Day”

First Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

I dropped my tanks and then closed up to the last Jerry and opened fire from 600 yards, using the K-14 sight. I observed strikes all over the ship, particularly heavy in the cockpit. He skidded off to the left. I was closing up on another Me. 109 so I did not follow him down. Lt. STERN, flying in Blue Flight reports this E/A on fire as it passed him and went into a spin.