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.
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.