First Battle Tour
Sydney - Milne Bay - Arawe - Cape Gloucester - Sydney
HMAS Shropshire left Sydney on 29 October 1943 at 1600 in company
with the Tribal class destroyer HMAS Warramunga as her escort after
swinging compasses at No 2 Buoy.
HMS Anson was sighted off our starboard beam as we approached Moreton
Bay on Saturday 30th and we anchored off Pile Light at 1900 - Warramunga
had parted company earlier at 1700 proceeding up Brisbane River to No
USS Ralph Talbot, a Savo Island survivor was in the Brisbane River
and joined Task Force 74 ships including HMAS Australia, Arunta,
Warramunga, Stuart and USS Helm and commanded by
Rear-Admiral Victor Crutchley VC, DSC, RN as we travelled North. The USS
Mizor a storeship and USS Long Island entered harbour as
HMAS Kanimbla departed on 1 November 1943.
All ships were in line ahead as we sailed for New Guinea waters and several
exercises were carried out including streaming paravanes, damage control,
sub calibre and starshell shoots. Later as we sailed towards Percy Island
we carried out exercises with Arunta and Warramunga including
full calibre and long range HA shoots, using dummy runs of bombing and
strafer attacks by a flight of Boomerang fighters. USS Ralph Talbot
escorting General John Pope parted company enroute and as we moved
through the reef, passing Cairns, the destroyers again formed a screen
and we were given some aircraft cover as well.
After passing through China Straits into Milne Bay we refuelled from the
oiler Trinity and anchored at our delegated berth, Gili Gili, hopefully
to enjoy an evening picture show. This was short lived because instructions
were received to darken ship because of some air raid RED warnings.
On 7 November 1943 whilst anchored in Milne Bay, Admiral Crutchley came
on board to inspect Shropshire. The following day Wing-Commander
Conaghan in charge of the RAAF Fighter Direction team with Captains Manning
and Calder, AIF, of the Army Bombardment Team joined, both as part of
our Fighter Direction and Gunnery Bombardment groups.
In addition to Wing-Commander Conaghan and his fighter direction team
we had our own very effective fire direction team under Lieutenant Ron
Major DSC and his team of two officers and eight OR's including Leading
Seaman John Turner.
Radar equipment fitted to Shropshire during her refit consisted
of the ninety-one (291) an aircraft warning set, 271 a surface warning
set, 285 navigational surface warning set as well as for gunnery control
and the 282 and 283 being gunnery control sets. These sets were to give
the ship a big advantage in radar reporting whilst attached to the US
7th Fleet. The ship provided the 7th Fleet with prompt and most accurate
long range reports. We were congratulated by one US Admiral and other
ships' captains during the Philippines liberation campaign when we provided
over ninety percent of all reports. A magnificent effort by our radar
operators using this British development.
During this period in Milne Bay many ships entered and left harbour. USS
Bagley and Helm, Warramunga and Arunta engaged
in towing ship exercises, Shropshire had an 8" blind radar
practice shoot, Arunta was refuelled by Shropshire, Helm
had a fire on its foc'sle and Warrego, Colac and the Ping
Wo entered harbour.
We put to sea on the 13th for Port Purvis where we refuelled to be on
a two-hour state of readiness. During this passage an enemy submarine
sighting was reported and Australia catapulted her Walrus at a
searcher 0531 and it was recovered at 0730 - no result. Air-raid warnings
red then green were received from Guadalcanal, action stations were sounded
and the ship closed up - we sighted HMNZS Matai and USS Mugford
passing us on an opposite course.
On the 23rd whilst returning from exercises an able seaman fell overboard
and the loud speakers called urgently for 'Away Lifeboat's Crew'. He was
rescued some miles astern unharmed; however, so the story goes, he was
run in and charged for being adrift (AWOL). Apparently against instructions,
he was outboard of the guard rails without a safety belt - a punishable
offence under KR and AI.
On 25 November 1943, 'Guns' supported by Lieutenant Ken Stock suffered
one of his rare and minor failures when he visited USS Perkins
to obtain some much-needed chemicals. However, a magnificent feed of turkey
made up in part for this unsuccessful foray to scrounge.
Another aggravating failure occurred on 29 November 1943 during a red
alert in that a main steam pipe burst (due to water hammer) requiring
some urgent repairs by USS Dobbin. This defect reduced Shropshire's
top speed to 24 knots on three propellers. Understandably the engineering
department was also working flat out to fix the problem.
In the build up for our part in the Cape Gloucester attack several softening
up bombardments were carried out by Arunta, Warramunga,
USS Ralph Talbot and Helm in the Gasmata area, the Ring
Ring Plantation, a dump west of Anwek river mouth. Catalina flying boats
dropped flares to assist ships using starshell illumination. The results
were very satisfactory as most shots fell within the target areas. The
destroyers returned to base at 27 knots.
During this period ships entering and leaving harbour were many. All this
activity was coupled with red alerts, refuelling, sea exercises, with
Shropshire in the Blue Force representing two Japanese Nachi heavy
cruisers, later to store ship after MV Merkur's arrival. Many discussions
between the admirals and ships' captains re tactics for Operation Dexterity
I & II, the ship was a hive of activity and expectation.
To keep up morale many exercises of a personal interest were introduced
- boxing, handicrafts, sailing, quiz contests, debates and talk sessions
and the not to be forgotten leading seaman 'Count' Whitby's broadcast
of the 'Pacific Merry Go Round'. Extra appointments of schoolmasters were
envisaged because of increased interest in correspondence courses.
Our Operations Officer, Commander Gatacre, and Wing-Commander Conaghan
liaised with 7th Fleet Headquarters and the US 5th Air Force regarding
TF 74's role and to arrange air cover when required.
On 10 December 1943 Lieutenant Commander H.A.E. Cooper RAN joined, arriving
from HMS Tana as well as an Arunta rating coming on board
for fourteen days to 'enjoy' private accommodation in our below decks
foc'sle suite, 'the cell'.
Attached to Task Force 74 were two US cruisers with fifteen 6" guns
in five triple turrets - they exhibited a frightening fire power, particularly
as they ripple fired their guns. The ships were the USS Nashville
and Phoenix with the 2100 ton US destroyers Bush, Ammen, Mullany
and Bache as part of the Task Force, commanded by Rear-Admiral
Phase I of Operation Dexterity (New Britain) got underway at 0630
15 December 1943 when the troops were landed at Arawe by HMAS Westralia.
Little opposition was met but at about 0930 enemy aircraft unsuccessfully
attacked the landing beach and ships in the harbour. Prior to the landing
Warramunga dropped a full pattern of depth charges but was recalled
before a result could be finalised due to the approaching daylight and
her being required for other duties.
Many messages were intercepted indicating night air attacks by the enemy
on the Arawe landing but no reports regarding possible enemy naval intervention
so Task Force 74 received orders from Commander 7th Fleet Vice-Admiral
Kinkaid to return to Milne Bay.
On 22 December 1943 a group of 'Tivoli Girls' in a concert party came
on board to entertain the crew with a rousing performance. Two months
at sea without members of the opposite sex gave the men a much needed
boost to their morale and dreams.
Phase II Operation Dexterity was to take place shortly, but in
the meantime all aircraft and aviation fuel was to be removed and left
ashore in Milne Bay and additional ammunition was to be embarked by all
the bombardment ships.
Shropshire and Australia were to fire 350 ( 8")
Nashville and Phoenix were to fire 1000 (6") rounds
Warramunga and Arunta were to fire 300 (4.7'') rounds
And the six US destroyers 300 rounds of (5'') each.
The Fighter planes based at Kiriwina commanded by Squadron-Leader Darnton
were placed on alert for the impending action to provide air coverand
Squadron-Leader Dalton boarded Shropshire to liaise with the RAAF'S
Wing-Commander Conaghan who was in overall control of the Allied fighters
during this our First Battle Tour.
The day before Christmas at 1630, Task Force 74 consisting of four cruisers
and eight destroyers left Milne Bay. On Christmas Day Task Force 76 carrying
the First US Marine Division left the Buna Area. TF 74 overtook TF 76
as they approached Cape Ward Hunt, and proceeded twelve miles ahead to
be ready for the early bombardment scheduled for 26 December 1943.
The total force consisting of four cruisers, twenty-two destroyers, nine
APD's, twelve LST, sixteen LCM, nineteen LCI, twelve LCT, four SC, three
YMS, two tugs, one PC and one LSI totalling 105 vessels was slowly moving
through the Vitiaz Straits whilst being given air cover by squadrons of
Thunderbolt fighters. The second-in-command of TF 74 was Rear-Admiral
Berkey USN in Phoenix.
The movement and navigation of this convoy towards the battle area was
controlled by SG radar and because the night was very dark the cruisers
and destroyers formed an A/S screen to finally split into TG's 74.1 and
74.2 for their respective fire support areas. Westralia a recently
converted AMC to an LSI disembarked 1150 US Marines and equipment within
one mile of the Cape Gloucester landing area during 26 and 27 December
1943 before proceeding to Stringer Bay. There was some light automatic
gunfire with tracers observed to the east as we swept along abreast of
At 0600 on 26 December 1943 Shropshire, Australia,
Arunta and Warramunga, moving at about 2 knots, opened fire
on targets in the vicinity of the Cape Gloucester air field.
It was a thunderous discharge of 8'' and 4.7'' guns for one hour and twenty
minutes giving the new crew, especially ex-Canberra men, of Shropshire
a feeling of at last we are hitting back after nearly a year of refitting,
trials and work up. At 0625 the other task group including Nashville
and Phoenix opened fire at targets in Borgen Bay including targets
near the 'Yellow Beach' landing assault area.
The total number of rounds expended during the bombardment from 0600 to
0720-27 consisted of 700 He (8''), 900 (4.7'') , 100 (4'') , 700 (5")
and 1600 (6''). In addition five squadrons of B24 Liberator and four squadrons
of B 25 Mitchell bombers swept in from seaward to bomb and strafe the
Yellow Beach area, whilst a creeper rocket barrage was fired from the
rocket boats. The Green Beach area at Tauali was given similar support
and both landings were accomplished without opposition.
For this whole operation, under instructions from Captain Collins, 'Guns'
Bracegirdle had prepared an effective programme for his gunnery department
to cover all contingencies. He proposed three main objectives in support
of the United States Marines landing (i) to neutralise located shore batteries
and prevent them attacking us and the landing barges, (ii) be prepared
to engage other targets with our main and secondary armament as required,
and (iii) to engage and destroy all installations as necessary.
Photomaps including the bombardment clock and trace in the Tactical Plot
were prepared and times for actual engagement of the enemy positions were
shown on 'Plan Able'. 'Plan Baker' was also prepared as a variation to
Plan Able. Gun ranging instructions, both visual and backed by radar,
were as near perfect as could be. Using 'B' turret with onegun salvos
and reference point (Bold Hill 5000 yards inland) until the area was bracketed;
then four gun salvos were used.
Without going into the gunnery bombardment plan in great detail nothing
was left to chance and even though the whole plan was laid out for the
main armament, all other gunnery support groups of Shropshire were
hard at it to make sure nothing was missed. Both HA directors searched
for gun flashes and troop movement, the pompom director searched in depth
all areas and all surface lookouts gave relative bearings, locked on bearings
and from EBI operators on the bridge to gun directors.
Shortly after 0800 Shropshire's radar picked up a large group of
'bogies' approaching from Rabaul but did not reach the Cape Gloucester
area, instead they attacked Arawe. We had air cover of twelve planes which
later was increased to forty-eight planes as aircraft warnings continued.
Again our radar picked up two more groups of bogies and Shropshire
being the fighter director ship asked for and got ninety-six fighters
to cover the fleet. No contact was made with the enemy at this time but
a few hours later a Japanese dive-bomber did attack our Cape Gloucester
force and sank USS Brownson and damaged three others. An estimated
fifty-six Japanese planes were shot down during this period.
After refuelling at Buna from the tanker ESSO Balboa several covering
patrols of destroyers were sent into the Cape Gloucester area as well
as carrying out depth charge attacks on suspected submarine contacts.
No results were observed. Arunta and Warramunga were running
low on fuel and ready to rejoin the 9th Echelon with Helm and Ralph
Talbot. They refuelled from Shropshire and Australia
respectively, bunkering 100 tons each.
Due to enemy aircraft activities and radar reports of 'bogies' Shropshire,
Australia, Phoenix and Nashville proceeded, during the last
dogwatch to a much safer anchorage off Buna, Shropshire and Australia
returned to Milne Bay on 1 January 1944 and Phoenix and Nashville
were left under the command of Rear-Admiral Berkey joining USS Boise
for other tasks.
Two reasons for the division of the cruiser force were:
both Shropshire and Australia were running low on
HE 8'' shells and
it was advisable to avoid offering another 'Savo' situation. The
Yunnan came alongside and we ammunitioned ship.
It was later reported that Warramunga had a salt water problem
and she was put alongside Australia for assistance to facilitate
her quick return to duty with the 9th Echelon.
This operation by the Task Force coupled with the magnificent fighting
force of US Marines resulted in the effective bottling up and neutralizing
of 135000 Japanese troops.
However, the ground forces did not get it all that easy - deep swamps
(reported as shallow), 16'' of rain falling daily, rotting undergrowth
and hand to hand combat made for tough fighting before the area was declared
free and the airfield usable.
After our return to Milne Bay an inquiry was held into the 'lost one (1)
boat hook through accident' episode resulting in the culprit having the
cost added to his slop chit.
The MV Merkur arrived alongside with stores and Ping Wo
gave us fresh water. The next day a boxing tournament was conducted to
create those diversions in a usually routine life, to lift the morale
of the crew, as well as organised fishing trips using explosives.
Mr G.S. Smale, schoolmaster, joined on 9 January 1944. We finally had
Christmas dinner on 3 January 1944 as well as receiving some mail and
enjoying the Pacific Merry Go Round show during the dogwatches.
Shropshire refuelled twice, once from the oiler Bishopdale
and later from USS Victoria, whilst under way. After carrying out
tracking exercises near the Cape in Porlock Bay to Sudest Bay in company
with Boise and Phoenix we practised our AA skills during
a sleeve target shoot.
On the 16th Arunta picked up a reluctant and injured Japanese survivor
from a plane which had been shot down. After an operation his reluctance
to leave the destroyer shows what kindness can do even to our 'bonsai'
On 19 January 1944 visits were made by our officers and crew to see old
shipmates aboard Kanimbla, Westralia, Bundaberg, Warrego,
Kapunda, Pine, Kalgoorlie, Katoomba, Stawell, Mildura, Castlemaine, Stuart
alongside and ML 816. Others enjoyed a magnificent feed of turkey
and icecream whilst visiting US ships Blue Ridge, Boise,
Phoenix. These visits although very short in duration made a sailor's
lot a little more rewarding - the Americans were always generous. The
finishing touch to this interlude was an enjoyable show on 21 January
1944 held on the foc'sle by an all-negro band and other entertainers creating
a very memorable occasion.
Warramunga left on the 8th returning to Sydney for refit, arriving
on 12 January 1944. On 15 January 1944 Australia also left for
a refit of eight weeks duration in Sydney which included the fitting of
a 281 radar aerial.
Shropshire's time was taken up with several air raid alerts at
this period, exercises at sea carrying out 4" and close range weapons
firing at sleeve targets as well as 4'' surface firing at smoke floats,
tactical manoeuvres and radar air tracking exercises with Phoenix
and Boise. Shropshire departed for Sydney on the 27th using
three propellers as one shaft was defective. We arrived on 30 January
1944 having averaged a speed of 24 knots.
On our return from Shropshire's first battle tour the crew more
than welcomed liberty and rest whilst some long serving sailors received
long leave. Shropshire was lying at No 3 berth Walsh Bay. A dance
at Grace Bros Auditorium was well organised and well received and the
attendance of Captain Collins and other officers gave the occasion a touch
of class and tone to the proceedings.
On Monday 7 February, Admiral Crutchley's flag was hoisted in Shropshire
and two days later we left Sydney for Milne Bay with Admiral Sir Guy Royle
the First Naval Member, his secretary Captain J.B. Foley and Mr Essington
Lewis on board heading for our second battle tour.