Possibly the ship
with the most colourful World War II history was HMAS Australia, fondly
known as "The Aussie". The Aussie fought for almost
the entire duration of the war. A county class cruiser commissioned
in 1928 she was the second ship to bear the name of her country. With
the outbreak of WWII Aussie sailed for the Atlantic to begin
her long wartime career that she was to fight on all fronts and against
all enemies. She fought twice at Dakar in Senegal, closing right in
under the fort's heavy guns and sinking a French destroyer.
Bombers of the
luftwaffe tried in vain to sink her whilst she was berthed alongside
in Liverpool during the period when the city suffered its worst blitz.
During her war service Aussie went everywhere - with the
British Home Fleet in Scapa Flow, escorting the Atlantic and Indian
Ocean convoys and around the coast of Australia searching for German
raiders, cruising almost as far south as Antarctica.
In December 1941
when Japan entered the war Aussie became the flagship or
Rear Admiral Crace, followed by Admiral Crutchley and then Commodore
Collins. In January 1942 the cruiser assisted in escorting the first
US troops to Australia. Operating in the Coral Sea it pursued and
attacked the Japanese from Guadalcanal to Hollandia, surviving everything
its enemies could throw at her. Then in the closing stages of the
war at the battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines Aussie encountered
Japan's most secret and diabolical weapon.
off a bombardment point, late in 1944, Aussie received its first taste
of a new weapon of warfare. Out of the blue skies of Leyte came the
'Divine Wind" or the Kamikaze. Japans suicidal attempt to stave off
what was almost certain defeat in the pacific war. The first Kamikaze
hit against Aussie was by a A6M5 Zero-Sen Fighter fitted with a 200
kilogram bomb, the impact of this snapped one leg of the ship's tripod
mast, causing a huge shower of wreckage to rain down upon the compass
platform. Underneath it lay Captain Dechaineaux mortally wounded along
with many others, amongst them Commodore J. Collins, hero of the HMAS
Sydney. Four days later, after the initial Kamikaze attack, Aussie
again suffered the brunt of another, her sleek hull and distinctive
row of three funnels drawing the suicidal pilots to her. It was perhaps
the Japs new her identity and were determined to sink the Flagship
of the Australian Fleet. After being badly mauled again she was forced
to return to Manus Island, near New Guinea, to land 40 seriously wounded
sailors and then proceed to Espirito Santu in the New Hebrides (now
Vanuatu) to undergo repairs.
was needed badly by the R.A.N for she was the last surviving seaworthy
member of the country's heavy cruiser fleet the rest having been sunk
and Hobart badly damaged. So she was quickly returned to active service.
She headed straight
back to Philippine waters and on the afternoon of 5th January 1945
at the Lingayen Gulf landings the Kamikazes targeted her again. Her
new Captain Armstrong flung the ship about wildly but it was to prove
in vain as another bomb laden aircraft slammed into to her. The casualties
were high - 25 men killed and 30 seriously wounded, most were badly
needed guns crews. Despite extensive damage she joined HMAS Shropshire
and other US units to aid in the bombardment of San Fernando and Poro
Point. A new wave of Kamikazes then attacked, a Aichi 'Val' Dive Bomber
surviving the murderous fire thrown up by all ships collided headlong
into her upperdeck exploding in an enormous fireball. Several guns
crews died instantly and a severe shockwave shuddered throughout the
ship. This hit accounted for another 14 dead and 26 seriously wounded.
by now Aussie's AA defences were all but eliminated.
AUSTRLIA Returns from Philippines Campaign - Missing Fwd Funnel and
other serious damage.
At dawn on 8th
January the allied fleet resumed its bombardment and the Kamikazes
renewed their suicidal attacks. Aussie was the last ship
in the line and was once again singled out by the Japs. A Mitsubishi
'Dinah' Bomber was shot down finally coming to rest just 20 metres
from Aussie's hull. Moments later another bomber hurltled
in, the Aussie's Gunners throwing up withering fire until at last
shooting it down, but not before it released its bomb which exploded
close to the waterline, punching a large hole in the hull. Taking
a dangerous list to port another 'Dinah' roared in. Those guns still
in operation tore the bomber to bits and it showered down aviation
fuel upon the sailors whilst its massive engine smashed through the
bulkhead of the Captain's Day Cabin. Within seconds another 'Dinah'
roared in, the Aussie Gunners frantically trying to shoot
it down, succeeding, within just 15 metres, the propellor blades embedding
themselves in a liferaft. The aircraft skidding into the hull ripping
another large hole and damaging yet another fuel tank, whilst two
messdecks were completely destroyed. Aussie by now was in bad shape,
her speed reduced to fifteen knots to avoid causing more damage. Aussie
still hung in and managed to continue the fight with what was left
of her brave guns crews.
day the Japs decided to finish the Flagship off knowing she was almost
dead in the water. As another plane raced in heading for her bridge
its pilot misjudged his attack line and slammed into the yardarm slewing
the aircraft around so as to miss the bridge area and taking out the
top of the foremost funnel. Sliced off cleanly it crashed to the deck.
There were no casualties from this hit but it spelt the end for Aussie.
Two boilers had to be shut down because of insufficient updraft. Aussie's
war had come to an end.
its days of combat were over, singled out by the Japanese Kamikazes
she had defied the odds against the 'Devine Wind' and survived. Thus
writing another page into Australia's proud Naval history.