HMAS
Shropshire

HMAS Shropshire (I)
Class
County Class
Type
Heavy Cruiser
Pennant
73
Builder
William Beardmore & Co Ltd, Dalmuir, Scotland
Laid Down
24 February 1926
Launched
5 July 1928
Launched by
Countess of Powis, Baroness D'Arcy de Knayth
Commissioned
20 April 1943
Decommissioned
10 November 1949
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 9,850 tons
Length 633 feet
Beam 66 feet
Draught 17 feet
Performance
Speed 32.5 knots
Complement
Crew
  • 650 (peace)
  • 820 (war)
Propulsion
Machinery Parsons geared turbines, 4 screws
Horsepower 80,000
Armament
Guns
  • 8 x 8-inch guns
  • 4 x 4-inch guns (later 8)
  • 4 x 2-pounder guns (later 16)
  • 4 x 3-pounder guns
  • 2 x 1.5-inch machine guns
Torpedoes 8 x 21 inch torpedo tubes (2 quadruple mounts)
Awards
Battle Honours

HMS Shropshire, the first ship of the name in the Royal Navy, commissioned on 24 September 1929 under the command of Captain R.W. Oldham OBE RN. She began her service career when she left England on 9 November 1929 to join the 1st Cruiser Squadron as a unit of the Mediterranean Fleet where she spent most of the following two years.

In April 1932 Shropshire returned to England, paid off at Chatham on 4 April and after recommissioning the following day, returned to the Mediterranean for her second tour of duty with the Mediterranean Fleet, arriving at Gibraltar on 29 April 1932. Two and a half years of uneventful routine Mediterranean service ended at Chatham on 28 November 1934 when she again paid off. By Christmas 1934 Shropshire was again back in the Mediterranean to begin her third period with the 1st Cruiser Squadron.

Shropshire remained in the Mediterranean throughout the Abyssinian War (1935-36) and Spanish Civil War, playing a leading part in the evacuation of refugees from Barcelona (22 August to 16 September 1936). The cruiser remained with the 1st Cruiser Squadron until 1937 when she returned to England for a refit lasting four months.

HMS Shropshire prior to her transfer to the RAN
HMS Shropshire prior to her transfer to the RAN

On 10 November 1937 Shropshire again commissioned for Mediterranean service. On 19 September 1938 she became the flagship of Rear Admiral J.D.H. Cunningham CB MVO RN, and wore his flag until 25 May 1939.

On the outbreak of war in September 1939 Shropshire was ordered to take up patrol in the South Atlantic and for the next four months she was almost continuously at sea on trade protection duties. During the period of October to December 1939 she steamed some 34,000 miles and was under way more than 1,800 hours. Atlantic patrols ended early in 1940, and Shropshire returned to England for refit before proceeding for service in the Indian Ocean, where she was employed on patrol and escort duties between Capetown, Durban, Mombasa and Aden.

In 1941 the cruiser operated against Italian Somaliland, bombarding Mogadishu and Kismaya during the advance of the South African Army from Kenya to Abyssinia. With HM Ships Hawkins, Hermes and Kandahar, Shropshire played a leading part in the campaign which ended with the collapse of the whole of the Italian Empire.

In June 1941 Shropshire withdrew from the Indian Ocean and returned to England for refit which was not completed until March 1942. She then returned to the Atlantic for a second period of patrol and escort duty.

Following the loss of the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra (I) on 9 August 1942 in the Battle of Savo Island, the British Government approved the transfer of Shropshire to the Royal Australian Navy as a replacement. The transfer was announced in the House of Commons on 8 September 1942 by the Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill. Mr Churchill said:

'His Majesty's Government consider that the Commonwealth should not bear this grievous loss following the sinking of other gallant Australian ships. We have therefore decided to offer, freely and unconditionally, to transfer His Majesty's 8-inch gun cruiser Shropshire to the Commonwealth Government, this offer has been most warmly received.'

The decision to transfer Shropshire to the Royal Australian Navy brought her recall from service on the South Atlantic Station. Captain J.T. Borrett OBE RN relinquished his command at Chatham on 23 December 1942, and five days later Commander David H. Harries RAN assumed command to supervise refit and transfer to the Royal Australian Navy. At this stage in her history Shropshire had steamed some 363,000 miles of which 220,000 had been on war service. During the refit the ship's aircraft and catapult were landed. She did not carry an aircraft during her Australian service.

HM King George VI greets Commander Harries and Captain Collins on the occasion of his visit to the newly commissioned HMAS Shropshire
HM King George VI greets Commander Harries and Captain Collins on the occasion of his visit to the newly commissioned HMAS Shropshire.

Captain John A. Collins CB RAN assumed command on 7 April 1943 and she commissioned as HMAS Shropshire at Chatham on 20 April 1943. However, the pre transfer refit occupied many months and it was not until 25 June 1943 that Shropshire was formally handed over to the Royal Australian Navy by Admiral Sir George d'Oyly Lyon KCB, Commander-in-Chief, The Nore.

In August 1943 Shropshire began her voyage to Australia escorting a Gibraltar bound convoy. She arrived at Capetown on 4 September, Fremantle three weeks later and finally Sydney on 2 October 1943. On 30 October at Brisbane the cruiser joined the Australian Squadron (Task Force 74) under the command of Rear Admiral Victor A.C. Crutchley VC RN, flying his flag in HMAS Australia (II).

In December 1943 Shropshire took part in the New Britain operations covering the landings at Arawe and Cape Gloucester. In March 1944, with other ships of Task Force 74, she took part in the operations leading to the seizure of the Admiralty Islands and the following month was again in action at the Hollandia / Humboldt Bay operations.

 
HMAS Shropshire carrying out a shore bombardment c.1944
HMAS Shropshire carrying out a shore bombardment c.1944

Continuing support of the American northward sweep, she was at the Wakde/ Sarmi/Biak operations in May 1944 before returning briefly to Sydney.

On 12 July Shropshire proceeded to the New Guinea area operating in support of the 6th Army. On 14 July Japanese forces were bombarded in positions east of Aitape after mounting a major attack against the American garrison on the Driniumor River line. On completion of that operation Shropshire joined the bombardment group covering the last landing in New Guinea at Cape Sansapor on the Vogelkop Peninsula.

Shropshire bombarding Biak Island, May 1944.
Shropshire bombarding Biak Island, May 1944. Note the impressive array of secondary and tertiary armament which would later prove invaluable during her participation in the final assault on Japanese forces in the Philippines.

Her next objective was Moratai Island, lying midway between New Guinea and the southern Philippines. There, HMA Ships Shropshire, Australia, Arunta and Warramunga delivered a pre-invasion bombardment on 15 September before the invasion force landed. On that occasion Shropshire fired 161 rounds of 8-inch shells. No resistance was encountered and Moratai fell into Allied hands without struggle.

The Battle for Leyte Gulf

On 20 October 1944, General MacArthur’s Philippines invasion force, comprising some 550 ships and covered by Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet, arrived off Leyte Island in the central Philippines.

Australia’s contribution to this famous amphibious operation was Commodore John Collins’ Task Force 74, including HMA Ships Australia, Shropshire, Warramunga and Arunta attached to the US Seventh Fleet. Also present were the   Landing Ships Infantry (LSI) HMAS Westralia, Manoora and Kanimbla carrying troops of the US 21st Regimental Combat Team, the frigate Gascoyne, HDML 1074 and the auxiliaries Bishopdale, Poyang, Yunnan and Mekur.

By 09:00 on 20 October hundreds of small boats and destroyers headed for the beaches of Leyte, accompanied by a tremendous bombardment from the accompanying battleships and cruisers. Australia and Shropshire passed through the battle line as the small boats approached and opened fire on assigned targets. At 10:00 am, after the landing, Shropshire, Arunta and Warramunga shelled set targets and carried out intermittent bombardments throughout the day.

The following morning at 06:05 am HMAS Australia was hit by a Japanese suicide aircraft. Australia’s commanding officer, Captain Dechaineux and 29 other officers and ratings were killed or died of wounds and Commodore Collins and a further 64 were injured. Command of the Australian ships consequently passed to Captain RF Nicholls in Shropshire. Nicholls recalled the attack in the following report:

During the dawn stand-to, a low-flying aircraft approached from the land between Australia and Shropshire. It was taken under fire and retired to the westward. Observers in Shropshire report that the aircraft was hit and touched the water but recovered. It was then turned east again and although under heavy fire, passed up the port side of Australia and crashed into the foremast at 0605. There was a large explosion and an intense fire was started in the air defence position and bridges. Type 273 radar hut and lantern fell on to the compass platform; both H.A. Directors and D.C.T.[Director Control Tower] were put out of action and the port strut of the foremast was broken. The fire was brought under control very quickly and by 0635 the large quantity of wreckage on the compass platform and A.D.P had been cleared away. Commodore J.A. Collins suffered burns and wounds; Captain EFV Dechaineux and Commander JF Rayment were mortally wounded…

 

 

Damage to Australia following the Japanese suicide aircraft attack on 21 October 1944.
Damage to Australia following the Japanese suicide aircraft attack on 21 October 1944.

By 24 October some 144 800 Americans were ashore and fanning out when reports were received of the approach of a Japanese fleet through the Sulu Sea. The Japanese navy’s plan was to bring three fleets from different locations to converge on the American transports in Leyte Gulf and defeat the seaborne invasion.

The Japanese aircraft carrier fleet moved south from the Inland Sea with the aim of decoying Admiral Halsey’s 3rd Fleet away from the Gulf, while Admiral Kurita with a force including five battleships slipped through the San Bernadino Strait and descended on Leyte from the north and from the south. Vice Admiral Nishimura advanced towards Leyte through the Surigao Strait. As the Japanese had hoped Admiral Halsey was attracted away from Leyte to counter the threat of Admiral Ozawa’s carriers approaching from Japan and this enabled Kurita with his battleships and cruisers to penetrate to Leyte Gulf where, on 25 October, he engaged twelve American escort carriers with their attendant destroyer screen and escorts off the beachhead.

Although Kurita had temporarily gained an upper-hand he mistakenly believed that he was up against Halsey’s fleet and failed to press home his advantage, electing instead to withdraw. In the meantime Halsey’s carrier aircraft had destroyed all four Japanese aircraft carriers in the northern group.

Meanwhile, to the south, the Japanese force under Admiral Nishimura had been approaching Leyte through Surigao Strait. Nishimura was under orders to be in Leyte Gulf at dawn as Kurita attacked from the north. But blockading Nishimura’s way was Rear Admiral J Oldendorf, who commanded an overwhelmingly powerful force of no fewer than six battleships as well as cruisers and destroyers. Both Shropshire and Arunta formed part of that group.

At approximately 3:00 am on 25 October, American destroyers opened fire with torpedos on Nishimura’s force, sinking the battleship Fuso and two destroyers. At 3:56 am Shropshire opened fire to starboard with her 8-inch guns on the battleship Yamashiro as did the US cruisers Boise, Phoenix and five of the American battleships.

Captain Nicholls later reported that:

A very high rate of fire was attained in rapid salvoes; as many as eight broadsides in two minutes being fired. We fired thirty-two broadsides at what we thought to be a battleship – it was accurate and hits were obtained. The standard of drill was very high and reflects highly on the gunnery department. Shropshire suffered no damage even though four broadsides from the enemy passed overhead.

Chief Petty Officer Arthur Cooper, Shropshire’s Chief Gunner’s Mate, whose action station was in the ship’s gunnery transmitting station later recalled:

The targets were picked up by radar at 32 000 yards and we opened fire at 15 000 yards – our fall of shot hooter soundings enabled corrections to be made especially as we took corrections from other ships firing and hitting the targets and illuminating the enemy vessels. After the fourth broadside we fired in accordance with the gun ready lamps showing at least six guns ready before ringing the fire gongs. The enemy, moving at 19 knots slowed to 15, then to 10 and finally stopped dead in the water. The battleship we hammered [was] below the horizon with explosions coming from her – quite a few went over us but no hits [were] sustained.

Able Seaman Stan Nicholls, the Commander’s Runner, recalled:

Yamashiro did not have a chance, she had been saturated by the fleet’s massive broadsides and put out of action.

At 4:19 Yamashiro capsized and sank taking most of her ships company with her. Japanese losses in the Battle of Leyte Gulf were so heavy that the Imperial Navy virtually ceased to exist as an offensive force and the Allies gained sea control.

The next major Allied advance towards Japan was to Lingayen Gulf in the northern Philippines and the island of Luzon. On 9 January 1945 Shropshire, in company with HMA Ships Australia, Arunta and Warramunga, formed part of the bombardment and fire support group. Control of the Australian ships had passed backed to Australia (Captain JM Armstrong) which was flying the flag of Commodore HB Farncomb, RAN, following the completion of repairs to damage caused by the suicide aircraft attack at Leyte Gulf.


Shropshire gunners preparing shells for her secondary armament.
Shropshire's gun crews serving her secondary 4-inch guns
Shropshire's gun crews serving her secondary 4-inch guns.

The Lingayen invasion force was subjected to a fierce onslaught by Japanese kamikaze suicide pilots who swarmed over the fleet extracting a heavy toll on Australian sailors in this extraordinary form of attack. The suicide missions were launched well before the assault convoys reached Lingayen and again Australia became a victim when on 5 January, some 140 km west of Subic Bay, kamikaze aircraft penetrated the defensive screen damaging seven ships. The kamikazes came in just above the water defying heavy anti-aircraft fire. At 4:35 pm one executed a steep turn and ended in a vertical dive hitting Australia on the port side of the upper deck amidships and inflicting heavy casualties. Arunta had her side holed and lost two men killed in a separate incident.

In spite of the damage sustained, Australia and Shropshire entered Lingayen Gulf on 6 January to carry out shore bombardments. At 5:34 pm Australia was hit by another kamikaze and she sustained two more direct hits on 8 January. A further hit followed on 9 January, the day of the landing, which cut off the top of her third funnel. With her bombardment duties complete Australia was withdrawn from the intense battle and returned to Australia for repairs and a welcome respite from the action.

Following Australia’s departure, Commodore Farncomb transferred his flag to Shropshire which the following month took part in the bombardment of the Corregidor beach area before the successful assault on the fortress which fell on 26 February 1945. On 16 March 1945 Shropshire returned to Sydney for maintenance and a period of R & R for her crew.

In June 1945 Shropshire was back in the operational area and after supporting the landings at Brunei, she was part of the force at the Balikpapan landings on 3 July. Shropshire then returned to the Philippines and was there when the Japanese surrendered. She sailed for Tokyo Bay and was present for the surrender ceremony. She remained in Japanese waters until 17 November when the Broad Pendant of the Commodore Commanding Australian Squadron was transferred to HMAS Hobart (I) and Shropshire departed for Sydney.

HMAS Shropshire's ships company c.1945
HMAS Shropshire's ships company February 1945.

In May 1946 Shropshire left Australia for the United Kingdom, carrying the Australian Contingent for the Empire Victory celebrations, returning to Australia in August.

In January 1947 she became Squadron representative in Japanese waters, returning to Sydney in March 1947 in preparation for paying off, her days as an active warship ended. Since first commissioning in the Royal Australian Navy she had steamed 506,445.9 miles. The ship paid off into Special Reserve on 10 November 1949 after a number of periods in different Reserve categories.

HMAS Shropshire in Portsmouth, May 1946.
HMAS Shropshire in Portsmouth, May 1946.

After several years lying in Sydney Harbour, Shropshire was sold as scrap on 16 July 1954 to Thomas W. Ward Ltd, Sheffield, on behalf of the British Iron and Steel (Salvage) Corporation. On 9 October 1954 she left Sydney in tow of the Dutch tug Oostzee bound for the shipbreakers in Scotland. Shropshire was broken up at Troon and Dalmuir.

Further Reading

  1. Fire Across the Pacific by David Mattiske © 2000
  2. H.M.A.S. Shropshire by Stan Nicholls. The Naval Historical Society of Australia, 1989. Available online: HMAS Shropshire
  3. The Royal Australian Navy An Ilustrated History by George Odgers