- Date, John C., RANVR (Rtd)
- History - WW2, RAN operations, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Arunta I, HMAS Shropshire
- March 1988 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Shropshire‘s Gunnery Officer, Lt. Cdr. W.S. Bracegirdle, remarked in his report, ‘The US ships were all using flashless propellant, and when our first 8 inch broadside fired, the flash was terrific. I consider that the Japanese fired several salvos in our direction, at our flash, mistaking us for a capital ship.’ At the time, I was on the upper deck of Shropshire to witness these early salvos from Yamashiro‘s 14 inch guns, which were to pass over Shropshire and which to me, sounded like controlled thunder, or more specifically, thunder in unison.
Yamashiro was repeatedly hit by the 16 inch shells of the batteship West Virginia and the 14 inch shells of the Tennessee and California, all of which, equipped with the latest centimetric fire-control radar, made devastatingly accurate shooting. The Pennsylvania did not fire at all, the Mississippi only two salvos but the Maryland joined in by ranging on the splashes of the West Virginia.
To those on above deck action stations, the scene was unforgettable; – the magnitude and incredible rate of fire of the US ships, particularly the cruisers with their tracer ammunition – the sight of the battleship Yamashiro, flagship of Nishimura, on fire from bow to stern, – and the unbelievable use of searchlights by the Japanese, undoubtedly the last occasion in naval history.
With the Yamashiro now burning fiercely and shortly after being hit by a further two torpedoes from the destroyer Newcombe, at approximately 0419 hours she quickly sank taking with her Nishimura and most of her crew. The heavy cruiser Mogami and the destroyer Shigure, both badly damaged, retired down the strait and were the sole remnants of Nishimura’s force.
The only mishap of the action to the Allies was the destroyer Grant, which, while in close action to the Yamashiro, was mistaken for the Japanese destroyer Shigure, and came under fire by our own ships at 0407 hours, with heavy loss of life and had to be towed clear.
At 0325 hours, Shima’s supporting force entered the strait, to be met by a PT boat attack, and a lucky torpedo shots from boat No. 137 hit and crippled the light cruiser Abukuma. At 0410 hours, Shima sighted the two burning sections of the Fuso, and realising the hopelessness of the situation, ordered his cruisers to fire their torpedoes and then turned south to retire but unfortunately his flagship Nachi collided with the retiring cruiser Mogami at 0430 hours, causing however, only superficial damage.
The Allied cruisers gave chase but the engagement was broken off as day dawned, with the news that the northern San Bernadino Strait section of the battle was urgently requiring assistance; except to finish off the destroyer Asagumo at 0721 hours.
At 0910 hours the Mogami was sunk by the Japanese destroyer Akebono, the light cruiser Abkuma was bombed and sunk the following day off the island of Negros and the Nachi in Manilla Bay on 5th November.
While Japanese ships lacked sophisticated radar they were equipped with radar detectors which permitted them to fix the whereabouts of the Allies, often before the US ships could get a fix on them.
Of great significance too was the fact that Japanese torpedo technology was still well in advance of the American, allowing them much greater range and accuracy. Nishimura has been much criticised for leading his ships on what appeared to be a suicide mission of almost complete destruction. No doubt many such comments were made because the Admiral was not here to stand his ground. Nishimura was not to know the full strength of the 7th Fleet arranged against him, nor the efficiency that had been attained in the latest radar detection and gunnery control. His determination to press home the attack has been said, that it is much to his credit, in carrying out his orders in Sho-1; and he had every reason to believe night manoeuvres would be to his advantage, especially in the absence of aircraft interference. Nishimura was inspired with bravery and resolution and a strong sense of duty on his part to be played in the overall plan of Sho-1, if necessary in true samurai tradition.
The night action, in Surigao Strait will always be an inspiring example of perfect timing, coordination and almost faultless execution. The battle of Leyte was to confirm once again that the dreadnought battleship had seen a final hour of glorious combat.