Gentlemen Cordite, Lieutenant Commander Warwick
edited by Nicholas Bracegirdle
HMAS BATAAN - First of a name
(First of Name)
at the beginning of the 1950s
Reproduced with kind permission of the Author M. Brice, 12 June 1997.
Bataan was the only Tribal-class destroyer not to be named after a people or nation of the British Empire. The Canadians took their names from Red Indians and the Australians from Aborigine tribes. Following this naming policy Bataan was originally scheduled as Kurnai. However, on 9 August 1942, the Australian cruiser Canberra was sunk while operating with US forces during the Battle of Savo Island. In recognition of her brave fight, the USN launched one of their new cruisers on 19 April 1943 as Canberra. As a return compliment the Australians renamed Kurnai, Bataan, in honour of General Douglas MacArthur who spent much of the war based in Australia.
Bataan and Warramunga, fresh from her Sydney refit, jointed TF74 in Subic Bay on 26 July 1945. They were still there preparing for the final assault on Japan when the end of the war came. The invasion fleet turned itself into an occupation force and Shropshire, Hobart, Bataan and Warramunga sailed for Japan via Okinawa. Both Bataan and Warramunga were present at the official Japanese Surrender in Tokyo Bay on 2nd September 1945.
Their first task was the rescue of prisoners of war and internees from official and unofficial camps and centres all over Japan. Usually a hospital ship would be sent to the port nearest such a camp to 'process' the unfortunate people there. This clinical term covered the provision of medical attention, delousing, bathing and reclothing. If they were then fit enough to travel, they were transferred to the destroyers who had stocked up with extra survivor kits, beds, blankets, mess-traps, cutlery, cigarettes, chocolate and food. As each destroyer arrived in Tokyo Bay she was cheered by the other ships present.
On such a trip on 12th September, Warramunga embarked (from the hospital ship Rescue at Sendai) 132 men, 32 women and 15 children - English, Australians, Africans, Indians, Malayans, Americans, Spanish, Armenians, Greeks, Arabs and Javanese. Some were aching to unburden themselves, some were just silent.
Bataan and Warramunga also went to Hamamatsu and Kamaishi on similar errands of mercy. By the end of September, Hobart and Warramunga had left for refit at Sydney, although Shropshire and Bataan stayed in Japanese waters until November.
In June 1950, Bataan's peacetime routine of exercises, visits and refits was interrupted by the outbreak of the Korean War. The Australian Government immediately placed her and the frigate Shoalhaven at the disposal of the UN and on 15 July they joined the first UN task force operating in the Yellow Sea. For most of the time Bataan was employed on routine escort and anti-submarine duties, although she did carry out some bombardments. She was transferred to the east coast and on 17 July joined Juneau, James E. Kyes, Higbee and Collett in covering the US 1st Cavalry Division landing at Pohang on the eastern flank of the Pusan perimeter. They shelled east coast targets before and after the landing, being temporarily interrupted by typhoon Grace on the 22nd.
By 1st August, Bataan was back on the west coast and being shelled by Communist artillery in the Haeju-Man. Belfast arrived to add her 6in shells to Bataan's retaliatory bombardment.
On 6th August, Warramunga sailed from Sydney to join Bataan, and the two Tribals spent a lot of time screening carriers off the west coast of Korea. Like Athabaskan, they helped to cover the Inchon landings and then shared patrols inshore and in the Yalu Gulf during the autumn. Both also took part in the Chinnampo evacuation in December. In March 1951, Bataan spent some time off the east coast screening the US carrier Bataan, but in April she followed Athabaskan back to the Yellow Sea.
In June, Tobruk and Anzac arrived from Australia, so Bataan returned home for refit. Warramunga should also have been relieved, but she stayed for a while to help screen west coast carriers. Every night from 24th to 29th July, at least one destroyer was sent to carry out a radar picket patrol along the 38th Parallel in case of surprise attack on the carriers. Once Cayuga and Huron took over an anti-submarine hunt started by US destroyers, but after a Squid ASW attack they decided it was not a submarine-contact. That, and a bombardment of Haeju-Man, was the only excitement. In August, Warramunga went round to the east coast to help shell Wonsan before returning to Australia for refit.
Bataan and Warramunga were back in Korean waters by early 1952. Off Taedong-Man at dusk, five 76mm shells straddled Bataan. Four were near misses, but one hit aft, wrecking the captain's cabin and ruining Commander Bracegirdle's old frock coat. Rear-Admiral Scott-Moncrieff made him a signal expressing sympathy for the loss of his tail. By now Bataan had acquired something of a legend among the offshore islands of Korea. She was known dramatically as "The Grey Ghost of the West Coast", enigmatically as 'The Big Top', and more explicitly as 'Brace's Circus'.
Bataan added to this legend on 19th May, when she took part in a Round-Up operation. ROK guerrilla forces would land on a peninsula and drive along it towards an evacuation beach, dealing with all enemy personnel and equipment in their way. Air strikes and naval bombardment would isolate the peninsula and prevent enemy reinforcements interfering.
At 1130 Bataan covered the main landing and began bombarding enemy positions, mortar posts, troop concentrations and minefields further inland. Gradually the guerrillas worked their way down the peninsula and were evacuated at 1900. They had inflicted 150 casualties on the enemy and demolished 27 houses, 2 observation posts, one 76mm gun, one mortar, seven machine guns and one command post. One Communist soldier had been captured and ten Korean families evacuated. The guerrillas also took with them 120 bags of rice and 15 cows. Their leader showed his appreciation of Bataan's support by presenting Commander Bracegirdle with a liberated Communist calf.
The next Round-Up was scheduled for 31st May/1st June. Bataan was assigned to Ocean's screen while she flew off aircraft to cover a guerrilla raid up the Han River estuary. Amethyst was given the inshore bombardment, but this Round-Up was not successful. Fog and cloud hampered air strikes, while the junks were becalmed during their approach. Soon after landing they were ordered to withdraw.
Warramunga meanwhile had been operating on the east coast. On 25th April she had helped escort Iowa during a powerful air-gun bombardment of Chongjin. Warramunga had then carried out an interdiction patrol along the railway. Once, while shelling a railway bridge near Chongjin, she had stopped engines to turn close inshore when five guns straddled her with near misses. Warramunga went full astern out to sea, her forward guns silencing three of the field pieces.
In July Warramunga joined Bataan in the Yellow Sea. Iroquois and Nootka were there as well. The Tribals continued their usual routine of screening carriers with regular inshore patrols and bombardments, mainly around the Haeju-man.
Bataan remained in service with the RAN after the end of the Korean War. In 1954 she was laid up in reserve awaiting conversion to an anti-submarine escort similar to Arunta. In 1957 the conversion was cancelled and she was put on the disposal list. By the end of 1958 HMAS Bataan had been sold for scrap.